Historic Visitors Book at Chartwell goes digital to reveal the famous names who came to call

Press release
A close up of the signatures in the Chartwell Visitors Book, with the entry for Charlie Chaplin visible on the digital version in the background
Published : 09 Oct 2019

The National Trust has launched an interactive version of the historic Visitors Book at Chartwell, the former home in Kent of Winston Churchill, offering today’s visitors the chance to scroll through the handwritten entries of more than 700 personalities who visited between 1924 – 1964.

Yet fifteen signatures in the book remain either undeciphered, or it is not known who they belong to. 

Now the public are being invited to view these fifteen signatures online and help solve the mystery of who they might be.

From film star Charlie Chaplin and suffragette Christabel Pankhurst to politician David Lloyd George and royalty including the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, Chartwell’s Visitors Book is filled with many of the most significant names in 20th century history. 

Katherine Carter, Chartwell’s Project Curator explains: “From the moment the Churchills moved into the house in April 1924, they kept a Visitors Book. This gives us a unique insight into their world, through what is perhaps the single most important record of their private life in existence.

“The range of visitors from politicians and writers, to actors, scientists and Royalty, shows what an extraordinary life and reach the Churchills had across almost every aspect of life in the 20th century. The family also had close relationships with former staff, some of whose names appear.

“There are also a few people who we know visited but for some reason didn’t sign the Visitors Book, such as Albert Einstein. Others may not have wanted to sign, such as Fabian von Schlabrendorff who had been part of the German resistance against Hitler.” 

Since 2017, 16 volunteers have carried out research into 2,361 signatures, from 773 visitors who signed the book. A searchable database allows today’s visitors to search through names by category, such as ‘Arts, Entertainment & Sport’, ‘Law & Justice’ and ‘Medicine & Health’ and discover more about the lives, stories and careers of those that signed the book.

Zoë Colbeck, Chartwell’s General Manager adds: “Our volunteers have been instrumental in giving this remarkable piece of history a voice, and thanks to their exhaustive research we have been able to identify almost everyone who signed the Visitors Book across 40 years. When the volunteers started their research, there were 132 names that couldn’t be deciphered but they have managed to identify almost all of them.  

“However, despite extensive searches through letters, diaries, biographies, and other avenues, there is still a handful of names that they haven’t been able to identify. 

“We will continue to research them, but by putting the signatures online we are hoping there may be someone out there who recognises a name and can help us solve the mystery!”

The digitisation of the Visitors Book has been funded by the National Trust’s Churchill’s Chartwell Appeal, which has enabled the conservation charity to acquire and put on display hundreds of objects that belonged to Churchill and keep them in his home that was gifted to the nation. The project has ensured that Winston Churchill, his legacy and Chartwell remain relevant in the 21st century.

Major funders are the National Lottery Heritage Fund with other generous donations from The Royal Oak Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation, The Beaverbrook Foundation, National Trust centres and associations, private donors and members of the public.