The Churchill Tours, 1983-2008: A Certain Splendid Memory

The Churchill Tours, 1983-2008: A Certain Splendid Memory

Bar­bara Lang­worth hold­ing the Roy­al Mace of Queen Eliz­a­beth I, Guild­hall, Sand­wich, 1992.
Stained glass at Sand­wich Guild­hall. Churchill Tour VI vis­it­ed all (sev­en) of the Cinque Ports.

Anoth­er in a long line of Churchill tours is being pro­mot­ed in Eng­land. Like most, it fol­lows the well-worn “Churchill Trail”: Blenheim, Chartwell, the War Rooms, Lon­don shops he patron­ized, a hotel or two he sup­pos­ed­ly fre­quent­ed. Only $15-21,000 per cou­ple for a week.

I sent the news to our friend Gar­ry Clark—tour man­ag­er for the eleven Churchill Tours we ran over twen­ty-five years. I could not help being cat­ty: “And to think that you, Bar­bara, Ann and I used to deliv­er two weeks, and places these peo­ple nev­er heard of, for a third the mon­ey or less, not so long ago…..”

Gar­ry replied: “That sev­en-day tour equates to five days after trav­el is tak­en into account. Also just think back to the peo­ple we met with Churchill con­nec­tions who are no longer with us. And in many cas­es our tours vis­it­ed their homes. Quite unique when you think about it—in fact impos­si­ble to be repeat­ed. We def­i­nite­ly had the best.”

Mem­o­ries: The Olde Bell at Hur­ley, 1992: Robert Hardy, Bar­bara and Richard Lang­worth, Cather­ine and Ran­dolph Churchill. (Pho­to by Gar­ry Clark)

One of our guests, Ran­dolph Churchill, remarked: “One thing for sure—they will not have as much fun as we did with Bar­bara and you and me at the Olde Bell at Hur­ley.” (Sir Winston’s great-grand­son momen­tar­i­ly lost his thread while speak­ing to us at “the old­est inn in Eng­land.” I remind­ed him of how Robert Hardy, the great­est Churchill actor ever, imme­di­ate­ly stood and ad libbed the rest of his talk.) Ah, the memories….

Genesis of the Churchill Tours

The Packard Club, whose mag­a­zine we pub­lished from 1975 to 2001, first sug­gest­ed that our trav­els in and knowl­edge of Britain might be har­nessed to pro­duce a tour for mem­bers. By the time we revived the Churchill orga­ni­za­tion in 1982, we had host­ed three vin­tage car tours. So it was only nat­ur­al to do a Churchill.

The first was in 1983, when we brought forty peo­ple across the pond. There we met our Patron, Lady Soames, for the first time and vis­it­ed the then-rather-few­er places on the “Churchill Trail.” Over the next twen­ty-five years, the traf­fic became worse but many things improved. The cramped Cab­i­net War Rooms became an expan­sive muse­um; many archives not pre­vi­ous­ly acces­si­ble opened; his­toric venues bur­nished their Churchill con­nec­tions. We even got into the RAF Bat­tle of Britain bunker at Uxbridge: the plot­ting room where Churchill wit­nessed the peak of the great struggle.

Chartwell, of course, was the high­light when our tours vis­it­ed south­ern Eng­land. They always wel­comed us on a day closed to the pub­lic. We had the run of that his­toric home in com­pa­ny with friends and fam­i­ly of Sir Win­ston who had known it in its glo­ry days. We encour­aged every­one to march up the hill to the line of trees for “the finest view in Eng­land.” As Sir Win­ston told long­time sec­re­tary Grace Ham­blin: “You’re a fool if you’ve not been up here before.”

Chartwell was just the begin­ning. Through what often seemed 24/7 Churchill labors, we met and became friends with many old col­leagues, friends, fam­i­ly, schol­ars and his­to­ri­ans. Some of them gen­er­ous­ly joined our tours.

With the Jellicoes to Scapa Flow

Churchill's Britain
Churchill Bar­ri­er #2, block­ing the pas­sage between Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm, Orkney. On 14 Octo­ber 1939, in a dar­ing feat of sea­man­ship, Gün­ther Prien nav­i­gat­ed U-47 into Scapa Flow to tor­pe­do HMS Roy­al Oak. On Churchill Tour VII Lord Jel­li­coe, son of the great Admi­ral, accom­pa­nied our vis­it, includ­ing sonar views of Roy­al Oak on the bot­tom, rev­er­ent­ly pre­served as a war memo­r­i­al . (BillC, Wiki­me­dia Cre­ative Commons)

One such bene­fac­tor was George, Sec­ond Lord Jel­li­coe, son of the First World War Admi­ral. (Churchill called him “the only man who could have lost the war in a day.”) George and his wife Philip­pa trav­eled with us to the Orkney Isles, off Scotland’s north coast. Act­ing as our guides, they showed us everything—from Orkney’s remark­able runic mon­u­ments to the famous fleet anchor­age at Scapa Flow.

