In 1903, when the old Bournbrook Range closed, the Birmingham Volunteers approached Birmingham City Corporation to secure its help and support in obtaining a replacement site. Primarily the provision of a new range was a matter for the War Office and the Volunteers themselves but the Corporation agreed to the request. The new range needed to be within easy reach of the city and where it would not create any danger to the public. The Corporation eventually selected a stretch of land, comprising 738 acres, at Waste Farm in Hurley Common that was formerly part of the Peel estate. However, the owners of the land were asking for more money per acre than was thought fair and there were financial issues surrounding the splitting up of the property. In addition there was a reservoir and waterworks on the site that were not needed for the new range. The Corporation did not want to buy more land than was necessary so in March 1907 they brought a Bill before the Select Committee of the House of Lords to consider acquiring the land by compulsory purchase. By July 1908 the terms of settlement were finally reached and the Corporation acquired the site under statutory powers for approximately £21,000.
The land in question was served by the Midland Railway which connected with both Birmingham and Tamworth thus providing easy access for all the visiting troops. Under the original scheme the range was for the use of the two Birmingham battalions so in view of this, the Corporation decided to lease the ground to them at a moderate rent while their volunteers constructed the range. Later, when a change in the Territorial system brought about a new situation, the County Territorial Association became the lessees of the land and, in connection with the War Office, undertook the completion of the work. As the range was now to be used by all the battalions in the county, the Corporation revised the terms of the lease and in fairness to the ratepayers if Birmingham, increased the rent so as to entirely cover additional costs.
Construction eventually got underway in autumn 1909 with a 600 yards long road from Kingsbury railway station to the first firing point and it was hoped that work would be completed by the end of the year. However, bad weather over the winter, difficult terrain that was hindering construction and prolonged and tedious negotiations with the War Office, led to a delay so that the completion date was set back to May the following year.
The delay caused by the War Office came to a head in early 1910 and was exacerbated by its ongoing closure of 1,000 yard rifle ranges across the country. The War Office was very concerned that these ranges would be misused by men who in its opinion were little more than 'pot hunters', and this had caused considerable concern for those involved at Kingsbury. Although a 1,000 yard range had originally been sanctioned, the War Office was now only prepared to fund a 600 yard range and provide a grant of between £5,000 to £6,000 for the entire construction. When soldiers were using rifles with a 3,000 yard firing range, it seemed ludicrous to only allow them to fire up to 600 yards. This move was considered by all involved as one of those unintelligible economies of the Whitehall authorities, rather than one of efficiency, and was very worrying for its short-sightedness. The War Office finally compromised and consented to construction that allowed firing at 800, 900, and 1,000 yards, on the proviso that the extra cost of about £500 was found privately.
Finally on Wednesday June 10th 1910, the Rifle Range, although still not complete, was formally opened by the Marquis of Hertford, Lord-Lieutenant of Warwickshire. The full account, as reported in the Leamington Spa Courier, is printed below. Unfortunately local feelings about the range's financial situation came to a head in 1911 when instead of bringing expected trade and added value to Kingsbury; it was costing the rate payers £100 a year to cover lost income from the land upon which the range stood. It was a burden they could well do without and one, it was hoped, that a grant from the Treasury would remedy.
June 10th 1910
OPENING OF KINGSBURY RIFLE RANGE
LORD HERTFORD OF RIFLE PRACTICE
'More delightful weather could not have been desired than that with which those, who on Wednesday took part in or witnessed the official opening by Lord Hertford of the new rifle range at Kingsbury. There was a large attendance of Midland Territorial Officers and members of the Warwickshire Territorial Association.
Among those present being Lord Norton, Brigadier General Raitt, Colonels Waterson (Brigadier General Warwick Brigade) Wyley, Whitcombe Hart and Wilkinson; Lieutenant Colonels Barnsley, Nutt, Walker, Lister, Martineau and Halse; Majors Hardisty, Porter, Pearson and Dixon; Captain and Adjutant Hamilton, Mr Neville Chamberlain, the Right Hon. H.A. Adderley and Colonel G.Dibley.
Following the ceremony General Raitt proposed a vote of thanks to Lord Hertford. He did not think there was any county in which the Lord Lieutenant was more keenly interested in the welfare of the Territorial force than was the case in Warwickshire.
