Skip to content

Helen Moulsley visits International Garden Photographer of the Year Exhibition at Chartwell

January 15, 2014

I visited this exhibition of garden photography hosted at Chartwell and what a delight it was.    The International Garden Photographer of the Year now in its sixth year is said to be the world’s premier garden and plant photography exhibition.     The main exhibition is held in Kew and then begins a rolling touring programme.    The 60 winning and finalist entries on display at Chartwell are by amateur and professional photographers, difficult for me to tell which.  The themes on show at Chartwell are the Beauty of Plants, Wildlife in the Garden, and Garden Views.   For me these titles do not  give a sense of the breathtaking photographs on display:  landscapes, flora, insects, the weather, atmosphere and light.   As well photographs taken in this country the photographs cover Poland, Norway, Umbria, Lithuania, Poland, Indonesia, Singapore, China, Canada and the USA.     Browsing one of the books connected with the exhibition I was struck by one winner receiving an email from a lady saying that just seeing the picture had made her happy.    I felt the same.

All this got me to thinking about what it takes to put together an exhibition like this, and so I talked with Wayne Thornton of Chartwell about how they went about it.    This is the first such exhibition to be held at Chartwell in the Mulberry Room, usually used for functions up above the Chartwell restaurant.    I have seen this light and airy room beautifully decked out for weddings, anniversaries, tea parties, and even used by the BBC for “Any Questions” broadcast from Chartwell in November.     Now it had been turned into an exhibition space showing an international exhibition.

Wayne told me that the idea was to open up this lovely room with its stunning outlook across the wooded estate to create a gallery and exhibition space.    They have worked to create a relaxing area where visitors can sit and absorb the exhibition at a relaxed pace.    A nice touch is that they have arranged for tea and coffee and tray bakes to be available for sale, should visitors wish to linger longer.

igpoty installation

A decision was made to invest in a permanent picture hanging system.    Gingerwhite / Picture Display Systems installed the system and helped with the hanging of the photographs.     This system gives flexibility, and pictures can be moved and adjusted without drilling holes – important in a heritage environment.       Wayne told me that it was decided to buy freestanding display panels so as to break up the room to give a gallery feel.    This flexibility in how to display and set up the room will allow for future exhibitions to be staged, such as the forthcoming World War I centenary .     Some of the easels which were bought for painting classes held at Chartwell in the summer have been brought into play to add another dimension.


Then there was the opening  of the exhibition on the 30th December.      Carol Woodhouse, granddaughter of Victor Vincent, Winston Churchill’s head gardener from 1947, came for the launch.      Zoe Roberts, Events Officer at Chartwell also at the opening said that Carol was really good to talk to.  Carol could remember her time playing on the estate where her grandfather worked until he was into his 70’s.

A recent tweet captured my own feelings about the exhibition:  “the garden photography exhibition is an absolute must in these dark dull weather days.   I’ve had my spirits lifted this morning!”

The exhibition continues until 14th February and is open 11 – 4 every day.   It is free to members;  normal admission charge for non-members includes entry to the Chartwell garden for those inspired by the garden theme.


The Roar of the Lion – Churchill’s Speeches

December 4, 2013

One of the benefits of being a volunteer at Chartwell is the opportunity to hear and to meet those who have undertaken study and research into the great man, Sir Winston Churchill.    The Volunteer Development Officer at Chartwell, Wayne Thornton, invited Professor Richard Toye to come talk to volunteers about his latest work.    Helen Moulsley, volunteer at Chartwell, gives her perspective of the talk, and its reception by a room full of volunteers, many of whom are exceptionally well read and knowledgeable about Churchill, and more than a few of whom, it may be said, are ardent admirers of the man.    Wayne had anticipated some challenging questions from the volunteer audience, and had even prepared a pro forma for submitting questions so as to manage the anticipated lively discussion.

When Professor Richard Toye, Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter was invited to come and talk to volunteers at Chartwell, he had already received publicity which may not truly represent what he felt he was positing in his book “The Roar of the Lion – The Untold Story of Churchill’s World War II speeches.”    

Professor Toye explained that he had undertaken detailed research, using primary source material such as Mass Observation, the social research project which began in 1937, whereby an army of volunteers watched and recorded everyday life.      Their diaries and records provided details of reactions to the speeches.    Another source was the Ministry of Information’s spot survey.

