Horse Guards’ Parade lies between St James’ Park and Whitehall and has many historical connections – it was Henry VIII’s tiltyard for the Palace of Whitehall, it was the only open place in London big enough for the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington to form up in, it is the location for today’s Trooping the Colour ceremony – and it was even the location for the beach volleyball in the 2012 Olympics.
It is also the home of possibly the most eccentric piece of ordnance in the British Isles – the Prince Regent’s Bomb. It is a mortar, a squat black cannon captured from the French during the battle of Salamanca in 1812. The battle resulted in the lifting of the siege of Cadiz and the mortar was presented to the Prince Regent “as a token of respect and gratitude by the Spanish nation.”
The plain and simple mortar was sent to Woolwich Arsenal and there a support and plinth was made for it in the shape of a dragon. It is a truly stupendous and bizarre construction and was unveiled, with great ceremony, on the 12th August 1816, the Prince’s birthday. Immediately it attracted ridicule, for not only was the design completely over the top, as only something designed to appeal to the Prince of Wales’s taste could be, but “Bomb” sounded irresistibly like “Bum” and the Regent’s substantial backside was already the subject of many coarse caricatures.
Perhaps the cruelest is a companion to the verses below. I have not been able to locate a copyright-free image, but you can find it here in the British Museum’s collection http://tinyurl.com/p6fxayy
The verses come from a broadsheet published by William Hone in 1816. I have filled in names that have been left blank in square brackets [ ]. The three ‘secret hags’ are the Regent’s three mistresses. ‘Old Bags’ was the Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon (More about him in my post of April 21 2014: The Eloping Lord Chancellor). Vansittart was Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tory Wellesley was Wellesley-Pole, elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, Castlereagh was Foreign Secretary and leader of the House of Commons and George Rose was Treasurer of the Navy. (My thanks to fellow historical novelist Melinda Hammond for help filling in the blanks (http://www.melinda-hammond.co.uk)
ON THE REGENT’S BOMB
Being uncovered, in St. James’s Park, on Monday, the 12th of August, 1816, His Royal Highness’s Birth-Day.
Oh! all ye Muses, hither come—
And celebrate the Regent’s bomb!
Illustrious Bomb! Immortal capture!
Thou fill’st my every sense with rapture!
Oh, such a Bomb! so full of fire—
Apollo—hither bring thy lyre—
And all ye powers of music come,
And aid me sing this mighty Bomb!
And first, with reverence this I note—
This Bomb was once a Sans culotte—
And next, by changes immaterial,
Became, at length, a Bomb Imperial!
And first exploded—pardon ladies!—
With loud report, at siege of Cadiz—
At which this Bomb—so huge and hearty,
Belonged to little Buonaparté;
But now, by strange metamorphosis,
(A kind of Bomb metempsychosis)
Has—though it odd may seem—become
Our gracious R[egen]t’s royal Bomb;
Who, after due consideration,
Resolved, to gratify the Nation—
Nor let his natal day pass over
Without some feat—to then uncover,
And there display—to strike us dumb—
His vast—unfathomable Bomb!
Oh, what a Bomb! Oh, Heaven defend us!
The thought of Bombs is quite tremendous!
What crowds will come from every shore
To gaze on its amazing bore!
What swarms of Statesmen, warm and loyal,
To worship Bomb so truly royal!
And first approach three ‘secret hags,’
Then him the R[egen]t calls ‘Old Bags;’
Methinks I see V[ansittar]t come,
And humbly kiss the royal Bomb!
While T[or]y W[ellesle]y, (loyal soul)
Will take its measure with a Pole;
And C[astlereag]h will low beseech
To kiss a corner of the breech;
And next will come of G[eorg]y R[os]e,
And in the touch-hole shove his nose!
For roundness, smoothness, breech, and bore,
Such Bomb was never seen before!
Then, Britain! be not this forgotten,
That, when we all are dead and rotten,
And every other trace is gone
Of all thy matchless glory won,
This mighty Bomb shall grace thy fame
And boast thy glorious Regent’s name!
In every age such pilgrims may go
As far t’outrival fam’d St. Jago!
And, centuries hence, the folks shall come,
And contemplate–the Regent’s Bomb!
August 12, 1816.
“Bombastes” might have been surprised to discover that two hundred years later folks still come “and contemplate the Regent’s Bomb!” You’ll find the Prince’s Bomb on Walk 6 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London.