‘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.

Finding Wanstead in Thomas Hood’s Tylney Hall

Overview of Thomas Hood & Wanstead

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

Up the slope Wanstead Park

Hood conjured a vision of Wanstead Flats – not Wanstead House

The overview to this blog looks at Thomas Hood’s impact as a poet and wry observer of the joy and hardships of life in the early decades of the nineteenth century. As explained, his only novel Tylney Hall (1834), gave readers false hope of discovering what actually happened at Wanstead House, nearby ancestral home of the Earls of Tylney –  which had been suddenly and brutally demolished less than a decade earlier. Such a glaringly obvious deceit within the novel’s title undoubtedly upset readers. The Literary Gazette echoed this widespread disappointment

It was inferred that the private histories of the Wellesley and Long families had furnished matter for the novel…. Accordingly, not a few copies travelled eastward, through Stratford-le-Bow, but, of course, to the signal discomfiture of the speculators [because] the figures were not drawn from living models

I am fascinated by the fact that the central character – from whose perspective we follow events – is a black man – Not a stereotypically menial representation found in the background of much Georgian art, but a wealthy, educated and well-connected black man, with a profound understanding of the prejudice he encounters. What’s more he is not the only black character in the book. I thought this plot-device would have set alarm bells ringing as to Tylney Hall ‘s credibility. But having examined several contemporary reviews of Hood’s novel – both good and bad – I find no evidence to suggest that the presence of black people of worth was anything out of the ordinary to late Georgian readers.

middling heat in the west indies 1817

Tylney Hall avoids traditional black stereotypes

So how much, if anything, does Tylney Hall represent the geography and social fabric of eighteenth century Wanstead? I will answer this question in two sections, firstly looking for physical evidence of Wanstead’s presence – and secondly questioning whether the presence of black (or Asian) people in that part of the world was as commonplace as Tylney Hall implies

1. Finding Wanstead in Tylney Hall

It is important to remember that Hood was often unwell during his years at the Lake House. Thus the writer had to rely heavily upon his surrounding neighbourhood to create the backdrop for Tylney Hall. From the outset Hood makes no effort to disguise the fact that Wanstead is the setting.

Rabbits1900

The Three Rabbits was within walking distance of Hood’s home

The opening chapter of Tylney Hall  takes us to the Rabbits public house ‘set in a bleak wasteland called the Flats…On the other side stretched an immense park, behind an angle of which lay perdue a small village.’ Straight away the geography of Wanstead is laid before us – from Manor Park’s Three Rabbits pub in the south up to the village beyond Wanstead Park. Hood gives a lovely description of the pub and its characters, including their regular whist drives. We also learn that the local coaching inn, which stands outside the grounds of ‘Tylney Hall’ is called ‘The Green Man’  – not just the same name but the same proximity of Leytonstone’s Green Man pub to the gates of old Wanstead House.

green man

The Green Man Inn (Leytonstone) features in Hood’s Tylney Hall

Tylney Hall is less obviously a replica of the real Wanstead House. Perhaps Hood never visited Wicked William’s Palladian palace before it was demolished, for interior descriptions of Tylney Hall are scanty. However Tylney Hall does possess ‘a great many Gobelin Tapestries’ – copying one of the main treasures advertised for sale by George Robins in 1822, suggesting that Hood may have seen or possessed an auction catalogue. External features of Wanstead House – such as the stables (still standing today) and the octagonal Basin are replicated by Hood for the fictitious Tylney Hall

gobelin tapestry

Gobelin Tapestries prominently featured in Robins’ auction catalogue (1822)

Hood’s lovely descriptions of the park, lake and waterways around ‘Tylney Hall’ can only be picked up and appreciated by readers familiar with the landmarks in question. We can therefore conclude that Hood’s novel is definitely a homage to Wanstead Park.

2. Finding black people in Wanstead

cruickshank from the west indies

West Indian immigrants satirised by Cruickshank (1824)

Recent research has shown that black people were fairly commonly employed as servants in wealthy or titled households during the Georgian era. As such many were educated to a high-level commensurate with their status within the hierarchy of the home. In many cases these families contained mixed race children or servants – either of whom would have enjoyed the protection of their wider family group. Those who returned from service in the East India Company often settled in close knit ‘Anglo-Indian’ communities – The writer William Makepeace Thackeray  (1811-1863), who was born in Calcutta and returned to England in 1815 to complete his education – lived in one such community – sticking together to overcome local resentments. Another example may be found in the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, which has recently been made into a film. But most importantly, there was a general influx of foreign settlers in Britain’s urban areas from the eighteenth century onwards. By the 1790s significant immigrant communities, arriving from Africa, the West Indies or Asia – either aboard merchant ships, or demobbed military/naval conscripts. In London, for example, the slums around St Giles were considered to be black ghettos.

During my research on ‘Wicked William’ of Wanstead House I discovered that during the 1790s the Wellesley-Pole family regularly opened a soup kitchen from their home in Savile Row – This weekly event was attended by such numbers of homeless black immigrants that they were eventually ordered to close it to keep the peace.

the rabbit salesman

For many,  black people were a regular feature of everyday life

So, let’s take these findings to the Wanstead area. First of all we can see that a great many estates in and around Epping Forest were bought up and subsequently developed by East India Company employees and merchants. Given its relatively close proximity to London and the docks – it is therefore perfectly reasonable to conclude that Hood’s Tylney Hall does reflect the reality of black people – rich and poor, entitled and subservient – who may have lived or worked around Wanstead at this time.

In my final part I will take a closer look at three black characters from Tylney Hall to get a better understanding of their place in society and the interaction they had – both good and bad – with those around them. I want to show that for Hood at least – there was a true respect for black people. Perhaps Hood was reflecting the prevalent public enthusiasm for black culture following the recent Abolition of Slavery Act (which gained Royal Assent just two months prior to publication). But I prefer to think his experience of living amidst the poor and under-privileged around Wanstead was the more fertile ground where his characterisations were formed

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Paul Edwards has written a great article in History Today looking at black personalities in Georgian England

For more information on the subject of black history try this select bibliography:

Reconstructing the Black Past: Blacks in Britain 1780-1830 by Dr Norma Myers

The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson’s Heir by Michael Bundock

Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales During the Period of the British Slave Trade, C. 1660-1807by Kathleen Chater

Black England: Life Before Emancipation, and  Black Victorians/Black Victoriana – both by Gretchen Gerzina

London In The Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing  by Jerry White

Finally you may like to read more about the Wellesley-Pole’s charitable work, as they attempt to rescue a tramp. If only their son Wicked William of Wanstead House had the same attitude when he went amongst the needy

Arthur Wellesley repackaged: the birth of ‘Wellington’

wellesley pole
Wellesley-Pole: the man who named ‘Wellington’

In previous blog posts I have described how Wellesley-Pole’s orchestrated The Great Recoinage (1817), the Waterloo Medal (1816), and modernised Royal Ascot (1822-1830). But he was also responsible for the ‘birth’ of Wellington: for it was our man Wellesley-Pole who created the iconic title under which Arthur Wellesley’s glories came to pass.

wellington young

R.I.P. Arthur, long live Wellington!!

