Editor’s note: First of a monthly series highlighting Wallingford history as the town approaches its 350th anniversary.
Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s prime minister who led the country and shaped Allied strategy during World War II, always had a foot on both sides of the pond.
Both Wallingford and Meriden can claim Churchill as a descendant of historical families. Wallingford, founded in 1670, originally included what’s now the city of Meriden, which was founded in 1806 and incorporated in 1867.
Churchill was born Nov. 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. He was prime minister from 1940-45 and 1951-55.
Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome, was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1854. She was the daughter of Leonard W. Jerome, a wealthy Wall Street speculator whose family has roots in Meriden, and Clarissa Hall, always called Clara, who was a descendant of the prominent Hall family of Wallingford.
According to information from the Wallingford Historical Society, Churchill’s lineage reaches back to John Hall, who emigrated from Suffolk, England, to Wallingford around 1640.
That made Churchill related to Lyman Hall, Declaration of Independence signer and arguably Wallingford’s most famous native resident, who was also a descendant of John Hall.
Churchill’s earliest Jerome ancestor was Timothy Jerome, who lived in Meriden, then a section of Wallingford.
He was a wealthy farmer and landowner, and is buried in the old Meeting House Hill Cemetery. The inventory after his death showed that he owned four slaves.
Timothy Jerome’s son, Samuel Jerome, was born in Meriden in 1728. Samuel Jerome’s son, Lt. Aaron Jerome, also was born in Meriden, in 1764.
After that, the Jeromes branched out, some moving to New York to amass wealth in shipping and finance. Lt. Aaron Jerome’s grandson, Leonard W. Jerome, was born in 1817 in Pompey, New York. His wife, Clara Hall, was born in 1825 in Palmyra, New York.
Their daughter, Jennie Jerome, moved to England, where she met Lord Randolph Churchill, son of the Duke of Marlborough, in 1873. They were married in 1874, and their son, Winston Churchill, was born the same year.
Jennie Jerome was reportedly one of the inspirations for the television series “Downton Abbey,” about an American heiress who marries an English aristocrat.
Although the ancestral connection is shared with Meriden, Wallingford claims Winston Churchill’s ancestors as their own and, probably, there are some distant relatives of Churchill’s living in Wallingford today.