Sixty years ago, Chevening was bequeathed to the nation to ensure that the estate would not be broken up, but would instead retain a significant role as a private house in public life.
In May 1959, the Chevening Estate Bill, published details about Lord Stanhope’s gift of Chevening, Kent, to the nation. Lord Stanhope, the owner, who would leave no heir to the earldom, and had been a widower since 1940, said that as long ago as 1937 he had told Neville Chamberlain of his intention to bequeath Chevening to the country. During the Second World War he had told Winston Churchill of his wish.
However, it fell to Harold Macmillan to make a formal acknowledgement of the gift.
An endowment provided for the upkeep and maintenance of the house and the 3,000-acre estate, which could be used by Prime Ministers, or nominated members of the Cabinet, or members of the Royal Family. There was also provision in the Bill for its use as the residence of the American Ambassador if other nominees failed to make use of the house.
Mr Macmillan said that the mansion had associations with many distinguished statesmen. Lord Stanhope’s long service to the State, had been crowned with a gift which would allow the rare beauty of Chevening and its peace and serenity to serve the same high purpose which he and his forbears had always cherished.
Chevening had been in the possession and occupation of seven generations of Stanhopes, except for a brief period in 1769 when Lord Chatham stayed here with his family. During this period Pitt planned the carriage drive known as Lord Chatham’s Ride, partly to facilitate visits from his family residence at Hayes to see his only daughter, who married Charles, later the third Lord Stanhope.