‘Uncle Arthur Wellesley? He’s not all that!’ – Wicked William goes to War

 

 wickedwilliamyoung         wellington

‘Wicked’ William and the Duke of Wellington were remarkably alike in appearance

 

Little has been written about ‘Wicked’ William Long-Wellesley beyond his role in the destruction of Wanstead House. My research (and this blog) will show that William’s long and turbulent life encompassed far more than the mere dozen years it took him to plunder Wanstead’s treasures and lay waste to its estates.

Today we go back to 1808; the place is Portugal and it is mid-summer. General Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) has just landed at Mondego Bay leading a British expeditionary force numbering 14000 men – this being the very start of his 6-year fight to liberate the Iberian Peninsula from Napoleon’s occupying forces. Amongst Arthur’s considerable retinue we find one William Pole, a 20-year-old aide-de-camp on his first tour of duty. Considering Arthur’s already legendary reputation for precision, this seems an odd appointment. Yet closer scrutiny shows that even the greatest military strategists are often bound by family obligation – thus lumbered with errant relatives, in the hope some good may come of the exercise.

 mondego bay

 He’s out there somewhere – ‘Wicked’ William lands in Portugal, 1808

 

William Pole was one such stray – foisted upon Arthur by older brother William Wellesley-Pole. It was a kind of trade-off in favours because Wellesley-Pole was Arthur’s most reliable and trusted confidante, protecting his interests at home – therefore Arthur could hardly refuse taking this wild but spirited boy under his wing. So it came to pass that ‘Wicked’ William and Arthur Wellesley went off to war together, offering a possibly unique opportunity to see our greatest General on the battle front, through the eyes of his own family.

 

rolica

At Roliça & Vimeiro William’s role involved delivering messages between regiments

 

Without delving too deeply into events in the field, it was a very exciting beginning for William. He first saw action at the Battle of Roliça on 17th August, where Arthur’s men defeated an outnumbered French army under General Delaborde. The next day William wrote to his mother

 I seize this, the earliest opportunity; to send you such most pleasing intelligence. I have escaped unhurt; the action was most severe and cost many brave lives… We found ourselves led into a labyrinth of narrow passes and impassable mountains. Sir Arthur, cool and collected, ordered the artillery to advance; and shots for shots were frequently exchanged between us and the enemy… The volley of the shots became less frequent; our foes were cleared for the heights… at length abated and left us master of the field of battle.

Four days later the French returned in greater numbers hoping for the element of surprise– But they were again defeated at the Battle of Vimeiro – putting an end to the French invasion of Portugal.

cintra

Arthur Wellesley was lambasted for his role in the Convention of Cintra

Yet this result would have been much more decisive but for the fact that two more senior British Generals arrived on the scene in the heat of battle, relieving Arthur Wellesley of his command. They prevented Arthur’s pursuit of the vanquished French armies and subsequently agreed an overly generous truce. The Convention of Cintra signed on August 30th allowed the entire French army free passage out of Portugal, and more importantly fit to fight another day. To add insult to injury the Royal Navy laid on ships to carry other French troops and munitions back home. This news was received with outrage in England, and Arthur blamed despite the fact he had not been a party to the agreement other than to sign it when ordered to do so by his superiors. Being demoted when in the throes of routing the opposition must have been a shattering blow for Arthur. He wrote to Wellesley-Pole on 26th August regarding his senior officers:

These people are really more stupid and incapable than any I have met with; & if things go on in this disgraceful manner I must quit them.

Naturally in the depths of such despair, Arthur was not to be trifled with. Into the firing line came William, whose bravery in the field had been reported in despatches, and whom Arthur had just a few days earlier remarked upon favourably. But with Arthur’s patience exhausted and his heckles up William was to become the fall-guy. This letter from the Raglan MS (dated Sept 6th) holds nothing back – as Arthur tells Wellesley-Pole exactly what he thinks of young William.

He is the most extraordinary person altogether I have ever seen. There is a mixture of steadiness and extreme levity, of sense & folly in his composition such as I have never met with… the nature of our relative situations, & the constant crowd with which I am surrounded prevents all intercourse between us… He is lamentably ignorant and idle… he talks incessantly and I hear of his topics from the others which sometimes do not appear to have been judiciously chosen… I have an opportunity of talking to him seriously of his situation; for he is gone off without Leave, which I must notice… In short I don’t know what to say about him. To educate him would be a desideratum… he will never be on a upon a par with the rest of society till he shall have educated himself

Historians regularly cite the above as a testament to Arthur’s black mood during this period. It is certainly true that Arthur’s anger made him excessively harsh towards his nephew. But given what we know about William’s subsequent behaviour at Wanstead – it is hard to disagree with this assessment.

maryborough

Wellesley-Pole received the news that William was ignorant without comment

What Wellesley-Pole must have made of Arthur’s character assassination of William we shall never know because the subject is not mentioned in subsequent correspondence. But, thanks to surviving archives, we do have the benefit of a right of reply from ‘Wicked’ William himself. We learn that William also wrote a letter home (on 27th August) in which he castigates uncle Arthur’s behaviour. The original has not survived – all we have is the reply from older sister Mary Bagot, which reveals that William actually expected more favourable treatment. To him being a relative transcended rules of rank and order within the army hierarchy. William’s vanity meant he could not grasp how such demands threatened to undermine Arthur’s authority.

