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trent park house logoA project which will enable school students to use interactive sessions to explore the history of Trent Park House and its role in World War II will be launched this year, thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Trent Park Museum Trust has teamed up with Freshwater Theatre Company, which develops and runs "drama-in-education" programmes for schools throughout the UK. Over the next few months two sessions will be developed and piloted at four local schools - one for KS2 students (age 7 to 11) and the other for KS3 (11 to 14). The plan is to then roll out the sessions to a further 20 schools in the autumn.

The sessions will focus in particular on aspects of the mansion's history relating to World War II, the "Secret Listeners" and migration to Britain. 

"Secret Listeners" refers to the use during WWII of Trent Park as one of several Top Secret intelligence collection sites where German speakers (mainly Jews who had escaped from the Nazis) listened in to the conversations of prisoners-of-war who, not suspecting that the house and grounds were comprehensively bugged, gave away vital information about the German armed forces.

Secret Listener at work in the basement of Trent Park mansion during WWIIA "secret listener" at work in the basement of Trent Park mansion during WWII

Trent Park was the "gilded cage" where the highest ranking German officers were housed, including 59 generals. Historians have assessed that intelligence from Trent Park helped identify the development sites of the V1 and V2 weapons, together with other vital military intelligence, including some of the very first reports obtained by the Allied forces of the Holocaust and other war crimes.

"Freshwater Theatre Company have extensive experience working with schools, museums and other organisations, and are specialists in the primary and early secondary age groups. Since our earliest conversations we were impressed with Freshwater's awareness of approaching potentially sensitive topics (such as migration or the Holocaust) in the classroom and the value they place on open dialogue with educators. 

"Freshwater take into account children's previous knowledge and aim to give them power over the narrative, important factors in building engagement and providing 'wow' moments that will stick with them. We are delighted that Freshwater will be working with us to create exciting, interactive experiences for schools which support learning and creatively bring the curriculum to life. "

Catherine Holden, Schools Manager, Trent Park Museum Trust 

Trent Park House is the centrepiece of the new housing currently being built on the part of the park formerly used by Middlesex University. The mansion is being renovated, with its upper floors being converted into luxury flats. However, as the result of a successful campaign (Save Trent Park), in 2016 developer Berkeley Homes was persuaded to set aside the basement (where the Secret Listeners did their listening) and part of the ground floor to be used as a museum, which will tell the story of the house and park.

It has already become far too easy for the Freshwater Creative team to get sucked into the lives of the Secret Listeners - digesting all the primary sources, whilst exploring a variety of exciting ways to tell the Trent Park story. All our research and development will lead to an experience for pupils that helps build a narrative around their classroom learning and how they engage with the important themes associated with Trent Park.

Dan Griffiths, General Manager at Freshwater Theatre

Guests at Trent Park: from kings and queens to Nazi generals

Pre-World War II, Trent Park was the home of the aristocratic and extremely well connected Sassoon family and played host to kings and queens, prime ministers and international celebrities. At the start of the war it was requisitioned by the government and turned into an interrogation and bugging centre for captured enemy personnel. Its special role of listening in to the highest ranking captured officers began in 1942. Unsurprisingly, this operation was classified Top Secret, and remained so right up until 1999, meaning that many Secret Listeners took their secret to the grave.

Since the existence of the WWII bugging operation was declassified, it has been thoroughly investigated by historians, in particular by Helen Fry, whose books (and talks) go into fascinating detail.

artists impression of planned middlesex university building in trent park

Middlesex University's plans to rebuild its Trent Park campus never came to fruition and the educational institution subsequently moved out of the borough completely

Post WWII, the Trent Park estate became a public park, while the mansion was turned into part of a teacher training college, which later became a campus of Middlesex Polytechnic, subsequently renamed Middlesex University.

Around the turn of the millenium the university had ambitious plans to replace its outdated and unattractive facilities in Trent Park. However, in 2006 planning applications were refused by Enfield Council on the grounds that they might be detrimental to the surrounding environment. The university eventually moved out of Trent Park and its other Enfield campuses and relocated to Hendon in the London Borough of Barnet (there too the university's plans for a "Hendon Hub" centered around Hendon's celebrated library building, haverun into fierce opposition). The Trent Park buildings were abandoned from 2012 until 2015, when, following an abortive plan for a Malaysian college to move onto the site, Berkeley Homes purchased them.

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