Professor Toye’s point, right at the beginning of his talk, was that Winston Churchill’s speeches aroused more controversy at the time than is often portrayed today.    The common view is that of the British people listening to Churchill’s speeches, roused to carry on against the Nazi foe, even in the darkest days when its western allies were falling and the Nazis were advancing nearer and nearer to the British Isles. 

The Professor stressed right from the start of his talk that he was not questioning the quality of Churchill’s speeches, rather that during his research he had discovered a broader and more complex reaction to the speeches amongst ordinary people than he had expected.     The Ministry of Information, for example, carried out a spot survey after the May 1940 speech, which showed that 50% felt inspired and energised, and 50% depressed.     Some were politically opposed to Churchill and therefore were not going to be positive, some did not like the style – “he’s no speaker, is he?”, some thought his speech delivery mumbled and suggested tiredness, the cigar, alcohol even.   One woman wrote how annoying it was being dragged out of the office and made to listen to these speeches, although the Professor stressed that she wasn’t criticising the content of the speeches per se.

One lady observed that people were depressed by the May 1940 speech, his first speech broadcast directly to the people.    Professor Toye pointed out that this did not mean that Churchill was not achieving what he wanted to achieve, and that it may be no bad thing to have people be realistic when confronted with bad military news, rather than what he described as an error of irrational optimism.      

Churchill’s strength was to build his case by using facts and information, rather than rely on rhetoric and the sound bites of today;  indeed the Professor went so far as to say that many of his speeches contained no sound bites whatsoever.    Rather, Churchill would give lengthy descriptions of what was going on – people wanted to learn what was happening.  Churchill was good at putting this in the long term context.    Churchill had lived through World War One and could talk with authority and experience.    The 18th June Finest Hour speech for example was a reasoned case as to why the British could fight through and win.   An excess focus from our 21st century perspective tends to focus on the fine Churchillian phrases, and this can distract us from the content of his speeches.

Professor Toye explained that his original idea had been to write about Churchill’s impact on international relations, and that he had not set out to look for negative reaction to the speeches.   When he researched the May 1940 speech he was a bit surprised to find out just how much negative reaction there was at the time.    He then went on to look at the 18th June 1940 Finest Hour speech, and again found mixed reactions.   In contrast to the previously mixed receptions, the 15th July Unknown Warrior Speech received almost unanimous enthusiasm.   Perhaps by now Churchill had established his credentials, by giving it to the audience straight and using structured and supported reasoning, thereby resulting in him being trusted by the people.   

Of the 4th July 1940 speech to the House of Commons, for example, Professor Toye said that Churchill’s narrative skill was where he laid out in detail what happened the day before, and how he built his case.     What Churchill realised was that people can see through spin, and he did not fall into the temptation of misleading propaganda.

An analysis of Churchill’s speeches shows that he was consistent in saying that the war would carry on some time, and that he delivered tough, realistic messages.    When he did say that the war was nearing its end, people believed him. 

Professor Toye identified Churchill’s three primary audiences when giving a speech:   domestic, the Allies, and “the enemy”.    Churchill was aware that what he said could and would be used in enemy propaganda.   The Professor said that given how many speeches he gave Churchill made remarkably few mistakes with bad diplomatic consequences.    One he cited as a bad one was in praising Franco Spain for keeping out of the war; this went down badly in the USA.      Churchill had a sophisticated Whitehall bureaucracy which helped him avoid making mistakes and he used this fully.    Once he had a draft written by himself he would circulate it in Whitehall, splitting it into sections and sending to the relevant departments, giving them 24 hours to respond – a sophisticated machine in the days when there was no email.      While he may have grumbled at the responses he got back he did consider them and take them on board.    Professor Toye gave as an example in 1940 when as First Lord of the Admiralty he did things to upset the Foreign Office and some countries;  this was when he did not have the Whitehall support around him.    

There were some interesting parallels amongst the Chartwell volunteer audience playing out in their reaction to Professor Toye’s book:   the (controversial) media portrayal, and commentators who hadn’t read the book and yet who were ready to give a view nevertheless.    Amongst the 200 or so volunteers at Chartwell, some were actually there at the time of Churchill’s war leadership, some in active service. The Chartwell volunteers number many who are widely and deeply read on Churchill,  and they meet literally thousands of visitors each year some from other parts of the world and who pass on their own memories or their recollections of their parent’s experiences during the war years.    Perhaps a good point to end on is the volunteer who told of a Belgian lady who visited recently, who said of Churchill “he gave us hope, and then he gave us wisdom”.

