Praise for Churchill Style:
“Despite the hundreds of books written on the wartime leader, there has been surprisingly little compiled on his lifestyle. Barry Singer—a writer, self-described Churchill fanatic and proprietor of Manhattan's Chartwell Booksellers (which touts itself as "the world's only Winston Churchill bookshop")—has corrected the deficit." —Wall Street Journal
"There’s a good deal to like about this jaunty book . . . In brief, Churchill lived beyond his means and appears to have enjoyed every minute of it. Churchill Style puts on display his resourcefulness at doing it." —Buffalo News
“Hundreds of books have been written about Winston Churchill, most of which focus on his military service and his leadership during both World Wars, but none assess his personal style like Barry Singer does in Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill.” —Cool Hunting.com
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About the Author
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The seeds of Churchill style were initially sown by nobility and neglect. This is to say that the manner of the man was bred in the upbringing of the child. Winston Churchill was born in a spare room on the ground floor of Blenheim Palace on November 30, 1874, after his mother went into premature labor while the houseguest of her father-in-law, the 7th Duke of Marlborough. Jennie and Lord Randolph Churchill, only seven months wed, had assumed that their baby would be born in London at their new Mayfair residence near Berkeley Square, 48 Charles Street. The baby, however, would not wait.
His heedless, unstoppable arrival into an aristocratic world as an unexpected if not unwelcome guest was especially apt. Fearlessly iconoclastic, Winston Churchill would never be entirely accepted by England's tradition-bound elite as one of their own. Nor did he ever remotely wish to be.
As a child he was most often alone. His parents lived in seemingly grand style: his father pursuing a heady parliamentary career, his mother a position in society that occupied most of her time and stretched her family well beyond its means. Randolph Churchill was the second surviving (and thus noninheriting) son of the seventh duke, as descended from the 1st Duke of Marlborough — the legendary John Churchill — who had secured his title and Blenheim Palace with battlefield triumphs over the French during the War of the Spanish Succession. Jennie Jerome Churchill was an American heiress, the daughter of a New York financier, Leonard Jerome, who built and lost several large fortunes and for a time was the principal owner of the New York Times. Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill would always be extremely proud of the impure American strain in his otherwise aristocratic lineage. It lent him, he was certain, a dimension of independence.
The home that should have been Winston Churchill's birthplace was a gift from his grandfather, the Duke of Marlborough, who, for £10,000, purchased No. 48 Charles Street in London for his son and daughter-in-law after their wedding in April 1874. Just three houses from Berkeley Square, the four-story town house was in a "charming situation, très chic," as Jennie Churchill wrote to her sister. Winston hardly knew it. The first home he would remember was in Ireland, where for three years, from the age of two, he lived with his parents while Lord Randolph served his father, the Duke of Marlborough, as secretary after the Duke's appointment by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. "The Little Lodge," where the Churchills lived, was a long low white building with green shutters, wide verandas, and seemingly vast vistas. Revisiting it twentyfive years later, Churchill would be astonished to discover that the lawn he remembered as "big as Trafalgar Square ... entirely surrounded by forests ..." was "only about sixty yards across," its "forests ... little more than bushes."
His parents lived as exiles in Ireland. With typically voluble and volatile indiscretion, Lord Randolph had so offended his once intimate friend the Prince of Wales that he and Lady Randolph had been cut dead by the Prince in London, rendered personae non grata in the high society that Jennie Churchill, in particular, cherished. Winston's earliest sense of home life intersected with the anxiousness of his mother and father, who wished to escape Ireland, to return, reprieved by the Prince and restored to the drawing rooms of London. After three years they did return. A full and formal reconciliation was not effected with the Prince of Wales, however, for almost four years.
The Churchills returned as a family of four — a second son, John Strange Spencer-Churchill (ever known as Jack), had been born February 4, 1880, just before they departed Ireland. Their new London home at 29 St. James Place occupied a cul-de-sac close by the clubs of Pall Mall. Churchill would remember this house as much for his father's frequent absences from it as for anything else. Lord Randolph was by then a politician on the rise and was often away "politicking." When he was at home, the Churchills usually entertained. Lady Randolph soon became a widely admired hostess. "Her salon was crowded with the most famous men from every country," Winston would later write of the heroine in his only novel, Savrola, published in 1900. Though the character was not solely based on Lady Randolph, her influence upon his imagination was unmistakable.
Young Winston was dispatched by his parents to St. George's School, Ascot, before he was eight years old. There, he endured vicious birchings at the hand of the headmaster and was only rescued, it would seem, by the intervention of his devoted nanny, Mrs. Everest, the adoring parental surrogate of his often lonely childhood. It was she who gave the unconditional love he craved, affection that his mother often neglected to give and his father simply withheld.
