‘Wicked’ William & Catherine: Society Wedding of the Regency Era

Wicked William takes the hand (and purse) of his bride

On 14th March 1812, ‘Wicked’ William Wellesley-Pole married his fabulously rich bride Catherine Tylney-Long at St James’ Church, Piccadilly. The tragic outcome of their marriage has been thoroughly described in Geraldine Roberts‘ best-selling book The Angel and The Cad (Macmillan, 2015) – including the fascinating account of how such a penniless wastrel could have succeed in winning the heart of Britain’s richest woman.

This blog takes us back to March 1812,  shedding a bit more light on the wedding itself, and how it was reported in the press.

William’s courtship of Catherine Tylney-Long began in the summer of 1810, and it took almost 18 months for him to fend off a plethora of rivals including the Duke of Clarence (future King William IV), before the chase was won. The above satire from January 1812 likens William and Catherine’s courtship to that of Romeo and Juliet – a kind of ‘against the odds’ love affair – which it certainly was. Though at this stage they were already betrothed, the battle was still raging – Not only was Catherine under attack from stalkers, such as John Scott (pictured being chased away above) but there were also hundreds of legal documents to wade through as Catherine’s alarmed and concerned family sought to devise a marriage agreement that would keep as much control as possible away from the Wellesley bridegroom.

William could now be called ‘Long Pole’ and not without reason

Over the next two months a sometimes tense and occasionally hostile negotiation continued – meaning that the wedding arrangements were continually postponed. William did not waste time, however, to cement his destiny. On January 14th 1812 – even before he was married – William changed his name by Royal Licence and added his wife’s ancestral surnames – to become fabulously quadruple-barreled William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley. If you were looking for an omen here – then William certainly gave one by placing ‘Wellesley’ at the end of his newly acquired monicker. It was always traditional for men marrying into money to adopt their wife’s title or surname upon marriage. William instead chose to foreground his politically well-connected Wellesley family name – one which had up to this point been merely a middle name for him – but now, thanks to the endeavours of his famous uncles (including the Duke of Wellington) – William was suddenly making a claim to be Pretender to their legacy. A marvellous piece of self-marketing that really ought to have been pulled up by Catherine and her family. As for the combination of Long and Pole – this gave endless opportunities for punsters to allude to his renowned masculinity – which certainly would have flattered William still further.

St James, Piccadilly – The ultimate fashionable wedding venue

Another knock-on effect of the delay with legalities meant that Catherine’s original intention to ‘get married without ostentation’ was completely over-ridden as William chose THE most fashionable church in London, St James, Piccadilly – in the heart of his stomping grounds amidst the dandies and beau monde of Piccadilly. This beautiful Wren church is still the same, lying just north of St James Square, and its interiors are exactly as they would have been on the day when William and Catherine walked the aisle

Eventually, in early March, Catherine’s legal advisor sent over his final draft of the marriage agreement, but cautioned her as to the amount of property being placed under William’s control

I can only say that if I saw anything improper or that was inconsistent with your honourable character, I should lake the liberty of pressing it to your notice. Nothing of that kind will, I dare say, occur; and as to the general case of the arrangements, they must be entirely governed by your own feelings & judgement as they concern the dispensation of the property which must be entirely subject to your ideas of what is best to be done relatively to all other claims upon it

Once the news was out that the wedding date was finally fixed for Saturday 14th, the Morning Chronicle recorded

The rolls of parchment employed in preparing the marriage articles, conveyances, and other deeds, in preparation for the expected union of Miss Tilney Long and Mr. Wellesley Pole, are sufficiently numerous and bulky to load a cart. The settlement for the separate use of the lady is said to be £11,000, for pin money, with additions of £6000 in case of a separation

Anticipation for the big event was a fever-point by this stage. It was widely reported that huge numbers of ladies queued for hours on end for the change to view Miss Tylney-Longs nuptial garments, which were on display at her robe-makers – ‘it excites much female curiosity to learn why each snow-white chemise should be decorated with the finest Brussels lace all down the back’. Indeed Catherine’s choice of white for her wedding gown is nowadays attributed with establishing that tradition – one that was copied by Queen Victoria at her own wedding, to great acclaim.

The Newspapers describes events of the wedding day – including William’s appalling failure to provide a wedding ring – another omen perhaps, and that led to a lengthy delay whilst a local jeweller was sent for.

