The many guises of Drake Hall

Front cover of ‘Drake Hall – A War-Time Hostel’, 1945. (Mr. P. Leason, OBE)

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.

‘Girls at Home’, Drake Hall, 1945. Residents and staff of residential houses within Drake Hall: Anthony House (Matron: Miss E. A. Hayhurst), Brian House (Matron: Miss H. Ritchie), Charles House (Matron: Mrs M. J. Reekie), Dennis House and Edward House (Matron for both: Miss L. B. Moors). (Mr. P. Leason, OBE)

 

Pantomime, Drake Hall, 1943. The first pantomime produced at Drake Hall was ‘Jack and the Beanstalk” in 1943. “This was our first adventure into the realms of Pantomime and was considered a great success. Two performances at the Borough Hall, Stafford, realised a profit of £123 and was divided equally between the Mayor of Stafford’s comforts fund and the R.O.F. benevolent fund.” Newspaper cutting text: “Pantomime at Hostel. Munition workers in a Midland factory have recently been giving a production of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ at their hostel. All the parts were played by the staff and workers, who gave up their evenings to rehearsing. The pantomime was admirably produced by the social organisers of the hostel, and was received with immense pleasure by the girl workers. One of the most exceptional performances was that given by Miss June Lawton, of Stoke, whose delightful and sparkling rendering of Jack was   greatly appreciated. Her tendering of vocal numbers was particularly successful, especially in the duet ‘Anywhere on Earth is Heaven’.        Miss Lawton is an accountant’s assistant in the hostel, where she has been for the past nine months.” (Mr. P. Leason, OBE)

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.

Evacuees at Drake Hall, 1945. An article on evacuees at Drake Hall, a group of old age pensioners evacuated from Liverpool. The text reads: “During the course of its career Drake Hall has been called upon to cater for diverse classes of people and have included typists, clerks, labour officers, factory operatives, Irish labourers, factory foremen, to mention but a few, and the latest addition to our family has been 132 evacuees, aged men and women who have been in the thick of the bombing for the last four years. Some of them had their homes damaged, some have lost not only their homes but all their belongings as well, and others have been injured by the bombs and they have now come to the quiet countryside for the rest they so well deserve. All of them are well advanced in years and are without exception old age pensioners (it takes four people four and a half hours every Friday to pay them their pensions; this is all part of the Hostel service).” (Mr. P. Leason, OBE)

 

Recreational facilities, Drake Hall, 1945. The games room, part of the recreation facilities available for staff and residents of Drake Hall. The photographs show skittles, dancing, table tennis, darts and billiards. (Mr. P. Leason, OBE)

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.

Drake Hall site plan, 1945. This plan of the hostel grounds shows the residential blocks: Anthony, Brian, Charles, Dennis, Edward, Francis, Gordon, Harold, Ivor, James, Kenneth, Leslie, Maurice, Norman and Stanley.  The plan also shows the location of the kitchens, games room, canteen, sick bay, and manager’s office. (Mr. P. Leason, OBE)

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: past.track@staffordshire.gov.uk. You can also keep up to date with what’s new on Past Track by ‘liking’ our Facebook page.