The circumstances of Wellington’s creation are revealed in the Raglan MS at Gwent Archives, containing correspondence between Wellesley-Pole and Arthur from 1807-1818. This very important primary source is often used to illustrate Arthur’s unvarnished opinions about the performance of government, progress of the war, and the conduct of his family during these momentous years. Yet the many letters FROM Wellesley-Pole TO Arthur are barely ever cited – despite the fact they contain an equally rich vein of personal insight into the political intrigues of the time. It is quite amazing – and sad to see Wellesley-Pole so overlooked – in his own archives to boot.

Historians love to lay into William Wellesley-Pole. They portray him as ‘opportunistic’, ‘not a little devious’; ‘the worst type of hanger-on’; and harshest of all: ‘a nonentity’. Even his obituary is nowadays considered to be one of the most savage ever printed

From an early period of his career it was evident to all … that he was by no means destined to fulfil so prominent a position in public life as his brothers…Journalists and demagogues denounced him as a Minister who not only deserved to be degraded and punished, but as a criminal for whose enormities no amount of penal infliction could be excessive…His spirit quailed before a crisis…at no time in his life did he display Parliamentary talents of a high order…Mr Wellesley-Pole was simply angry- angry at all times with every person and about everything.; his sharp, shrill, loud voice grating on the ear…an undignified ineffective speaker, an indiscreet politician…advancing in years without improving in reputation.

The Times, February 24th 1845

Over the years I have presented various papers (including the Wellington Congress), and written a number of blogs aimed at setting the record straight about Wellesley-Pole. My contention is that in any other family he would have been feted – however, Wellesley-Pole will always be overshadowed by his other brothers; Richard, Governor General of India (1797-1805); and Arthur, probably Britain’s greatest military leader. I believe that – far from being a ‘nonentity’ – Wellesley-Pole was actually a very loyal and trustworthy brother, content to stay out of the limelight, & blessed with the one gift that eluded all the Wellesley clan: a long and happy marriage.

So, if you read both sides of the Raglan MS it becomes clear that, from his position at the heart of government, Wellesley-Pole DID play a vital role on Arthur’s behalf; acting as a kind of ‘remote-secretary’. His services ranged from provision of tea and other home comforts, through to supplying a new sword or replacement horses. Crucially he relayed the latest news, gathered opinions, and soothed often fractious relations between the Cabinet and the Peninsular Army.

(c) National Trust, Mount Stewart; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Victory at Talavera raised Arthur to the peerage

It is not really surprising therefore that, following Arthur’s victory at Talavera in 1809, Wellesley-Pole was asked to find a suitable title for his feted brother. He was reluctant to be saddled with such an important responsibility, but King would not wait, and an immediate decision was required. So Wellesley-Pole took up his pen and wrote to Arthur:

After ransacking the peerage… I at last determined upon Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington, and Baron Douro of Welleslie in the County of Somerset. Wellington is a town not far from Welleslie, and no person has chosen the title. I trust that you will not think there is anything unpleasant or trifling in the name of Wellington, but [in the] circumstances… I could not easily have done better. I own I feel in rather an embarrassing situation for it is impossible for me to know whether I have acted as you would have had me…but you should have explained to me your wishes before ever you left England, in case of such an event.

In the anxious days awaiting a reply from the Peninsula, Wellesley-Pole’s nerves would hardly have been soothed when Arthur’s wife Kitty declared

kitty pakenham

Wellington I do not like for it recalls nothing. However, it is done & I suppose it could not be avoided.

The fact Wellesley-Pole did not consult Kitty says a lot about the role of women in society at that time, for it seems odd that she was only told after the deed was done, and literally had to live with Wellesley-Pole’s decision for the rest of her life.

Eventually and to Wellesley-Pole’s immense relief his choice of title met with unqualified approval from Arthur:

My opinion is that you have done exactly what you ought to have done… You have chosen most fortunately, and I am very much obliged to you. I could not have been better off for a name if we had discussed the subject twenty times

It seems obvious to me that a greater study of Wellesley-Pole’s close relationship with Wellington not only offers a fuller understanding of this great military genius, but could provide Wellesley-Pole much needed relief from his critics: The creation of ‘Wellington’ was not an egotistical act on Wellesley-Pole’s part, for a quick perusal of the relevant letters shows that Wellesley-Pole had no choice but to stand proxy, and that his motives were honourable as he tried to balance the needs of government with the wishes of his beloved brother.

This article is a modified version of a guest blog I wrote for the award winning numberonelondon website

In this momentous year celebrating the bicentennial of Waterloo, you may be interested in the forthcoming Wellington Congress which has a great programme of speakers lined up, at the University of Southampton April 10-12th 2015. I will be doing a talk on Sunday 12th focussing (of course) on Wellington’s relationship with the Wellesley-Poles.

For more news, views and information on this year’s Waterloo celebrations visit Waterloo 200 or Waterloo2015 – not forgetting the simply splendid Unseen Waterloo

If you live in London, why not visit Apsley House and see the Duke of Wellington’s home

Any comments or feedback is always welcome – and a big thanks to all those kind souls on Twitter who do so much to promote my blog – it really is appreciated.

No Longer Minted : Wellesley-Pole’s Exit (1823)

Wellesley Pole’s departure and legacy

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

wwp by pistrucci

Wellesley-Pole leaving medal – by Pistrucci

The bold manner in which you 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

Sir Joseph Banks – Letter to Wellesley-Pole 21st June 1817

In the summer of 2009 it came to light that the Royal Mint had made a terrible blunder with the redesign of the 20p piece, meaning that for the first time in over 300 years an undated British coin entered circulation. Any one lucky enough to find one of these ‘mistakes’ could reasonably be expected a windfall, since coin experts placed their value at £50

feck up 20p

A error such as this is indeed a rarity for the Royal Mint, especially given the advances in technology since the days of Wellesley-Pole and Pistrucci. Moreover it brings sharply into focus the amazing logistical achievements of the Waterloo Medal and The Great Recoinage. In less than three years at the Mint Wellesley-Pole revolutionised the issue of war service medals, and then exchanged the entire silver currency of Great Britain without losing a single bag of coin from the 57 million issued and distributed the length and breath of these islands. By any standard this is a mind-boggling achievement, which occurred during years of civil strife – when there was no proper transport and communication system in place.

big red book

This 1818 satire has Wellesley-Pole is saying ‘I swallow £10,000 per annum and do very little for it.’

