Archive for the ‘Napoleonic Wars’ Category

Poor Matthew died as Season 3 ended. We all sat in our seats as if dumbstruck, certain that Season 4 would begin with a resounding bang, including our attendance at his funeral and wake. Instead, viewers have been treated to a season of tepidness. Julian Fellowes has taken us on a journey in a Sargasso Sea of his own making, circling around familiar story lines and swirling his characters in a holding pattern until he can find a way to break them out.

Indiana fireworks explosion @Daily Mail

Matthew’s death surprised us and set the stage for cataclysmic changes in the Crawley household. (Image: @Daily Mail)

Where are the high stakes conflicts? Where are the intriguing story lines that kept us on the edge of our seats from week to week? (And, no, the rape scene does not count. Sorry, Julian.)

Ian McKellen (King Lear), William Gaunt (Gloucester)

We were expecting epic upheavals. (Image: Ian McKellen (King Lear), William Gaunt (Gloucester))

Granted that Fellowes was not given enough time by ITV to rest on his laurels and breathe before meeting the next season’s writing deadlines.  Granted that the goings on at the Abbey still provide some of the best TV drama on our schedules, but none of us could have predicted the steady decline in the riveting story lines from earlier seasons. (Before I continue, I must share that my friend, Hillary, who watched each episode with me, thinks that I am being much too harsh on this season, and that my neighbors, whose judgments I trust, found this season to be an improvement over Season 3.)

Including a lack of time to develop his stories and characters, Fellowes’ decision to remove the writers who helped to make Season One a resounding success didn’t help matters. So, let’s examine the state of Season Four’s tepitude (Episodes 3-6 ), shall we? It is 1922, 6 months after Matthew Crawley’s death.

The Crawleys

The earl’s a nice old-fashioned man who gives a tenant farmer’s son a chance to pay back his daddy’s bills, but, then, in Epidsode 6, he’s shipped off to America to help his brother in law. We’ll see him in the Christmas special, but, still, tepid.

Cora is showing more backbone, but she still has no taste in ladies maids. She loves having her grand babies in the house, although Tom is threatening to move himself and baby Sybbie to America. Cora has no control over Rose, or Edith, for that matter. Tepid.

Rose is a flapper who likes to rebel. Her romance with beautiful Jack Ross (love his voice and brilliant white teeth) is, well, predictable.

Violet and Isobel are becoming strange bedfellow friends. Neither woman is given much to do, which has been disappointing. Violet’s been obsessed with petty theft of her things by a new young gardener (Pegg). She has very little proof, but she hates to be wrong and her stubbornness leads us into familiar territory. In the end she shows her good heart by rehiring Pegg, whom she had fired.  Then she gets sick and is nursed back to health by Isobel, whom she slowly starts to accept as a friend. Not a major story line, to be sure. And what happened to the hints of romance between Isobel and Dr. Clarkson in Season 3? He’s not even listed as a major character on PBS’s site for Season 4. Tepid. Tepid. Lame.


Thomas is still a snake, but one without a riveting story line. He’s lost O’Brien, his ally in nasty schemes, and has been reduced to plotting behind the scenes via Baxter, Cora’s new ladies maid. Baxter’s obviously reluctant to play along. She’s capable and willing (showing others how her sewing machine works), but, frankly, her story line so far is … diddly, insignificant. You get the drift. As for Thomas, he’s been shipped off to America along with the earl, so we can assume that they’ll both show up in the final installment. Lame

Mrs. Hughes is a nice motherly figure with whom all can share their secrets. Mr Carson remains an old-fashioned fatherly figure who keeps everyone in their place. And Mrs. Patmore is anything but a futurist. No change here. Their story lines are predictable, but, in this case, is that a bad thing?

Bates learns of Anna’s rape, relieving her of the guilt of omission but raising her anxiety that he’ll eventually go out and shoot the bastard, which he will, if Bates’s dark ruminations are an indication. “Your husband’s a brooder, and brooders brood.” Every time we hear their “theme”, we are reminded of the dark side to their story line.  (They can never be happy for long. Even their night out is fraught with difficulties, except for Cora’s interventions.)  Episode six ends with an image of Bates casting an evil eye in Mr. Green’s direction, leaving the viewers with a sick feeling that Seasons Two and Three are about to be repeated in the Bates/Anna “woe is us” story line. These star-crossed lovers are still rotating in a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines.

