As Winston Churchill might have said, never was so much done by one man at two office desks. In the depths of World War II, the Prime Minister of Great Britain spent the long hard slog at an office desk set at the heart of the Cabinet War Rooms ten feet below the ground in Central London. After the war years, Churchill reflected on his long life in the service of the Empire, and wrote a number of books at his office desk in Chartwell, his principal home.
The Cabinet War Rooms are located under a government office building off Parliament Square in London. As war loomed, the building’s basement storage space was converted into Britain’s central war command, a bomb-proof and secure location from which the Allied effort could be fought and won.
Churchill’s office desk in the War Rooms can be found in Churchill’s Room, a suite made available for the Prime Minister and his family. Radio microphones remain standing on the desk, a reminder of the days when he would make wartime speeches from this location. Near the office desk is a closet-like space where the hotline to the White House was placed. (Read more…)
Ministers and officers working with Churchill marveled at his endurance – the Prime Minister was accustomed to working through the night, retiring at 3 or 4 in the morning, oblivious to the fatigue of his companions.
Today, Churchill’s office desk at the War Office, the original communications equipment and maps, even Churchill’s chamberpot and nightshirt, are preserved as they’re thought to have been during the war years. This was not always the case; after V-E Day, the War Office was abandoned and stripped of furniture until it was converted into a museum in 1984.
Old photographs were used as a reference to the renovation; office desks and other furniture were sourced from second-hand furniture shops. The original feel of the underground lair, however, has been retained.
Away from the War Office, Churchill made his home at Chartwell, his much-beloved country manor. In his personal life, Churchill disdained office desks, preferring to work from bed. But his study was also used often, where Churchill worked at an 18th-century mahogany desk topped with red leather, with three brass-handled drawers on each side. Today, the leather bears coffee mug and brandy glass stains, none of which were present in a limited edition of 250 reproductions sold as a fundraiser for the National Trust. (The office desks went for about $6,000 each, and were quickly snapped up.)
Whether at Chartwell or underground at the War Office, Churchill never tidied his desk. According to consultant Ivan Walsh, Churchill would never have approved of a “clean desk” policy; the mess just worked for him.
Despite the seeming chaos of Churchill’s desk, he knew where everything was. Besides, his long hours meant that there was no “end of the day” for the Prime Minister to use as a cleanup time. Churchill would never have derived any benefit from pristine office desks; much the opposite, in fact.
This article is part of a Cubicles.com series on the History of Office Desks, Past and Present. Read the first part here: Office Desks of the Rich and Famous: the Resolute Desk.
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