One of the post important projects undertaken by the Foundation has been the restoration of Cherkley Court, home of Lord Beaverbrook from 1911 until his death in 1964.
Cherkley Court was acquired by Beaverbrook in 1911, the year after he entered Parliament. Following a fire in 1893, the house had been substantially rebuilt and restored in the French chateau style as a last-gasp monument to the richness of late Victorian architecture. Beaverbrook re-decorated the house completely, installing his own swimming pool, tennis court and private cinema.
Beaverbrook was much influenced in his purchase by his friend Rudyard Kipling, as well as by the proximity of the house to London, making it within easy reach of Westminster and the City.
The house was used by Beaverbrook principally to entertain. Among others, Bonar Law, Asquith, Kipling, Duff Cooper, Harold Macmillan and Winston Churchill were regular guests. During World War II the house was an important centre for Lord Beaverbrook's activities as Minister for Aircraft Production and a key member of Churchill's War Cabinet. In later years Beaverbrook set about making Cherkley into a study centre for his historic papers.
Following Beaverbrook’s death, the Dowager remained at Cherkley until her death in October 1994. As she became more of a recluse she used fewer of the rooms in the house, and the once grand property began to feel the abuse of neglect. The trustees took on the project of reclaiming the elegance of the house by undertaking a total refurbishment programme. Lord Beaverbrook had bought the house in 1911 and it was clear to the trustees that as a heritage property it was their responsibility to restore the property for the public to enjoy. Extensive delays with planning applications, disputes over poor workmanship, and restrictions due to the Grade II Listed status, further unexpected and unscheduled works required, resulted in the property not being open to the public until 2007. But the wait and effort were worth it. In the first three months there were over 4,000 visitors.
The trustees had focussed considerable effort in also ensuring the excellence of the gardens. In 1998 the house had been married back to the estate thus giving a sense of glorious isolation for the visitor, within the 400 acres of park and woodland.
Cherkley Court and Gardens was open to the public for three years, and the house was used for conferences, weddings and other celebration events, and groups of visitors were taken round the house. Visitors to the garden flowed in. However, suffering from two consecutive wet summers and the general economic conditions the business was not sufficient for the property to be self-supporting.
The Trustees took the hard decision in November 2009 to cease the business operations at Cherkley at the end of May 2010 and the property was, in due course, sold to a group with the vision to retain the special character of the property whilst transforming it to a 5* country club hotel and golf club. Thus bringing life and energy back to a property that was once a hub of activity and partying during Lord Beaverbrook’s occupancy.