The south front of Chartwell, Kent, the country house of Winston and Clementine Churchill between 1922 and 1964. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris
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.
Portrait of Churchill wearing his official robes as Chancellor of the Exchequer, by John Singer Sargent, 1925. © National Trust Collections
Churchill lived in an extraordinary succession of houses during his lifetime, perhaps reflecting his restless personality and tumultuous career.
The Study at Chartwell, the hub of Churchill’s political activities for over 40 years. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
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 front door at Chartwell, with an 18th-century carved wooden doorcase purchased from the London dealer Thomas Crowther. The cat is a recent reincarnation of Churchill’s ginger tom Jock. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman
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.
Portrait of Lady Randolph Spencer-Churchill by John Singer Sargent. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty
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 Dining Room at Chartwell. ©National Trust Images/Nick Guttridge
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.
The Golden Rose Walk at Chartwell. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson
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.
Churchill’s desk in the Library at Chartwell. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
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.