Wed 19th May 2010

1940s festival at Hall Place in Kent

On the 31st of May 2010 Hall Place in Kent will celebrate its wartime history with a Forties Festival.

This period of Hall Place’s history remained untold for many years; the secret, kept by all those involved until 30 years after the end of World War II, is still not widely known. It is the story of intercept station Santa Fe and of Hall Place’s part in the Enigma Project.

In January of 1944 the 6811th Signal regiment of the US army arrived in Bexley. They had been sent to run Hall Place as a new intercept station code named Santa Fe. Lady Limerick the last private resident of the house had died in 1943 leaving the council with an empty building. Her death coincided with the BRUSA agreement between America and Britain which resolved on a new spirit of co-operation in intelligence matters. As part of this agreement three regiments of American GI’s were sent to Britain to help with the already well established operation ‘Ultra’. Ultra had built on the early successes of the Polish in decoding the messages of the German Enigma code machines.

The GI’s stationed at Hall Place were involved in intercepting Luftwaffe signals. Operators would tap in to the very faint signals from the continent, which were overlaid by louder signals and deliberate interference. It was work that required intense concentration; any missed digits could mean an unintelligible message and lives lost. Radio Operators would end 8 hour shifts with shaking hands and bloodshot eyes. The cryptographers recorded and organised the dit-dah symbols which were sent on to station ‘X’, now known as Bletchly Park. Hall Place was entrusted with the iconic Elephant book, fifth in a series of painstakingly compiled works from Bletchley Park it allowed operators to predict German call signs.

During this period of the war Hall Place was a hive of secret activity. The Great Hall and Tudor Kitchen housed the set room and cryptographers work rooms, some of the men’s billets were up in the Great Chamber and the Parlour was used as a mess room. The roof was stringed with radio wires and outbuildings were erected in the gardens. The GI’s made an impression on the neighbourhood, attending dances at the Black Prince, playing softball on the Hall Place lawns. Hervie Haufler one of these ‘Ultra American’s’ said that to his knowledge none of the local’s ‘ever inquired what we were up to at Hall Place.’

So on Bank Holiday Monday 31st May, Hall Place will be celebrating the spirit and resilience of 1940s Britain with a day of activities for all the family. It’s 65 years since the G.I.s left Bexley and we’re remembering their time at Hall Place with a fun-filled1940s festival.

Join us for family craft activities, ‘Dig for Victory’ in the gardens, see Forties fashion – you can even come in costume to add to the atmosphere of the day - with a prize for the best dressed! See military and civilian vehicles in the gardens, meet re-enactors and join in with informal dance sessions in the Great Hall where you can learn to jive, jitterbug and much more! Plus a traditional jazz quartet will be playing and refreshments will be available throughout the day.

On the day: Adults £7, Children (16 and under) £5
Discounted tickets in advance, call 01322 621238. Visit

News Shopper

One of Bexley’s most historic houses will be reliving its more recent past on this year’s Spring bank holiday. LINDA PIPER explores the background to the wartime story of Hall Place.

BEXLEY: Hidden war years being brought to life in Forties Festival

11:30am Thursday 22nd April 2010

WHEN former London Lord Mayor John Champneis built his Tudor home on the banks of the River Cray in 1537 he could never have imagined the role his new home would play in saving his country from invasion.

The Forties Festival being held at Hall Place in Bourne Road, Bexley, on May 31 will celebrate the wartime history of the Tudor house, kept secret until 30 years after the Second World War, and still not widely known.

By 1943, the house belonged to the then Bexley Borough Council, but it was left empty after the death of the last private resident of Hall Place, Lady Limerick who first owned, then rented the house.

The same year UK and American goverments had signed the BRUSA Agreement committing themselves to closer co-operation on intelligence. As part of the agreement, three regiments of American soldiers were sent to the UK to help with Operation Ultra which was dedicated to decoding the messages from the Germans’ Enigma encryption machine.

In 1943, members of the 6811 Signal Regiment of the US Army arrived at Hall Place, and their secret intercept station Santa Fe was opened. The GIs were there to intercept the very faint Luftwaffe signals which the Germans overlaid with other louder signals and deliberate interference. The work required intense concentration with missed digits resulting in unintelligible messages and the potential for more lost Allied lives. The American radio operators worked 18 hour shifts trying to pick up the signals, while the cryptographers recorded and organised the the symbols which were sent onto the now famous Bletchley Park decoding centre, then known just as Station X.

During this time, Hall Place was a hive of secret activity. The Great Hall and Tudor kitchen housed the set room and cryptographers. The Great Chamber was used as a billet for some of the men while the Parlour was the mess room. Radio wires crisscrossed the roof and a number of outbuildings were erected in the gardens.

Although their work was top secret, there was no keeping the GIs’ presence under wraps. They made a big impression on the locals at the regular dances held in the nearby Black Prince pub and could be seen playing softball on the Hall Place lawns. But no one ever asked what the Americans were doing in Bexley.

In 1945 at the end of the war, Santa Fe and Bletchley Park were dismantled and the GIs returned home.

Sixty-five years later, Hall Place will ring again to the sights and sounds of their occupation and 1940s. The festival will include Dig for Victory in the gardens, 1940s fashions, a display of military and civilian vehicles from the era, as well as jive and jitterbug lessons, a live trad jazz band, re-enactors and lots of other activities. People are being encouraged to wear their own 1940s costumes and there will be a prize for the best dressed visitor. The event will run from 11am to 5pm. On the day, tickets cost £7, and £5 for 16-year-olds and under. Discounted tickets are available in advance. Call 01322 621238