The settled property of Mrs Hornby Lewis was left to a grand niece Elizabeth Whitelaw, then a school girl of about sixteen, when she attained her twenty-fifth birthday. A period of financial depression led the trustees to seek permission to sell the estate. It passed to Mr Stanley Garton, who made preparations to take up residence, renovating the house and improving the amenities. They had hardly settled in before war clouds began to gather. When trouble was imminent Colet Court School was evacuated from Hammersmith to Danesfield with an influx of approximately 80 boys.
As war proceeded Danesfield was requisitioned as a base to develop the intelligence Section of the Royal Air Force (Reconnaissance and Photography Section), Mr Garton moved to Kingswood (1941) and Colet Court School departed. Wooden structures appeared like mushrooms scattered over the landscape. An agreement to rehabilitate the property when war ceased seemed likely to cost more than the place was worth. Danesfield was therefore purchased by the Air Ministry in 1948 and was made Divisional Head Quarters for No. 90 Group (Signals). During this time the RAF residents formed a club called the Hell Fire Club (named after the notorious Hell Fire Club of Medmenham), whose members one night piled up all the tables and chairs in the grand hall and left a footprint on the ceiling!
The RAF used the "clocktower" side of the house for Officers' accommodation with the Grand Banqueting Hall, offering what must been the most luxurious Officers' Mess in the country.
The Commanding Officer and his family also lived in the house, although at the opposite end to that of the Officers. Much of the house was as it is today, with the bar located in a similar position to the one the RAF residents would have utilised. However the door, which offered the Commander his own personal access to the bar, no longer exists.
The property remained in the hands of the RAF until 1977 when it was sold to Carnation Foods to be used as their Corporate Headquarters.
Danesfield opened on the 1st July 1991 as a luxury Country House Hotel with a charm and character that cannot be compared. It is a property with a most unusual history and when walking around the grounds it is easy to imagine the strange events that must have taken place over the centuries.
Spies In The Sky: The Secret Battle for Aerial Intelligence during World War II by Taylor Downing
Women of Intelligence: Winning the Second World War with Air Photos by Christine Halsall
Bird's Eye View by Elinor Florence