Posts Tagged ‘Mary Soames’

Waiting for The Last Lion at Churchill’s Chartwell

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Good try, but no photo can catch the perfection (Photo: Baryonic Being)

When, oh when, will the third volume of William Manchester‘s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm come out?

I know, I know.  It’s going to be written not by Manchester, who died in 2004, but by Paul Reid, and everyone is wondering if it will be up to snuff.  So much so it’s a wonder that Reid doesn’t just hide under his bed and refuse to write anything at all.

Such a course of action would not, of course, be in the spirit of Churchill, who was an indefatigable writer.  I wrote about that here.  As Manchester wrote in volume 2: “Only after entering his employ will [his assistant] Bill Deakin discover, to his astonishment, that Churchill lacks a large private income, that he lives like a pasha yet must support his extravagant life with his pen. The Churchill children are also unaware that, as [his daughter] Mary will later put it, the family ‘literally lived from book to book, and from one article to the next.’ Her mother, who knows, prays that each manuscript will sell.”

His daughter had a lot more to say when I visited his home for 40 years, Chartwell, in Kent, over the weekend.  Mary Soames wrote in her introduction to Chartwell’s guidebook:

“While Winston and his children – Diana, Randolph and Sarah (and later myself) loved Chartwell unconditionally, Clementine (his wife) from the first had serious practical reservations about the whole project. Her prudent Scottish side judged the renovations (involving largely rebuilding the house), and the subsequent cost of running the whole property would place a near intolerable strain on the Churchill’s somewhat fragile financial raft.  She was to be proved right, and over the years her pleasure in the place was seldom unalloyed by anxiety.”

She worried.

No photo can quite do justice to the exquisite ponds and gardens – not much to see in wintertime, except Clementine’s pruned rosebushes, the signs where Sweet William and herbs like chervil grew.  Oh yes, and giant rhubarb, “Gunnera manicata.”  But the green expanses flecked with autumn trees on a crisp and flawless November day must be what heaven is like.  I even saw one of the black swans he painted, spreading its wings in the shrubbery.

I am still munching on the apples from the property, sold for donations – a cooking apple called “Bramley,” and a dessert apple.

Other signs of his labor:  His large painting studio on the property, filled with his canvases.  The small hut for butterfly breeding.  The walls he created as a bricklayer.  Even space for a small pet graveyard, walled off from visitors, but which contained a few white benches for solemn meditation.  Alas, however the house is closed to visitors over the winter – I never saw the heavy-beamed studio I described in the earlier post, where he wrote.

And the books did pretty well, apparently.  When I visited Cambridge, I was told that the Churchill family had endowed Cambridge’s Churchill College.  More than 20 of its members have won Nobel prizes – in keeping with its founder, who was awarded the Nobel literature prize in 1953.