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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Winston Churchill at Chartwell


This is the first in a series of three themed posts about
Sir Winston Churchill.


Winston Churchill purchased Chartwell near Westerham, Kent in south-east England in 1922 at a time when he was in the political wilderness and it was his primary home for forty years - almost the rest of his life. He did not live there during the war years because of it's location only twenty miles from the centre of London and it's proximity to the channel coast.
He employed the successful English 'society' architect Phliip Tilden to carry out major improvements and enlargements. The pair eventually fell out and a long-running legal dispute ensued. I think Churchill must have been a difficult client - he was a man of strong opinions knew exactly what he wanted for the property. I have seen some of the written instructions he gave Tilden and they are very specific and rather subjective.
At the time of purchase he claimed that it was the view of the Weald of Kent a sprawling collection of rural towns and pretty villages set in pristine countryside, that he fell in love with.
The house became possibly one of the most important country houses in Europe and now has Grade I listed status. This is often awarded for historical rather than architectural reasons - definitely in this case. From there Churchill planned his campaign of opposition to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement to Adolf Hitler. He had long been wary of Hitler's intentions.

Chartwell is not an especially pretty building being in the vernacular style; that is, local materials and design were used and not necessarily built by conventionally-trained architects. I think this gives the building character. Churchill became obsessed by the property and constructed ponds gardens, brick-walls by his own hand. A heated swimming pool and two cottages were built in the grounds. He also painted many scenes of the gardens.
The garden wall on Mapleton road, the less attractive entrance to the property, is based on a garden wall in Quebec House, General Woolf's home in nearby Westerham town in the English county of Kent.
After the war Churchill was in critical financial circumstances and some of his friends arranged a deal with the National Trust who paid him an enormous sum for the house which he agreed to leave to the trust in return for allowing him and Lady Churchill to live there for the rest of their lives. Lady Churchill relinquished the property to the trust as soon as Winston became to ill to live there, in 1962. He died in 1965.
The property has prospered in the hands of the trust and receives over 500,000 visitors a year.

10 comments:

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, I think that Chartwell has some interesting features, such as the tower arising from the crook of the ell, but it does not live up to its maximum potential. When I get some time, I will have to look at more photos and plans of it to know it better, and also looking forward to your further installments.
--Jim

bazza said...

Jim: I tend to keep my posts short because I find some that I read a bit over-long. That's OK if the subject is absorbing but sometimes it's not. My point is that I write longer posts and then start whittling down and taking stuff out before it goes online. I might have overdone it with this post! One of the rejected items was a floor plan of Chartwell. Google images is a good source. The next post in this series will be about Blenheim Palace where Churchill was born. Not sure when it will appear yet.

Hels said...

My guess is that Chartwell is not particularly pretty because, not alone in the British countryside, it has been built, rebuilt, modified and greatly changed many times since the Tudor house first went up. I don't like the red brickwork on the external walls and I am not rapt in the stepped gables.

But I love the interiors, even though (or because) they were redone by the National Trust. The library, study, sitting room and dining room seem airy and attractive, not heavy and dull.

David said...

Hi bazza,
Nice photos of Chartwell, which I didn't know too much about, so another informative post for me.
Just perhaps as an aside, though, I do wonder about Churchill's status as one of our greatest Britons. For me he remains a controversial figure, and after a brief scour over the internet, it does indeed show that he is maybe more complex and divisive than a simple knowledge of his role as a great wartime PM might suggest. Take, for instance, his views on race and eugenics; his advocacy of the use of poison gas against Kurds and Afghans, who he described as "uncivilised tribes"; his lack of action over the Bengal famine in which 3 million died; his various uncharitable statements about Ghandi - a "bad man and an enemy of the Empire"; his low level anti-Semitism, which admittedly may have been a product of his generation and class; his complex and sometimes contradictory attitude towards Islam; and his role in Ireland with the brutal "Black and Tans". There is more, but I think you'll have gotten my gist!
Best Wishes,
David.

bazza said...

Hels: It's certainly not pretty but it does have many plus points such as location and grounds. The 17 bedrooms would have come in useful as well. The interior is wonderful and I believe that the National Trust have tried to be as faithful to Churchill's time as reasonably possible. Churchill's own bedroom has recently been added to what the public can view.

bazza said...

David: I cannot argue with any part of your comment except to emphasise what you have hinted at: that Churchill was "a product of his generation and class". However, as a Jew myself, sadly low-level antisemitism is endemic, even from people who don't know why! I also believe that, if not for Churchill, I would not be here today.
Many years ago I posted an article about Einstein. A commenter said he could not give him any respect or credit because he "treated his women badly". We have to separate the deeds that men do from their personality defects.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I can see why Churchill fell in love with that view. I'd be perfectly happy living in a very humble abode if its windows afforded a spectacular view.

The last sentence of your last comment has me going. "We have to separate the deeds that men do from their personality defects." Interesting food for thought. Sometimes, it's easier said than done.

bazza said...

Susan: I could easily live in a humble abode with extensive views - especially if, like Chartwell, it had 17 bedrooms!
I think that, if we only knew, many great men and women had feet of clay. Apparently even Atilla the Hun had a dark side.....

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - even though I lived nearby and drove past (near) often I never got to visit - when I get back it's on my list. I too like the sentence Susan picked up "We have to separate the deeds that men do from their personality defects" ... yet how many unknown souls rescued so many to be able to live in relative peace in another country ...

Loved seeing the interiors you've shown here ... thanks - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary: I think you are saying that there are many 'unknown' great men and women? if so, I absolutely agree with you. By definition we can't say too much about them of course.
The interiors at Chartwell are the best thing about it. There are many good photos on Google Images.