My Dearest William – depend upon it, if it gets wind that you have differences with Arthur, you are ruined and undone… You must I seriously think have been drunk when you wrote to me. But I will answer every part of your complaints simply__

In the first place, you say Arthur “treats you distantly and never speaks to you”. I know, and have always heard, that when upon Service, he is notoriously distant with all his officers. Besides this, would a man of common sense be particularly free with his own nephew to disquiet every other person, make you hated, & an object of jealousy, & himself abused for favouring his nephew.

 You next say “he never employs you” – The general opinion here is that you were the person most employed & sent about with most messages in the actions. You say “you gain no credit” – To this I answer: The Times, The Oracle, & Courier have all had various eulogisms in them of you, for your activity and gallant behaviour… Everyone speaks the same language & all write in asking me, & hoping you intend following up the profession, as it is one you appear to shine in. So this is gaining no credit!

My dear William, you must recollect you are just 20. For many of those you are with, not only have a right to take the piss out of you & not only from superiority of years, but from rank, length of service & a thousand other things & can you expect to be employed & a preference given to you above them all. I cannot conceive how the idea of being employed conspicuously ever came into your head… Many work hard for years without gaining the credit you have gained in one month.

My love, your complaints are ungrateful to providence, & to Arthur… Give yourself common pains to gain an insight into the art of the profession you are now in. You began your career with one whose name & character stands unrivalled, & on with whom if you quarrel God help you is all I can say.

Above all this letter shows that William was by now a fully-fledged attention seeker. The mere fortnight that the British army rested following Vimeiro was clearly too dull– for William craved constant excitement and attention. He was obviously unprepared for the many months of inactivity and hardship facing most soldiers over the course of a campaign.

However, it must be said that William has identified traits in Arthur’s character which became the subject of debate and conjecture throughout his military career. This is perhaps best summed up by Arthur’s famous description of his troops as ‘scum of the earth’, which many observers then and since have considered insulting and unfeeling towards the many men who loyally served him & whose bravery was beyond reproach. As historian Christopher Duffy succinctly puts it

Wellington I think had this fundamental coldness in his heart. He would weep when he met casualties, but basically he was a cold-hearted bastard.

To sum up then, we can see that William’s immaturity was the root cause of his spat with Arthur. For all this though – he was unlucky to incur Arthur’s wrath at the very time when Arthur was considering his own future in the army. Had Arthur not been beset with such heavy troubles, this matter may have been resolved.

But such is the story of ‘Wicked’ William that another golden opportunity came to be wasted. Thus by the time Mary’s sensible advice reached William it was too late – he was already dismissed and heading home. To cap it all off  – ‘Wicked’ William’s chance to be mentored by Britain’s greatest general was taken by another rookie aide-de-camp named Fitzroy Somerset (later Lord Raglan) who not only went on to become Wellington’s closest military aide, but also to marry ‘Wicked’ William’s sister Emily.

emily        raglan

William’s Loss? Emily Wellesley-Pole & Wellington’s ‘chosen one’ –  Fitzroy Somerset

 

For more information on the Peninsular War (1808-1814), I would recommend http://peninsularwar200.org/

Rory Muir has recently written a very good biography of Wellington, which I would recommend not least because my own work is footnoted therein

For all things Wellington, and to partake in a tour why not visit Number One London

Finally, if you have enjoyed reading about ‘Wicked’ William acting the fool – please check out this earlier post entitled ‘Wicked’ William’s Hunt

 

 

 

Tally Ho! – A Brief History of The Epping Hunt Part 5 – A Fond Farewell

Tally Ho! A Brief History of the Epping Hunt

Introduction | Origins | The Cockney Hunt | Wicked William’s Hunt | A Fond Farewell

A Fond Farewell – (Courtesy of Thomas Hood)

 eppinghunt-4

Epping, for butter justly famed, And Pork in sausage popp’d;

Where winter time, or summer time, A Pig’s flesh is always chopp’d

 But famous more, as annals tell, Because of Easter Chase,

There ev’ry year ‘twixt dog and deer, There is a gallant race

Extract from ‘The Epping Hunt’ (1829)

 

As we have seen the Epping Hunt had long-since lost its reputation by the turn of the nineteenth century. By that time it was a regular victim of satire, described as a farce, worthy of scorn and derision. Whilst a lot of what was written about the Easter Monday Common Hunt was true, it should be noted that a sizeable element of snobbery motivated these attacks. It became de rigeur to pigeon-hole hard-working Londoners enjoying a day out as uncouth ‘cockney clowns’ unaware of their own ineptness and stupidity. This could be linked with a wider censorship of popular sports such as football and boxing, which were prevented from developing alongside acceptable aristocratic pastimes like horseracing and cricket. Organisations such as the Society for the Suppression of Vice openly advocated banning of working-class sports on Sundays, which was the only day available to most working-class people. Hence mass-participation events naturally suffered on the altar of religious zeal. Because of this the rules of football were not formally written down until the 1860s – a half century after cricket and horseracing.

returning from the epping hunt 1822

Returning from the Epping Hunt (1822) – Yet more ‘cockney’ stereotyping

 

The so-called ‘march of morality’ began to kick in as the 1820s progressed , with even the middle and lower orders beginning to shift away from the frolicsome bawdiness of public sports, such as described in Pierce Egan’s popular classic Life In London (1820). In this thrust for greater decorum and respectability, Epping Hunt’s occasional reappearance was increasingly considered an embarrassing throwback. It lingered on sporadically until 1853 after which the landlord of the Roebuck – said to have become so ashamed of the company turning up at his establishment – put an end to the Epping Hunt forever.

