Drake Hall Chapel, Drake Hall, near Eccleshall

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Description:Page 10 of 'Drake Hall - A War-Time Hostel', a souvenir book produced for staff and residents at the Swynnerton Royal Ordinance Factory hostel at Drake Hall, produced in 1945. This page describes the Church of England, Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic and Free Church services available for munitions workers and staff at Drake Hall. The text reads:

"Roman Catholic Church: As with every other phase of hostel-life, religious worship was a matter of adaptation. For Catholics, especially, it was a far cry from the bright and devotional Churches of their home-towns, with a resident and familiar clergy and an active parochial life with its guilds, confraternities and the rest, to a simple, and indeed severe, Chapel, so plainly furnished as to render kneeling more than usually penitential — a Chapel common to all denominations, permitting only a liturgy reduced to its barest essentials, celebrated only on Sundays and Holy Days by an elusive priest. But it was enough. For the barest essentials meant the Mass, and it is the Mass that matters. Two long years have dulled our eyes to plain surroundings, gymnastic postures have outwitted cramp, and even the "too-smallness" of the Chapel for our ever-expanding congregation affords a plea of righteousness to those few men (they are to be found in every Church) who prefer a "stand-up seat" at the back. And then there was the Mission when, for a whole week, Father Foster enabled us to evoke an echo of our full liturgical life. And here is my opportunity to thank both Management and Staff of Drake Hall for their continued help. No lack of interest or good-will can be pleaded against them. Indeed, as the French visitor said, when asked if he had dined on the cross-Channel steamer: "Au contraire." Visiting Roman Catholic Chaplin: Bernard Salt.

The Free Churches: For two years it has been my privilege to work as Free Church Chaplain at Drake Hall. We are more than grateful that a Chapel was built at the Hostel, and that recognition was given to the place of Christian worship in community life. The Chapel services and Groups for fellowship hold a high place in the programme of the Hostel. Our Free Church services and groups are held each week. Here we seek to apply the Christian teaching and standards to the life of to-day — to community life, industry, personal relationships and the many problems caused by war. Girls who have been associated with their home churches and many who have never previously been in touch with the church, have discovered the reality of religion to meet the needs of to-day. "Kindliness and Friendliness" are the characteristics of life at Drake Hall. This note set by Mr. and Mrs. Damms and the Staff has ensured the happiness of its residents, and done much toward making this a successful centre. Visiting Chaplin Free Church Sister Margaret Robbins.

Church of England: The Church has been working in the hostel from the beginning and has gratefully made use of the facilities provided, especially of the Chapel. The chaplains' aims have been two. First, to provide regular opportunities for public worship inside the Hostel for all who belong to the Church of England. Secondly, to build up a group of keen Christians and to train them in definite churchmanship. To this group, who have been coming to weekly discussion meetings for over two years, we would pay tribute, for they have not received any easy Gospel. This part of the work has been encouraging, and several members of the group have expressed a hope that they will be able to take part in similar meetings in their home parishes after the war. One member went so far as to say "The group meetings have been the high-spot of the week." Our experience in this very interesting experiment has led us to see that the strength of the Church lies in quality and not in quantity. For their co-operation and help throughout our chaplaincy our thanks are due to the management. Church of England Visiting Chaplains Rev I. Carrick, Rev W. Johnson.

Church of Scotland: To seek a place of quietness in the midst of the noise and strain of life is wisdom handed down to us by men whose days were far less hectic than ours, men who recognised the need for a renewing pause in life's activities. It can be truly said that the hostel Chapel has provided place of quietness for all who have sought its worship and fellowship, and we dare to hope it has also been a place of renewing and vision. For those who have come from over the border, both Lowlander and Celt, the services have provided something new — "a bit of home," and the Scot has found, like the ancient Hebrews mourning by the streams of Babylon, that they can still sing the Lord's song in a strange land. We, of the Church of Scotland, would acknowledge our gratitude to Mr. and Mrs. Datums and their Staff for the help and encouragement so graciously given. Visiting Chaplin Miss D. Malvenan Church of Scotland."

Drake Hall was built by the Ministry of Supply to accommodate munitions at nearby R.O.F. Swynnerton and opened in 1942. It was named after Sir Francis Drake. There were 15 residential blocks, each with a male name, arranged alphabetically. At the centre of the site was an assembly hall, games room, canteen, kitchen, sick bay and administrative block. Many of the residents came from Ireland and Scotland and the Manager was Mr J.H. Damms. The Manageress and Welfare Officer was Mrs D.H. Damms. A wide range of activities, entertainments, talks, lectures and dramatic productions were put on for the residents, as well as a wide range of indoor games and sport, including netball, hockey, tennis, badminton, cricket and football.

Towards the end of the War Drake Hall hosted 132 evacuees, all of whom were old age pensioners. It closed shortly after the end of the Second World War but reopened in the 1960s as a male open prison. In 1974 it became a female open prison. Most of the accommodation blocks were rebuilt in 1994-95 and in 2009 it became a closed prison.

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Image courtesy of: Mr Phillip Leason

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Source: Miscellaneous Collection

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