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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Churchill's Chartwell

Chartwell, Churchill, Britain, Kent
Chartwell from the south, viewed through the orchard
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was one of the greatest Englishmen that ever lived, and a brilliant man.  Now, before anyone gets all excited about the fact that he was an imperialist, capitalist, aristocrat, self-publicist, sometimes reckless adventurer, glutton and all the other dreadful and unfashionable characteristics he may or may not have had, I’m sure he probably had a few faults.  I expect you have some too.  But if you’re British, you owe Churchill big time.  And Chartwell was his home for 40 years.

There are some places where you get a sense of the people that lived there.  And there are places where history was made.  Chartwell is a bit of both.  The house itself is mainly Victorian, though built round a 16th century estate where Henry VIII is said to have stayed whilst courting the saucy-eyed Anne Boleyn just down the road at Hever Castle.  Churchill drove his children to it in 1922, to ask what they thought of it.  They urged him to buy it; he already had, without telling Clementine, the long-suffering Mrs Churchill.

Chartwell, garden, Churchill, Kent, Britain
Yes, it's part of the garden
Chartwell, named for the Chart Well that feeds the lake below, would prove to be a challenge to the family’s often shaky finances.  But Churchill loved it – he had partly fallen in love with the views over the Weald of Kent, which have to be amongst the loveliest in England.  Initially, the property required a considerable amount of work.  The house and gardens you see now are a product of Churchill’s dreams and personal input over the years.  It is, unashamedly, a family home, yet also stuffed full of fascinating memorabilia alongside the personal items.  The study, where Churchill worked on the nation’s budgets, his writings – and, presumably, his speeches – is an amazing room.  The drawing room is elegant and the dining room is set ready for a meal.  Heaven knows how many famous behinds dined there. There’s an exhibition on the man, and loads of his paintings if you like that sort of thing. 

The house was bought by friends of the Churchill’s in 1946 and presented to the National Trust on condition that the Churchills could continue living there.  Clementine gave it up after Winston died in 1965, but continued to visit right up to her own death in 1977.

It’s not really a place to take small children who get easily bored.  But the main drawback is that it can get extremely busy.  The National Trust very sensibly limits the number of people in the house at any time, so entrance is by timed ticket.  But, weather permitting, you can easily lose yourself for several hours just wandering around the gardens and grounds.

Chartwell is on the B2026, south of the A25 at Westerham, Kent.  Nearest railway station is Edenbridge.  Visit Chartwell's website for more information. There's also more about Churchill and his times in the modern history posts on this site, such as Britain at War 1939-45.