The owner of Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill, had a ‘Tryst with Destiny’. When he became Prime Minister in 1940, during the Second World War, he said, ‘I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation of this hour and for this trial.’ Churchill thought of England as William Shakespeare described it in King Richard II,
‘This royal throne of Kings, this sceptred isle,
This precious stone set in the silver sea.
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.’
His ‘tryst’ was to defend England against the might of the invading German forces. From the surroundings of Downing Street, the Admiralty and Chartwell, the ‘Tryst’ was fulfilled.
Chartwell, home of England’s greatest Statesman, author, artist and orator, is set on a hillside commanding sweeping views over the Weald of Kent. The name comes from the Chart Well, which rises at the top of the land and nourishes the lake. The house was originally a farmhouse and changed hands several times. The Campbell Colquhoun family remodelled it into a Victorian red brick country mansion.
The Churchills bought Chartwell in 1922 and lived there for forty years making many alterations. Views were important to Churchill and he bought the house for the view. Philip Tilden was chosen as the architect and Churchill was delighted with his plans, which modernised the layout and made much of the valley setting. He created a new wing extending eastwards at right angles from the centre of the original house, producing three more large rooms. Tilden found that Churchill took much more interest in the plans for his home than most clients. Churchill thought that a day away from Chartwell was a day wasted.
Lady Churchill chose a 1920’s style for the interior decoration with plain light colours for the walls, together with chintz curtains in the principal rooms. The oak dining table and chairs came from Heals.
The Churchills personally created the gardens, which are gloriously English. Churchill had seen the potential of the well to nourish further lakes and a swimming pool (heated!). It should be remembered that Churchill spent much time when young at Blenheim Palace, home of the Duke of Marlborough, his grandfather. Churchill’s idea of a lake was naturally in line with those designed by Capability Brown at Blenheim. A beautiful rockery and waterfall were created to the North east of the house. Golden Orfe still fill the pools, Australian black swans and mandarin ducks grace the lake.
Churchill personally built the red brick wall round the kitchen garden. He was so proud of this skill that he even took out a card as an adult apprentice in the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers!
The rose garden was Lady Churchill’s and she filled it with Lilium Regale, Ceanothus and fuchsia. Roses and Clematis forever climb the old walls.
Thus, the English gardened as Germany was building up masses of war weaponry. Churchill uttered warnings which went unheeded.
Visitors are fortunate to have the opportunity to visit this house and gardens and to see so many treasures. It has become possible because the Churchills were beset with serious financial problems after the war. Lady Churchill had always been worried by the costs of running Chartwell, and the Churchills were thinking of selling or setting the house up as a museum. But Churchill did not think he was ready to be a museum piece! However, a group of admirers and friends organised by Lord Camrose bought the property and presented it to the National Trust with the Churchills having a legal right to live in it during their lifetime.
Visitors are privileged to view many valuable pieces of furniture, carpets, paintings and objets D’Art donated by Lady Churchill. They can also see how the rooms looked in Chartwell’s heyday. Since she wished the house to be exhibited in this way. It gives an insight into the family life of the great statesman, Winston Churchill, and makes us realise how important garden design, painting and building walls was to him.
Lady Churchill did not stay at Chartwell after she was widowed in 1963, but often visited in the evening of her life and was heartened to see so many visitors, reminding her of the days when her home was packed with politicians, artists, relatives, children and grandchildren. Last, but not least there were animals. Chartwell was home to succession of marmalade cats called ‘Jock’; currently in charge is ‘Jock VI’. There were poodles called ‘Rufus’, a dairy herd (not successful) and pigs. Pigs were Churchill’s favourite animals as he reckoned that cats look down on you, dogs look up to you, but pigs look you straight in the eye.
Visitors should linger in the study where Churchill was inspired to write impressive books and the brilliant speeches, which led us to victory. He often gazed out of the big windows over the view which he so loved.
The studio, set in the grounds, must be seen, as it houses many of his paintings finished and unfinished, framed and unframed. Churchill spent much time in this studio with the muse of painting. His work was accepted by the Royal Academy and he was made Honorary Academician Extraordinary.
He said, ‘Happy are the painters for they shall not be lonely. Light and Colour, peace and hope will keep them company to the end, or almost to the end of the day.’
Sir Winston Churchill died in 1963, had a State Funeral and is buried at Bladon. which is in sight of Blenheim Palace where he was born.
There is a memorial plaque in Westminster Abbey with the simple inscription,
‘Remember Winston Churchill’
He will always be remembered.
His faith, vision and thoughts of the future sons of England are immortalised in the words of Sir Owen Seaman, a First World War poet.
‘Ye that have faith to look with fearless eyes
Beyond the tragedy of a World at strife,
And know that out of death and night shall rise
The dawn of ampler life.
Rejoice, whatever anguish rend the heart,
That God has given you for the priceless dower
To live in these great times and have your part
In Freedom’s crowning hour.
That ye may tell your sons who see the light
High in the heavens – their heritage to take –
I saw the powers of darkness take their flight;
I saw the morning break’
Winston Churchill kept his ‘Tryst’ with Destiny and, indeed, made sure the powers of darkness were put to flight.