London: George P. King Ltd., 27 November 1948. Photograph. This original press photo captures Winston S. Churchill dressed in his fox hunt kit on 27 November 1948. The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 6.5 x 8.5 inches (16.5 x 21.6 cm). Condition is very good plus. The paper is crisp, clean, and free of scratches. This is a crisp, high contrast image. The verso bears a studio stamp of George P. King Ltd., a copyright stamp of the same, and a typed caption reading “Lt to Rt Mr Churchill, baby Soames & Capt Soames at the Old Surrey & Burstow Hunt at Chartwell on Sat Nov 27th.” “Chartwell” in this case refers to Chartwell Farm, Sevenoaks, Kent, the home of his daughter, Mary, and son-in-law, Christopher Soames. As the caption indicates, three generations are visible in the image, Winston in the foreground with his daughter and grandchild in the background.
In addition to his numerous accomplishments, interests, and passions Churchill maintained a lifelong love of horses. At Sandhurst, training for the cavalry, Churchill graduated second in the arduous riding competition. At Omdurman he participated in “the last significant cavalry charge in British history”. He was a talented polo player who did not play his last game until age 52. And as soon as his finances allowed in the last decades of his life, Churchill kept a stable of racehorses and found some success as an owner and breeder. On 27 November 1948, three days before his 74th birthday, Churchill joined the Old Surrey and Burstow Hunt, a foxhunting pack dating back to the 19th century, on their first ever hunt embarking from Chartwell.
Though Churchill had given up riding years before, he hired a horse from a nearby stable and joined with enthusiasm. The hunt met in the morning and set off following the hounds until lunchtime. Newspapers reported that “scent was picked up, but was poor owing to the sun, and was lost.” Of her septuagenarian father’s feat Mary Soames later wrote, “It really was quite an achievement, but we were all deeply relieved when, having made his point, Winston did not make a habit of riding again.” (Soames, Churchill Family Album, p.370) This experience may have helped rekindle Churchill’s love of horses; in 1949 he purchased the first of an eventual 38 racehorses. His post-war years of relative leisure came to an end with the October 1951 General Election, when Churchill’s Conservatives outpolled Labour, returning Churchill to 10 Downing Street for his second and final premiership.
This press photo once belonged to a newspaper’s working archive. During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism grew as a practice, fundamentally changing the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives of physical copies of all photographs published or deemed useful for potential future use, their versos typically marked with ink stamps and notes providing provenance and captions. Photo departments would often take brush, paint, pencil, and marker to the surface of photographs themselves to edit them before publication. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #005588