Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tea and History - Exploring town’s oblique link to ‘Downton Abbey’

As published in the Record Journal Sunday January 13, 2013

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

— The Historic Preservation Trust is hoping to bring a taste of English aristocracy to town next month with an event inspired by the popular television show “Downton Abbey.”

Trust President Jerry Farrell Jr. said the group will sponsor an afternoon tea and a presentation by British author Anne Sebba about Jennie Jerome Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother and one of the inspirations for the television series about an American heiress who marries an English aristocrat. Jennie Jerome married Lord Randolph Churchill, the son of the Duke of Marlborough, in 1874. She was 20.

Both the tea and the talk are scheduled for Feb. 9 at Zandri’s Stillwood Inn, 1074 S. Colony St.

Farrell said he always found the life of Jennie Jerome Churchill interesting, but grew more fascinated with the story when he learned she had a connection to Wallingford. While she was born and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., she had cousins in Wallingford — including Moses Y. Beach, publisher of the New York Sun and founder of the Associated Press — so it’s likely she visited here at some point.

“To think that a little bit of Wallingford flowed through Winston Churchill’s veins is great,” Farrell said.

And there’s another connection: Winston Churchill’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Timothy Jerome, lived in Meriden, which then was part of Wallingford. He died in 1751 and lies in Meriden’s old burying ground, at the top of Ann Street.

Sebba has written nine books, including biographies of Mother Teresa; Laura Ashley, a Welsh fashion designer and businesswoman; and Wallis Simpson, a Baltimore divorcée whom King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne to marry. They spent the rest of their lives as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

“I lived in Brooklyn for two years, a stone’s throw from the street where Jennie grew up, and I love treading in the footsteps of my subjects, so I am very excited to discover another part of the world with Churchillian connections,” Sebba said in an email.

Farrell said he recently also learned of a possible Wallingford connection to King Edward. An elderly resident recalled Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, visiting the town in the early 1930s to purchase a silver comb and mirror set for Simpson, whom he was courting at the time.

Farrell is still checking the veracity of the claim, but he believes it’s possible, given that products produced by Wallace Silversmiths Inc. on Quinnipiac Street were world renowned.

Tickets for the tea are $25 and are available at Wallingford Lamp & Shade, 124 Center St. Sebba’s lecture is free and open to the public. The tea begins at 1 p.m. and runs until 2:30 p.m., when the lecture will begin.

Farrell said funds raised by the tea will go toward improvements to the Nehemiah Royce House, on North Main Street. The trust recently completed about $300,000 of work on the exterior of the building and is continuing with a project to fix the interior and turn the house into a museum.

Anne Sebba, author of “Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother,” will be in Wallingford Feb. 9 for tea and to give a talk on the Churchills at Zandri’s Stillwood Inn, 1074 S. Colony St.

Author Anne Sebba will be in Wallingford on Feb. 9 for tea and a talk about Wallingford’s connection to the Churchills, and thus to TV’s “Downton Abbey.”

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