Why then, does the Epping Hunt merit a fond farewell? And how has it passed into Essex folklore cleansed of the ill-will and disgust that followed it to the grave? Quite simply, I believe it has recovered in reputation thanks to the brilliance of poet Thomas Hood (1799-1845).

thomas hood

The Epping Hunt’s Facesaver? – Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

In his poem The Epping Hunt published in 1829 (and reproduced in full here) Hood makes no attempt to deny the charges brought against the Hunt. Like generations of critics before him, Hood lays bare the ridiculousness of town-dwellers coming into the countryside in pursuit of the stag. But Hood has changed the emphasis from hostility to whimsy, and his descriptions are not only gentle but also affectionate. With the help of 6 sketches from Thomas Rowlandson, The Epping Hunt was a national sensation, cementing Hood’s reputation as a comic poet, and repositioning the Epping Hunt as a tradition to be cherished. Hood’s style of writing represented a movement away from the savageness of Georgian satirical caricature, whereupon kinder representations of life such as nostalgia began to enter the nation’s conscience. So, thanks to Hood, the Epping Hunt achieved a decent eulogy for future generations.

eppinghunt-2

Hood’s comic verse is perfectly represented here by Rowlandson, as we see the hapless John Huggins being hunted by the deer

 

But how did Thomas Hood come to write about Epping Forest? We can only surmise that he was a visitor in the late 1820s following his marriage to Jane Reynolds. The newlyweds lived in Islington between 1826 and 1832, so it would not have been difficult for Hood to have made the annual pilgrimage to Buckhurst Hill to see what the fuss was about. In fact the 1826 Hunt was quite widely reported – though not in a positive way. The Everyday Book recorded that the event failed to start until 2-30pm because the stag was sent on a tour of all the local pubs, where it was shown to 3000 or so hunt-followers at 3 pence a view, presumably so they could get first-hand knowledge of what a stag looked like. It didn’t do much good for the stag was lost almost immediately after being set loose. The report summed up by saying if you are looking for a hunt…

For want of a better, this must do

Perhaps Thomas Hood’s love for Wanstead began with his poem about the Epping Hunt. For in 1832 Hood took up residence at Lake House in Wanstead Park – where he lived for three years. Hood rented the property from none other than ‘Wicked’ William Long-Wellesley – and despite regularly defaulting on his rent managed to enjoy cordial relations with his notorious landlord. Hood’s only novel Tylney Hall (1834) is a thinly veiled homage to Wanstead House and Park. But attempting to cash in on Wicked William’s story was an unwise move because it raised expectations that Tylney Hall would reveal the truth about Wanstead House, and satisfy public curiosity as to why it was demolished. – This lead to criticism and affected sales, forcing Hood to add a note in the preface explaining that ‘Tylney Hall’  alluded to the topography of Wanstead Park, but not its disreputable owner.

Incidentally Tylney Hall is a very important early Victorian novel, well worth reading not least for its descriptions of Wanstead Park. Rather surprisingly several characters in the book are West Indian, their presence revealing that this part of London was already multicultural in the 1830s. I will cover this in a separate blog.

lakehouse wanstead hood

Thomas Hood lived at Lake House in Wanstead Park (1832-35)

 

As we draw a close to this brief history of the Epping Hunt, it is important to remember the role played by the ‘Common Hunt’ in the lives of Londoners and the people of Essex for over 600 years. Though it lingered on for far too long as a spectacle, Epping’s Hunt must be remembered as one of the earliest and enduring events available to the people on perhaps their most important public holiday. Therefore the festive spirit generated by celebrating the Epping Hunt can be seen to have moved on to other leisure activities, such as cycling and day-trips to Epping Forest, which became increasingly popular as the Victorian age of steam took hold.

deerhunt-1899

As this 1899 print shows, deer hunting in Epping Forest carried on regardless – for the privileged few.
Tally Ho!

I recommend the Gerald Massey website for an excellent biography of Thomas Hood.

For information about the history of Wanstead Park there is a very good ongoing series of articles written by Richard Arnopp available via Wanstead Village Directory

Thank you for joining me on this brief excursion into Epping Forest’s past. You can find out a lot more about this ancient forest by visiting the following sites:

The City of London’s informative guide to what’s on in Epping Forest : cityoflondon.gov.uk/epping

Essex Record Office is a tremendous resource for researching all aspects of Essex history: essex.gov.uk/ero

The Friends of Wanstead Park – wansteadpark.org.uk

Finally, the best place for Wanstead related news is Wansteadium

 

Tally Ho! – A Brief History of The Epping Hunt Part 4 – Wicked William’s Hunt

Tally Ho! A Brief History of the Epping Hunt

Introduction | Origins | The Cockney Hunt | Wicked William’s Hunt | A Fond Farewell

Chav-Man Cometh – Wicked William’s Hunt, 1813

wansteadcolour

Wanstead House – Catherine Tylney-Long’s pièce de résistance

Wanstead House first came under ‘Wicked’ William Long-Wellesley’s control upon his marriage to Catherine Tylney-Long in March 1812. Miss Tylney-Long, of Draycot House in Wiltshire, was universally recognised as richest heiress in the realm. Wanstead House – a magnificent Palladian Mansion on the edge of Epping Forest, just 10 miles from London – was the crown jewel of her vast landed estate. Catherine’s intention to reside at Wanstead was clear from the outset, for she served notice on her French Royal tenants within weeks of coming of age. Thereafter Catherine presided over a programme of refurbishment to revitalise the mansion, and she used it extensively throughout 1811 – hosting a series of showpiece events attended by a myriad of suitors eager to win her hand, (and more importantly her purse).

wickedwilliam

1st prize went to ‘Wicked’ William Wellesley-Pole (1788-1857) Booo!!!

