Churchill’s Country Estate and National Trust Property Opened to the Public Fifty Years Ago
This post is courtesy of the Churchill Centre
Staff and volunteers who have worked at Chartwell over the past five decades joined members of the Churchill family on 30 June to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening to the public of Sir Winston Churchill’s beloved home near Westerham, Kent. The day also served to mark the gift to Chartwell by the family of the late Mary Soames of many of Sir Winston’s paintings.
Churchill purchased the property in 1922, but the expenses he incurred on the estate always outran his income. After the war, in 1946, a group of admirers led by Lord Camrose raised £50,000 to purchase the house and grounds and present them to the National Trust on the condition that the Churchill’s be allowed to continue to live at Chartwell for the duration of their lives.
After Sir Winston died in January 1965, Lady Churchill decided to leave Chartwell so that it could be opened to the public straight away. A year and half later in June 1966, the National Trust welcomed the first visitors. Half a century on, more than three million people have toured the corner of England that Churchill loved above all others.
The anniversary events began in the studio where Churchill worked at his painting. Thirty-five canvasses on display there belonged to the Churchills’ youngest daughter Mary (Lady Soames), who passed away in 2014. They have now been donated by the family to the National Trust in lieu of estate tax, which means all will remain on permanent display at Chartwell.
A wooden plaque was placed in the studio that reads: “In gratitude for the generous support given by The Lady Soames LG DBE and her family in helping to secure Sir Winston Churchill’s painting legacy at Chartwell.”
An afternoon tea party followed on the lawn originally used by Clementine for playing tennis. After the war it was given over to croquet. Churchill granddaughters Edwina and Celia Sandys both spoke about their many visits to Chartwell and shared memories of playing croquet with their grandparents and Field Marshal Montgomery.
Randolph Churchill, a great-grandson of Sir Winston who lives not far from Chartwell, thanked all of the staff and volunteers who have worked so hard over the years to keep the memory green and the record accurate.