But what of the next five years, 1818-1823, I hear you ask. What did Wellesley-Pole do next? Well the answer is – not a lot. The problem was that Wellesley-Pole was up to any task set him, but after the new silver currency in 1817, save for the introduction of the gold sovereign, and a few changes after George IV came to the throne – Wellesley-Pole was not called upon to any great extent. This is not to say that the Royal Mint failed to develop and thrive under his command, more that it was really rather routine for a man of his administrative capabilities.

caslereagh

Wellesley-Pole was not vocal enough in support of Government repression

After 1818 Wellesley-Pole was angling for a new role in Government – His long-term ambition was to become First Lord of the Admiralty, something dear to his heart as a former naval officer and services as Secretary to the Admiralty (1805-1808). But he needed advancement to the peerage to make this possible. The only problem was that Lord Liverpool’s government had barely any Ministers sitting in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister really wanted to see Wellesley-Pole at his fiercest in the Commons alongside Lord Castlereagh – defending the crackdown on civil liberties. Instead Wellesley-Pole made repeated requests for advancement, so Liverpool became instead convinced that the time had come to get rid of him. In 1814 Wellesley-Pole had been an important pawn in the political rapprochement with the Duke of Wellington – but when the Iron Duke himself joined the Cabinet in 1818, Liverpool realised that one Wellesley was quite enough – and so the dye was cast for Wellesley-Pole’s removal

Ultimately it was events elsewhere which kept Wellesley-Pole in office until 1823. After the death of George III in 1820, the new King George IV was only to happy to ennoble his friend and confidante – and Wellesley-Pole became Baron Maryborough. But the trial of Queen Caroline, delayed the King’s coronation by two years, putting both Royal and Government business onto the back burner. Hence it was not until 1823 that Wellesley-Pole was ‘no longer Minted.’

maryborough

Wellesley-Pole ennobled – and sacked at the same time

We have now seen Wellesley-Pole’s legacy – and also found out how and why he was removed from office. But what of the Mint? How did they feel about the loss of their Master after 9 tumultuous years? The answer to this can be found at the National Archives where a 300-page document details the full period of Wellesley-Pole’s tenure at the Mint. Most importantly of all it reveals how popular Wellesley-Pole was amongst his staff and colleagues. Sir Joseph Banks (quoted at the head of this post) was just one of many contemporaries who, at least privately, were fulsome in their admiration of his achievements. Luckily for us, and for the Royal Mint – it was Banks’ admiration for Wellesley-Pole that enabled the establishment of the Royal Mint Museum (1816). Both men had a sense of the importance of retaining examples of old currency for continuity of British culture.

Main Mint book - 300 pages

Mint Book at the National Archives

After Wellesley-Pole resigned – the Royal Mint scrambled to lavish him with lasting thanks for what he had done to enhance their reputation. A copy of his bust by Nollekins was commissioned and placed in the Mint boardroom alongside Sir Isaac – reckoned to be the greatest of all Mint employees. He also had the honour to be elected by the Goldsmiths to their Livery, a rare token of esteem. Finally Pistrucci designed a special medal which was awarded to Wellesley-Pole with a Latin inscription, the translation of which follows:

The Officers of the Royal Mint have caused this Medal to be struck in the year of our Lord 1823 in honour of the Right Honourable William Wellesley-Pole, Baron Maryborough (nine year Master of the Mint) as a mark of their respect and esteem for his Lordship: who when the coin of the realm, from long wear had become much deteriorated, not only restored it to its pristine beauty but replaced it by an entirely new coinage, far more perfect both in design and execution, and who also in transmitting the new coinage to all parts of the Kingdom conducted the undertaking with so much Wisdom, Consideration, and Equity that the old money ceased, and the new began to obtain currency in every place, at nearly the same moment

latin

For those Latin aficionados – here is the Latin version

Perhaps Wellesley-Pole’s greatest legacy of all was framed by his constant insistence that there should be  ‘no impairment in the coins beauty or quality’. Because of this the designs remained in circulation until decimalisation in 1971. For over 150 years British citizens carried his handiwork in their pockets, surely the greatest testimony to what he achieved.

 nollekins

Bust of Wellesley-Pole by Nollekins – Placed in Mint Boardroom

I hope you have enjoyed ‘The Mint with a Pole’ and come back soon as there are more episodes from the Wellesley-Pole family with which I hope to entertain you.

Any comments or feedback would be gratefully received.

To find out where Wellesley-Pole went after the Mint, please follow him to Royal Ascot – or see why Wellesley-Pole fought to prevent prosecution of a vagrant. Alternatively you can help the Duke of Wellington choose which niece he liked the most.

Sources

  1. National Archives MINT 1/56
  2. Daily Mail June 29 2009
  3. Humphreys H., Gold, Silver and Copper Coins of England (6th Ed, London: Bohn, 1849)
  4. Craig J., The Royal Society and the Royal Mint in, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of  London,  (London: The Royal Society, V19, No 2– Dec 1964)
  5.  Mays J., The Splendid Shilling, (Hampshire: New Forest, 1982)

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

 

3 Savile Row – Its role in British history

 

Within These Walls: 6 Layers of History

savilerow

No 3 Savile Row, Mayfair

Let me introduce you to a Grade II listed mansion house in London’s Mayfair that has recently been in the news due to an unsuccessful campaign to prevent its conversion into an Abercromby & Fitch childrenswear store. Knowing the history of this grand old building it is somewhat ironic to find that an American transformation has materialised. For the truth is that this building has some very interesting and important connections.  Since its construction in 1733 this house has been occupied by people who have helped shape the course of British military and cultural history. Let’s go inside…

1. Admiral John Forbes (1714-1796)

forbes

John Forbes was Wellesley-Pole’s father in law

John Forbes began his naval career at the age of 13 and progressed up through the ranks until he became Admiral of the Fleet from 1781 until his death. This was an era when a great many servicemen returned from war incapacitated, and disability was not considered a barrier to high office. Even though Forbes was unable to walk and rarely seen in society he still managed to exercise overall control of the British Navy – and he did so by holding meeting as his house at 3 Savile Row, where he had lived from around 1760.

byng

Execution of Admiral Byng (1757)

Forbes most important contribution to British history came when he was involved in the trial of Admiral Byng, who was blamed for the loss of Minorca in 1756. He was tried and found guilty of failing to “do his utmost” to prevent the defeat. When Byng was sentenced to death an appeals for clemency was angrily refused by King George III. Forbes was the only Admiral to refuse to sign Byng’s death warrant though his action failed to prevent Byng’s execution by firing squad on 14 March 1757. Such was the effect upon the public mind that this was the last time a serving naval officer was executed on this charge. Forbes fearless refusal to bow to enormous pressure singled him out as a compassionate man of principle and made him a role model for fairer treatment of naval personnel.

In 1784 Forbes twin daughter Katherine married 3rd Lieutenant William Wellesley-Pole in a ceremony at 3 Savile Row with guests including Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. Wellesley-Pole inherited the house in 1797 but decided to rent it out

2. General Robert Ross (1766-1814)

ross

Perhaps Wellesley-Pole’s most famous tenant was Robert Ross a famous British general who is best known across the water in the United States. Irish-born Ross lived at Savile Row until 1805 after returning from action at the Battle of Alexandria (1801). He was subsequently present at the Battle of Corruna (1809) before serving under Arthur Wellesley during the Peninsular War. Despite being seriously wounded at the Battle of Orthes on 27th February 1814, Ross agreed to lead command a British expeditionary force to attack the United States

washington burning

Hard to believe even today – Britain burning down the White House (1814)

Having routed the Americans at Bladensburg (27th August 1814) Ross advanced into Washington DC where he destroyed all the public buildings including the White House. For this act Ross is perhaps the best remembered of all British soldiers ever to set foot on American soil.

death of ross

The death of General Ross

It was not to end well for Ross as he was killed by American snipers near North Point on 12th September 1814. He is buried in the Old Burying Ground at Nova Scotia but has a monument inscribed to him in St Paul’s Cathedral.