After a chase worthy of the Epping Hunt, William emerged victorious from the pack when Catherine accepted his proposal in the autumn of 1811. Shortly before their marriage William added his wife’s name to his own and some – to form the ludicrously quadruple-barrelled new surname ‘Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley’. Not surprisingly this was soon abbreviated to Long-Wellesley by his friends, but rather pointedly to ‘Long’ by his Wanstead neighbours who rightly emphasised the surname he ought to have adopted when marrying into Catherine’s estate. An extract this contemporary ditty shows that William’s accession to Wanstead House was less than enthusiastically received.

LONG a tyrant, his neighbours presumed to annoy,

Their vexation and grief were his comfort and joy,

His greatest delight was to do others wrong

Till the people at length cried, “We won’t stand this LONG!”

 

From the outset the newlyweds craved acceptance from London’s fashionable elite. William believed Wanstead House could ignite his political career, enabling him to join his renowned Wellesley family relatives, whose power and influence was widely recognised. [See footnote below]

A few weeks after his marriage, and quite by chance, William discovered his hereditary entitlement to the role of Lord Warden of Epping Forest. This was an unlucky day for Essex because William’s assertion of the long-dormant Wardenship had a profound long-term affect on Epping Forest, for it shrank in size by over 5000 acres under his watch. But those years of destruction and land-grab came much later in William’s wreckless saga.

Because William believed he could never possibly spend the vast pile of cash he now possessed, his initially used the Wardenship for egotistical purposes. When he closed Wanstead Park to the public in the summer of 1812 there was a huge public outcry. Instead of negotiating with his neighbours, William reminded them that Lord Wardenship gave him powers to ‘appoint or sack forest officials’ thus sending an intimidating message to farmers and tradesmen alike – and anyone else dependent on his patronage. Despite this tangible threat to their livelihoods the people of Wanstead refused to be cowed, winning a landmark case in March 1813 – whereby the ancient rights of way were restored and William forced to reopen Wanstead Park. William lost the case because he did not appreciate the long-standing ties between Wanstead House, Epping Forest and its people, instead resorting to a crude attempt to bulldoze tradition purely for his own gain.

Easter Monday 1817 by Henry Thomas Aitken

 The Epping Hunt in ‘Wicked’ William’s day

The Lord Wardenship provided William with a second opportunity to flex his muscles, this time via spectacular gesture– a publicity stunt to convince rich and poor alike that he was worthy of admiration and respect. Yes, he decided to revive the Epping Hunt!  After all, what better way could there be to promote his equestrian prowess, style and up-to-the-minute fashion sense? This was a golden chance to be admired and envied, winning over his doubters in one fell swoop.

The problem was that William once again failed to do his homework, not realising the extent which the Epping Hunt had declined as a spectacle. William may have known the City of London abandoned the Common Hunt in 1807. In fact the Lord Mayor’s appearance at Buckhurst Hill had long-since been superseded by a new Easter Monday ‘tradition’ whereby the Lord Mayor and his retinue proceeded from Mansion House to Christchurch (Newgate) & heard the Spital sermon. But aldermen and stuffy City dignitaries held no interest for William. He wanted members of the beau monde, dandies, playboys and gadabouts – and intended to spend lavishly to ensure their attendance.

dandy club

William’s target audience was the fashionable London elite

Realising that a pack of hounds was an essential requisite of the Epping Hunt, William ordered the construction of new kennels on his land near the Eagle in Snaresbrook (then known as the Spread Eagle, now as the Toby Carvery). Instead of relying on foxhounds, William purchased a pack of stag-hounds especially bred for deer-hunting. At that time only the Prince Regent kept stag-hounds, and he only had a couple because of the enormous expense in acquiring them. William’s investment in a whole pack of hounds necessitated his appointment of Tommy Rounding, a widely respected local man fondly described as ‘father of the Hunt’. As far as adherence to tradition and quality of event, this was a promising start.

snaresbrook house

Modern-day Snaresbrook House stands on the site of William’s kennels

For the day in question William’s men were decked out in coats of Lincoln green with high-top boots. As for William, he was described in Bailey’s Magazine as

faultless alike in dress and symmetry, and style…With his spotless white waistcoat… and the ample tie of dark silk, perfectly adjusted and in true keeping with his dark coat.. [William] was the embodied perfection of a man of fashion, and carried his dress with that easy determination of style which is peculiar to high birth and high breeding.

One newspaper reported the sequence of events:

An uncommonly numerous assemblage of genteel company attended the Epping Easter Hunt this year. Those in carriages were chiefly of the first classes of Nobility and Gentry, and the horsemen in general capitally mounted. Mr. Pole Wellesley, of Wanstead House, having his stag-hunting establishment in this district, he is become patron of the Easter Hunt, and sent a deer to be turned out before the company. He was present on his famous chestnut horse. His Lady, Mrs. Long- Wellesley, was there also –she came in an open carriage, drawn by four greys, and two postillions with out-riders &c.; and with her company, took her station in an apartment for her at the Rein Deer, before the stag was turned out. It ran for about two hours, and was afterwards lost.

