Category Archives: Wellington

Perambulations Through Late Georgian London or, All the Best Sights in One Week. Day Five

It’s a Friday in 1836  and, if you have been reading my previous four posts following Mr Whittock’s London tourist itinerary, you may be hoping the visitors are going to have a restful day today. I’m afraid not – they will have to wait until Sunday for that!

West end: walk to St. James’;

Mr Whittock recommended taking lodgings around Charing Cross, so the visitors would begin by walking around the southern edge of the Trafalgar Square building site and then down Pall Mall, passing through Waterloo Place, the southern end of Regent Street and continuing westwards.

The print, from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view looking back the way they had come. We are facing down the Strand with Northumberland House (demolished 1874) on the right. The site of Trafalgar Square is over our left shoulder and Whitehall runs off to the right. The statue is the only landmark we would recognise today – King Charles I looking down towards his place of execution. I blogged about it more extensively here.

see the Palace,

St James’s Palace, at the foot of St James’s Street, was not open to the public, but the Tudor red brick exterior with its guards was as interesting a sight then as it is, almost unchanged, now. It was no longer the residence of the monarch – that had moved to what is now Buckingham Palace – but it remained the main location for Drawing Rooms, the reception of Ambassadors and all the formal business of royalty. You can read more about it in two parts,  here and here.

The Palace in 1809

Club-houses,

The visitors would have already passed the Athenaeum in Waterloo Place, but a stroll up and down St James’s Street would allow them to see (from the outside only, of course!) Boodles (a favourite of country squires), White’s (the oldest and smartest), Crockford’s (famous for its gambling) and Brooks’s, one of Byron’s clubs, (seen in the print, 1808 – the room looks just the same today with the same tables)

In one corner of the Great Subscription Room a tense game is underway with a large pot of winnings in the centre

and British Gallery, if open;

That would involve walking back along Pall Mall a little to number 52, the home of the British Institution.  Otherwise known as Pall Mall Picture Galleries or the British Gallery, it was founded in 1805 and was considered elitist and conservative by many artists. It was disbanded in 1867. The print from Ackermann’s Repository (1805) shows artists copying the works on display. Interestingly, four of the seven artists are women.

walk through the Park,

This was Green Park and the visitor could access it by walking past the front of St James’s Palace.

see the New Palace, and York House;

They would see the imposing façade of York House, now renamed Lancaster House, on their left just before they entered the Park. (The modern visitor has to take a rather more circuitous route). The house is now managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is let out for filming, London Fashion Week, conferences and so on. It was commissioned in 1825 for ‘the grand old Duke of York’ – Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany – of the nursery rhyme. The website gives more of its history and some pictures of the lavish interior.

This is the view across Green Park, captioned “The Queen’s Palace from the Green Park.” It was printed in The Beauties of England and Wales published c. 1815. You can see the chimneys of the Palace on the right and some of Green Park’s famous dairy cows.

The New Palace is Buckingham Palace and would not have been open to the public. It was built as Buckingham House 1702-5 by the Duke of Buckingham and his wife, an illegitimate daughter of the deposed James II. The Buckinghams created the most opulent private house in London, apparently as a snub to the ‘usurping’ Hanoverians in their ramshackle Tudor palace across the park. George II bought it in 1762 for his wife and it became known as The Queen’s House, then, after her death, as The King’s House. His son, George IV, decided that his own palace at Carlton House was no longer adequate when he came to the throne and put in train elaborate and vastly expensive plans to enlarge and remodel the house in its stead. The final bill was £700,000, despite the Duke of Wellington, when Prime Minister in 1828, declaring, ‘If you expect me to put my hand to any additional expense, I’ll be damned if I will.’

It wasn’t finished when George IV died and his brother and successor, William IV never lived there. It was inherited by Queen Victoria in 1837 in a dreadful state – the drainage was abysmal, the windows would not open, the bells did not function…  Work continued throughout the 19th century with the final major change being the Portland stone façade on the east front in 1913.

 walk through the Green Park to Hyde Park;

This path would have been along the line of the present Constitution Road with the high walls of the Palace gardens on the left. The area in the angle formed by the junction of Piccadilly and the Palace wall was known as Constitution Hill, although there is no record of where it got that name.

see the Triumphal Arch,

This is the Wellington Arch designed by Decimus Burton. It was originally part of a scheme for improving the approach to Buckingham Palace but, just as the basic work was completed in 1828, funding cuts as a result of the vast Palace overspend left it without any of the intended decoration. In the 1830s committees were overseeing the erection of monuments to the two great military heroes, Nelson and Wellington. Nelson’s Column was achieved with little controversy but in 1838 an ill-judged decision was made to place a vast statue of the Duke on top of the arch. It was erected in 1846 to general mockery and disapproval for its disproportionate size, but the Duke threatened to resign all his posts if it was removed, seeing that as a personal slight. Eventually in 1883, when the arch itself was moved slightly to its present position in the centre of Hyde Park Corner, it was sent to Aldershot. The interior of the arch can be visited and you can see images of the original design and the arch with the statue in place on the English Heritage website.

and Statue of Achilles.

Mr Herriot’s tourists would have seen only the unadorned arch, but they would have been able to view the colossal statue of Achilles just inside the park gates behind Apsley House in all its glory. It was cast from captured French guns in 1822 to be given ‘by the women of England to Arthur Duke of Wellington and his brave companions in arms.’ Not only was it six metres high but it was completely nude – with everything in proportion. The outcry was such that a small fig leaf was added, causing further complaints that it was not large enough!