The Clueless Chauffeur

In yet another moment of stupidity, Tom Branson beds Edna Braithwaite, the scheming maid who was laid off last season for bedding him in the first place, but who inexplicably returns as O’Brien’s  replacement as Cora’s lady’s maid.  Tom was a chauffeur, right? So what’s to prevent him from driving outside of the village to find nookie at a safe distance? This plot line is stupid to the nth degree. Plus, does anyone really think that we’ve seen the last of Edna? Tom’s entertained the idea of taking himself and baby Sibbie off to America for a new life, which leaves Cora in a tizzy. We do get a whiff of a new romantic interest when Tom attends a political rally in Ripon. Despite many possibilities, Fellowes has poor Tom whirling around a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines. Where is the old Tom’s political fire? We miss that.

Edith. Oh, poor, poor Edith.

Edith finally gets her man, but then he disappears into the bowels of poverty-stricken, post World War One Germany. In his absence, she’s worried that she might be pregnant after a night of illicit love. What was Fellowes thinking? This season was Edith’s chance for a breakaway story line that would turn her into a strong and independent woman, instead we merely get … the same old, same old. Edith’s chance at happiness is snatched away when she finds out she’s pregnant and staring at the possibility of carrying a bastard and facing society’s censure. Fellowes missed a major opportunity to elevate Edith’s growth as a character to another level. He has her rotating around a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines – that of the loser sister. Disappointing.

Lady Mary’s story arc: a trio of men and a passel of pigs

Mary, Lord Gillingham, Evelyn NapierGood grief. What made the Mary/Matthew romance riveting was the sexual tension between the two characters. They were attracted and repelled at the same time, and viewers sat on the edge of their seats waiting for their fights to end, their first passionate kiss, first reconciliation, first breakup, second reconciliation, second breakup … well, you get the drift.  Their romance was played out against a backdrop of serious, catastrophic events – the sinking of the Titanic and loss of Downton’s heir, the possibility of losing the entire estate due to bad investments, World War One, Matthew’s engagement to another, the influenza epidemic, etc. When the couple finally married we all sighed a collective breath of relief. Aaaah. And then they conceived the heir, George. Aaaah.  But then a truck drove into Matthew’s path and splat! – the end of an epic romance and abrupt end to Season 3.

At the start of Season 4, we were not even privy to his funeral (bad decision), but given just a glimpse of his grave. This season began six  months after Matthew’s death, with Mary walking around the Abbey like a zombie. She’s sad. She’s grieving. She can’t move. Her lower lip is as stiff as the upper. Tepid and predictable.

Then a  childhood friend waltzes in (Lord Tony Gillingham) and she sorta, kinda perks up. No spark. No sexual tension. This new beau is no Matthew.  I was expecting an actor on the order of a Benedict Cumberbatch or Richard Armitage.  What we got instead was Anthony Foyle, a handsome man, to be sure, but one who’s chin I find worrisomely on the weak side. He’s in love with Mary, who’s still in love with Matthew, so, realizing she’s not about to budge, he puts Mary on the spot and says something like:  Before I leave, promise to become my wife. If you do,  I won’t get engaged to Mabel, a woman I don’t love. If you say no,  you know my situation, I must get married. Mary resists. Smart woman. She manages a twinge when she thinks about her lost opportunity, but we suspect it was just indigestion. This lifeless story line can’t compare to the real character conflict offered up in previous seasons.

Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the poplar spring animal sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland/ Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the poplar spring animal sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Then there’s Evelyn Napier’s return. He who is interested in Mary but introduced her to Pamuk. ‘Nuff said. His interest in Mary is still palpable, but she rebuffs him at every turn. Napier never was an interesting character to begin with, except in his role as facilitator. This time he brings a guest in the form of Charles Blake, his boss and a government administrator. Blake, who served during World War I alongside Tony Gillingham, studies whether large estates can adapt and survive in a post-war society. He frankly doubts whether this can be accomplished, especially at the Abbey. Worse, he fails to share Napier’s enthusiasm for Mary, who, to give him credit, comes off as stiff as an ironing board. But there is chemistry between the two, which was sorely lacking with the other two gents. Sparks fly twixt Mary and Blake as they disagree on every topic, and while they might be failing to “connect” socially, they are surely noticing one another.

