Hughenden's Second World War story

A secret wartime past is revealed in our Second World War rooms in the cellars, with interactive exhibits and eye-witness accounts. Experience the wartime displays in our ice house bunker and find out why Hughenden was high on Hitler's list of top targets.

Meet the map-makers

Hughenden was home to a secret map-making operation in the Second World War, so secret it only came to light 60 years later after a chance encounter one of our house volunteers had with a visitor. She overheard a man telling his grandson he’d been stationed here during the Second World War and this led to a decade-long unravelling of the story.

Codenamed ‘Hillside’, Hughenden played such a critical role supporting the pilots of nearby Bomber Command that it was on Hitler’s list of top targets.

Around 100 personnel were based here, drawing up the maps used for bombing missions during the war, including the ‘Dambusters’ raid and for targeting Hitler’s mountain retreat Eagle’s Nest.. Skilled cartographers produced leading-edge maps from aerial photographs delivered by the RAF’s reconnaissance missions.

Visit the Manor cellars to find out how the map-making work helped turn around the war, and see the recreated dark room in the ice house.

The ice house boys

As well as the serious aspects of the work at Hughenden, the ice house, which was requisitioned as a dark room, saw some of the young men playing pranks on each other involving buckets of ice cold water. Hughenden may well be the location of the original ice bucket challenge.

Unlocking the secret

Phrases such as ‘Careless talks cost lives’ ensured that everyone involved in the secret activities at Hughenden knew the importance of silence. Often those involved in one section would have little idea what tasks those in a different part of the building were doing. And even family members were kept in the dark. Hughenden was referred to as Hillside to reduce the chance of its location being discovered.

Appeals in local newspapers and elsewhere led to more people involved in the secret war years activities to come forward and share their memories and gradually these combined to give a clearer picture of events. Photos from those who had been based at Hughenden and documents from military archives corroborated the story. Perhaps someone in your family has memories and can add to our knowledge?

New rooms for Hillside

The cellar rooms are not accessible for visitors with mobility difficulties and the Operation Hillside Appeal has been raising funds to allow us to open up a new suite of rooms on the ground floor. With a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the support of visitors and donors, we have completed the conservation works and we're now building the new installation which will open to visitors on 3 July, in rooms that will be fully accessible for all visitors.

With the help of local groups, including the RAF, the space will feature original photographs, records and memories of personnel involved at the time to shed light on how Hillside played such a significant role in shaping the outcome of the war.