The Twitch Heritage Centre is situated in the basement of Douces Manor in St. Leonard’s Street and is open to the public up to 20 times a year. Entrance is free and the exhibition is managed by the Malling Society on behalf of West Malling Parish Council, who have a 125 year lease on the Centre.
Douces Manor was the Headquarters and Mess for officers flying from RAF West Malling (now Kings Hill). The cellar bar was frequented by many brave young fighter pilots and, typical of the dry sense of humour of the time, became colloquially known as the ‘Twitch Inn’, due to the nervous affliction that affected many pilots. This noticeable twitch that many displayed was a result of the immense stress, strain and fatigue they experienced whilst forever looking over their shoulders to see if an enemy was on their tail.
The name was ‘officially’ inscribed into the top half of the swing door by officers of 29 Squadron in 1944, using metal which could possibly have come from aircraft of the time. The bar, which was also adorned with graffiti in the form of signatures in candle smoke and cartoons carved by the airmen into the walls and ceiling, has witnessed many tales of aerial battles won and lost.
The cellar door to the legendary ‘Twitch Inn’ was returned to its former home in 2009 by the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial, to complete the restoration of this famous wartime haunt. This unusual artefact was donated to the Museum through the Aircrew Association in January 2002.
On behalf of the Malling Society, Margaret McCarthy (then Secretary), said: “We are indeed very grateful that the Twitch Inn door panel was saved in the first instance and protected by the Yorkshire Air Museum and the enthusiastic reception to the idea of bringing these artefacts back ‘home’ to Douces Manor on long-term loan is much appreciated. They will be the finishing touch to the restoration project.”
Many illustrious air aces were stationed at the Manor included such famous names as Guy Gibson (of Dambuster fame) “Sailor “ Malan”, Stanford Tuck and Wing Commander “Cats Eyes” Cunningham with his navigator Jimmy Rawnsley. This pair had become the most successful defensive night fighter team, flying Mosquito aircraft with 85 Squadron and protecting the skies over the Home Counties during 1943. As Commanding Officer of 85 Squadron, John Cunningham actually lived in the Manor House.
In addition to the permanent text and photographic exhibition about West Malling Airfield and the display of of artefacts from the time the Manor was an Officers’ Mess why not come along and see the new exhibition by Ron Martin: ‘Butchers, Bakers and Grocers’ – Bygone shop-keepers of West Malling.
The Heritage Centre will be open from 11am to 4pm on Easter Monday 28th March, Sunday 24th April, Sunday 22nd May, Sunday 26th June, Sunday 24th July, Heritage Weekend Saturday/Sunday 10/11th September and Remembrance Sunday 13th November.
Douce’s Manor is a private residence, the house and grounds are not open to the public. Parking on St. Leonard’s Street.