Miss Daniell’s Soldiers and Sailors Home
When the Army Council chose the village of Aldershot as the site of a new military base in about 1854, Mrs Daniell, the widow of an Army Officer and who was well known for her many acts of charity, was asked by the Service Authority to ‘do something for the soldiers’ who would be stationed there. After much thought and prayer she decided upon the idea of building a ‘home from home’ for the use of off-duty soldiers. Funds were raised and a splendid home of Kentish ragstone was built, the first such home ever built for the exclusive use of serving soldiers. In the following years more such homes were built in military areas, including one in Brompton. Army Scripture Readers were stationed in, or close by, these homes to cater for the spiritual welfare of the visiting soldiers, although attendance of religious meetings was not mandatory in order to use the Homes’ facilities. Miss Daniells Soldiers’ Homes still exists as a charity today (Registered charity 233685) providing ‘Institutes to be used for the spiritual, social, moral or material benefit of soldiers’.
The Brompton Home was a large purpose built structure in Pleasant Row, and contained a cafeteria, large lounge, reading rooms, a chapel (with a full immersion font), sleeping accommodation and a flat for the superintendent.
The early superintendents all seem to have been women. Local directories list the Chatham Soldiers Home (Miss Daniells), Pleasant Row, from 1891, but no superintendent is named until 1897 when Miss K. Hanson filled the post from 1897-1913 or beyond. From 1902-5 Miss Louisa Brownlow is also listed as a superintendent. From 1920-21 Miss Lewis is the Lady Superintendent, with Miss Hamilton listed as a directress from 1922 to 1927 or beyond. From 1930-1939 Misses H. G. V. & A. L. Dillon are listed as directresses or honourary superintendents. By 1948 W. P. Williams is superintendent, but the home seems to have closed for about 2 years after this.
In his autobiography (‘More Than We Ask’), George Measey, the last Superintendent of the Home from about 1951-61, recounts some of his memories of the place:
“After four years of happy and fruitful service at Calne, I was asked to prayerfully consider the post as Superintendent at the Soldiers and Sailors Home at Brompton, situated between Chatham and Gillingham in Kent. This was a branch of the Daniells Home at Aldershot. The work included being part time Honorary Scripture Reader to the nearby Brompton and Kitchener Barracks. The Home had been closed for two years due to staffing problems. During that time the Home had been reduced to more manageable proportions by closing the sleeping accommodation and the chapel. The cafeteria, with a small kitchen, was retained, together with the games room, and huge double lounge where meetings were held for the spiritual side of the work. On the first floor there were large reading and writing rooms for those who wished a quiet place to study. At the top of the premises was a spacious flat where I would live with my family. The building was purpose built for servicemen to offer them refreshments and relaxation as they pleased, in a friendly and informal atmosphere not found in purely commercial establishments. Men could come along to read, write letters, play games, chat amongst themselves or take a nap in a comfortable chair. … After a visit to the Home, my wife and I were impressed with the alterations and improvements including the three-bedroom, self contained flat.”
“We quickly settled down at Brompton and we found the three storey Home peaceful. It was a detached building, and purpose built on a side turning called ‘Pleasant Row’. The news got around that the ‘Dog and Bone’, as it was affectionately called, was open. The cafeteria was always crowded for the mid-morning tea break. Filled bread rolls were consumed in quantity, as if to prove that men were trying to ‘live by bread alone’. We became experts in having the fastest moving counter service in the district. I remembered the frustrating times I had spent in slow queues whilst in the Army. The morning break over, the rest of the day was quiet except for the occasional caller, and a sprinkling of men needing a lunchtime snack. We did not encourage the serving of meals, but food could be had when required.”
“There was no bad language from the servicemen while they were at the Home. There was a marked respect for the ears of the staff. If a soldier did join the queue at morning break, not knowing the nature of the Home, or perhaps forgetting himself, he was immediately given the elbow, and told to shut up.”
“On Sunday afternoons we provided a free tea for all servicemen who cared to come. Tables and chairs were placed in rows to make long tables. The object of tea was to attract young fellows in the services along to the Home. After tea, a short talk was given on some relevant Bible passage. How those lads could eat! I am sure that if they had a favourite hymn, it would be the line from W. William’s hymn, ‘feed me ‘til I want now more’. Some came openly only for the tea, and they found an easy way of avoiding the Bible talk. The toilets were at the rear of the premises, which had a small garden enclosed by a high wall. The end was adjacent to a side road. Some of them who ostensibly went to the toilet never returned. The shinned over the wall and exited from the Home. In the endeavour to heave themselves over the wall, some money fell out of their pockets. This I retrieved the next day whilst pottering in the garden. Such money helped, in a small way, to contribute towards the cost of their tea!”
“Almost ten fruitful years passed away swiftly. One day we were shocked to hear that the Royal Engineers Regiment were to leave Chatham, when new barracks, the other side of the River Medway, were built. This move meant that soldiers would be too far away from the Home to make use of it. The Navy, by this time, was much run down and the Marines had already left for Eastmey. With the departure of the Army, the Home would have to close.”
The Royal Engineers did not move away, but the home was put up for sale by the trustees. It remained unsold until the mid or late 1960s, but by 1971 it had become the Christian International Refugee Mission. In the later 20th century the building was taken over by the Kent Autistic Trust, and in the early 21st century it was sold and converted into private flats.