Discovering the remains of a mansion that served as a top secret training facility for OSS Operatives during World War 2.

We often aspire to travel to the most faraway places to satisfy our wanderlust. But trust me when I say this : some of the most astonishing, and frequently overlooked places to discover, are right at your doorstep.

The Battle of Britain House in 1938

Well, my doorstep is currently at Ruislip, Middlesex. And my very neglected gem close by was the mysterious Battle of Britain House, a local wartime legend. Elder neighbours sometimes referred to it while reminiscing of the past. They talked about a beautiful old mansion nearby, where people used to attend residential courses, such as beekeeping, music, or art.

Mr Stanyon(R) & guests
Mr Stanyon (r) with guests, date unknown. (From the archive of Mr Sid Owen)

On further investigation, I found some local publications and memoirs referring to it as a local college operating after 1948. Records show that it was managed by Victor and Gwendolen Stanyon, a local artistic couple who organised the various art courses offered by the college. For a time, the Ruislip and District Natural History Society was also headquartered at the mansion.

Mrs Stanyon(R) & staff
Mrs Stanyon (r) with staff, date unknown. (From the archive of Mr Sid Owen)

On a dry summer day in August 1984, a sudden blaze devoured the mansion, rendering it beyond repair. But still, people talked of a stately home with grand spaces, lavish furnishings, a well stocked library, and decorations commemorating the Battle of Britain, including a memorial plaque and the blazons of RAF squadrons adorning the walls. Apparently, the house had been purchased on the initiative of a local appeal, shortly after the war. They wished, and succeeded to opening it as a youth and learning centre, commemorating the R.A.F. pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain. But such was the scale of devastation on that fateful August day, that what remained of the once grand mansion had to be razed to the ground, never to be restored to its former glory again. 

The rear of the Battle of Britain House (south side), date unknown. (From the archive of Mr Sid Owen)

But for me, the most intriguing part of the Battle of Britain’s House legend was its colourful ownership history, as well as it’s alleged wartime usage. I have found out that certain owners had been compelled to relocate from the mansion under difficult circumstances, and this happened twice ! And what’s more interesting, the wartime Ministry of Works seems to have requisitioned the building at the outbreak of World War 2, and later permitted its use as a secret training facility for US personnel based in England. Operatives from the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to modern CIA, were apparently based there during the war, preparing for secret missions into occupied France !

Stories of the mansion’s past owners

The story of the site begins circa 1905, when Josef Conn – a German immigrant – and his wife Emily, obtained a 99 year lease for the Duck’s Hill Plantation in Ruislip. This included permission to improve the existing buildings into their house, which was named Horsens upon completion. However, the finished structure was apparently much criticized by locals, and only a few years later, just as the First World War broke out, Conn was accused to be a sympathizer on the basis of his German origin, and was subsequently interned for a period of time. Upon his release, which appears to have happened around 1916 – before the war ended – the Conns moved away from the area, leaving Horsens forever.

Happy times (© Unknown)

During the 20s, the house became the property of  Meyer Franklin Kline, a well travelled American. A colourful and interesting character, Kline made his fortune as a travel journalist who spent most of his life creating, compiling and editing the Official Shipper’s Guide, a periodical journal sponsored by the Osaka Merchantile Shipping Company. Due to his business and personal connection with Japan, he renamed Horsens to Kokyo, the name of the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo. He is then known to have re-decorated the house in accordance  – Kline’s Kokyo was furnished with luxurious pieces from a luxury ocean liner’s state room, perhaps a consequence of his shipping industry connections. He is also known to have improved the mansion’s grounds significantly during the same period, including the two oriental lions once adorning the pillars of the rear garden steps.

Kline A
Meyer Franklin Kline holding a copy of the Official Shipper’s Guide, 1935 (© Los Angeles Times Photographs Collection)

The Official Shipper’s Guide became a definitive guide book for travellers in the 30s : original, leather bound copies of it can still be obtained through reputable antique book merchants. It looks great, a book I’d love to own for my library one day. But beyond his love for travel and writing, Kline was also known to have loved women. Perhaps a bit too much… he married no less than 4 times, and as rumours go, when his last wife caught him with the housekeeper, reportedly she proceeded to burn the entirety of the photos and films Kline had accumulated during his travels ! This is a terrifying story.. and a very dear price to pay for infidelity.