Image of scrambled eggs @wikimedia

Image of scrambled eggs @wikimedia

The pigs arrive just when Tom is attending a rally in Ripon and no farmer is around to care for them. During an after dinner walk, Blake and Mary discover that the pigs, who are hopefully going to save the Abbey’s bacon, are dehydrated from lack of water. For hours Mary and Blake toil to save them. Mary mired in muck attracts Blake’s interest. They have a mud fight. They laugh. The fact that she can scramble eggs really twirls his cookies. By this time, Mary, a six-month widow, has acquired three suitors. Napier’s obviously out of the running. Gillingham piques her interest now that he’s engaged. But Blake? Well, his indifference-turned-to-admiration is sure to earn a widow’s heart. Or will it?  Isn’t all this romantic intrigue  over Mary while she’s still grieving for Matthew too soon? You decide.

Belowstairs again

Good grief. How sad is the quadrangle Fellowes conconted? Daisy’s angry. Daisy’s sad. Daisy mopes around. All because of Alfred, who aspires to be a chef now that he realizes he can’t have Ivy, a very uninteresting scullery maid. Jimmy’s story line intersects with theirs and it’s … you guessed it, tepid. He’s just another humdrum character. Alfred, who, as he leaves, acknowledges to Daisy that her romantic interest in him will never be returned, says goodbye to them all. Ho-hum. Yawn.

Where’s William’s daddy when you need him, and why hasn’t he come around to visit Daisy and tempt her with the real possibility of running her own farm and becoming a woman of substance? Hints were made all last season, but the result up to Episodes 6  is … nothing. I had imagined that our resourceful Daisy would make a success of herself this season and haggle with Mrs. Patmore over the price of fresh produce. A missed opportunity – big time.

The costumes. Do the 1920’s costumes really compete with Edwardian clothes? Click on my Pinterest boards and decide for yourself. I rather think that the Crawley women look dowdy compared to seasons past.

Reading the PR spin on PBS’s website, one would have thought that our high expectations would have been met. Were they? Have I left out anything important? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Feel free to leave your thoughts, pro or con.

Now, let the sparring begin!

Image links and attributions:

Image, Indiana Fireworks Explosion@ Daily Mail

King Lear Image, McKellen.com

Image of Mary, Lord Gillingham and Evelyn Napier

Pigs wallowing in mud, Wikipedia

Scrambled Eggs, Wikimedia

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Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing was published this month by Shire Library.  Small and compact, as Shire publications tend to be, this wonderfully illustrated book describes the standards of beauty popular in each era, from 1550 when alabaster brows were highly prized, to the black eyebrows that were favored by 18th century women.  As with her best-selling Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen, Ms. Downing provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the topic. She begins with the Tudor Court and ends with the delightful cosmetic advertisements of the first half of the 20th century.

Marriage à-la-mode: The Countess's Morning Levee, William Hogarth, c. 1745

Because my blog’s theme centers on the Georgian and Regency eras, I will confine much of my recap to those years.

A woman applying beauty patches, Boucher

Mirrors, once only possessed by the rich, became so popular in London in the mid-16th century that British manufacturers petitioned Parliament to ban foreign imports. The ritual of the dressing table became quite elaborate and ladies began to entertain guests as they prepared themselves for the day.

French mop gold boite a mouche patch box with brush, 1730. Images @ Etsy

Decorative patches covered skin blemishes and blotches, sometimes to such an extent that a face could be covered with a variety of dots, half-moon crescents, stars and even a coach and horses! The popularity of using patches began in the mid-17th century and did not wane until the end of the 18th century.

Woman with patches, pale skin and rouged cheeks. Thomas Gainsborough

Porcelain skin was highly prized and created with white lead-based skin cream. Blush was then applied to create a doll-like look. Cosmetics were created in a variety of ways. Here are the ingredients for one recipe for lead face powder that did not come from this book: several thin plates of lead, a big pot of vinegar, a bed of horse manure, water, perfume & tinting agent. Once can only guess how this concoction was put together and at its smell.