The Cruikshank print is entitled Monstrosities of London (1822) and it is the dandies and the ladies in their highly fashionable outfits that are being caricatured. The statue already has its fig leaf!

At Oxford Street Gate, ride to the Zoological Gardens, spend two hours,

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 and its collection of animals was opened in 1828 on the site at the north of Regent’s Park. There were 30,000 visitors in the first seven months. The contents of the Rooyal Menagerie from Windsor were added in 1830 and the animals from the Tower of London were moved there in 1832-4. Mr Herriott’s visitors would have been able to view monkeys, bears, llamas, zebras, kangaroos, emus, turtles, an Indian elephant, an alligator, huge snakes, Tommy the chimpanzee, four giraffes and visit the camel house (shown in the print of 1835).

 return by Portland Place to Oxford Street; visit the Bazaars,

There were shops in Oxford Street, but it was not until later in the century that the great department stores we associate it with now were developed. It would have had many smaller shops and bazaars which would have been cheaper than the establishments in, for example, Bond Street.

return home, dine, and in the evening, visit Braham’s New Theatre, recently erected in King Street, St. James Square.

The theatre, better known as the St James’s Theatre, was situated immediately opposite the junction with Bury Street. It was demolished in 1957 and replaced by a bland office block.

This theatre is the last erected, and is certainly the most beautiful minor theatre in the metropolis; it is opened under a licence from the lord chamberlain, granted to this favoured votary of Apollo, who has been the leading singer, not only of England, but of Europe, upwards of thirty years. The exterior is plain, but the interior is superb. The boxes are supported by cariatydes [sic], and the ornaments are of the most gorgeous description, in the style used in France during the reign of Louis XIV. The performances are operas, and farces; Braham frequently appears in both, and being seconded by an excellent company, it would be a matter of surprise if the theatre was not fashionably and numerously attended. The prices of admission are, to the boxes, five shillings; pit, three shillings; gallery, one shilling and sixpence: the half-price commences at nine o’clock.

One has to wonder whether Mr Whittock was getting paid for this detailed endorsement. The theatre was a vanity project of opera star John Braham which cost him £28,000 to build. The programme was, apparently, considered unexciting and the location too far west and it consistently lost money – even ‘going dark’ in 1841. It struggled on into the 20th century under numerous managements, maintaining a reputation as an unlucky theatre. The print is by Crace, 1835, and supports Mr Whittock’s enthusiasm about the interior.

If you would like to try more detailed perambulations yourself you will find Hyde Park Corner in Walk 1 and St James’s and Pall Mall in Walk 4 of Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks 1 & 2 of Walks Through Regency London.

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July in Vauxhall Gardens

It is July , so time for another of George Cruickshank’s delicious monthly ‘snapshots’ of London life from his London Almanac. This month we have a view of Vauxhall pleasure gardens with the orchestra playing and a female singer at the front of the box, music in hand.

Vauxhall 19
Vauxhall Gardens had been a London institution since at least 1661 when the first mention is in John Evelyn’s Diary for 2nd July of that year. They reached their peak of fashion in the 18th century as a haunt of both the fashionable and of anyone else who could afford the admission. Music, promenading, entertainments, dancing, dining on the famous wafer-thin shaved ham with champagne – and all kinds of naughtiness in the secluded groves – made up the Vauxhall experience, starting with the boat trip across the Thames to the candle-lit gardens.
The undated colour print shows the Gardens in their 18th century elegance and several of the features can be picked out in Cruickshank’s depiction of perhaps fifty or sixty years later. The orchestra stand has changed a little but it is just possible to see the tops of the arcades lining the sides of this part of the grounds.

Vauxhall 18
The company is rather more mixed in this view of the 1830s. In the centre, raising his top hat, is Mr C H Simpson. He became the Master of Ceremonies in 1797 and kept control for thirty eight years. He was a definite “character” and was always dressed in the black knee breeches, stockings and coat and frilled shirt as he is depicted here, carrying his elegant cane. He is greeting the Duke of Wellington, distinguished by his prominent hooked nose and with, predictably a young lady on each arm. A much less fashionably-dressed crowd looks on in wonder at these celebrities, with the prominent figure of, perhaps, a merchant with his wife in the centre. Other sightseers rush to view the scene while a waiter hurries along with a bottle and glasses – perhaps for the victor of Waterloo himself.

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The Road To & From Waterloo. Week 18. The End for Napoleon, London Parties, The Country Celebrates

