Our Headquarters - Estd. 1859
While most people believe the Gunnery Drill Shed was simply used for marching practice, it had a much more sinister and vital usage. It was constructed in 1859 when just approximately 150 residents lived in Shoebury. It's purpose was to teach the infantry how to fire cannons. At each end of the 7 central wings it had gun doors which the cannons would protrude. The outer wings of the building housed draft & model / lecture rooms. Between the Crimean War and World War One, the importance of the Drill Shed cannot be underestimated, as artillery including cannons were the major weapon of this time.
The old ranges fuelled the expansion of South & North Shoebury to become Shoeburyness. During the 1st World War, the building was extended to create a new lecture room to enable training of more troops.
To ensure as much natural light as possible it has one of the first free spanning north light roofs in the country. The wide span, without any posts, was essential for the large cannons & so too was the light. It still has the original metal girders today. Not only was it essential for the various war efforts, but it has had its fair share of dignitaries including King George & Winston Churchill, who visited the Gunnery Drill Shed to view the artillery training.
However, after the Second World War the Drill Shed really had no purpose as cannons were no longer used. In 1965 it was transformed into a metal workshop, when the gun bay doors were removed. The original rings still remain where the cannons were chained on it. In the 1990s it became a gym, until the Garrison was sold for redevelopment.
Even though the Drill Shed was a grade 2 listed building, between 2000-2010 it became derelict and on the listed building at risk register. All the drains were cut, brickwork was crumbling due to water damage and anything which could be removed to be sold, including cable, had been. Without restoration and more importantly a real use, the building would have had to be condemned and lost forever within a few years.
Finally the building had become a white elephant, too important to lose, but too costly to restore or convert into another use. During 2010 the remaining parts of the Garrison were extensively marketed, however nobody was interested in the Drill Shed simply due to the restoration cost, making it not cost effective.
The directors of online watersports retailer Wetsuit Outlet had grown out of space in their existing building and wanted to stay in Shoeburyness, where the business was formed. Keeping the business local and employing local people was key for them. Whilst it would have been better business sense to migrate to Basildon, it was not in line with their values. They purchased the Drill Shed with their own money, with the goal of restoring the building and keeping their business local.
Without any professional architects, project managers or bank funding they set about restoring the building. The restoration focus was keeping the building original and not affecting the fabric of the building. Any changes made could be reversed without affecting the building history.
The complexity in terms of planning and maintaining the buildings heritage was huge, however they received outstanding support from the planning and heritage departments, which enabled them to restore the building to be back in use today.
The building is now home to B2C Distribution. The end wings have become offices / showroom and the centre wings is now warehousing. This has enabled the building including its history to be conserved and kept a local business local. During the conservation and since its completion, the Drill Shed gets regular visitors from the men and women who were trained or stationed in the Garrison coming back to see what it is like today, whom we proudly welcome.
Our values drove us to conserve the Gunnery Drill Shed and its history in a sustainable manner, creating the lowest carbon footprint possible, despite a considerable financial loss to do so. We received invaluable help from local tradesmen, historians, Southend planning and heritage departments, numerous supportive Garrison residents and the Low Carbon Business organisation who awarded us with a grant, for which we are very thankful.
The result is not a sterile restored building which looks like new, but a building which stands proud with over 150 years history. It's rough and rugged characted is reflected in its 110 year old graffiti carved into the walls, rings where the cannon were chained down and original metal girders made during the industrial revolution. Before it became redundant and its sad demise, it had kings, leaders and heroes standing within it. This is not lost now it has a new purpose and a reason to maintain the building.
In terms of restoration, much better examples exist throughout our town. However in terms of conservation and sustainability, against all the odds, the Gunnery Drill Shed now stands strong with a future ahead of it. It is a worthy contender to be recognised for the truly outstanding building / history it represents and the design journey it went through to be saved.