Franklin House in 1938

Kline eventually renamed Kokyo to Franklin House at some point after 1933. Franklin was his middle name, but he is said to have also named it so in honour of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States. During the same period, he appears to have leased the home to an unknown German national, shortly before the outbreak of the 2nd World War.  But the new leaseholder was forced to abandon the lease, as stipulated by wartime regulations in force at that time. He was, so to speak, the second German to be driven out of the property as a consequence of Britain and Germany being at war ! By some other accounts, there was “a woman of German origin” who lived in the house at the time, a “Mrs Hertog”. She was said to have been related to the Van Der Bergh family of margarine magnates from the Netherlands.

My research shows that she could have been Rica Hartog, the daughter of Hartog Hartog and Maria Anna Van Den Bergh. The Hartogs and Van Den Berghs were among the most important Dutch industrialists of the late 19th – early 20th century – indeed they were the kings of margarine ! The two families, among other important names in the Dutch margarine trade began as competitors, but didn’t hesitate to become partners when things got tougher during the 1920s. To remain afloat and continue enjoying a strong market position, they gradually entered agreements and formed pacts, pooling resources, brands and distribution networks over a period of years. This network of Dutch alliances, interests and dependencies eventually branched out across the Channel to involve British companies, and ultimately leading to the formation of Unilever in 1937, which remains a widely recognized international brand to this day. So with their businesses intertwining over several decades and spreading towards the UK, it’s no surprise members of their families ending up tying the knot too at some point, and perhaps finding themselves living in this wonderful mansion in Ruislip. So Mrs Rica Hartog is my best guess : she fits the event timeline, and had ancestry from both families. The only problem that remains was that both the Hartogs and the Van Den Berghs were Dutch, and indeed Jewish families. Rica Hartog was born in Brabant, much as the rest of her siblings, so it’s rather unlikely that she would be evicted for her origin, or even accused of sympathising. The truth is that I can’t know for certain, and more research would be required to establish the story of the mansion’s last tenant.

BoB House 5
Leaflet map showing the location of the Battle of Britain House

What is absolutely certain however, is that the outbreak of WW2 finds the mansion in the hands of the Ministry of Works, and soon, through them, it will be leased to its new foreign residents, the fearless men and women from the Office of Strategic Services.

The OSS in Britain

The US Intelligence apparatus was severely lacking at the outbreak of World War 2. Indeed the majority of information they collected at the time came in via their British counterparts : the Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6) and their Special Operations Executive (SOE) branch, the so called “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, a nickname alluding to the covert nature of its activities. The Brits were well ahead in the spy game at the time. They were active since summer 1940, performing intelligence and counter-intelligence activities, and conducting actual operations inside Nazi occupied Europe as early as 1941.

OSS wireless antenna installation demonstration (© Unknown)

By autumn 1941, the fledgling OSS had established a permanent mission in London, at a building in 70 Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. The purpose of this overseas presence was the sharing of information and expertise, as well as agent training and exercises for field operatives. Americans with European backgrounds and a cool head  were preferred, and after training in various locations in the USA, Britain and elsewhere, were sent into the field, for missions in countries where their accents would help them blend in successfully.

OSS operatives poring through gathered intelligence in London (© Unknown)

The Franklin House was one of those secret locations. OSS agents would train in hand-to-hand combat, explosives, communications, as well as the latest spy gadgets : Lightweight sub-machine guns, silenced pistols, compasses disguised as buttons, playing cards doubling as maps, and even cannabis extract-laced cigarettes to induce incessant chatting. Because remember – Loose Lips Sink Ships ! Beyond the seriousness of their mission and the real dangers involved, the young men and women of the OSS must have enjoyed the adventurous character of their training thoroughly.

