Then & Now – The 1987 Storm

Recently we’ve been pretty busy here unearthing plenty of old photographs of Chartwell from times gone by. We’ve come across pictures from Churchill’s tenure and others from even before that, as well as some from the early days of the National Trust at Chartwell. Old National Trust archives, vintage magazines and rare books have all been plundered for their pictorial and historical bounty. As part of this process I have decided to start a semi-regular feature on our blog where I’ll compare a view from an old photo with the same view from the present day and try to explain the changes and the stories behind them.

And lo and behold, here you are reading the first example of this new feature! First, have a quick gander at the two pictures below…

A view from the gardens, past the Main Terrace and Parkland, out to the estate at Chartwell after the big storm
October 1987

The same view today – spot the difference!
November 2012

The hurricane winds that blew in from the coast on the night of October 16th, 1987 changed the landscape of Chartwell and much of southern England forever. It was the greatest storm to hit these shores in recorded memory and is still talked about in hushed tones today. While over 15 million trees were blown down across the whole country that night, the estate here at Chartwell suffered losses of up to 90% of the mature trees that had stood so strongly the day before on one side of the estate, and between 60 and 75% on the other side of Mapleton Road, upon which Chartwell resides. Some of the Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) trees lost were over 150 years old. The top picture above goes some way to showing some of this devastation.

The photograph in question comes from a book called ‘In The Wake Of The Hurricane’ by Bob Ogley that was brought into us recently by garden volunteer Marsaili Ward. It is quite shocking to the gardeners here now to see that view of the Chartwell woodland with the many fallen trees.

Winston S. Churchill, Sir Winston’s grandson.
courtesy of

Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson Winston S. Churchill talks in the book about his memories of the trees surrounding his grandfather’s home and what became of them:

“One of the great glories of Chartwell was the spectacular horse-shoe of tall beech trees standing proudly on the hills surrounding the valley and framing its views dominating the Weald of Kent….The great beeches lie snapped and stricken on all sides like so much match-wood. It was a mercy that my grandfather was no longer around to witness the scenes of devastation in the valley that he loved so much and which he and my grandmother made their family home for more than 40 years of their lives – he would have been inconsolable.”

He goes on to call for the area to be replanted “not with little Scandinavian conifers but with the magnificent trees of old England, the beech, the ash and the English Oak so that future generations may enjoy their splendours as we have done”. And that is essentially what happened of course. After the immediate need to address issues of public safety and access had been taken care of, the clearance work was obviously the first priority however. Some areas were also left to regenerate naturally but where re-planting did occur, care was taken to replace like with like where practical. According to our records, by the end of February 1989 the following trees had been planted across the Chartwell estate:

4,077 Beech
1,340 Oak
670 Sweet Chestnut
280 Wild Cherry
160 Field Maple
150 Ash
150 Horse Chestnut

The second picture of the those at the top of this post was taken this week and shows just how much the view has changed. Not only is the woodland beyond looking full of Autumn glory, but the planting in the foreground has also changed dramatically during the intervening 25 years too. A fastigiate Yew (Taxus baccata) is no longer there but the trees in the parkland such as Tilia playphyllos ‘Rubra’ (Red Twigged Lime) and Tilia tomentosa ‘Petiolaris’ (Weeping Silver Lime) are putting on a fine display. The planting down the Jacob’s Ladder steps also appears to be much more full and varied although very little of this can actually be seen in the 1987 picture.

For a better view of the woodland on this side of the Chartwell estate, click on the panoramic picture below and get a closer look at all of the fantastic Autumn colours:

The Parkland, lakes and woodland at Chartwell as viewed from the Main Terrace Lawn

I hope you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Then & Now’ feature for the Chartwell blog. Please let me know what you think! Don’t forget, the whole of the estate woods here at Chartwell are open for walking and exploring by adults and children alike. So make sure you come and see us soon to see for yourself how things are faring in our woodland since that fateful night back in October 1987…



Movember Update!

A selection of Chartwell’s (slightly) hairy fundraisers!

We’re almost half way through Movember (see last week’s blog for more details) and our crumb catchers are coming along nicely, although perhaps some more nicely than others! Even the lady gardeners here at Chartwell are doing their bit too as you can see below!

Donna, Rhiannon and Ann sporting their own Totty Ticklers!

You can still donate to our attempts at top lip topiary via the following website should you so wish:



1 Comment

Filed under Garden History

One response to “Then & Now – The 1987 Storm

  1. Helen Moulsley

    Surely the ladies are cheating?

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