Chartwell: The National Trust Story
You may be surprised to learn the National Trust actually acquired Chartwell 18 years before Winston’s death. The Churchill family found the upkeep of such a large estate very expensive and allowed a group of businessmen to purchase it for £50,000 who then offered it the National Trust in 1946/47. Their one condition was that Winston and Clementine could continue to live there for as long as they wished.
" A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted."
Chartwell had been the much loved home of the Churchill family since 1922. It was a playground for their youngest daughter and a treasured private country recluse for a very public man.
Sir Winston reluctantly left Chartwell in October 1964 due to his poor health and moved to his London flat in Hyde Park Gate. He celebrated his 90th birthday on 30 November and died just a few weeks later on 24 January 1965.
Later that same year, Lady Churchill decided that she would live in London and she too left Chartwell in June.
The National Trust wanted to open the house and gardens to the public as soon as possible, due to popular demand. Fortunately, having already owned the property for 18 years before Churchill’s death, much of the planning already had been done.
Chartwell opened to the public in the summer of 1966 to immense popularity. The queues outside the house were even reported in the newspapers the next day.
Working with the family
The National Trust worked closely with Lady Churchill, Lady Soames (the Churchill's youngest daughter) and Grace Hamblin (former secretary to Winston) to get the house ready for public opening and they are mainly responsible for the way we see the house today. The National Trust continues to enjoy a good relationship with the Churchill family.
Grace Hamblin even went on to become the first administrator for the Trust when the house opened to the public.
On the top floor of the house you’ll find the museum and uniform rooms, specially designed to exhibit certain items from the Churchill collection. You can tell what era these rooms were designed in; the artistic influence of the 60s can certainly be felt with the bright colour scheme.
The house was never built to be anything more than a home, so naturally the rooms are modest in size and the doorways quite narrow. One major consideration was how to organise a visitor route that would allow a comfortable visit. As such, you’ll find yourselves going from to the top floor before descending back down to view the rest of the ground floor.
Other factors that had to be considered included ensuring suitable exits in case of emergencies. Fire regulations and the like resulted in the introduction of timed tickets, to help manage the visitor flow.
A glimpse into Churchill family life
It was decided that the house would be displayed as it was in the1930s, the era when Winston, Clementine and their four children were all in residence.
Apart from minor amendments and additions the house remains much the same as it was when it was originally opened for public viewing in 1966. It remains a great source of interest and enjoyment to this day.