A History of Beaverbrook – a Great British Treasure

Dating back to 1866, the history of Beaverbrook is inextricably linked to a number of great British characters of the last 150 years. From Winston Churchill to Rudyard Kipling, this truly magnificent estate has played host to a number of historical icons, all of whom left their mark on its legend.

It’s most famous permanent resident and namesake of the estate, Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook was a major figure in British society during the first half of the 20th century. However, as every good story maintains, we must begin at the beginning…

Born in 1820, Abraham Dixon was from a family with a long established gentry. His father was a prominent figure in Wool manufacturing. Dixon followed his family into the wool trade and soon made a considerable fortune.

In his 46th year, Dixon acquired a plot set in acres of phenomenal parkland in Surrey and built a home for himself and his family. The house was completed in 1870 and there, for the first time, stood the glorious building now known as Beaverbrook. In 1892 Abraham Dixon had the Leatherhead Institute built to provide the people of Leatherhead with educational, social and recreational facilities.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court) front. Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court) front. Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

Abraham and his wife spent many happy years in their newly built home until 1893, when a tremendous fire warranted a significant rebuild of the property. As was the accepted style of the late 19th century, the house was remodelled in a French Chateau style.

In 1907, Dixon passed away at the age of 87, with his wife dying two years later. By 1910, the now empty property needed a new owner, and as luck would have it, a young Canadian businessman, Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook, was passing by with his friend Rudyard Kipling and noticed the For Sale sign. Surrey History Centre hold a copy of the sale particulars which provide details of the estate (SHC ref: SP/12/21)

Beaverbrook purchased the property for £30,000 after just one inspection and set about making it his family home.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court) rear. Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court) rear. Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court) main staircase. Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court) main staircase. Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

By this point in his life Lord Beaverbrook had already acquired control of one of the largest business firms in Canada, founded the Montreal Engineering Company and Calgary Power Company and was a prominent writer in the Montreal area.

Beaverbrook was looking for a permanent residence in England to enhance his businesses acumen and it didn’t take long before he was ingratiated into the upper echelons of British society.

To ensure that his household matched his new found status, Beaverbrook set about improving the property, adding electricity, heating and swimming pool and an indoor cinema, which was particularly unique for the time. The Canadian-born businessman spent an estimated £10,000 on his renovations.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court). Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

Beaverbrook (Cherkley Court). Image courtesy of Beaverbrook Hotel.

For the next thirty years, Beaverbrook lived in the house in relative peace, often hosting weekend guests of extremely high standing. Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells, Harold McMillan, Rebecca West, Bonar Law and the aforementioned Rudyard Kipling all spent time at Beaverbrook. These three decades were also incredibly prolific for Beaverbrook. He purchased the Daily Express in 1916, was elevated to the House of Lords the following year and was made Minister of Aircraft Production when his friend Churchill became Prime Minister.

Sadly, in 1927, Gladys, Beaverbrook’s first wife passed away but the Lord remained at his Surrey household.

In 1940, at the start of the Second World War, Beaverbrook reportedly gave his house up as an alternative war bunker. Often, the entire War Cabinet would be hosted at the estate. This made the house a target for enemy fire and in 1944 was almost destroyed by a rocket. However, it narrowly missed the house.

20 years later, Lord Beaverbrook passed away, leaving the house to his second wife Marcia Anastasia Christoforides, whom he had married just one year prior.

It was to be the home of Marcia for 30 years, until she too passed away in 1994. For much of the following ten years, the house remained empty, until restoration works started in 2002. By 2007, the house was fully restored and opened to the public to view.

In 2011, the property was purchased by Longshot Cherkley Court and has been gradually transformed into a luxury country house hotel, which retains the fascinating historical features of the past with newly designed spaces in which to relax and unwind.

Over the last 5 years, the Main House, the Garden House and the Coach House Cottages have all been refurbished and all are available for room bookings.

The Coach House Spa, which is still under construction is set to add another phenomenal element to the estate. Designed by glass architect and artist Brian Clarke, this modern structure will consist of six treatment rooms, an indoor and outdoor pool, gym, sauna, steam room and much more.

These subtle updates allow Beaverbrook to be enjoyed in 2017, while still remaining true to its glorious history.

Text provided by Becky Evans, Beaverbrook Hotel.