The Chapel

The prospectus of St. Hilda's Hall stated that the Hall was 'conducted according to the principles of the Church of England, with liberty for the members of other religious denominations'.

When Cowley House became St. Hilda's Hall in 1893 the billiard room on the top floor was fitted out as a Chapel. One student remembered it as 'barrack-like', although 'slightly redeemed by view from the window'. She recalled endeavours by the students 'to infuse spirit and devotion'. Like much of the rest of St. Hilda's at this time the Chapel had been equipped as cheaply as possible and surviving hymn books suggest that they were often acquired second hand, possibly from Cheltenham Ladies' College. School Hymns was one of the books used, perhaps not surprisingly as the Preface was written by Dorothea Beale. A surviving copy shows that one young lady, at least, did not have her mind on spiritual matters and used her hymn book as a convenient means for communication with her neighbour. A pencilled message reads 'I am going to play tennis this afternoon with Miss Poole!!'.

A 'squeaky little harmonium' was remembered by one student of 1898-1901. She recalled being 'chosen to play for Prayers both morning and evening and when I went to practise the Hymns and chants, I was almost always accompanied by a very homesick damsel who sat beside me on the form and wept.' Attendance at Chapel was compulsory until 1919, and students had to check off their names on a list inside the room. As the gong for Chapel sounded at 8am, before breakfast, this helped to ensure that students had slept in Hall. It became the habit of some to get their friends to check them in, and so a responsible person had to be appointed to stand at the door. This would explain why a student could describe supposedly compulsory chapel as 'usually well attended morning and evening'. Under Miss Moberly (Principal 1919-1928) the list was removed but Chapel remained part of many student's lives. Miss Moberly 'always gave a short and sensible address on Sunday nights … and we sang about "holy deathbeds" with immense fervour.'

When the new pre fabricated Chapel was dedicated on Saturday 31st October 1925 the Chairman of the Council commented that those who had been in the old Chapel recently 'would remember that it was so crowded that those who were present regarded those who had stayed away with feelings of gratitude. That year the Principal recorded that the new Chapel was 'already making an untold difference to us, and the students feel it to be a great boon'. Six years later, in March 1932, a booklet of hymns for use in the Chapel was produced. It contained twenty one hymns (three in Latin); barely a quarter of them would be known to today's congregations.

The present Chapel in Milham Ford first came in to use in Michaelmas Term 1969. A non-conformist communion service was arranged in February 1971 and a Roman Catholic Mass in May 1977, each subsequently becoming a regular event.