- Maunsworth House
- Location Name
- Maunsworth House
- Location Description
Maunsworth House was an 18th century stately home, requisitioned by the British Military during the Second World War, and used as a Communications Research Centre.
Decades after the war, the base was still in use as a classified military establishment, however, a need to restructure and modernise led to the moth-balling of the House, and an entirely new Research Facility was built a short distance away, which still carried the name Maunsworth as a reminder of the Project's history.
In an attempt to keep up with the escalation of events prior to the Battle of Maunsworth Field, the British Military reopened the stately home site, and the tunnel system that lay beneath. A Production Plant was set up in the sub-levels, manufacturing environment suits and weapons for the ever-increasing numbers of troops sent into the Field.
The House itself was left relatively untouched during the re-fit of the Production Plant, mostly in order to maintain a degree of secrecy about the military's expansion plans, and its dusty halls and rooms remained silent and mournful, a melancholy echo of their faded splendour.
Those events of the Battle of Maunsworth Field culminated in the signing of the Heavenfield Treaty, where all work into the project was officially terminated. The Maunsworth Research Facility, including Maunsworth House, was deemed contaminated, and a heavy quarantine zone placed around it [see Field-Exposure Type-C].
In its heyday of the early 20th century, Maunsworth House had an extensive and lavish ornamental gardens, which included a hidden, walled-garden section, ornamental lake with an arched bridge, and an area of managed woodland. There were several structures built including a pagoda and the Folly (a tower in the heart of the estate's woodland).
With the demise of Lady Oxton and the House’s military procurement, the gardens quickly reverted to the wilderness, their statues and stone structures now overgrown and half-hidden as nature reclaimed them for her own.
The Ornamental Gardens.
Sub-Levels - Production Plant
Although not officially a part of the Research Centre, when political tensions were rising over sovereignty of the Heavenfield, the old underground levels beneath Maunsworth House were reopened and refitted as a production plant for suits and weapons.
It was connected to the Research Facility by an electric train tunnel, and in all but name was a part of the Maunsworth site.
Most of the environment suits and energy weapons that were used in the Heavenfield were produced here. By the time events were escalating towards the Battle of Maunsworth Field, demand for suits far outweighed production, and over-simplification of the designs led to many suit failures.
The MX-Energy Rifle was a slightly modified version of a captured Exile weapon. They proved too complicated to manufacture on any large enough scale though, and by the time of the battle only a few hundred units had been produced.
After the signing of the Field Treaty, the Production Plants were mothballed, and quickly fell back into a state of disrepair.
An underground rail tunnel, complete with station complex, was built to connect the Production Plant with the Research Facility.
After the Battle of Maunsworth Field the entire Maunsworth site was shut down, and the train tunnels sealed with huge steel blast doors.
Fear of contamination from the Accelerator Array made the train tunnels a no-go area, and a quarantine was placed on the train station after a security patrol went missing. Rescue teams sent in to investigate reported strange sightings, the details of which are still classified to this day.
Maunsworth House can trace its history back hundreds of years, where it had been the family home to minor aristocracy. In the mid-18th century, inspired by his Grand Tour to Italy, a new owner, Lord Oxton, rebuilt Maunsworth House to reflect his love of the Baroque palaces and churches of Rome. Many of the existing buildings were demolished to make way for the house as it stands today.
By the early 20th century Maunsworth House and grounds had fallen into a state of disrepair, and at the time of its requisition in 1940 its sole occupant was the ageing Lady Oxton and her staff.
Having no surviving heirs after the war, and with the death of Lady Oxton during the House’s sole air-raid attack, the property and grounds (including extensive moorland) were kept as property of the Ministry of Defence right up until the present day.
Wartime at Maunsworth
"...They were a funny lot - "Escher's Eccentrics" as we used to call them . They weren't like any other army unit - there was no real discipline there - the Major used to let them please themselves really.
There were a lot of women stationed at the underground plant, working on the production line, and Major Escher would organise dances in the ballroom, and they'd all come down from Eastfield on a Friday evening. Against the rules of course. But the Major didn't seem to care. He really knew how to throw a great party..."
In 1936, with war looming on the horizon, the British government was investing large-scale resources into new technologies such as radar, with the Chain Home defence network of stations all along the east coast under construction. Thoughts were turning to any advantages new technologies could offer in the coming arms-race against Hitler's Germany, and the clandestine build-up of their fighting strength, fuelled by a burgeoning economy.
This era of fear and uncertainty in fact proved to be a fortuitous time for one brilliant young physicist named Hugo Escher. Only recently out of Cambridge, where he had studied Physics, Escher had initially followed his father into the military, taking a position as a scientific adviser to the War Office, reporting upon the threats posed by new and emerging technologies currently funded by Nazi Germany.
His role quickly became clandestine in nature, as Escher travelled pre-war Europe posing as a businessman, collecting information and secrets from laboratories and military research centres.
Note: There are many stories of Escher’s heroic exploits during the war, working to infiltrate and sabotage many of the most famous scientific Nazi projects throughout Europe, but it is back home in England that this text will focus primarily upon.
