Excursion One – Duxford Chapel & Audley End House and Gardens
Our first visit is to Duxford Chapel, a modest flint and cobble 14th-century chantry chapel. This simple, unfurnished chapel is a good example of a complete medieval building that has undergone little alteration, and it retains some attractive medieval features. It may originally have been built as part of a hospital dedicated to St John the Baptist.
We continue on to Audley End, one of the finest Jacobean houses in England. Here we enjoy a fascinating guided tour with an English Heritage historian and learn about the house’s role in the Second World War. Audley End was the main training base for the Polish section of the Special Operations Executive, and agents were trained here to parachute into their homeland to fight against the Nazis. We also learn about the network of defences that once ran through the estate, part of a scheme to protect London from an attack from the east. As we tour round the house and gardens we find out more about the Polish contingent and their British support staff, where they lived and worked, and what the gruelling training courses involved.
Excursion Two – Imperial War Museum Duxford & Tilbury Fort
Today we head to Imperial War Museum Duxford. This historic airfield is home to Britain’s largest aviation museum, but it first saw service in the First World War. During the Second World War it was a base for RAF planes and pilots, including the fighter ‘ace’ Douglas Bader. The US Air Force used it in the later years of the war. Today, the hangars and buildings of Duxford contain some of the largest objects from the world-class collections of the Imperial War Museum, including hundreds of aircraft like a Lancaster, Spitfire and Concorde, military vehicles and artillery pieces. There are also displays of other artefacts, films, photographs, documents and books.
Afterwards, we visit Tilbury Fort on the Thames estuary for a guided tour. The fort protected London’s seaward approach from the 16th century until the Second World War. Henry VIII built the first fort here, and Elizabeth I famously rallied her army nearby to face the threat of the Spanish Armada. Tilbury Fort is a stunning example of a large-scale artillery fort with an impressive array of moats and bastioned outworks.
Excursion Three – Bletchley Park & Woburn Abbey
We discover one of the most remarkable stories of World War Two as we visit Bletchley Park, where the ground breaking achievements of code breakers provided crucial assistance to the Allied war effort. Our visit gives us an insight into the clandestine operations here, as well as free time to explore the galleries and exhibits inside the original code breaking huts, which feature the world’s largest and most comprehensive display of Enigma machines.
Our second visit is to Woburn Abbey, family home of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Originally a monastery, Edward VI gave Woburn Abbey to the Russell family in 1547. Since then, several leading architects have helped create the stunning historic house we see today. We explore nearly 500 years of one family’s history and discover unique collections of artworks, silver, porcelain and English and French furniture.