I am just now reading Stefan Buczakcki’s Churchill and Chartwell: The Untold Story of Churchill’s Houses and Gardens. This is a biography that approaches the man through the houses he inhabited.
Churchill lived in an extraordinary succession of houses during his lifetime, perhaps reflecting his restless personality and tumultuous career.
The book brings home the fact that Churchill was very much a man of his time and class: he was forever finding new houses through his extensive circle of friends and relations and borrowing accommodation from wealthier and grander relatives. And as soon as he could he acquired a house in the country in addition to his metropolitan base.
The vicissitudes of Churchill’s political career also influenced his frequent changes of address. At various times he lived in official residences, such as Admiralty House, the Admiralty yacht HMS Enchantress, and of course 10 Downing Street and Chequers.
Buczacki suggests that Churchill’s taste in interior decoration was influenced by the sumptuously Edwardian sense of style of his mother, Lady Randolph Spencer-Churchill, born Jennie Jerome.
The ultimate home of Churchill and his wife Clementine was to be Chartwell in Kent, which they had substantially rebuilt by the architect Philip Tilden.
There is lots of evidence at Chartwell of how Churchill shared some of the – to us – surprisingly genteel hobbies of Victorian and Edwardian politicians and men of action, such as cultivating roses, collecting butterflies, painting in oils and an admiration for ‘old English’ architecture and Arts & Crafts-style furnishings.
To me Churchill is interesting not just as an unconventional politician (there is a fascinating article on ‘Churchill as aristocratic adventurer’ in David Cannadine’s book Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain), but also as a kind of bridge between different ages, a Victorian in the 20th century.