Nevertheless (or perhaps as a result), Winston worshipped them both. He collected autographs by mail from his famous father that he passed out to schoolmates, all the while begging for visits that almost never came. As for his mother, "She shone for me like the Evening Star," he would later revealingly write. "I loved her dearly — but at a distance."
Winston suffered from both anguish and illness while at St. George's School. As much to restore his health as to protect his well-being, his parents were persuaded finally to move him to a smaller school in Brighton. There, he thrived, warmly responding to the markedly gentler form of education, relishing in particular the school's amateur theatricals. "I am working very hard at the Play, which is getting on admirably," he wrote to his mother at the age of eleven. "There is to be a Rehearsal this evening. Mind and Come down to distribute the prizes." Lady Churchill, however, was otherwise engaged. "You cannot be watching a juvenile Amateur Play in the borough of Brighton, and at the same time be conducting a dinner party," he wrote a week later. " ... Now you know I was always your darling and you can't find it in your heart to give me a denial."
But she did.
At Brighton, young Churchill also discovered concerts and pantomimes ("there is a ripping good Pantomime down here," he wrote to his mother), and dancing ("I am learning dancing now and like it very much indeed"). He was taught cricket and began to play, but preferred to ride horses. He also studied piano, but begged to be allowed to learn the cello or the violin instead.
Classical music interested him very little — despite his mother's own taste for the operas of Wagner (her father, an opera lover, had helped found the Academy of Music, for a time New York's premier opera house) and the piano duets of Beethoven and Schumann, which she sometimes played impromptu with Arthur Balfour, a future Prime Minister. Winston favored music hall tunes, for which he had a prodigious memory, or patter songs from the Savoy Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan that he loved to sing in his soft treble voice.
In October 1884, at the age of nearly ten, he wrote to his mother of "a lovely stamp-book and stamps" that he had bought. "Will you please send a little more money?" he went on to ask. His principal childhood interests were thereby established. Henceforward, his letters would ask for more stamps, more toy soldiers, and more money.
Already a willful child, young Winston grew rebellious — though with a kind of precocious discernment — not simply disdaining to do what he was told but pointedly refusing to do anything to which he objected or which he did not understand. He was incorrigibly honest, even to his own obvious disadvantage. When his grandmother, the Duchess of Marlborough, began sending him £20 a month as an allowance, he quickly pointed out to her that his father only sent him ten.
Lord and Lady Randolph gave up 29 St. James Place in May 1882 before departing (without their children) for a trip to the United States. Winston and his brother lived at Blenheim Palace with their ducal grandparents, enjoying the gardens and the parks very much ("so much nicer to walk in than the Green Park or Hyde Park," wrote Winston to his mother), picking primroses, violets, daisies, and wild hyacinths, "making encampments," and, most delightfully for Winston, riding a horse called Robroy.
Returning from America, Randolph Churchill moved his family into a new, larger house at 2 Connaught Place on the less fashionable north side of Hyde Park (today's Bayswater). There was a spacious nursery on the top floor, where the beloved Mrs. Everest installed herself with her boys. Jennie decorated the house with flair, stuffing it with beautiful antique furniture picked up cheaply in Ireland and painting a musical scene on her bedroom ceiling herself. Connaught Place also became the first private house in London to have electric lighting, at least for a short time, until Lord Randolph delivered a speech in Parliament favoring an electric lighting bill and then felt compelled to give up the electric light in his own home, which had been supplied gratis to the Churchills by the utility companies.
In 1887 Lord Randolph also leased Banstead Manor as a summer residence, a handsome, ivy-covered house on the Chieveley Estate just outside Newmarket. It was here, at the age of twelve, that Winston discovered the delicious pleasure of possessing one's own country house.
As an adolescent, Winston Churchill languished in school, adequate in the subjects that engaged him — history, geography, English poetry — barely teachable in subjects that did not, particularly Latin. He was careless in his work habits, "willfully troublesome ... constantly late for school, losing his books and papers ... so regular in his irregularity," according to a later housemaster, "he ought to be at the top of his form, whereas he is at the bottom."
His father despaired of his eldest son ever amounting to anything much, just as the son despaired of his father ever acknowledging or even encouraging his abilities. Lord Randolph — an Eton man, as Marlboroughs had been for six generations — decided that Winston would go to Harrow, apparently for reasons of health; the boy had already suffered bouts of pneumonia, and Harrow's climate on its low hill west of London was judged less potentially injurious to the lungs. The choice, however, also precluded the potential embarrassment of Lord Randolph's son failing at his father's alma mater.
Unfortunately, Harrow's entrance examination very nearly undid him. "I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew," he later wrote. "They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance." Churchill later claimed to have left his entire Latin exam unanswered, writing his name at the top of the page, then gazing at it for two whole hours, until "merciful ushers collected my piece of foolscap."
