Sarah (born in October 1914 in the first months of the First World War) and Marigold (born just after the end of the War, in November 1918) were Churchill’s younger daughters. Life for them was to prove troubled and, in the case of Marigold, sadly very brief.
‘Many years later my father told me that when Marigold died, Clementine gave a succession of wild shrieks like an animal in mortal pain. My mother never got over Marigold’s death.’
Mary Soames, Prelude to A Daughter’s Tale
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Winston’s nanny Mrs Everest
Churchill’s younger brother, Jack, was born in 1880 when Churchill was five. They saw little of their parents, and both of them were looked after by a nanny. Mrs Everest (she was, in fact, a spinster; the ‘Mrs’ was an honorary title) was hired when Winston was only a few months old. The children led a peripatetic life, often travelling with her from their home in Ireland (the ‘Little Lodge’, where the Churchills lived when his grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, became Viceroy of Ireland), to the Isle of Wight, to Blenheim and to London.
Churchill was enormously fond of Mrs Everest and called her ‘Woom’ or ’Woomany’. She exerted a considerable influence on him throughout his childhood until she died when he was a young man of twenty-one (he was devastated by her death, and arranged for the erection of a headstone on her grave and paid an annual sum for its upkeep thereafter, a practice which has been continued to this day by The Churchill Centre and the Churchill family). For more about Churchill and his nanny, see the National Churchill Museum site.
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Harrow School on top of the Hill.
On 17 April 1888, Churchill went to Harrow School, an independent boarding school for boys founded in 1572 under a Royal Charter granted by Elizabeth I, in London.
He joined Head Master’s Boarding House, said to date from 1650.
Here, he wasn’t particularly happy and he didn’t particularly excel. However, Churchill’s ability to memorise lines, which he later used when he first made public speeches, was already apparent. While at Harrow, he entered a competition and won a school prize for reciting from memory 1,200 lines from Macaulay’s long poem, Lays of Ancient Rome – a quite remarkable achievement.
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Blenheim Palace was always one of Churchill’s favourite places. He spent much of his time as a child there, both before he went to school and during school holidays. His parents were often away, busy with their political and social lives, and his grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, often looked after him and his brother, Jack, allowing them to play in the Palace and its Great Park.
Frances, the Duchess of Marlborough, his grandmother, kept an eye on Winston throughout his youth and, in 1890 when he was returning to school from Blenheim after the summer holidays, wrote to him advising him to take care and to ‘keep out of scrapes and don’t flare up so easily…’. Like most children, he greatly looked forward to the holidays, many of which were spent at Blenheim. Blenheim was to provide a reassuring, constant backdrop to Churchill throughout his life; not just as a venue for holidays from school, but also for house parties and dinners as an adult, and it was where he chose to propose to his future wife, Clementine.
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Finest Hour 170, Fall 2015
By Michael McMenamin
125 Years ago
Spring 1890 • Age 16
“I am working my very best”
In December 1890, Winston was set to take the Preliminary Examination for Sandhurst. In the days leading up to the exam, however, he told his mother that he thought he would not pass because he had been put under a master “whom I hated & who returned that hate.” Lady Randolph was not pleased, and her displeasure made its way to her son. In mid-November, Winston wrote and reassured her that he had complained to the headmaster about the hated master, who had since been replaced “by masters who take the greatest interest in me & who say that I have been working very well.” “Arithmetic & Algebra are the dangerous subjects,” Winston continued, but he was “sure of English” and “nearly sure of Geography, Euclid & French.” He concluded his letter asking her to take his “word of honour…that I am working my very best.”
Apparently Lady Randolph did not do so and visited Harrow herself to talk to Harrow’s Headmaster James Welldon, who backed up Winston’s claim. She wrote to her husband on 23 November explaining that “Winston was working under a master he hated—& that one day the master accused him of a lie—whereupon Winston grandly said that his word had never been doubted before & that he wld go straight to Welldon—which he did.” She explained further that Welldon had sided with Winston and placed him with a new master and that Welldon “thought Winston was working as hard as he possibly cld & that he would pass his preliminary exam.”
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