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 immersive wartime displays in our ice house bunker and find out why Hughenden was high on Hitler's hit list.

Telling our story

Many of the stories of our special places involve rigorous research. At Hughenden, the diaries of staff such as the gardeners or housekeeper and invoices or other documents help our knowledgeable staff uncover fascinating detail. Disraeli’s books and the contemporary political press all contribute to the picture we have of Hughenden during Victorian times. In large houses, contents often remain in a property even when it changes hands.

Unlocking the secret

In wartime, even documents relating to the routine are rare. Phrases such as ‘Careless talks cost lives’ ensured that all involved in the secret activities at Hughenden knew the importance of silence. Often those involved in one section would have little idea what tasks occupied those in a different building. Hughenden was even referred to as Hillside to reduce the chance its location was deduced.

A chance remark provides the key

It was almost 60 years after the war that the story began to emerge. A visitor was overheard by a room guide. He was telling his grandson that he'd beenstationed at Hughenden during the war and this led to the room guide asking the visitor for more information. 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 quite a clear picture of events. Photos from those who had been based at Hughenden and documents from military archives corroborated the story.

The ice house boys

As well as the serious aspects of the work at Hughenden, we have learned that in the ice house some of the young men played pranks upon each other involving buckets of ice cold water. Hughenden may well be the location of the original ice bucket challenge.

Find out more

The cellars and the ice house at Hughenden tell the wartime story we have discovered so far.  We have a 1940s weekend to recreate the atmosphere of the era and we put on children's activities during some school holidays or for school visits.  Perhaps someone in your family has memories and can add to our knowledge?