On Saturday, February 9th, the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust will host "A Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea and Special Illustrated Lecture" at the Stillwood Inn, 1074 South Colony Street, Wallingford, Connecticut to celebrate the airing of Season 3 of "Downton Abbey" (which runs through January and February).
For those unfamiliar with the globally successful television show, Downton Abbey chronicles the fictional inhabitants of a magnificent stately home in the English countryside at a critical time in world history. Lord Grantham has inherited the family estate, but not enough cash to restore or maintain it; thus, he marries-for money at least initially -the beautiful Lady Cora, an American heiress.
Beginning at 1pm and running until 230pm, the Trust will serve Afternoon Tea, in the English style, at the Stillwood Inn. In addition to wonderfully brewed hot tea, other fare will include assorted scones, tea sandwiches, tea cakes, pinwheels, petitfores, elegant pastries, and other sweets. The cost is $25 per person. Tickets for the tea MUST be purchased in advance, by cash or check, in person at Wallingford Lamp and Shade, 124 Center Street, Wallingford 203-269-2177. Wallingford Lamp and Shade is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 930 am to 5pm and Saturdays 930am to 4pm. Seating is limited and those interested in attending are urged to buy their tickets soon, as it is anticipated this event will sell out quickly.
Proceeds from the tea benefit the restoration of the Nehemiah Royce House on North Main Street and the Franklin Johnson Mansion\American Silver Museum on South Main Street, historic properties in Wallingford owned by the Trust.
Following the tea, at 230pm at the Stillwood Inn, a special illustrated presentation will be given by acclaimed British author Anne Sebba on "A Real Life Downton Abbey: The Life and Times of Jennie Jerome Churchill - Dollar Princess, Seductress, Mother".
The lecture is free.
While Lady Cora in Downton Abbey is a fictional creation, she is partly based on Jennie Jerome Churchill (1854-1921), who was often said to have been the first dollar princess. Jennie’s marriage to Lord Randolph Churchill in 1874 encouraged hundreds of ambitious American mothers, hoping an exchange of dollars could buy their daughters a titled, if unhappy, marriage.
From the Gilded Age until 1914, more than one hundred such American heiresses married into the British aristocracy, most of them unhappily, living out the social ambitions of their parents. Just as Jennie’s father Leonard Jerome argued with the Duke of Marlborough about the size of the financial settlement he was prepared to hand over to his future son-in-law, he told his daughter Jennie that, in spite of the haggling, he was thrilled by her imminent marriage. It was 'the greatest match any American has made since the Duchess of Leeds.'
But, as Sebba will show in her illustrated Powerpoint talk, the marriage caused Jennie deep pain and misery. Although rumored to have had 200 lovers, including Bertie, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) , Jennie’s chief solace was her first born son, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British Prime Minister during World War II, whose American heritage proved critical in the battle to come.
"They say that the Transatlantic Alliance, between Great Britain and the United States, started under Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt,” says Trust president Jerry Farrell, Jr., “but its roots may lie much deeper, in Winston Churchill having an American mother whose family had roots in Wallingford - grandparents and cousins (including Moses Y. Beach) lived in Wallingford.”
“It's an absolute coup to get Anne Sebba here to speak," said Farrell. “Her biography American Jennie: The Remarkable Life of Winston Churchill's Mother, is considered the authoritative work on Jennie Churchill.” Sebba has written nine books including biographies of Mother Teresa, Laura Ashley and, most recently, That Woman, a biography of Wallis Simpson, another American who changed the course of British history. Simpson was the Baltimore divorcee for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne and That Woman was a New York Times bestseller. In addition to her work as an historian and biographer, Sebba has worked as a journalist for the BBC and Reuters and is currently Chair of the British Society of Authors.
The event has been put together by Farrell and board members Jane Smith and Ray Ross. "I have always found Jennie Jerome Churchill to be a fascinating character - I will leave it to Anne Sebba to tell the juicy details of her life," Farrell said. "But to think that a little bit of Wallingford flowed through Winston Churchill's veins is great," Farrell commented. "I have watched Downton Abbey the last two seasons and thought that an event centered on Jennie Jerome Churchill was a way to tell real and actual history to an audience already interested in this kind of story," Farrell said.
Anne Sebba commented: “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.”
Although Sebba’s presentation at Wallingford will not address Wallis Simpson, Simpson does have a link to the town. During the early 1930's, Edward, then the Prince of Wales, quietly visited Wallingford to purchase a silver comb and mirror set from Wallace Silversmiths as a gift for Wallis. While he was able to purchase the set at the factory on Quinnipiac Street, according to Farrell, it being a Saturday, the company engraver was not working. The Prince was directed to the engraver's home on Academy Street and the set was then engraved for Wallis. "Remember, without Wallis, there would be no Queen Elizabeth, and Charles, Diana, William and Harry would have ended up largely unknown members of the Royal Family, not the objects of international interest they are today," says Farrell. The paperback edition of Sebba's That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor is being launched in early February. Sebba is in the United States February 6-12th visiting some of the historic sites associated with Wallis Simpson. Her research into the Simpson story has resulted in a dramatic re-evaluation of the so-called Abdication Crisis, involving Simpson and Edward VIII.
Attached are two image files provided by Anne Sebba: 1) a photo of Anne Sebba and 2) the bookjacket of Sebba's Jennie Jerome Churchill book.
Jerry Farrell, Jr. can be reached at 203-804-9188.
These events are not associated with the production company or directors of Downton Abbey.