Special plaque unveiled to commemorate secret World War Two history of Welwyn building
PUBLISHED: 11:03 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:25 09 October 2019
A commemorative plaque has been unveiled at a Welwyn housing development where James Bond-style gadgets were made in secret during the Second World War.
The Special Forces Club unveiled the plaque to commemorate the history of The Frythe at Linden Homes' Wilshere Park development in Welwyn.
The Frythe was commandeered in August 1939 by British Military Intelligence, and became a secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) factory known as Station IX.
It was then used as a hub to conduct research into military vehicles, equipment and weapons.
Among the ingenious inventions devised at The Frythe were the Welrod, a one-shot sleeve gun, the Welman, a one-man submarine, and the Welbike.
The plaque was presented to Linden Homes by Colonel Kevin FitzGerald, on behalf of The Special Forces Club, and honours the building's time when it housed Station IX from 1940 to 1945.
Invited guests, including the mayor of Welwyn Hatfield, Councillor Roger Trigg, enjoyed a talk on the building's most fascinating memories from Kevin FitzGerald.
They were then able to go on a tour of the building to see the stunning restoration work that was carried out throughout the communal areas and within the apartments themselves, where many of the period features remain.
Adrian Sims, managing director of Linden Homes Chiltern, said: "Wilshere Park is a development we're extremely proud of.
"We were delighted to give The Frythe a new lease of life and ensure it lives on.
"It's been an absolute honour to celebrate and ensure the legacy of the building's colourful history, with some of the most fascinating stories coming from its role in the Second World War.
"My thanks go to Kevin FitzGerald for initiating and creating the commemorative plaque, which will act as a permanent reminder of the importance the building once played in our history."
The Frythe sits at the heart of the Wilshere Park development, off Digswell Hill.
Beautifully restored by Linden Homes, The Frythe now offers 12 luxurious apartments designed to honour the history of the building.
The word 'frythe' derives from the Old English word meaning wooded country, which perfectly describes the stunning backdrop of woodland and green space to be found at Wilshere Park.
Records of a building date back to 1260, with the restored Gothic Revival mansion being built in 1846.
It later became a research laboratory during the Second World War. Think James Bond's Q gadget workshop before Ian Fleming had written his first 007 spy novel Casino Royale.
One-man submarines, explosive pencils, submersible canoes and a miniature collapsible motorcycle for paratroopers were among the classified inventions developed in the leafy outskirts of Welwyn.
Known as Station IX, The Frythe played a vital role for the SOE.
It had been requisitioned before the war by Section D of the Secret Service which researched undercover offensive action.
The SOE took it over when it was formed in 1940, prior to which The Frythe had been a hotel.
The Frythe was dedicated to researching and developing new equipment and was primarily staffed by scientists.
To ensure that as few people as possible were aware of the SOE's existence, the covert activities of The Frythe were conducted under the auspices of a cover name, the Inter-Services Research Bureau.
The extensive grounds also provided space for small cabins and barracks, which the SOE used as hush-hush workshops and laboratories.
Many of the machines and weapons developed at Station IX in Welwyn were given the prefix 'Wel'.
A couple of the most notable inventions to come out of The Frythe were the Welbike and the Welrod.
The Welbike was a small motorcycle designed for use by paratroopers as it could be air-dropped.
The Corgi Scooter was later developed from it.
The Welrod was a simplified pistol with an integrated silencer that was designed as an assassination weapon.
Following the war, the SOE was disbanded in 1946.
The Frythe was later a commercial research facility, operated by ICI for a number of years and later Unilever.
The site was closed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and sold to a property developer in 2010.
A number of the two and three bedroom apartments are still available at The Frythe.
The apartments boast stylish design, high ceilings and outside terrace space.
Prices for these exclusive homes currently start at £550,000 for a two-bedroom mezzanine apartment.
Linden Homes' Adrian Sims added: "I would like to thank all those who attended the unveiling, it was a very special day.
"I'd also like to thank the teams involved in the construction of this beautiful development and a special thank you and well done to the site team on the incredible restoration of this fantastic building."