Realising the extent of foreign powers’ advances in technology (including Germany, Russia and the U.S) Escher campaigned vociferously to be heard by the British government. He pleaded for them to allow him the resources to assemble and head an experimental group focusing upon new technologies made possible by the latest research into electronics and particle physics.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Escher finally got the opportunity he sought. After making such a nuisance of himself to the War Office, they finally gave in to his ceaseless letters and calls, and allowed him some modest resources to create an experimental group researching the viability of these new technologies.
Escher, himself a particle physicist, was particularly interested in claims of directed-energy weapons, which were currently being put about by such famous scientists as Nikola Tesla, and in Germany scientists were believed to be working on similar weapons using particle accelerators. The War Office tasked Escher with assessing the viability of a practical application for an energy weapon, to be used primarily in an air-defence role.
In an unorthodox move, Escher gathered a small band of the most radical and free-thinking intellectuals in the country. Not only scientists, but philosophers, writers, and artists (and even one radical young clergyman, John Horton, who had almost lost his religious position for writing a scandalous essay in the Times on ‘The existence of God as a shared consciousness - The Fear of Love Infinite’). Escher tasked them with: “...forcing the boundaries of imagination. To go into the darkness and let our minds cast a light upon that which has never before even been dreamed. Creation. We set our sights upon the Heart of Creation”.
‘Escher’s Eccentrics’ as they quickly became known were actively encouraged to give complete free-reign to their imaginations - to dream of any idea, no-matter how seemingly-infeasible, which may go some way towards helping the war-effort.
They worked not only upon the energy weapon project, but also theorised fantastic new machines, weapons, bombs, and guns - all dreamt up by this eclectic group of brilliant young minds. Some of the projects ended in farcical situations; such as the ‘Warhorse’ (a huge mechanical automaton, 50 feet in height, which never made it off the drawing board), or the ‘Man-Launcher’ (an idea for a huge gun the would fire soldiers across enemy lines in special launch-tubes - a prototype of which almost ended in catastrophe).
Other ideas did prove to be genuine advances, such as advances in electronic communications systems, a new guided-bomb design, and even fledgling guided-missile concepts.
In 1941, after a near-miss during a German air-raid, Escher became increasingly concerned over the group's current premises in an old disused flour mill in East London. Work was progressing on the energy-weapons project, and after a clandestine operation to sabotage the Wernberg Plasma Physics Laboratory (an operation led by Escher himself, for which he was decorated for bravery), information gathered there convinced the War Office to continue with the project, and the go-ahead was given to Escher’s Eccentrics to construct a Plasma Physics Research Centre of their own, and a working particle accelerator.
To this end, the War Office (upon Escher’s advice) requisitioned a property - a run-down Stately Home and grounds in the north of England, named Maunsworth House. The Eccentrics took possession of the House in the spring of ‘42, and Lady Oxton, the former owner, moved into the lodge house, where she remained on good terms with her ‘dear boys’ until she tragically lost her life in the House’s only air raid of the war.
Escher had taken a great deal of time planning a suitable location for his group, and one of the key deciders was the proximity of Denniston Armoury, a disused World War I Ammunition Store and underground munitions factory, which actually ran beneath a portion of the Maunsworth grounds.
We used to sit out on the roof of Maunsworth House on hot summer nights - you could see right out over the lake and the valley.
I remember one night there was a real clear sky with the moon out. We could hear a German bomber in the darkness, circling about trying to find us. He went back and forth, we couldn't see him, just hear the drone of his engines.
All of a sudden the whole sky lit up like daylight, with a terrible noise of thunder - deafening it was. [name omitted] had been gazing up to the sky and fell flat on his back, and nearly went off the roof.
At first we thought the bomber had found us and was dropping his bombs, but then we realised it was our own anti-aircraft guns - seemed like hundreds of them opening up all around the grounds of the House. We never even knew they were there - they must have been in the woodland or that well camouflaged.
But anyway, after a deafening minute or so the guns stopped, as quickly as they had begun. And when the thunder had rolled away there was just a deathly silence. There was no more to be heard of that German bomber I can tell you.
Transcript from Arthur Parkes, stationed at
Maunsworth House as a radio operator 1942-43.
The Cold War Years
“It was never a Communications System. That was utter nonsense. Yes, the system had the capability to encode information within the Standing-Point Field as we now know it. But do you think the Military would invest that much money on a communications device? That was never their intent. A weapon. A terrible weapon was always their endgame. They simply never realised what they were dealing with...”
Escher on the Standing-Point Project.
During the 1950s and 60s Escher continued work at the Maunsworth site. Little is known of the research that went on there as most of the information is still classified. But there were many rumours that the so-called 'Communications Array' was in fact a secret weapon's system, and those rumours persisted until present day.
At the time of the closure of Maunsworth House, and the building of the new facility, Hugo Escher and many of his colleagues were forced to retire. This was to see the end of the legacy of 'Escher's Eccentrics', though the stories still continued for some time as to what they had discovered in their underground tests below the faded splendour of Maunsworth House.