OSS firearms training (© Unknown)

This joint allied intelligence and special branch effort culminated in Operation Jedburg : Small teams consisting of 3 agents each paradropped behind enemy lines on the 5th of June 1944, the night before the Allied landings in Normandy. These were no ordinary grunts : They were by now highly trained agents from the OSS and SOE, with elements from the Free French, Dutch and Belgian armed forces. They were tasked with infiltrating deep inside occupied territory, conducting sabotage and guerilla operations and directing and organizing the Resistance ahead of the main Allied advance. I tend to think that some of those clandestine men and women who took part in Operation Jedburgh, whose names and identities were declassified only recently, might have trained and prepared at the Battle of Britain House, ahead of their paradrop.

Jedburghs in front of B-24 just before night at Area T, Harrington Airdrome, England (© The National Archives and Records Administration)
Exploring the Battle of Britain House today

There’s not much left from the Battle of Britain House today. After the devastating fire in August 1984, the mansion was deemed irreparable, and its charred walls were razed to the ground. None of the lavish furnishings, books and RAF memorabilia survived the blaze, and council lorries soon moved in and removed any of the reusable materials. After a number of failed attempts to invite re-development, the council decided to abandon the project in 1993, and agreed to allow the space to be reclaimed by nature, thus returning it to its original state.

Visiting the site today is a reasonably easy and fun challenge. Trying to locate the remains of the stately home through dense woodland, using contemporary photos and maps offers a pleasant pursuit for the budding archaeologist. I have discovered the more modern vehicle access gate and driveway, including a small pumping house and a road sign from the 80s. Further, one can see the remains of railings, electricity pylons and drains. Eventually, one reaches an open plateau, in what once was the beautiful gardens in front of the house. There, one can still see the main steps leading up to the mansion, which is perhaps the most significant relic on site. Turning east, one can find the remains of two outhouses, perhaps one was a storage shed and the other a greenhouse, judging from the amount of broken glass still there. There’s not much present testimony to the house’s wartime usage, although metal detector enthusiasts are known to have unearthed a number of interesting items, including a fake firearm used for hand-to-hand combat training. Here’s a short video of the site when I visited in January 2019 :

I have visited the location a number of times, and it is unfortunate to see less and less artefacts.  There was much more to see in older photos, but it appears that irresponsible people have been removing any amount of scrap metal they could get their hands on. There was much more to see as evidenced in photos from about a decade ago, but unfortunately the non-protected status of the site means that it will continue to suffer from vandalism, until one day the forest will swallow it entirely,along with any sign of its presence. The legend of the Battle of Britain House, however, will remain – and I hope I have somewhat helped to preserve it for future generations.

(Since summer 2020, I have launched a dedicated site called as a focal point for my research into the history of the mansion. You can also join my Facebook group , an open community to post and share information)

All colour photos and videos in this article © explorabilia except where stated otherwise.

Except where expressly indicated, all non-attributed photos are public domain, to the best of my knowledge. If you own the rights, or have further information on any of the material in this article, please contact me – I will be delighted to attribute provenance or ownership, and relate your story.

References :

  • Genealogieonline for Rica Hartog’s family tree
  • The formation of Unilever – Info Guide No.4, Unilever Archives and Records Management
  • From Horsens to Ruislip College : The story of Battle of Britain House – Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote Local History Society Journal, April 1985
  • (various articles)
  • The Home Front : Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote in Wartime – Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote Local History Society, 2007


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17 thoughts on “The Battle of Britain House : Exploring the ruins of a secret agent training facility

  1. How interesting. We walk these woods regularly, and knew it was the site of “Battle of Britain House “. The vegetation is “garden” rather than nature in some places. Thank you for gathering the information to read.

    1. Hi Jen, thank you for your comment. This is intriguing, given how little has remained from the house. I’d love to know more about the “garden” vs “nature” vegetation. I’m not a gardener at all, but any still visible clue that can signify that a garden once existed there, would add to the story ! Are there any particular plants, or other such signs you have noticed? Could you share some examples?

    2. I found a site that suggested the fire arms training photo was taken at a place referred to as OSS camp X which is in Canada

  2. Hello, there is one other interesting reference regarding this site, which you can find at:

    This PDF contains more recent pictures than the ones taken from your references, including the time when it was used as an educational establishment and also from the aftermath of the fire. I’m sure that they would only add to the historical content of your blog.

