Boris Johnson discharged from hospital and will continue recovery at Chequers
Arthur Lee donated the Chequers estate after discussions with the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Lee noted a new type of politician was emerging, one without large country homes to retreat to and entertain foreign dignitaries . The Chequers Estate Act 1917 contains his reasoning and thoughts for the gift:
“It is not possible to foresee or foretell from what classes or conditions of life the future wielders of power in this country will be drawn. Some may be as in the past men of wealth and famous descent; some may belong to the world of trade and business; others may spring from the ranks of the manual toilers. To none of these in the midst of their strenuous and responsible labours could the spirit and anodyne of Chequers do anything but good. In the city-bred man especially, the periodic contact with the most typical rural life would create and preserve a just sense of proportion between the claims of town and country. To the revolutionary statesman the antiquity and calm tenacity of Chequers and its annals might suggest some saving virtues in the continuity of English history and exercise a check upon too hasty upheavals, whilst even the most reactionary could scarcely be insensible to the spirit of human freedom which permeates the countryside of Hampden, Burke and Milton.
Apart from these more subtle influences, the better the health of our rulers the more sanely will they rule and the inducement to spend two days a week in the high and pure air of the Chiltern hills and woods will, it is hoped, benefit the nation as well as its chosen leaders. The main features of this scheme are therefore designed not merely to make Chequers available as the official country residence of the Prime Minister of the day, but to tempt him to visit it regularly and to make it possible for him to live there, even though his income should be limited to his salary.”
Over the decades the house passed through the hands of many wealthy families, including in 1715 that of John Russell, grandson of Oliver Cromwell. Chequers retains a fine collection of English Civil War portraiture and antiques to this day – as well as many other artefacts, including a diary and pocket watch kept by Admiral Lord Nelson, a dispatch case belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte and Elizabeth’s ring.
“This house of peace and ancient memories was given to England as a thank-offering for her deliverance in the great war of 1914-1918 as a place of rest and recreation for her Prime Ministers for ever.”
Since then, the house has played host to hundreds of eminent (and more questionable) world leaders and public figures, including Richard Nixon, Mikhail Gorbachev, Robert Mugabe, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping.
Momentous events have also taken place within its walls, from PM Neville Chamberlain’s nervous breakdown in September 1939 to foreign secretary Anthony Eden receiving notification that Nazi Germany had attacked Russia in June 1941.
Margaret Thatcher said of the residence: “I do not think anyone has stayed long at Chequers without falling in love with it.”
Her husband Denis emphatically agreed: “Chequers is why you get the job”. So much for a life of selfless dedication to public service.
Norma Major, wife of Conservative prime minister John, liked it so much she wrote a book about it, Chequers: The Prime Minister’s Country House and Its History.
I caught it five times tonight, in about half an hour.