CHURCHILL, Sir Winston, K.G. (1874-1965)
Plaque erected in 1985 by Greater London Council at 28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, London, SW7 5DJ, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Politics and Administration
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, K.G. 1874-1965 Prime Minister lived and died here
Sir Winston Churchill, KG (1874–1965), the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister during the Second World War, has an official blue plaque on his post-war London home at 28 Hyde Park Gate.
From Gallipoli to Downing Street
Having first entered Parliament in 1900 as a Conservative, Churchill joined the Liberals and served in the cabinet of Herbert Asquith. He resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty following the defeat at Gallipoli, Turkey in May 1915, which saw the loss of some 150,000 allied soldiers. Afterwards Churchill joined up and commanded a battalion on the Western Front, where he was nearly killed by shell. Before entering Parliament, he had served as a solider in the Boer war and other campaigns.
Churchill returned to the war cabinet in 1917; in all he held eight ministerial posts, culminating in his appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Stanley Baldwin, having rejoined the Conservatives in 1924. From 1929 he was out of office, re-emerging in the late 1930s as an opponent of the policy of appeasement – which offered concessions to Hitler – and a supporter of re-armament.
Events proved Churchill right, and he replaced Neville Chamberlain in 1940 as Prime Minister, heading up a coalition government and becoming the first prime minister since the Duke of Wellington to have served in the field.
As a war leader Churchill was known for his inspirational speeches and his extraordinary energy. His success in securing the support of the United States – his mother was an American – was instrumental in the eventual Allied triumph.
Hyde Park Gate
After losing the general election of 1945, Churchill bought 28 Hyde Park Gate as a London base – his other home was Chartwell, in Kent – and straight away had it redecorated. One room was assigned as what he called his ‘snob library’ of beautifully bound books. The walls were hung with pictures of his aristocratic ancestors, who included the Duke of Marlborough, the victor of the Battle of Blenheim (1704). A portrait of Churchill himself, painted by Sir John Lavery was also on show. Churchill bought number 27, next door, for £7,000 in 1946, originally for use as office accommodation. He later had the two houses combined; they were his longest standing London residence.
While out of office, Churchill wrote a six-volume account of the war, and turned his attention to the post-war world. In a speech delivered in Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946 he observed:
From Stettin, in the Baltic, to Trieste, in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
The general election of 1951 saw Churchill return as Prime Minister, and to 10 Downing Street. He retired in 1955, aged 81, but remained the MP for Woodford until the year before he died.
In his semi-retirement, he returned to live at Hyde Park Gate. During this time Churchill travelled – he enjoyed several cruises – and lectured. He took up painting again and revised and completed his monumental History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956–58). A crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him outside his London house on his 90th birthday, and Churchill replied with his familiar victory sign from a window. After suffering a series of strokes, he died at the address the following January.
Churchill’s character had many facets. Unusually for a prominent man of his era, he cried easily and was frank about his episodes of depression: his ‘black dog’, as he called it. He was known for his fondness of cigars and for brandy, but was insistent that ‘I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me’ – and neither habit prevented him living 90 years.
Some of Churchill’s actions in his long career were controversial. For example, he sent in soldiers against striking miners in the Welsh town of Tonypandy in 1910, and deployed the notorious ‘Black and Tans’ – special constables – in an unsuccessful bid to quell the rising tide of rebellion in Ireland in 1919. The policy of saturation bombing of German cities such as Dresden has also been criticised (and defended), and he has been accused of inaction over the Bengal famine of 1943, in which millions died.
Churchill’s role in the defeat of Nazism was his own ‘finest hour’. He also played a key part in shaping the post-war world in Britain and beyond. In 2002 he was voted number one in a poll to find the greatest Briton, though Churchill himself credited the nation with having ‘the lion’s heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.’