A brief history of Wilton Park

Josias Du Pre, a former Governor of Madras in India, build a grand house on the Wilton Park Estate outside Beaconsfield in 1779.  It was known as the White House because of its plastered exterior.  It remained in the Du Pre family, largely unchanged,  for over 160 years.

View of the White House, Wilton Park .   Photo: Dr Helen Fry

View of the White House, Wilton Park .
Photo: Dr Helen Fry

WW2 changed Wilton Park’s history for ever.  Leased to the War Office in 1939, it became a top secret interrogation centre for Nazi prisoners of war considered to have ‘high intelligence value’ and the most important POW site in the country.  The activities that took place there were hidden at the time and are still little known today.

Subsequently, its role changed several times, though mainly in education, particularly language education from 1972 onwards and since 1995 it has focused exclusively on language education for the Defence School of Languages.  Until recently, there were some 13 languages taught there at different levels according to the needs of the student, from relatively simple ‘street level’ communication to locals up to the sophistication required for diplomats.  Courses were appropriate to need, from a few days to 18 months.  Along with technical instruction in a language, cultural awareness was emphasised as a crucial element in communication between the military and the local population.

The future of the site had been uncertain for several years while the Ministry of Defense  determined how best to streamline its language schools.  However, the decision was made to move the school elsewhere and the land was sold in 2012 to the developer Inland Homes.  South Bucks District Council’s Core Strategy Development Plan, adopted in 2011, envisaged the building of some 300 houses in an area equivalent to that previously occupied by the Defense School of Languages and after a public consultation exercise of the Draft Supplementary Document Planning Brief,  revised it and the Developer is currently preparing a Planning Application to develop the site.