The secret is out

Trent Park House trustees Lord Sassoon and Jason Charalambous with Professor Simon Thurley
Trent Park House trustees Lord Sassoon and Jason Charalambous with Professor Simon Thurley

Sarah Roller from Trent Park Museum Trust provides an update on the project

The transformation of the historic Trent Park House into a museum, café and exhibition space has just taken a major step forward.

A lease agreement was signed with the site’s owners, Berkeley Homes, in December. The house and surrounding grounds had been bought by developer Berkeley in 2015 but the Save Trent Park campaign fought to secure part of the estate for public benefit – and succeeded.

Berkeley has agreed to lease the ground floor and basement of the mansion to Trent Park Museum Trust. Over the last few years the trust has been working tirelessly to get the project through various key milestones – including securing a grant for the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Why a museum? Trent Park House is of national and international importance for its role during the Second World War, when it was requisitioned by the government and used as a highly-specialised intelligence gathering prisoner-of-war (POW) camp for captured German and Italian soldiers, including 50 German generals.

The house and surrounding grounds were bugged with tiny microphones – advanced technology at the time – which ensured that conversations prisoners had among themselves were never private. Every comment they made or story they told was overheard by a team of intelligence agents known as the ‘secret listeners’ and the intelligence gained played a major role in Britain’s war effort.

The secret listeners built a clearer picture of German and Italian military activities, plans, morale, tactics, war crimes and atrocities across occupied Europe. Their work was said to have a direct impact on the subsequent Allied war victory in 1945, and the importance of Trent Park House as an intelligence site has been recognised by Historic England – comparing its significance to Bletchley Park.

Before the war, the house had a fascinating social history as the home of socialite Sir Philip Sassoon. In the early 20th Century, Sassoon welcomed high society guests such as Charlie Chaplin and Lawrence of Arabia; political elite like Sir Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George; plus royalty including George VI and the Queen Mother, as well as their young daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.

Once opened, Trent Park Museum will take visitors on a journey through the ‘roaring’ 1920s and Sassoon’s socialite playground, followed by the war and the story of the secret listeners. It will include educational facilities for schoolchildren and an immersive learning experience for visitors. A new café will also be created.

I am one of two new outreach co-ordinators for the trust who will be working with the Enfield community, including schools, faith groups and social clubs, as well as nearby residents, to understand how the new exhibition space and learning programme that accompanies it can best help and support local people. Look out for surveys and consultations in the coming months!

Further fundraising remains vital in order to achieve the plan of opening this museum to the public by Easter 2023. Donations of any value are most welcome and can be made via the website, where you can also join the mailing list to receive regular historical blog posts and updates on the project.

For more information:
Facebook /homeofthesecretlisteners
Instagram @trentparkhouse
Tweet @trentparkhouse
Visit trentparkhouse.org.uk