 

Elsewhere it was reported that while out with the hounds William scattered money freely among the village folk. He was said to have flung dozens of gold sovereigns into the throngs of spectators waiting outside the kennels upon his return. He then footed the bill for an enormous feast for participating huntsmen at the Eagle, and brought his more select guests back to Wanstead House for further hospitality and entertainment.

sovereigns

Sovereigns were thrown to bystanders at the kennels and the surrounding fields

 

As an event William Long-Wellesley’s Epping Hunt lived long in the memory and did a great deal to restore his reputation locally. But such wild and reckless flinging of sovereigns around the distressed community was more the act of a show-off than of somebody genuinely concerned for his tenants or the attending peasantry. Also his decision to begin the Hunt from the Rein Deer in complement to Mrs Long-Wellesley was reported to have caused ‘great mortification amongst numerous ladies and others in carriages arranged on the brow of the hill near the Roebuck, the customary place of turning out.’ This may have been a faux pas too far for William as it showed that spending prodigiously does not guarantee guest satisfaction.

the eagle

The Eagle at Snaresbrook – where being treated to a meal once really meant something

 

Perhaps the most telling thing about the whole event is that within a few weeks after the Epping Hunt it was announced that William Long-Wellesley intended ‘to give up his hunting establishment entirely’ and place the hunters, stag-hounds &c up for sale. This more than anything proves that Wicked William had no long-term intentions regarding the Epping Hunt. He just wanted to make a gesture, & boy did he waste a colossal sum in doing so.

I’d like to say that lessons were learnt, but I’m afraid we all know that the spending continued and that this crazy hedonistic occasion was merely the first warning that Wanstead House’s days were numbered. It is important to clarify that William continued to hunt regularly in Epping Forest during his tenure of Wanstead House, but this was by invitation only and nothing to do with the ‘Common Hunt’ which he turned his back on..

Wicked William was powerless to stop a few feeble re-runs of the Epping Hunt in the years to 1820, though perhaps his only permanent contribution to Hunt tradition was to make the Eagle pub at Snaresbrook the primary meeting place for a strange new breed of cockney visitors on Easter Monday for many years to come

hobbies in an uproar

 

It is hard to believe that the famous cycle meet at the Eagle, which was still going strong in the 1940s, could be traced back to ‘Wicked’ William’s days at Wanstead House, and that it evolved to replace the Epping Hunt as a regular feature of the annual calendar. As London became more urbanised, the ‘cockney’ desire to master horsemanship declined, and the age of machines accelerated their separation from country-dwellers

So by the 1820s with Wicked William in exile, Wanstead house torn down and the onset of the steam age – the Epping Hunt was not only dead, but there were no mourners in attendance. Or were there? Enter one Thomas Hood…

 

Footnotes:

[1]

At the time of his marriage, Marquess Wellesley (an uncle) had just resigned as Foreign Secretary in order to challenge Spencer Perceval’s for Prime Minister, Wellesley-Pole (his father) was Secretary of State for Ireland, and Lord Wellington (an uncle) was in the Peninsular leading the British forces against Napoleon.

Tally Ho! – A Brief History of the The Epping Hunt Part 3 – The Cockney Hunt

Introduction | Origins | The ‘Cockney Hunt’ | Wicked William’s Hunt | A Fond Farewell

Cockneys in Essex? Well I never!

1741 - cockneys ridiculing countryfolk

Rivalry between town and country folk is a long-established tradition

 

The origins of ‘cockney’ can be traced back as far as C14, when it had a middle-English meaning of ‘cocks-egg’. It was not until around 1600, when Samuel Rowland coined the phrase ‘Bowe-bell Cockney,’ that the word adopted specific geographical connotations. However, long before this time ‘cockney’ had already been adopted by country people as a derogatory reference to London-dwellers, whom they considered bereft of the manly attributes of horsemanship, hunting and civility. By the 1700s, as London rapidly increased in size and population, divisions between town and country folk widened. The above print from 1741 shows that Londoners (or cockneys) considered country folk to be slow, badly dressed, and backward. This particular yokel is waiting for ‘Mr Stuart’ to get off his horse before addressing him, unaware he is referring to a well-known statue. Rustic gullibility and simple-mindedness was a common theme throughout the Georgian era, used by satirists such as Hogarth and Rowlandson and perpetuated by urban domination of the press.

What a godsend it must have been therefore when the Epping Hunt began to attract large numbers of Londoners, providing a much-needed opportunity to redress the balance between town and country lifestyles. Notwithstanding its association with Bow bells, as the century wore on the phrase ‘cockney’ increasingly became linked with ‘townies’ attempting to partake in country pastimes. This is demonstrated by searching print media after the 1750s, & especially satirical prints, where there are numerous instances of clownish ‘cockney’ sportsmen. The Epping Hunt was perhaps the most high-profile event at which ‘cockney’ behaviour was lampooned.

cockney sportsman

Rowlandson portrayed the perceived stupidity of Cockneys in rural settings

As stated in part 2 the Epping Hunt reached its apogee in terms of ceremonial importance in 1749.  As late as 1753 the London Daily Advertiser recorded that the Lord Mayor ‘set out at 5am from Mansion House for Chigwell Row’ to attend the Epping Hunt, but thereafter London’s dignitaries increasingly shied away. Also when the Lord Warden of Epping Forest, (Lord Tylney of Wanstead House), went abroad to Italy, the Hunt lost its chief patron and became less of an attraction for London’s elite. Given that the Epping Hunt was by tradition a ‘Common Hunt’ it began to fall upon ordinary Londoners to fill the void. In order to do this they relied on the assistance of Essex landowners and tradesmen who were loath to see this lucrative tradition die out.