3. The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)

wellington

When Arthur Wellesley returned from 8-years service in India the first place he stayed was with the Wellesley-Pole family in Blackheath, for he was at that time unmarried and had no London home. However, he was to repeat the exercise in 1814 when he triumphantly returned from the Peninsular War following Napoleon’s surrender and exile. It’s very telling that the newly ennobled Duke of Wellington chose Savile Row rather than his own marital home. Imagine if you can the thousands of people who gathered outside, mounting a daily vigil to catch a glimpse of their conquering hero. Wellington remained at Savile Row for a month before returning to Paris.

4. William Wellesley-Pole (1763-1845)

wwp by pistrucci

Wellesley-Pole owned 3 Savile Row between 1797 and 1842. In his role as Master of the Mint Wellesley-Pole presided over the introduction of new silver currency that was to remain in circulation from 1817 right through until decimalisation in 1971.

shilling

The humble shilling must surely be on of the greatest symbols of Britishness. Wellesley-Pole he also helped to create the instantly recognisable St George & Dragon motif designed by Benedetto Pistrucci which is still in use today.

double sovereign

5. The Bowler Hat (1849)

bowler hat

Quintessentially British – The bowler hat

Perhaps the greatest stereotypical representation of the English gentleman must be the wearing of a bowler hat. No 3 Savile Row can claim the distinction of being recognised as the place where the bowler hat originated. William and Thomas Bowler are credited with creating the first prototype for the bowler hat in 1850, but it is generally acknowledged that the hat was after a design by British soldier and politician Edward Coke, who was fed up with seeing his gamekeeper’s hats continually knocked off by low-hanging branches when out riding. When he was in Town, Coke lived at 3 Savile Row.

bowler2

Bowler hats have travelled up the social spectrum

Initially very popular with the Victorian working classes, the bowler hat went on to become standard uniform for middle-class businessmen, and by the 1960s it had elevated to the aristocratic realm.

6. The Beatles (1969)

beatles

On January 30th 1969 the Beatles played their last ever public performance on the roof of Apple Records HQ at No 3 Savile Row. Just a year earlier the Beatles paid £500,000 to purchase the mansion and they are said to have spent the best part of 18 months living there leading up to that famous rooftop escapade.

advert

Not surprisingly, to this day 3 Savile Row is still considered a tourist attraction for Beatles fans and there has been a steady clamour for a blue plaque to recognise their use of this building.

Conclusion

Whilst researching this post I came across a reference to Lady Hamilton, Admiral Nelson’s lover, stating that she too once lived at 3 Savile Row. But I have not included her in this blog as I can’t see where she would fit in this timeline, unless she rented the property before General Ross. However, I think there is sufficient here to demonstrate that we should hold Savile Row dear not just because of the Beatles, or to keep American tailoring out of this important British fashion location, but because of its connections to everything British: from the stiff upper lip (Forbes), to military escapades (Ross & Wellington), the British currency (Wellesley-Pole), Quintessentially British headwear (Bowler hat), not to mention The Beatles.

In fact No 3 Savile Row has given us a wealth of characters and symbols that mean a lot to our notion of Britishness.

Kier Holdings paid £20 million for the mansion in 2009 but its fate today remains undecided. Who knows what the future holds…

demo

If they knew their history, these chaps would be wearing bowler hats!

Links

A marvellous set of 1950s photographs showing some amazing interiors of No 3 Savile Row

For more info on General Ross I recommend War of 1812 website

The Daily Telegraph has written a splendid history of the bowler hat

Until such time as Geraldine Roberts Angel and the Cad is published by MacMillan, my main focus on this blog will be Wicked William’s father Wellesley-Pole. There is much to write about Wicked William so stay tuned on that score!

However, you might like to know about Wicked William and the Epping Hunt, or why the Duke of Wellington considered him lamentably idle – alternatively you could always read about the death of a Regency Prizefighter

I hope you have enjoyed this post and would be most grateful for any feedback for any additional information you may be able to provide to fill in the gaps.

‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ – Wellesley-Pole & Pistrucci

The Mint with a Pole – Part 3

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

pistrucci image 1826 by cf voigt

Benedetto Pistrucci – Would you mess with him?

Wellesley-Pole’s recruitment of Pistrucci for the Royal Mint in 1815 was both a brave and also deeply unpopular decision. These two firebrands came together under a storm of controversy, yet successfully adopted a classic ‘bunker’ mentality to achieve new heights of numismatic brilliance. Benedetto Pistrucci (1783-1855) was born and educated in Rome. At the age of 15, he was placed with the gem-engraver Nicolo Morelli (1771–1830), whose patrons included the Pope and Emperor Napoleon. His talent for carved cameos was quickly evident as he obtained first prize in sculpture from the drawing academy at Campidoglio. Pistrucci remained in Rome until he was in his forties, producing a combination of portrait cameos and engraved gemstones. Hoping to enhance his reputation further Pistrucci moved to France around 1814. But his arrival coincided with Napoleon’s defeat and exile, so he met the Duke of Wellington and his brother Wellesley-Pole rather than the French Emperor (to whom he had hoped to present a cameo). By the time Wellesley-Pole returned to London to become Master of the Mint, Pistrucci was already there causing ripples of disapproval in artistic circles.

2014GW2957

Pistrucci intended this cameo for Napoleon (Paris 1814), but he was ‘Gone Away’

Having spent over a quarter of a century perfecting his skills Pistrucci was supremely confident in his ability and unwilling to reverentially defer to established English artists. In 1815 Pistrucci attended a party at Sir Joseph Banks’ home where a Mr Payne Knight exhibited an engraved gem believed to be an ancient relic, having been purchased some years earlier from Mr Boneli an art dealer from Golden Square. To the astonishment of the assembled guests Pistrucci announced that he had created the gem in his workshop and sold it to Boneli for twenty Roman crowns. This assertion was challenged not only by Boneli (who insisted that Pistrucci had merely polished up an ancient gemstone) but also by several renowned experts present. It was declared that there was ‘no living artist so capable’ as to have manufactured such an item. So Pistrucci offered to make a replica and present it within three months in proof of his claim. He duly delivered a near perfect match, but without the signs of wear and tear evident on the original – and he demanded £50 payment from Payne Knight for his troubles. But Knight refused to pay or to submit both items for independent adjudication.

head of flora

The ‘Head of Flora’ – which Pistrucci claimed to be his own design

So in some circles Pistrucci found himself labelled a forger and a charlatan trying to extort money from a well-known patron of the arts. But all was not lost for he acquired a vital ally in the form of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). Banks was the long-serving President of the Royal Society which had a traditionally paternalistic control over the policies and activities of the Royal Mint. Knowing that Wellesley-Pole was looking for an artist to work on designs for the new coinage Banks introduced Pistrucci – but left the final decision wholly with the Master of the Mint.

wellesley pole

Wellesley-Pole looking calm and collected for a change

Wellesley-Pole soon encountered problems when he brought Pistrucci into the Mint. His Italian friend had initially submitted artwork for approval, including the now famous St George and Dragon design. But when chief engraver Thomas Wyon copied Pistrucci’s model he could not match the original. Wellesley-Pole realised he was on to a winner and paid Pistrucci 100 guineas to create the template himself. This caused ill-feeling at the Mint, which worsened after Wyon unexpectedly died. Wellesley-Pole knew no one could replicate Pistrucci’s work, so he backed his man unequivocally. Pistrucci was employed as an engraver for £500 per annum, offering him accommodation at the Mint. Wellesley-Pole acquired Pistrucci’s services on excellent terms considering that the initial contract for 100 guineas only entailed a week’s work. Pistrucci was permitted to augment his pay by carrying out private commissions, and brought his family over from Rome. However he worked up to 18 hours a day at the Mint in these early years, leaving no time for freelance projects. Staff at the Mint resented Pistrucci because he was an alien. Their antipathy lasted decades during which time he was not allowed to be called ‘Chief Engraver’.

