Hughenden's Second World War story

A secret wartime past is revealed in our new permanent display with interactive exhibits and eye-witness accounts. The display is located in rooms used during Second World War that have never before been opened to the public. Experience the wartime displays in our ice house bunker and find out why Hughenden was high on Hitler's list of top targets.

New permanent display 

From 3 July, Hughenden's secret wartime map-making operation, codenamed 'Hillside' is brought to life in a new permanent display, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. In rooms never before opened to the public, the installation features original photographs, records and memories of personnel involved at the time.

In newly accessible spaces used by the mapmakers themselves, the interactive exhibits shed light on how Hillside played such a significant role in shaping the outcome of the war.

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.

Hughenden's Second World War mapmakers
Historic image of Hughenden's secret Second World War mapmakers
Hughenden's Second World War mapmakers

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.

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?

Newly accessible spaces

Hughenden's previous display in the cellar about Wycombe at War was inaccessible for those with mobility issues due to the narrow stairs. The new display is on the ground floor and accessible to all. The exhibition has been made possible with the help of a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the generosity of local supporters and on-site fundraising,