The Allies advanced, carrying with them such booty as Napoleon’s beautifully-fitted carriage (shown in the moment of its capture in the print below), while in Paris the first wounded had begun to arrive the day Napoleon abdicated. Some of the Old Guard were spotted on the streets on the 25th and newspapers and posters appealed for linen and rags to make bandages.
Napoleons carriageBeyond the problems of the wounded, things were looking up. French government stocks rose with the news of Waterloo and kept rising – the abdication and the approach of the Allies pushed it even higher. Labretonnière noted that Paris was taking on an “aristocratic look” and the Tuileries Gardens was filled with “brilliant society”. The English visitor, Hobhouse, was asked why he looked gloomy and wrote that it was strange that the only person not looking happy in the crowd was a foreigner when “you consider that the Square Vendome, close by, is covered at one corner with wounded men, laying on straw.”
On the 25th Napoleon moved to Malmaison, the Empress Josephine’s old residence, fifteen miles west of Paris. As the Allies drove on hard for the capital he fled again on the 29th to Rochefort, a port on the Charente estuary in the South West, hoping at first to flee to America, but eventually surrendering to the British..
On Friday 30th June the Allies opened fire on the plain of St Denis, wakening the Parisians with cannon fire. The French Commission of Government dithered, fighting went on – and, finally, the capitulation was signed on July 3rd. It was all over.
In London that Sunday 25th June, one week after the battle, Londoners were not short of reading material. The Examiner printed “The London Gazette Extraordinary” recapping the events from the arrival of Major Percy onwards and also “Miscellaneous Information Respecting the Late Battles”, filled with a hodgepodge of news gleaned from letters, dispatches and downright speculation.
The whole of London Society seemed to be throwing itself into balls, routs and parties, despite the number of deaths and injuries among the officers aDuke of Brunswickt Waterloo, which must have touched almost every aristocratic and upper class family in the country. The Morning Chronicle’s Mirror of Fashion for Monday 25th June lists eleven forthcoming parties including the Marchioness of Douglas’s “elegant ball and supper”, Mrs Tighe’s “large rout” and Lady Saltown’s “large assembly”. The only mention of mourning I could find was that of the Princess Charlotte on behalf of her father’s cousin, the Duke of Brunswick.(Shown left)

As for the soldiers who finally made their way home – they were left to fend for themselves.
To end this story in a far less sophisticated town – Bury St Edmund’s – there is a rather charming report in the local Bury and Norwich Post recording that, “The glorious news of Lord Wellington’s Victory over Bonaparte was first received here on Thursday evening, amidst the most general joy; and which was most happily confirmed on the arrival of the mail at six the next morning; when by the vigilance of our most worthy postmaster the several newspapers were instantly delivered throughout the town and its vicinity.”

New coverI became intrigued by the tourists who flocked to the battlefield from the day after the battle. The story of this phenomenon is told in the words of six of them – the Poet Laureate, a lady travel writer, a schoolmaster, a journalist, a friend of Sir Walter Scott’s and an adventurous young man – in To the Field of Waterloo: the First Battlefield Tourists 1815-1816

 

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Waterloo Battlefield, the First Tourists & the Fate of Wellington’s Tree

How soon did sightseers arrive on the battlefield of Waterloo? Astonishingly, the answer is, first thing next morning. Some brave – or very foolhardy – gentlemen had ridden out from Brussels while the fighting was still in progress, which might be expected, but Cavalié Mercer, commander of G Troop Royal Horse Artillery, records the first ‘day trippers.’ In his Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, Kept Through the Campaign of 1815, he records how on the morning of the 19th, immediately after the battle, he was surveying the field, helping get water to the wounded and seeing his men were fed. They made a stew of a “quarter of veal, which they had found in a muddy ditch” and ate for the first time in three days, surrounded by mangled corpses and the wounded.

“We had not yet finished our meal, when a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field. As they passed near us, it was amusing to see the horror with which they eyed our frightful figures; they all, however, pulled off their hats and made us low bows. One, a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, in a high cocked-hat, came to our circle, and entered into conversation with me on the events of yesterday. He approached holding a delicately white perfumed handkerchief to his nose; stepping carefully to avoid the bodies (at which he cast fearful glances en passant), to avoid polluting the glossy silken hose that clothed his nether limbs…With a world of bows my man took leave, and proceeded, picking his steps with the same care as he followed the route of his companions in the direction of Hougoumont.”

Residents in Brussels were the first to reach the battlefield, but almost immediately after news of the victory reached London, civilians began to flock to the area. In To The Field of Waterloo I used the accounts of six visitors in the first year after the fighting to explore why they made the journey and what impressions they carried away with them (along with the souvenirs of battle, poignant, gruesome and glorious.)

Charlotte Anne Eaton, novelist and travel writer, was staying with her brother in Brussels before and during the battle and they visited on July 15th. She recorded her impressions in The Days of Battle or Quatre Bras and Waterloo by An Englishwoman. She had to have a very strong stomach to cope with what they found.

“…the road between Waterloo and Brussels was one long uninterrupted charnel-house: the smell the whole way through the forest, was extremely offensive, and in some places scarcely bearable. Deep stagnant pools of red putrid water, mingled with mortal remains, betrayed the spot where the bodies of men and horses had mingled together in death…” Like all the visitors whose accounts I read, her party eagerly scavenged on the battlefield for souvenirs. “In some places patches of corn nearly as high as myself was standing. Amongst them I discovered many a forgotten grave, strewed around with melancholy remnants of military attire. While I loitered behind the rest of the party, searching among the corn for some relics worthy of preservation, I beheld a human hand, almost reduced to a skeleton, outstretched above the ground, as if it had raised itself from the grave. My blood ran cold with horror, and for some moments I stood rooted to the spot, unable to take my eyes from this dreadful object, or to move away: as soon as I recovered myself, I hastened after my companions, who were far before me, and overtook them just as they entered the wood of Hougoumont.”

In Charlotte Eaton’s case her motive seems to be a desire to remember and celebrate the dead. At Hougoumont (below right), where the ashes from the great funeral pyres were still blowing around, she gathered up some of the “sacred ashes”, resolving to give them a reverent burial when she returned home. And, “As we passed through the wood of Hougoumont, I gathered some seeds of the wild broom, with the intention of planting them at H. Park [Hendersyde Park, Roxburghshire, her family home], and with the hope that I should one day see the broom of Hougoumont blooming on the banks of the Tweed.”

