May 24, 2013


ULTIMATE CHURCHILLIANA? The Chartwell guest book, 224 pages long, is a witness to the comings of goings of the good and the great (and not so great) in the most crucial years of the 20th century.


Mr. Hatter is a steward and tour guide at Chartwell and author of Churchill: His Politics and Writing. He thanks Lady Soames, who kindly read the text and provided essential information; and to Douglas Austin, Neville Snazel and John Whaler of Chartwell for their work on the Visitors Book project. The full list of names will soon be posted on the Centre website. If you can identify any of our unknowns, please email the author at [email protected].

2024 International Churchill Conference

Join us for the 41st International Churchill Conference. London | October 2024


For Churchillians it must be the ultimate in browsable documents: 224 pages, 2316 signatures, 780 people. Turn the pages, look at the names, the history of the mid-20th century is evoked by the signatures of those making it.

The Visitors Book was used from the moment Churchill took up residence until the time when he left to spend his last days at Hyde Park Gate. He moved in on 17 April 1922 and Nellie Romilly, Clementine’s sister, was the first to sign—unhelpfully for us, she omitted the date of her visit. The first dated signature is Gwendeline (“Goonie”) Churchill, the wife of Jack, Winston’s brother, who visited on June 28th.

Nellie soon made up for the omission, because in the league table of visitors throughout the life of the book, she ranks third, with seventy-four visits. The top places go to Lord Cherwell, formerly Professor Frederick Lindemann, “the Prof ” (eighty-six visits); and to Sylvia Henley, Clementine’s lifelong friend and cousin (eighty-three visits). It sounds a lot, but the Visitors Book spans forty years and—allowing that there were no visitors when Chartwell was shut between 29 August 1939 (The Prof ) and 1 January 1946 (Venetia Montagu)—it’s not as if they were outstaying their welcome.

The family were frequent visitors; Diana signed in as both Bailey and Sandys. Her second husband, Duncan Sandys, signed, but there is no signature from John Bailey. Sarah signed as Oliver, Beauchamp and Audley, but of her three husbands, only Antony Beauchamp and Lord Audley signed. Randolph is there, with both of his wives, Pamela (formerly Digby) and June (formerly Osborne). And of course Mary and Christopher Soames signed frequently. An interesting page from 1952 has the signatures of both Mary Soames and Mary S. Churchill.

The second Mary was the second wife of Winston’s nephew, John Spencer Churchill Prime Ministers, future Prime Ministers and almost Prime Ministers visited. In sequence we have Balfour and Lloyd George, who signed; MacDonald and Baldwin, who didn’t; then Eden, Macmillan, Heath and Butler, who did. There was never, as far as we can prove a negative, a visit from Neville Chamberlain. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he didn’t visit, though despite their political differences Churchill retained a high regard for Chamberlain and spoke well of him when he died.

This brings us to the matter of those who did not sign. Visitors were usually enjoined to sign if they stayed overnight, although some exceptions were made for luncheon guests, in particular royalty (see below)—and for two from large groups, 615 Squadron on 4 August 1951 and guests at the constituency party on 7 July 1956.

The book lacks a number of known visitors who either weren’t staying overnight or wished to keep their visits secret. In the cases of MacDonald and Baldwin, and also Albert Einstein, we might guess that these are inadvertent omissions; but there were other visitors whose motives in not signing may easily be inferred.

Group Captain Lachlan MacLean and Wing Commander Tor Anderson, who came to confide their worries to Churchill about RAF fighting strength, had good reason not to record their presence. Major Ewald von Kleist, an anti-Nazi German who came to see Churchill about the situation in the Reich, would also wish his visit to go unnoted. (A tragic footnote: von Kleist was executed after the abortive attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944 and part of the evidence against him was a letter from Churchill that he unwisely kept.) There is evidence elsewhere of visits from Leon Blum, the French President; Heinrich Brüning, the former Chancellor of Germany; and Albert Forster, Nazi Gauleiter in Danzig—but, unsurprisingly, no signatures appear.

