Living Hyderabad History & Culture

Where Churchill loved and lost

love story (Clockwise)Winston Churchill with wife Clementine; the Residency; Churchill as a young British army officer; Retreat House in Cantonement Bollaram where Churchill stayed in 1896; Pamela Plowden

love story (Clockwise)Winston Churchill with wife Clementine; the Residency; Churchill as a young British army officer; Retreat House in Cantonement Bollaram where Churchill stayed in 1896; Pamela Plowden  

Winston Churchill could not win the heart of Pamela Plowden, the beauty he met in Hyderabad and courted for six years

It is well known that Sir Winston Churchill, the famous war- time Prime Minister who led Britain to victory against Nazi Germany during World War II, a non-academic historian who wrote The History of the English Speaking Peoples, a winner of Noble prize in literature in 1953, a staunch Conservative opposed to Indian freedom movement was considered the greatest Briton of all times. But what is less known is that Churchill as an young army officer had visited Hyderabad and stayed here for several weeks towards the end of 1896 at a time when he was not known even in his own country . Churchill went round the city of Hyderabad on sightseeing and more importantly, it was here that Churchill met and lost his heart to Pamela Plowden, the young daughter of the British Resident, Sir Trevor Chichele John Plowden.

John Plowden was a member of Indian Civil Service (ICS) and was in Hyderabad as the British Resident during 1891 - 1900. Churchill arrived in Bombay in early 1896 as a Major of the Queen’s Own Hussars Regiment, having joined the British army only the previous year at 21. During his three year service in India, he visited many places like Bangalore, Madras, Ooty, Poona, Mathura, Agra, Delhi, Shimla, besides Calcutta. From Bangalore, Winston, as a part of his polo team arrived in Secunderabad, where polo among the British army officers, was popular.

In a letter to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, from Secunderabad on November 4, 1896, Churchill gives interesting details about his visit to Hyderabad. About his meeting Pamela, he writes at length for, Pamela and her family were known to his own mother, back in London, though Churchill himself had not met them before. He makes no secret of the fact that he was smitten by Pamela, the very first time he saw her. “I was introduced yesterday to Miss Plowden, who lives here in Hyderabad, about eight miles from Secunderabad”. He further writes in that letter, “I must say that she is the most beautiful girl that I have ever seen - bar none. We are going to try and do the city of Hyderabad together, on an elephant”.

Churchill has a dig at the city, Hyderabad when he writes in the same letter with sarcasm, the reason for travelling on elephant. “You dare not walk on the roads here as the natives spit at Europeans – which provoke retaliation leading to riots”. To substantiate his claim, he says that many buildings in Hyderabad bore extensive markings of Paan the people here love to chew. Churchill and Pamela went round the city including the Charminar area.

Churchill was also invited by the Resident Plowden to a dinner at his magnificent Residency. Writing again to his mother, after about a week on November, 12, Churchill praises at length about Plowden and her charms. “She is very beautiful and clever”. About the dinner, he says with greatest appreciation, ”A civilised dinner with the ladies present is a delight in this country after nearly three months of messes and barbarism”, without hiding his dislike to India and Indians.

Churchill’s hopes of marrying Pamela, the first great love of his life were dashed by his lack of money; this is what few of his own letters reveal. Recently in December, 2003, 32 years after her death, nearly 40, hitherto unpublished letters that heartbroken Churchill wrote to Pamela were put out for auction through Christie’s, by the present descendants of Pamela’s family. These letters reveal that after his first meeting with Pamela in Hyderabad, Churchill was in regular correspondence and seems to have even proposed to her.

In a letter written in March 1899 from Calcutta, Churchill writes in full throttle: “My dear Miss Pamela, I have lived all my life seeing the most beautiful women London produces.......Never I have seen one for whom I would forgo the business of life...... Then I met you. Were I a dreamer of dreams, I would say ; “Marry me - and I will conquer the world and lay it at your feet ” , “For marriage, two conditions are necessary - money and the consent of both the parties. One certainly, both probably are absent.” In another letter, a desolate Churchill contemplates a future without Pamela: “I look to the consolation of life. I enjoy health, brains, youth and the future. God has taken pleasure in inventing an imperfect world. What a God !” It is fascinating to see more intimate and humane side of youthful Churchill’s personality in these letters.

For the Calcutta letter alone, a suggested price of 18 to 25,000 pounds was announced before auction. All other letters were also sold for huge, but undisclosed sums to anonymous buyers, bringing the Pamela descendants a big fortune.

Pamela, however married India born Victor Lytton, son of Lord Edward Lytton, the Viceroy of India during 1876- 1880. Sir Victor Lytton later worked as Governor of Bengal during 1922- 27 and for a brief time was also in-charge Viceroy. Pamela Lytton thus lived many years in India and was well known in high social circles in England and India. A portrait of Lady Pamela is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Unfortunately their both sons predeceased them; Anthony, the elder, in an air crash in 1933 and Alexander, during the World War II in 1942 were killed, leaving the only daughter, Hermione.

Though they could not become man and wife, Churchill had great admiration for her charms and Pamela too retained warmth and regard for him throughout her life. In 1902, when Pamela got engaged to Victor Lytton, Churchill, graciously wrote to Pamela : “All happiness and good fortune which wit and beauty deserve when they combine to share the inheritance of the future.” He also assured that he would always be counted “among your most devoted friends.”

Six years later when Churchill, got engaged to Clementine Hozier, Pamela was one of the first to be informed. He sent her a letter marked Secret till Saturday, : “I am going to marry Clementine .... You must always be our best friend”. By then, he had left his army service, gave up reporting to Manchester Guardian and was a minister, having become already a member of parliament.

Pamela Lytton, seems to have not hidden her regret for having rejected Churchill’s advances when young, if a private secretary of Churchill, Edward Howard Marsh is to be believed. Marsh has written of what Pamela once told him, “ The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults, and the rest of your life you spend discovering his virtues”. Churchill had four daughters, Diana, Sarah, Marigold and Mary, besides a son, Randolph, who wrote a biography of his illustrious father.

Churchill’s house

The house Churchill stayed in Secunderabad, The Retreat, is an attractive colonial bungalow in the Cantonment Bollaram area. Built in 1875, this well maintained single storied building has manicured garden with shady trees and is used as residential quarters for senior army personnel. A marble plaque to a wall indicates Churchill’s sojourn here in 1896. A large photo of Churchill in his iconic pose adorns one of its halls.

It is said that Churchill was so impressed at the services of a local orderly who attended on him during his stay in the Bollaram house that years later, as a minister, Churchill sanctioned a monthly pension of 1 pound to that attender which he received till death. Churchill passed away on January, 24 1965 at the age of 91. Pamela who was among the chief mourners at his funeral, lived for six more years . She was in fact seven months senior to him in age.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 7:57:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/where-churchill-loved-and-lost/article19249513.ece

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