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London Churchill’s legacy

It may be 50 years since the death of arguably England’s greatest Prime Minister to date, the Churchill legacy lives on. This year has been declared as Churchill 2015 and a whole host of events have been planned to commemorate the great man and his astonishing life. The year commenced with David Cameron asking the public to tweet their favourite Churchill Quotes under the hashtag “Churchill Quotes”. Hundreds joined in and revived his momentous words such as “If you’re going through hell, keep going” or “I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” The remarkable response proved how much Churchill is still ingrained in the lives of today’s Great Britons.

London is steeped in history, that is no secret, in fact every corner you turn there is a building, statue or plaque dating back hundreds of years but as we seek out Churchill’s favourite haunts interwoven secrets of the past start to unveil.

Beginning our journey on the River Thames we choose to stay at The Royal Horseguards Hotel – beautifully fusing old world glamour with the modern luxuries of today, this hotel has more secrets lurking than most.

From 1911 to 1921, the hotel housed the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Bureau. The eighth floor was a rabbit warren of mirror walled, bookcases-cum-doors, and highly guarded rooms which held the secrets to the wartime network ‘La Dame Blanche’ – reports on enemy troop movement. Over 400 agents worked here by 1918 – and aided the arrest of a number of German spies in England.

 

London is steeped in history, that is no secret, in fact every corner you turn there is a building, statue or plaque dating back hundreds of years but as we seek out Churchill’s favourite haunts interwoven secrets of the past start to unveil.

Meanwhile, the building adjoining The Royal Horseguards Hotel, One Whitehall Place was the headquarters for the National Liberal Club. The premises were commissioned and the first stone was laid by William Gladstone in 1884, the stone remains and can be viewed in the cellar room today. This building, and Mr Gladstone, went onto great things – four terms as Prime Minister and the building still serves as an iconic London landmark.

Around the turn of the century, One Whitehall Place was one of the first addresses in London to receive electricity which made it an extremely modern edifice by those standards. In the wine cellar, the first generator to be installed remains. Here, we meet another slice of British history. The gentleman who installed the generator, had purchased a ticket for RMS Titanic, set sail from Southampton and sub sequentially perished on April 15, 1912 along with over 1,500 other passengers and crew – an interesting side story. Churchill, by this point had joined the Liberal Party and was making a name for himself in politics. He remained with this party until 1922. He then spent many years out of politics before joining the Conservatives. It wasn’t until the onset of World War II that Churchill began to have impact again and was made Prime Minister in 1940 – he went on to lead Britain through this turbulent time.

The Royal Horseguards Hotel, became once again a central point to the political goings-on. It has long been rumoured that Churchill had a series of tunnels connecting underground London. Below the hotel, in the wine cellar sits five steps leading to a bricked up wall. Legend states these steps once led to Churchill’s war rooms and back to parliament. A divisional bell sits in what is now, the restaurant which, when rung, politicians had exactly eight minutes to vacate where they were and get back to Parliament to vote so perhaps this was one of the tunnels.

Today, the hotel sits in the heart of London’s political district, moments away from Churchill’s War Rooms, Westminster, The Mall and many more of London’s wartime sights. The décor fuses traditional England with regal soft furnishings, chandeliers and the largest freestanding marble staircase in Europe.

Stay

This November, and dedicated to Winston Churchill, stay in the hotel and enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea, “Churchill & Clementine High Tea”. The Equus Bar also serves several Churchill-inspired cocktails too.

Visit

Churchill’s War Rooms
Iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms

Sitting next door to the hotel, visit Churchill’s War Rooms. Here, guests will be guided around the secret WWII bunker plus the dedicated museum. Explore the very rooms in which he led the British to victory over the Nazis. Next, wander along to St Margarets Church Westminster, the venue he married Clementine Hozier (the third lady he asked to marry him) in. A statue of Churchill has been erected in Parliament Square too.

Eat

Wiltons, 55 Jermyn Street
www.wiltons.co.uk

Throughout London, Churchill was known for his love of food – he enjoyed all sorts from Indian to seafood, and today many restaurants that he frequented are still going strong. Wiltons is an English institution and one Churchill would often find himself in. Located a short walk through Green Park, this restaurant is the quintessential Middle class British restaurant. Today, gentlemen are required to wear jackets at all times and ladies will generally be expected to have their male counterpart order for them. This doesn’t make the restaurant sexist or stuffy, instead it feels traditional and charming old world. Sat in Jermyn Street, in the heart of London’s Mayfair district, it serves a delectable menu of Oysters, lobster and a ‘special’s choice’ of a fine meat. The wine list is incredible and a glass of Churchill’s favourite Champagne won’t disappoint. The whole ambience reminds of days gone by, and many political figures still choose to dine in this fine British establishment.

© This article was first published in Nov/Dec 2015 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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