The ceremonial of the Wellesley marriage was as private as possible. Marquis Wellesley acted as Master of the Ceremonies, and conducted the bride through Dr. Andrews house to the altar. Miss Diana and Miss Emma Long followed as bridesmaids. During the service, tears were plentifully shed by Lady Catherine, who was present, and all the daughters; it is to be hoped that they may prove the last on this trying occasion! The ceremony over, a new equipage was at the church door in Jermyn Street to receive the happy pair; it was a singularly elegant chariot, painted a bright yellow, and highly emblazoned drawn by four beautiful Arabian grey horses, attended by two postillons in brown jackets, with superbly embroidered jackets in gold, emblematic of the united arms of the Wellesley and Tylney families. The new married pair drove off at great speed for Blackheath, intending to pass the night at the tasteful chateau, belonging to the bridegroom’s father, and thence proceed to Wanstead, in Essex, on the following day to pass the honeymoon.

The dress of the present bride consisted of a robe of real Brussels point lace; the device a sigle sprig; it was placed over white satin. The head was ornamented with a cottage bonnet, of the same material; viz. Brussels lace, with two ostrich feathers. She likewise wore a deep lace veil, and a white satin pelisse, trimmed with Swansdown. The dress cost 700 guineas, the bonnet 150, and the veil 200. Mr Pole wore a plain blue coat, with yellow buttons, a white waistcoat, and buff breeches, and white silk stockings. The Lady looked very pretty and interesting.

It was to elude the eager curiosity of the crowd that they returned from the church at the door opposite to the one at which they entered.

On Sunday the wedding favours were distributed among their numerous friends; the number exceeded eight hundred, composed wholly of silver, and unique in form – those for Ladies having an acorn in the centre, and the Gentleman’s a star; each cost a guinea and a half. The inferior ones, for their domestics and others, were made of white satin ribbon, with silver stars and silver balls and fringe. The Lady’s jewels consisted principally of a brilliant necklace and ear-rings; the former cost twenty five thousand guineas. Every domestic in the family of Lady Catherine Long  has been liberally provided for; they all have had annuities settled upon them for life; and Mrs Pole Tylney Long Wellesley’s own waiting woman, who was nurse to her in her infancy, has been liberally considered. The fortune remaining to Mrs Pole Tylney Long Wellesley (after allowing for considerable sums given as an additional portion to each of the Misses Long, and an annuity to Lady Catherine Long), may be raised to eighty thousand pounds per annum.

A singular circumstance is said to have attended the wedding on the arrival of the happy pair at the Hymeneal altar, the bridegroom was applied to by Dr. Glasse for the ring; but he had forgotten to procure the necessary testimonial. A messenger was in consequence dispatched to Mr. Brown, a jeweller, in Piccadilly, opposite the Church, who immediately attended with an assortment, and then the ceremony proceeded without further interruption.

Not all of the press were enamoured with this incredibly splendid occasion. Several papers intimated that William’s decision to leave the church via the back route owed as much to the need to avoid writs from creditors as the desire to avoid the crowds outside. The Liverpool Mercury acknowledged the ‘admiration and envy excited by the costly bridal dress and jewels’ but questioned the extravagance of spending ‘a sum of money equal to a year’s maintenance of at least 500 poor families’.

So the deed was done and the Long-Wellesleys were off to spend their married life at Wanstead House. Perthaps for this day then, I will wish them well – and hope that, despite the signs, William Long-Wellesley will prove to be a dutiful husband, who will take his Wanstead estate to new heights of brilliance. Fat chance though….

Wanstead House and Gardens, the 'English Versailles,' - England's finest Palladian mansion

Catherine’s marriage was to prove beginning of the end for Wanstead House

The story of William and Catherine’s marriage, and their ups and (mainly) downs at Wanstead House can be fully appreciated by reading The Angel and The Cad – but there is so much more besides to ‘Wicked William’ Long-Wellesley – which has been researched but was not needed for that project. I will return to other episodes from William’s life in future posts

If you want to learn about William’s shambolic military career why not follow him to war, or you might like to see an example of his expensive lifestyle by attending Wicked William’s Hunt. A black sheep indeed, but to appreciate the achievements of his father and brothers, you might like to celebrate 200 years of the splendid shilling, or to see why the Duke of Wellington ought to be celebrated more by the French nation.