Marquise the Pompadour applying face powder with a brush. Boucher, 1758.

Ms. Downing describes in her book:

lead sheets were unrolled and beaten with battledores until all the flakes of white lead came off. These were gathered and ground into a very fine powder… p. 24

Gainsboroughs portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliot in 1782 shows the craze for dark eyebrows.

For a while during the third quarter of the 18th century, dark eyebrows became all the rage. Lead-based cosmetics, used over time, caused hair-loss at the forehead and over the brows, resulting in a receding hair-line and a bare brow. For those who lost their eyebrows, it became the custom as early as 1703  to trap mice and use their fur for artificial eyebrows. Sadly, the glue did not always adhere well, and a lady could be caught with her brows out of kilter. This hilarious poem was written by Matthew Prior in 1718:

On little things, as sages write,

Depends our human joy or sorrow;

If we don’t catch a mouse to-night,

Alas! no eyebrows for to-morrow. – p.28

Aging beauties staved off the ravages of time with sponge fillers and rouge (sound familiar?), while many women risked poisonous side effects from using their deadly cosmetics. Maria, one of the Gunning sisters who went on to become Lady Coventry, was so addicted to her lead-based paints that she died in 1760 at the age of 27 knowing full well that she was at risk.

Maria, Countess of Coventry

The French Revolution swept away the widespread use of makeup, which was associated with the aristocracy. Defiantly, some aristocratic ladies went to their doom wearing a  full complement of make-up: pale skin, patches, rouged cheeks and rosy lips.

The more natural look of the regency woman. Note that the cheeks are still rouged.

Rousseau influenced the concept of nature and a more natural Romantic look took hold, aided by the blockade of cosmetics during the Napoleonic Wars. The death of many soldiers resulted in widespread melancholia and the affectation of a consumptive look. Ladies, nevertheless, were never far from their rouge pot.

Another Regency portrait with subtle makeup. The flower basket adds to the natural look.

As with all Shire books, Sarah Jane Downing’s trip through time provides us with brilliant insights, in this instance it is via cosmetics and how society viewed beauty in each era. By the 1950s, the success of a marriage was defined by how well a woman took care of herself. This included makeup. Beauty, as Ms. Downing wrote, “was switched from a pleasure to an obligation.”  Oh, my. I give the delightful Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 four out of five Regency tea cups.

Product Details

Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Shire (February 21, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0747808392
ISBN-13: 978-0747808398
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.2 x 8.2 inches

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Gentle Readers, Tony Grant’s latest contribution to this blog centers around Jane Austen’s two sailor brothers. What a delightful read just before the Holidays. His blog, London Calling, is worth visiting.

Horatio Nelson as a midshipman (middie) in the year Jane Austen was born, 1775

Francis was the older of Jane’s two brothers who joined The Royal Navy. He was twelve years old in 1786 when he travelled to Portsmouth from Steventon, a mere twenty miles away, to be enrolled at The Royal Naval Academy.

Young midshipman going off to sea. Would such a scene have been reenacted in the Austen household? Image @The Joyful Molly

His father thought it would provide a good education for Francis. The Royal Naval Academy provided a very formal education. He was taught, navigation, mapping, how to use and handle sails, the construction and architecture of ships and gunnery, ropework, communications, maritime law, weather, meteorology and watch standing. He needed a thorough knowledge of mathematics to be able to be proficient at all these skills. The mathematics he had to learn and become adept at included pure mathematics, stations, elongations of an inferior planet, reflection at plane surfaces and reflection at two plane surfaces, Euclid, algebra and trigonometry. Future officers were also taught politics and diplomacy alongside fencing, French and dancing. It was thought that these skills were needed in diplomacy and often officers of ships, arriving at far-flung parts of the world, were required to act as diplomats for Britain.

Life for middies on board ship. Image @The Joyful Molly

Jane’s brother Charles joined The Royal Navy five years after Francis and followed a similar course of education.

Life at the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth was tough. We might say more than tough, in these enlightened times. Claire Tomlin, in her biography , Jane Austen A Life, writes,

“…and Francis was at the naval school in Portsmouth. The regime there was tough, not to say brutal; discipline was maintained with a horsewhip, and there were complaints about bullying, idleness and debauchery.”

