Churchill feeds the fish at Chartwell | Photo courtesy of Alamy.com
Finest Hour 183, First Quarter 2019
By Piers Brendon
Extract from Churchill’s Bestiary (2018)
In 1938 Churchill stocked his round pond at Chartwell with 1,000 little golden orfe, pale yellow in colour with the occasional dash of red, some of which grew to be well over a foot long. He was very excited about them and correspondingly grateful to Prof. Lindemann, who gave him a pair of polaroid glasses so that he could see them better underwater.
The superior maggots he eventually selected to feed his fish were sent by rail from Yorkshire in fibre-packed tins at a cost of 22s and 6d a week. “Aristocratic maggots, these are,” he sometimes said. “Look how well the fish are doing on them.” As Prime Minister, Churchill took little exercise but occasionally, feeling the need for movement, he did go out to feed his golden fish during the war. And even at its climax they were not far from his thoughts. A couple of weeks before the D-Day landings in Normandy, he gave orders that his fish supplier should “go down to Chartwell on a hot day and look at the fish.” He received a report that the fish were still doing well despite lack of nourishment, though there was a warning about the presence of adders. Worse than adders were otters, whose depredations in April 1945 left Churchill with but a single goldfish.
After his defeat at the polls three months later, Churchill set about restoring Chartwell’s grounds and restocking its waters with fish. By the 1950s golden fish had become such a key part of Churchill’s life as often to divert him from serious work. Going to see them was an established ritual, as visitors who were bidden to accompany him observed. After lunch he would stroll down to summon the gleaming horde, rapping his stick on the paved path and calling out “Hike, Hike-Hike, Hike.” “See they can hear me,” Churchill would exclaim. “Look how they’re all coming towards me.” He would feed them by hand, addressing them as “Darlings.”
Justin Reash is Deputy Editor of Finest Hour and works at the University of Michigan.
Churchill. Chartwell. Cinema. How did an unused room on the lower level of Chartwell become a portal for Churchill’s escapism? By chance, as it happens. Though not a subject found in many books or academic studies, films played an important role in Winston Churchill’s life. They were an extension of his personality. Like painting, watching movies helped him to relax.
Furthermore, as an artist himself, films allowed Churchill to criticize and explore the creativity of others. But movies held another attraction for him. Stories are told on the screen, and Churchill was passionate for stories. He wrote stories, spoke stories, and painted stories. Thus, films were yet another medium for him to live his storied life.
Churchill’s love for the cinema produced memories for people beyond himself. His granddaughter Celia Sandys says that some of her first memories of Chartwell, her grandfather’s home in Kent, are those of watching films in rooms that smelled of “Napoleon brandy and cigars and my grandfather saying ‘let it roll’”— which was the signal to start the film. Lady Williams of Elvel, who as Jane Portal worked as a secretary to Churchill from 1949 to 1955, remembers spending many weekend evenings in the cinema and how much pleasure it brought her boss.
Celia and Jane recently discussed the Chartwell cinema together at the 2017 International Churchill Conference in New York City. Based on their memories and those recorded by others, we can tell the story of how, thanks to good friends and new technology, Churchill’s treasured home became the epicenter for one of his great passions and most important forms of entertainment.
Katherine Carter is Project Curator and Collections Manager at Chartwell.
Last year, Chartwell marked fifty years since its first opening to the public. Today, with more than 200,000 people visiting the house and gardens each year, Chartwell remains one of the National Trust’s most popular properties, and Director General Dame Helen Ghosh recently described it as “a jewel in the crown of the National Trust.”1 But what has it been like to care for a national landmark for half a century, and what awaits Churchill’s beloved home in the coming years?
When Winston Churchill passed away in January 1965, Chartwell entered a very different phase in its long history: one of purposeful curation, public accessibility, and memorialisation. Lady Churchill decided to move to London following her husband’s death and left the house in June of the same year.
