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'They were an amazing family to work for': Churchill's secretary recalls life at Chartwell House

Winston Churchill’s secretary has recalled life at the Prime Minister’s Chartwell House as the property’s newly restored staff office prepares to open to the public for the first time.

The office used by his secretaries, including Nonie Chapman who worked for the politician at the age of 21, has been recreated as part of a £7.1million project by the National Trust to obtain hundreds of heirlooms and mementoes once owned by the former Prime Minister.

Items on display in the country house’s office near Westerham, Kent, comprise of a typewriter, telephone, inkwell, address book, photos of influential figures such as Charles De Gaulle and Field-Marshall Douglas Haig and even a map case given to Churchill by President Roosevelt as a Christmas present during the Second World War.

The secretaries' office in Chartwell House near Westerham, Kent, which has been recreated as it was in the 1950s using photos and secretaries' memories, as part of a £7.1m project by the National Trust to obtain hundreds of Churchill's heirlooms

The secretaries’ office in Chartwell House near Westerham, Kent, which has been recreated as it was in the 1950s using photos and secretaries’ memories, as part of a £7.1m project by the National Trust to obtain hundreds of Churchill’s heirlooms

Nonie Chapman, one of Churchill's former secretaries, sat in front of a typewriter in the newly created secretaries' room. She looked back on the 'wonderful atmosphere' she experienced at Chartwell during her time working there at the age of 20

Nonie Chapman, one of Churchill’s former secretaries, sat in front of a typewriter in the newly created secretaries’ room. She looked back on the ‘wonderful atmosphere’ she experienced at Chartwell during her time working there at the age of 20

A postal tube, desk stamp and stationery in the secretaries' office. Items on display in the country house also include a typewriter, telephone, inkwell, address book and even a map case given to Churchill by President Roosevelt

A postal tube, desk stamp and stationery in the secretaries’ office. Items on display in the country house also include a typewriter, telephone, inkwell, address book and even a map case given to Churchill by President Roosevelt

Chartwell, the house of Churchill, in Kent, pictured from the outside. The trust raised £7.1m for the project through donations from charities such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Royal Oak Foundation and the Linbury Trust

Chartwell, the house of Churchill, in Kent, pictured from the outside. The trust raised £7.1m for the project through donations from charities such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Royal Oak Foundation and the Linbury Trust

Ms Chapman, who worked for the Prime Minister shortly before his death in 1965, looked back on the ‘wonderful atmosphere’ she experienced at Chartwell during her time there.

She told The Guardian: ‘I remember watching Lawrence of Arabia and what was probably the first James Bond film. They were an amazing family to work for, you could go where you wanted, they were very friendly. 

‘The house had a wonderful atmosphere.’

Zoe Colbeck, General Manager at Chartwell, said: ‘Chartwell was Churchill’s beloved family retreat away from the stresses of political life and he often spoke of his wish for a museum on site at the house after his death. 

‘It was very special to the Churchill family and now also holds a special place in the hearts of many people.

‘We have been delighted that so many who shared our ambition donated to the appeal to save such a wealth of items and make them more accessible to future generations.  

A silver miniature paint box used by Churchill, which was one of the objects acquired as part of the project to conserve hundreds of items once owned by him. One of the former Prime Minister's great passions was painting

A silver miniature paint box used by Churchill, which was one of the objects acquired as part of the project to conserve hundreds of items once owned by him. One of the former Prime Minister’s great passions was painting

Paintings by Churchill which have been redisplayed in his studio as part of the project. The charity curated 141 paintings and used historic photographs to create a studio similar to that of the former Prime Minister's in the early 1960s

Paintings by Churchill which have been redisplayed in his studio as part of the project. The charity curated 141 paintings and used historic photographs to create a studio similar to that of the former Prime Minister’s in the early 1960s

National Trust House and Collection manager Katherine Carter pictured in the redisplayed studio showing Churchill's paintings. She said the recreation 'enables us to have a deeper understanding of him as an artist'

