Tell Lord Maryborough that whatever may happen to me, I declare no interruption may be given to the races at Ascot
King George IV on his deathbed June 11, 1830
Modern day Ascot -a beautiful race venue
A day out at Ascot Races earlier this month encouraged me to look into its history in the hope that Lord Maryborough (William Wellesley-Pole) would feature prominently. But despite his pivotal role in elevating Royal Ascot from a run of the mill race meeting to a must-see event in the British sporting calendar, I could find no commemorative picture or plaque adorning the walls of Ascot’s magnificent new stand. Ascot’s website is equally unforthcoming in its brief history page – meaning that Wellesley-Pole (as per usual) has been airbrushed from history.
Spot the nonentity? – Wellesley-Pole (Centre)
Sandwiched between successful brothers Richard (Marquis Wellesley – Governor General of India 1797-1805, Foreign Secretary 1809-1812) and Arthur (Duke of Wellington), Wellesley-Pole is destined to remain in the shadows. But this hardly justifies why numberless books about the Wellesley brothers feature Wellesley-Pole in a cameo only – He flits about like a kind of pantomime villain – a social climber, grasping opportunist and perpetually angry ‘with anything and anyone’ who gets in his way. I’m not sure what is worse about these assessments – the lazy complacency of poor historical research or the complete inability/unwillingness to place Wellesley-Pole in his correct context. Because the fact is that even a rudimentary study of Wellesley-Pole reveals the important role he played in establishing and consolidating the Wellesley family dynasty.
Wellesley-Pole’s Waterloo Medal (1816)
It doesn’t come more iconic than this! Wellesley-Pole’s Gold Sovereign (1817)
In his own right Wellesley-Pole was responsible for the Waterloo Medal (1816), opening of Waterloo Bridge (1817) and the iconic Britannia design for gold sovereigns (1817). As Master of the Mint (1814-1822) his finest achievement was the introduction of new silver currency in 1817, dubbed the ‘Great Recoinage’. Over a period of two weeks Wellesley-Pole organised the nationwide distribution of 2.6 million coins whilst simultaneously collecting up and melting down all the old currency – a task completed without a single mishap –at a time when there was only a rudimentary transport and communication system in Great Britain. Sir Joseph Banks enthused
The bold manner in which [Wellesley-Pole] devised, and… executed one of the most difficult works…during the present Reign, or possibly any former one, does honour to the name of Wellesley
This new silver coinage was to remain legal tender right up until 1971. That’s over 150 years in which Wellesley-Pole’s handiwork permeated every nook and cranny of British society – becoming a recognisable symbol of Britishness – His coins even outlasted the Beatles (whose last public performance was coincidentally held on the roof of Wellesley-Pole’s old family mansion in Savile Row). All this and no blue plaque!!
No 3 Savile Row, Wellesley-Pole’s mansion & latterly Apple Studios
This series of blogs will look at Wellesley-Pole’s 7-year tenure as Steward of Royal Ascot, a time in of great change, during which Ascot’s place was embedded in the annual sporting calendar. This may not be the most important duty Wellesley-Pole undertook in his many years of public service– but it tells us a lot about him as a man – revealing both his brilliant and irrational nature. (Links will come live as they are added)
- Master of the Buckhounds – How Wellesley-Pole was unceremoniously dumped from the Cabinet and duped into accepting a role in the King’s Household – which included responsibility for Ascot races.
- The Age of Reform – Detailing structural, ceremonial, and organisational changes effected by Wellesley-Pole as Chief Steward of Ascot between 1822 and 1830
- Anger Management – A look at the advantages and disadvantages of Wellesley-Pole’s hot temper, and how it led to his departure from Ascot
- Legacy – Why Ascot ought to re-examine its history and traditions to give Wellesley-Pole the credit he deserves
For more equine-related japes on this blog you might like a brief history of the Epping Hunt