History of The
The origins of the Trust can be traced back to 1885 and there is a fascinating history which is described below. We also have a photographic archive which features images of the buildings in and around Portsmouth which were owned by The Trust and which led to the establishment of The Connaught Trust that is in place today.
The origins of the Trust can be traced back to 1885 when arrangements were made for the management of buildings for the Hampshire Volunteers, which had been raised with Royal permission but without government support. A drill hall had been established by public subscription in Albert Street, Portsmouth and named in honour of The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Queen Victoria’s seventh and youngest child who was already a much-respected senior officer in the British Army. The land itself belonged to the Admiralty but in order to make way for Naval barracks, it was exchanged in 1899 for land in Stanhope Road, Portsmouth and conveyed to trustees to allow for a new and improved drill hall, which was built the following year, the cost being met by the Admiralty. This was officially opened soon after the death of Queen Victoria for use by 3rd (Duke of Connaught’s Own) Volunteer Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment on 9th March 1901 by Lord Northbrook, the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire.
Similar trust arrangements had been made in respect of the drill halls in Fareham and Petersfield, both of which also supported the Hampshire Volunteers, and they too were named in honour of the Duke of Connaught. Ownership of the Petersfield premises at 4 Dragon Street can be traced back to 1898 when a trust was created for the benefit of I Company of the 3rd Duke of Connaught’s Own Volunteer Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. The Fareham trust had been created in 1901 when land in Osborne Road was conveyed by one J H Appleby to a Colonel Holbrooke, who in turn conveyed it to new trustees ‘to hold the premises for the Fareham Company of the 3rd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, now the 6th Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment’.
Brought into being in August 1936 as the Connaught Drill Halls Trust, the separate trusts merged to manage the three drill halls with the trustees being responsible for the letting, management and upkeep of each site, which were leased to the County’s Territorial Association, later (from 1922) the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association (TAVRA).
On the night of 10 / 11 January 1941 the Portsmouth centre was badly damaged by bombs, and it was not until 1954 that compensation of £35,000 (2021: £672,000) was received from the War Office, leaving the Trust with a residual liability of £3,340 (£64,100). By then, sufficient rebuilding work had been carried out to allow the Hall to be re-occupied by the 383rd Light Regiment RA (Duke of Connaught’s Own) (TA) and on 20th July 1951 it was officially re-opened by Her Late Majesty The Queen, then HRH Princess Elizabeth.
A further Royal Visit was made by His Majesty King Charles III, then Prince of Wales, on 23 February 1979 when he received the freedom of the city.
The duration of the leases was relatively short and in the meantime the Trust maintained the buildings, improved the facilities and permitted occasional use by civilian and other organisations on payment of a fee, which was shared with the occupying unit. A frequent user over the years was the Post Office, which used the Portsmouth centre as a temporary sorting office each Christmas. In 1960 another user, Jim Smith, complained to the CO of 383 Regiment RA that he was losing income on each of his bi-monthly wrestling nights because the Sergeants’ Mess allowed its balcony overlooking the main floor to be used by numerous guests free of charge. In response the trustees urged the CO to speak to his RSM, which he did but nevertheless Mr Smith subsequently took his business elsewhere.
From time to time the trustees were invited to sell the Portsmouth centre, given its prime location in the city, one such offer coming from the Hammersmith Palais de Dance in December 1945, which was rejected. Also, from time to time, the Trust’s entitlement to charge rents from the War Office was challenged and Mr Goodman, solicitor to the Trust, was used extensively to respond in detail, albeit one trustee commented in the minutes of March 1964 that some parts of a 1926 deed relating to Fareham were ‘flights of fancy’.
Good financial husbandry over the years allowed the Trust to build its reserves and begin to add to its property portfolio. In 1955 it purchased St Catherine’s Cottage, Osborne Road, Fareham for £2,250 (£41,319). This was used as living accommodation for a member of staff and caretakers or else rented out to civilians. It was only in 2021 that the property was sold on the open market.