National Trust House and Collection manager Katherine Carter pictured in the redisplayed studio showing Churchill’s paintings. She said the recreation ‘enables us to have a deeper understanding of him as an artist’

National Trust Communications Director Celia Richardson unveils a plaque thanking those who made the £7.1million project possible. Donations were also contributed by National Trust Supporter Groups, private donors and members of the public

National Trust Communications Director Celia Richardson unveils a plaque thanking those who made the £7.1million project possible. Donations were also contributed by National Trust Supporter Groups, private donors and members of the public

‘It has allowed us to tell this aspect of Churchill’s story in new and dynamic ways as part of our wider plans for Chartwell, and ensures that one of the leading figures of the twentieth century remains accessible to people of all ages to learn more about.’

Alongside reimagining the office as it was in the 1950s using photos and secretaries’ memories, the charity also curated 141 paintings to create a studio in the property similar to that of the early 1960s.

The project’s curator, Katherine Carter, said: ‘The studio contains the single largest collection of Churchill paintings in the world. 

‘To be able to recreate the display to more accurately reflect how Churchill himself knew it, enables us to have a deeper understanding of him as an artist and the great pride he took in showcasing his paintings within that space.

Churchill's collection of inscribed books in the drawing room at Chartwell, which have been researched and fully catalogues for the first time as part of the project. The work led to a transformation in the presentation of his family home in Kent

Churchill’s collection of inscribed books in the drawing room at Chartwell, which have been researched and fully catalogues for the first time as part of the project. The work led to a transformation in the presentation of his family home in Kent

Two volunteers research and conserve books once owned by Churchill. One important item discovered was a House of Commons birthday book, which was signed by every member of the Commons and given to Churchill for his 80th birthday

Two volunteers research and conserve books once owned by Churchill. One important item discovered was a House of Commons birthday book, which was signed by every member of the Commons and given to Churchill for his 80th birthday

A volunteer researches a book at Chartwell. Other important objects acquired by the Trust are Churchill's Nobel Prize in Literature, a collection of medallions, his wooden speech box and a pair of hairbrushes made from the deck of HMS Exeter

A volunteer researches a book at Chartwell. Other important objects acquired by the Trust are Churchill’s Nobel Prize in Literature, a collection of medallions, his wooden speech box and a pair of hairbrushes made from the deck of HMS Exeter

The handwritten visitors' book, containing over 700 entries made between 1924 and 1964 including that of Charlie Chaplin, suffragette Christabel Pankhurst and politician David Lloyd George, has also been digitised for guests to scroll through

The handwritten visitors’ book, containing over 700 entries made between 1924 and 1964 including that of Charlie Chaplin, suffragette Christabel Pankhurst and politician David Lloyd George, has also been digitised for guests to scroll through

The handwritten visitors' book, pictured. The project was supported by volunteers, working closely alongside the Trust's curators, to help research the book and reveal previously undeciphered names

The handwritten visitors’ book, pictured. The project was supported by volunteers, working closely alongside the Trust’s curators, to help research the book and reveal previously undeciphered names

‘With the help of historic photos, the software has allowed National Trust curators isolating in lockdown to collaborate virtually to create a draft of how the physical space of the studio could be arranged in a way that is both achievable and in keeping with the style of the early 1960s.’ 

Other important objects acquired by the Trust include Churchill’s Nobel Prize in Literature, a collection of medallions, his wooden speech box, a pair of hairbrushes and a miniature paint box.

His collection of inscribed books in the drawing room have also been catalogued and researched for the first time, with the handwritten visitors’ book, containing over 700 entries including that of Charlie Chaplin, also digitised.

Claire Middleton, the volunteer coordinator at Chartwell, added: ‘We brought together a team of volunteers to work on Churchill’s books in the Drawing Room. 

‘After training from our specialists, they went through every book, identifying who has written the inscription and carrying out the research into them as well as looking out for conservation issues.’ 

His brightest hours: Winston Churchill plays with his grandchildren in charming photos at Chartwell

Candid snaps show how Winston Churchill, who led Britain from the brink of defeat to victory during the Second World War, playing with his grandchildren at his family home in Kent.

