Chartwell's black swans

Stroll around the gardens at Chartwell and you may spot an unusual sight on our lakes. Black swans, originally native to Australia, have called this hillside haven home since 1927, once looked after by Churchill and now by the National Trust.

Churchill's 'Swan Talk'

The first black swans at Chartwell were a gift to Churchill from Sir Phillip Sassoon, a well-known politician of the day who served as private secretary to Field Marshal Haig during the First World War.

Churchill was a great lover of animals from his cats and dogs to his pet lion Rota (who rather sensibly was kept at London Zoo). He was also devoted to his swans and would frequently converse with them in 'swan-talk' in which he claimed to be an expert.

A post-war bodyguard, Ronald Golding, however revealed his swan-talk to be a myth, as the swans would simply make noise at anyone who came close to them:

"It was some time after this discovery that I was walking down to the lake with Mr. Churchill. I was a little in front, and watched carefully for the critical spot. I then called out in 'swan-talk' and the birds dutifully replied. Mr. Churchill stopped dead. I turned round and he looked me full in the eye for a moment or two. Then the faintest suspicion of a smile appeared and he walked on in silence. No comment was ever made that this secret was shared."

" All the black swans are mating, not only the father and mother, but both brothers and both sisters have paired off. The Ptolemys always did this and Cleopatra was the result. At any rate I have not thought it my duty to interfere."
- Winston to his wife Clementine, 1935

Swan Sanctuary

Back in Churchill’s time the population at Chartwell was frequently hit by cunning foxes and mink.

Replacements were always arriving though to top up the flock, including a pair sent as a gift from the Government of Western Australia.

Fast forward to modern times where in 2009 our gardeners created a floating island within the lakes to help the swans hide from hungry predators.

Help us look after our swans

Please help us take care of our black swans by not feeding them and keeping a short distance from them. Wildfowl are sensitive and may peck if they feel uncomfortable. Thank you.

Black swans were first kept at Chartwell by Churchill
Black swans on the lake at Chartwell, a National Trust property in Kent
Black swans were first kept at Chartwell by Churchill