To call Petwood simply historic is unfair to this unique place. Over its’ many decades, Petwood has been a destination for restorative therapy, scandalous lovemaking, wartime convalescence, and top secret strategy. All of these stories, and more, were shared by the hotel’s resident historian, Mr. Edward Mayor, in a lecture prepared specially for our visit. (Not surprisingly, Mr. Mayor does not have a website, nor is he active on Twitter or Facebook.)
With his loyal terrier Sandy constantly at his side, Mr. Mayor told the story of Lord Weigall and Miss Grace Maple, who became Lady Weigall, and architect Frank Peck, who together created this most elegant home in the country for entertaining family and friends. As it turns out, Lady Weigall was most open-minded about relationships, and she worked with Peck to assure that Petwood would allow men and women to discreetly indulge their passions – Lady Weigall’s especially. During World War I, the house was requisitioned by The Crown to serve as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers (as was Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle). But the home is most well-known as the site where the officers of 617th RAF Squadron – the Dambusters – gathered to relax during World War II. MSCM 398 attended Mr. Mayor’s lecture in the Dambusters Bar, surrounded by the historic artifacts that document the unit’s mission to destroy the dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley using the Wallis “Bouncing Bomb,” (as documented in Martin Shaw’s fascinating documentary, Dambusters Declassified). The room even contains, in a large frame to the right of the bar, the orders to the 617th from RAF command, meticulously typed in single spaced lines across six error-free pages.
Visiting Petwood was remarkable in many ways. Certainly, the history embodied in the hotel is thrilling. But Petwood also exudes a delightfully quiet and satisfying dignity, whether one strolls the lovingly-tendered gardens, or dozes by the fire in the cozy common room. The atmosphere is rich, relaxing, and even a bit playful, as our host Andrew demonstrated when he took a turn at the grand piano outside the bar. Of all the places we visited in England, this was without a doubt the most quintessentially English.