Published: 06:00, 24 September 2020
| Updated: 21:27, 27 September 2020
A Christmas present from Franklin D Roosevelt and a visitors' book that's a who's who of the rich and famous from a bygone era are among the mementoes of Winston Churchill's life, now on display in Kent.
They have all been acquired and preserved as part of a £7.1m project by the National Trust for a display at the Prime Minister's former family home, Chartwell, in Westerham near Sevenoaks .
Aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of Churchill’s life at Chartwell before and after the Second World War, the project includes newly-opened interactive displays with personal photos, memories and gifts.
For the first time visitors will get to see a room used by his secretaries. With the help of historic photos and memories from the secretaries themselves it has been recreated as it was in the 1950s, with original items including a map case from President Roosevelt at the height of the Second World War, and items such as typewriters, telephones, address books, inkwells and photographs of important political and military figures, including Field-Marshall Douglas Haig and Charles De Gaulle.
Visitors will be able to hear recordings of Churchill's secretaries talking about their working life at Chartwell.
The project was partly funded by donations from the public.
Chartwell general manager Zoe Colbeck 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. 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.’
The final stages of the project were completed during lockdown when curators used a scaled digital replica of Churchill’s painting studio to collaborate virtually, curating the 141 paintings to create a studio reminiscent of the early 1960s.
Project 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."
When opened in the late 1960s, the studio had fewer of Churchill’s paintings on display but with the gift of more of his works over the decades, it has now been rehung to more closely represent the studio Churchill would have known.
Items owned by Churchill and now acquired by the trust include his collection of inscribed books, medallions, gifts and awards he received, along with personal and poignant mementoes.
Star items are his Nobel Prize in Literature , awarded in 1953; his wooden speech box; a collection of medallions; a pair of hairbrushes made from wood from the deck of the Second World War ship HMS Exeter; and a miniature paint box.
Conservation and research have also unlocked the secrets of some items. The research into his visitors’ book revealed previously undeciphered names , including more than 700 personalities who visited between 1924 and 1964 such as Charlie Chaplin, suffragette Christabel Pankhurst and politician David Lloyd George.
The £7.1m project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as well as other groups and donors, was supported by volunteers, working closely alongside curators.
There are also audio tours offering visitors the choice of themes including seasonal plant highlights, landscape design or what did the family liked to do as well as a tour for younger visitors.
For opening times and further information visit nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell