Czechs in Exile

Places of Interest

Aston Abbotts Abbey

Photograph of Aston Abbotts Abbey
Aston Abbotts Abbey

The site of 'The Abbey' at Aston Abbotts was previously occupied by an ancient country residence of the Abbotts of St. Albans.

The present buiding is a listed Georgian building and was known as Aston House until approximately the late 19th Century. Some of its walls are believed to date back to the original house sold by Henry VIII to Lord Russel after the dissolution of the monsatries in 1519.

In 1534 the house was transferred to the Dormer family and they held the estate until the early 19th century. It then appears to have been sold to the Duke of Buckingham and then sold again in 1848 to Samuel Lloyd. He and his daughter, Lady Wantage, kept the property until 1924 when it was sold to Harold and Beatrice Morton.

Between 1538 and 1924 however, the house was never lived in by its owners and instead it was usually rented out. One of the most famous tennants was the polar explorer Sir James Clarke Ross who discovered the magnetic north pole. He lived in the house from 1842 until he died in 1862, and he now rests in the grounds of Aston Abbotts church, a short walk away.

The very next tennant, Frederick Straw, renamed the House 'The Abbey' and this name has been retained ever since.

The Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies at Aylesbury holds a copy of the sales particulars of the Abbey from two different dates in the recent past. One from an auction is probably from 1989 and the other could be 1962 or 199?.

Following the death of Beatrice Morton in 1988, an auction of belongings from her estate was held in 1989 and the house sold to David & Karen von Simson. David Simson owned the house for 15 years until October 2003

In 1940 during the Second World War, The Abbey became home for Dr. Edvard Beneš. From letters and telegrams sent between Harold Morton and Edvard Beneš & J. Smutný we can see that Beneš was living at 26 Gwendolen Avenue, Putney, London in September 1940. The Czech government were looking for alternative accomodation, we believe due to the blitz, and Harold and Beatrice Morton offered them use of 'The Abbey'. Following visits to Aston Abbotts, Beneš accepted and a lease was finally signed on the 29th November 1940.

The Abbey became home for

  • Dr. Edvard Beneš (President of Czechoslovakia)
  • Edvard Táborský (Secretary to the President)
  • his dog 'Toga'
  • Božena Klučková (Beneš's niece)
  • Jiřina Benešová (Beneš's niece)
  • Miss. Jana Čvančarová (Cook)
  • Miss. Vilemina Kulhánková (Maid)
  • Mr. Lumir Krob (Butler)

Their bodyguards stayed in three Nissen huts in the Abbey grounds.

The children were taught English by an evacuated teacher from London.

On the 31st of October 1943 in the driveway of The Abbey, a ceremony was carried out involving the planting of a Czechoslovak lime-tree of 'Liberty'. This was to commemorate the 25th anniversary of independence of Czechoslovakia - perhaps a little ironic with the country at that time still under occupation by the Nazis.

The archive section of the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies contains two documents relating to this ceremony. The first is a letter from the Czechoslovak Special Defence Platoon to Mr. and Mrs. Brandon of Aston Abbotts, inviting them to the ceremony, and including a program of events. The second is a typed copy of a report that appeared in the journal of the Buckinghamshire Teachers Association N.U.T., The Bocinga, referring to the ceremony:

Liberty Lime

Photograph of Lime Tree Leaves

A village in this country will for long have pleasant memories of Dr. and Mrs. Beneš and of their many kindnesses. In the years to come, parents will tell their grandchildren the story of the Liberty Lime, which was planted in October 1943, in commemoration of 25 [years of] Czechoslovakian Independence.

They will tell of the distinguished persons who took a hand in the planting. But the high spot of their reminiscences will surely be a description of the film which recorded the historic ceremony, recalling with a thrill the yell of delight which greeted the appearance on the screen of their beloved headmistress, suitably garbed in raincoat and gumboots, and carrying her spadeful of soil. It is given to few of us to play the dual role of schoolteacher and filmstar.

Text: The Bocinga, Nov. 1944

Planting lime trees is a tradition that is still carried out in the Czech and Slovak republics to commemorate anniversaries of major events.

Sixty years later, this lime tree is still standing in the driveway of the Abbey, but I can't help but wonder what happened to the film referred to in the report.

On Saturday March 17th 1945, 'The Abbey' was finally handed back to Harold Morton when the last of Dr. Benes's staff vacated the building. From letters between Morton and the Czechoslovak government it appears that Benes had gone to visit Moscow before returning to Czechoslovakia.

A good view of The Abbey is available from a footpath that crosses the adjacent field, but remember that you must not stray from the footpath. Also remember that The Abbey is a private home and it is not open to the public. Please respect the owners if you do decide to visit Aston Abbotts.

Links, Information and Bibliography

  • Aston Abbotts Chronicle News Article
    Available on line at:, providing a little information about recent owners of the Abbey, and a farewell letter from the Von Simpsons.

  • Photograph of the Lime tree leaves is copyright Piers Pettman.

  • Photograph of the Abbey is copyright, and published here with kind permission of, Neil Rees.

  • Aston Abbotts 1000-2000 - A village History.
    The Aston Abbotts History Group 2000 - ISBN 0 9537496 0 6 - Providing some information about the Czechoslovak government in exile on pages 86 to 88.

  • The Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies
    County Hall, Walton Street, Aylesbury, Bucks., England.
    Tel: (01296) 382587 - Archives
    Tel: (01296) 382250 - Local Studies
    Holds the letter and a typed copy of text from 'The Bocinga' as described in this article.

  • The Abbey, Aston Abbotts - Philips Aucton catalogue 1989
    Auction catalogue of approximately 1400 lots of furniture and artifacts from The Abbey and estate of Beatrice Morton. Includes a short history of the house and description of the Mortons. (Hardback, 270 pages, no ISBN)

  • Series of letters between Harold Morton and Benes/Smutny offering 'The Abbey' for let to the Czechoslovak government in exile, and the final signed lease.
    Copies of these documents were obtained from the Masaryk archive in Prague, Czech Republic.

© Copyright 2005-09 Czechoslovak Government in Exile Research Society
This page last updated 10 June 2013
Original design by Piers  Site managed by Revolutions UK