Just off The Highway in Wapping (or Ratcliffe’s Highway as it was once known) is a small lane adjacent to Tobacco Dock named ‘Chicwell Street’.This is named so  according to legend, because it was the the site from where cockney sportsmen annually congregated on early on Easter Monday to make their pilgrimage to Chigwell in Essex. Located close to East India House and the heart of mercantile London, this became a more proletarian departure point for the Epping Hunt when the Lord Mayor lost interest in attending. By the 1770s organisation of the Epping Hunt fell upon William Mellish, MP for Essex, ably assisted by his brother Joseph, who was responsible for providing the pack of hounds on the day. They had an inauspicious start in 1774 when two horses died in a direct collision, though their riders escaped unscathed. The following year in a bid to attract back the fairer sex and lessen the perception of a cockney monopoly, the event was promoted as a ‘Lady’s Hunt’. This backfired because a young gentleman was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot prior to the stag being turned out. Then the stag headed down Bucket’s Hill towards Smitham Bottom ‘to the great disappointment of the cocknies who wanted him driven towards London’- thus no sport was had that day.

Rowlandsons Cockney Hunt 1811

In an attempt to upgrade its image Epping became a ‘Lady’s Hunt’

However the attempted feminisation of the Epping Hunt continued right up to 1800. In 1785 The London Chronicler reported

Soon as gloomy night had withdrawn her veil from the smiling face of morn, the keen sportsman quitted his warm bed, and was mounted on his high-mettled steed before the sun spread his beams into the neighbouring vale: not a horse was to be seen East of Temple-bar, whose head was not turned towards Epping, not a citizen, who could procure a palfrey for love or money, who was not mounted and posting away to the Ladies Hunt. It is well for those who live on the road, that this important day comes but once a year, as it would be impossible for them to exist, were they to be frequent spectators of such a grotesque assemblage. [Huge numbers] arrived at the spot from whence the poor stag was to be liberated, however, there were many mishaps between that and town… The place was very much crowded with post-chaises and glass-coaches for the day, filled with sober cits and their loving dames; and notwithstanding the accidents which happened, the attendants of the chase were very numerous, both male and female, all, seemingly determined to be in at the death, but so elate they were with the idea of distancing their neighbour, they forgot they were to manage their horses, and so became distanced themselves. The stag had been turned out but a few moments before the plain was covered with the riders, ladies rolling over the beaux, and the beaux over ladies, and the horses left at full liberty.

The above-described hunt ended tragically for a Mr Humphries, a taylor from Tower Hill, who broke his neck when riding under a tree.

By 1788 Epping Hunt was openly described as ‘The Cocknies Hunt’ and its participants included ‘mercers, taylors, barbers, bakers and even bruisers – for Mendoza (a famous wrestler) and several of his tribe were there.’ The Literary Chronicle published the following insight into the excitement roused in London by the Epping Hunt

For weeks before Easter in every year, all the riding schools are filled with cockney Nimrods; every nag is employed on the Sundays; the visits to Hyde Park, in order to see the deer, and thus be able to identify the Epping stag, when they catch a glimpse of him, become frequent; and nothing is read at the London Institution but Daniel’s ‘Rural Sports’ or Beckford on ‘Hunting’… When the important day arrives early in the morning all the livery stables were so cleared… and every kind of vehicle was in requisition. There were horses of all colours and sizes… not were their riders less various, they included all orders and degrees of men; some went to share in the diversion of the hunting, others to laugh at the hunters. A friend from Epping invited me down and [when] the stag was let out, within five minutes I could have had my choice of fifty horses, who have just thrown their riders… while the forest was strewn with hats, and various contents from the pockets of hunters.

easterhunt1807

By 1795 the Epping Hunt was almost universally derided as a parody of what an organised hunt should be. Despite this condemnation The Times reported ‘tens of thousands of spectators and participants from the metropolis.’ Yet just when it seemed that nothing could diminish public enchantment with the Hunt, a piece of lawlessness jeopardised its future. Early in 1798 hunt-organiser Joseph Mellish was killed by highwaymen on the road near Woodford, thus with no pack of hounds available (and possibly as a mark of respect) the hunt was cancelled. Then two years of extremely wet weather led to a Hunt washout, meaning that a hiatus unwittingly set in during which cockney hegemony was wrested by the resumption of interest from Wanstead House.