The opening of that range was of immense importance to the Warwickshire force and particularly to the Birmingham Units. For many years their musketry training had been carried out under great difficulties, and it was to the credit of the commanding officers that anything had been done at all. Had the range not been constructed he did not think with the increase of members that the Territorial Force had acquired from Warwickshire that it would have been possible to continue musketry and a great debt of gratitude was owing to the County Association, the commanding officers, the Birmingham Corporation and everybody else concerned in the provision of the range (hear hear).
Mr Neville Chamberlain as chairman of the Range committee of the County Association seconded the resolution and in doing so said only those who had been concerned in all the work in connection with that range were able to realise how much was owing to Lord Hertford, who had taken very keen interest in it from the beginning. The work had been in progress a long time, and was not completed yet, but they were insight of the end, and then he hoped the range would be of great advantage to the musketry in the Midlands (Applause)
Lord Hertford replied said: Having been in the Yeomanry, it was only natural he should take great interest in the Territorial Force, but even had that not been the case his interest would still have been aroused by King Edward’s address at Buckingham Place to the Lord-Lieutenant on the work of the county associations. After listening to the appeal then made it was impossible not to take the keenest interest in the work.
For anything, he had done he had been amply repaid by the way in which the work had been taken up by the old volunteer force in the county. It was a pleasure to him every month to receive the returns showing in many cases Officers 100%, men 100% and taking the whole force of Warwickshire had come forward to support the Territorial Force. He hoped that the great energy already displayed would continue, and that they would always be at the top of the list in numbers, as he was quite certain that they be in efficiency. (hear hear).
The one thing necessary for the efficiency of the Birmingham battalions was a good rifle range and it was not much use having a large force of territorial troops who, though well drilled could not shoot. They could not be taught to shoot if they had no range, but thanks in the first instance to the Birmingham Corporation and secondly in the way in which all concerned had taken up the question, they now had what appeared to be a magnificent range. He did not want to begin to find fault but he wished they had had a longer range (hear hear)
He understood the War Office held that Territorials were not expected to shoot at more than 600 yards, but, as the same time, the rifles were sighted to 3,000 yards and he thought there ought to be some happy medium between those distances at which men could shoot. The War Office said they did not want to encourage 'pot-hunting'. That was all very welcome but there was a great difference between encouraging pot-hunting and encouraging keen shots, who were so enthusiastic about shooting that they took the trouble to go to Bisley at their own expense. They were thus improving their shooting, and that was what was wanted in the force. Therefore he greatly regretted they had not got a longer range than 600 yards. (hear hear).
He hoped however that extensive use of the range would be made and that the result would be a high musketry range (applause).
Lord Hertford presented to Sergeant-in-instructor Barlow the medal for long service afterwards a friendly shooting match on the range took place.'
From the Leamington Spa Courier dated Friday June 10th 1910, published by The British Library Board and 'reproduced with the kind permission of the British Newspaper Archive'.
He was born George Francis Alexander Seymour on October 20th 1871, the son of Hugh Seymour, the 6th Marquis of Hertford. He was a strong minded character who spent time in Australia as a young man before returning to England to take up various positions of responsibility. From 1889 to 1894 he served in the Black Watch and was a Lieutenant in the Warwickshire Imperial Yeomanry. He also held the office of Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for Warwickshire.
He was married twice, first to heiress Alice Cornelia Thaw from 1903 to 1908 and secondly in 1913, to Mrs Moss-Cockle. He filed for bankruptcy in 1909 shortly before inheriting his father's estate at Ragley near Alcester in 1910.
He developed throat cancer in his latter days and died at his home in Torquay on February 16th 1940 aged 68. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
A major recruitment drive
In early September 1914, after the start of the First World War, there was a major recruitment drive in the Kingsbury area and it was requested that the Rifle Range should be used by all who wanted to become 'efficient in the firing of a service rifle'. It was important to make sure that all those men asked to enlist should have every possible facility provided for doing so.
Plans for the Rifle Range included billeting between 1,000 to 2,000 men in temporary barracks for a couple of years, or alternatively, billeting them locally while they were being trained in 'how to beat the Germans'. Morale was high at the recruitment drive and the men repeated the following undertaking; 'We, the inhabitants of Kingsbury, do hereby solemnly undertake in the presence of Almighty God, that we will use our best endeavours to raise the armies required by Lord Kitchener for the defence of his Majesty King George V, and the confusion and destruction of all our enemies, so help us all our God.' Cheers were afterwards given for the gallant allies, the Belgians, the French, the Russians and the Japanese, followed by a hearty rendition of the National Anthem.
