In the early twentieth century, a through-express train would bring wealthy Edwardians to the woodland setting of Woodhall Spa for treatments at the baths. One of these frequent visitors was Baroness Von Eckhardstein. In the throes of a divorce, the Baroness was looking for a country retreat in easy reach of London and she set on her making her home in Woodhall Spa in her ‘pet wood’.
Born Grace Maple, she was the only surviving daughter of Sir Blundell Maple – the owner of the famous Maple furniture company. He died in 1903 and bestowed to her a significant fortune with which to establish an English estate. By June 1905 the Urban District Council had approved plans for a ‘bungalow’ but by 1908 the architect Frank Peck had been engaged to design further extensions.
Much of the building’s defining characteristics are thanks to Peck’s work. He proudly talked of the Petwood extensions being in the ‘Tudor to Jacobean’ style, and recommended the ‘high class work’ on the ‘elaborate oak features’ which include the staircase he planned and designed.
Grace remarried in 1910 to Sir Archibald Weigall. In their newly extended, splendid home filled with Maple furniture, the Weigalls were ready to
entertain on a lavish scale and royalty, nobility, stars of stage, screen and sport were all duly welcomed to Petwood over the years.
Despite a spell as a military hospital for convalescents in the First World War, the Petwood’s most notable appearance in wartime history is probably as the Officers Mess for the 617 Squadron. Requisitioned by the RAF in 1942, originally Officers of 97 and 619 Squadrons were based at the Petwood. When it was decided that the 617 ‘Dambusters Squadron’ should be made into a special duties squadron which would work in isolation and secrecy, Woodhall airfield was selected as the operational base. So 619 Squadron was moved out of the Petwood and 617 Squadron was moved in. For Officers at war, the Petwood was fondly remembered as a ‘splendid place’ remote from battle.
Today, the Squadron Bar hosts a range of memorabilia and tributes to Guy Gibson VC, Leonard Cheshire VC and their Officers.
Summary taken from extracts of Petwood: The remarkable story of a famous Lincolnshire Hotel by Edward Mayor, 2004.