The name Jel­li­coe is sacred at Scapa, and George arranged for the pilot boat to take us out. There on col­or sonar, we observed the wreck of HMS Roy­al Oak, tor­pe­doed in 1939. Remain­ing in com­mis­sion, she bears a White Ensign, renewed every year by Roy­al Navy divers. A war grave, she still oozes oil. A som­bre vision.

Work­ing south­west along the Scot­tish coast, we put our coach on a small fer­ry and nav­i­gat­ed nar­row Hebridean roads on the Isle of Mull. At Torosay Cas­tle, we were wel­comed for tea by Jacquet­ta James, sis­ter of Pamela Dig­by Churchill Har­ri­man, “Life of the Par­ty.” This made a full cir­cle, since we had ear­li­er vis­it­ed their ances­tral home, Minterne Magna, Dorset.

Randolph Churchill
Stour House, East Bergholt, vis­it­ed on the 2006 Churchill Tour of Eng­land. We were the guests of the present own­ers, who have main­tained its state­ly beau­ty. Randolph’s strong room, which once housed the Churchill Archives, is behind the blacked-out win­dows at left. (Pho­to by Bar­bara Langworth)

Suffolk to Wiltshire

Our devo­tion to the Churchill saga found tours vis­it­ing many pri­vate places that were sim­ply nev­er open to the pub­lic. In Suf­folk we vis­it­ed Stour, the beau­ti­ful pink brick Regency House where Ran­dolph Churchill launched the “great work.” That was the Offi­cial Biog­ra­phy, which Hills­dale Col­lege has now com­plet­ed. The own­ers, Paul and Birte Kel­ly, wel­comed us for lunch. Sir Mar­tin Gilbert, deeply moved, paid his first vis­it since Ran­dolph had died in 1968. Amidst tears of mem­o­ry he shared his expe­ri­ences as Randolph’s assis­tant, and lat­er as his successor.

Far­ther south in Sur­rey, we paid three calls on Hoe Farm, where a for­lorn Churchill retreat­ed after being sacked from the Admi­ral­ty in 1915. Life ten­ant Arthur Simon showed us where WSC first began to paint in oils. Three times Arthur sum­moned his neigh­bors to help dish out lunch. Sim­i­lar­ly, Hen­ry Thynne, 6th Mar­quess of Bath, showed us his Churchilliana col­lec­tion at Lon­gleat, Wilt­shire.

Determined to see “everything”

We found and thrice vis­it­ed “Lul­len­den,” an obscure and beau­ti­ful Eliz­a­bethan manor house in West Sus­sex. Lit­tle known, this was Win­ston and Clementine’s first coun­try home (1917-19). Again the own­ers were kind­ness itself, despite a for­mi­da­ble crowd—some sev­en­ty on our last visit.

Sev­er­al Churchill Tours vis­it­ed Lul­len­den, the Churchills’ first coun­try home in West Sus­sex. In 2006 we pre­sent­ed a print of WSC’s paint­ing of the house to our hosts and present own­ers, Matthew and Sal­ly Fer­rey, who were restor­ing its Eliz­a­bethan splen­dor. (Pho­to by Bar­bara Langworth)

In the West Coun­try, accom­pa­nied by geneal­o­gist Eliz­a­beth Snell, we mean­dered through homes of the ear­ly Churchills, from the first Sir Win­ston to the First Duke of Marl­bor­ough. At Blenheim we thrice dined in the Great Hall through the gen­eros­i­ty of the 11th Duke and his gra­cious Duchess Rosi­ta.

Churchill tours found the house in Broad­stairs, Kent, where the Churchill’s infant daugh­ter Marigold died in 1921. We also vis­it­ed her grave at Ken­sal Green Ceme­tery. We dined in the Pinafore Room, Hotel Savoy, meet­ing place of The Oth­er Club. Our guest speak­ers ran from Lord and Lady Soames to Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne and Jock Colville.