On 11th July 1815 Wellesley-Pole invited 12 members at the Royal Academy, including Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Flaxman, and his close friend Joseph Nollekins to submit designs for the Waterloo Medal. The letter clearly stated

This can only be done by the aid of the First Artists belonging to the Royal Academy

flaxman

John Flaxman (1755-1826) – was not deemed good enough by Wellesley-Pole

But when the Royal Academy nominated Flaxman’s design for the larger Waterloo Medal, Pistrucci refused to copy it, declaring that it went against his artistic principles. Instead he submitted his own proposal which was approved by the Regent. The Regent then asked for his portrait by Lawrence to be copied for the obverse face of the medal. But when Wellesley-Pole went to see him at his studio, Pistrucci had turned Lawrence’s painting to face the wall and pointedly refused to comply even when threatened with dismissal. He said he wanted to create the Regent ‘from life’. It was an awkward situation, for Wellesley-Pole had agreed a fee of £3500 for this commission, £2000 of which had already been paid. Additionally, he was over a barrel regarding the new coinage. Remarkably Wellesley-Pole persuaded the Regent to back down, and Pistrucci got his way. The Royal Society was enraged by the Mint’s rejection of Flaxman and Lawrence’s artwork. A senior British Museum antiquary said ‘a more intimate knowledge of the talent that existed in the Kingdom…would have saved [Wellesley-Pole] from the reproach of unnecessarily insulting the whole body of native artists’.

double sovereign

Pistrucci’s iconic St George & Dragon motif – still in use today. Note his initials (bottom right)

To get some idea of the resentment stirred up by Wellesley-Pole’s appointment and dogged support for Pistrucci you only have to look at the press between 1816 and 1819 where numerous anonymous letters lambasted their partnership. Even though the Great Re-coinage was an unqualified success the barbed comments kept coming. For example the Morning Chronicle of October 29th 1818 stated

The execution of the coin of the Realm…[occurred] through the anti-national bad taste of the Master of the Mint shamefully [working] after the designs of the Italian artist.

wwp coin marks

Despite Wellesley-Pole’s private marks being very small and subtle he was likened to Cardinal Wolsey

Wellesley-Pole was delighted to discover ‘I am empowered to place such private mark as I choose [on all coin], and I have chosen my initials…WWP’. The press accused him of ‘smuggling his initials’ onto the new sovereign and they were quick to publish his reply: ‘I shall be impeached for putting my initials on the coin of the realm, as Cardinal Wolsey was for placing a cardinal’s hat on the coin of Henry VIII!’  Such was the level of vitriol probably originating from jealous and resentful members of the Royal Academy that Wellesley-Pole was compelled to make a statement in the House of Commons setting the record straight. Pistrucci fared similarly when exercising his right to leave a mark on designs used in the new coins

Pistrucci the artrist who executed the die for the Crown piece is determined that his name shall be transmitted to posterity. It is engraved at full length on both sides of the coin!! For this specimen of vanity and presumption he has no precedent

Reports on the design of the Double-Sovereign in 1819 reveal the depth of animosity against both men

Mr Pistrucci whose happy knack of making strong likenesses is well known to the British public has presented a faithful resemblance of himself in the cavalier… with a melting pot instead of a helmet. In the beast on which he is mounted the public will recognise… the Master of the Mint differing however from the Grecian charger… by a striking addition to the length of his ears… so that the whole figure on the new coin resembles a jack-ass. [In fact] the initials W.W.P are impressed on his hind-quarters… so Englishmen in future ages will not look at the jack-ass without thinking of Mr Pole.

pistrucci bust

In Pistrucci, Wellesley-Pole found a like-minded character. Both men were hot-headed perfectionists unwilling to compromise in pursuit of their goals. Wellesley-Pole correctly identified Pistrucci as the man to revolutionise British coinage and backed his man to the hilt. But the consequence for both men was an estrangement from the established body of artists, and fellow Mint employees. In fact it was the Mint’s unwillingness to accept Pistrucci as Chief Engraver and their pointed omission of his name from their Red Book that led to the 30+ year delay in Pistrucci delivering the dyes needed to produce the larger Waterloo Medal.  Pistrucci complained long and often that he was promised the role of Chief Engraver by Wellesley-Pole and he genuinely feared that the Mint would cast him aside as soon as he was no longer considered essential.  So he dragged his heels for decades and by the time the dyes were presented only the Duke of Wellington remained alive of the leaders involved in the Battle of Waterloo.

Waterloo-medal-A

Though Pistrucci worked at the Mint until 1849, his most productive and inspirational phase was under Wellesley-Pole’s influence and support – between 1815 and 1820. It is fair to say that both men benefitted from each other’s obstinacy and drive for perfection. No one liked them, but luckily for us, they didn’t care because their collaboration produced coins considered to be ‘the finest that had ever been issued in Europe’.

pistricci work

Example of Pistrucci’s earlier cameo work c.1810

Pistrucci was undoubtedly an essential cog in Wellesley-Pole’s machinery at the Mint, but my next part will focus on the incredible logistical achievement of The Great Re-Coinage in 1817…

Sources Used

  1. Greg Roberts unpublished dissertation ‘The Forgotten Brother’ (2009)
  2. Billing A., Gems, Jewels and Coins (London: Bell and Daldy, 1867)
  3. Humphreys H., Gold, Silver and Copper Coins of England (6th Ed, London: Bohn, 1849)
  4. British Library Add. MSS 39791
  5. Hayward J., Waterloo- The Medal, www.greatwarhistoricalsociety.com
  6. Bagot J., George Canning and Friends (London: Murray, 1909)
  7. Images of Wellesley-Pole marks on coins courtesy of The Royal Mint Museum

In November 2014 it was announced that Pistrucci’s Waterloo Medal had finally been struck, nearly 200 years after Wellesley-Pole commissioned it. The medal was presented to representatives of Britain’s allies at the Battle of Waterloo in a ceremony held at Apsley House, The Duke of Wellington’s London home

ceremony

Better late then never- Britain’s allies thanked for Waterloo

To find out more about Pistrucci’s Waterloo Medal visit The Royal Mint Museum

Waterloo 200 organisation will produce 500,000 Waterloo Medal replicas as part of events to mark anniversary of Wellington’s victory

For more information Pistrucci’s famous ‘head of flora’ cameo visit the British Museum

Traditionalists will be pleased to see that the Royal Mint are producing a 2015 Sovereign in which Pistrucci’s mark is clearly visible

To find out what Wellesley-Pole got up to after he left the Mint, watch him go to the dogs or if you want to know more about Wellington’s devotion to his staff you may enjoy Wellington & Raglan

 

Waterloo Medal: a Wellesley-Pole production

The Mint with a Pole Part 2 – The Waterloo Medal

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

waterloo medal

Take a look at Wellesley-Pole’s unique Waterloo Medal
  • The first medal issued by the British Government to all soldiers present at an action.  
  • The first campaign medal awarded to the next-of-kin of men killed in action.
  • The first medal to be individually inscribed

But how did the Waterloo Medal come about?

waterloo battle

Survive this and get an individually inscribed medal!

