The house can guard its history for many years and people who lived or took care of it might be unaware of the secrets its hiding for many years. In the case of Hughenden Manor, the last home of Victorian Prime Minister – Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield, it took about 60 years to revel the secret to its current keepers – National Trust. The Hughenden Manor secret was taken to the grave by its last occupant – Air Ministry in the Second World War.
The house was purchased by Benjamin Disraeli in 1848 with the helpful loan of £25.000 (in today’s money £1.500.000) from Lord Henry Bentinck and Lord Titchfield – the reason rather simple – as leader of Conservative Party he needed to be landowner with a residence in a country.
In 1862 Disraelis had the house rebuild by architect Edward Buckton Lamb. Lamb put his own signature on the mansion – swept away classical Georgian features and added a little bit of a drama to it.
We wandered around three floors of the mansion, visiting its reception rooms on the ground floor with huge Victorian plate glass windows and looking into the maps left by the first Jewish Prime Minister in the history of England.
We stopped at the library and I could not resist a possibility of taking as many pictures as I could in this darker than the rest of the house room, filled in with the smell of old books and old atmosphere so specific for the places holding old volumes. The rooms were left like they were when Disraelis was using them for work, which added a magical touch to our tour.
He himself was a quite fascinating figure – son of a Jewish Italian writer with an Anglican upbringing after the age of 12 and the chance to take a place in politics despite being a Jew (they were excluded from Parliament until 1858). When the ban was lifted he became the first, and so far the last British Jewish Prime Minister.
He loved gambling and went completely bankrupt losing money age 20 on Stock Exchange. He wrote a novel – satirical novel “Vivian Grey” and published it anonymously. Unfortunately his authorship has been revealed and his business partner who was caricatured in it was not a happy bunny. The stress over bankruptcy and this unfortunate revelation caused a nervous breakdown.
He went into politics in 1837 to represent Maidstone as a Peelite, and in 1852 the Prime Minister Lord Derby offered him a place as Leader of the Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1868 Queen Victoria invited him to become Prime Minister and he gladly accepted. He became a Prime Minister again in 1874, at the age of 70. At this time a lot of social legislation were passed: the 1875 Climbing Boys Act reinforced the ban on employing juvenile chimney sweeps; the 1875 Artisans Dwelling Act allowed local authorities to destroy slums, though this was voluntary, and provided housing for the poor. In the same year the Public Health Act provided sanitation such as running water and refuse disposal.
In 1879 Queen Victoria made Desi Earl of Beaconsfield and he governed from the House of Lords. He was very active politically until about a month before his death in April 1881.
After Disraeli death the mansion was used by his nephew and then sold on to National Trust. The current owner and curator did not know that the house was used to locate a secret intelligence base named “Hillside”. This secret cell was creating maps of Germany from the aerial photographs gathered by planes flying over Germany. More than 100 cartographers, surveyors and designers were involved in this huge job. Everyone was made to keep the operation a secret and the location was perfect – near Bomber Command but hidden in the woods. No one knew that something like that was happening there and I must admit, it was quite an achievement if you think that it was never located by Nazi’s.
The exhibition in the basement of the manor will tell you the story of Hillside in more details. You will be able to see the incredible work done by cartographers there.
The Hughender Manor is available to visit for free for National Trust members or the tickets can be bought for £10.00 for the whole property. Apart from the house you can visit beautiful grounds and gardens and the car park is easy to access to.