Isle of Wight odyssey

Gar­ry and Ann Clark, Bar­bara Lang­worth and I can­not pos­si­bly repay the debt we owe to the many peo­ple who kind­ly put up with forty to sev­en­ty peo­ple traips­ing through their prop­er­ty. I remem­ber par­tic­u­lar­ly a small row house in Vent­nor, Isle of Wight. Here young WSC spent hol­i­days with his nan­ny, Mrs. Ever­est. From the back gar­den, “lit­tle Win­nie,” aged four, had watched the trag­ic sink­ing of HMS Eury­dice, out in the Chan­nel after a gale.

Gar­ry had stopped at the house to enquire whether a “Churchill par­ty” might vis­it. The res­i­dents had enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly said “yes,” and their chil­dren were ready with drinks and snacks. To their sur­prise, fifty strangers walked through their ground floor to the back gar­den. We stood there lost in thought while I unfold­ed the sto­ry of Eury­dice.

Nan­ny Ever­est was a sta­ple of young Winston’s life. We found and often vis­it­ed her grave at the City of Lon­don Ceme­tery. On our vis­it, dig­ging with our hands, we found the half buried inscrip­tion on the base of her head­stone: “By Win­ston Spencer Churchill and John Strange Spencer Churchill.”

The Marl­bor­oughs receiv­ing Mar­cus and Mol­ly Frost at Blenheim Palace, Churchill Tour X, 2006. (Pho­to by Gar­ry Clark)

The next day, going from the every­day to the posh, we toured Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s sum­mer man­sion, and Cowes, where Lord Ran­dolph met Jen­nie Jerome in 1873. Return­ing to the main­land we were met by Robert Hardy at Hen­ry VIII’s immor­tal flag­ship, the Mary RoseAs Archery Con­sul­tant to the Mary Rose Trust, Robert told us all about Tudor weapon­ry and archers. Our host was Mar­garet Rule, the Trust admin­is­tra­tor, who had con­tributed so much to the ship’s revival. We cel­e­brat­ed lat­er with a din­ner at Blenheim Palace.

France and Oz

In 1989 we crossed the Chan­nel. In Eper­nay, Chris­t­ian and Danielle Pol-Roger wel­comed us at the home of Churchill’s favorite cham­pagne: “The world’s most drink­able address.” Togeth­er they showed us cel­lars where the for­mi­da­ble beau­ty, Odette Pol-Roger, had walled off the best bot­tles from the occu­py­ing Germans.

Chris­t­ian Pol-Roger, with WSC’s 1945 let­ter thank­ing his grand­fa­ther for a gift of champagne.

We enter­tained each oth­er at two groan­ing repasts of lunch and din­ner. “Sir Win­ston made us promise to keep enough of the ’45 to last his life­time,” Chris­t­ian said. “Well, a few bot­tles were left over, so….” Pop went the corks, and the heavy fra­grance of old-style vin­tage bub­bly filled the room. “Try it with some cheese,” he added. “In France we have a say­ing: If you do not find the cheese, the cheese will find you.”

The longest of the tours was to Aus­tralia in 1991, where Sir Win­ston him­self nev­er trav­eled. The wel­come from local Churchillians was robust. In Can­ber­ra we were host­ed at the Amer­i­can Embassy by Ambas­sador Melvin Sem­bler. Its cor­ner­stone, he told us, was laid on a fate­ful day: Decem­ber 6th, 1941. The news from Pearl Har­bor arrived the next morn­ing, and the Embassy wired Wash­ing­ton: “What do we do now?” The answer came back: “Keep build­ing it, or the Aussies will think we’re on the run.”

These were fea­tures of Churchill Tours that just don’t exist in pot­ted trav­el agency excursions.

Last of the line, 2008

We gath­ered in Glas­gow, divert­ing south into Eng­land for a brief vis­it to Sed­bergh School. Here young Bren­dan Brack­en was edu­cat­ed, lat­er becom­ing its patron. We vis­it­ed the cam­pus where Bracken’s fore­most biog­ra­ph­er, Charles Lysaght, spoke of Churchill’s great friend. After a Lake Dis­trict tour we motored over the Pen­nines to Edin­burgh, stop­ping at Lennoxlove, home of the Dukes of Hamil­ton. This was where Rudolf Hess para­chut­ed in May 1941, hop­ing to find pro-Nazi dis­si­dents. (The 14th Duke had him arrest­ed.) The Duke’s pri­vate muse­um was full of arti­facts, from the Hess flight to the death mask—wait for it—of Mary, Queen of Scots.