In 1802 Wanstead House was leased to the Duc de Conde, who was a member of the exiled French Royal Family. In tribute to these French guests, 1802’s Epping Hunt was switched to the Bush at Wanstead, and over the next 3 years held at the Bald Faced Stag in Bucket’s Hill. For security reasons ‘cockney’ participation very much curtailed. When the City of London abolished the Common Hunt in 1807 it was thought that the Epping Hunt would end. But the ordinary citizens of London were not quite ready to give up this tradition, and attempted to keep it alive. Tommy Rounding, a publican from the Horse and Wells in Woodford was nominated to provide stag, venue and hounds for all-comers once more. But he could not emulate the golden years and by 1810 the Morning Post reported an event lying on its deathbed

To drive the deer with hound and horn, The Cocknies took their way

Yesterday, previous to the buck being enlarged, there was an immense concourse of sportsmen appeared on the ground, the majority of whom were mounted on animals not capable of keeping up with a lame goat. Then buck’s horns were adorned with ribands; and as the scent did not lie in consequence of the warm and dry weather, the hounds were once or twice at fault, to the great delight of the lazy hunters and bad horsemen. The hounds did not run a mile before several of the Cockney sportsmen were thrown out, while they were mortified by the gibes and jeers of those who followed on foot. Such a scrambling up hedges, and falling into ditches, was never before witnessed, and the old buck soon gave the hounds and the hunters the go by. There were some of the company exceedingly well mounted and well understood the chase: but, on the whole, the equestrian display was highly ludicrous and laughable.

Rowlandsons the city hunt 1810

Rowlandson’s The City Hunt – 1810

 

Given the farcical level at which the Epping Hunt languished, and its association with lower-class ‘cockney’ yobs, it would have taken a complete fool to consider reviving it as a high-calibre event. Step forward ‘Wicked William’ Long-Wellesley….

 

 

 

 

 

Tally Ho! – A Brief History of the The Epping Hunt Part 2 – Origins & Tradition

Introduction | Origins | The ‘Cockney Hunt’ | Wicked William’s Hunt | A Fond Farewell

Origins & Establishment of Tradition

henryvii at royal hunt epping forest

Henry VII hunting in Epping Forest

 

From the time of William the Conqueror, forest law was imposed by royal prerogative. Its principal aim was to protect game for hunting. Forest laws applied to any type of land private or common, cultivated or forested within a designated area, which was set by officials who carried out a ‘perambulation’ to establish and fix forest boundaries. Anything inside the area was considered to be ‘afforested’ – therefore liable to forest law. Within afforested areas deer could freely roam. Commoners could forage for wood, berries and other edible plants, but only the King was allowed to hunt there. Around the year 1130 Epping Forest came under forest law and it was noit until 1226, under the reign of Henry III that citizens of London were first granted free warren or liberty to hunt one day annually in what became known as ‘the common hunt’. Epping Forest came under the jurisdiction of a Lord Warden, and quite often this role was held by the ruling monarch.

From ancient times the Manor of Wanstead acted as an important venue for royal use of Epping Forest. Wanested Hall, as it was then known, was an established hunting lodge by 1499, and was a much-loved retreat for Henry VII. This love of Wanstead was shared by the King’s son Henry, who became Henry VIII, and it was he who first enclosed Wanstead Park around 1512. As can be seen above, Epping Forest became a royal playground and this continued under Queen Elizabeth’s reign & well into the 17th century. Whilst royal hunting could go on at any time, the ‘common hunt’ quickly became associated with Easter Monday. It is assumed that this date was set partly because it was traditionally a holiday and also because Easter marked the first time of year when the forest was deemed dry enough to stage a decent stag hunt.

 

Up until the 1680s the Epping Hunt as treated as a solemn almost ceremonial occasion. The Lord Mayor of London presided over the hunt, which was attended by aldermen, landed gentry and aristocrats. A deer was taken to an area of flat land at either the Bald Faced Stag or The Roebuck and let out of its cart. Participating riders usually formed a circle around the cart allowing the stag just one exit route, which was often set towards the city to avoid getting lost deep into Essex countryside. Royal patronage over the event came to an end in the 1680s when Josiah Child (1630-1699) purchased Wanstead House. As Governor of the East India Company Child used his enormous wealth and influence to bribe Charles II into allowing him to seize and enclose a large portion of Epping Forest surrounding his new estate. One of the ‘gifts’ Child received in return for payments of up to £10,000 per annum into Charles’ back pocket, was the hereditary title of Lord Warden of Epping Forest. Thus for the first time a commoner was now charged with responsibility for the forest, and though he used this privilege to his own advantage – he also made steps to influence and improve traditions such as the Epping Hunt.

josiah child

Child’s backhanders ensured Wanstead House controlled Epping’s forest and its Hunt

Josiah Child’s son Richard (1680-1750) became Lord Tylney in 1732, and is credited with formalising the Epping Hunt and making it into the occasion it became. As early as 1740 Lord Tylney took charge of events and thereafter the Lord Mayor of London became more of an honorary guest than organiser of the hunt. By this time the dignitaries set off from Whitechapel early in the morning in what evolved into the pre-hunt procession to ‘Buckets Hill’ (Buckhurst Hill as it is today).

The poet Tom D’Ursey, writing in 1719, encapsulated how Epping Hunt had become an established fixture in the sporting calendar

Once a year into Essex go, to see them pass along, O! tis a pretty show!

 

Old England newspaper reported in 1749:

At Wanstead in Essex yesterday Lord Tylney opened the hunt upon Epping Forest, where at least 70 coaches, most of them of six, assembled at the chace. The tents were pitched as usual by his Lordship’s direction, &c An elegant dinner was prepared for the ladies & in two of the largest tents, and a band of musick attended. The whole was concluded with a Ball Alfresco. The tees were decorated with flowers and illuminated in a circle round the area they danced in. The brilliancy of the ladies, who were very numerous, was the greatest ornament.

