Let’s play Monopoly, early Victorian Style

From

“Go” to “Just Visiting” | “Pall Mall” to “Free Parking” | “Strand” to “Jail” | “Regent St” to “Mayfair”

My current fascination with the Frederick Crace collection of antiquarian prints and maps of London has led me to consider an important and hitherto unanswered historical conundrum:

Could Victorians have played Monopoly?

This question has loomed large since I discovered the extent of Crace’s portfolio kept at the British Museum – and it has me wondering if it would be possible for 1850s Londoners to traverse a traditional Monopoly Board  – without scratching their heads at the areas, streets and locations as set down by Waddington’s when they first sold this game under licence in 1936.

Trafalgar Square (1852) – that’s an easy one

So I have set myself the challenge of seeing how far we can travel around the Monopoly Board – but ONLY using images found within the Crace Collection. This gives us scenes covering the period up to 1860 – Now, now I already hear you baulk at the chances of getting past stations and waterworks, or beyond impossibly modern enclaves. Do not despair – you may be surprised how far we can go, and where we end up!

I intend to divide our journey into 4 parts – each will represent one side of a Monopoly Board. But as we all know, you can’t begin any game without having the requisite pieces and cards – so this post deals with the essentials: namely the bank and 6 playing pieces. Luckily for me the racing car was not an original playing piece in Monopoly, however the remainder have been pretty tough considering I am using a topographical archive, containing very few objects – hence on this part of my mission I will have to resort to a touch of artistic licence

Hat

Hat – for this I have opted for a very dapper image of Charles I as painted by Anthony Van Dyke in 1649 – showing our soon-to-be beheaded monarch wearing a broad rimmed black, and St James’s Palace in the background.

We have to shop for the thimble

Thimble – this was a tough one but I’m sure you’ll agree that we can pay a visit to Fadie & Co, Leather Dressers and Haberdashery in which can be found in Queen Street, an extract of a watercolour from 1852 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. This shop stood right next door to the business premises of Frederick Crace and Co, Decorators to the Queen, so would have been more than familiar to the man who commissioned its painting.

Where better to get an Iron than an ironworks?

Iron – This may seem is a little tenuous – but an all irons start their lives at an iron works such as Fowler’s Ironworks which stood on the Thames in Lambeth just close to Waterloo Bridge. I have not been able to ascertain exactly when the iron works was closed, but assume it would have been before the turn of the nineteenth century when heavy industry such is this moved downstream as London became increasingly urbanised.

A suitable boot – high above the crowd

Boot – I had to trek back to 1770 to find a satirical print depicting an ideal boot for Monopoly purposes. The scene is a fair outside the gate of St. James’s Palace, in which King George III’s friends are satirized as showmen; the principal booth displays the sign of a boot, which is said to represent  the 3rd Lord Bute (1713-1792) – a Scottish nobleman and former Prime Minister thought to hold too much sway over the King’s opinions.

Battleship at anchor in Greenwich

Battleship – We travel downstream to Greenwich to find this particular playing piece – and from the banks of the Isle of Dogs (William Parrott, 1842) we have an excellent view of the hospital and the Observatory. But the real action is in the water, where we find a steamship at anchor and the huge hulk of an un-named Dreadnaught battleship being prepared for return to sea.

 

The Cadiz Memorial – still found in Horse Guards Parade

Cannon – This is an image of a statue built to commemorate the Duke of Wellington’s military victory over the French near Salamanca in 1812. Now known as the Cádiz Memorial, it was originally nicknamed ‘the Prince Regent’s Bomb’  because the word ‘bomb’ used to be pronounced ‘bum’ and the cannon’s considerable size was therefore likened to George’s own huge posterior. Now a grade II listed building worth a look if you are visiting Whitehall.

Now we have our pieces, all we need is…

A 1785 view of the Bank of England

Bank – For a serious game of Monopoly I can look no further than the Bank of England, founded in the 1690s and situated in Threadneedle Street since 1734. The above structure was built by Sir Robert Taylor around 1764, but Taylor’s real legacy was in expanding the site to enable legendary architect Sir John Soane room to rebuild upon classical lines in 1788. The Crace collection has a number of alternative views of the Bank, most of which include the Royal Exchange opposite – and these old images are strikingly similar to how that area looks today.

Looks like we’re all set to go then. So why not join me in subsequent posts on our trek round the Victorian Monopoly board?