From our point of view, in the Britain of the 21st century, horse whipping and a very rigid regime of rules and punishments might be termed as abuse and a criminal offence, damaging individuals for life. I don’t think it was seen like that in the 18th century.It is difficult for us to get into the minds of people in the 18th century but the Christian religion in the form of the Anglican church as part of the state, primarily possessed the minds, hearts and actions of people in very authoritarian and draconian ways. What was written in the Bible was law. Man’s baser instincts and proclivity for the seven deadly sins of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony could be legitimately beaten out of them through pain and fear. Hence the horsewhipping. This obviously created the opposite scenario too. The secret lives of people in the 18th century, particularly those who could afford it, created a world of brothels and the prostitutes of Covent Garden and the affairs and licentious living that took place in a city like Bath. It just shows that fear and pain do not create the noble perfect man, they create somebody with two diverse sides to their personality . But of course in the 18th century psychiatrists and behaviourists had not been invented . A hundred years later,the story of Jekyl and Hyde was trying to grapple with this more overtly, and Darwin was beginning to challenge the viewpoint of religious status quo through science. With the fear of wrongdoing and the prospect of going to hell, at the back of peoples minds it took strong intelligent characters to question and be creative in their views about life and living.

Claire Tomlin goes on to explain that Jane’s two brothers did not appear to mind this strict regime of corporal punishment. They were both bright and intelligent and so succeeded. They probably avoided being punished because of their abilities and being successful and probably also, as we say, by“keeping their heads down.”

Middie sleeping on duty. Image @The Joyful Molly

The two brothers, during their careers saw action and provided a diplomatic service in many places across the globe including, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, the Indian Ocean, the North and South Atlantic, the China Seas, the Caribbean and in South American waters.

Frigate before the wind

The Royal Navy provided a very rigid hierarchical career structure. Once an officer had progressed past midshipman to Lieutenant, their career was often guaranteed. They progressed because of age and endurance. As people above them advanced, they moved in to fill their positions. Nowadays the Royal Navy and every professional and modern navy promotes their officers depending on their abilities. In the 18th century ability was not taken into account. Skilled people like Admiral Nelson or Jane’s two brothers rose through the hierarchy, but not because they were necessarily deemed as more able than others. Officers were in the navy virtually until they died, and as long as they stayed alive they progressed up the career ladder.

Francis Austen

Francis and Charles both rose through the ranks. Francis eventually became a full admiral and was the Commander in Chief of The North American and West Indian fleet. He became the Senior Admiral of the Fleet in 1868 when he was 89 years old. That seems ridiculous to us now. Unfortunately, Francis, did not have a very good opinion of Americans. He disapproved of the men spitting and didn’t like the flippant attitude of the women. The American women were not as cultured and sedate as his dear sister, Jane.

Charles Austen

Francis was unhappy about his career. Many things passed him by or were too slow in coming,  such as the position of Senior Admiral of the Fleet. His deepest regret was that he missed being at The Battle of Trafalgar with Nelson. His ship was there, but at the time he was ordered to perform another duty ashore.

Barringtons action at St. Lucia 1778

Jane Austen includes Royal Naval characters in her novels, Persuasion and Mansfield Park. She had a great deal of affection for her brothers and knew a lot about the navy through them. Like her brothers, her naval characters were honest and chivalrous.

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Towards the end of his life Horatio Nelson, the victor of Trafalgar, lived at Merton Place, an elegant country house set in 160 acres of landscaped grounds in what is now the London Borough of Merton in South London in an area more commonly known as South Wimbledon, where I live.

Merton Place. Image @National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Nelson had gathered many honours for services to his country during his career. Horatio Nelson was known as  1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte KB. The KB is the term for Knight of the Bath, which is a high-ranking knighthood. Knighthoods came and still come in different categories. Nelson’s knighthood was the top rank.

Admiral Lord Nelson

Nelson was born into a prosperous family in Norfolk on the 29th September 1758. His uncle, Maurice Suckling, encouraged him to join the Navy. His talent was recognised at an early age because he served with the leading naval officers of the time and he rose rapidly through the ranks. He obtained his first command in 1778 at the age of twenty. His reputation grew because of his courage and valour in battle and his ability to gather a firm grasp of naval tactics very quickly. Nelson was a sickly individual and often had periods of illness. After The Wars of American Independence he was laid off and was without a ship for a while.

