Eight ways to find Winston Churchill’s ghost in London

In search of Winston Churchill’s ghost: It’s London tourism’s finest hour

 Winston Churchill, cigar aficionado, 1950 (photo credit: LEVAN RAMISHVILI/FLICKR)
Winston Churchill, cigar aficionado, 1950

Where have you gone, Winston Churchill?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently thrust London into the spotlight with his visit there, sparking protests and famously dining with wife Sara at the Savoy Hotel’s River Restaurant – the same hotel housing the Savoy Grill, where Churchill used to have a regular table.

The world is starved of true statesmen and stateswomen. While we’re waiting for the next Churchill to appear, what about looking for the ghost of the original in all the places he loved in London? 

Let’s start with the Churchill War Rooms, probably the best known of his haunts, and then we’ll visit the places where he did everything, from posting his journalism to buying his cigars. As a result, you’ll know Winston – and London – as never before.

1. Churchill War Rooms

From 1939 to 1945, Winston Churchill, along with his cabinet, directed the war from this underground bunker, found at the Clive Steps on King Charles Street, a short walk from Westminster Abbey. Other rooms include the Map Room and the Transatlantic Call Room, as well as a museum with items from Churchill’s life, including items left behind at the end of World War II. www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms

 The Savoy Hotel on the Strand (credit: Loco Steve/Flickr) The Savoy Hotel on the Strand (credit: Loco Steve/Flickr)

2. The London Transport Museum

This fascinating and kid-friendly museum, located in Covent Garden, also features tours of various underground stations, some still in use and some abandoned. You can visit the Tube station on Down Street, used as a communications center during World War II, which Churchill visited frequently in order to spur on the war effort. www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

3. Turnbull & Asser

Ever seen Churchill in what looks like a jumpsuit? He actually designed it himself and called it a “siren” suit, which could be slipped on at a moment’s notice. He brought the design to Turnbull & Asser, which remains the ultimate bespoke (23 Bury Street) and ready-to-wear men’s clothing store (72 Jermyn Street). 

Turnbull & Asser, originally a shirtmaker and now a provider of suits, shirts, ties, jackets, overcoats, and anything else a man might need, remains the first choice for royalty, government leaders, as well as British (and visiting) males. Churchill’s clothing reflected the practical manner he valued with a splash of style, which can be viewed in the store’s display of one of his green velvet suits. turnbullandasser.com/

4. One Aldwych Hotel

One Aldwych was once home to the Morning Post, a newspaper which ran for a century, with printing presses operating in the building’s basement for 20 years. Churchill wrote for the Morning Post as a war correspondent in regard to the conflicts in Sudan and India in the 1890s, which he later turned into his own published books. He often visited the editorial offices, which today have been converted into One Aldwych Hotel, one of the loveliest hotels in the UK, a short walk from West End theaters (some of which can be seen from the hotel’s windows), Covent Garden, the British Museum, the National Theatre, and many other landmarks.

The Morning Post building had to fit into a pie-shaped space, so each of One Aldwych’s rooms and suites are of a different size and shape. Churchill was known for being an extremely demanding employer. He would be delighted with the extraordinary service and remarkable elegance of One Aldwych, and his children (and yours) would adore the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea. www.onealdwych.com/

5. James J. Fox

You can find photos of Churchill without a cigar between his lips, but it’s not easy. He was a cigar aficionado of the highest level, famous for his love of them. One of his favorite cigar stores was called Robert Lewis Tobacconist. Today, the world-famous James J. Fox cigar emporium, known as the Great British Cigar Merchant, is located in the same place, 19 St. James’s Street. James J. Fox boasts cigars from around the world, including a wide range of Cubans, and features a small museum with Churchill artifacts. www.jjfox.co.uk/

6. Parliament

Most visitors take pictures of the Gothic Revival pile that is Parliament, the world’s oldest surviving democratic institution, from nearby streets or while on a Thames cruise. Yet few realize that they can actually tour Parliament, including the House of Commons and the House of Lords, for free. Tickets for Prime Minister’s Question Time are hard to come by, but you can sit in the gallery and watch Parliamentary debates while imagining Churchill declaiming to his fellow MPs and, via radio, the British people and the world. www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/

7. The Savoy Grill

This Michelin one-star restaurant, which can be found at 190 Strand, has played host to everyone from Oscar Wilde and Claude Monet (a frequent guest at the Savoy Hotel) to Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Back in Churchill’s day, he would host his cabinet for lunch at “Churchill’s table,” which you can still request – it’s table No. 4. Churchill appreciated the restaurant’s classic French and British food, and enjoyed dishes like roasted deer and truffles. The Savoy Grill won its Michelin star with chef Marcus Wareing in partnership with Gordon Ramsay. www.thesavoylondon.com/restaurant/savoy-grill-restaurant/

8. St. Margaret’s Church

In 1908, Winston Churchill married Clementine Hozier in this 12th-century Anglican Church which is all too often overlooked by tourists. The church still stands in Parliament Square, overshadowed by Westminster Abbey. Two of Churchill’s daughters were also married there. St. Margaret’s is also the venue for Parliament events. www.westminster-abbey.org/st-margarets-church

So there you have it. Eight ways to find Winston Churchill’s ghost as you tour, shop, and stay in a London that reflects his world, while connecting you with the real London beyond what most tourists see. To paraphrase the great man himself, this will be tourism’s finest hour!