The first thing that struck me when entering Chartwell house, Churchills country home since 1922, was that this was a family home. It felt like I could almost hear the echos of laughter from the children who had lived here. The clacking of their footsteps running down the hallways. I could smell the cigar smoke from the famous resident who’s house it was. Distant sounds of the clatter of roasting tins and busy kitchens whispered around us. My imagination smelt the roast chicken cooking for the Churchill’s Sunday lunch. The house felt lived in. It felt like a home.
Maybe because that is exactly what Chartwell House was. It was the much loved home that Sir Winston and Clementine raised their four children in. (The Churchill’s were blessed with five children, but sadly, Marigold passes away at just two years old). Now, the National Trust Kent have the task of preserving and looking after this beautiful home. It is a treasure trove of memories and history. It gives an insight into Churchill the man, rather than Churchill the politician. Nik and I visited the Churchill War Rooms in London a couple of years back, so we understood a little about Churchill the leader. It was interesting t learn ore about the other side of him. Whatever your views on this most celebrated and let’s face it, contested figure, Chartwell House is a fascinating place to visit. Let me give you a little taste of this home.
Where is it? – Chartwell House is in the Kent village of Westerham. Around an hours drive from London, it is easily reached by car. You could also get a train from either London Victoria, or London Bridge, to Edenbridge Station. The Churchill Country home is about 4 mile’s from this station. I suppose the location of Chartwell House made it the perfect country escape for Sir Winston. Out of London, but still an easy journey to get back. It may well have taken a little longer in the 1930’s than the journey would now take you….
Address – Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1PS
Chartwel House – Churchill’s Country Home and Escape
Visually, I was initially surprised at Chartwell House. It was not the grand and imposing building that I imagined. It is a very large property, do not get me wrong. The gardens surrounding it are also sprawling and vast, literally like a small village. But the house was not a huge country manor I expected. The gardens felt personal and loved. The rooms also had personality and life. Nik and I both felt that it had a different feel to many of the other National Trust properties we had visited.
A little Chartwell/Churchill history…
But let us step back a little. I found the way that the National Trust acquired Chartwell House to be interesting! The house came into the NT stable of properties, 18 years before it’s famous resident passed away. The Churchill’s, deciding that the house was too large and expensive to keep, allowed a group of businessmen to purchase it around 1946. These men paid £50,000 for the beautiful home. They then gifted it to the NT, but with the proviso that the Churchill’s could live in the home for as long as they wanted to. This was the perfect scenario for Winston and Clementine. Especially since their love for the house was well documented. One of the many famous quotes by Churchill was;
A day away from Chartwell, is a day wasted.
Sir Winston actually remained living in Chartwell until ill health made it too difficult. He left the home to move into his London flat in 1964, just months before his 90th birthday. Shortly after he celebrated his 9th decade, he passed away. It really was his home he loved and cherished. In 1966, the year after his death, the National Trust opened the doors to the public for the first time. The interest and popularity was so high, that people queued for hours and the demand for a glimpse in the home made national papers.
The house has been left in the Churchill style of the 1930’s. This was the main time period that the entire family were in residence at the property. It is also of course, a period of hugely important and notable British history!
Fun fact – The Churchills requested that there should always be a “Marmalade” cat in residence at Chartwell House. A ginger tabby cat with white paws and a white bib. This request has always been honoured. In May 2020, the latest feline resident arrived, replacing Jock VI who is living a comfortable retirement with one of Chartwell’s staff. A rescue cat named Jock VII is now the resident cat at Chartwell, calling the full 80 acres and house, his home.
Chartwell House and Gardens
Chartwell House was always intended to be just a home. Not a museum of pubic house, simply a home. This is why all of the rooms are of a comfortable, but modest size. Well, I say modest….. In terms of manor houses they are modest! My entire first flat I lived in would fit into one of the rooms, so do not go thinking Churchill lived in a little two up two down here people…! It is just smaller than what I imagined someone of such fame to live in though. But we loved that. I think the fact that the rooms are more “normal”, give Chartwell it’s charm.
As you walk through the rooms, you truly do get a sense of the man Churchill was. An abundance of books in the library, many received as gifts and inscribed with messages. A large desk, reflecting the fact that this room was a makeshift meeting room at times.
Bright, comfortable living rooms. Children’s rooms reflecting each child’s personality. A sociable formal dining room for dinner parties and welcoming friends. Card tables set up for a game. This was a house that had life lived in it. The dining room was one of my favourite rooms. It looked out over the beautiful gardens. The floor to ceiling arched windows allowed light to flood the room, inviting that feeling of the outside and inside merging.