Desmond Morton, the Head of the Industrial Intelligence Unit, who was one of Churchill’s prime sources of information during the 1930s and a long-time friend from the time of the First World War, also never signed the book, possibly because he was a close neighbour and walked to Chartwell across the fields and might have felt that his visits were merely a matter of course. Ralph Wigram, the Head of the Foreign Office Central Department, and another close associate who brought Churchill secret information during this period did sign the book, as did Ava, his wife.

Some time after Wigram’s sudden death, Ava married Sir John Anderson, who later became Viscount Waverley. Thus we have the unusual occurrence of her signing the book with three different names.

Lastly in this section, one must mention Guy Burgess, who later became a Soviet spy. In his absorbing novel, Winston’s War (Finest Hour 117), Michael Dobbs describes Burgess signing the book after visiting Chartwell, and Churchill subsequently tearing out the page. However, there is no point in looking for evidence of the missing page; the event is just part of a novel.

Churchill’s love for America and the large part it played in his life is not reflected in the number of American visitors, at least in the political sphere. Roosevelt, Hopkins, Winant, Willkie and Eisenhower never visited, but of course Chartwell was shut up during the war, and this was the period of their main association with Churchill. Harriman, Baruch and Truman did visit, Baruch several times both before and after the war. Truman has the distinction of having written one of the few comments to be found in the book: “What a grand climax to a great visit.”

Some thirty years after they first met during the war, Averell Harriman married Pamela, Randolph’s first wife; the Visitors Book ends after Churchill’s death, so Pamela Harriman is not there, although she does appear as Pamela Churchill.

There are many signatures from other aspects of life at Chartwell. Representing visiting royalty are the signatures of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and the Prince and Princess of Prussia.

Others came from all spheres: Max Beaverbrook, for whom Clementine never developed a liking, and Brendan Bracken with whom she finally became friends; Lord Camrose, whose generosity and influence produced the trust fund that enabled Churchill to continue living at Chartwell; Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII, who gave Clementine advice on acquiring influential lovers to help advance her husband’s career; T.E. Shaw, Lawrence of Arabia, who arrived at the house on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle, exotically named “Boanerges”; the painters Lavery, Nicholson, Birley, Montag, Maze and Sickert, whom Churchill admired, and Graham Sutherland, a painter for whom his admiration was limited. All of these and many more signed the book and leave a lasting record of the history of Churchill and Chartwell.

Then there were Churchill’s Civil Service Private Secretaries. Eddie Marsh, who began working for WSC in 1905 and died in 1953, a lifelong friend; Jock Colville, whom Churchill inherited from Chamberlain, who began as a sceptic and left as one of WSC’s strongest supporters; David Pitblado, who was there throughout the 1951-55 government and nominally joint Principal Private Secretary with Jock, but who was shaded into second place by Churchill’s lack of interest in Home Affairs;Leslie Rowan, with Churchill throughout the war, who was with Churchill throughout the war, and stayed on to work with Attlee. Rowan was Churchill’s first choice when he resumed office in 1951, but was not available, so Colville got the job. And there is Anthony Montague Browne, who, save only for Clementine, saw more of Churchill in his last years than anybody else.

But there are no signatures from John Martin, the other Principal Private Secretary during the wartime government; from Peter Oates, who held that post during the 1951-55 government; David Hunt, who served both Attlee and Churchill, and many others who worked closely with WSC. Undoubtedly some or all of them made day visits, but there is no record of their passage. And among the women secretaries who worked with him before, during and after the war there are only three signatures: Elizabeth Gilliatt, Kathleen Hill and Margery Street. Grace Hamblin, the most famous secretary of all and the first administrator of Chartwell, never signed.

