No your eyes are not deceiving you, that is indeed a tennis court in front of Chartwell in the top picture above! But it isn’t the Churchills who were responsible for it. You may already know that Sir Winston and Lady Churchill originally had a hard tennis court where the current Croquet Lawn resides and only changed from one sport to another when the more sedate pace of croquet suited their age more comfortably.
In this second installment of our ‘Then & Now’ series, I am writing this time about the family who owned Chartwell prior to Sir Winston Churchill buying it in 1922 for £5000. John Campbell Colquhoun bought the site in 1848 and it was he who named it as Chartwell for the first time. He used Chartwell as both occupier and landlord during his time here but he actually made great strides in changing the gardens and surrounding estate just as Churchill would do after him.
Having some help from the Bateman family from Biddulph Grange and more importantly the famous plant hunter Sir Joseph Hooker, son of the then Director at Kew Gardens, Colquhoun planted many important trees at Chartwell. Perhaps his most significant introduction in 1852 was the Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar) which is still standing today near the Golden Orfe Pond (as seen in the above photo). It was grown from a batch of seed brought into this country by plant hunter Robert Fortune from Shanghai in 1844 and is thought to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Japanese Cedar trees in the country.
While the tennis court in the picture at the top of this blog may not be permanent, there are plenty of other differences between the scene then and how you would find it now. Not only was the structure of the building quite different, Colquhoun’s house was clearly heavily clad in climbing plants, as it still was when Sir Winston moved in. Behind the house can be seen a huge Cedar tree. Another picture in our archive shows that it was planted far too close to the house and it is not surprising that it can no longer be found here. Whether the Yew tree in the photograph from today is the same plant as is seen in the black and white image is perhaps open to debate.
Here are some other images from the Colquhoun family era. See what differences you can spot…
While we obviously try and present the house and gardens here at Chartwell as they would have been seen when Sir Winston Churchill and his family lived here, it is still interesting and important to look back further than the Churchills and trace some of Chartwell’s deeper history. I hope you enjoyed these photographic flash-backs too.