‘Winston Churchill was the greatest Englishman and one of the greatest human beings of the twentieth century, indeed of all time.’ So Max Hastings began Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord (2010). Roy Jenkins concluded his 2001 biography with the verdict that Churchill was ‘the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street’. These are the views of first rate historians, not of hagiographers or eccentrics, and are shared by millions around the globe.
It has not always been thus. In 1932 a British delegation in Moscow was being questioned by Stalin about contemporary politics. ‘What about Churchill?’ he asked. ‘Oh,’ replied Nancy Astor with a scornful little laugh, ‘he’s finished.’ Detractors were legion for much of his political career, the years of his wartime premiership being no exception. A steady flow of revisionist historians have followed suit.
Churchill was more right about more things than an average handful of statesmen put together. It is also true that his judgement was intermittently badly flawed, the consequence perhaps of the huge range of matters to which he turned his attention, his exceptionally long political career, his boundless energy, his boldness and his ambition. Anti-Churchill myths are strangely tenacious (no, he didn’t order troops against the strikers at Tonypandy), but on most of the major issues of his time, not only was his judgement sound but it was frequently in defiance of prevailing wisdom, and often demonstrated almost preternatural foresight.
The use of ‘human being’ in both the quoted encomia is striking: alternative substantives are inadequate for such a towering – and humane – personality. Compassion was the virtue he ranked highest, a belief in decency the bedrock of his political life, liberty his goal. Yes, he was possibly the greatest war leader the world has known; but for the quantity and impact of progressive social legislation he shepherded through Parliament he was probably unsurpassed by any other British politician of the twentieth century. He had a will of iron, colossal courage and the intellect of a genius, but he was lovable and approachable, easily moved to tears by the sight of suffering or forbearance. His famous wit was rarely acerbic and never cruel.
This unique tour illuminates Churchill and his tumultuous times through visits to places which played a key role in his life.
London, Harrow. Meet in central London by 9.50am and visit the Churchill Museum in Whitehall, an excellent presentation of his life. Next visit Harrow School, where he spent five years with famously mixed fortunes. Churchill stayed at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire for 15 weekends 1940–42 when the moon was high (Chequers being feared visible to the Luftwaffe). Built in the 1720s, it is one of the finest country houses of its time. Two nights are spent here.
Blenheim, Bladon, Ditchley. Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s birthplace, is the grandest house in Britain. It was given by the nation in 1705 to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough. We have a special out-of-hours visit to the WSC collection and state apartments followed by time to enjoy the gardens and the ‘Capability’ Brown park. Then visit the nearby church at Bladon where WSC was buried (1965). Second night at Ditchley.
London. Designed by Barry and Pugin, the House of Commons is one of the most richly ornamented Victorian buildings. Walk around Whitehall passing key Churchill sites including the Admiralty, Downing Street, St Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey (for evensong). A private visit to the Churchill War Rooms with dinner in the Hamsworth Room. Overnight London.
London, Chartwell. On the way to Kent, digress via Sidney Street of ‘Siege’ fame (1911). Then to Chartwell, his beloved family home in the country from 1924 to the end of his life. ‘I love the place – a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.’ The house, studio, gardens and outhouses are maintained as during the Churchill occupancy with photographs, sound recordings and numerous memorabilia. Return to central London by 5.00pm.
Price, per person
£2,060 (there is no single supplement).
Travel by private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3 dinners with wine; all charges for museum admission and special arrangements (including some not mentioned above); tips for restaurant staff and drivers; the services of the lecturer.
Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire: built in the 1720s by James Gibbs and William Kent, Ditchley Park is now used for discreet political conferences. Not a hotel, visitors are treated as house guests and are able to take advantage of several drawing rooms and extensive grounds. The Royal Horseguards, London: a 5-star hotel in the heart of Whitehall adjacent to the National Liberal Club. Single rooms throughout are double for sole use.
The tour involves quite a lot of walking and should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 58 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 10 and 22 participants.
'The itinerary was fantastic. We highly recommend the tour to anyone, provided they have a level of interest in the theme that informs the experience'
'Terry Charman is unsurpassed, both with respect to his knowledge of the subject, his enthusiasm for it, and his overall graciousness'
'Ditchley Park was enchanting. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to stay in the magnificent rooms and enjoy the calm and tranquil ambience of both the house and grounds'