Visitors arriving at Summer Lodge are sure to be overcome by the quintessentially English character of both our hotel and the village in which we sit. But beneath the surface lies a history richer than many could fathom. Here we will explore some of the exceptional stories and history of our neighbouring estate, Minterne House, just footsteps away from our hotel.

As the original home of the Churchill and Digby families, Minterne House possesses a history that dates beyond the Battle of Trafalgar, earning its description by the current Lord Digby as “the cradle of the Churchill dynasty”. This cradle was born in the 17th century as the first Winston Churchill undertook a lease for the house after Cerne Abbey’s loss of the property during the Dissolution of the Monasteries; his ownership saw the army officer turn politician, General Charles Churchill, be both born and raised on the grounds.

Lord Digby discussing tapestry at Minterne House

The Churchills' time at Minterne is not only stamped into the landscaping of the estate’s grounds (although later altered by Robert Digby) but in the furnishings and lavish décor that remains there. Tapestries gifted to General Charles Churchill following the Battle of Ramillies in 1706 still hang, alongside a tapestry of Queen Anne and Lady Spenser Churchill commissioned by Charles. There is also an array of paintings and original furniture that was left in the house upon the Digby’s purchase, including two chairs captured from the Santa Brigada in 1799 that our guests can dine on upon request.

Shivered book from the Battle of Trafalgar and painting

The Churchill ownership of the house ended in the 18th Century and the estate was passed into the Digby hands in which it remains. Admiral Robert Digby bought the house in 1768 and set to work on elevating the gardens and landscaping. In traditional 1700s style, the road was altered to waver away from the house, and the ponds were transformed into cascading lakes that offer a tranquil escape. The serenity of Digby’s changes can be noticed in the infrastructure of the grounds today and can be seen directly by guests of Summer Lodge during an exclusive tour with the Lord himself.

Minterne House

History that dates beyond the Battle of Trafalgar, earning its description by the current Lord Digby as “the cradle of the Churchill dynasty”.

It was not just landscaping that the Digby family contributed, however. A frequent visitor to Minterne was Henry Digby, Robert Digby’s nephew and one of the future’s most successful naval captains. Following Robert’s recommendation after Henry’s expression of interest in the navy, Henry Digby secured the position of Serve Man to the Captain at the age of just thirteen. From here, his talent shone, and he soon rose up the ranks to reach the position of Captain at the bountiful age of 24. In his naval career, Henry Digby not only captured 48 prizes – the securing of a ship and successful procurement of it back to port – but the most valuable prize by the British navy: the Santa Granada. Henry’s fame did not end there; his call to captain The Africa also saw him join Nelson just prior to the Battle of Trafalgar. His recollections of the battle can be seen in the collections at Minterne House, including letters he wrote to Robert after the win, one of only two surviving contemporary sketches of the battle’s tactics, and a book held on board that has been shivered by a cannon ball.

Lord Digby's written letters

Finally, the historic connections of Minterne House extend beyond British borders. In the 20th century, the continued influence of Minterne’s residents reached the realms of American politics through the current Lord Digby’s aunt, Pamela Harriman. Once married to Randolph Churchill, Pamela was a frequent help to Winston Churchill during the war. It was during this time that she founded The Churchill Club for American officers, senior diplomats, and war correspondence. It was also this club that saw her introduction to her lover and future husband, Averell Harriman; upon their eventual marriage some years later, the two became quite the force in American politics.

Averell was the patrician of The Democrat Party at the time in which Regan’s win saw the party buckle. In response, Pam and Averell established PamPAC – an organisation centred upon spotlighting young, up-and-coming senators, governors, and local representatives to reform The Democratic Party with a younger profile. The president of this organisation was a youthful Bill Clinton who secured office in the White House just 12 years later. Pamela’s career did not stop here; her success in aiding Clinton and the Democrat party saw her secure the position of American Ambassador in Paris where she remained for the rest of her life.

Minterne House is not only the cradle of the Churchill dynasty then but the birthplace of some of the most influential figures in history, and we hope that visitors of Summer Lodge enjoy immersing themselves in its tapestry of tales as much as we do.