Helen Moulsley

Preparation for Chartwell’s Christmas Market

November 21, 2013

Christmas tree decorations at Uppark, West Sussex.

Chartwell’s annual Christmas market is always the highlight of our festive season and with only 1 week to go, we’re busy putting together the final touches on what we hope will be an even better event this year! The marquee is organised, the band is booked and we have a great selection of crafts, food and gifts from both regular and new stall holders.

This year we are looking forward to welcoming the following stall holders..
• Wrights Originals – Ginger food & drink products
• High Weald Dairy – Cheese producers
• Chilli Mamas – Chilli jams and other related products
• Stas Chocolatier – Chocolate & chocolate novalties
• Hazel Kelly – Water colours, cards & prints
• CAR Design – Jewellery & Silversmith
• Roger Ellis Silver Jewellery – Handcrafted silver jewellery
• Reedesign – Semi precious jewellery and accessories
• Helen Lartey – Knitted accessories
• John’s Loft – Antiques
• Fentons of Kent – Natural soaps & body products
• James Dean Pottery – Hand decorated china
• The Dairy- Garden related gifts, plus xmas decs, tablecloths etc
• Nip from the Hip – Flavoured Gins and vodkas
• Eda Ponchos – Hand crafted Ponchos
• Floral Collection – Christmas wreaths/ hangers
• Fat pudding – Memo boards/ doorstops/ cushions/ doorstops etc.
• Hedgewitches Garden – Candles, diffusers and room sprays
• Azafady – Crafts & Textiles
• Love from Kent – Local gifts & homewares
• SS patisserie – Patisserie
• West Fisher Vineyard – Locally produced wines
• Sloe Seduction – Sloe Gin products
• Tiger Spring Tea Company – Fresh Loose Tea
• Bed and Biscuits Bakery – Specialist dog biscuits products
• Sussex Gold – Oils & dressings
• Posh Brioche – Breads & tarts

Christmas Market- 2011

This year’s market will be held from Friday 29th November to Sunday 1st December, from 11.a.m – 4 p.m. Entry to the market is free, so come and see us to browse the stalls and kick start your Christmas shopping!


Fantastic food from Head Chef Lee

September 11, 2013

Here at Chartwell we get a lot of comments about the food in our restaurant. Whether it’s surprise at the variety, dismay at the best bits having gone so quickly, or just gastronomic delight at the flavours and textures, it’s clear that our visitors value the efforts of the restaurant staff- especially those of our Head Chef Lee.

One thing our visitors often comment on is the availability of gluten free food. One visitor tweeted: ‘Oh @nationaltrust @ChartwellNT can I have your banana and apricot gluten free cake recipe? It is amazing. Love every coeliac alive.’ Well, we’re not ones to hold our secrets close to our chests, we would rather share our love of good food with everyone, and with that in mind here is the coveted recipe from Lee:

Gluten Free Banana cake

• 225g light brown sugar
• 225ml sunflower oil
• 4 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
• 175g roughly mashed bananas (about 2 medium)
• 60g diced apricots
• 225g gluten free self-raising flour
• 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4/fan 160C. Oil and line the base and sides of cake tin with baking parchment.
2. Tip the sugar into a large mixing bowl, pour in the oil and add the eggs. Lightly mix
3. Stir in the banana, and apricots
4. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, gum and spices, then sift into the bowl. Lightly mix all the ingredients – when everything is evenly combined stop mixing. The mixture will be fairly soft and almost runny.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40- 45 minutes, until it feels firm and springy when you press it in the centre. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn it out, peel off the paper and cool on a wire rack. (You can freeze the cake at this point.)

Canadian Troops at Chartwell

August 5, 2013


Those of you who follow the Chartwell garden blog will have recently read about our woodland play areas, including the Canadian camp.  If you’re not familiar with the woodland estate, it has long been known to local walkers, but only recently been opened up to our visiting public.  We have developed the area slightly by adding knotted ropes and a scramble net to the WWII era bomb crater, impressive swings on the biggest trees in the park land, and created a camp where Canadian soldiers were stationed during WWII.


The Canadian camp has proven extremely popular with our young visitors, and I have to admit that as a Canadian myself, it’s my favourite place in the woodland.  It’s a magical place, with a brush tunnel, olive green army hammocks, and a little fire pit complete with mess tins.  There’s scope for so much in that little area up in the woods, and I look forward to bringing it to life through our events.