My blogs tend to be Londoncentric, and if you are of a similar persuasion why not read the sad tale of a Walthamstow Murderess, the death of a prizefighter, or learn about the days when vagrancy meant prison

Finally, I would like to reiterate that my blog is entirely my own work, but that I do rely heavily upon the fantastic image resources of the British Museum  without which I couldn’t hope to properly illuminate my subjects. I am always happy to answer questions and receive feedback on any of these postings, and would like to thank the 25000+ unique visitors that I have welcomed to my blog site since I first started to post.

Thomas Hood, Tylney Hall & Multicultural Wanstead

Overview of Thomas Hood & Wanstead

Review of Tylney Hall | Finding Wanstead in Tylney Hall  | Black representation in Tylney Hall

 thomas-hood-5

Thomas Hood (1799-1845) is a shamefully overlooked 19th century literary great – for whom a renaissance must surely beckon. His obscurity is all the more surprising when we consider how immensely popular he was throughout the Victorian era. Try Googling him and you will find scant reward. During his own short lifetime Hood overcame debilitating illness and grinding poverty to become a national treasure. He contributed humorous articles to popular magazines such as Athenaeum and Punch & also single-handedly ran his own magazine The Comic Annual (1830-42). He wrote just one novel – Tylney Hall (1834) – which I will be discussing in this blog, but poetry was his real forte.

sonnet to vauxhall

Hood’s Sonnet to Vauxhall – illustrated by Rowlandson

Hood’s output was created at great cost to his health. In his early days he was a talented engraver working alongside artists such as Thomas Rowlandson (a man with whom he later often collaborated), but was compelled to abandon this profession and seek an outdoor life to recover his strength. It was a tough existence for by 1841 when Hood became an invalid he was only saved from financial ruin thanks to the intervention of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, who was a great fan of his works. When Hood eventually died his family were granted a state pension – and the public continued to adore him. A memorial was later built by public subscription in Kensal Green cemetery. As the century progressed Hood’s poetry and witticisms remained familiar enough to be often quoted in ordinary conversation. As late as 1903 William Rossetti (of Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood fame) described Hood as ‘the finest English poet between the generations of Shelley and Tennyson’. However, since these heady heights of appreciation Hood has quietly slipped into obscurity, and has long-since vanished from the modern-day English literature curriculum.

 lakehouse

Hood wrote Tylney Hall whilst living in Wanstead Park

Yet one bastion of recognition for Thomas Hood still remains intact, and it can be located in the environs of Epping Forest, and most particularly Wanstead. After his marriage in 1824 Hood lived in Islington but made frequent visits to the countryside beyond London,  especially to Epping Forest, and he formed a deep affinity with the area. I have already described how Hood encapsulated the rough and tumble tradition of the Epping Hunt (1829), recording for posterity the rituals of that annual cockney jamboree. He was also fully cognisant of the scandalous loss of Wanstead House, ironically benefitting from its destruction by renting the Lake House in Wanstead Park from ‘Wicked’ William Long-Wellesley.

wickedwilliam

 

Wicked William – Hood’s shady landlord (1832-35)

Hood’s arrival in Wanstead in 1832 coincided with Wicked William’s enforced exile – so it is unlikely that landlord and tenant spent much time together. Though he was always a feckless waster, William was notoriously generous and probably offered Hood terms well below the market rate. Perhaps Long-Wellesley’s vanity was sated by Hood’s eulogy to the Epping Hunt – because the men were already acquainted. This unlikely friendship endured, for it is recorded that William regularly visited Hood’s sickbed in 1837, when both men were living in Belgium.

eppinghunt-1

This scene from The Epping Hunt  shows Hood preferred whimsy to satire

Hood was active during a time of great social and technological change – as the long 18th century drew to a close and young Queen Victoria assumed the throne. From the outset of his career Hood purposefully rejected the brutality of late Georgian satire which sought to undermine its subject, preferring to adopt a kinder and more affectionate style. His whimsical humour presaged the rising sense of decency and respectability throughout society, foreshadowing the sentimentality and mawkishness which defined popular Victorian literature. Hood’s style is very like Thackeray’s early writing, light-hearted and amusing – never over-analytical.

