During the Second World War the government requisitioned country houses across the United Kingdom for the war effort. No house was exempt, with the grandest stately homes re-purposed to house everything from schools to maternity homes, from military hospitals to war supply depots.
Using photographs and contemporary articles found in the British Newspaper Archive, we will look at the myriad of purposes for which stately homes were used during the six year conflict.
Many houses were taken over to be used as hospitals. Goodwood House in Sussex was no exception. According to The Tatler in 1940, the ‘historic abode…has been converted into a modern war hospital.’ The large rooms were subdivided to make hospital wards, with a surgical ward being housed in the great ballroom. In addition, an up-to-date operating theatre was also set up.
Patients’ beds could be found in the more unusual, but we imagine, quite pleasant surroundings of the grand house’s veranda.
Similarly, Shardeloes in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, home to the descendants of Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake, was requisitioned for medical purposes. In this case, however, it had been re-purposed to become a maternity home for evacuated mothers.
The Tatler tells of how the house was ‘offered to the Ministry of Health as a maternity hospital some time ago, and on the outbreak of war it was converted within twelve hours – the furniture stored in two of the rooms, the pictures removed and the wall spaces labelled, the library boarded up and provision made for fifty beds.’
As with Goodwood House, Shardeloes provided ‘a perfect spot for convalescing patients.’ One Mrs Clark here rests in front of the Orangery, which dates back to 1790.
However, not all requisitionings were as harmonious as The Tatler would have us believe. Several articles reveal the debate surrounding the housing of evacuated children from Croydon at Waddesdon Manor, home of the de Rothschild family. According to an article in the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail:
For some time Labour members of Croydon Public Assistance Committee have objected to paying Mr James de Rothschild £1,7000 a year for housing 75 evacuee Croydon children in his Bucks mansion.
The Minister of Health was forced to intervene, stating that ‘in fairness to Mr de Rothschild’ he would order the removal of the children from the mansion. According to the West Sussex Gazette, the children would be removed to Rede Hall outside of Horley, a place ‘much more easily accessible for parents and committee members than Waddesdon Manor.’
Other evacuees from London swapped places with the Croydon children, and meanwhile, other country houses continued to be put to good use. Grove Lands, near Henfield in Sussex, was used as a war-supply depot. Pictured is its owner Sir Gerald Hanson, who ‘goes round collecting supplies’ and donations for his ‘wife’s penny-a-week Red Cross Fund, which is doing extremely well.’
Hall Barn, near Beaconsfield, became a ‘busy centre of hospital supplies.’ The Tatler lauds the work of its chatelaine the Honourable Mrs E F Lawson, as well as, most condescendingly, the work ‘of the small fry who nobly do their best towards the general effort.’ Under the direction of Mrs Lawson, the working parties at Hall Barn made some 87,000 garments and surgical dressings for hospitals.
These are, of course, just a few of the grand houses that were requisitioned during the course of the Second World War. You can discover more about these houses and what they were used for during this period by searching for ‘Country Houses in Wartime’ in the pages of The Tatler, which ran regular features chronicling this phenomenon.