18 May 2021

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
91, Swanwick Conference Centre, Derbyshire

The chapel in the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, we are in an ‘in-between week’, between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost. My photographs this week are from places I associate with the life of USPG. Earlier in this series, I introduced the Chapel in the USPG offices in Southwark and its stained glass windows (20 March 2021).

This morning (18 May 2021), my photographs are from the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, which was the planned venue for last year’s USPG conference until the Covid-19 conference forced its cancellation. This year’s conference is planned for the High Leigh conference centre in Hertfordshire (20 to 22 July 2021), and I still have hopes that the roll-out of the vaccine and the easing of travel restrictions may mean I can take part in the conference this year, the last year in my six-year term as a trustee of USPG.

I have also taken part in many USPG conferences in Swanwick in the past (2008, 2010, 2016), sometimes leading workshops and taking part in council and trustee meetings. Archbishop Alan Harper of Armagh was the keynote speaker on the final day of the conference in 2008.

I first attended a peace conference in Swanwick in 1976, when I first met people like Bruce Kent of CND and Harry Mister of Housman’s Bookshop, and I have been back on many occasions since. These visits have often afforded opportunities to take a few extra days off in Lichfield.

Swanwick is near Alfreton, and less than two miles from Ripley, the Derbyshire town that was named by the Guardian in 2016 as the ‘most English town’ in England.

The old country house, Swanwick Hayes – now the Hayes Conference Centre – was built by the Derbyshire industrialist, Francis Wright, in 1860s as a wedding present for his son, FitzHerbert Wright (1841-1910), when he married Charlotte Rudolphine Louise von Beckman (1848-1932), the daughter of a German pastor, in 1865.

Fitzherbert Wright’s father was a leading Derbyshire industrialist, while his mother, Selina FitzHerbert, was a daughter of Sir Henry FitzHerbert (1783-1858) of Tissington Hall, an early 17th-century Jacobean mansion near Ashbourne. The FitzHerberts acquired Tissington by marriage in 1465. The old moated manor at Tissington was replaced with the new mansion in 1609 by Francis FitzHerbert, and it remains the home of the FitzHerbert family. Today, it is the home of Sir Richard Ranulph FitzHerbert. These connections are recalled in the name of the Tissington Room on the ground floor of Lakeside, where I stayed on my most recent visit.

FitzHerbert Wright had interests in local ironworks and coalmines, and was a county councillor and JP. When he was retiring from the Butterley Company as managing director in 1903, he paid for a new tower as a gift for the Parish Church of Saint Andrew, which was built at the crossroads in Swanwick in 1860.

FitzHerbert Wright died on 19 December 1910, and in 1911 the family sold the house for £11,500, about a fifth of its original building cost, to the First Conference Estate Ltd. It was converted into the Christian conference centre that operates to this day.

During World War II, the Hayes was used as a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian prisoners. Franz von Werra, a Luftwaffe officer, escaped from here, but was recaptured at nearby RAF Hucknall as he tried to steal an aircraft. He later made the only verified German escape, from Canada.

Today, the Hayes is one of the largest conference centres of its type. But past stories are cherished with names on rooms such as Butterley, Tissington, Haddon, Chatsworth and Alan Booth. Perhaps I shall return to Swanwick soon.

The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick … the original house was built in 1865 by the FitzHerbert Wright family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 17: 1-11 (NRSVA)

1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’

Swanwick Hayes was built in 1860s as a wedding present for FitzHerbert Wright (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 May 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the work of theological colleges across the world church. May the work of these institutions help us to better understand God and the path He intends for us.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Night settles on the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saint Andrew’s Parish Church on The Green in Swanwick, Derbyshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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