Despite his comic reputation, Hood was capable of portraying the biting hardship of contemporary poverty. For example, Song of the Shirt (1843) highlighted appalling working conditions of the era – where Hood showed remarkable foresight in writing from a female perspective – describing a needleworker’s daily struggle for existence and the cruelty of her employer

song of the shirt

Despite being penned by a man, Song of the Shirt ought to be considered one of the most important proto-feminist works of literature ever written. It was based on a contemporary court case involving a woman who was forced to sell her employer’s equipment simply to put food upon the table – a decision that led to prosecution. The case is long forgotten but this poem became a standard-bearer for highlighting the effect of inequality upon humanity, inspiring a generation of mid-Victorian artists

bridge of sighs

Opening stanzas of Bridge of Sighs 

Another poem Bridge of Sighs (1844) again draws on real life by recounting the tale of a homeless young woman who committed suicide by throwing herself from Waterloo Bridge in London – At a time when suicide was frowned upon Hood declares that whatever sins she may have committed are cleansed by the sadness of her death

 found drowned

Hood’s poem inspired Found Drowned by Frederick Watts (1852)

Were it not for Hood’s own untimely demise he may have further developed his talent for social commentary. But in death as in life Hood has been unlucky, for the gentle observational humour of his earlier years has become his posthumous trademark.

grave

I will be turning to Hood’s only novel Tylney Hall in the second part of this blog. Written in 1834, whilst he was living in Wanstead, the title is a very thinly veiled reference to Long-Wellesley’s once great mansion, Wanstead House. 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 led 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.

wansteadcolour

Tylney Hall – not about Wanstead House

It is easy to see why a desperately poor artist with young mouths to feed would use any means possible to promote his work. But by choosing ‘Tylney Hall’ for a title Hood inadvertently and fatally undermined his novel – by unnecessarily calling into question the accuracy of its content.

Easter Monday 1817 by Henry Thomas Aitken

Tylney Hall does show Wanstead as it was to Thomas Hood

Because Hood’s works were always inspired by his own life experiences I believe that the world created in the pages of Tylney Hall should not be rejected, as we are offered a tantalising and surprising viewpoint of life in multicultural Wanstead 200 years ago. Additionally we find perhaps the first English novel to centrally feature strong and noble black characters, to whom we can sympathise and relate. The second part of this study will examine this more closely, proving that that Hood really was ahead of his time thus worthy of a new and more fitting appraisal.

To read more of Thomas Hood’s poems click here – or try a tasty selection of his best quotes

Gerald Massey has an excellent website devoted to Thomas Hood

You may also like to read about more Epping Hunt related buffoonery courtesy of Wicked William or to know about his short-lived military career.

Wellesley-Pole’s Finest Hour: The Great Re-coinage, 1817

 The Mint with a Pole – Part 4

or

When Wellesley-Pole made money quicker than his son spent it

Intro | Waterloo Medal | Pole & Pistrucci | The Great Re-coinage | Exit & Legacy

cornlaws

Bread Riots outside the House of Commons, 1815

In 1816 the euphoria of victory at the Battle of Waterloo wore off and Britain entered a period of unrest. Corn prices were set at an artificially high level by the Importation Act (1815) – or Corn Laws as they became known – benefitting wealthy landowners at the expense of the poor. A bad harvest, the return of thousands of soldiers from Europe, and demonstrations against working conditions combined to increase tension, leading to repressive counter-measures from the Government. Against this backdrop, the Coinage Bill was passed on 22 June 1816, and Wellesley-Pole was ordered to draw up a plan to replace the silver coinage.

the new coinage pole

Wellesley-Pole seen hard at work for ‘John Bull’ whilst the poor suffer on

Wellesley-Pole’s schedule detailed how he proposed to design, manufacture, and distribute the new coinage. It also outlined a system for recovering the old money for the Bank of England. He started entirely from scratch after realising there was ‘no collection of British coins in His Majesty’s Mint…not a single Proof.’ To ensure this would never happen again, he founded a Museum to house ‘every coin and medal which, from this time forth, shall be struck’. In July 1816 Banks supplied Wellesley-Pole with old coins as a basis from which the new currency could be created.This collection now forms the backbone of the Royal Mint Museum.

