Wiston House, Wilton Park and Chatham House Rules
Back to work and a whole morning of meetings today I thought I’d pause briefly to say something about the venue for the recent awaydays…
As Colin correctly spotted, the venue was Wiston House which is near Steyning, North of Shoreham, in West Sussex. The house was built in the late 16th Century but extensively modernised and refurbished over the years. It was built by a chap called Thomas Shirley, a politician who basically embezzled the funds needed to build it from the Treasury. Perhaps even worse than that he demolished an entire village to make way for what was essentially a private residence. When his fraud was uncovered he was imprisoned, his family declared bankrupt and the buildings seized by the Government. It wasn’t returned to the poor people thrown off their land to make way for it in the first place.
More recently, during World War 2, Wiston House (along with most large country houses near the South coast), was commandeered for military use; it became the Headquarters for the Canadian High Command and the surrounding parkland was used as a base for troops preparing for the Normandy landings, along with about 200 tanks and other vehicles. The troops stationed in the area formed part of the 3rd Canadian Division that led the the assault on Juno Beach in June 1944.
Since 1951, however, the House has been used by Wilton Park, an offshoot of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This organization is probably most famous as being responsible for mediating the talks that took place in 1946 about the future of post-war Germany but at that time it was based at a different location, Wilton Park in Buckinghamshire, which was the site of a camp for German Prisoners Of War. In 1951 it moved to Wiston House, but its name travelled with it so now, somewhat confusingly, Wilton Park is now based in Wiston House. It now hosts a very large number of events involved with global issues, including security, political strategy and conflict resolution as well as some more mundane things that can benefit from their expertise such as the Awaydays I attended on Monday and Tuesday. It’s not generally open to the public and security, though discreet, is quite extensive which is not surprising given the high profile nature of many of their guests, though not so much at the event I attended!
The staff at Wilton Park adopt strict protocols for how they facilitate its discussions, including Chatham House Rules, and bans on the use of social media during sessions. Hence my virtual twitter and blog silence over the past couple of days. Although we didn’t discuss anything that might threaten global security or engender any form of conflict, it would be inappropriate to break the rules for any reason so I won’t say anything about what was said or by whom…
Just for interesting, the small manor church to the left of the main building dates back almost 1000 years – it is mentioned in the Domesday Book – but the interior has been altered considerably and looks quite modern. I was not actually staying in the main house, but in one of the outbuildings, formerly stables but very comfortable and quite reminiscent of the arrangements at The Cosener’s House, a venue familiar to many physicists.Follow @telescoper