The first event to be held in the woodland relating to the Canadian camp is our Canadian troops training day.  Back in May one of our family visitors left us a comment card that asked for an assault course in the woodland.  At first I was a little taken aback – an assault course?  But what did that have to do with Sir Winston Churchill?  But then as I thought more about it, I realised that Chartwell’s connection to World War II was not through the life of its illustrious past owner, but through the lives of those Canadians who lived and worked in the grounds.  They drained swimming pools and disguised lakes, and troops in nearby areas did even more by building roads and bypasses, fortifying towns, and practicing war games in preparation for the invasion everyone thought would be coming.  And so we will be having a day devoted to adding names to Chartwell’s roster of Canadian troops.  Children taking part will tackle a series of obstacles in the woodland and go away with a certificate showing they have passed entry into the Canadian 7th brigade at Chartwell.


Although this is a fun way to kick off events in this area, we hope to do far more in the future.  On the weekend of 21 and 22 September we will be holding a major site-wide event called Uncovered: The story of the British landscape, and we hope to collect memories and stories of WWII troops stationed in the Southeast.  We would love to hear from anyone with stories about Canadian troops stationed here during WWII.  Perhaps you’ve heard a touching anecdote from an older family member, or found a journal relating the events of the time.  If you would like your story to be told at Chartwell in our Canadian camp, please contact me at

Visit to Chartwell on VE Day – Vive l’Entente Cordiale!

June 2, 2013

Wednesday 8th May – VE Day commemorating Victory in Europe and the end of WWII in this part of the world, how appropriate that the Jules Collet primary school in Montivilliers, Normandy, should choose to visit Chartwell on that day! Accompanied by their teachers Véronique Vittecoq and Martine Hamel, the 18 pupils from the school first visited the house, where they showed a keen interest in everything, though the uniform room was a favourite exhibit.

I met the youngsters outside the Exhibition Room and played them a clip of Winston Churchill’s radio broadcast to the French nation in 1941. It seemed fitting that Churchill said in his heavily accented French that “once again I am walking with you today” You can hear the broadcast yourself by clicking on the link:

So accompanied by the spirit of Churchill, I led the youngsters on a trek up into the woodlands and on around the gardens. The bomb crater and Canadian Camp were very popular destinations, and the children learned about Churchill’s affection for his fish, the black swans and his brown poodles, though sadly Jock was nowhere to be seen. Stopping for a photocall by the Oscar Nemon statue, V for Victory signs to the fore, the kids had had a chance to burn off some of their (and my) energy before the inevitable stop in the shop and their coach trip to Portsmouth and the overnight ferry back to France.

French school children at the Nemon statue

V for Victory, I’m sure WSC is smiling

All the Chartwell staff and volunteers who helped the children in their visit remarked on how well behaved and interested they were. I felt a bit like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn and had a great time. My considerable thanks go to Mesdames Vittecoq and Hamel for filling in the gaps in my rusty French during our tour, and to Bertrand Vittecoq for his invaluable assistance in preparing for the visit and afterwards.

A la prochaine fois – au revoir!


Churchill, Dogs, and the Blind

May 13, 2013

Sir Winston Churchill had many pets throughout his lifetime, from the well known marmalade cat named Jock to the lesser known budgerigar Toby.  He also owned a macaw, ponies, and 2 brown poodles, named Rufus and Rufus II. 


Churchill was also a supporter of the blind, as he launched the British Wireless for the Blind Fund in 1929, a charity which to this day provides radios, CD players, and internet audio programmes to blind people across the country.  Radios allow blind people a means of accessing a wider world than they might experience otherwise, something in common with guide dogs.


Guide Dog puppies, trainers, and owners together with Chartwell’s General Manager Zoe (and springer spaniel Tally), Learning & Events Officer Emily (and labradoodle Wispa), House Steward Kay, and Visitor Services Manager Tracey.


With this in mind, Chartwell is hosting a charity walk to raise money for Guide Dogs, called ‘Go Walkies.’  On the 8th of June, sponsored dogs will take part in one of two walks in the garden and estate.  All proceeds of the events will go to the rearing of guide dogs for the blind.  If you would like more information, please go to or call Marion on 01732 457217 or Brenda on 01689 810512.