Sir Winston Churchill was a politician, soldier, historian, accomplished artist and Nobel Prize winning writer, recently voted the greatest Briton of all time. His life started and ended in two beautiful, historic buildings in the English countryside, both of which are open to visitors: his birthplace, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and his family home in later life, Chartwell in Kent.
Winston Churchill was never meant to be born at Blenheim Palace. His parents fully intended him to be born at their London home but “a rather imprudent and rough drive in a pony carriage brought on the birth two months early." This unfortunate incident couldn’t have happened in nicer surroundings. Winston Churchill was born on 30th November 1874 in a small room off the Great Hall in the home of his grandparents, the 7th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. The palace is a grand and expansive country home situated in Woodstock, a small village in the Cotswolds area of Oxfordshire. Construction work on this magnificent house started in 1705. The palace was a generous gift both from a monarch, Queen Anne, and a grateful nation following the first Duke of Marlborough’s victory over the French at the Battle of Blenheim in Germany. The Duke returned a national hero and the queen secured a grant of £240,000 (equivalent to approximately £33 million now) to fund the 17 years of building works.
The time taken to fully appreciate all that Blenheim Palace has to offer should not be underestimated. The exquisite Baroque palace is situated in 2100 acres of parkland designed by the famous English landscaper, Lancelot “Capability" Brown. The grounds include a small summerhouse known as the “Temple of Diana where Winston Churchill proposed to his future wife, Clementine Hozier. They were married just over a month later in Westminster. The tour around the palace itself starts in the Great Hall complete with painted ceilings and stone carvings, before moving on to state rooms and drawing rooms full of tapestries, porcelain, paintings and furniture. The room known as the “Long Library" is the palace’s finest, designed by Christopher Wren and 55 meters in length.
Providing an interesting contrast to the grandeur and opulence of Blenheim Palace, Chartwell in Kent was Churchill’s main home from 1922 until his death in 1965. Whilst certainly a large house by anyone’s standards, it has a much more homely feel with touches such as a children’s playhouse in the expansive gardens and a wall that Winston built himself, proudly inscribing his name on it.
Churchill purchased Chartwell for £5000, when his wife was heavily pregnant with their youngest child, and then spent three times as much on restoration. During the Second World War, Chartwell was abandoned due to its location in South-East England, an area subject to heavy bombing. At the end of the war, despite being a national hero, Churchill was defeated in an election and was unable to afford the cost of running Chartwell due to his reduced income. Much to his relief, a consortium of his friends offered to buy the property and the Churchills were able to continue to live there paying only a nominal rent.
The British National Trust now owns Chartwell, after the consortium presented the property to the nation in 1966, and the house remains much as it was when Churchill lived there. Many personal mementos around the house evoke the memory of this great statesman – his paintings in the garden studio, his books in the library and pictures of Churchill with famous visitors to Chartwell including Charlie Chaplin and Lawrence of Arabia. The grounds include Lady Clementine Churchill’s rose garden, the lakes Churchill himself created and the Golden Rose Walk, a Golden Wedding anniversary gift from their children. Chartwell was clearly somewhere where Churchill loved to spend time as he commented that “a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted".
Two very different houses with one very important link – a man who certainly earned his title of greatest ever Briton.