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Charlie Chaplin and his family at Nairn Pier (Credit: Nairn Museum/ Melissa Davies)
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Famous Visitors to the Royal Burgh of Nairn: Charlie Chaplin

By Melissa Davies

This story belongs to a ten-part series of stories gifted by Nairn Museum. Many thanks to Melissa Davies, the director of Nairn Museum, for kindly gifting these stories to the Spirit: Stories archive.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in 1889 in London. His childhood was one of poverty and hardship. His father abandoned the family and his mother was committed to a mental asylum. He began performing at a young age, touring music halls and later working as a stage actor and comedian. At the age of 19 he was signed by the Fred Karno company and left for the United States where he was scouted for the film industry. He began appearing in films in 1914 when he developed his tramp persona. His first feature length film was The Kid (1921). Charles wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in and composed the music for most of his films and he was eventually to become one of the most famous actors in the world.

At the age of 54, in 1943, he married actress, Oona O'Neil. This brought him much happiness. However, during the 1940s, he became less popular in the United States, partly due to his hatred for far right politics and he was accused of having communist sympathies. He was forced to leave the United States for Switzerland in 1953 where he lived with Oona and his 8 children in Corsier-sur-Vevey.

While living in Switzerland, in his 70s, Charles frequently travelled to Nairn for holidays, where the family would stay at the Newton Hotel, renting out the whole of the second floor. Here they would play golf, tennis (at the time the hotel had tennis courts) and they would walk the route from the hotel down to the waterfront, along to the harbour, up the High Street and back to the hotel. It is thought that Charles came to Nairn to get away from the pressures of work and fame. He enjoyed the peace and quiet and found the Highland scenery very beautiful.

A large brown brick hotel building with a large shrub in the foreground Image provided by Am Baile/ Andrew Taylor

The Newton Hotel, Nairn

A few years ago, local author, John Oliver had plans to create a 'Chaplin Trail' and bronze statue in Nairn, but this foundered due to lack of money. The Newton Hotel was originally built as a family home in the 17th century, owned at one time by the Roses of Kilravock. It is now the Muthu Newton and visitors can stay in the 'Chaplin Suite' or dine in the Chaplin restaurant.

In the last two decades of his career, Charles focused on re-editing and scoring his old films for re-release. However, he became very frail after suffering a series of strokes. His final projects were compiling a pictorial autobiography, 'My Life in Pictures' and scoring 'A Woman of Paris' for re-release. In 1975, he was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, although he was too weak to kneel and received the award from his wheelchair (see photograph below of a telegram sent to him from the the Newton Hotel, Nairn, congratulating him on his knighthood). In the early morning of 25th December 1977, aged 88, Charles died at home at Switzerland after suffering a stroke in his sleep.

A black and white image of Charlie Chaplin and his family, center, walking down Nairn pier Charlie Chaplin and his family at Nairn Pier
Image provided by Nairn Museum/ Melissa Davies

Charlie Chaplain and his family in Nairn in the 1970s.

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