HMY Bri­tan­nia. (Adam Hope, Cre­ative Commons)

In Edin­burgh we enjoyed lec­tures on Churchill and Scot­land by the great his­to­ri­an Paul Addi­son, and a vis­it to the exhibits at the Cen­tre for Sec­ond World War Stud­ies. At a mem­o­rable din­ner aboard the Roy­al Yacht Bri­tan­nia, David Stafford spoke about Churchill and Secret Intel­li­gence. From Edin­burgh we trav­eled to Gle­nea­gles, the famous resort, via Dundee, Churchill’s 1908-22 con­stituen­cy. Met by Lady Soames and the Lord Provost John Let­ford, we joined a cel­e­bra­tion of the cen­te­nary of WSC’s elec­tion as Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Dundee.

Memories of Fitzroy

After days of fal­con­ing, golf and horse­back rid­ing at Gle­nea­gles we drove to Air­lie and Cor­tachy Cas­tles, Angus. For the sec­ond time on Churchill tours we were host­ed by David Ogilvy, 13th Earl of Air­lie, and the Count­ess of Air­lie. A rel­a­tive of Clemen­tine Churchill, he had served as Lord Cham­ber­lain of Britain. I remem­ber a fab­u­lous lun­cheon with the largest salmon we’d ever seen.

Spend­ing two nights at mag­nif­i­cent Cameron House on Loch Lomond, we called for tea on Sir Charles and Lady Maclean at Stra­chur House, Argyll. Here on two pre­vi­ous occa­sions, his late par­ents, Sir Fit­zoy and Lady Veron­i­ca Maclean, had enter­tained our tours with tales of their long and sto­ried Churchill asso­ci­a­tion. (Click here for Fitzroy’s sto­ry of “Lili Marlene.”)

Looking back

For the Clarks and Lang­worths, 2008 was the end. Hotels and restau­rants were get­ting prici­er, and increas­ing­ly hard to deal with. Man­agers we used to plan with over a drink were now demand­ing huge deposits and guar­an­tees of exact num­bers months in advance. Age and sloth­ful­ness were catch­ing up to us, and we didn’t like the reg­i­ment­ed con­tracts increas­ing­ly pre­sent­ed to us.

In the begin­ning we had no expe­ri­ence and were very igno­rant. Nobody told us that tours had to be on a hec­tic sched­ule, chang­ing hotels every night. No one said that tours must be mil­i­ta­rized, “do it or else.” Cer­tain­ly no one sug­gest­ed we use sec­ond-rate facil­i­ties or less than lux­u­ry trans­port. Yet we always kept the price down. We offered unbeat­able val­ue for mon­ey to some 800 Churchillians who joined us over those twen­ty-five years. Our phi­los­o­phy was that a num­ber of indi­vid­u­als orga­nize around cer­tain mutu­al objec­tives but with their own tastes and interests.

That con­cept guid­ed all our tours, Churchill and auto­mo­tive. We look back on them and the friends we met with pride and affec­tion. It was an hon­or to be asked to those exalt­ed places, and to join in mutu­al respect for the Great­est Briton. That was some­thing, as Sir Fitzroy Maclean once said, that left you both wis­er and warmer at heart.

Thirty-two years

Robert Hardy recites “At Bladon” at the gravesite, 2006.

1977: Packard Auto­mo­bile Clas­sics, England
1978: Vin­tage Tri­umph Reg­is­ter, England
1979: Mile­stone Car Soci­ety I, England
1981: Car Col­lec­tor mag­a­zine, England
1983: Churchill I, England
1984: Mile­stone Car Soci­ety II, Scotland
1985: Churchill II, England
1986: Car Col­lec­tor mag­a­zine II, England
1987: Churchill III, Eng­land and Scotland
1987: Jaguar Cars I, England
1989: Churchill IV, Eng­land and France
1990: Jaguar Cars II, England
1991: Churchill V, Australia
1992: Churchill VI, England
1994: Churchill VII, Scotland
1996: Churchill VIII, England
1999: Churchill IX, England
2006: Churchill X, England
2008: Churchill XI, Scotland

2 thoughts on “The Churchill Tours, 1983-2008: A Certain Splendid Memory

  1. What great mem­o­ries! We were part of the last Churchill Tour that Richard and Bar­bera led, all coor­di­nat­ed by Gar­ry Clark. Being received by the Duke and­Duchess at Blenheim, din­ing with the gra­cious Min­nie Churchill, Ditch­ley, Par­lia­ment, St. Paul’s, Chartwell, meet­ing Mar­tin Gilbert at Stour, meet­ing Robert Hardy at Bladon, meet­ing Mary Soames, all that is report­ed in this post warms our hearts.
    Thanks for the mem­o­ries, Charles

  2. As Pro­fes­sor Bar­ry Gough would say. “Great Stuff, eh.”

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