Although the National Trust had owned the house for nineteen years prior, and were able to make some preparations in advance, it was not until 1965 that they had a hand in its presentation, working closely with Lady Churchill, her daughter Mary Soames, and Lady Churchill’s former secretary Grace Hamblin, who became the first Administrator. As Martin Drury observed, “it was rare for a house to come to the National Trust ‘in full sail’ in this way.”2
Date: 1924/1925 –
Materials: Oil on millboard –
Measurements: 356 x 508 mm (14 x 20 in) –
Place of origin: Chartwell
Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018
By Barry Phipps
Barry Phipps is an art historian and a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. He wishes to thank Katherine Carter and the staff at Chartwell for assistance with this article.
The snow has stopped falling. Chartwell and the garden sit under a hefty, white cloak. The air is cold, quiet, and still. Sunshine dazzles, reflected by the snow and glowing from the house; only the shadows of trees and shrubs give respite from the intensity of the phosphorescent light.
The grounding colours of Winter Sunshine, Chartwell (1924/5) are greens, browns, and blacks, which are constructed to frame the view of the house between the foliage of shrubs and trees. The house is draped in russet colours of reds, oranges, and yellows, contrasting sharply with the background of deep shadows. The white paint is laid thick, with heavy layers foregrounding the vista, as if it had just fallen and now rests upon our view. An intense sense of sunlight shimmers across the scene. The colours are sensational rather than representative, lending the painting an emotional dimension. It is a work that prioritises subjectivity over observation.
The painting is one of Churchill’s most important. It is the work that elevated his hobby from personal pastime to critical acclaim. The story of how the painting was submitted anonymously to an amateur art exhibition is well-documented. On the reverse of the canvas is a letter signed by Oswald Birley relating how he, as one of the judges for the exhibition, awarded it first prize. He did so, however, against the wishes of one of the judges, Sir Joseph Duveen, who is said to have refused to believe it was by an amateur. It was only when the renowned art historian Kenneth Clark sided with Birley that the prize was duly awarded. Emboldened by this success, Churchill subsequently entered the same painting, under the pseudonym David Winter, to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, which gained him entry into the RA in 1947. Read More >
Oscar Nemon statue of Clementine and Winston on the grounds of Chartwell
Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018
By Jonathan Dudley
Jonathan Dudley retired from the University of Wolverhampton after a career in education.
A couple of years ago, that would be in 2015, I decided to take myself back to Chartwell. I had just finished writing the first full draft of a short memoir capturing the strangeness and the wonder of staying there with Mr. and Mrs. Churchill in the summer of 1949 and again in 1950. [See p. 51.] In 1949 I was eight years old: classrooms at my all-boys school in London were furnished with double-desks, each one shared by two boys sitting side by side. The little boy I was told to sit next to in this our final year at the school could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as my great friend. I had hardly spoken to him during the two or three years we had been at this expensive private school in South Kensington. Nevertheless Winston, for that was his name, mentioned one day that his grandmother had asked him to bring a friend when he went to stay with her and his grandfather in their country house in Kent this summer. “Would I,” he asked me solemnly, “like to be that friend?
It was a difficult one. I was not at all sure that Winston and I had anything much in common: I loved nothing better than kicking a football around, Winston seemed little interested in sport. He seemed to enjoy making artworks of different kinds, maybe cutting out bits of paper, colouring them in, all that sort of thing and frankly, it did not interest me very much. The fact that we had not had much social contact at school seemed to me a bad omen. Perhaps he was short of friends. Read More >
Leo Amery (1873–1955) was a lifelong friend of Winston Churchill, although politically they were often at odds with each other. They first met while at school together at Harrow—a humorous account of which Churchill immortalized in his autobiography My Early Life. Both men worked as war correspondents in South Africa and shared a tent together the night before Churchill’s famous armoured train encounter that led to his capture by the Boers, subsequent escape, and enough resulting notoriety to catapult him into Parliament “ten years before you!” as he later chided Amery, who had preferred to slumber in his cot.
Unlike Churchill, Amery remained a lifelong Tory and zealously championed protective tariffs, while Churchill, a supporter of free trade, left the Conservative party to join the Liberals in 1904. When Churchill returned to the Tory fold to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin from 1924 to 1929, he found a strong antagonist in Amery, who served as Colonial Secretary in the same Government.
