After visiting the historical residential palace of the British sovereigns in The Tower of London, a week later on 5 June 2010 I made my second visit to Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill, A great British leader and Prime Minister.
Brief introduction about Chartwell:
Chartwell is located in Westerham, Kent, just outside of London. Going back to the 16th century Henry VIII is reputed to have stayed in the house during his courtship of Anne Boleyn at nearby Hever Castle. In 1922 Sir Winston Churchill purchased the property and spent as much time as he could there until his death, except during the Second World War. In 1946 they sold the estate to their friends due the financial reasons, but still lived there by paying nominal rent. In 1965 after Churchill’s death Chartwell was presented to the National Trust immediately.
Because entry to the house is by timed ticket most visitors will visit the gardens first, so from which my article starts.
Once you have passed through the Visitor Centre you will walk along a footpath, then you will come across the beautiful water area, that was the one of reasons Winston Churchill bought Chartwell as he had opportunity to do some landscaping especially water features. This area includes two parts: a swimming pool and two lakes are located in the down side of the footbath, above which there is a water garden and a rock garden.
The swimming pool was built in 1934 and was his second one. In Churchill’s time it was heated. If you walk just below the pool to the left you can see the building which contained the boiler and pumping equipment. Below the swimming pool you can also see two lakes. The lower lake has always been there, but Churchill extended it and put an island in 1935. The upper lake was constructed during the period of 1924 and 1928. It was a major project and Churchill himself assisted with the digging. Nearby in the north east you can see a fenced area in which the first swimming pool was. At the south end of the upper lake there is a statue of Sir Winston and Lady Churchill made by Oscar Nemon.
Then you will entre the Entrance Hall that was changed to be smaller and more intimate during Churchill’s time. A visitors’ book is displayed in a glass box. It records many of the guests who came to Chartwell between 1924 and 1964. The famous signatories include American President Truman, British Prime Minister Lloyd George and British actor Laurence Olivier. However I didn’t see the aforementioned signatures and was told they change pages to display per two months.
Walking forward it is the Drawing Room. That is part of the three-storey garden wing extension and has windows in three walls with light and airy feel. This room was a main meeting place for Churchill’s family and their guests. Beside the original decoration chosen by Lady Churchill there are two very noticeable gifts: one is a crystal glass cockerel, the symbol of France, given by General de Gaulle; another is Charing Cross Bridge painted by Claude Monet in 1902 and was a gift for Churchill.
Opposite to the Drawing Room is the Library that was much used by Churchill’s research assists. The room is in a small size but surrounded by books, among which there is a model of Port Arromanches in the middle of a wall. It is one of the artificial Mulberry harbours that Churchill was keen to develop and played such an important role in the Allied Invasion of Europe in 1944. A bust of Franklin Roosevelt is placed at a corner of a bookshelf. That was a gift from Averill Harriman, who came to Britain as Roosevelt’s special envoy and became a friend of the Churchills.
Leaving the Library and walking upstairs at the corridor towards Lady Churchill’s bedroom first you will see a smaller copy of Churchill’s bronze displaying in the member’s lobby of the House of Commons made by Oscar Nemon. Lady Churchill’s bedroom has a high barrel-vaulted ceiling and duck-egg blue colour scheme that makes the room spacious with a sense of calm. Lady Churchill spent many hours at her writing desk dealing with her correspondence and the household accounts. At the desk you can see one of Churchill’s last photographs and one picture of their daughter Marigold, who died from a septic throat in 1921, before her third birthday. Because Lady Churchill was fond of pencils there were always a few beautiful Italian pencils at the desk. I was surprised to see a Blanc-de-Chine that figures of the mother of goddess Kwan Yin, who is a symbol of goodness of mercy in Chinese culture. I don’t know when and why she put the China in her bedroom, but I suppose the lost of their beloved daughter probably was a reason. Next to the bedroom is the Ante-Room and Landing that was used to be Lady Churchill’s bath and dressing room. Now it contains China and other memorabilia, one of which is the robes she wore when she was made Baroness Spencer-Churchill in 1965. On the landing hangs one of Churchill’s earliest paintings, Plug Street, painted in 1916 while he was serving in the trenches in Flanders. Personally I think it is very rare to see bombing in his paintings.
Leaving the landing and turning to your left you will walk into The Museum and the Uniform Rooms. These rooms were created out of three guest bedrooms after Churchill’s death. Having a museum to display the gifts and awards presented to him was Churchill’s desire. At these rooms not only can you see many beautiful and valuable items connecting with Churchill, but you also can see some important moments in Churchill’s life through a small exhibition there. It was interesting to read some of his famous quotes and his different attitudes towards the leaders of America, Russia and France during the Second World War. Because Churchill’s mother was an American to him the relationship between UK and USA was always special. Although before my visit I already knew he was finally forced to leave Downing Street I still felt sad to see him saying forever to the Queen at his last night as Prime Minister. I spent almost one hour on the exhibition but still felt it was not enough. If I can I would like staying there longer, when I felt tired I would sit on the comfortable red sofa and read some books about him. However I can’t stop my steps as his Study room is just nearby.
The Study is the heart of Chartwell as Churchill’s workshop, where he worked on five budgets as Chancellor of Exchequer, rehearsed speeches against Fascism and conceived much of his literary pieces. If you noticed the Union Flag, that was hoisted in Rome on 5 June 1944, the first to be flown over a librated European capital and was a gift from Filed Marshal Alexander, you would also notice the wooden ceiling. Different from other rooms with beautiful decoration Churchill kept the ceiling as it was of a farm house in 17th century. There is a mahogany lectern standing by a wall. It was given by his children for his 75th birthday, so Churchill could put the books he was referring on the lectern and consult them easily. I also noticed a painting that features the views of Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born and buried nearby. I was surprised to know he chose to stay next to his parents and brother instead of Westminster Abbey to be honest.
Down stairs on the lowest level of the garden’s wing is the Dining Room. Same as the Drawing Room it offers magnificent views out over the garden and the surrounding landscape. The table and the chairs were designed especially for this room. The fine utensils on the table tell the taste of the owner. Before you leave you must have a look at The Golden Rose Book that was part of the gift from their children for their golden wedding anniversary. It’s a selection of watercolours of roses which formed the golden rose avenue in the garden and contributed by leading artists of the day. It’s also interesting to see a painting named Bottlescape on the wall next to the exit. That was painted one Christmas by Churchill in 1932 and featured a collections of his favourite vintages.
Next to the Dining Room is the Kitchen. The National Trust keeps the kitchen as it was like in Churchill’s time. Some of the cooking utensils are original with the family’s name, some are not. I was pleased to find one fruit bowl very much similar with the one I have at home. At the end of your house tour there is an exhibition about Churchill’s life. I must to say I was very sad when seeing his funeral on the way. The day without Churchill is a day wasted indeed!