The photographs were taken in 1951, a year after Churchill was installed as Prime Minister for the second time after losing the General Election in 1945 – the year the six-year war ended.

The former Prime Minister is seen looking relaxed and happy as he sits in a swinging chair in the garden of the home in Chartwell in Kent, with his wife Clementine and five of their grandchildren.

Black and white photograph show Winston Churchill with his grandchildren and wife at his family home in Kent

Black and white photograph show Winston Churchill with his grandchildren and wife at his family home in Kent

Inside Churchill's Chartwell residence, which he bought in 1922 for £5,000 and then spent another £20,000 on it

Inside Churchill’s Chartwell residence, which he bought in 1922 for £5,000 and then spent another £20,000 on it

The snaps were taken in 1951, a year after Churchill was re-installed as Prime Minister after losing the the General Election in 1945 - the year which the six-year war ended. Pictured, Churchill's wife Clementine (on the right)

The snaps were taken in 1951, a year after Churchill was re-installed as Prime Minister after losing the the General Election in 1945 – the year which the six-year war ended. Pictured, Churchill’s wife Clementine (on the right)

Pictures also show him Churchill sat inside his library and walking around the grounds of his home near Westerham, Kent

Pictures also show him Churchill sat inside his library and walking around the grounds of his home near Westerham, Kent

Photos also show him sat inside his library and walking around the grounds of his home.

Other images show him reading in his library and inspecting the grounds of his country home near Westerham.

Despite returning to the highest office, he appears relaxed and at ease as he is photographed on an outdoor swinging chair with Clementine and grandchildren Julian, Winston, Arabella, Arthur and Emma.

There is also an amusing image of Churchill, cigar in mouth, with his dog perched against his leg.

The intimate snaps were captured by his friend Harold David John Cole, the former president of the Royal Photographic Society.

They were taken at Churchill’s family home, which is set on a hill overlooking an incredible view of Kentish woodland.

He bought it in 1922 for £5,000, spent another £20,000 on it and praised his purchase to his wife Clementine on the grounds that after his investment the house would be worth at least £15,000. 

‘We will fight them on the beaches’: Churchill’s most famous wartime speeches

Winston Churchill’s rousing speeches inspired a nation and played a key role in Britain’s morale during the dark early days of the Second World War.

It was a time when the country was almost at its knees, with men dying and morale sinking.

But Churchill’s defiant and powerful words allowed ordinary Britons, soldiers, sailors and airmen to feel hope.

He replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister on May 10 1940. 

Days earlier, the ‘phoney war’, the period of relative calm following the declaration of war on September 3, 1939, had ended with the German invasion of France, Belgium and Holland.

Churchill’s first speech as premier to the House of Commons, three days later, would go down in history as one of his most famous. 

Winston Churchill delivers a rousing speech during the dark days of WWII

Winston Churchill delivers a rousing speech during the dark days of WWII

He said: ‘I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’

‘We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

‘You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

‘You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

‘Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.

‘But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time, I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.’ ‘

 

 Extract from his first broadcast as PM to the country on May 19, 1940.

‘I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hour for the life of our country, of our Empire, of our allies, and, above all, of the cause of freedom . . .

‘It would be foolish . . . to disguise the gravity of the hour. It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage or to suppose that well-trained, well-equipped armies numbering three or four millions of men can be overcome in the space of a few weeks, or even months…

‘Side by side, unaided except by their kith and kin in the great Dominions and by the wide empires which rest beneath their shield — side by side, the British and French peoples have advanced to rescue not only Europe but mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened and stained the pages of history.

‘Behind them — behind us, behind the armies and fleets of Britain and France — gather a group of shattered states and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians — upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.

‘Today is Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago, words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of truth and justice, ‘Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.’ ‘

 

Extract from his Commons speech on June 4, 1940, after the evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops from Dunkirk.

‘I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

‘At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government — every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

‘Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

‘We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.’

 

Extract from his Commons speech on June 18, 1940.

‘What General Weygand [the French Allied commander] called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.

‘Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

‘Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

‘But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

‘Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ‘

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