Churchill’s Daily Routine (Or: You Can’t Get Good Help Anymore…)

Churchill’s Daily Routine (Or: You Can’t Get Good Help Anymore…)

Q: When help was cheap

Mov­ing right along, the 1911 Cen­sus was recent­ly released in Eng­land. No address was “ex-direc­to­ry” in those days. Win­ston Churchill is list­ed at 33 Eccle­ston Square, Lon­don (sev­en­teen rooms) with wife Clemen­tine, daugh­ter Diana and eight ser­vants. The help com­prised a cook, nurse, lady’s maid, house­maid, par­lor maid, under-par­lor maid, kitchen maid and hall boy). Can this be so? —A.J., NSW, Australia

A: Absolutely.

By the 1920s and 1930s, when the Churchills were ensconced at Chartwell, the help had grown to fif­teen or more, count­ing gar­den­ers, handy­men, sec­re­taries and house­hold staff. This was part of the rea­son Churchill had to write con­stant­ly, liv­ing, as he said, “from mouth to hand.”

Ah for the days when help was cheap. I once tried Churchill’s method of get­ting two days out of one by copy­ing his Chartwell rou­tine. The help (Bar­bara Lang­worth) was not amused.

Churchill’s daily routine

Wake around 8am for break­fast in bed. Remain­ing abed, you spend sev­er­al hours read­ing cor­re­spon­dence, dic­tat­ing replies and read­ing all the news­pa­pers, includ­ing the Dai­ly Work­er.* (As he read, WSC would fling each sheet of newsprint on the floor, infu­ri­at­ing his valet.) Rise about 11am for your first bath, the help hav­ing drawn the water to exact­ly 98 degrees. The bath is “full immer­sion”: you must sub­merge and sur­face like a porpoise.

An expan­sive lunch fol­lows, often with a spe­cial guest—from Ger­mans bring­ing word of Hitler’s machi­na­tions to film stars like Char­lie Chap­lin. Next, a walk around the grounds, feed­ing the gold­en orfe and con­vers­ing with the black swans in the lake. Back to your first floor study (U.S. sec­ond floor) for more dic­ta­tion, then a one-hour nap. The nap, Churchill explained, must nev­er be compromised:

You must sleep some time between lunch and din­ner, and no half-way mea­sures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep dur­ing the day. That’s a fool­ish notion held by peo­ple who have no imag­i­na­tion. You will be able to accom­plish more. You get two days in one—well, at least one and a half, I’m sure. —To his Life mag­a­zine edi­tor, Wal­ter Graeb­n­er, 1946

Ris­ing around 4pm, do a lit­tle more dic­ta­tion and then enjoy a sec­ond bath before dress­ing for din­ner. Din­ner usu­al­ly runs from around 8pm to 10pm or so. Churchill prefers vol­u­ble con­ver­sa­tion, “with myself as the main con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist.”  Then a film—say two hours. Final­ly around mid­night it’s time for seri­ous work: dic­tat­ing books, arti­cles or speech­es to the night help. Some­times the boss needs two sec­re­taries, work­ing in stints. He once said with a twin­kle: “I am feel­ing very fer­tile; I shall require two young women tonight.”

Sleep? Yes, around 3am or 4am to 8am. That gives you five or six total hours sleep per day, and real­ly does mean you can cram two days’ activ­i­ty into one. But with­out all that help, your room­mate is going to hate you.

help*About that Daily Worker

Per­cy G. Reid was a news­pa­per stringer who kept an eye on Chartwell for the Lon­don media. Reid had an infal­li­ble way of know­ing if Churchill was in res­i­dence: the Dai­ly Work­er would be miss­ing from the West­er­ham newsmonger’s. The news­stand pro­pri­etor ordered only one copy, since his only cus­tomer for the Work­er was Churchill. If WSC was not at home, the Work­er would remain unsold.

Reid’s remem­brances are in his rather rare lit­tle paper­back, Churchill: Towns­man of West­er­ham. This real­ly should go online some­time, because it offers a unique per­spec­tive on Sir Winston’s coun­try life. Ken­tish folk (includ­ing “the help”) gen­er­al­ly loved him. And they are severe judges of character.

One thought on “Churchill’s Daily Routine (Or: You Can’t Get Good Help Anymore…)

  1. I love read­ing every­thing about Churchill. I’m absolute­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by the man.
    He is also sheer inspi­ra­tion for all he achieved. Please keep me updat­ed with all stories.

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