Emma Hamilton in an attitude of dance

With the onset of the French Revolutionary Wars, Nelson was called back into service to serve primarily in the Mediterranean theatre of war. He fought in various minor battles just off Toulon, at the Capture of Corsica, and then was given diplomatic duties with the Italian States. On 12 September 1793, he first met Lady Hamilton. At the time, Nelson was a 35-year-old post captain and she was the 28-year-old wife of Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples. Emma was famous as a great beauty and a performer of ”Attitudes”, based on Ancient Greek statuary. She wore diaphanous floating materials for these poses but some , which left nothing to the imagination. (What an old buffer like Sir William Hamilton was doing with a party girl, as a wife is another story!)

Nelson loses his arm

In 1797, Nelson came to prominence again as captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. Soon after he took part in the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in which he was badly wounded and lost his right arm. He was forced to return to England to recuperate.

Extract from HMS Theseus medical officer’s journal for 25 July 1797 relating to the amputation of part of Nelson’s right arm. Image @National Archives

It is interesting to note, in the Georgian navy any badly damaged limb was always amputated. This was the only way they could prevent disease setting into the wounds. If ever you have the chance to visit HMS Victory at Portsmouth you can see the surgeon’s instruments laid out on the deal-operating table below decks.  The surgeon had two assistant surgeons and used the help of the seaman’s mates to hold him down. They experimented with alcohol as an anaesthetic but discovered that getting the injured sailor drunk made the blood thin and it wouldn’t clot. The only thing they could do at that time was to strap him down and give him a piece of leather to grip between his teeth. A scalpel paired back the skin and flesh. A caffater was used to drain the blood. The arteries were severed and then a saw was used to cut quickly through the bone. A file was used to smooth the end of the bone. The arteries were tied. The flap of skin was sewn over the stump. The stump was dipped in tar and then and only then, the man was given rum, lots of it, to get drunk. All done and dusted in 90 seconds.

In 1798 Nelson returned to action and beat Napoleons navy at the battle of The Nile. One of Nelson’s greatest achievements. He remained in the Mediterranean to support the State of Naples against a French invasion. In 1801 Nelson was ordered to go to the Baltic and this time he defeated the Danes at The Battle of Copenhagen. The Danes to this day don’t like Nelson. The Danish fleet was in port and by attacking the fleet in port a lot of the bombardment also hit the city of Copenhagen and destroyed much of the city,  killing many ordinary citizens.


HMS Victory. Image @Tony Grant

After this encounter in the north Nelson took over the blockade of the French and Spanish fleets in Toulon. They escaped and Nelson chased them to the West Indies and back without bringing them to battle. He now began the blockade of the French and Spanish in Cadiz. The end game was approaching although nobody knew that at the time. He returned to England and Merton Place for some respite with his family that had become Lady Hamilton, her husband Sir William (who was living with them),  Nelson and Emma’s daughter, Horatia. It was a scandalous arrangement for the time, but Sir William Hamilton appeared to be comfortable with the situation. That tells another story.

Sir William Hamilton, Emma, and Admiral Nelson. Image @The Nelson Society

In October  1805, Nelson returned to action off Cadiz. He was a great national hero by this time, and he journeyed in triumph from Merton Place, cheered by villagers as he made his way to Portsmouth. Normally a sea captain or admiral would have been rowed by longboat to his ship waiting at sea from the hard at Portsmouth, which is next to the dockyard entrance.

Nelson leaving Southsea beach, just outside of Portsmouth.

However, massive crowds had gathered to see Nelson leave for Cadiz. Worried about safety, he asked to leave from Southsea beach, about three quarters of a mile east of Portsmouth.  So it was Southsea he was rowed from, to a waiting ship that took him to HMS Victory off Cadiz harbour. A famous painting portrays Nelson’s departure from Southsea beach.

HMS Victory, broadside. Image @Tony Grant

People talk about “the Nelson touch,” and the superiority of the British Navy. The British navy like the British army was and is a family. Officers knew each other personally and socialised together. Nelson was going to Cadiz to meet friends, the other naval officers commanding the ships under his overall command. They knew each other’s weaknesses and strengths and Nelson played to these. He knew who could do what, exactly. It was a, “well oiled machine.” Also British gun crews trained continuously in the using and firing of their guns. They were trained thoroughly. The whole fleet worked as a well-run unit.