After 1929 both men found themselves consigned to the backbenches during the appeasement years. Although Amery, like Churchill, was an outspoken critic of Hitler and an advocate of rearmament, the two men differed strongly over home rule for India, which Amery supported and Churchill opposed. Ironically, when Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 he named Amery as his Secretary of State for India. This led to intense clashes between them in Cabinet.
Oscar Nemon’s statue of Clementine and Winston at Chartwell
Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s home in Kent, has opened a new exhibition Clementine Churchill: Speaking for Herself, focusing on the extraordinary life of Churchill’s beloved wife Clementine. The exhibition at the National Trust property features items that have never been publicly displayed before, including treasured childhood photographs and a portrait by Paul Maze, the Post Impressionist artist. Read More >
Although Churchill enjoyed travelling and holidays, he was happiest at Chartwell.
Purchased in 1922, much against Clementine’s wishes, it was dilapidated and in very poor repair and Churchill dedicated much of his energy – and funds – to renovating and developing the house and grounds. He ended up doing much of the smaller building work himself, taking on the construction of a dam, a swimming pool (which proved very costly to heat), brick walls around the vegetable garden and creating a butterfly house out of a former larder, as well as re-tiling a cottage in Chartwell’s grounds.
Churchill had been determined to have a happy family – to maintain those ‘dominating virtues of human society’ – but he lived so many other lives – as a politician, as a war leader, and had so many passionate interests (writing, painting, holidays) – that his family was, to a greater or lesser degree, squeezed in among these other busy lives. There were painful consequences, of course, but Clementine had always accepted that her husband must come first (and ‘second and third’) and worked tirelessly to support him. And his children, however, they responded to the pressures of being the great man’s children, appreciated, and were proud of, all he had done for them and for the country.
The Churchills were, for the first years of their marriage, an itinerant family, frequently moving house depending on their circumstances. The very first year of their married life was spent at Churchill’s bachelor ‘pad’ in Bolton Street, Mayfair. They then moved to a larger house in Eccleston Square where Diana and Randolph were born (in 1909 and 1911), with Clementine and the children spending holidays near the sea, at Cromer, in Pear Tree Cottage, with ‘Goonie’ and her children nearby.
While supremely confident and self-assured in most fields of life, Churchill was generally modest about his achievements as a painter; he didn’t aspire to create masterpieces – he never claimed he had ever painted one – and didn’t intend to earn money from his pastime (unlike his other craft of writing). But he did have a certain ambition for his art. In 1921, only six years after he’d first tried his hand with a brush, he is said to have sold up to six paintings he’d exhibited in Paris under the pseudonym Charles Morin at Galerie Druet for the princely sum of £30.00 each. In 1947 he successfully submitted two paintings to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition under the name David Winter (including ‘Winter Sunshine, Chartwell’, which had won a prize in 1927).
‘To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.’
Churchill, ‘Hobbies’, Pall Mall Gazette, Dec 1925 (cited in Langworth, Churchill: In His Own Words)
Churchill spent much of his leisure time painting at Chartwell, the house and grounds he bought in 1922 set in the rolling countryside of Kent. When he wasn’t bricklaying, building tree houses for the children or feeding his menagerie of animals, he spent much of his time painting, particularly in his ‘wilderness years’. His studio at Chartwell is today much as it was when he was alive and many of his paintings can be seen on its walls. He generally preferred light and colour and, when the weather wouldn’t comply and he couldn’t paint out of doors, he often resorted to still-life studies of fruit, bottles and glassware (hence ‘Bottlescape’, his painting of a range of drinks and glasses, both full and empty.) His nephew Peregrine has said that Churchill, on receiving a large bottle of brandy for Christmas, sent his children round the house looking for other bottles to put alongside it, for a still life. Peregrine told Richard M. Langworth, the editor of Churchill: In His Own Words, that Churchill said: ‘Fetch me associate and fraternal bottles to form a bodyguard to this majestic container’ (Churchill: In His Own Words).
