The following was taken from the Sunday Telegraph 10th July 2011.
The Battle of Britain was won from Bentley Priory. Now the Lucky Few will be
able to live in the restored 18th-century mansion.
says Christopher Middleton
There aren't many homes that can be described as heroic, but Bentley Priory, in north-west London, is different. It's the house that saved the world. For it was behind its elegant full length windows, and beneath its gorgeous domed ceiling, that, in 1940, the Battle of Britain was planned, run and eventually won.
Operating around the clock, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding and his staff took in vast amounts of information about approaching German bombers, and used it to deploy the nation's aerial defences, in the form of the courageous, young Spitfire and Hurricane pilots known as The Few.
Back then, this imposing 18th-century hilltop residence stood in the very front line of the struggle against the oncoming Nazis. More recently, though, it has been fighting for its own survival, in an era when Defence Ministers aren't keen to keep a 57-acre stately home on their books, whatever its past.
Across the country, in fact, large institutions which once played host to servicemen and women are being sold off by the MOD and converted into apartments. Quite often, for example, these buildings come not just with high ceilings and handsome brickwork, but with sea views. At present, you can buy an apartment at five different ex-naval bases in the south of England: Fort Picklecombe (Plymouth), Marien Barracks (Southsea), Fort Gilkicker (Gosport), Prettyjohns House (Eastney), and The Officers' Mess (Shoeburyness).
But perhaps the biggest collection of properties with a military past are to be found in south-east London, at the Woolwich Arsenal Riverside site, where 1,750 new apartments have been created, both by converting the original Army warehouses and munitions factories, and by building around them and another 3,700 are now on the way.
Mind you, those sites are unusual, in that their Forces past has at least been preserved, even if the buildings themselves are no longer on active service. It needn't always be the case, though. At one stage, there was talk of bulldozing Bentley Priory.
" It was very distressing for the last remaining members of The Few to discover that Bentley Priory, their spiritual home, was in danger of being lost to the nation," says the RAF's head of heritage Erica Ferguson. "So they formed a trust to save the Priory, announcing that they had fought and won the Battle of Britain, and now needed someone to fight and win the Battle of Bentley Priory, on their behalf."
Time, then, for those lion-hearted chaps to perform one last victory roll, with the news that their erstwhile HQ has been given a whole new lease of life.
What's more, the rescue isn't going to cost the taxpayer a penny, as the project is being funded by an imaginative new housing scheme, whereby the grounds are to be dotted with tasteful clusters of new town houses, while the priory is going to have smart apartments on the upper floors and a Battle of Britain Museum on the ground floor.
This museum will be partly funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Foundation, which has given £45,900 to fund a plan which incorporates conservation, learning and participation. If that gets the green light, more HLF funds could follow (the Trust is aiming for £673,000). " We'll be concentrating not so much on tangible history - here's a gun, here's a bomb, etc - as on the human story that unfolded here," says Ferguson .. "We'll be exploring what it was that inspired teenaged airmen to fly day after day, against incredible odds.
" Much of it, of course, was due to Dowding himself. He had been a First World War fighter pilot so had experience of flying, but at the same time he understood the strategic importance both of technology and speed of communication.
" He had this strong belief that you could stop incoming bombers if you responded quickly enough.
" Getting a Spitfire into the air 30 seconds earlier made the difference between it being above the bombers, or below, which in many ways was the difference between life and death.
'It's not just the location that makes it special, it's the history'
" When you were above them, you had the upper hand because you could come at them out of the sun. When you were beneath them, you were at a huge disadvantage."
All of which meant that the dispatch of speedy instructions
from Bentley Priory was a matter not just of bureaucratic efficiency, but of preventing the Luftwaffe from getting through and unleashing mass slaughter.
Of course, if any German planes did penetrate the defences and drop their load on London, the staff at Bentley Priory would not only hear reports of it on their radio transmitters, but, due to the house's hilltop position, be able to witness it with their own eyes.
From the Priory grounds, you can see right across London,"
says Helen Moore, residential manager of City and Country, the specialist restoration
firm that is creating the Priory apartments. "The view takes in Wembley
. Stadium, the London Eye, and even the Docklands."
And while most of the apartment owners will get at least a share of that view from their window, those that don't will be able to enjoy it while on the way up in the glass lift.
In all, there are going to be 14 apartments within the priory building itself, plus 89 other properties within the grounds.
" We're building 32 apartments and 57 houses," says Gary Ennis, regional managing director of Barratt Homes Southern. "This is the kind of site that doesn't come along every day; we've been working on it for five years.
Saved for the nation: the development of Bentley Priory pays homage to the vital wen done In guidli1g the RAF to victory In the battle over the skies of Britain during 1940
"It's not just the location that makes it special, either, it's the history.
Buy into this development, and you're buying into a house that dates back to
This long history glitters, too, with a list of famous visitors that includes William Pitt, Lord Nelson, Sir Walter Scott, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower.
Not to mention the celebrated architect Sir John Soane, who did much of the design. And for many years, the priory was the home of Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV.
All of this rich history is reflected in the asking price for the Barratt properties,
which will start at £575,000 for a small apartment and
go up to £5 million for a five-bedroom house.
These prices would have been unthinkable back in 1940, when the clouds in the skies above London were dark not with rain, but with enemy bombers. That the shadow of invasion was eventually lifted was due in no small part to the men and women who toiled at Bentley Priory, buying our pilots the vital seconds that led first to the saving of this country, and then to the liberation of Europe.
Today, of course, the men and women who worked here are well into their retirement years. Now, though, they can take life just a little bit easier, knowing that the building where they performed their heroics has also been given its place in the sun.
To register your interest in buying an apartment or house at Bentley Priory, visit www.bentleypriorystanmore.co.uk . The first show homes will be ready in 2012, and the museum is scheduled to open in 2013. Read more about the Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust at www.bentleypriory.org