Others simply seemed to want to collect whatever they could find in their passion for souvenirs. The local people lost no time in setting up a battlefield tourism industry – and who can blame them, considering the chaos their lives and livelihoods had been thrown into? They scavenged the battlefield for everything from weapons to bits of uniform to the books and letters of the fallen and discovered that the tourists would buy almost anything. Or, help themselves. One significant victim was the ‘Wellington Tree’. John Scott, a journalist, described its significance in Paris Revisited, in 1815, By Way of Brussels: Including A Walk Over the Field of Battle At Waterloo. (Longman, Hurst etc. London. 1816).

“From St. Jean, the road immediately rises up the back of the ridge, on the height and in the front of which, the infantry of the Duke of Wellington’s army was formed in line. The cavalry, at the beginning of the battle, were posted on the St. Jean side of the eminence. The ascent is easy: you reach the top unexpectedly, and the whole field of battle is then at once before the eye. Its sudden burst has the effect of a shock, and few, I believe, are found to put any question for the first five minutes. The point from whence this complete view of the scene, so often pictured in imagination, first presents itself, is one of the most interesting that it includes. It is the summit of the ridge close to the road, over which hangs an old picturesque tree, with a few straggling branches projecting in grotesque shapes from its ragged trunk. The British position extended on the right and left of the road, for the extent of about a mile and three quarters, along the top of a continued line of gentle eminences, immediately confronted by very similar heights, distant from half to three quarters of a mile along which the French army was posted. … The tree, already mentioned, fixed on the bank above the high road from Brussels to Charleroi, denotes the center of, our position, and, the Duke of Wellington having been near it the greater part of the day, it goes by the name of the “Wellington tree.” I found it much shattered with balls, both grape and musket; all of which had been picked out by visitors. Its branches and trunk were terribly splintered. It still retained, however, the vitality of its growth, and will, probably, for many future years, be the first saluting sign to our children and our children’s children, who, with feelings of a sacred cast, come to gaze on this theatre of their ancestors’ deeds.”

But the tree was not to survive for long. The party with schoolmaster John Evans, author of An Excursion to Windsor in 1810…to which is annexed A Journal of a Trip to Paris in the Autumn of 1816, by Way of Ostend, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels and Waterloo. (Sherwood, Neely and Jones. London 1817) showed far less respect for the tree as a symbol than Scott did. “…we came in sight of WELLINGTON TREE, situated on a rising ground to the left of the road [seen from the south]. I took a Sketch of it, and some of my companions a bough or two. The bough immediately over the place where THE DUKE had stood, still bore the mark of a cannon-shot! This bough fell under the axe of an Irish officer in our party.” Charlotte Eaton, returning to the battlefield for a second time, records the end of the tree.  “*Footnote: It is on the left of the road in going towards Waterloo, behind the farmhouse of la Haye Sainte. But this tree, which ought to have been for ever sacred, has been CUT DOWN!!!”

Below is a picture of La Belle Alliance, drawn on June 25th.  It became a virtual tourist centre, stuffed with items to buy and with guides, both locals and military, to take visitors over the battlefield.

My other tourists were a young man on a spree with his friends, a lawyer and friend of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Southey, the Poet Laureate. They all had their own motives for visiting and each account recounts different emotions and reactions to what they found.  Perhaps the remarks that moved me most were those of John Scott, searching for – and finding – hope in the shattered, trampled, bloody ground where, somehow, flowers were managing to bloom.

 

 

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The Road to Waterloo: Week 17. The Battle is Fought, The Tourists Arrive, Napoleon Flees, The Regent Weeps

So much has been written – and is being written – about the battle of Waterloo itself that this post is not going to go into any details but will concentrate on what was known to be happening in London. (The detail below shows the fighting on the left wing of the battle.)
Waterloo left wing bottom strip
On the 18th Londoners were going about their normal Sunday business – attending church, followed, for the gentlemen, by reading the papers which had no up-to-date news from Flanders.

Readers could safely turn to lighter matters such as the report in t Marriages column: “Some days ago, at Gretna Green, Capt. Bontein, of the Life Guards, son of Sir G.B. to the daughter of Sir E. Stanley. The parties rode out from Lady Bontein’s to take an airing before dinner; they took post-chaise and four at Barnet, and proceeded to Gretna Green, wither they were unsuccessfully pursued by Lady Stanley. The only objection to the match, was, it is said, the age of the bride, who is under fourteen and has a handsome fortune. The parties have since been re-married in London.” Where, presumably, Captain Bontein was enjoying the company of his child bride and her handsome fortune while his comrades plunged into battle.

Elopementcattle on street
A glimpse into the state of the London streets, with vast herds of livestock being driven through them daily, is captured in the report that, “On Friday-forenoon, a large bullock that ran from a drove in Newgate-street, ran into the shop of Messrs. Baldwin & Co. booksellers, and the parlour door being open, he walked in, where there were three or four ladies sitting who were very much frightened…they were at length rescued… by a drover…all the furniture had to be piled in one corner to make room for the animal to turn around: he then walked out very deliberately.” The picture shows a detail from a print of Soho Square (Ackermann’s Repository 1812)
By Monday 19th there was still nothing in the newspapers, but rumours of three days’ fighting around Brussels were beginning to spread by word of mouth from the Channel couriers.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, the first tourists had arrived from Brussels, despite the desperate needs of the wounded in the city and on the battlefield, the state of the roads and the appalling scenes. In his Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, Kept through the Campaign of 1815, Cavalié Mercer, who commanded G Troop Royal Horse Artillery during the battle, records some of the very first tourists. On the morning of the 19th he recalls surveying the field, helping get water to the wounded and seeing his men were fed, surrounded by mangled corpses and the wounded. “We had not yet finished our meal, when a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field. As they passed near us, it was amusing to see the horror with which they eyed our frightful figures; they all, however, pulled off their hats and made us low bows. One, a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, in a high cocked-hat, came to our circle, and entered into conversation with me on the events of yesterday. He approached holding a delicately white perfumed handkerchief to his nose; stepping carefully to avoid the bodies (at which he cast fearful glances en passant), to avoid polluting the glossy silken hose that clothed his nether limbs…With a world of bows my man took leave, and proceeded, picking his steps with the same care as he followed the route of his companions in the direction of Hougoumont.”

