Skip to content

History of Wilton Park

full history of Wilton Park is available for download.

1946 Wilton Park is founded by Heinz Koeppler.

The institution takes its name from the Wilton Park estate in Buckinghamshire, which was used as a Prisoner of War camp during World War II.

Between January 1946 and June 1948 more than 4,000 Germans attend re-education classes where they discuss democratic processes with visiting political figures and intellectuals. These include philosopher Bertrand Russell, social reformer Lord William Beveridge, and Lady Astor, the first female UK Member of Parliament.

One German participant says of his time at Wilton Park: “I was a Nazi; I came to Wilton Park and it changed my life.”

1948 The last PoW course takes place and Wilton Park begins to introduce civilian courses.


1951 Wilton Park relocates to West Sussex and holds the 32nd session at Wiston House, our new headquarters.

1955 Following public debates in Britain and Germany, the Government decides that Wilton Park should continue to be largely Government funded but with a much wider remit.

1956 The Rt Hon Clement Attlee, former British Prime Minister, and Lord William Beveridge, address conferences.

1957 Wilton Park’s participation widens to all the member countries of what is now the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the agenda begins to cover Europe, Asia and Africa.


1961 Due to a grant from the Ford Foundation, Wilton Park’s audience extends further when North American participants begin attending conferences.

1968 HRH the Duke of Edinburgh visits to celebrate our 100th conference.


1973 Prime Minister Edward Heath and the French President, Georges Pompidou, agree that issues concerning the enlargement of the community should be addressed at a European Discussion Centre (EDC) which is held at Wilton Park.

1976 Alec Douglas-Home, or Lord Home of the Hirsel, and former British Prime Minister,joins Wilton Park’s 179th conference.

1977 Sir Heinz Koeppler retires as Warden, and dies two years later.


1980 Wilton Park becomes a venue for South African representatives to meet behind closed doors.

1980 The first Soviet participants join discussions. At the first conference, an interpreter from the Soviet Embassy in London bursts out of the interpreting booth to join in the debate.

1982 The Rt Hon Neil Kinnock MP joins Wilton Park’s conference on the impact of technological change on education, work and society. Mr Kinnock went on to become leader of the Labour Party and a Vice President of the European Commission.

1983 The Rt Hon Douglas Hurd MP, as Minister for Europe, joins Wilton Park’s The political seismology of the Middle East and Gulf event. Lord Hurd went on to become Secretary of State for Northern IrelandHome Secretary, and the Foreign Secretary between 1989 and 1995.

1986 The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, who later became the British Prime Minister, attends Wilton Park’s Employment crisis conference.

1988 The first overseas conference is held outside Helsinki to debate Europe in the 1990s.


1991 Wilton Park becomes an executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office).

1995 Wilton Park holds its first nuclear non-proliferation conference. The first conference is held in Poland where participants discuss the European Union and Central Europe.

1996 HRH The Prince of Wales opens a conference on the theme of building bridges between Islam and the West in celebration of Wilton Park’s 50th Anniversary.

1997 Wilton Park holds its first meeting in Switzerland on The United States of Europe.

1998 Wilton Park obtains Investors in People status.

1998 The first meetings in Austria and Estonia are held to discuss the enlargement of the European Union, and the Baltic Sea region and its relationship with the EU.

1999 Alvaro Uribe Velez, later President of Colombia, attends Wilton Park’s Latin America and Europe: prospects for future co-operation conference.

1999 Wilton Park holds a conference on the Western Balkans after Milosevic, less than three months after the end of NATO’s air campaign and is attended by many of the then opposition.

1999 Wilton Park holds its first event in Romania.


2000 Wilton Park holds its first conferences in Slovenia, Sweden and Serbia. Discussions vary from the EU in the South East Europe, to media in Serbia.

2001 Abdullah Gül, future President of the Republic of Turkey attends his first Wilton Park conference. Our first conferences are held in Croatia and Slovakia.

2002 The Hon Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria, attends Wilton Park’s Enhancing good governance by curbing corruption event.

2002 HE José María Aznar López, Prime Minister of Spain, speaks at Wilton Park’s first conference held in Spain. The event focused on Economic reform in Europe: advancing the Lisbon process.

2002 Beriz Belkic, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and HE Wolfgang Petritsch, High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, speak at Wilton Park’s first event in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

2002 HE Valdas Adamkus, President of the Republic of Lithuania speaks at Wilton Park’s first event held in Lithuania.

2002 The Hon Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia, attends Wilton Park’s Sustaining economic development in China event.

2002 Wilton Park holds its first conferences in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

2003 Richard Mayne publishes ‘In Victory,Magnanimity, in Peace,Goodwill: A History of Wilton Park’.

2003 The first meetings in Germany and Norway are held. Conferences also go beyond Europe for the first time to Japan and Brazil.

2004 The first in the Atlantic Youth Forum series is held.

2004 The first Wilton Park conference focusing on Libya is held following Prime Minister Tony Blair’s meeting with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

2004 Nexhat Daci, President of the Assembly of Kosovo speaks at Wilton Park’s Kosovo’s vicious circle: underdevelopment, insecurity and the governance crisis.

2004 Dr Ivo Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia, attends Wilton Park’s first meeting in Croatia.

2004 Wilton Park also holds its first meetings in Turkey and Egypt.

2005 Wilton Park coordinates a roundtable on behalf of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) with participants including HE Macky Sall, Prime Minister of Senegal; General Yakubu Gowon, former President of Nigeria; Hama Amadou, Prime Minister of Niger and former Prime Minister of Guinea, Francois Fall. 

2005Sir Bob Geldof speaks at Wilton Park’s event on The Commission for Africa: implementing the findings.

2005 Wilton Park holds its first meetings in Holland and Macedonia.

2006 HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, opens Wilton Park’s meeting on Peace and security: implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325. In 2011 the President and fellow Wilton Park speaker, Leymah Gbowee, of Women Peace and Security Network Africa, win the Nobel Peace Prize.

2006 The Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, speaks at the Agriculture in Europe conference.

2006 The first Wilton Park meeting in Armenia is held.

2007 The first Wilton Park meeting in Latvia is held.

2008 Wilton Park holds its first conferences in Georgia and Denmark.

2009 HRH the Duke of York attends Libya: investing at home, investing abroad.


2011 Our inaugural Wilton Park Address is delivered by HE Mr Abdullah Gül, President of the Republic of Turkey.

2011Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaks during the Wilton Park event: Reforming international governance?

2011 Memorandum of Understanding is signed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey.

2011 Our first conferences are held in Greece, Thailand, and South Africa.

2011 Wilton Park celebrates sixty years at Wiston House.

2012 A new format event, the 90 Minute Dialogues, is launched.

2012 Shaukat Aziz, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, speaks on the UN Development System.

2012 Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, attend Wilton Park’s conference on Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.

2012 Memoranda of Understanding are signed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia and the Arab Republic of Egypt.

2012 Wilton Park’s first conferences are held in Indonesia and China.

2013 We support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO – now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) in a flagship series of Jubilee Dialogues , developed for FCO Ministers, held at Carlton Gardens.

2014 A Memorandum of Understanding is signed on behalf of Wilton Park by British Ambassador to Brazil HE Alex Ellis, with the Alexandre de Gusmão Foundation in Brasilia, to promote cooperation between the two institutions and countries.

2016 Wilton Park celebrates its 70th anniversary, its 65th year at Wiston House and 25 years as an executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office).

Present day

Seventy years after it was founded, Wilton Park is one of the world’s leading centres for discussion of key international policy challenges. It remains true to the values of its founder by promoting honest and open debate on vital global issues.