Jobs for miners who enlisted from Kingsbury Colliery were to be kept open and funds were started to support their wives and children. Almost two hundred men had already gone from the colliery and this was affecting output, but the management was quite willing to suffer this as the men were doing their patriotic duty to help to their country.
Soon after this recruitment drive the Government requisitioned the Rifle Range which became nicknamed the ‘Birmingham Bisley’ and throughout the war soldiers were frequently seen in the village and some were even billeted in the upper storey of Kingsbury Hall where until recently, regimental graffiti could be seen.
How the battalions used the range during 1914
Reports in local papers, including the Tamworth Herald, give an insight into how the Rifle Range was used both before and during the war. From the start the range was used mainly for musketry practice and competitions. Sergeant Instructor R. J. Barlow, late of the Royal Engineers, was appointed as range warden at a salary of 25 shillings a week and lived on site. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment used the Miniature Range for 'instructional musketry practice' and in March 1914 soldiers travelling to Kingsbury from Birmingham, left New Street at 1.30pm and departed from Kingsbury at about 5.30pm.
After the war started, the Miniature Range was allotted to companies for practice on the Solano Battle Target on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Regimental Bisley competitions were frequently held on Saturdays with prizes awarded for the best shooting. Musketry practice it seems was obligatory and especially in the case of soldiers who had failed to reach the previous year's standards.
More troops very quickly started arriving at the Rifle Range. Over 1,000 officers and men descended on Tamworth which, according to the report in the Tamworth Herald dated October 10th 1914, resembled a 'garrison town'. Fifty-five officers and 1,054 men from the Welsh Division arrived aboard two trains from Northampton. The Division comprised the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions of the Monmouth Regiment, 4th Cheshire Regiment and 1st Battalion Herefordshire Regiment. Their arrival in the town, where billets had been arranged for them, created a good deal of interest amongst the local populace. The men marched from Tamworth railway station to their billets while their blankets, kit, cooking utensils, ammunition and provisions followed on heavily-laden drays.
The men occupied various public buildings while the officers were billeted at private houses and hotels. Approximately 215 men were housed in the Assembly Rooms, 56 in the Drill Hall, 66 at the Baths, 68 in the United Methodist Schoolroom, 106 in the Wesleyan Schoolroom, 132 in College Lane School, 50 in Peel School, 208 in Shannon's factory and a further 140 spread amongst three empty houses in Colehill, George Street and Heath Street.
Throughout the following two weeks the men, who were mainly recruits, were conveyed to the Rifle Range for musketry instruction in batches of 200 or 300 at a time. Each day half the troops spent the morning at the range, while the remainder were drilled on various open spaces, before swapping around in the afternoon.
The troops were fed midday near their Tamworth billets from field kitchens. Temporary washing facilities were arranged at some of the billets and writing materials were provided in a room set aside in the Baptist Tabernacle. The fortnight's practice culminated in a Sunday morning parade service held at St Editha's Church after which the troops returned to Nottingham. Some regiments seem to have stayed a week, others for about a fortnight depending on numbers.
Not all troops using the Rifle Range were billeted in Tamworth. In mid November 1914 the 6th Battalion (Territorial) of the Seaforth Highlanders arrived in Birmingham from Bedford and proceeded along New Street and Broad Street to Bingley Hall in Birmingham where they were billeted before being taken to the Rifle Range for practice. On their march through the streets they were headed by pipers and drums and large crowds lined the route. The soldiers numbered between 600 and 700 men and were physically of a high standard. The sight of all these soldiers must have been exciting, noisy and enough to stir patriotic fervour.
Musketry practice continued at the Rifle Range throughout the winter of 1914 and into spring 1915. In November 1914 the 9th battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders consisting of 28 officers and 957 men received musketry training and in early January 1915 another kilted regiment arrived in Tamworth, consisting of 10 officers and 668 men of the 4th, 5th 6th and 7th Gordon Highlanders, and the 9th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. They marched from the station to their billets and their soldierly bearing was generally admired by the inhabitants. The troops did not receive full training as it turned out due to poor weather conditions and occupied themselves instead by letter writing! When they left Tamworth in the early morning, pipers escorted them to the station!
