One of the beautiful old buildings that Weymouth lost during a period of modernisation was what was locally known as the Sidney Hall, this intricately styled building sat in pride of place along the harbourside where Asda car park now stands.
There is a tragic family history that laid behind the building of this hall.
The Groves family were wealthy business people who owned a very successful brewery over in Hope Square. Thankfully, the buildings of which still stand, but have since been converted to luxury apartments.
John Groves was the chairman of the family business, Messrs John Groves and son.
The family lived in Rodwell Villa, a large house that was set in extensive grounds, which later became better known as Rodwell Lodge. This large rambling house was converted to a hotel in the mid 1970’s, but sadly, later went the way of most of these large old houses, completely demolished and replaced by apartments.
John was a well respected business man in the town, he served as Town Mayor three times between 1886 and 1889. He was also one of the Guardians for the parish, and was known for his generosity towards those less than fortunate inhabitants of his parish. At Christmas time he would personally send out a bushel of coal to all the poor families under his care.
Living in their luxury home was John and his second wife Emily, along with John’s children.
John had three sons from his first marriage to Rosina Kerslake, Herbert, Ernest and Sidney and five daughters, Rosina, Alice, Emily, Lizzie amd Mildred.. The children, both the boys and girls, had attended a private boarding school in Richmond Surrey, perhaps they had been sent there after their mothers premature death in 1869.
The picture below which was kindly sent to me by one the family descendants was taken about 1885.
Stood in the back row are Herbert and Ernest, the youngest lad, Sidney is seated to the right of his father, leaning into his body as if for support and one of his sisters has her hand protectively resting upon his shoulder.
The young girl sat in the front holding her fathers hand was Mabel Constance, the only child between John and his second wife, Emily Dods.
In the 1891 census 22-year-old Sidney is employed as a solicitors clerk. But he was so much more than that.
Like his father he became involved with military matters, and became a Lieutenant in the Weymouth Company of Rifles, referred to as E Company. This was a band of volunteers that had originally been set up in 1859, part time but trained soldiers who could be called upon should the need arise. Sidney was also involved with many other voluntary groups including the Gordon Boys Brigade.
Sadly, money and wealth does not protect the family from heartache.
In 1889, John’s daughter Alice died not long after giving birth to her third child.
Then in July 1895 the family were about to be hit yet again with tragedy.
John’s youngest son Sidney was taken seriously ill with pleurisy, an infection of the membranes that covers the lungs. He was being cared for at the family home, and at one point seemed to be recovering. On the Thursday, 18th July, Sidney suddenly took a turn for the worse, his loving parents were by his bedside when he drew his last breath that fateful night, he was only 26.
Heart broken, John prepared the funeral plans for the burial of his second child, but so admired and loved had Sidney been by everyone who knew and met him, that John had to concede to a public funeral.
On the following Monday afternoon the grieving females of the family set out from Rodwell Villa in their carriages and made for the small chapel at Weymouth cemetery, here they waited for the body of their son and brother to arrive.
At 3 0’clock the funeral procession left the house, Sidney’s last journey was to be a funeral with full military honours.
His coffin was conveyed throughout the streets in an open hearse, the top covered with the Union Jack and his helmet.
Marching behind the carriage was the firing party that contained 40 of his military collegues. Also marching were members of the 1st Dorset Rifle Volunteers, they were going to make sure that Sidney had a good send off, one that he deserved.
Behind the straight backed soldiers came the family.
In the first mourning carriage was his heartbroken father John and his two elder brothers, Herbert and Ernest.
Behind the male members of the family came the procession of carriages of wealthy and elite families of the town and county, the Groves were socially well connected. The Pope family from Dorchester, they too were a brewing dynasty. The Weymouth Town Mayor decked in his official regalia.
But the average working man and boy was well also represented, they too had wanted to show their respects for the young lad and his family. The Gordon Boys Brigade formed a smart company as they marched behind the carriages, followed closely behind by members of the Hope Brewery tenants and Hope Brewery employees.
People lined the streets to say their last farewell to this popular young lad.
By the time the cortege had reached the small chapel, the crowds had swelled enormously. His comrades in arms carried Sidney’s coffin into the chapel where it was laid while the sermons were read. Inside was packed with close family and friends. Hundreds more stood outside attempting to hear what was going on. Out of respect for the family those not related or acquainted stood outside the walls of the cemetery, it was estimated that the crowd numbered in the thousands.
No consolation at such a sad time for his family, but must have comforted them after knowing that he had been so popular and well liked by the local residents of the town.
Once the service inside the chapel was over, his coffin was carried out to the graveside, as it was slowly lowered down into the cold earth the clear voices of the choir rang out across the cemetery with their rendition of The Lord is my Shepherd. Tears flowed freely from family, friends and well-wishers alike. Death might have been more common during the Victorian era, but that never made it any easier to bear.
Laying by the side on the mound of earth that would later cover the coffin were the wreaths, marks of respect for the lad.
One wreath was from his own men in his Company,“From Major George, non-commissioned officers and men of E Company. With sincere regret and deepest sympathy.’Farewell, dear and respected comrade, till we meet at the last grand parade.'”
Many of those volunteer soldiers that had served alongside Sidney and were stood at his graveside would themselves be meeting him sooner than they had anticipated, with WWI waiting in the wings, they would be off to fight.
John over the next couple of years had thought long and hard, he wanted something meaningful and lasting built in memory of his son, something that would be relevant to his short lifetime, but would also serve the community of Holy Trinity.
Finally arriving at the idea of erecting a fine building that would be used by the Church Lads Brigade amongst others, John contacted Crickmay, the well known local architect, and between them they arrived at the building that became such a well known and much loved sight in Weymouth over the years.
The Foundation stone was laid in 1897 and the completed building was opened on the 18th April 1900, the Sidney Groves Memorial Hall was officially opened by Lord Chelmsford. This was John’s lasting gift to the young men of the Holy Trinity parish in memory of his dear departed son Sidney.
Besides the main hall were further buildings, the Small Sidney Hall that sat to the side and rear became the drill hall. Over the years various branches of the military forces used the building as a base from which they operated. The Dorset Fortress RE, the Volunteers, many a band led their way out of those doors with soldiers smartly filing behind.
During WWI it became a temporary hospital for the sick and wounded as they returned from the French battle fields.
During WWII, among other things, it was used as an emergency school for the children whose school had been bombed out at Chapelhay during the fierce air raids that plagued Weymouth.
A boxing program below from 1942 held in the Sidney Hall.
Many local residents will remember it for the roller skating that used to take place in the vast wooden floored hall, I certainly do, long lines of skaters holding hands often swinging the unfortunate ones that were on the end of the line into the barrier!
It became popular for every sort of event, bingo, shows, all manner of entertainment.
Sadly, the large old building didn’t reach its century. In 1987 it was demolished to make way for the football ground and the building of the new supermarket (now Asda.)
All that remains of Sidney’s legacy is the large stone carved Borough coat of arms that had once sat high above the arched doorway, and the foundation stone that John Groves laid in what he hoped would be a long lasting memory of his young son.
They are displayed in a wooden decorated section of the wall at the end of the Asda car park, rather oddly they seem to be almost hidden at the far side of the wall, well away from the footfall of most people.
I wonder how may people even realise that they are there?
Story about one of the soldiers that found himself at the Sidney Hall in 1915; http://rcnarchive.rcn.org.uk/data/VOLUME054-1915/page261-volume54-27thmarch1915.pdf
One of the regiments that used the hall; http://www.drillhalls.org/Counties/Dorset/TownWeymouth.htm