Despite this, he got in — whether through his father's political clout or the headmaster's mercy, it never much mattered to Winston. "I was no more consulted about leaving home than I had been about coming into the world," he would write with bemused stoicism many years later. Of his four and a half years at Harrow, spent mostly in the bottom form, Churchill drolly insisted that he had "gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English ... As I remained in the Third Fourth three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it ... Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary English sentence — which is a noble thing."
Winston, at fifteen, already had decided opinions about fashion. "My darling Mama," he wrote from Harrow. "I have ordered 1 pair of trousers, 1 pair of knickerbockers, 1 jacket & 1 Waistcoat all of the same stuff. I enclose a pattern ...
"They have not yet begun to make it," he added, "so you can change it if you wish. They fully understand the making of Knee Breeches. Nice & Bagsy over knee."
After initially bouncing about among campus residences, Winston finally was "comfortably lodged" at his Harrow headmaster's own house, in a room "with only 2 boys in it," as he wrote to Lady Randolph. "I have bought a Mantle-Board and a big fan," he told her, asking also for a pair of blue rugs from home, his tablecloth, his "drawer-pull," and all his fans. "Will you buy me a nice Rocking chair?" he asked, "as there is lots of Room for one. I also want my curtains.
"I am making my room very pretty & 'chic' with lots of silk 'draperies.' We want it to be the prettiest room in the house. You must come down & see it when you come back (& mind my darling Mummy to bring me some 'Liberty art Fabrics' & some 'Heathen Goddesses')."
Winston continued to ask endlessly for money. "There are an awful lot of subscriptions to pay," he reminded his mother. He also began to sing ("I rank as one of the most prominent trebles") and recite in "concerts." His affection for the old Harrow school songs would remain with him for the rest of his life.
He stood exactly five feet six and one-half inches with a thirty-one-inch chest (as later officially measured for his entrance into Sandhurst). Though his "physique and stamina" were regarded as "a little below standard" — many people would one day be surprised at how small Winston Churchill was — his pugnacity lent itself easily to the parry and thrust of fencing. In March 1892 he became the Harrow fencing champion, while also competing for his house as a swimmer. He began to write at Harrow and to publish, under the nom de plume "Junior Junior," lengthy protest letters sent to The Harrovian, the students' newspaper, on a variety of school issues; these gained him a following for their flair and their contentiousness.
Winston at Harrow was a thrill seeker and something of a pint-size tough guy, once sneaking up on a larger boy and pushing him into "Ducker," Harrow's enormous swimming pool. He played football when it was forbidden during exam week, dug around in elicit abandoned buildings, and endured the occasional beatings. It would seem that he was also caned at Harrow on occasion. Yet, he became famous at school for receiving his visiting nanny, the aged, ample Mrs. Everest, with a fearlessly public display of unreserved affection, strolling with her arm in arm down the High Street to a tuck shop for tea.
Doggedly, he also battled his lisp, an impediment inherited from his father. He would later consult a noted London throat specialist, who assured him after an examination that there was no physiological defect; that with perseverance and practice he could be cured. And so the boy practiced and persevered with tongue-twisting exercises that would moderate the lisp but never entirely cure it.
Churchill's stint at Harrow followed hard upon his father's torturous political self-destruction: Lord Randolph's shocking resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House Commons in December 1886 after just five months in both offices, an inscrutably perverse stratagem aimed at somehow manipulating concessions from the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, that backfired utterly.
For Lord Randolph's family his political suicide was devastating, but for his hero-worshipping twelve-year-old son, the fall was even more incomprehensible and acute, rendering his remote father more distant and unknowable than ever. "One could not grow up in my father's house ... without understanding that there had been a great political disaster," he later wrote of these harrowing Harrow years. "... I would far rather have been apprenticed as a bricklayer's mate, or run errands as a messenger boy, or helped my father to dress the front windows of a grocer's shop. It would have been real; it would have been natural; it would have taught me more; and I should have done it much better. Also I should have got to know my father, which would have been a joy to me."
Excerpted from "Churchill Style"
Copyright © 2012 Barry Singer.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Toy Soldier (1874-1899) 16
Chapter 2 Boy Hero (1899-1908) 44
Chapter 3 Radigal Domestigated (1908-1911) 62
Chapter 4 Asea (1912-1916) 76
Chapter 5 Restored to the Ganvas (1916-1921) 90
Chapter 6 Blagk Dog Tamed (1922-1929) 104
Chapter 7 Wilderness (1929-1939) 124
Chapter 8 Bulldog (1939-1945) 150
Chapter 9 Unbowed (1945-1955) 186
Chapter 10 Finis (1955-1965) 206
Source Notes 219