banks

Joseph Banks donated coins to enable Wellesley-Pole to set up Mint Museum

The key problem was how to undertake an operation of this magnitude without alerting the nation as to what was afoot – and once the coinage was manufactured – how to distribute it to the four corners of Britain so that it might appear simultaneously on ‘Great Re-coinage Day’. Wellesley-Pole had to do this at a time of immense social unrest, using the most rudimentary of transport and communication systems. Some boxes of coin were shipped to northern ports but the vast majority went by carriage up and down Britain’s roadways – with accompanying detailed instructions to be acted upon at each and every destination. Getting the new coinage to these outlets was one thing, but Wellesley-Pole was also tasked with rounding up all the old silver currency in exchange for new crowns, shillings and sixpences. This redundant money had to return to the Mint by the same arduous process after the two-week exchange period expired.

bank of england

The Bank of England – Pivotal to Wellesley-Pole’s plans

The National Archive reveals that Wellesley-Pole submitted his plan on 16th September. He confirmed an agreement with Governor of the Bank of England that banks throughout Britain would assist in the transfer ‘without looking for any remuneration… Considerable expense must be saved from the many applications that have been made in favour of persons wishing to be employed in the issue and exchange of the new money’. He further curtailed costs by creating accounts with every participating bank for the money distributed to and collected from them. Sir Joseph Banks described his plan as

excellently arranged…I have seen a multitude of public men, but no one whose conduct has been as energetic and so perfectly successful’.

A week later Wellesley-Pole received approval from the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, subject to proceeding in complete secrecy until the money was ready to be circulated.

bull head

Pistrucci was unable to draw mad King George III from life – This ‘bull head’ image was heavily criticised

Each coin was approved by the Prince Regent prior to manufacture. Wellesley-Pole enthused the coins were ‘absolutely divine’. Every last detail was meticulously planned. Coins were labelled and bagged in sums of £100. Bags were then packed into a sturdy box containing £600 comprised of one bag of half crowns, four bags of shillings and one of sixpences. The destination of each box was labelled and arrangements were made for them to be re-used for the return of old coinage after the exchange was completed. 57 million coins were ready for distribution by January 17th 1817. A few days later Wellesley-Pole called a meeting of the bankers of London proposing:

  1. That all 72 London banks be ‘furnished with money to exchange the silver coin…by opening all their shops to the public at large. Inspectors from the Mint to be established in each shop for selecting…the old coin to be recovered…by which means Bankers would be exonerated from any responsibility.

  2. Every Banker in England, Scotland and Wales to employed in likewise manner but ‘the Country Bankers’ to recommend such persons for inspectors as they conceive to be trustworthy.

Wellesley-Pole earmarked the operation for 3rd February, but the London Bankers, worried about civil unrest, feared that by opening to the general public ‘their property would be endangered’. So the Master of the Mint was compelled to hastily arrange alternative locations for public distribution. He ensured that a comprehensive network of outlets were created in every principle town in England and Wales, which received almost £1.8M by February 3rd.

announcement

Cat out of bag 18th Jan 1817 – Wellesley-Pole announces Great Re-Coinage

The exchange for Scotland was undertaken by the Bank of Scotland who acted under a letter of instruction from the Master of the Mint, so the entire operation hinged on Wellesley-Pole’s meticulous planning.

The Cabinet eventually deferred the exchange until February 13th. But it was completed in 14 days as planned and the old currency ceased to be legal tender on March 1st. These remarkable statistics bear testimony to the success of this operation

Of £2,6000,000 delivered not one bag or box of new coin was mislaid and there does not remain a single complaint of deficiency of money for exchange in every part of Great Britain.  In carrying the measure through, the Mint dealt with over 14000 letters and employed 1000 inspectors. 469 accounts with individual banks were reconciled ‘to the penny’ when the old currency was returned.

By any standard this operation was an astounding success. Because it went without a hitch it was soon forgotten, perhaps the biggest single reason why Wellesley-Pole is  mired in obscurity. It was only when the House of Commons debated currency in 1842, that the enormity of his achievements were highlighted against shortcomings in current procedures.

As we have seen in Pole and Pistrucci the Great Re-Coinage failed to ignite public excitement, and the press preferred to continue their campaign of back-biting and ridicule against both men.

The only reply either man can give in answer to their critics is to emphasise that the silver coinage remained in circulation until 1971 – Yes that’s 154 years!

In my final part I will look at Wellesley- Pole’s departure from the Mint and round up his legacy…..