Military figures bulk large in the Visitors Book. There are signatures from Alexander and Montgomery (with whom Churchill became close in the postwar years; on one page there are four Monty signatures with nobody visiting in between). There are also Paget, Spears, Ismay, Ironside and Keyes—but no recorded visit from Alanbrooke. His alloyed admiration for Churchill probably prevented sufficient room for friendship.

Lastly there are the names we don’t know!

The Visitors Book project at Chartwell is aimed at providing brief biographic notes of all signatories, together with notes of as many of the visits as we can discover. The people fall into four categories. They are: (1) those for whom we have a biographic note; (2) those for whom we think we have a note—that is, we are not entirely sure it’s the right person; (3) those for whom we as yet can’t find a reference; and (4) those on whom we have yet to start work.

The people in category 3 are the ones who tantalise. Who were Berwick Allen, Pleasance Hugesson, George Kingsley, F Price? We are still searching and hope to find them (and many others).

In the meantime, the Visitors Book remains; a witness to the comings and goings of the famous and of the unknown and a succinct and comprehensive summary of the history of Churchill and Chartwell.




The following appear most often, which does not necessarily mean they occupy the same order in actual visits:

Lord Cherwell (Frederick Lindemann) 86
Sylvia Henley 85
Diana Churchill-Bailey-Sandys 74
Field Marshal Montgomery 46
Jack Churchill (brother) 41
Nellie Romilly 41
Celia Sandys 36
Brendan Bracken 31
Duncan Sandys 26
Anthony Montague Browne 24
Julian Sandys (grandson) 23
Goonie Churchill (sister-in-law) 22
Jock & Margaret Colville 21
Eddie Marsh 20
Edwina Sandys 20
Peregrine Churchill (nephew) 18
Randolph Churchill 18
Archie & Marigold Sinclair 16
Johnny Churchill (nephew) 16
June Churchill (daughter-in-law) 14
Sarah Churchill 14
Winston Churchill (grandson) 14
Violet Bonham Carter 10


Compiled from references in biographies, the Churchill Archives, and individuals, this list includes those known to have worked for WSC, either as employees or Civil Service appointees. There are probably omissions; more information is most welcome.

Annette Anning
Harry Beckenham
Millicent Broomhead
Lorna Cowper
Gwen Davies
Lettice Fisher
Phyllis Forbes
Chips Gemmell
Elizabeth Gilliatt[1]
Monica Graham
Corporal Geoffrey Green[2]
Grace Hamblin[3]
Olive Harrington
Anne Hipwell
Kathleen Hill[1]
Marian Holmes[1] (later Walker Spicer)
Patrick Kinna[2]
Elizabeth Layton[1] (later Nel)
Lettice Marston (later Shillingford)
Gillian Maturin
R S McHale[4]
Phyllis Moir[5]
Delia Morton
Elizabeth Oakden
Violet Pearman (“Mrs. P”)
Mary Penman
Jane Portal (later Lady Williams)
Doreen Pugh
Vanda Salmon
Maud Stanley
Margery Street
Mary Shearburn[1] (later Thompson[6])
Catherine Snelling
Dorothy Spencer
Jo Sturdee[1] (later Countess of Onslow)
Joyce Tallents
Joan Taylor
Penelope Wall
Edith Watson[7]



1 Wartime secretaries.

2 Usually referred to as Churchill’s shorthand writer; Corporal Green was his assistant. They accompanied Churchill on overseas trips before female secretaries were allowed to travel.

3 Later Personal Assistant to Clementine and subsequently the first administrator at Chartwell.

4 Miss McHale’s name appears upon many documents in the Churchill archive. To date her given names are undiscovered.

5 Temporary secretary employed in the United States in 1931, from which thin experience she wrote, I Was Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary.

6 Mary Shearburn married Walter Thompson, Churchill’s Scotland Yard bodyguard.

7 The only female in the Private Secretaries’ Office in Downing Street in 1940.


A tribute, join us




Get the Churchill Bulletin delivered to your inbox once a month.