Waterloo after battle0001
Finally some hard news reached the London papers on Tuesday 20th June, albeit four days out of date. Under the headline, “Commencement of Hostilities” the Morning Post reported, “Yesterday afternoon an Officer arrived with dispatches from the Duke of WELLINGTON, announcing the important fact of BONAPARTE having, soon after his arrival on the frontiers, put his army in motion, and attacked the Prussian outpost at Givet. This took place on the morning of the 16th, on the evening of which day a Prussian officer arrived in Brussels to communicate the intelligence to the Duke of WELLINGTON. His Grace lost not a moment in putting his whole army in motion…A general battle has in all probability ere taken place. In Heaven we trust that our confident hopes in regard to it will be speedily and completely realised.”
The Morning Post on the 21st reported rumours of a great battle and stated that, “an Officer was on the road to London with the official accounts, and in the meantime the report brought by MR SUTTON, the Packet Agent [ie in charge of the mail boats] was sufficiently circumstantial to prove its authenticity.” The article repeated the news about the 16th and stated that Wellington had brought Bonaparte into “a sanguinary contest” on the 17th. News of the death of General Picton was given, but all the details were unclear.
By now Napoleon had reached Paris and late that same evening Wellington’s exhausted aide Henry Percy arrived in London, having started out a few hours after the battle with the Duke’s dispatches and two captured eagles. He travelled day and night, with the eagles poking out of the chaise window, and reached Horse Guards between eleven and midnight. He found no-one in authority but eventually tracked Lord Liverpool down who insisted they go immediately to tell the Prince Regent who was dining with the Duke of York at Mrs. Boehm’s house (now no.14) in St. James’s Square.
Lord Liverpool, followed by footmen carrying the eagles, announced to the Prince Regent, “I have brought Major Percy, who comes with the news of a great victory for your Royal Highness.”
“Not Major Percy, but Lieut.-Colonel Percy,” said the Prince as Percy knelt and kissed his hand. ” We have not suffered much loss, I hope.”
“The loss has been very great indeed,” replied Percy and the Regent burst into tears. Major Percy was finally to escape and go to bed for the first time since the battle.
The second edition of the Morning Post on the morning of the 22nd carried “Official Bulletin of the Complete Overthrow of Bonaparte’s Army With a List of the British Officers Killed or Wounded.” The dispatch was brief and to the point, the list of casualties very long – and that was just the officers. Londoners would have been left in no doubt that a great victory had been won at enormous cost. The Morning Post wrote, “With hearts gratefully elate (sic) and all thanks due to Heaven for the event, we have this day the supreme happiness of announcing one of the most complete and comprehensive victories ever attained, even by British valour…While Bonaparte… coward at heart…narrowly effected his escape.”
As Londoners were reading the news, in Paris Napoleon was abdicating in favour of his son.

The first tourists were soon to be followed by a positive flood – the grieving, the curious, the poetic, the patriotic – and the souvenir hunting. You can meet a selection here.

New cover

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The Road to Waterloo: Week 16. The Young Men Frolic, Napoleon Invades, the Duchess Holds her Ball – the Conflict Begins

