Saturday, 1 June 2013

Chartwell

Winston Churchill's home of Chartwell
While the days in between the two May Bank Holidays haven't been very good weather wise the actual Bank Holidays themselves have been rather nice in the parts I have been. Not ones to waste such sunshine we decided to make use of our National Trust membership to take a trip to Chartwell.

Michaelmas daisies

Chartwell is situated just outside the Kent village of Westerham. Like many National Trust properties Chartwell has a large main house and a substanital surrounding estate and gardens. However, its 'USP' is the fact that it was the private family home of Winston Churchill or to give him his full name, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill. Churchill bought the Chartwell in 1922 for £5,000 but in the next two years spent £18,000 on renovations to the house before moving his family in. 

Wisteria growing up the back of the house

Churchill lived at Chartwell until the outbreak of the Second World War and returned, somewhat reluctantly after he was ousted as Prime Minister in 1945. My Great-Grandmother, who lived in the east end of London during the war, branded Churchill a 'warmonger' and said people were afraid he would drag the country back into war. Apparently he was so devastated at losing the election he made plans to sell Chartwell and move to France so he could spend his time painting. Friends of Churchill persuaded him to stay in the country but Chartwell was already a huge financial burden that he was struggling to maintain. Enter some very generous friends and a deal to buy Chartwell. Led by Lord Camrose, the group each donated a sum of money in order to buy Chartwell but allow the Churchills to live there for a nominal rent until they both died. After Churchill died in 1965 Lady Churchill moved out and Chartwell was given to the National Trust.

The house from the orchard

Now Chartwell is the third most visited National Trust property and the most visited house in the country. Entrance to the house is by a timed ticket given to you when you arrive but while you wait there is plenty to investigate first. A short walk brings you to the pond that Churchill used to sit beside and feed his fish. Despite being late May there was still a fine display of azaleas and rhododendron.

The pond where Churchill used to sit and feed the fish

At the back of the house there are two lawns which the kids had great fun running round. There are formal aspects as well such as Lady Churchill's Rose Garden.

Lady Churchill's Rose Garden

While it was too early for the roses the wisteria tree was in full bloom.

Wisteria tree in the Rose Garden

At the end of the lawn is terrace is the Marlborough Pavilion built in the 1920s and decorated by his nephew, John Spencer-Churchill, in 1949. Churchill's grandfather was the 7th Duke of Marlborough and the scenes depict various campaigns of the 1st Duke of Marlborough.

The Marlborough Pavilion

Inside the house itself it is styled as it would have been in its heyday of the 1930s. Churchill was in his 'wilderness' years at the time while his young family were growing up. No photographs are allowed in the house but there are great views across the Weald of Kent from the terrace.

Churchill's art studio and the Weald of Kent from the house's terrace

There are various displays around the house showing elements of Churchill's varied life as politician, writer and artist. In one room there is a range of Churchill's uniforms and formal robes plus the velvet boiler suit he had specially made to wear in the evenings. The original 'Onesie'!

The back of the house

When you leave the house a path leads down to the orchard. On my way there I came across one the house cats 'Franklin' enjoying the sun. 

One of the house cats, Franklin

Any decent estate would have needed to provide it's own fruit and vegetables. Chartwell has a variety of cherry and apple trees. No doubt some of them would have gone towards making a few pints of Kentish cider.

The orchard

In the kitchen garden one section is given over to growing flowers for the house. At the back is the vegetable garden, planted up but still waiting for the crops to grow.
Vegetable seedlings in the kitchen garden

From the kitchen garden you make your way towards Churchill's studio. Churchill was a prolific artist and used his hobby for both enjoyment and therapy for his depression. The studio has a number of Churchill's personal art collection plus some of his own compositions. Also there are some letters and instructions from Churchill airing his views on the term 'most grateful' and that Istanbul should still be referred to as Constantinople.

View across the orchard to Churchill's studio

There's a large amount of woodland at Chartwell to explore but we didn't time have time to see it as the tea room started to call to us. After a pot of Earl Grey and a look around the shop it was time to make our way home.

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