The announcement of a major restructuring of the TA in July 1966 had impacted on the Trust and the units it housed. In August 1967, following the surrender by TAVRA of its leases of the Fareham and Petersfield centres, it was proposed to sell both off by auction, but it was not until late 1969 that this was achieved for Petersfield, which netted £19,272 (£226,131). In the meantime, attempts to obtain planning permission to develop Fareham prior to disposal met with little success. The lease of the Connaught Drill Hall in Portsmouth was similarly surrendered after B Company, The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Territorials was disbanded in December 1968, by which time negotiations with Portsmouth Corporation had already started, the intention being to turn it into a sports and leisure centre. When however, in 1970 the Ministry of Defence (as it now was) indicated it was considering reversing its decision about the TA, the negotiations were abandoned. The following year the trustees decided that, considering the announcement that a new TA battalion would be formed for the South West, including Hampshire, they would once again offer the Portsmouth centre to TAVRA for occupation by one Company on condition that it would be styled ‘A (Duke of Connaught), The 2nd Battalion, Wessex Volunteers’. They even offered to fund the purchase of DCO collar dogs. Accordingly, a lease for Portsmouth for seven years was completed in late 1971. The Earl Mountbatten of Burma attended the re-opening of the centre in June 1971 on occupation by A (Duke of Connaught's) Company. The lease was subsequently renewed in 1976.
In late 1971 the Fareham Drill Hall was let for a term of five years for storage and retail sales until in 1975, TAVRA once again expressed interest in occupying it. On 1st January 1977 it took a three-year lease for use by a platoon from A (Duke of Connaught’s) Company. Subsequently, in April 1980 the trustees were informed by TAVRA that it was vacating the Fareham Drill Hall. The Company Commander’s report submitted to the meeting that month stated that the closure (although rumoured) had come as a surprise as no official representations or discussions had taken place with the unit and in consequence those ranks who had paraded there now had to travel to Portsmouth and he feared that attendance would reduce. In the hope of being able to develop the site, the purchase of Numbers 145 and 145a West Street, Fareham (which adjoins Osborne Road) was completed in 1980, and they continued to be owned by the Trust until disposed of in 2019. An application for planning permission to develop the drill hall had been lodged but when this was refused, the drill hall was let as a warehouse for several years before it subsequently burnt down in mysterious circumstances. Only then in the mid-1980s was it possible to sell the site for development, which was duly completed, and once shops had been built, in 2009 the Trust purchased Numbers 149 and 149a West Street, which continue in its ownership.
In 1973, former members of Q Battery, The Duke of Connaught’s Own 383 Light Field Regiment RA TA at Fareham formed a private members club, which met over the years in a variety of locations, including the drill hall, before becoming established in its own premises in the town and where it continues as ‘The Duke of Connaught’s Own Club’ but with no connection to or with the Trust.
In 1999, TAVRA decided to rationalise its real estate and on 31 December surrendered the lease of the last remaining Connaught Drill Hall in Portsmouth. Initially wishing to retain it for future use by the TA, the trustees eventually and reluctantly decided that it should be sold, by which time it had been granted Grade 2 Listed Building status. In 2001 a buyer was found, and the building was sold in November 2002 to be converted into a night club, the trustees being granted life membership. Memorials erected over the years in the main hall were bricked in and in so far as is known, they are still there.
With no buildings to maintain, the Trust was then able to concentrate its efforts and its funds on promoting military efficiency in the Reserves and Cadet Forces of the Armed Services in Hampshire and The Isle of Wight and their adjoining counties. In 2012, the Trust changed its name to ‘The Connaught Trust’.
Over the preceding century, most units and sub-units that occupied the Portsmouth centre carried ‘Duke of Connaught’s’ in its title, some adding ‘Own’. The current holder is 679 (Duke of Connaught’s) Squadron, 6th Regiment Army Air Corps located in Hilsea, on the north edge of the city.