On Friday I made my first visit to Chartwell. I was influenced by the September post of my colleague William Byford who was ‘underwhelmed ‘ after his visit in the summer. I share that view.
William’s car journey was marred by traffic on the M25, mine by a driver who incessantly moaned so I did not arrive in the best of spirits.
Winston Churchill acquired the property in 1922 when he returned to the Conservatives after 20 years with the Liberal Party.
He had to gut the place and engaged the services of an architect – Philip Tilden – who had built a home for Sir Philip Sassoon at Port Lympne.
The original budget was £5,000 but Churchill was never shy in spending money and this was exceeded.
The original Tudor house came down and was replaced by red brick, giving it the air of a northern university.
The grounds and views are spectacular.
Churchill, who was a more than competent builder, constructed all the walls in the gardens whose flowers were planted by his wife Clementine.
Sadly, the first storey of the house – which contained the two bedrooms, a museum and library were not open – so I had to content myself with the downstairs study, secretaries’ room and dining area.
I did visit his studio.
Churchill was an enthusiastic amateur painter who completed 550 works.
I did not think these were that good, especially when compared to the portrait of him by Sir John Lavery, incorrectly referred to as “Laver” in the Guide.
William Byford observed that one did not feel Churchill in Chartwell.
This may be as he disposed of it after the WW2. It was bought for the nation and finished up with the National Trust.
It also seemed a second home, one for his family and close friends, but I imagine he spent his working week in London.
So yes, it was disappointing.
Compared to the houses in East Sussex occupied by Lee Miller (Farleys), by Vanessa Bell (Charleston) and Kipling (Batemans) you did not sense the occupier and, when I visited them, the War Rooms – off King Charles Street in central London – had more of a Churchillian feeling.