On 28th June 1815, Wellington suggested ‘giving the non-commissioned officers and soldiers engaged in the Battle of Waterloo a medal.’ His brother Wellesley-Pole interpreted this as an opportunity for the Royal Mint to ‘show the world that this country is as superior in her [arts], as she has lately been proven to be in the skill and valour of her arms’. Accordingly on 11 July, he wrote to the Royal Academy inviting designs for two proposed medals.

One in Gold, of the largest size…will probably be given to each of the Sovereigns in Alliance with the Prince Regent, to their Ministers and Generals…The other… of small size to be given to every Officer and Soldier … who was present at the Battles

Wellesley-Pole was caught up in the euphoria of the victory against Napoleon and his impatience to get underway was immediately apparent. He restricted the design competition to the larger medal after mint employee Thomas Wyon put forward a cameo of the Prince Regent, copied from Sir Thomas Lawrence’s famous painting, which was approved for the smaller medal. Wellesley-Pole was so impressed that he promoted 23-year-old Wyon to Chief Engraver on 13th October. It was a typically bold move, showing his readiness to support those he believed in, even if it made him unpopular.

names list

A list of Waterloo participants was meticulously compiled

At the end of August, Wellesley-Pole detailed how the operation was to be coordinated. He had already sent a flurry of letters to the regiments asking for a comprehensive list of eligible soldiers. He also incentivised Mint staff by offering £100 prize money for finding a way to modify milling machines to allow the edges of medals to be individually inscribed. The level of detail of Wellesley-Pole’s instructions provides a fascinating insight into his methods.

The Moneyers’ work begins tomorrow morning (31 Aug) …and if the Rolling and Cutting continue without intermission for 10 hours each day, Sundays excepted…The Cutting may be finished on Monday night (4th Sept). The Blanks will begin Milling on Monday morning (4th Sept); they will be finished ready for annealing on Thursday evening (7th September). The annealing will be done on Friday the 8th Sept…There must be six sets of Marking Machines made for Lettering the Medals – 18 Sets of Letters are wanting for the Machines… When the two Machines are at work the Lettering may be completed in 30 days, viz at the rate of one piece a minute, for each machine working 10 hours a day. The six sets of Marking Machines will be ready for working on the 11th September. Supposing we begin to letter on Monday the 12 Sept, the Lettering may be finished by the 20th October….Mr Wyon will be ready with his Dyes by the 10th of Oct. If we work 8 Presses at the rate of a Piece per minute for each Press (working 10 hours a day) the Forty Thousand Medals will be struck in Ten days, and be ready for delivery on the 9th of November.

He demanded total commitment from all concerned. It is almost like a team talk.

I rely upon the…the utmost exertions… to complete the work. The whole grace of the distribution of the medals would be lost if any unavoidable delay was to take place in their issue; and, in the very perfect state of the machinery of the Mint, no excuse could be allowed to us by the public in such an event. You will be so good as to let it be generally understood that…no branch of the manufacture is to relax its efforts under an idea that it will be ready before any other branch is prepared to carry forward the work. Every person is to act as if the whole measure depended upon his individual exertions.

works at the mint

Wellesley-Pole was a great believer in teamwork

Progress was delayed after a fire at the Mint in September, then a late decision by the Prince Regent to strike the medals in silver instead of bronzed copper. The Bank of England received a request for 60 thousand ounces of fine silver on 19th January 1816, and incredibly the finished product was ready to ship by 3rd March. Wellesley-Pole wrote

I propose packing the Medals in Boxes marked on the outside so as to specify the Corps or Regiment to which the Medals within may belong; and there will be packed in each Box a copy of the List transmitted … The Name of each Officer and Man is impressed upon the edge of the Medal destined for him, and care will be taken to pack the Medals in the order in which the Names stand on the several Lists…I am in hopes that we shall be enabled to deliver finished Medals… at the rate of about 1000 per day from this time forward.

In all, just under 40,000 medals were awarded, with the vast majority sent out without fault in quality or individual inscription. Such a monumental logistical achievement was to prove a trial run for what was to follow at the Royal Mint under Wellesley-Pole.

pole signature

Another project successfully signed off by Wellesley-Pole

After the work was finished, Wellesley-Pole ordered 50 individually-inscribed medals as gifts to Ministers, senior Mint officials and friends. Everything was transparent and above-board: ‘The Deputy Master of the Mint will be so good as to pay the expense of these Medals and charge it to [my] private account’.

Yet Wellesley-Pole’s hard work met with some controversy as Peninsular War veterans felt justifiably aggrieved that those who were present at Waterloo—many of them raw recruits, who had never seen a shot fired in anger—should receive such a meaningful prize; while they, who had served the whole war, received nothing beyond a Parliamentary vote of thanks. If you know anything about Wellesley-Pole at this stage, such understandable yet also unfair criticism is about par for the course.

So Wellesley-Pole’s administrative brilliance and innovative team-building ethos at the Mint was once again subsumed by suspicion and hostility that seems to have dogged his entire career.

Never could this be better demonstrated than in Part 3 where Wellesley-Pole joins forces with another unpopular firebrand, namely Benedetto Pistrucci…

Sources Used

[1] Gurwood J., Wellington Supplementary Dispatches, (10 Volumes – London: Murray, 1871)

[2] British Library Manuscripts Add.MSS  39791

[3] Hayward J., Waterloo: The Medal, www.greatwarhistoricalsociety.com

[4] Royal Mint Museum (image of Waterloo Medal ledger)

The Mint with a ‘Pole’ (1814-1823)

Introduction: How and why Wellesley-Pole became Master of the Mint

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

maryborough

An outcast redeemed: William Wellesley-Pole (c.1814)

When Wellesley-Pole took up office on 29th September 1814, this was to be the first and only time that the Master of the Mint qualified as Cabinet rank. In this period the Government was dominated by peers with only exceptional outsiders breaking into their elite circle. By any standards Wellesley-Pole’s appointment was unusual. He was neither a peer (nor even a supporter) of Lord Liverpool’s administration – yet he was handed an unexpected seat in the heart of government doing a job previously considered second-rate. So why was Wellesley-Pole brought in from the cold, and what motivated Lord Liverpool to make the role of Master of the Mint a Cabinet position? To answer this we must go back 2 years:-

 

perceval death

Spencer Perceval’s murder: the opening shot in a ministerial crisis

The Battle of 1812

Lord Liverpool came to office in the summer of 1812 in the aftermath of the assassination of prime minister Spencer Perceval. But he did so at the expense of the Richard Wellesley who spectacularly fell from grace after his memo critical of Perceval’s war effort was leaked to the press at the worst possible time:

press leak

Richard Wellesley’s attack on Perceval coincided with announcement of his death

Initially Lord Liverpool proposed Wellesley-Pole to join the Cabinet as Minister for War, which would have put him in charge of Arthur [Lord Wellington]’s campaign in Spain. But the Prince Regent felt placed in an awkward position and refused to accept Wellesley-Pole because ‘he could not reward one brother, and abandon the other’. Heavy of heart Wellesley-Pole wrote to Liverpool on May 21st

I shall ever retain a just sense of your great kindness towards me [but] I could not serve without subjecting myself to difficulties and inconveniences which I am bound by every principle of affection to my brother to avoid.

