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Making History
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Begins Tuesday 18 October 2005 , 3.00-3.30 p.m
Sue Cook and the team answer listeners' historical queries and celebrate the way in which we all 'make' history.
Series 12
Programme 5
15 November 2005

Listen to this programme in full

Political Intelligence Department at Woburn Abbey

Barbara Dennis was only 17 when she started work in the typing pool at the Political Intelligence Department (PID) during the last war. Based in both Ingersoll House and Bush House in London, the PID was responsible for spreading black propaganda into enemy-occupied territory. Many of the people Barbara worked with were German and Austrian refugees who had fled their homeland when the Nazis came to power and were helping the Allies. One thing has always puzzled Barbara about this work: there was a place away from London that everyone referred to, known only as "country". At the time she thought this referred to Bletchley Park but now she knows that it was Woburn Abbey, and she asked Making History to find out what went on there.

Making History first consulted the library at Woburn Abbey. The staff there explained that the Woburn estate was handed over to the government by the 11th Duke of Bedford shortly before his death in August 1940. However, the activities based there were so secret that very few records now exist.

Making History then consulted Dr Stephen Twigge, Head of Academic Services at The National Archives. Stephen explained that many of the papers relating to Woburn Abbey are now available for the public to view. They show that the PID was actually based at Woburn and it was there that newspapers and leaflets were produced and even radio broadcasts were made.

Useful links 

Woburn Abbey

The National Archives

Repatriation of Prisoners of War

Barbara Dennis (see above) was also interested in the fate of the refugees who had worked for the Political Intelligence Department who were sent home after the war. Making History consulted Dr Bob Moore of the University of Sheffield.

Dr Moore explained that the majority of German POWs were seen as a high-level security threat and were imprisoned in Canada for much of the war. However, many Italians were kept in the UK and were desperately needed to fill in for the men who were fighting overseas. With the invasion of Europe in 1944, many German prisoners were imprisoned in the UK and again were important in helping to make up for Britain's lack of manpower in industry, on farms and in the construction trades. These men should have been repatriated shortly after the war had ended, but with no German government as such to answer to and with the continuing shortage of labour in Britain, some were not sent home until 1947.

As for the refugees and anti-Nazis who had helped in espionage and propaganda, many of these took on important roles in the building of a new Europe - either at local town level or in regional or national politics. However, neither these nor the returning PoWs were given any financial help or psychological counselling, despite returning to bombed-out homes and broken communities.

Bob Moore and Kent Fedorowich, Prisoners of War and Their Captors in World War II (Berg, 1996)


Following an item on the kelp industry of South Uist earlier in this series, several listeners contacted the programme asking about the Iron Age buildings called 'brochs' that were referred to.

Making History consulted archaeologist Dr Kate Macdonald of the Archaeological Research & Consultancy (ARCUS) at the University of Sheffield. She told us that brochs were quite possibly the largest buildings found in Northern Europe during the Iron Age and that they are predominantly found in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, hence revealing a very different economy and society to the marginalised one of today.

Brochs were huge, conical, multi-floored towers, built using dry-stone wall techniques with very thick walls that contained stairways and rooms. It is most likely that they were home to the powerful families who ruled the surrounding lands, and many were so well built that they have been continually reused in the 2,000 years since they were built.

Useful links

Mysterious Ancestors: Brochs, Crannogs and Hillforts

ARCUS, University of Sheffield

Orkney's Brochs

Shetland Museum
Nicholaa de la Haye

A listener asked for more information about the woman who defended Lincoln Castle against the forces of Prince Louis in 1217. Making History consulted Dr Louise Wilkinson at Canterbury Christchurch University College.

Nicholaa de la Haye inherited the small Lincolnshire barony of Brattleby on the death of her father in about 1169. She also inherited a claim to be castellan (castle governor) of Lincoln (both her father and grandfather had held this office). A charter issued by Richard I on becoming king in 1189 confirmed Nicholaa and her second husband Gerard de Camville (she married him in 1185 - her first marriage is a bit of a mystery) in possession of these inherited lands. After this charter Gerard secured possession of Lincoln Castle and the 'shrievalty' of the county.

Gerard's family (the Camvilles), like the de la Hayes, were established servants of the Crown. Richard de Camville was the commander of Richard I's fleet for the 1190 expedition to the Holy Land. But it was Gerard's marriage to Nicholaa that provided him with a proper base.

Despite her legal subordination to her husband, Nicholaa was actively involved in the management of her estates during her marriage to Gerard. During the absence of Richard I on crusade, Gerard became involved in the violent dispute between the Royal Chancellor and John - while Gerard was helping the latter, Nicholaa was left behind in Lincoln to defend the castle against the Chancellor's forces. Though this was an unusual role for a woman, she was from the local family and would have earned the allegiance of local people because of this. Documents reveal that the Chancellor's forces laid siege to Lincoln Castle in 1191 for 40 days and Nicholaa's central role was confirmed by the response of Richard I on his return in 1194, when Gerard and Nicholaa were heavily fined for disloyalty.

But it was only really after Gerard's death in 1215 that Nicholaa herself came to the fore in public life. She secured possession of her inheritance and in 1216 assumed the office first of castellan of Lincoln Castle and then, by royal appointment (just before King John died), of Sheriff of Lincolnshire. The country was in turmoil: baronial opposition to King John, his acceptance and then rejection of Magna Carta, the slide into civil war in the autumn of 1215 and the landing of Prince Louis of France. In 1216 Nicholaa prevented Lincoln Castle falling into enemy hands by buying a truce with Gilbert de Gant.

Nicholaa was involved in further sieges, and the Battle of Lincoln on 20 May 1217 resulted in a loyalist victory that effectively sealed the fate of Prince Louis' ambitions in England. Despite her track record, however, she was removed from office just four days after the battle and replaced by Henry III's uncle, the Earl of Salisbury. She died in 1230.

Further reading
Louise Wilkinson, Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire (Royal Historical Society, to be published in January 2006)
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Making History

Vanessa Collingridge
Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

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Making History
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Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

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