Although Churchill enjoyed travelling and holidays, he was happiest at Chartwell. Purchased in 1922, much against Clementine’s wishes, it was dilapidated and in very poor repair and Churchill dedicated much of his energy – and funds – to renovating and developing the house and grounds. He ended up doing much of the smaller building work himself, taking on the construction of a dam, a swimming pool (which proved very costly to heat), brick walls around the vegetable garden and creating a butterfly house out of a former larder, as well as re-tiling a cottage in Chartwell’s grounds.
A common trap that people fall into is to refer to Winston Churchill’s beloved country estate in Kent as “ Chartwell Manor.” Even Mary Soames in her wonderful memoir A Daughter’s Tale made this error.
It is true the house was informally, but only ever informally, called Chartwell Manor around the time Mary was born and her father bought the estate in 1922—simply because it was a big and imposing residence. But it was not then and never had been a manor house, and it is quite incorrect and careless to use this as its proper name. Churchill himself never appears to have referred to his house as a manor and simply used “Chartwell” on his stationery. Most of all, the National Trust, as the present owner, does not use the term “manor” because it is legally wrong.
Parts of the house are mediaeval, and down the centuries it was called Well Street or Wellstreet, or occasionally Well Place. It was renamed Chartwell by John Campbell Colquhoun, who bought the estate in the nineteenth century, and the name first appears in the 1851 Kent census. The name was taken from the
“A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.” — Winston S. Churchill
By Edwina Sandys Edwina Sandys is a painter and sculptor. A granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, she is the author of Winston Churchill: A Passion for Painting (2015), reviewed in FH 174. This article (A Day at Chartwell) copyright 2017 Edwina Sandys, Artists Rights Society, NY.
I visited Chartwell last June with my sister Celia Sandys to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the house to the public. It was a typical English afternoon, not quite sunny, not quite rainy. Tea was in a large tent on the lawn near the house. Many of our cousins, Soames and Churchill, were there, as well as friends of the family. I was very pleased to meet for the first time David Coombs, author of the comprehensive catalogue of Winston Churchill paintings.
After a few “Hellos” and “How are yous?” I had a strange feeling that we were sitting having tea and cakes on what had in earlier days been the croquet lawn. Before that it had been a tennis court. I had never known it as a tennis court but had heard of my grandmother’s prowess as a fine and graceful tennis player, who also played in tournaments. The Croquet Lawn was very much part of my Chartwell days. Although I never saw Grandpapa playing croquet, I played many games with Grandmama and Field Marshal Montgomery. Monty was a frequent visitor and, although known for being a stern and formidable soldier, was very kind and even interested in talking to a young, shy, teenager like me. In those days, in the English countryside, croquet was quite a different game from the one played today in the United States, where it is taken very seriously, competitively as well as sartorially—everyone in white dresses or flannels.
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Welcome to the finale of our series “Work Hard – Play Hard: Churchill and His Hobbies.” Did you know Churchill loved to fly? Less than a decade after the Wright brothers first soared, he began taking lessons. His enthusiasm amazed even his instructors. He flew several times per day, finding true peace when airborn. “I have lived entirely in the moment, with no care for all these tiresome party politics.” But his friends and family were terrified. Early aviation was extremely dangerous, as he soon realized. “I have been naughty today about flying” he confessed. When Clementine had a new baby, he knew it was time to stop. “I will not fly any more, until at any rate you have recovered from your kitten.” The First World War kept him grounded. But when it ended, he eagerly resumed his lessons. Finally, after a wild crash landing, he gave it up. Sadly, he never earned his pilot’s license. But, as First Lord of the Admiralty, his early passion for flying gave birth to the Royal Naval Air Service. This helped form the Royal Air Force, to whom we owe so much. The mighty RAF still soars to this day, thanks in part to Churchill. We hope you enjoyed this series, and that you, like Churchill, get some leisure time this weekend. … See MoreSee Less
The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.