Marking Churchill's birthday at Chartwell
On the anniversary of Churchill's birthday, we are reflecting on one of his most treasured presents - the House of Commons 80th birthday book. Today the book is one of the items we hope to keep at Chartwell as part of our Keep Churchill at Chartwell appeal and just one of many items we hope to save for the nation with your help.
Churchill's 80th birthday on 30 November 1954 was an historic occasion which met with an unprecedented demonstration of official thanks and public affection. More significant than the fact Churchill became, after Palmerston, only the second man to hold the office of Prime Minister at such an age, was that it provided the most fitting opportunity since the end of the war for many to pay their personal tributes to Churchill.
On the morning of the birthday, the State opening of Parliament took place, followed by a unique ceremony at Westminster Hall. As Winston and his wife Clementine took their steps through St Stephen’s entrance, they were greeted by a drummer beating out a ‘V’ in Morse code – a tribute to the victory salute which had become synonymous with the prime minister.
To mark his 80th birthday members of both Houses subscribed 1000 guineas for the book to be made and for a portrait of Winston by the famous Graham Sutherland. Churchill unveiled the painting and was presented with the book in front of 2500 people at Westminster Hall.
It was during this presentation that Churchill made one of his iconic speeches. Starting by saying the event was ‘the most memorable occasion of my life’ he proceeded to acknowledge the role that writing and speech making had played in his life. He then made one of his most well-known quotes:
" It was a nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar."
A lot of thought went into the making of this book. Every member of the House of Commons had signed the book as a show of affection to him. Even the colours on the binding were done in Churchill’s racing colours; chocolate and pink. The care taken in the books creation was certainly not lost on Churchill, who considered the book to be one of his most personal treasures.
Katherine Barnett, House and Collections Manager at Chartwell, comments ‘Here you have one of the world’s greatest statesmen, on his 80th birthday, with hundreds of gifts from all over the world, but this one was among the most special to him’.
Treasured at Chartwell
Whilst the painting may no longer exist, we are delighted to be able to display the birthday book for all our visitors to see. We have an exciting opportunity to permanently acquire this book to save for the nation but we can only do it with your thoughtful generosity. Donate to our Keep Churchill at Chartwell appeal today and help us save this item for the nation.