Thursday, December 20, 2018

DAY 33: Electrifying London

Edison catalogue cover, 1887

Jennie and Randolph Churchill's house at No. 2 Connaught Place is said to have been the first private residence with electricity in London. The Churchills bought the house in 1883. They had spent the previous summer in the United States visiting Leonard Jerome, so that Randolph could recuperate from a protracted recurrence of his chronic illness. Traveling with Leonard in Manhattan, Saratoga (for the racing) and Newport, Jennie observed that electricity was all the rage. 

Electricity, House of Worth, Museum of the City
of New York

he Churchills would have missed Alva Vanderbilt's Fancy Dress Ball, her assault on Caroline Astor's New York society held at the spanking-new Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue in late March, 1883, but Jennie might have heard from guest of honor Consuelo Yznaga that Alice Vanderbilt appeared at the ball in a Worth-designed gown called "Electricity," holding an incandescent torch above her head. 

When Jennie returned to London, she had a generator installed in the basement of the Connaught Place house. Some biographers suggest Leonard Jerome paid for it; others, that it was a political stunt on Lord Randolph's part, to promote his Parliamentary campaign for the electrification of London. Others maintain that Randy's elder brother, George--heir to the dukedom in 1883 and a notorious scientific tinkerer--was dabbling in electrifical engineering, and used Connaught Place as his laboratory. Regardless, electric light was one more novelty that drew people to Jennie Churchill's dining room. The steady thrum of the generator in the basement added to the sense of drama.

Most Society women disliked electric light, as it was far harsher and revealing of age than the kinder candle flames. But Jennie enjoyed its glow. One of her nieces remembers her taking out her paint box to paint her light bulbs yellow during a particularly rainy stint in London. 

"We might as well have sunshine indoors," Jennie said.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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