The British Country House in the Second World War

Book - 2014
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Requisitioned analyses twenty houses around Britain, who endured a number of varying wartime roles â? whether they be hospitals, storage areas, troops billets, headquarters for senior staff, or seats of foreign governments in exile.

Supported with a wealth of wartime imagery, as well as personal collections from those that resided in the houses, this is a welcome tribute to the country houses that were requisitioned by Churchillâ?s government to serve their country.

We all know of Bletchley Parkâ?s role in the war â? a Victorian mansion and its grounds leased by the Ministry of Defence in the late 1930s and turned into the world-famous codebreaking centre. But Bletchley Park was the rule, rather than the exception â? countless stately homes were requisitioned, acquired by, or lent to the war effort for all sorts of purposes: military command centres, barracks, hospitals, to house the nationâ?s art collections out of range of the German bombers, listening and monitoring centres (Hanslope Park, Chicksands Priory and Beaumanor Hall all feature in The Secret Listeners ), as HQ for MI5, evacuated schools, or even, as in the case of Badminton House, an unwilling refuge for Queen Mary, who arrived with vast retinue unannounced one day and stayed for the duration of the war.

Requisitioned , will tell the stories of many famous, and some obscure country houses before, during and after World War Two. In quite a few cases the war did for the house altogether: at Egginton Hall in Derbyshire departing troops left all the taps on and the resultant flooding rought the ceilings down and rotted the woodwork forcing its demolition. Both Shillinglee in Sussex and Appeldurcombe on the Isle of Wight were burnt out by the Canadian or Australian troops billeted there (the latter remains a shell preserved by English Heritage).

In other cases like Chicksands or Southwick in Hampshire the house was lost to the military for good, the former saw its estate disfigured by Nissen huts and transmitter masts. For many country houses the pre-war heyday was not matched by the post-war era â? Wentworth Woodhouse saw its estate grounds opencast-mined; Mentmore saw its contents sold off to pay death duties. Bletchley Park, however â? a thoroughly undistinguished mansion architecturally â? has found belated celebrity thanks to its wartime role, though its estate is gone for good as a consequence to the military huts built in the grounds. Certainly in many cases, after the war the house was never the same again.

Publisher: London : Aurum Press, c2014.
ISBN: 9781781310953
Branch Call Number: 940.5341 ROBIN
Characteristics: 208 p. : ill. ; 29 cm


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Jul 29, 2015

World War II required an almost-complete mobilization of British society, including at the upper levels.

This chronicles the war-time uses and abuses of several English country houses. There are lots of pictures: before, during and after. Some of them are sumptuous and some are just heartbreaking. Especially as a number of the great houses did not survive the hostilities and/or were torn down shortly afterwards.

The narrative is interesting as the uses to which the houses were put was as varied as the houses themselves. I found Queen Mary's--and by extension her hosts'--experiences almost amusing, given the circumstances (though I have the benefit of knowing who won. They were probably in deadly earnest about what was going on at the time).

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