The Victorian estate of Heatherden Hall in Buckinghamshire was owned by Doctor Drury Lavin in the late 19th Century. The next incumbent world-famous cricketer K.S. Ranjitsinhji sold it to Canadian financer Lt Colonel Grant Morden, a political high flier who lavished over £300,000 (over £5 million in today’s money) transforming the mansion by adding a huge ballroom and Turkish bath amongst other features.
During the 1930s it became a retreat and private meeting place for politicians and diplomats. The agreement to form the Anglo-Irish agreement was signed at Heatherden Hall.
When Morden died in 1934, the estate was purchased by building tycoon Charles Boot who turned the mansion into a country club for the rich and famous, however his main aim was to turn the land into a film studio.
Boot officially renamed Heatherden Hall, Pinewood, in his own words, because: “…of the number of trees which grow there and because it seemed to suggest something of the American film centre in its second syllable.”
Charles Boot teamed up with J. Arthur Rank, the Methodist miller and millionaire to joint-finance the project in a move that ultimately led to the development of the Rank Organisation which embraced not only film production and film distribution at home and abroad, but also catering, leisure time activities and a wide field of manufacturing interests which would, at its height, employ more than 30,000 people.
The completion of building at Pinewood was fast and the Studios were opened officially on 30 September 1936 followed by frenzied production activity until the depression hit the British film industry.
The Second World War saw the Studios requisitioned by the Government for storage – its sound stages becoming home to mountains of sugar, flour and other much-needed wartime supplies. Already occupied by the Royal Mint, other important industries were soon evacuated to Pinewood, particularly Lloyd’s of London who moved into the Studios just days before hostilities broke out in September 1939.
After the war, the British film industry witnessed a resurgence in fortunes. American production companies soon started to flock to the Studios, attracted by lower production costs, its unique feel of being typically British yet untypically like a film studio, as well as the superior skills and facilities compared to US counterparts. Early post war classics made at Pinewood included Great Expectations, Black Narcissus, Oliver Twist and Genevieve.