 

1749 proved to be a high watermark in the history of the Epping Hunt, because Lord Tylney died the following year. His son John, 2nd Lord Tylney, was a passionate advocate of Epping Forest, but not keen on hunting and seldom exercised his rights to organise the event. Tylney’s idea of sport was far more dangerous. Indeed his discovery in bed with a couple of manservants in the 1750s meant that Lord Tylney had to escape into exile to avoid criminal prosecution, and remained there until his death iun 1784

 

But so long as commoners enjoyed the right to hunt on Easter Monday, there were always going to be demand for the Epping Hunt to continue. Thus beckoned an era typified by ‘Cockney Nimrods’…

 

Tally Ho! A Brief History of the Epping Hunt – Part 1 Introduction

Introduction | Origins | The ‘Cockney Hunt’ | Wicked William’s Hunt | A Fond Farewell

Introduction to the Epping Hunt

Believe it or not, there was a time when country-folk from Buckhurst Hill, Loughton and Woodford found themselves inundated with Cockneys, but it was only for one day annually. That day was Easter Monday and the occasion was the Epping Hunt. It is more than a little ironic that an area nowadays considered the epicentre of ‘cockneyism’ (thanks to TV shows like TOWIE) should have once gaped and sniggered at the ‘Oh Gaw Blimey’ accents and godawful clothing worn by these town-dwelling visitors, who were exercising an ancient right granted to the City of London – allowing ordinary citizens one day’s hunting in Epping Forest.

eppinghunt wolstenhome

The Essex Hunt, near Epping by Dean Wolstenhome (1757-1837)

Throughout the 1700s Easter Monday provided ordinary Londoners with three options for holiday entertainment. Firstly there was a fair at Greenwich Hill where there were organised picnics where excellent ginger bread and other delightful treats on offer, and you could enter the prestigious ‘rolling down the hill’ competition and win a prize. This tame sounding pastime was undoubtedly a rough and tumble affair taken seriously by the competitors. For those hedging their bets against inclement weather, a second option was Sadlers Wells, which offered performances of new musicals and pantomimes throughout the day[i].

But for sportsmen and spectators alike, there was nothing to beat the Epping Hunt, whose rituals embraced the entire community from the heart of London’s metropolis into the Essex countryside. First established during the reign of Henry III in 1226, the Epping Hunt was more than just a chase. It began with an early morning breakfast near the Tower of London, followed by a 10-mile procession from London, through Mile End, Stratford and Wanstead. Along the way new participants swelled its ranks until they all arrived at either the Roebuck or Bald Faced Stag Inns in Buckets Hill (nowadays Buckhurst Hill), where the stag was traditionally turned out. The finest carriages from London and the surrounding area occupied prime positions on the hill, attended upon by a myriad of food and drink vendors. Whilst the men saddled up and joined the hunt, the ladies had ample opportunity to display their fashionable attire –  enjoying music, promenading and engaging in gossip.

At a typical Epping Hunt thousands of ordinary folk lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the noble elite, or manned stalls selling a variety of produce to the visiting hordes. This undoubtedly proved a massive boost to the local economy proving that it really was an occasion to remember.

Over these next four blogs I will examine the history and traditions of the Epping Hunt and add links between each blogs as and when they are posted:

  1. Origins and Establishment of Tradition (1226-1750) – Here I will look at how Epping Hunt was established as an aristocratic event under the patronage of the Lord Mayor of London, alongside the Lord Warden of Epping Forest.

 

  1. Gor‘ Blimey Mate!! (1750-1810) – By 1787 Epping Hunt was generally regarded as the ‘Cockney Hunt’ because its participants were increasingly drawn from London’s merchant classes. In this period there was the tremendous comedy value of watching a collection of badly-dressed city-folk chase about the forest in the fruitless pursuit of their goal. Not surprisingly the Epping Hunt became an object of public ridicule and by 1810 the consensus was that it would soon die a natural death – a relic of a bygone age.

 

  1. Wicked William’s Hunt (1813) – In 1813 William Long-Wellesley of Wanstead House hosted an extremely extravagant event, reckoned to be the most lavish ever –  in an incredible attempt to restore tradition and quality to the Epping Hunt. I will look at the day in question plus the ramifications it had for the future of Wanstead House.

 

  1. A Fond Farewell (1820-1850s) – More than any one person Thomas Hood is responsible for restoring the Epping Hunt in a positive way for future generations to recall. His eponymous poem (1828) served as a gentle reminder of the mirth and pleasure to be had on such an occasion, whilst at the same time acknowledging its inevitable demise.

 

eppinghunt-4

One of Rowlandson’s plates from Thomas Hood’s The Epping Hunt poem (1828)

 

The Epping Hunt might be best remembered by this quote taken from Hunting in the Olden Days by William Scarth Dixon, which was published in 1912:

It was one of the ironies of Fate that the Epping Hunt should be chiefly remembered [in caricature]…For the Epping Hunt was the common hunt of the City of London, and as such its rights were jealously guarded. It was the most important of those city hunts of which we have had so many in England…. So though the Epping Hunt outlived its usefulness… let us look kindly on those good city sportsmen of a bygone age. Let us remember that they helped to foster the general love and admiration of sport without which, I make bold to say, hunting would have been seriously curtailed in our day, if not abolished altogether.

 

 

[i] Perhaps the most enduringly popular Easter Monday performance at Sadlers Wells was in fact entitled The Epping Hunt – which was put on by popular demand for a great many years. So, whether you went in person or witnessed a hilarious reproduction at Sadlers Wells, the Epping Hunt was a pivotal component in the Easter calendar for Londoners.