Joseph 'Harry' Churchill
Joseph Churchill, known as Harry, was a doctor with a practice in The Circus and a house in Cleveland Walk, Bathwick. He was not directly related to Winston Churchill, but he is said by relatives to be descended from a younger brother of the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, who ‘had an affair with an actress’.
Ethel Mary Churchill (neé Nunn) came from a substantial coal merchant family in Essex. The name Nunn was painted on all the railway coal trucks in the area and her daughter, Elaine, described seeing row upon row of Nunn coal trucks going past, interspersed between the passenger trains.
For the first half of the 20th century, Harry and Ethel lived at Crawford House, in Wembley, North London. Harry had qualified at Barts Hospital which provided a good income. They had three children, all girls, Elaine, Cynthia and Diana. Elaine nearly became a doctor herself, reporting that male students constantly teased her and even threw things at the small number of female students. Before taking her finals she married an architect, Owen Campbell-Jones, “otherwise I would have lost him,” she said. She moved to Headley, Surrey and didn’t return to medicine. Cynthia married Ralph Brinton, a budding Art Director in films who worked on The Third Man and later won an Oscar for Tom Jones. Diana Churchill became a well-known actress, married another actor, Barry K Barnes and was one of the first three stars to have their names up in lights in the West End when lighting restrictions were lifted at the end of WWII. She performed in Loves Labours Lost opposite Michael Redgrave at The Old Vic with Hugh Hunt directing. So there was a creative streak in all the girls. That could have been due to their parents.
In April 1904, Harry and Ethel both appeared in the amateur dramatic play A Pantomime Rehearsal at St John’s Hall, Wembley. ‘Am-dram’ was very popular in the years before television and ‘programmes’ usually involved music, classical and comical, and had elaborate scenery. A Demon Glen and a Fairy Grotto featured in an early production. Twenty six years later (1930) they were still performing in the same venue. The Yellow Sands, a ‘Comedy in 3 Acts’ was this time “produced by Dr J H Churchill” (Harry), who also took a central role!
The period was not without tragedy. In 1911 their much adored twin boys, Joe and Robert, died within days of each other at the age of 9 months. Childhood deaths were not uncommon before the age of antibiotics, as any cemetery will confirm. Locks of their very blond hair still exist in the family archives. Harry wrote that even as a doctor he “never knew that such pain [of grief] was possible”.
By 1941 the girls had left home and Wembley was being bombed along with the rest of London. Whenever the air raid warnings sounded everyone at Crawford House slept in the central hallway where there were no windows. One night there was an almighty explosion and all the windows in the house blew out.
They decided to move to Bath, presumably to avoid the bombing but also maybe because the Churchill ancestors came from the West Country, particularly Wells and Dorchester. They stayed first at The Manor Farm in Wolverton, south of Bath. Ironically, on the nights of 25th and 26th April, 1942, Bath was bombed in the so-called Baedeker raids on heritage cities. More than 400 people died and many more severely injured. Harry and Ethel’s oldest grandson, Patrick Campbell-Jones, who was staying with his grandparents for the length of the war while his younger siblings were refugees in America, remembers pedaling into Bath to inspect the damage. As a surgeon as well as a general practitioner, Harry’s skills would have been much needed then in Bath - although there is no record of this.
In 1943, they bought Byland House in Cleveland Walk, off Bathwick Hill. The asking price was £3,000. The ground rent payable to the Cleveland Estate was £11 per annum. Family legend has it that Ethel put down a deposit of £5 for it. It was one of four large Victorian villas built in the 1850s for the Cleveland family, presumed to be designed by Henry Goodridge, after his grand tour of Italy, and similar to his three Italianate houses on Bathwick Hill.
Ethel became a stalwart member of Bath Abbey, responsible for flower arrangements, and on a Sunday they had labelled seats in the choir stalls. At that time the name Churchill could be useful. Later, due to mistaken identity, the name got Ethel a seat in St Paul’s cathedral at Winston Churchill’s funeral. Harry meanwhile renewed his interest in musical comedy and pantomime. He befriended Clarkson Rose, ‘Clarkie’, who with his partner Olive Fox, brought their show Twinkle to the Theatre Royal every year.
In 1944 Byland House filled up with 4 more grandchildren arriving back from America with their mother Elaine, who were to stay for 2 years before moving to a bomb-damaged house in London. Their father visited occasionally, on leave from the war in Normandy. At the time the Churchills had one live-in staff member, known just as ‘Nurse’, and ‘paying guest’ patients with mental problems that Harry looked after. It was big house and it coped well.
When Harry died in 1949 - of tongue cancer due to the constant cigarette holder held in his mouth – the house was converted into five flats by his architect son-in-law Owen Campbell-Jones to provide Ethel with an income from students at the University. She died in 1958 in London and was buried in Smallcombe in a double grave with Harry. The memorial is in the style of an open book.
Doctor who moved to Bath during WWII, when £5 was enough for a deposit on a large Victorian villa.