Chartwell, the former home of Sir Winston Churchill, (now under the ownership of the National Trust) is a joy to visit. There has been a house on the spot since the sixteenth century. When Churchill discovered it in the early 1920’s the house had been Victorianised with spooky gables, ivy-clad Kentish tiling and oriel windows in the Tudor style. So the architect, Philip Tilden, was employed to ‘modernise’, ‘re-construct’ and extend the house. The finished result created something entirely different.
Architectural historians can be a bit sniffy about Tilden’s work; certainly, he was no Lutyens, and it is one of the great ‘ifs’ of history to think what might have been if Churchill had employed Lutyens as architect, or for that matter Gertrude Jekyll as garden designer. But that, perhaps, is part of Chartwell’s charm. It’s like a splendid Churchillian galleon, sailing defiantly over the expansive views of the splendid Kent Weald, ‘The Garden of England’ as Winston’s nanny, Mrs Everest, called it.
The finished result is marveollusly nineteen twenties, the fag-end of the Arts & Crafts movement, a twentieth century re-interpretation of the Elizabethan with its creaky oak staircases and weighted doors (the browny-pink brickwork reminiscent of The Wharf, the Asquiths’ weekend place at Sutton Courtenay), and the Jekyll influenced rose gardens, loggia and croquet lawn.
And yet, the dining room is suprisingly modern and steams off on a completely different tack. Tilden designed a low-ceiling room, with five arched French windows in the neo-classical style, welcoming in the light and those marvellous views across Southern England. As we discovered in the last post, the chairs were not designed by Heal’s, but the circular table in weathered oak most certainly was, and became a standard feature of in the Heal’s catalogue.
The room has been restored by the National Trust to how it would have looked in the 1930’s: the whole effect is not unlike a stylish state room on some transatlantic ocean liner. The chairs are covered in a glazed chintz, Arum Lily, the curtains are green. There is simple rush matting and standard lamps.
During Churchill’s ‘Wilderness Years’ this room, in so many ways, was a witness to history. It has here that Winston entertained his guests- in politics, arts and business, and ‘argued out his lonely stand against appeasement’.