Extravagant mansion built to please wife of 18th century politician discovered at Bletchley

By Ben Miller | 22 April 2014

Bricks beneath Bletchley Park point to the demolished extravagance of an 18th century politician

A photo of an archaeological mud trench cutting through grassland
© Bletchley Park Trust
The foundations of a mansion built by a politician but demolished more than 200 years ago have been discovered beneath Bletchley Park, the Buckinghamshire codebreaking centre which served as the home of the Secret Intelligence Service during its wartime deciphering of German communications.

A photo of an archaeological mud trench cutting through grassland
The foundations were originally spotted in March© Bletchley Park Trust
Bricks believed to come from Water Hall, the third significant house on the estate, were found in trenches dug for electricity cables which will power part of a “highly atmospheric” interpretation within the £8 million restoration of the site.

Browne Ellis, an author and academic who sat in the House of Commons at the start of the 18th century, built the Hall as a marital gift, but it was demolished by 1806 after falling into disrepair.

“The house was described as 'something of an extravagance' by the Reverend Cole, who lived in the parsonage of St Mary's Church next door,” explains Victoria Worpole, the Director of Learning and Collections at the Park.

“He built it in 1710-11, according to Reverend Cole, 'to please his wife' and 'at a cost of £6,000'.

“It wasn't his main residence. He lived at Whaddon Hall and spent much of his time and money restoring local churches, including St Mary's in Bletchley, which is next to Bletchley Park.

“The English Heritage report on Bletchley Park's historical significance, carried out in 2004, says Water Hall was 'fashionable, sophisticated and a reflection of Browne Willis's wealth, status and social aspirations.'

An image of a map for an ancient country estate
A survey of the grounds carried out in 1718© English Heritage from the 1718 Estate Survey (reproduced with permission Centre for Bucks Studies, Ma299/1)
“There were long tree-lined avenues surrounding the house, extending out from the gardens into the surrounding fields.”

An archaeological investigation is expected to confirm the origins of the foundations. Two wartime huts have also surfaced during the development.

“We found foundations of World War Two Huts 2 and 9 under what was for more than 20 years concrete car park, which is being restored to parkland as it was in World War II,” says Worpole.

“These are now being marked out and there will be an interpretation board telling visitors what went on inside them.

"In Hut 2, for example, refreshments were served including cake – but, legend has it, only on Thursdays.

“We knew where they were likely to be but were by no means sure they had survived. It's nice to be able to back up archival and historic accounts with real, physical evidence.

“It's another exciting discovery in what has been a year of discovering Bletchley Park's hidden treasures.”

The restoration is expected to be completed in June 2014.

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