The three guest bedrooms are now converted into a small museum and display rooms. Here you will find a selection of Churchill’s uniforms, hats (of course), medals and some of the gifts and awards that he was presented with. It also has a personal letters and photographs, as well as cherished things Churchill kept. One being an embroidered sampler of a line from one of his famous war speeches. It was mad by a member of the public and apparently meant so much to the family. There was also a painting of Churchill hung in Lady Churchill’s bedroom, right above a photo of their beloved, but lost daughter, Marigold. Both are still in the house, exactly where they have always been.
Throughout the house, you will also see personal family photographs and paintings. Winston Churchill was a very keen painter, and his home inspired him. Painting became his temporary escape from the pressures his position put upon him. The fact that there is at least 500 canvases at the house gives a little glimpse of how much pressure there was! One of his paintings, “Winter Sunshine” actually won him first prize in an exhibition in London. He had entered it anonymously and it won! In the gardens, there is an entire out building full of Churchill’s paintings. They are interesting and show his love of his home in abundance.
The Gardens at Chartwell House
The gardens are beautiful! Both Clementine and Winston were apparently keen gardeners. They spent a lot of time in them. Churchill was a huge nature lover, and always wanted to create a garden that would flourish and change with the seasons. He was very hands on in the creation of the gorgeous grounds. In fact, the walls surrounding the fruit and vegetable growing areas, were built in part by Winston himself. The crops grown in this vegetable garden are still harvested and used in the cafe on the property to this day.
Churchills country home was his escape and his moments of calm. That is how the gardens felt too. They were not just impersonal and designed by a design team. They were loved and used. Nik and I could just imagine the Churchill’s wandering around them, perhaps pondering and fretting over the growing unrest in the world.
The Churchills created several areas within their gardens. Lady Churchill had a love of roses, (Winston proposed to her in a rose garden), and created a most beautiful rose garden to enjoy. A traditional English garden, the area has a feeling of calm about it. Little benches allow you to take a moment and just enjoy. The warm sunshine that we were lucky enough to experience on the day we visited allowed us to sit too, as Clementine once did. The heady scent of the various roses fill the area. Wisteria and lavender are sewn amongst the roses, creating a very English, bee loving area in the gardens.
Roses were reportedly, significant throughout the Churchill’s marriage. So much so that their children wanted to create something beautiful for their parents. Winston and Clementine were about to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. Fifty years of marriage was a huge celebration! The Golden Rose Avenue was created! A collection of 28 different species of golden roses were planted, creating the most beautiful “golden avenue”. The pathways led to a central area, with seating and a Victorian sundial. It is a gorgeous stroll through them, and I can only imagine how amazing it must have been to sit amongst them on a balmy summers evening.
Just before you reach Lady Churchill’s rose garden, sits the Marlborough Pavilion. Built as a summer house in the 1920’s, it was then decorated by Churchill’s nephew, John Spencer Churchill in the 40’s. It was names after the first Duke of Marlborough, and Churchill’s ancestor, John Churchill. It was built to illustrate the Marlborough wars, and honour the alliance between the Duke and his family, Queen Anne and Prince Eugene of Savoy.
There are various water filled areas in the grounds. Cascading water falls, (a gift from the designer Gavin Jones), are amongst the first to greet you as you approach the house. The lake that Winston Churchill loved to swim in is another early sight.
But, Sir Winston’s favourite area in the garden was beside the Golden Orfe Ponds. These ponds were filled with exotic fish that Churchill bought himself. Many of those original fish’s ancestors still swim in the calm waters. He loved to sit and watch the fish, being amongst the nature and swaying trees. Painting, feeding the fish or simply being present. It is said that Churchill’s spirit still sits beside the pool in the garden occasionally……
I would fully recommend a visit to Churchills country house. It really is fascinating. I could talk so much more about the gardens at Chartwell. There are so many little areas, and many stories of why those areas were created. The Churchill’s really did think of Chartwell house as their home for life. I think Chartwell is one of my favourite National Trust properties I have visited to date. We really do need to renew our membership. I would love to re-visit Chartwell, as well as explore a few more properties!
Have you been to Chartwell House? Have you learnt anything surprising from my little taster tour? Do yu think you would enjoy a look round? If you have a National Trust membership, do you have a favourite property? Any that you see as a must visit? I would love to know your recommendations. As ever, I would love to hear what you think xx
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