In the summer of 1940 a handsome country house set among beautiful gardens on the picturesque hills of Stanmore overlooking London, was quite possibly the most important building in the world. The house was Bentley Priory the headquarters of fighter command. It was from this elegant spot that its commander Sir Hugh Dowding directed his men in the Battle of Britain.
The future of civilization was at stake. German success would hand the whole of Europe to Hitler and clear the way for victory against the Soviet Union. The four month battle left the Luftwaffe shattered, and a German invasion was adverted. Britain fought on to be the foothold from which the liberation of Europe could be launched
The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Museum was opened in 2013, and aims to tell the story of the one, the few and the many.
The one was Stanmore resident Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding who, from his desk at the Priory directed fighter command which was the air war against the German Luftwaffe. The museum aims to explore the importance of his leadership and vision, especially the "Dowding system", which was world's first large-scale centralized air defence command and control system.
The few, was the name given to the British and Allied airmen who flew and fought so bravely during the Battle of Britain in 1940
The many Today the filter room and the operations room have been recreated at the priory to give the visitor a taste of what it would have been like in the 1930's and tells the fascinating story of the the ground breaking and innovative technology that was used at the time
This piece of lace work which was produced by the Nottingham lace making firm Dobson and Browne Ltd, between 1942 and 1946 has been described as probably the most remarkable piece of lace in existence. It was created as a tribute to those who gallantly saved this island. The panel measures 15 feet long and depicts various scenes witnessed during the bombing of London.
A total of 26,000 miles (41,600 kms) of fine Egyptian cotton was used in creating the panel requiring 4,200 threads and the preparation of 975 bobbins
It is hanging opposite the Grand staircase, which was cut out of Portland stone. Most of this area of the Mess was destroyed by the great fire of 1979. Fortunately all of the memorabilia and paintings were in storage at the time. The banisters of this magnificent staircase and the newel pose on the left hand side were faithfully reproduced in 1980-82 by contemporary craftsmen.
The Rotunda, this public room was designed Sir John Soane, who specialised in the Neo-Classical style and also designed the Bank of England. He used the dome shape extensively in his designs not just for their beauty but also for security. The fireplace is and original feature and the pictures in here depict fighter pilots from the last war. The only exception being the oil painting of the Queen mother This was a gift from her majesty when the mess reopened in 1982 following the fire on 1979.
Part of the Italian garden as seen from the terrace, with its Griffins and various ornaments are authentic and date back over 100 years. On a clear day it has magnificent views over the countryside. In its heyday the the Priory boasted no fewer than 20 gardeners. A Tuscan Portico was added to the garden as well as a magnificent Oriental plane tree which stands below the terrace is one of a collection bought from overseas at the time.
In 1846 Queen Adelaide leased Bentley Priory but for health reasons didn't move in until 1848. By this time she was extremely ill with oedema and from her first days there found the stairs too much to cope with. A suite of rooms were prepared for her down stairs on the ground floor. It is here that she would have received her guests including her niece Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and can be viewed by visiting the museum.
Queen Adelaide's last public appearance was to lay the foundation stone of the church of St John the Evangelist, Great Stanmore. She gave the font and when the church was completed after her death, the east window was dedicated to her memory.
She died during the reign of her niece Queen Victoria on 2 December 1849 just 57 years old, at home in bed in the Priory, and was buried at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
Museum Opening Times
Bentley Priory Museum is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Opening hours are:
March - September: 10:00-17:00 (last admission at 16:00).
October - February:10:00 - 16:00 (last admission at 15:00)
The Address is: Bentley Priory Museum Mansion House Drive Stanmore HA7 3FB
For Sat Navs please use postcode HA7 3HT which brings you to the main gates of the museum.
For more information please visit their website
Or join our Facebook group "Stanmore Middx. Past & Present"