The butterfly house where Sir Winston would indulge his passion for breeding rare insects has been rebuilt
By Jonathan Brown
THE INDEPENDENT, Thursday 19 August 2010 – It was 1939 and the Nazi menace threatened Europe. But while Britain clamoured for the leadership of Winston Churchill, the thoughts of the great warrior himself were focused on an altogether more pacific subject: butterflies.
Like many Victorian children, the young Churchill had been an avid lepidopterist, collecting and pinning specimens from the then-teeming fields around his prep school in the 1880s. It was a hobby he had returned to periodically throughout his adventurous life, his interest stimulated by travels through South Africa, India and Cuba.
Yet it was on the eve of war as he sat at home at Chartwell awaiting the nation’s call to arms that he was to return to this childhood passion with an unexpected fervour.
In the end, Churchill had to put his grand plans to reintroduce some of the lost British species of butterfly to his Kent estate on hold until after 1945. But it was a mission he was to resume as soon as the conflict ended. Now more than half a century later his breeding efforts are being recreated by the National Trust in the grounds of the red-brick Victorian country house where he lived until his death in 1965. The old summerhouse which he converted into a butterfly sanctuary has been revived with breeding cages.