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Chartwell: The National Trust story

A view of the path through the Golden Rose Avenue with flowers in bloom on either side at Chartwell, Kent
Golden Rose Avenue at Chartwell, Kent | © National Trust Images / Nina Elliot Newman

Chartwell opened to the public in 1966, but you may be surprised to learn the National Trust actually acquired Chartwell 18 years before Winston Churchill’s death.

A future hanging in the balance

Chartwell had always been a costly house to run and had almost been listed for sale numerous times during the Churchills’ time there. After the Second World War, with Churchill not having written any work for six years and his income significantly reduced as a result, once again the family had to consider selling the home they loved.

It was a group of friends and admirers who bought Chartwell for the Churchills and immediately gave it to the National Trust. Their one condition was that Winston and Clementine could continue to live there for as long as they wished, after which it would be opened to the public.

Leaving Chartwell for the last time

Chartwell had been the much-loved home of the Churchill family since they moved there in 1924. It was a playground for the Churchills’ children and a treasured private country recluse for a very public man.

'A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.'

- Sir Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill left Chartwell in October 1964 to temporarily relocate to his London home in Hyde Park Gate for his 90th birthday celebrations. He celebrated his 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, at which point preparations began to open Chartwell to the public.

Black and white photo of the Churchills at breakfast in August 1927, at Chartwell, Kent. Photograph by Donald Ferguson, for the painting by Winston Churchill
The Churchills at breakfast in August 1927, at Chartwell, Kent, photographed by Donald Ferguson | © National Trust Images/ Anthony Lambert

The National Trust's task

We wanted to open the house and garden as soon as possible, due to popular demand. Fortunately, having already owned the property for 18 years, much of the planning had already been done, with the Churchills working closely with the National Trust throughout this phase of preparations.

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

We 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. Grace Hamblin even went on to become the first administrator for the Trust when the house opened to the public.

A glimpse into Churchill family life

It was decided that the house would be displayed as it was in the 1930s, the era when Winston, Clementine and their children were all in residence.

Much of the house remains as it was when it first opened for public viewing in 1966, though we have since been able to open Lady Churchill’s Sitting Room, the Secretaries’ Office and Winston Churchill’s bedroom and bathroom.

Chartwell is just one of many places that helps to preserve the memory of Winston Churchill. Visit the International Churchill Society to find out more about the life, leadership and experiences of Churchill and explore the other International Churchill Society Partners.

A pair of handle-less wooden hairbrushes with Winston Churchill's initials inscribed on them on a wooden counter top at Chartwell in Kent

Chartwell's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Chartwell on the National Trust Collections website.

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