WEST Cumbria will lose more than visitor accommodation if the Moota Motel is flattened - it will lose a part of its history.

But it seems that even if the motel, near Cockermouth, is demolished to build a caravan park, that history will live on as a display in the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester.

While it is remembered by many for its weekly dances, Moota started life as a World War Two prisoner of war camp in 1942.

A thousand German and Italian prisoners were kept at Moota and many stayed on after the war, marrying local girls and settling into West Cumbrian society.

A website about the camp - www.mootapow.fsnet.co.uk - is operated by David Hodgson, whose grandfather, Erich Spiegel, was a prisoner there after being captured in May 1944 at the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Herr Spiegel, a horseman and farm worker before the war, arrived in Britain in 1946 from a prisoner of war camp in New Jersey, USA.

He stayed in the camp for a year and four months and was released from POW status in 1947. He died in Whitehaven in 1965.

Many camps like Moota were built on wild moors to make escape difficult.

Moota itself accommodated 1,000 prisoners, many of whom were brought from camps in the USA, by ships that docked at Liverpool, to work on farms and help to feed Britain.

Moota was later converted into a turkey farm and then into one of the first motels in Cumbria. It continued as a motel until just before Christmas.

But the prisoners left their mark on Moota. They left behind them some beautiful wall paintings and a wonderful chapel with religious paintings and Biblical quotations, in German, on the walls.

Mr Hodgson’s website has pictures of the chapel and extracts from an article by Frank Carruthers, editor of the old West Cumberland Times.

Mr Carruthers served in the Royal Navy during the war and was himself a prisoner of the Germans for several years after being captured in Crete.

He wrote: “The chapel which the German prisoners made out of an ordinary barrack block was one of the most arresting things I have ever seen.

“It was almost entirely the work of one man, working in poster colour on giant pictures which filled whole sections of the barrack hut.

“The chapel was a riot of colour, and although one huge panel would immediately seem to clash with the colour of the next, the whole was in harmony; a great mass of silent, unmoving but oh-so-colourful figures filling every wall and all the ceiling, culminating in an altar-piece which filled the entire end of the building.”

The artist used his friends in the camp as models for the Biblical figures, but he left the camp before the job was completed and the remaining spaces were filled in by a less artistic hand.

Later, the paintings were destroyed by somebody with anti-German feelings and, said Mr Carruthers: “West Cumberland lost what would surely have been one of the outstanding works of art that existed as a relic of the 1939-45 war.”

And it is Moota as it was more than 60 years ago that is being portrayed at the war museum as one of the museum’s highlights for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

The exhibition features a mix of objects, personal stories, art and hands-on activities. It reveals the stories of men, women and children living in the north of England during wartime and focuses on the highs and lows of the Home Front.

If planning permission is granted for Moota’s demolition, all traces of this piece of West Cumbria’s history will be lost - except in the memories of the people who lived it.

l The Times & Star would like to hear from anyone who was a prisoner of war, married a prisoner of war or are the children of people who were imprisoned or worked in the camp.

If you have any stories to tell, contact Vivienne Paterson on 01900 607627 or email vpaterson@cngroup.co.uk