Meanwhile in the Peninsula Wellington took the news badly, pronouncing himself ‘confoundedly vexed’ that Wellesley-Pole chose to follow his brother out of office, instead of staying and fighting for his place. Wellington’s antipathy towards Liverpool was such that he broke contact with London during its state of flux declaring ‘I will not tantalise you by entering on our plans for the remainder of the campaign.’ Ironically for all sides Wellington’s victory at Salamanca in July 1812 actually served to cement Liverpool’s shaky administration, putting an end to any realistic prospect of Richard Wellesley seizing power.

salamanca

Wellington’s victory at Salamanca just about saved Lord Liverpool’s administration

Cometh the hour, cometh Wellesley-Pole (1814)

The main reason Wellesley Pole was asked to re-join the Government was because of an urgent need to improve relations between Liverpool’s administration and the Wellesleys. After 1812, Liverpool’s government was insulated by the inability of opposition groups to unify against them. However, when Napoleon surrendered and was exiled in 1814, Arthur (by now Duke of Wellington) made it clear to the Prime Minister that he would not support an administration that excluded his brothers. The risk of being at odds with the hero-of-the-hour was too great; bridges must be built. So, after his triumphant return to England in June, Liverpool acceded to Wellington’s request to bring Wellesley-Pole into the Cabinet.

wellington2

With victories like this, you can ask for anything

On this occasion Wellesley-Pole clearly benefitted from patronage via the Duke of Wellington, but Liverpool’s decision to place him in charge of the Mint was really not a token gesture. In fact it was a pragmatic and eminently sensible move. Liverpool already had a personal association with the Mint, serving as Master between 1799 and 1801. His father Charles Jenkinson chaired a long-running Select Committee dedicated to enhancing Mint practices. Currency reform was vital, becoming more acutely necessary as the war reached a conclusion. Replacing the silver currency required the Mint, the Exchequer, Prime Minister, bankers, and the Prince Regent to work in harmony. The aim was to preserve the banking system whilst it underwent a vital blood transfusion. These unique circumstances may explain Liverpool’s decision to elevate Master of the Mint to Cabinet rank. He knew Wellesley-Pole met the criteria required, having worked closely with him before. Wellesley-Pole was a good administrator, loyal and discreet, had Exchequer experience, and (best of all) commanded the Prince Regent’s respect.

Appointing Wellesley-Pole therefore enabled Liverpool to appease the Duke of Wellington, but it also gave him the ideal person to tackle serious and urgent problems which threatened to destroy Britain’s post-war economy.

The State of the Mint to 1814

In 1787 the Mint began a slow process of modernisation. Jenkinson’s Select Committee examined the state of the coinage and existing working practices. He was assisted by Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), President of the Royal Society – a post he held for 42 years. The Royal Society traditionally exercised control over currency manufacture. The Mint comprised of disparate departments with strict, almost medieval, working practices. The Royal Society acted like a glue to keep these elements working together and to oversee innovation and improvement.

 banks

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) was to become Wellesley-Pole’s greatest fan

When Jenkinson’s Committee was established, it was so long since silver coins had been mass-produced that Mint employees feared the know-how was lost. Eventually in 1804 a system was perfected for producing standard weights and alloy mixtures. Around the same time, Matthew Boulton invented a steam-driven coining press. He operated from a factory in Birmingham, supplying copper coinage throughout Britain and Ireland. To modernise the London operation a new Mint was constructed at Tower Hill incorporating steam technology, which was completed in 1810.

royalmint1830

The new Royal Mint at Tower Hill

Boulton’s steam press system and use of highly-skilled engravers overcame the problem of counterfeit copper coins. Also an Act of Parliament in 1803 introduced draconian fines for simple possession of fraudulent coins. But forgery of silver currency continued unabated. Up until this time the best engravers only worked on large value coins. No regard was given to the quality of lower denominations. ‘From the Mint’s point of view the manufacture of coin had to satisfy two, and only two, criteria: coin must be of proper fineness and of accurate weight.’ It is little wonder that forgers thrived.

back from elba

Napoleon’s brief trip home, 1815

Almost as soon as Wellesley-Pole began his duties, Napoleon escaped from Elba and hostilities with France resumed. During this period Wellesley-Pole asked the Commons to approve the construction of houses ‘to accommodate… persons who had been ‘imported’ from Birmingham, for the purpose of managing the machinery of the new Mint. At a meeting with Banks to discuss new currency designs, Wellesley-Pole was introduced to an Italian engraver named Benedetto Pistrucci, of whom we shall hear more.

The Battle of Waterloo was to present Wellesley-Pole with his first opportunity of proving his worth, and he did not waste it. Tune in for part two to find out how the Waterloo Medal was conceived, the extraordinary speed in which it was manufactured, and its unique innovation.

For more information about this exciting era in the history of the Royal Mint please visit their website or the Royal Mint Museum, whose director Dr Kevin Clancy is a widely renowned and respected numismatist.

If you are interested in Wellesley-Pole, you may be interested to read about his ‘creation’ of Royal Ascot

You might like to know how Lord Liverpool got the better of the Wellesleys (again), or why The Duke of Wellington considered Wellesley-Pole’s son (Wicked William) ‘lamentably ignorant and idle’

Finally, the growing legions of Wellesley-Pole fans undoubtedly wondering why he’s never been written about should be thrilled to bits to know that our hero is very much a ‘best supporting character’ in Geraldine Roberts’ forthcoming book Angel and the Cad : Love, Loss & Scandal in Regency England

Sources Used:

[1] Butler I., The Eldest Brother: The Marquess Wellesley 1760-1842 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1972)

[2] British Library Manuscrips Add.MSS 37296

[3] Longford E., Wellington: Years of the Sword (London: Panther, 1971).

[4] Craig J., The Royal Society and the Royal Mint in, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, (London: The Royal Society, V19, No 2– Dec 1964).

[5] Selgin G., Steam, Hot Air & Small Change: Matthew Boulton and the Reform of Britain’s Coinage,in Economic History Review (London: Blackwell, 2003)

[6] Challis C., A New History of the Royal Mint (Cambridge: CUP, 1992)

[7] Hansard, 25/Apr/1815

Why Wellesley-Pole should be commemorated by Ascot

Creating Tradition – Wellesley-Pole and Ascot (Part 5)

The Importance of Wellesley-Pole’s Legacy

Intro | Master of the Buckhounds | The Age of Reform | Anger Management | Legacy

maryborough

William Wellesley-Pole (Lord Maryborough) 1763-1845

It is tempting to turn the concluding part of my study of Wellesley-Pole’s impact upon Ascot into an open letter to the powers that be, in the hope that our man will finally gain the credit he deserves. Instead, however, I want to explain why the invention of tradition was not just about Ascot, but more to do with the relationship between the monarchy and the people.