The fact that the French and Spanish were a combined fleet made up of two navies had an inbuilt fault. Their gun crews were not so efficient. There were two languages to contend with and there was a matter of pride on each side that caused friction. The French and Spanish commanders did not know their men and captains as well as the officers in the British navy knew theirs. The British fleet was smaller but a much more efficient group. Nelson also utilised unconventional tactics. Because of the superior numbers of the opposing fleet Nelson decided not to go for a broadside attack where the two fleets would have passed each other firing side by side until one side gave in. He was outnumbered and this would not have faired well for the British fleet. Nelson decided to form his fleet into two parts, each forming a line, which sailed into the French and Spanish fleets, like two arrows fired perpendicularly to the line of French and Spanish ships.


Battle of Trafalgar

This split the opposing force into three parts. Nelson’s fleet dealt with each part separately. The Spanish and French fleet was taken unawares with this tactic and many of their ships were not able to engage the British at first. This gave time for the British to pick off the enemy, slowly destroying them almost, one by one. Nelson was victorious. A sniper high in the rigging of the mizzenmast of the French ship Redoubtable picked out Nelson and Captain Hardy standing on the poop deck of the Victory and shot Nelson. The bullet passed through his shoulder, through his lungs and severed his spine. The ships surgeon later did an autopsy to find the cause of Nelson’s death and extent of his injuries. A marine called John Pollard revenged Nelsons death by shooting the French sniper dead. He was seen falling from the mizzenmast into the shrouds hanging from the Redoubtable.


Death of Nelson

To illustrate Nelson’s shear courage and perhaps bravado, minutes before he himself was shot, an officer standing next to him had been severed in half by a cannon ball from the French ship and the blood and body parts of this unfortunate had only just been cleared away when Nelson himself was struck.

The stern of the HMS Victory. Image @Tony Grant

Most injuries and deaths in a battle of this sort were from flying splinters of wood. Victory was made from 6000 trees, 90% of which were oak but some elm, pine and fir were used. When you see the Victory and some of the massive wooden elbows, struts and planks used in it’s construction you can imagine how great sharp pieces of wood could go flying about when hit by a cannon ball going at the speed of sound. The majority of fatalities were from splinters to the head.

Nelson was not the nicest of personalities. He was proud, vain, and authoritarian but he was also extremely brave, astute and a brilliant tactician. He was loved and admired by his men and the whole of the British nation.

Bullet hole in Nelson's uniform.

If you go to The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich you can see the admirals coat Nelson was wearing when he was shot. The bullet hole is visible in the shoulder and the expensive white silk lining is heavily blood stained.

Nelson did not want a sea burial. He had the right to ask for a land burial. It would be months before The Victory would return to Portsmouth so the ships surgeon suggested they place Nelson’s body in a large cask of rum. They did this and the body remained in relatively good condition until Nelson’s state funeral and burial in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. There is rather a gruesome story following Nelson’s funeral. The crew of HMS Victory are reputed to have drunk the rum Nelson’s body had been preserved in.

Nelson's crypt in St. Paul's Cathedral. Image @LIFE Magazine

So, Nelson’s final journey to super stardom and the gratitude of an adoring nation started from Merton Place in South Wimbledon.
Merton Place no longer exists and the 160 acres of land Nelson owned around Merton Place have long been sold off and used for housing over various generations.

London road today crossing what was Nelson's estate. Image @Tony Grant

Roads of Victorian, Edwardian and more modern flats and housing now covers what was once Nelson’s idyllic estate of Merton. There is much evidence still existing though, if you take the time to look.

Merton Place as it once was, also former home of Thomas Sainsbury, Lord Mayor of London. Image @Old London Maps

By 1801 Nelson had separated from his wife Fanny. He wanted to find a home where  he could entertain his friends. Lady Hamilton found Merton Place situated next to the picturesque Wandle River and Nelson paid £9000 for it.


