Mary Berry launched a recreation at Upton House last week, where visitors are able to travel back in time to when the house became a wartime bank. As part of the recreation, two brand-new AGA Total Control cookers were installed in the National Trust house near Banbury.
In the classic cream – the only AGA colour available at the time of the Second World War – the AGA Total Control cookers nicely complete the period feel and are located in Upton House’s kitchen.
The recreation, titled ‘Banking for Victory, a complete transformation of Upton House’ was officially opened by Mary untying a bow in parachute silk in the historic Long Gallery, which has been converted into a 1940s typing pool. The Banking for Victory project turns the clock back to 1939 when Upton House became a bank in an effort to escape the worst of the Second World War. In September 1939, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany, the owners of Upton House – the Bearsteds – moved out and their family-owned merchant bank in London, M.Samuel & Co, moved in.
Driven by the need to protect bank staff and key assets from the London air raids, the bank took over the elegant mansion for the duration of the Second World War. The move was at the forefront of Government planning before war was even announced, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer demanding the banking sector be resilient enough to withstand threats to London from expected air raids.
At the launch event, guests were enthralled as Mary shared her wartime memories of rationing, air raid shelters and bombing raids. She talked of her father’s work enforcing blackout rules as a member of the special constabulary and joked that her “greatest joy” was walking to her school to find that it had been bombed. She said “I can remember collecting shrapnel. There were barrage balloons in the sky…the wires were meant to catch the aeroplanes. We had gas masks, but we never wore them. Everything stopped at 8 o’clock in the morning to listen to the news. Radio was so important. I can remember Churchill’s voice.
“We had ration cards and my mother said at the beginning of the war ‘if you don’t have sugar in your teas and coffees I will be able to make a cake or pudding from time to time’, so we all instantly gave it up. “Everybody was producing food in their gardens and everybody shared. We had a goat and chickens and after the war on VE Day I can remember my first Victoria sandwich. Mum made it and I remember my godmother was there. We all sat around with paper hats on our heads that we had made from newspapers. It was great.”
Of the Upton House project, Mary said: “I am just enthralled by it all. I remember playing on typewriters like this after school. The one difference here is that visitors will be able to take part. You can imagine how children who have their computer in their back pocket will be thrilled to bits. It’s all about taking part if you want to.
“The whole of the bank was brought from London. I just imagine the employees here who may never have been in the country, may never have worn a pair of wellington boots. It would be a totally different life for them. Everything in the dormitories is what I remember.”