Bentley Priory takes its name from an actual priory of the 12th century housing Augustinian Friars. The whole structure was demolished after 1766 and the present layout was built in the 1770’s by the owner James Duberly to a design prepared by Sir John Soane.
It was considerably extended in 1788, again by Sir John Soane, as a home for the first Marquis of Abercorn. It was the final home of the Dowager Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, who occupied the Priory from April 1846 until her death there in 1849.
The estate was sold in 1882 to Gordon Hotels, its life as a private residential hotel was not a success and from 1908 to 1922 it served as a girl’s school. In 1922 the school closed and the property stood empty until 1926. The estate was then split up and sold with as lots, one including the Priory buildings and 40 acres of land was bought by the Air Ministry. It became the home of the Inland Area HQ.
RAF Fighter Command was formed in 1936 and the Priory became its HQ. Work began immediately to install a temporary Filter Room and Operations Room (below) in the main building as the permanent underground structures for these would not be completed until March 1940. Bentley Priory was the nerve centre of Fighter Command throughout the Battle, collating all data on incoming raids and passing it on to the relevant Groups, the actual despatching of intercepting fighter squadrons being carried out at Group level. ACM Dowding was based there for most of the time though his accommodation was outside in Stanmore.
The Germans presumably never discovered the function of Bentley Priory as it was never attacked during the war. Fighter Command remained in residence until April 1968 when Fighter Command was merged with Bomber Command to form Strike Command and the new HQ was set up at High Wycombe, the Priory becoming the HQ of 11 Group within the new organisation.
During refurbishment in 1979 a serious fire destroyed the roof and three floors of the West Wing however all was restored and various minor units of the RAF remained in residence until 30th May 2008, when the RAF relinquished ownership and all residents moved to Northolt (a farewell ceremony pictured below).
Private accommodation now covers the site but the Officers’ Mess and in particular Dowding’s office have been retained as a museum.
The museum is now open to visitors, for opening times please see www.bentleypriory.org