Richmond 2
On June 11th Napoleon marched an army of approximately 120,000 men to war against Wellington’s 93,000 and Blücher’s 115,000 men. Wellington was still poised to invade France and was uncertain whether the French would halt at the frontier or whether he would have to meet them once they had crossed it. His main anxiety was to protect the “hinge”, the weak point between his army and Blücher’s.
Nick Foulkes in his engrossing social history of the months leading up to the battle, Dancing Into Battle, notes a “holiday atmosphere” amongst the Allied officers and the upper classes living in and around Brussels. “They may have been assembled to fight the most daunting military commander of the age, but in many cases the regiments were filled with and run by boys still in their teens and on their first trip abroad. They were young, they had foppish uniforms and they were having the time of their lives.”
Horse racing was a particular favourite amongst the young officers. The Earl of Albermarle (sixteen at the time) recalled that, “Races on a grand scale came off at Gramont on 13th June…Everyone was determined to make the most of the holiday.” The crowds numbered thousands.
The impact of so many spirited young men on Brussels was, probably, predictable. Wine, women, parties, petty vandalism (no statue was safe) and pranks kept the officers busy when they weren’t with their troops, and the charismatic teenage ensign James, Lord Hay, ADC to General Maitland, was one of the leaders of the mischief. “Very poor I hear…[but] very good looking I know and particularly gentlemanlike,” sighed one smitten young lady. He took to jumping the boundary fences of the Parc, the smaller-scale Brussels equivalent of Hyde Park, and reveled in being chased by the park keepers and the local gens d’armes. It was only when complaints were made to Wellington that he stopped.
On the 15th the French crossed the Sombre at Charleroi which placed their forces in the gap between the cantonment areas of Wellington’s army, to the west, and Blücher’s army to the east. Napoleon had found the weak spot in the Allies’ defenses with his usual tactical brilliance – Wellington had concentrated his forces at Nivelles, twelve miles from the Prussians who were at Ligny.
The news of the French move to the frontier reached the London papers on the 15th and the country must have been bracing itself for the news of the coming clash. The Morning Post reported receiving “advices from Paris of the 11th inst. stating that BONAPARTE had left the city for the head-quarters of the Army of the North and that orders for laying an embargo on all shipping had been sent off to several ports in the channel. The communication between this country and France was therefore expected to be immediately cut off. All accounts agree in stating that hostilities would commence about this time, and the present day (the 15th) is mentioned by some as the particular day, on which a blow would be struck, every arrangement for that purpose being complete. There has been no arrival of French Papers since Monday.”
Thursday 15th was, of course, the date set for the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball, shown in an entertaining, but particularly inaccurate picture at the top of this post. The Duke, perhaps maintaining his pretense of insouciance, assured her it could go ahead, although by the evening rumours were already circulating around Brussels. Some officers were already leaving the city to go to their troops, others were coming in, unaware as yet of the increasing certainty that Napoleon was on the move. In the event the news hit the revelers at some time around 11pm. Lord Uxbridge announced, “You gentlemen who have engaged partners, had better finish your dance, and get to your quarters as soon as you can.” In full dress uniforms and evening slippers the young officers headed south.
By the 16th Wellington’s forces were still all attempting to concentrate around Quatre Bras to meet Marshal Ney’s troops – not all of them made it in time for the battle. Meanwhile Napoleon led the main French force against the inexperienced Prussian troops at Ligny. The Prussians suffered heavily, but thanks to Blücher’s generalship, and a chaotic French mix-up which sent 16,000 French troops marching from Quatre Bras to Ligny only to be immediately recalled, the Prussians were able to retreat in relatively good order.

Quatre Bras
On the 17th Wellington had held back Ney at Quatre Bras (above), but with the Prussian defeat at Ligny he now had the French army on his eastern flank. Fortunately the Prussians were retreating northwards to Wavre, not east back to their base, and the armies were able to stay in contact while Wellington fell back to the ridge at Mont St Jean. That evening the heavens opened in a thunderstorm of epic proportions. As Private Wheeler of the 51st Regiment wrote later, “The ground was too wet to lie down…the water ran in streams from the cuffs of our jackets.” The exhausted men of both sides faced spending the night soaking wet, cold and muddy with the prospect of battle the next day.
That day the London papers were confidently predicting that the first action in the conflict would be the Allies invading France. Meanwhile the social round in London continued unabated with the society pages full of routs and balls.

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The Road to Waterloo Week Nine – Mrs Wilmot Flops at Drury Lane, l’Orient Blows Up at Sadler’s Wells & Paris is Flooded By Arms

All the London newspapers began the week by printing long, stolidly indigestible, extracts from the Paris press along with editorial pieces sneering at Napoleon’s attempts at establishing a constitution and reports of arms and ammunition flooding into Paris for the army.
The Times reported that the Duke of Wellington was expected to make his headquarters at Brussels and that he commanded troops in a line from Ostend to Charleroi, but that opinion was very divided on the continent about whether war would – or should – break out. The Duke (shown in a portrait by Thomas Phillips) was reported to be in favour of it.

“Drury Lane Theatre – on Saturday night a most crowded and brilliant assembly were attracted to the representation of a new tragedy by Mrs. Wilmot, a Lady of Fashion, which had been got up with great splendour of decoration and in favour of which there was the most sanguine anticipation. It is a story of the Saxon era of our nation…There were abundant materials for dramatic interest and effect… The plot was pregnant with those high sentiments of honour and gallantry which distinguished our Saxon ancestors… The materials were, in short, ample for the production of a play of great interest but the Lady has rather produced a dramatic poem than a regular drama.” By the third act, despite Mr Kean in the leading role, the audience was getting restless and “the whole of the fifth act passed with the incessant impatience and condemnation.” The unfortunate Mrs Wilmot presumably retired discomforted and the piece was never heard again. The print below shows the fashionable crowd outside the boxes at Drury Lane – and the dashing young ladies hoping to attract one of the dandies on the strut there.

Drury Lane
Rather more successful productions were attracting audiences elsewhere. Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre was featuring a “new serio-comic equestrian pantomime called the Life, Death & Restoration of the High-Mettled Racer; or Harlequin on Horseback. In the course of 21 interesting scenes will be introduced a Real Horse Race and a Real Fox Chase.”
Sadler’s Wells, which had been showing a recreation of the Battle of the Nile “on real Water” had now, presumably reflecting the popular mood, added more ships and the “blowing up of l’Orient” along with an illuminated transparency of Nelson.
But in the real world things were becoming ever more real – on Saturday 29th Generals Ponsonby and Bing, along with their horses, embarked at Ramsgate on the “Duke of Wellington” for Ostend. Colonel Smith’s F Troop of Artillery had also arrived at Ramsgate and were expected to embark on the next tide.

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The Road to Waterloo Week Six – “The Belgians Undergo the Most Lively Sensations.”