There were complaints by some at the time that the Rifle Range did not resemble a battle field situation so was not preparing the men for the trench warfare conditions in which they would ultimately find themselves. They were making themselves too comfortable firing on matting! Despite this the troops continued to come on a more or less weekly basis.
Soon after the war broke out, the directors of Aston Villa Football Club decided to train their players in the art of home defence. It was reported in the Birmingham Daily Mail dated January 26th 1915 that the men were very keen to participate and colour-sergeant Fox of the Staffordshire Regiment was recruited as the drill and musketry instructor. A number of Lee-Enfield magazine rifles and bayonets were acquired and a miniature range was constructed at Villa Park for the men so they could practice before spending a day at Kingsbury Rifle Range. They made their visit in January 1915 and marched from Kingsbury Station, with their rifles on their shoulders, to the range where they were met by Sergeant-Major Barlow, the Range Warden. The men fired at a 'bull' on the 100 yards range in groups of eight and generally proved very competent which impressed the Range Warden considerably.
From 1917 onwards reports of activity at the Rifle Range are less forthcoming but Birmingham battalions of Volunteers still trained while sleeping in tents in adjoining camps. Musketry practice, route marches, sham fights, drills, competitions and trench work all took place regularly.
One such competition reported in the Tamworth Herald for 1917 was for the Warwickshire Volunteers Gunmakers' Cup. The weather conditions prevented high scores with strong winds and heavy showers prevailing. Under the rules of the competition, teams of 25 men from each battalion marched in musketry order, at intervals of forty-five minutes, from an assembly point on the Birmingham to Kingsbury road. They were allowed a halt of ten minutes at Marston arriving at the range exactly one hour later. The distance travelled was three miles. Firing commenced within five minutes of arrival with five shots at 600 yards, five at 400, and five rapid shots at 200 yards. The time allowed for this was just thirty seconds. The result was a win for the 3rd Battalion, which despite competing in a deluge of rain, scored 696 points. The cup was presented to winning team by Colonel D. F. Lewis, C.B., Commandant of the County.
The range was originally laid out in a typical manner and had two ranges with a total of 56 targets. The west range was 392 ft long with 32 targets and a 484 ft long stop butt that acted as a 'bullet catcher'. The east range was 290 ft. long with 24 targets and a 388 ft long stop butt. The huge mass of earth needed to form the stop butts had a 62 ft mound base and was deep with an 8ft flat top which was 10ft clear of the top of the targets.
Each range had a firing point every 100 yards and these were slightly raised. The courses of the ranges converged slightly so that the butts of the markers' galleries were within 50 yards of one another. All of the firing points were connected with the butts by telephones, the cable being laid in pipes underground. The whole site was ironically 'coffin' shaped and its perimeter marked out with red posts. On days when firing took place a large red flag flew from a tall pole near the main butt.
Public safety was paramount and the 'danger zone' was very large extending for a distance of 2,500 yards behind the butts. Behind, and to either side of the 600 yards firing points, were other safety areas which increased in the direction of the targets. Kingsbury Wood was in the danger zone and by arrangement with Sir Robert Peel and the other landowners, and with the consent of the Kingsbury Parish Council, a number of pathways were diverted.
For the most part the shooting was of the bull's-eye type though arrangements had been made for shooting on figure targets as well. The targets were arranged on Carey's frames which were light and easily moved by the marker. The frame was worked on a form of compensation balance so that as soon as one target was pulled down another one was exposed. This had the advantage of saving time by allowing two marksmen to fire alternately at the 56 targets thus increasing the number of men firing at the same time to 112. The targets were of the ordinary and Bisley patterns and were stored in a shed behind the main stop butt. A small tramway ran from the shed along the back of the markers' galleries making movement of the targets and repair appliances much easier.
On the space between the 600 yards firing points was the Range Warden's house and nearby was a corrugated roofed building containing an armoury and separate rooms for the officers and men. This building could accommodate a battalion of 800 men. Here meals were served and adjacent were two small sheds where cooking stoves and equipment were stored.
The British Newspaper Archives.