England: Visiting Winston Churchill's Worlds
A Journey through Winston Churchill’s Life in England
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” -- Sir Winston Churchill
By Chris Atkin
Sir Winston Churchill is widely considered to be the greatest Briton in history, and the recent cinematic release of the former Prime Minister in Churchill shows he remains a figure of fascination.
For those seeking a more detailed understanding of Churchill’s life than that provided by the silver screen, there are three places that were central to Churchill’s life that are all easy day trips from London.
Churchill was born, two months prematurely, at Blenheim Palace into the aristocratic family of the Dukes of Marlborough. The stately home sits on more than 2,000 acres of parkland and is a 20-minute drive north of Oxford or a one-hour 45-minute journey from London.
The view of the palace from the main entrance to the grounds at Woodstock Gate was described by Winston’s father Lord Randolph as “the finest view in England.”
Close up, the baroque architecture of the Grade 1 listed building isn’t bad either. Admission to the palace, park, and gardens are £24.90 for adults, while access to the park and gardens only costs £15.30.
Tickets including access to the palace can be converted to an annual pass for free if the admission fee is donated to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity.
Once inside the palace, visitors can explore the magnificent Long Library, tapestries and artwork in the State Rooms. The palace also includes a display about Winston Churchill with artifacts, photographs, and letters from various points in his life.
All visitors to the grounds are encouraged to visit the exhibition called Churchill’s Destiny, located in the West Courtyard, which explores the parallels between Winston and his ancestor John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough.
It provides an interesting overview of the Duke’s tactics in battle and how his victories inspired Winston during his time in politics.
The gardens of the UNESCO world heritage site are arguably even more impressive than the house itself. Highlights include the Secret Garden, the Victoria Rose Garden, the man-made Grand Cascades and if you’re in the mood for a challenge, the Marlborough Maze in the Pleasure Gardens.
The Churchill Memorial Garden was opened in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of the former Prime Minister. The site includes the Temple of Diana, where Winston proposed to his beloved Clementine Hozier in 1908.
The Churchill War Rooms
This historic museum gives visitors the opportunity to glimpse what life would have been like during the darkest days of the Second World War. Churchill led his War Cabinet and military strategists in tactical discussions here, deep in the underground bunker that served as the nerve center for Britain’s war effort.
The location was chosen in 1938 due to its steel frame and proximity to Parliament. The government was concerned Londoners would
feel abandoned if the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet were located far away, so a military information center was established in the bunker to collect vital updates from the front line.
The base became fully operational on 27th August 1939, a week before Britain declared war on Germany, and it remained in constant use until 16th August 1945. In total, Churchill’s War Cabinet met here 115 times, most frequently during the Blitz.
The museum is located a five-minute walk away from Westminster tube station in central London and an adult ticket costs £19. The admission fee includes access to the Churchill Museum, which examines Sir Winston’s childhood, military career and his time in office.
Visitors can listen to extracts from Churchill’s rousing wartime speeches, read his private correspondence and admire some of his artwork.
A centerpiece of the exhibition is ‘Churchill’s Lifeline’, a 15 meter-long interactive table chronicling major world events and Churchill's role in shaping many of them.
Chartwell in Kent
Less than an hour and a half away from the Churchill War Rooms is Chartwell in Kent, where Winston Churchill lived from 1922. After seeing the property, he bought it on an impulse.
His wife Clementine was understandably unhappy at his failure to discuss such a major investment without her and she was concerned they would be unable to afford the stately home. She was proved right.
The house is now a National Trust property, with adult tickets to non-members costing £13.50. The National Trust acquired the property 18 years before Winston’s death when a group of businessmen became aware that the family was struggling to afford the upkeep of the estate.
To resolve these difficulties, they bought the property for £50,000 and offered it to the National Trust – on the condition that Winston and Clementine could continue to live there for as long as they wished.
The house is open to visitors and laid out as it would have been in the 1930s when Winston’s children were young. On the top floor, the museum exhibits some of the various gifts Churchill received from dignitaries around the world and has a room dedicated to his wide collection of uniforms.
Over the years Churchill added several features to the property, including a lake, a swimming pool and a playhouse for his youngest daughter. He also cultivated a large kitchen garden and created a studio to paint in. Visitors will instantly recognize landscapes painted by Churchill during the time he spent in Paris, Egypt and Marrakech.
A small section of the garden is dedicated to the family’s deceased pets and, since the property was opened to the public in 1966, the Churchill family has requested that there is always a marmalade cat named Jock, with a white bib and four white socks, in residence at Chartwell.
Look out for current incumbent, Jock VI. If you can’t spot him, search instead for the black swans on the lake – they were a gift to Winston from Sir Phillip Sassoon in 1927.
While an undoubted showman, Churchill loved the privacy living at Chartwell provided him. Indeed, he said, “a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted”.
Eventually, he was forced to leave Chartwell due to his deteriorating health in October 1964 and he died in London the following month.
These three landmarks are captivating places to visit, regardless of how much you know about Churchill. However, for those with an avowed interest in him and his achievements, they are a treasure trove of historical items that reveal the man behind the legend.
Chris Atkin is a freelance broadcast journalist, sports fanatic, and stand-up comic. He lives in London. Find him on Twitter @Chrisjat.