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Beaverbrook Hotel: Churchill’s Second Westminster

6 June 2018 | Leanne Thompson

On the anniversary of D-Day (6th June 1944), we decided to take a look back into the history of Britain’s most notable war-time Prime Minister, and we discovered that whilst Winston Churchill was most famous for his leadership in Britain’s darkest hour, he was also known to take a quick jaunt to Surrey – specifically to the Beaverbrook Hotel in Leatherhead to visit his friend Lord Beaverbrook, and conduct his wartime business.

The Beaverbrook Hotel in Surrey has played host to several iconic figures that have had an influential impact on British Society, one of the biggest being its owner, Lord Aitken - also known as Lord Beaverbrook after the Canadian town where he grew up.
 
The hotel itself began life as a late-Victorian Mansion in 1866, for businessman Abraham Dixon. It was, and still is, formally known as Cherkley Court and  remained in its original condition for 41 years, untill it tragically burnt down. It was subsequentally rebuilt with French influenced architecture, modelled on the timeless Chateau style.

Image Credit: The Beaverbrook Hotel via their website
 
After Dixon died in 1907, the house went up for sale. Lord Beaverbrook, seeing a for sale sign whilst on a drive with his friend Rudyard Kipling, and conducting an inspection on a whim, purchased the property for a sum of £30,000 - a veritable fortune at the time of purchase. After a year of renovations, wherein Beaverbrook installed electricity, a swimming pool, and a cinema, the house was finished and remained open throughout the first and second world war.
 
Over the course of Beaverbrook’s occupancy he rose through the political ranks and hosted many events, the attendees of which were far from mundane. The guestbook reads as a who’s who of 20th Century personalities, including the likes of HG Wells, Ian Fleming, Somerset Maughan, Michael Foot, Joe & Rose Kennedy, and David Lloyd George to name just a few.
 
One of the Beaverbrook’s most famous guests was Winston Churchill, who was close friends with the Lord of the Manor. Churchill often visited the hotel and it became equivalent to a second Westminster during his premiership, acting as a safe haven for the Cabinet to conduct meetings. In 1940, a ‘Radio Bungalow’ was installed, and was used to communicate with all of Europe throughout the war. During these years, in the ‘Darkest Hour’, the War Cabinet met there in its entirety. In 1944, a stray rocket was dropped over Surrey, landing in the grounds, only narrowly missing the house.

Image Credit: Focus Features via Facebook
 
But what about Beaverbrook today? With the release of Darkest Hour, the new Oscar winning biopic starring Gary Oldman as Churchill himself, Beaverbrook has developed a contemporary relevance as the former Prime Minister’s story has once again been placed in the spotlight. Each bedroom in the Beaverbrook is named after one of the famous individuals who have stayed there and is decorated to reflect their colourful personalities. For example, you can stay in the room that Churchill did when he frequented the hotel. The bed likely has been changed, but if those walls could talk…
 
One thing that has remained the same though, courtesy of well known designer Susie Atkinson who’s responsible for many of the Soho House properties, is the bath, and even the loo! As such, you can soak, sit, and contemplate in the exact same spot as Churchill - hopefully you won’t have to ponder predicaments as difficult as he did!
 
The Beaverbrook Hotel can be located at Reigate Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8QX
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