By Monday April 3rd the book publishers had jumped on the Napoleonic bandwagon and advertisements began appearing in the newspapers –
“Letter to a noble lord on the present situation of France and Europe accompanied by official and original documents. John Murray Albemarle-street.”
“The CRISIS, addressed to the people of ENGLAND on the Emperor NAPOLEON’S returned to Power. By a barrister of the Middle Temple. James Ridgway Piccadilly (Price 2s)”
“The STATEMENT of BONAPARTE’S plot made to Earl BATHURST and the FRENCH AMBASSADOR in October and November last by WILLIAM PLAYFAIR Esq. is now ready, price 1s 6d. It contains also the Cypher in which Bonaparte corresponded, with the Key, his Proclamation in Cypher and Decyphered etc. At 41 Pall-mall.”

Fashion 1815
For those hoping to ignore the rumbling threat of war, an intriguing fashion advert describes garments that can be bought ready-made and then altered to fit the customer:
“Elegant, Nouvelle and Fashionable Millinery, Dresses, Pellisses, Mantles etc etc – Thomas and Co. agreeable to their usual plan, have (under the superintendence of Mrs. Thomas) completed the greatest choice of articles in the above branches, uniting in a pleasing style, the French with the English taste, and which are composed of prime and nouvelle materials. The above are particularly adapted for evening or full dress, the dinner party or the promenade and from being made in all sizes enables them to execute any commissions with all possible speed and thereby doing away (in a very material degree) the necessity of giving orders. 193 Fleet- street, west end corner of Chancery-lane.” The charming little image above is from a lady’s memorandum book for 1815.

The foreign papers, reported on Monday, told that the Belgians were undergoing “the most lively sensations” – as well they might. British ships had been permitted to enter Dieppe peaceably and that appeared to be the official port for communications, Meanwhile, in Paris, Napoleon seemed largely concerned with returning affairs as quickly as possible to the position before he left, including changing back the names of Paris streets.

“The Duc d’Orleans and his daughter, with their suite, arrived from Amsterdam and put up at Greillon’s (sic) Hotel, Albemarle Street.” It was not clear whether they intended staying for the duration of the emergency, or whether this was just a visit.

“Madame Catalini’s delightful retreat, The Hermitage, at Old Brompton is to be disposed of. In the event of her return from France, her engagements are so numerous and particularly during the summer months, when the Hermitage may really be compared to a paradise, that she has no means of enjoying thcatalanie advantages that its easy access to town will afford some more fortunate purchaser. The interior embellishments and furniture are spoken of in high terms of admiration. Mssrs. Robins are empowered to dispose of it, and report says, at a sacrifice to the fair warbler of many thousand pounds.” Madame Catalini (shown left) was a singer of huge international fame who would appear in Brussels to great acclaim as the crisis developed.

Wellington arrived in Brussels on Tuesday to take command of an Allied army that would total between 800,000-1,200,000 men when mustered and on Saturday 8th April Bonaparte ordered the general mobilisation of France. The situation was escalating.
The Marriages column of the Morning Post on Monday recorded one of the marriages of military men now gathering in Belgium.
“A few days since, by special licence, at Bruxelles Lieut. Colonel George H. Berkeley to Miss Sutton eldest daughter of Lady Sutton of Mosely House in the county of Surrey. His Grace the Duke of Richmond gave away the bride.”

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The Road to Waterloo Week Five – The Allied Troops Gather While Mrs Bell Corsets the Corpulent

Bells Weekly

On Easter Sunday, the 26th, Bell’s Weekly Messenger stated that no-one had arrived in England from France since the 20th March and that most of the information about Napoleon’s invasion that had been reported so far had been inaccurate. Almost half the newspaper (an 8-page journal) was devoted to news of Bonaparte, and had the facts up to his arrival in Paris more or less correct.
The journal reported that dispatches had been sent on the 23rd from the Admiralty to all the ports in England and speculated that this was giving orders for a general impress of seamen, while every regiment of the line was under orders to prepare for active service and were expected to be marching to the coast to be embarked for Belgium.
Meanwhile, amongst the entertainment offered to Londoners this week, were two of a martial nature looking back to past Allied victories against the French.
At Sadler’s Wells: “Easter Monday, a new Scotch Dance composed by Mr Ellar, called a LOWP AN’ AWA’ – A new Pantomime (by Mr C. Dibden, music by Mr. Reeve) called The MERMAID; or Harlequin Pearl Diver – Clown, Mr. Grimaldi. A new Musical Piece, written by Mr C. Dibden, called LAW’S TWO TAILS; or Entail and Red Tail. Signor Francesco Zanini, from Paris, will make his first appearance in England as an Equilibriste Philharmonique. To conclude with a Naumachia on Real Water, representing the Battle of the Nile.”
At the Panorama, Leicester Square: “Just opened, a VIEW of the LAST BATTLE fought by the ALLIES, near the Butte St. Chaumont, previous to their entering Paris; with a view of the City, and Montmartre in the distance. The splendid BATTLE OF VITTORIA will continue for a few weeks. Admittance to each painting, One shilling. – Open Ten till Dusk.”
Mrs Bell, aMrs Bell adt her shop, the Magazine des Modes, 26, Charlotte Street, was advertising her Bandage Corset for pregnant ladies and those “inclined to Corpulancy”, while, for the more slender ladies, The Circassian Corset, made “without superfluities of Steel, Whalebone or Hard Substances, are declared by Physicians to be the only Corset that should be worn, as they give Ease, Gracefulness, and Dignity to the Shape, which no other Corset is capable of.”
Monday was the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet, preceded by the grand procession from Mansion House to Christ Church, Newgate Street to hear a sermon preached by the Bishop of Oxford. The toasts at the banquet included, “Church and King”” (considerable applause), “The Prince Regent” (“the approbation expressed by the company did not appear to be so strong as on former occasions”) and “The Duke of York and the Army” and “The Duke of Clarence and the Navy” (to great applause.) the dancing commenced at 10 o’clock and continued until “a late hour”. The image below (from Ackermann’s Repository 1810) shows the portico of Mansion House on the right and Cornhill stretching away in the middle of the scene. The Bank of England is out of sight on the left and the royal Exchange is behind the buildings in the centre.

