The Spooky RAF Party House in Kent
Before Christmas, I had the pleasure of working on a film shoot at Southwood Farm, an enchanting albeit eerie eight-bedroom Victorian mansion located in the town of Westerham in Kent. Aside from the manor and its accompanying 150 acres of stunning countryside, the press clipping above caught my attention. It pays tribute to the manor's wartime service when it played host to flying aces of the RAF during the Battle of Britain (July-October 1940). This famed aerial conflict pitted the RAF against the Luftwaffe in a fight for supremacy over Britain's skies. It concluded in a decisive British victory.
Stationed almost three miles northwest of Southwood Farm lies former RAF Biggin Hill. Various squadrons took to the skies from here piloting Spitfires and Hurricanes throughout 1940. The fighter base succeeded in warding off countless Luftwaffe raids on London and the South East. By the end of its wartime service, the base recorded up to 1,400 downed enemy aircraft. This impressive feat came at a cost. Recognizing its strategic importance, the Luftwaffe relentlessly targeted the base between August 1940 and January 1941. One devastating attack saw 500 bombs dropped in ten minutes! Something had to be done.
Eager to conserve their finite personnel and resources, Fighter and Bomber Commands searched nearby areas for country houses to billet their troops. The owners of Southwood Farm volunteered their estate for this purpose. This practice was not uncommon. Thousands of country estates were requisitioned nationwide for use as schools, hospitals, troop billets, and residences for exiled European politicians and royalty. A notable example is Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. This estate became the centre of the Allies' pioneering code-breaking technology.
Southwood first welcomed 92 Squadron, who transformed the once tranquil rural scenery into a wild party hub, complete with music, drinking, women, and dancing that lasted well into the early hours. Never mind the ghosts of Biggin Hill, I'm sure plenty of spirits were left behind here...
Once the Nazi conquest turned eastward to the Soviet Union in 1941, the strain on RAF Biggin Hill and other bases gradually began to ease. The base remained operational until 1959. It then became a civilian airport. Southwood Farm is no longer inhabited but is let out to film and commercial productions.