Rooms once used for secret map making during World War Two are being opened to the public for the first time at the National Trust’s Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire.
Better known as the home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Hughenden was requisitioned by the Air Ministry from 1941-46 and, code-named Hillside, became a key mapping operation for the war effort, producing target maps for the RAF’s nearby Bomber Command HQ.
At the start of the war, there were few accurate maps of Germany and early RAF bombing raids were ineffective, leading to the need to set up a map-making operation. More than 3,500 hand drawn maps were produced at Hughenden for the RAF’s bombing campaigns, including those for the Dambusters’ raid and an attack on the Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s famous mountain retreat.
The National Trust acquired Hughenden in 1947, but the manor’s secret wartime role was only revealed when a volunteer room guide overheard a visitor, Victor Gregory, telling his grandson that he was stationed at Hughenden during the war. Years of painstaking work followed from Hughenden’s own team of expert volunteer researchers, which has been instrumental in uncovering and shaping the story, assisted by Gregory and the memories of some of the other Hillside map makers.
At the time it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry, Hughenden was owned by the Disraelian Society who ran it as a small museum. All furniture, paintings, carpets and other furnishings were put in storage for the duration of the war, except for the contents of Disraeli’s study which was left intact and locked.
Around 100 personnel, both men and women, military and civilian, were based at Hughenden. The map-makers were recruited for their skills as cartographers, architects, designers, artists and even cartoonists, chosen for their drawing abilities along with printing professionals.
A group of five south facing rooms were converted to drawing offices due to the good light, with other rooms used for the intelligence section, printing, photography and supervisory control. Administrative offices and a staff canteen were on the top floor.
A small display on the wartime work has previously been shown in the basement, but now the newly opened rooms, part of the original suite used for the map drawing, have been transformed with the help of local groups including the RAF to tell the full story of Hughenden’s secret wartime role – the people, the place and the map-making process.
The exhibition will feature archive material, interactive displays and accounts from the map-makers, personal stories from the people whose work was so crucial to the war effort.