This is my third post about some part of Middlesex University closing down. These are tough times for universities! First it was their department of European philosophy, then the Cat Hill campus (containing a very nice design museum), and now the remarkable arts campus at Trent Park.
I learnt about the last two of these from Diamond Geezer; and I am not the only one, as I shall relate.
Enfield Chase was a royal forest from possibly as long ago as the Domesday Book. In the 18th century, George III was persuaded by his doctor, Sir Richard Jebb, to sell it off; Jebb managed to get his hands on the best bit, and built an elegant house on it. The name Trent Park commemorated Jebb’s having saved the life of the King’s brother in Trento, Italy.
After a long and convoluted history, the estate came into the hands of Philip Sassoon, second cousin of the First World War poet. He entertained the rich and famous: Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson went there for dirty weekends, and Winston Churchill twice painted a picture of the Blue Room.
In the Second World War, the house was a POW camp for high-ranking German air force officers. The rooms were bugged and the prisoners given free run of them; in the basement, “listeners” (many of them refugees from Germany) transcribed the conversations. Much was learned, including information about the concentration camps and about the development of the V2 rockets.
After the war, the house became a teacher training college, then was part of Middlesex Polytechnic, later the University of Middlesex, who have just put it on sale. The authorities hope it will be bought by some other educational or cultural organisation, though a posh hotel seems a more likely prospect.
Before the property is sold, there have been several open days run by volunteers. Two remain, on 28 and 29 July, if you are interested. (The website is here.) We went to one yesterday, and took the guided tour, during which I learnt what I have told you about the history, and much more besides. We overheard one person on the tour say to his partner that he had learnt about the open day from Diamond Geezer.
However, of more interest to fans of history and espionage, on 22 July there will be four performances of a site-specific drama about the listeners. Each will last for one hour and is free (but booking is required). The website is here.