The Wandle River. Image @Tony Grant

Nelson paid for the house’s development. Great changes to it took place in 1805. Nelson employed the architect Thomas Chawner to create a new layout. It became a double fronted house with a grand drive leading up to it.

Merton Place, parish of Merton.

Also a tributary from the Wandle River was dug leading up to the house. This was named The Nile, after Nelson’s famous victory. If you go to the site of Merton place to day there is a housing estate; houses and flats built in the 1960’s.


Nelson's estate today. Image @Tony Grant

On the very site of, “Merton Place,” is a block of flats called, “Merton Place.” On the site of the entrance to the grand drive that lead up to the house from the London Road is a pub called, The Nelson Arms.

The Nelson Arms on the site of the entrance to Merton Place. Image @Tony Grant

It is a spectacular Edwardian edifice with large tiled pictures of Nelson’s portrait and HMS Victory.


The gatehouse site today. Image @Tony Grant.

A few hundred yards form The Nelson Arms are some housing and flats that are on the site of a building that was called, The Gatehouse. The owner was a friend of Nelson’s, James Halfhide. Nelson often visited James in The Gatehouse. A little further along the London Road, leading into Tooting, is Wandle Park, the site of Wandle Park House. Lady Hamilton and Nelson are known to have visited the owner James Perry the editor and owner of the Morning Chronicle, the most successful London Newspaper in Georgian times.

St. Mary the Virgin. Image @Tony Grant

A mile west of Merton Place is the church of St Mary the Virgin, where Nelson worshipped regularly on a Sunday. The pew he used is still there.

Bell ropes, St. Mary the Virgin. Image @Tony Grant

Not far from here is a newer church called St John the Divine. Built in 1914, it was designed by the architect C. Cage to mark the anniversary of the death of Nelson. The church was built on what was part of the western extension of Nelson’s lands as a memorial to Nelson, and was financed by funds collected from local people.

St. John the Divine, Burne Jones window

It has a stained glass window designed by the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward  Burne Jones and was made at the William Morris works situated next to the Wandle River near Merton Place. The high altar is made from a piece of timber from HMS Victory.

Nelson Park. Image @Tony Grant

Next to the church is a small park with a granite monument that has an inscription recalling Nelson. This stone is flanked by two cannons which stood at the entrance to the doorway into Merton Place.

The cricket pitch at Mitcham. Image @Tony Grant

A mile and a half south of Merton Place at Mitcham, is Mitcham Cricket club, which still exists today. Some excellent pubs surround the cricket green at Mitcham and it is very relaxing to sit out in front of one of the pubs on a balmy summers day, drinking a pint of local Youngs beer, watching white flannelled cricketers hitting leather on willow.  It is one of the most famous and oldest local, amateur cricket clubs in England. Nelson watched cricket here.

Mordern Lodge. Image @Tony Grant

Going west from Mitcham Cricket club back towards Merton is Mordern Lodge. It is set back from the road and set within some beautiful grounds. It is a private residence surrounded by lawns, shrubs and trees and can be just glimpsed from the road. Here lived in the 19th century Abraham Goldsmid, an eminent Jewish banker of Anglo Dutch decent. He was a senior partner in one of the Capitals most powerful brokerage firms, Goldsmid. He had friends in high places – The Prince Regent, Sheridan, the playwright William Pitt, and the prime minister were friends, and Nelson himself was a personal, close friend. They lived virtually next to each other.

After Nelson’s death, Abraham and a group of fellow trustees gave Emma Hamilton £3,700 to save her from spiralling debt.

Eagle House. Imge @Tony Grant

A mile and a bit north of Merton Place are Wimbledon Village and Wimbledon Common. There is a very elegant and unusually designed house called Eagle House in the village, once owned by the Reverend Thomas Lancaster. Nelson visited when it was a school for young noblemen and gentlemen. After Nelson’s visit it was renamed “Nelson House School.”

Tile panel on The Nelson Arms. Image @Tony Grant

Wimbledon and South London do not look the same as in Nelson’s day but he would recognise some of it. Wimbledon Common and much of the village has not changed much since his day. He would certainly recognise some buildings, but Merton Place, the house and grounds he loved so much, no longer exist. He would think he was in some alien landscape.

Written by Jane Austen’s World contributor, Tony Grant, London Calling.


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