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 Dam Busters raids and a planned hit on Hitler’s secret bunker at Berchtesgaden. 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?

Operation Hillside Appeal

The current exhibition space is less than ideal as it is not accessible for visitors with mobility issues and after recent flooding in the cellars is much reduced. In 2018 we are hoping to raise £80,000 to create a new exhibition for the Hillside story in ground floor rooms that were actually used as drawing offices during the war.

Could you help us with a donation? Your gift will help us with the vital conservation work needed to restore these rooms and the development of the new exhibition which for the first time will be fully accessible to all visitors.