A historical look at The Hayes

May 2016

 
A historical look at The Hayes

Set in the pretty Derbyshire village of Swanwick, The Hayes was the first Christian Conference Centre in the UK. The centre’s stunning gardens, tranquil setting and spacious interior attract groups and organisations from across the UK, with many coming to the centre to share ideas, meet fellow Christians and enjoy a thoughtful and reflective retreat in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside.

However, what many of today’s visitors may not know when they set foot in The Hayes is that they’re actually walking on a piece of history. Having played a crucial role in some of the most important events of the last century, the centre has a rich and fascinating past that’s just waiting to be explored.

Beginnings

The Hayes was built in the 1860s as the home of Mr Fitzherbert Wright, the builder of St Pancras Station and great, great grandfather of the Duchess of York. However, just 50 years later in 1910, Fitzherbert Wright’s son sold the estate to the company that then adapted it for use as a Christian Conference Centre.

Second World War

This peaceful rural retreat was transformed during the Second World War by the arrival of German POWs. Known as Camp 13, The Hayes was the site of one of the most daring escapes of the war when five German prisoners, including ace fighter pilot Franz von Werra, successfully tunnelled out of the camp while the POW choir distracted the guards.

World War 2 tunnel at the Hayes

Von Werra managed to convince locals he was a downed Dutch pilot. He was in the cockpit of a plane preparing to fly home when he was discovered and re-arrested. The events were later turned into a film The One That Got Away starring Hardy Kruger.

The entrance to the 30-metre long escape tunnel was discovered in 1980 behind a fireplace in room number 102, which was in the former Garden House building. Pictured above, by the tunnel exit, is Terry Waite, an envoy for the Church of England, who was the guest speaker at a special centenary celebration held at The Hayes in May 2011.

Modern day

Today, The Hayes remains the biggest and most popular Christian Conference Centre in the UK. Over the years, a number of notable people have attended conferences at the venue including T.S. Eliot, Sir John Betjeman and C.S. Lewis, while countless others have benefitted from the experience of attending an event at The Hayes and meeting with people from around the world.

If you’d like to find out more about The Hayes or you’re interested in booking the venue for an event of your own, get in touch with a member of our team today.

More information about The Hayes conference centre.

 
 
 
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