The many guises of Drake Hall
by Senior Museums Officer, Chris Copp at Staffordshire Past Track
You may remember Philip Leason’s excellent piece on the history of Drake Hall, which featured in February’s edition of the Stone & Eccleshall Gazette. Drake Hall was built by the Ministry of Supply to accommodate munitions workers working 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 his wife, 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 variety 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.
Philip has very kindly lent us a copy of ‘Drake Hall – A War-Time Hostel’, a souvenir book produced for the staff and residents at the Swynnerton Royal Ordinance Factory hostel at Drake Hall, produced in 1945. It has been scanned and all the pages can be seen on the Staffordshire Past Track website.
All these photographs and more than 35,000 others are or will shortly be available on the improved Staffordshire Past Track website (www.staffspast track.org.uk). To find out what’s new on the site just click on to the ‘Latest Additions’ tab. You might also like to try out the GPS Location Explorer feature on the site: when using a mobile device with GPS enabled, the page will show a list of resources nearest you. With ‘automatic updates’ switched on the results will automatically reload every few metres you walk. It works particularly well where there are a lot of resources – give it a go in Eccleshall and Stone and see what things looked like in the past on the spot you’re standing.
If you have any images to lend, or any extra information, please contact the Past Track team: Staffordshire Past Track, Staffordshire Archives & Heritage, Shugborough, Milford, Stafford ST17 0XB. Telephone 01889 869137. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also keep up to date with what’s new on Past Track by ‘liking’ our Facebook page.