 IVORYCOACHPASS1- WWP

 So you have seen how, at least for a few years, Wellesley-Pole made money faster than his feckless son Wicked William of Wanstead House was able to spend it. Follow Wicked William to the Epping Hunt, or off to War with Wellington or find out what happened when Wellesley-Pole’s rage got the better of him.

Finally, I have written the remarkable history of Wellesley-Pole’s house

I hope you enjoy this post and would be most grateful to hear any feedback.

Sources Used

  1. Royal Mint Website
  2. The National Archives (Kew) Mint 1/56
  3. Bagot J., George Canning and Friends (London: Murray, 1909)
  4. Senate House Library, Mint Book MS499
  5. Greg Roberts unpublished dissertation The Forgotten Brother (2009)
  6. Image of Sir Joseph Banks by William Wyon courtesy of the Royal Mint Museum

 

Photographs from my Year: 2014

I have never been particularly astute in the art of photography, so it is very pleasing that the advent of smart phones has provided me with ample opportunities to record various events and scenes I have enjoyed in 2014. I hope you wont think me too indulgent for sharing a few with you here

January - Draycot HouseJanuary 2014 – St James, Draycot burial place of Catherine Tylney-Long of Wanstead House renown
February - Laid UpFebruary 2014 – Laid up at home convalescing
March -TuscanyMarch – On the trail of Wicked William in Tuscany, Italy

April-Kent

April – sneaky pic of Wanstead House chairs at William Kent Exhibition
May-bluebellsMay – Bluebell Wood at Wanstead Park

 

June-Kilcooley HouseJune- The very wonderful Kilcooley House in Tipperary, Ireland
July-TourdefranceJuly – The Tour de France comes to South Woodford… for 28 seconds
August - SwansAugust – Swans in Wanstead Park
September - WindsorSeptember – A trip to Windsor Castle
 October - Crossness Engine TrustOctober – Victorian wrought iron design – Crossness Pumping Station

 November - Poppies

 November – Well-intentioned but futile attempt to see the Tower of London poppies

December - Angel

December – MacMillan cover for Geraldine’s book on Wanstead House

Its been a great year and I hope you enjoy these pictures. Thanks for all the feedback and responses regarding my blog, it really has been a great source of encouragement and inspiration.

If you’ve got a year in pictures, why not share it too?

 

‘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 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.

 

 

Wicked William – The Last Word

“This is not an epitaph”

wickedwilliam

 

‘Wicked’ William Long-Wellesley (1788-1857) was one of the best-known characters of the Regency period. His rollercoaster life played out like a primordial soap opera through a multitude of satirical images, newspaper reports, books, pamphlets, and journals. His antics were commented upon throughout the world. When he was at his most arrogant, the mob cornered him in the street baying for blood. Yet when he was beaten down they rallied to his defence. Eventually debts and a failed political career forced him into exile. He remained in the news but the public tired of him. He had come to epitomise the worst excesses of a corrupt and unloved era, whose values were an anathema to early Victorian society. From the 1840s Long-Wellesley was consciously marginalised, his removal from contemporary memoirs the equivalent of a literary ‘social cut’.

My blog will show that Long-Wellesley directly contributed to his own notoriety in his pursuit of celebrity. For three decades he adeptly harnessed the power of the press to his own advantage, feeding newspapers tantalising details that kept the public enthralled.

But, as we all know, public opinion and press sympathy can easily change. Therefore with no little irony these last words about ‘Wicked William’ appeared in the Morning Chronicle the day after his death (4th July 1857):

The mockery of heraldry was never more displayed than in the case of this most unworthy representative of the honour of the elder house of Wellesley. A spendthrift, a profligate, and gambler in his youth, he became a debauchee in his manhood [and] his children, whose early tastes and morals he wickedly endeavoured to corrupt, from a malicious desire to add to the agonies of their desolate and broken-hearted mother. Redeemed by no single virtue – adorned by no single grace – his life has gone out, without even a flicker of repentance – his “retirement” was that of one who was deservedly avoided by all men. We have no wish, further, to illustrate such a theme by writing what should be his epitaph.

Luckily for me, so many outrageous events from the scandalous life and times of ‘Wicked William’ were recorded for posterity, that I will have ample opportunity of detailing them over time via this forum.