West House was not just the comfortable home of Mary Soames but a repository for inherited pieces, paintings, books and papers and the functional pieces that afforded the entertainment of family and friends.  In a quintessentially English way, the rooms with their pretty lamps and occasional tables and shelves, groaning with bibelots, mementoes and family photographs, created a sense of warmth and natural focus around Mary for the family. The house was in no way a museum and her daughter Emma recalls ‘Photographs of her children and grandchildren were given prominence over those of Presidents and Prime Ministers’ and ‘although the house looked cluttered, everything had its place and everything was used and in some cases abused, but I never once heard her tell a child to put something down’.

Mary’s mother Clementine, appears to have had great bearing on her children’s own style, and Mary writes in the biography of how ‘Chartwell today faithfully reflects her simple unaffected taste, which relied on clear clean colours and chintzes with bold flowery designs...’ (Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill, London, 1979, p.254). The same can be said of the rooms at West House. Simple coloured walls in the main rooms were the background for the wonderful paintings by her father and others. Pretty, foliate patterned upholstered furniture and rich curtain fabric providing a contrast. The pieces sat happily with each other often having direct relationships as in the graceful neo-classical stools and Nicholson’s pencil drawing of Winston’s cat, who lies asleep curled upon one (lots 170 and 172 ). Pictures were hung densely, for example Lowry side by side with Grimshaw (lots 215 and 225) to great effect and emphasising once again the unpretentious way Mary lived with her possessions.

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The fact that she lived so long in the country, moving only six years after she was widowed to London from Castle Mill in Hampshire, was much in evidence at the house. Assisted by Dinah Marriott, who had just left Colefax & Fowler, they created a series of unique spaces which brought her newly laid out garden ‘inside’. The roughly L-shaped layout of the house, meant that this wonderfully compartmentalised garden was visible from two sides at the back, through pretty floor to ceiling French windows. The garden room off the kitchen, was a great success, a special family room, hung with joyful flowering trellis patterned wallpaper and her father’s paintings arranged beside the most extraordinary bespoke trellis-form noticeboard, packed with seed packets, photographs, postcards and other cheerful scraps below a cornice of her colourful hats which in turn were crowned by a glorious Edwardian stuffed trout (lot 16). A bright, unaffected and fun room loved by all of those lucky enough to visit and indicative of the uniqueness of West House.


Daughter of History: Mary Soames and the Legacy of Churchill

17 December 2014 | London