 

 

Mansion House
In Friday’s paper, an enterprising furniture salesman managed to get the following inserted as editorial: “The rage for French furniture and elegancies has been very prevalent amongst the Nobility and higher classes of this country, who have made large purchases at Paris, which, from recent events, it is probable they will never receive, this will of course enhance the value of what is to be sold next week at Mr. Squibb’s.”
On Wednesday the 19th, Wellington left Vienna to take up command of the combined armies. On Saturday, April 1st, it was reported from the Brussels papers that “the march of troops through this town is incessant” and that 50 ships had already arrived in Ostend, full of British troops. Londoners could be left in no doubt that the situation was now serious.

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The Road to Waterloo Week Four – Napoleon Arrives In Paris & the London Exchanges Shiver

No doubt Londoners sitting down on Sunday morning, 19th March, read with relief the excellent  – and completely inaccurate – news from the continent. As Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s headlines said, quoting the Paris papers of the 15th – “Gratifying Change In The State Of Affairs –Bonaparte Still At Lyons – Marching of troops On Duchess_of_Courland_kauffmanAll Sides Against Him – Vigour of the Bourbons.”
In fact King Louis, whose reactions so far had been so far from vigorous as to be positively flabby, had fled Paris by night, heading for Brussels. The Duchess of Courland (shown left as a young woman in a portrait by Angelica Kauffman) set out at the same time to take the news to the Congress at Vienna. Meanwhile Napoleon continued to advance on Paris, despite further British headlines – “Reported Defeat of Bonaparte – Defection Of His Troops – His Probable Destruction.”
Meanwhile the London newspaper reader could pass on with relief to such good news as the signing of the peace treaty with the Americans and the assurances that Syphilis could be completely cured by doses of Velos’s Vegetable Syrup which “acts salutarily on the whole system, throws off all its impurities, and also removed the various forms of diseased Liver, Scrofula and Scurvy, that are so frequently left to medicines which aggravate their ravages.”
Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s “Died” column reported a curious selection of deaths in scrupulously alphabetical order, including:
O’Halloran, Sir Caesar Felix O’Neill, “the notorious swindler in Giltspur-street Counter.” [debtors’ prison]
Ripon, Mr Thomas of Nottingham, aged 75. “He was no more than 54 inches high. On a prodigious large head he wore an enormous cocked hat, and acquired a handsome income by former habits of mendicity (sic). ”
Saxe Cobourg, the Prince of, aged 77. “He commanded the Austrian Armies in the campaigns of 1793 and 1794.”
On Monday 20th Napoleon arrived at Fontainbleu and left again at 2 pm for Paris. He was met on the way by the 1st, 4th and 6th Chasseurs à Cheval anLargeNapoleonasGuardColonelbyLefevred the 6th Lancers who had been sent to intercept him. Instead of arresting him they presented arms and joined his forces.
Bonaparte entered Paris at 10.30 pm without a shot being fired and was carried shoulder-high into the Tuileries, eyes closed, a smile on his face.
Perhaps the relieved Londoners who had read that he was in the process of fleeing through France at that very moment flocked to the Adelphi Exhibition in Adam Street, off the Strand to see Robert Lefèvre’s portrait of Napoleon in the uniform of Colonel of the Guard of Chasseurs.
A stir was caused on Tuesday 21st by the escape of the quite impossibly colourful Admiral Cochrane from the King’s Bench prison. He strolled into the Palace of Westminster to take his seat in Parliament, from whence he was returned to custody. On the same day anyone still worried about Napoleon would have been reassured by the arrival of the Hyperion frigate in Plymouth, loaded with troops and en route for Holland.
Then on Thursday the devastating news arrived that Napoleon had entered Paris and the King had fled. The 24th was Good Friday, and in his diary Mr Oakes in Bury Saint Edmunds recorded, “This morning the London papers this morning announced the arrival of Bonaparte at Paris on Monday last, 20th Inst, without opposition. Not a gun fired.” The Duchess of Courland reached Vienna the same day to report the King’s flight to the Allies.
By Saturday the Congress had acted, ratifying the Treaty of Alliance against Napoleon in which each of the great powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia) agreed to pledge 150,000 men for the fight. The Duke of Wellington was made commander-in-chief.Bank
In London the crisis was having its predictable consequences on the Exchange. Bell’s Weekly Messenger reported “… a close holiday at the Bank, but in the private bargains the Three per cent. Consols, the leading Stock, have suffered a decline of one per cent, reckoning from the closing price on Thursday, and one quarter from the closing price yesterday. The causes of the depression are too obvious to require specification.” The view above is of the Bank of England in 1809 (from Ackermann’s Repository). It is a view from the north, standing in Lothbury and looking down Princes Street on the right towards Mansion House.

The City around the Bank is still a fascinating place to walk – and Walk 8 from Walking Jane Austen’s London will take you from Temple Bar to the chop houses and coffee houses frequented by the Hellfire Club and Benjamin Franklin. (Not necessarily at the same time!)

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