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)