These Four Walls: the next chapter


I promised.

I promised to tell you what happened to the Buckinghamshire shack from the Domesday Book which was a Tudor farmhouse, and a Georgian hunting residence, and Disraeli’s outlandish gothic mansion.

We left Hughenden when the prime minister left it: he died in 1881 and left the place to his nephew. And his nephew left it, in 1931, to the Disraeli Society.

And then came War. And war can commandeer where it will.

The war effort claimed Hughenden, and it changed its name. It wore a cloak of secrecy, and became codenamed Hillside.

Its proximity to Bomber Command was  one of its key strengths. In 1941 a new broom was sweeping through bomber command. Arthur Harris, its new commander, knew that to win this conflict there must be precise maps of the targets planes must reach.

And nothing like that existed. German map making had deliberately ceased in 1931, and there were no maps of enemy territory that were worth the paper they were printed on.

So: a fleet of mosquitoes took off from Bomber Command, and took all the pictures that were needed.

Meanwhile, the word had gone out for all the gifted mapmakers in the land to join up and head to Hillside. And they set about making the maps which would aid bomber command through the darkest days of the Second World War. Each room had its function; a fine drawing-room became a bare drawing office with 20 tables, each staffed with an RAF operative.

It was a happy ship. With 100 staff, Hillside even had its own newspaper. It had  a university-campus feel, and the pictures tell many stories. You would never guess these faces are intricately involved in plans to find and destroy Adolf Hitler’s secret bunker, Eagle’s Nest, at Berchtesgaden.

And no-one knew; not all this time, such was the veil of secrecy which surrounded the place just outside High Wycombe. In 2005, the National Trust, who had taken it over after the war in 1947, asked for people with memories of Hughenden to come forward, and were not altogether prepared when a cartographer stepped out of the shadows and said: yes, I was here during the war.

And today, I shall leave you to browse photographs of how it was at Hillside, the former Tudor-Farmhouse-come-Georgian-hunting-lodge-come-poltician’s-haunt; in its days as a veritable den of cartography.


12 thoughts on “These Four Walls: the next chapter

  1. Fabulous set of pictures of another time. The people look to be of a different race of people. Aside from the faces and the party hats, I was very taken by the lamps on the drawing desks. Very absorbing post. Thanks.

  2. All this is fascinating, Kate and thanks for keeping your promise. It’s particularly interesting for me to read this now, especially seeing the pictures, as maps and a cottage play into “Code Name Verity” which I just read. The resourcefulness of the British people during the war was amazing, and their ability to keep secret, and the more I learn, the more I want to learn.

  3. Dear Kate, after reading Penny’s posting the other day I checked out from the library “Code Name Verity,” which she’d recommended highly. I’m wondering if there is a book about the British map makers of WWII or about the history of Hughenden? I’d surely like to read about it if you can suggest a book. Peace.

  4. For some reason my “like” isn’t taken … Yikes. Anyway I do. “Like” that is. Interesting and great pics. Kate, it must have taken quite awhile – labor of love – to collect those.

  5. What a wonderful story, Kate. I can almost imagine the “campus like feel” as these dedicated workers combined their efforts in such a valiant attempt to stop Hitler’s scourge. Just the right place was available for such an important time. I hope Britain continues to gather those stories and memories. I find this a very important story.

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