• LOCATION 1 | The Battle of Britain House: A Walk Through Ruislip Woods

    Start and End - Mad Bess Wood Car Park

    Start and End - Mad Bess Wood Car Park on London audio tour The Battle of Britain House: A Walk Through Ruislip Woods

    Welcome to Ruislip Woods!

    My name is Evan Panagopoulos and I'm an urban storyteller and independent researcher with a passion for uncovering the forgotten history of abandoned spaces. My work has featured on print and internet media, as well as on BBC Radio London.

    On this walk, I'll be revealing the forgotten history of the abandoned mansion called Battle of Britain House. From humble beginnings as a farmhouse in the early 1900s, the mansion grew in size and magnificence during the 20s and 30s, owing to a succession of wealthy, and sometimes colourful owners. And during WW2, the mansion served as a base for the training of secret agents who performed daring missions into Nazi Germany. The irregular nature of those stealth missions meant that their stories remained classified until long after the end of the Cold War. Today, we'll be peeling back the layers of secrecy, and piece together a tale of defiance, courage, and comradeship in the face of adversity.

    Before we get going, I'd like to remind you to mind where you step in the woods and walk sensibly while keeping to the trails to protect the rare flora and fauna of the Nature Reserve. Please be aware of the hazards around the ruin such as sharp objects, rubble, and uneven or broken steps. In autumn and winter, woodland trails can become muddy up to one's ankles - please ensure you are wearing appropriate footwear. In spring and summer, the woods experience change, and vegetation is lush. Do follow the red trail on your map closely most of the time, but don't hesitate to take a small detour to the next point if that makes more sense.

    In case you arrived by car, you are now probably standing inside the Mad Bess Car Park. Please make your way towards the gated exit.

    To your right, there's a pedestrian crossing you can use to enter the woods on the other side of the road.

    Once across, go through the gate to your right, and follow the path.

    This part of Ruislip Woods is called Mad Bess Wood. Local legend has it that Bess was the wife of a local warden, who wandered in the dark of night, scaring poachers away... or perhaps this was just a story, created for a similar purpose.

    One personality that's real and certainly related to Ruislip Woods was Howard Stransom Button. He was a lawyer specialised in insolvency, who was also a Conservative politician, becoming Member of Parliament in 1922. He also became an Alderman and High Sheriff of Middlesex later on, and he was knighted in 1936.

    Button came from a wealthy local family of greengrocers. The family firm called Alfred Button & Sons had been established in 1798, and by the early 1900s had grown to a major local player in wholesale groceries. Through various acquisitions and corporate restructuring, the firm became part of the known supermarket brand Budgens, which still has hundreds of branches around the UK to this day.

    Sir Howard's family owned a part of Ruislip Woods and may have used it as hunting grounds. These woods were obtained by the local council in a 1936 compulsory purchase toward the creation of a green belt in the outskirts of London.

    Keep going straight.

    While you walk let me briefly explain how VoiceMap works.

    It uses your location to play audio automatically, at the right time and place. This means that you can put your phone away now. Don't worry if I'm silent at times, when I'm not giving directions or telling stories. There's a map on your screen if you ever feel lost, and if you do get way off track without noticing, VoiceMap will let you know.

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The Battle of Britain House: A Walk Through Ruislip Woods