Cinque Ports Volunteers

From Historical Hastings

Although the 'Cinque Ports Volunteers' had existed since the mid-18th century, with their headquarters in Walmer, in early 1859 as a paid commission, the 'First Company' of the Cinque Ports Volunteers - a largely self-funded corps - was launched, against fears of a possible French invasion of the south coast. Members were largely from the Volunteer Rifle Club which had been formed in 1851/2 by Thomas Cole, Mr. Rock, Mr. Ransom and about 70 others[1] and was organised into a militia under the command of the Hon. George Waldegrave[2]. The Volunteers initially practiced rifle fire at Rock-a-Nore, with targets located at the base of the cliffs and drilled at the Market Hall in George Street, which had opened towards the start of that decade. Later the same year, Sarah, Countess Waldegrave permitted the setting up of a rifle range[3] firing across Ecclesbourne Glen with fixed targets marked on the opposite side of the firing points at varying ranges between 200 and 600 yards[4] This range remained in use for a considerable number of years, appearing on mapping until 1908. The men provided their own rifles and the company as a whole funded the grey and red uniform worn by Volunteers, with much of the cost being defrayed by the Countess Waldegrave[5]. By the middle of the year, there were some seventy members and the company gained official recognition in the autumn[3]. This company was soon followed by a Volunteer Artillery Corps, the Second Company.

Battalion Formation

By November 1861 the War Office had authorised Palmerston to organise the Cinque Ports Volunteers into two Administrative Battalions, one in Sussex (based at Hastings) and the other in Kent (based at Dover). In 1880 the former became known as the 1st Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps. It was the third volunteer battalion to be affiliated to The Royal Sussex Regiment[6].

Middle Street Drill Hall

A drill hall was constructed in Middle Street in 1861 for the use of both the two corps (Rifle and Artillery), opening in June of that year. A fete was reportedly held at the Ecclesbourne Glen range during August of 1861, followed by a shooting match in September[7] The Central Cricket Ground was utilised for practicing of drilling[8] and parades[9]; the public meeting to buy the Priory Meadows had a condition attached to the purchase stating that the Volunteers could still drill there[10], this usage continuing through the next decade. By 1871, it was reported that the Hastings and St. Leonards Artillery Volunteers (6th & 7th Co) were inspected on the cricket ground[11]. This report was closely followed by another recording that the 7th Cinque Port Artillery Volunteers had practice with a thirty-two pounder cannon at their battery, No 40 Martello Tower[12]

The Volunteers would appear to have formed a musical band in addition to the Rifle and Artillery companies by 1872[13] and the command of the Volunteers fell under the Secretary of State for War, leading to increased integration with the regular army.

Southwater Road Drill Hall

During 1873, the Southwater Road Drill Hall was constructed for the use of the 7th Cinque Ports Artillery Volunteers, funds having been raised in part by means of concerts organised in the preceding years[14], with members of the Volunteers reportedly dragging two 40 pounder Armstrong Guns from Hastings Railway Station to the new depot[15]

By late 1895, the Middle Street Drill hall was replaced by a new structure constructed by Peter Jenkins, this opening on the 25th of October 1895[16]

Rock-a-Nore-Drill Hall

1896 saw the opening of the Rock-a-Nore Drill Hall, which was occupied by the 2nd Company of Volunteers, relocating from St. Leonards and forming of a Battery mounting two forty pound cannon just east of the Drill Hall.

The disposition of local units at this time were as follows;
1st Position Battery, 2nd Cinque Ports Artillery Volunteers: St. Leonards
2nd Position Battery, 2nd Cinque Ports Artillery Volunteers: Rock-a-Nore
1st Cinque Ports Rifle Corps. 'H' Company: Ore
1st Cinque Ports Rifle Corps. 'A' Company: Hastings
1st Cinque Ports Rifle Corps. 'F' Company: Hastings

The Corps now consisted of eight Companies with 32 Officers and 760 Other Ranks. This included a 25-man Cyclist section whose displays became a popular part of local fetes and shows. Also on the strength was a stretcher-bearer detachment with three Medical Officers who wore cocked hats with black feathers. The annual camp at Battle Abbey in 1887 saw 449 officers and men attending, including 55 in the Band with Drums and Fifes from Rye[2].

1899 was a momentous year for the Corps as it finally lost its traditional grey uniform and adopted the scarlet jacket and blue tweeds of its parent Regiment, The Royal Sussex[2].

Boer War

Volunteers from Hastings participated in the Boer War, the First Cinque Ports Rifles leaving in February, 1900 and another contingent in February, 1901. When Pretoria fell, the remaining Volunteers marched as part of the town’s celebrations.[17]


In 1908 the volunteer movement came to an end, and on 1 April the 1st Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps was transferred to the new Territorial Force. It became the 5th (Cinque Ports) Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment, in the 44th (Home Counties) Division, going on to serve during WW1[6].

Current Day

The Volunteers live on in the form of a marching band, the Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers Corps of Drums.

References & Notes

  1. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 10 March 1883 Pg. 0003
  2. a b c Cinque Ports Drums: History, accessdate: 23 May 2020
  3. a b Drill Halls website: Hastings Volunteers, accessdate: 22 May 2020
  4. View: Sussex LXXI.3 & 4 (Hastings) - Ordnance Survey 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, accessdate: 22 May 2020
  5. Countess Waldegrave
  7. Hastings News, 23rd August, 1861
  8. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 20 July 1872 Pg. 0003
  9. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 20 June 1874 Pg. 0005
  10. Cricket Ground for Sale, Hastings News, 23rd December, 1870
  11. Hastings Mail, 20th June, 1903
  12. Hastings News, 23rd June, 1871
  13. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 23 November 1872 Pg. 0003
  14. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 25 January 1873 Pg. 0002
  15. Hastings Chronicle
  16. Hastings News, 1st November, 1895
  17. Hastings News, 15th June, 1900