Monarchy

A Perfect Marriage : the Monarchy &  the People

We have seen how Wellesley-Pole’s structural and organisational changes transformed Ascot into the best race track in Britain, and how his rules of racing added a much-needed backbone of professionalism upon which horse racing (as a sport) has thrived. We must must acknowledge that great innovators can make mistakes, & there certainly were one or two wrong decisions made along the way.

Wellesley-Pole’s true legacy, however, must lie in the adoption of ceremonial rituals via the ‘Royal Procession’ – an entirely new creation that gave the instant impression of being a long-held tradition- bringing the people and their King together as one joyous ensemble. It was a simple but brilliant idea that has served us right up to the present time.

Royal Procession

To illustrate this better I will firstly examine why ‘Royal Ascot’ meant so much to George IV, and secondly show how it played a significant role in popularising his successor, William IV.

It must be clarified that Ascot was inaugurated under the reign of Queen Anne in 1711. This was more of a permit to hold meetings, and it was not until after 1750 that an annual 4-day meeting was held. The first royal to show a great interest in Ascot Heath was the Duke of Cumberland – who, as Lord Warden of Windsor Forest, was a enthusiastic and regular attendee. King George III also went frequently until his descent in madness in 1810. But it was his two eldest sons George (Prince of Wales) and Frederick (Duke of York) who really took Ascot to their hearts. The Duke of York was perhaps the most pivotal supporter of Ascot in this period as he regularly entered his own horses, sponsored races, and was always on the course. George, on the other hand, was more of a gambler than a participant – so much so that his debts led to exile from Ascot after 1807. Even after he became Prince Regent, George was remained wary of Ascot – principally because he was deeply unpopular and genuinely feared for his safety. The Duke of York by contrast was a soldier, widely respected, and loved by the people – amongst whom he could freely mingle.

york

Frederick, Duke of York – a massive fan of Ascot Heath Races

So, by 1820 when the Regency ended and George IV became King – Ascot Heath was certainly considered a race meeting frequented by Royalty – but there was no real glue to bind each together into one synonymous concept

George IV

caroline

George IV’s early reign was marred by mud slinging

It is actually quite incredible to think that speculation about the King’s health was gauged throughout 1830 on the basis of whether he was likely to attend Ascot Races. On April 24th reports that the King spent three hours instructing the Royal Stud groom regarding horses to enter, was taken to mean his illness wasn’t serious. Yet as the weeks passed by and it became clear that George IV would miss Ascot the nation braced itself for bad news. This sense of foreboding reveals the bond that had formed between King and Royal Ascot and can be explained thus:

George Satire

The press loved to hate the King, and he became withdrawn

The first years of the King’s reign were dogged by social and political unrest, and problems with his estranged wife Queen Caroline of Brunswick. Her trail for adultery, exclusion from the Coronation and sudden death in 1822 combined to make George IV deeply unpopular at all levels of society. Not suprisingly by 1823, the King was largely reclusive – spending months on end at his Royal Cottage in Windsor Park. After his death it was revealed that aside from an occasional visit to the theatre, Ascot Races was the only public engagement at which the King appeared.

the Royal cottage at Windsor

Home from home – The Royal Cottage, Windsor Park

Ascot Races was to become a unique and pivotal occasion for the King. His decision to embrace and improve Ascot, by employing  Nash then Wellesley-Pole, was a bold move hoping to carve out one small corner of Britain where he could feel at home amongst his subjects. As an excercise in public relations, Wellesley-Pole’s newly devised ‘Royal Procession’ was a masterstroke. By 1826 it was reported

A little before one the heath was well filled, and the eyes of the spectators were then anxiously turned towards the straight mile, and the Royal Cavalcade approached amidst the cheerings of the people. The carriages stopped at the Royal Stand, and his Majesty alighted, and during the whole of the races was at the window, conversing with the noblemen of his suite… & was highly delighted at the affectionate demonstration of loyalty with which his progress was attended. He bowed repeatedly, and smiled upon the multitude in the most affable manner

If the King liked it, the public was just as enamoured, as this slightly offensive 1828 report shows

It cannot be denied that the popularity of these races arises more from the sanction afforded them by his Majesty, than from the mere running. Horses may be seen every day, but Kings are scarce; and the sight of one is something to talk of, and is recompense for an immensity of fatigue and expense. Of the thousands congregated at least three out of every five came to see the King; and it is a fortunate circumstance for his admiring subjects, that the Royal Person is sufficiently bulky not to be mistaken for that of any less personage

When Wellesley-Pole created the Royal Procession, therefore, he did an enormous service to the King, paving the way for his popular acceptance. In one fell swoop, Ascot Heath was permanently transformed into ‘Royal Ascot’ – for the benefit of both instititutions.

William IV

It is a curious thing that Ascot proved to be an important turning point for George IV’s successor, William IV  (even though Wellesley-Pole was no longer in charge). The new King was never much of a fan of horse-racing and seldom attended Ascot. However, one of his first engagements was at Wellesley-Pole’s second Ascot meeting in August 1830 where he received a rapturous reception.

WilliamIV

William IV – the ‘Sailor King’

The following summer was less enjoyable as the King found himself snubbed by the aristocracy, who boycotted Ascot in protest at William IV’s support for the Reform Bill, reportedly ‘evincing the coldness of their feelings towards the Crown’. But when the public heard of this snub they turned out in even greater numbers than before. The Morning Chronicle wrote

It is clear that the expectation of seeing the King is paramount over every other consideration with three-fourths of those who visit Ascot; without this attraction, certain we are that the brilliant company assembled on the Heath would have been fewer by some thousands… the great popularity of the Sovereign excited an interest ensuring a full attendance.

In 1832 the Royal Procession ceremony provided one last final, and unexpected endorsement proving beyond question that Wellesley-Pole’s marriage of Ascot to Monarchy was both secure and permanent. When making his initial public salute at the balcony of the Royal Stand…

A ruffian, in the garb of a sailor suddenly threw a large flint stone directly at the King…striking our venerable Sovereign on the forehead, just above the rim of his hat… the sound was loud and the King fell back one or two paces and exclaimed ‘My God, I am hit’. Happily his Majesty soon relieved all anxiety… and appeared smiling at the front window of the Stand to huge cheers from the populace

Concluding Words

So we can see the pivotal role Ascot played in re-connecting one monarch (George IV) with his subjects, and reviving another (William IV) at a time when the ruling elite tried to slap him down. In both instances the Royal Procession provided a perfect platform for the exchange of affection needed between citizens and Kings. Wellesley-Pole therefore created a pageant that elevated Royal Ascot above the status of a mere sporting occasion into a popular celebration of the monarchy.

That Ascot became the venue for a vitally important patriotic affirmation, whilst at the same time undergoing unprecedented improvements in all aspects of horse-racing – is the reason why I think Wellesley-Pole ought to be thanked by today’s owners.

ascotroyale

If you have read and enjoyed this, I hope you will try to remember Wellesley-Pole next time you happen to see Ascot’s ‘Royal Procession’. At least that way his hard work will never be forgotten.

Recommended Links

The main Ascot website has detailed information on days out at Royal Ascot 

I would heartily recommend a stay in Windsor, as besides Ascot there is so much to do in this beautiful town