Playboy girls to rat bombs

Glorious past: the Thatched Barn as it was in the 1930s. It was later rebuilt as a hotel

Glorious past: the Thatched Barn as it was in the 1930s. It was later rebuilt as a hotel

First published in News by

Elstree Moat House, formerly the Thatched Barn, was relaunched last week as a Holiday Inn hotel the latest chapter in a colourful history which has featured everything from exploding rats to Playboy bunnies.

The Thatched Barn, situated on the corner of the Barnet by-pass, had originally been commissioned back in 1927 and by 1934 was a thriving roadhouse and leisure facility.

Conveniently located for travellers on their way to and from London, its close proximity to the studios in Borehamwood meant it was always a popular destination for film stars throughout the 1930s.

With an elaborate dining hall and heated outdoor swimming pool, it was considered the height of luxury for the glamourous stars who graced it during this period.

The barn was bought by Billy Butlin, founder of the famous holiday camps, but before he could develop the complex the Second World War broke out and it was requisitioned by the secretive Special Operations Executive (SOE) whose exploits and inventions during wartime would become legendary.

The SOE was an undercover section of the War Office and the Thatched Barn was given the code name Station XV.

Their mission was to create secret weapons and conceal explosives to help the war effort. Think Q from the James Bond movies and you are some way to imagining what went on there during the war.

Many former studio workers were re-employed to come up with some of the amazing gadgets produced by the SOE including exploding bicycle pumps, cigarettes and even stuffed rats.

The clandestine operations were overseen by the larger-than-life Colonel J Elder Willis, an 18 stone former film director and an expert in his field After the war the barn lay derelict for a number of years. The secrets of its wartime history were not to be revealed for another 40 years when former employees were no longer silenced by the Official Secrets Act.

In 1962 it suffered the first of a series of fires which damaged the thatched roof for which it was famous. It then became a Playboy Club for a brief period in the Sixties but prohibitively high prices and an exclusive membership ensured its eventual failure.

During its long association with Elstree Film Studios, it served as a film set for a number of film and television productions including the cult series The Saint with Roger Moore and The Prisoner.

In the 1980s the original structure was torn down and in 1989 a hotel was built on the site.

The Elstree and Boreham Wood Museum has carried out extensive research into the site and has old photos on display.

But the new owners are appealing to anyone with memories or information about the site to get in touch. General manager David Dalli said: "It could be a picture or an anecdote or a first hand account of being an extra in The Prisoner. Anything at all that will help us piece together the past, I think the results will be fascinating."

The findings will be collated and revealed in the New Year. If you have any information for the hotel, which is offering a free meal for four for the most interesting submission, send it to Aisling Mustan, Bray Leino PR, The Blue House, Clifton Down, Bristol, BS8 3HT.

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