    I also live within the local area and have spent much time walking around this site. Your pictures and video have pretty much covered all that there is left to see, apart from a few more drains and building foundations dotted about the place. There are still some small pockets of cultivated vegetation to see, but you have to look quite hard (and be there at the right time of year), to spot it. The plan was to allow nature to reclaim the site, but over the last few years I have noticed that Hillingdon Council / Ruislip Woods Management Advisory Group have begun to clear the site of a lot of the surrounding vegetation. (This is most evident on what was once the rear lawn area, where you can see the stumps of recently cleared vegetation). Perhaps the shrubs and young trees where not deemed appropriate for integration into the surrounding ecosystem and were invasive species, (which often take over abandoned former residential/ industrial sites). Who knows, but one thing is for sure, there is currently some long term plan going on there.

  3. I spent many happy times at Battle of Britain House circa 1960. As a result I have many photos (colour) of both the house and gardens but also of the staff that worked there at that time. Anyone interested to see/share these photos feel welcome, as taken by myself non are copywrite. E-mail me and I can e-mail photos back.

    1. Hi Sid – I’d love to expand the article with your photos !! You can send these to , and I’ll be delighted to mention you as a source. I’ve been considering a tour of the site for interested locals too.

  4. I went to the house about 1952 with my school ? Stayed there in some sort of dormitory. I remember it very well such a lovely place . I would love to talk to someone about the place. If there is anyone who knows the History.

    1. Good afternoon John – thank you for wanting to share your story ! A number of people have come forward recently to share their stories and content. I’m looking forward to hear from you, please email me at

  5. Thank you for this article, I’ve lived in Ruislip for 50+ yrs and knew that there was a house in the woods, since the pandemic we find ourselves, my husband and I have taken to exploring the many woods in this area and last week we found the remains of The Battle of Britian House, I was so pleased to come across those steps but also sad it is in the condition it’s in. It’s a part of history and I’m pleased we have seen part of it, thank you it was an interesting read,
    My email is if anyone comes up with any old photos I would be interested to see them. Regards Janet kemp.

    1. Dear Janet. I’m glad you found the ruins in the woods. The BoB House and the people associated with it deserve to be remembered. I have recently come across a number of personal accounts and new photos which I will share as soon as I decide on the right format (could be a longer read, an e-book, or an online presentation). I will be adding your email to my mailing list and keep you posted !

  6. Thank you for that I will look forward to reading it. As you would of come down into what would of been the garden we found the remains of a rectangler remains of something with the round circular concrete thing in the middle and what could of been steps up one end, could this have been an ornamental water feature with fountain etc? Also a bit further on from there the ruins of what we thought was maybe an outhouse or something similar. I find this all very interesting, thank you, regards Janet kemp

  7. Thank you for this, it is very interesting. I stayed at the Battle of Britain House in (I think) 1955 with a group from my school, George Tomlinson School, Southall. I remember thinking it was a marvellous place and being impressed by the woods all around and the many violets that grew in the grounds. We had to do some work while we were there, including writing an essay on how Mad Bess Woods might have got the name. We also had to calculate the capacity of the swimming pool, which was empty at the time. Nobody has mentioned the swimming pool. Is it still there? The other thing I remember is that the people who lived at the house had a cat with kittens and we were allowed to play with them. Happy days!

    1. Thank you, these are wonderful memories. Do you remember where it was or what it looked like? Could it have been a rectangular pool at the edge of the garden around the back of the house?

  8. Hi Joy, we came across the ruins and on our second visit we were roaming around in what would have been the garden, we came across an rectangler ruin with just say one course of brickwork left, it had a round concrete contraption with holes all round the edge and what could of been steps at one end. It looks like people have moved a lot of the concrete all around, we thought it was possibly a ornamental pond with a fountain so was interested to hear it was a pool, do you have any photos? Regards

  9. Fascinating! Meyer Franklin Kline was my grandfather. Am very curious to know your sources and know more about him. My mother lived at Franklin House. Thank you.

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