If you are a fan of London and sporting history you may be interested in the tale of Royal Ascot, the rise and fall of the Epping Hunt, or to box a few rounds with The Navigator Tom Shelton

But for a some purely financial insight, and to commemorate 200 years since the Great Re-Coinage – you may enjoy learning how we got silver sixpences, shillings and crowns

Finally, if Regency London is not your scene – find your way home via a coaching inn

 

 

Frederick Crace – London’s Forgotten Benefactor

frederick_crace_oil_on_canvas_on_diplay_at_the_royal_pavilion_large

This is Frederick Crace (1779-1859) – a man who deserves to be remembered for his cultural contribution to the history of London. Between 1820 and 1860 Crace collected and collated a visual record of London every bit as vital as that which has been described by Charles Dickens in the pages of his iconic novels – i.e an aura of ‘Olde’ London at a time when it was quickly (and quietly) vanishing beneath the relentless march of Victorian ‘modernisation’. The era when Crace operated saw stagecoach transportation gave way to steam locomotion, clearance of slums and construction of elegant new town squares – extending London’s boundaries far beyond their traditional limits. Ports, churches, thoroughfares and dockyards were rebuilt as industrialisation changed the face and spread of London almost beyond recognition even for those who witnessed it.

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Bedford Square c.1850 (Crace Collection)

For all his efforts, it is particularly sad that Frederick Crace doesn’t seem to have a permanent London memorial. He doesn’t have a blue plaque, and even his graveyard memorial in West Norwood Cemetery has long since been destroyed. For a man who did so much to record London in the era before photography, we really ought to celebrate and commemorate him better. So I am going to begin here by giving a brief outline of Crace’s professional career, and then follow up with a series of posts examining the the many London scenes he commissioned for his unique collection. If you want a taster why not start with my recent blog about London’s coaching inns – which uses images entirely drawn from Crace’s collection.

Crace’s appointment as Commissioner of Sewers in 1818 may have literally been ‘a crap job’, but it did stimulate his interest in the history of the streets of London because he began to collect maps and views of the city from that point right up until his death in 1859. What Crace was unable to procure from collectors, he commissioned via renowned artists, in particular Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. A very large collection of maps and pictures was assembled under his care. Crace had some of Shepherd’s paintings collated and published as ‘Views of London’. But many of the scenes recorded were ordered by Crace upon a whim, or at the drop of a hat, whenever he saw anything important to record for posterity.

http://www.chrisbeetles.com/gallery/early-english-18th-early-19th-century/st-marys-aldermanbury.html

Courtesy www.chrisbeetles.com

St Mary’s Aldermanbury by T.H. Shepherd c.1850

Thanks to Crace we have a significant record of early Victorian transformation of the old Georgian landscape – because his vast collection now resides to the British Museum, having been purchased from Crace’s son in 1879. More joyously still, we now have access to hundreds of beautiful London street scenes (such as the one above) via their excellent online search engine. The true beauty of Crace’s collection is that the traditional tourist panoramas, such as St Paul’s Cathedral or the Tower of London, play a very minor role in the whole ensemble – because Crace concentrated on what was leaving the landscape, rather then what endured. We therefore have a wonderful myriad of London back-streets, shops, inns, churches and housing – perhaps too idyllically depicted – nonetheless vital to grasping an essence of life in London almost two centuries ago.

fishing-templeThe Fishing Temple at Virginia Water, by Frederick Crace c.1825

Frederick Crace, was one of a dynasty of interior designers that graced British homes and palaces between 1750 and 1899. Originally founded as a decorating company by Edward Crace (1725-99), 4 subsequent generations of Craces, in various partnerships and guises,  transformed the business into what the Victoria and Albert Museum have described as ‘the most important family of interior decorations in 19th Century Britain’.

Courtesy Smithsonian Museum

A lot has been written about the Crace family, not least Frederick who is chiefly remembered for the chinoiserie interiors of the Brighton Pavilion. Just recently London Street Views have written a very informative blog about their business base at 14 Wigmore Street. The family firm was created around 1750 by Edward Crace (1725-99) and quickly established themselves as favoured contractors to George III. Edward was not just a paint-splosher, and his services were more akin to interior design, earning him extensive commissions both at Buckingham House and Windsor. Edward’s talents were far-reaching, for in 1770 he authored an influential book upon designs for coach panels (his own father had been a coach-maker), and not long afterwards he became Keeper of the Royal Collection of Paintings, which involved both cataloguing and maintaining the King’s art collection. This was a job Edward kept right up until his death.

Royal Pavilion by Frederick Crace

The Music Room, Brighton Pavilion – Frederick Crace c.1820

Edward’s eldest son John was equally proficient and renowned for his decorating skills, though he set up in practice separately from his father due to a dispute about his choice of bride. John Crace (1754 – 1819) set up on his own in 1776 and by the end of the century was employing his very highly-rated son Frederick. Their clients included leading architects such as Henry Holland and many of the late Georgian housebuilders. John was as favoured in Royal circles as his estranged father – and he was used extensively by the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent) – working at Carlton House and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. When in 1788 John was commissioned to source and supply a collection of Chinese art to the Royal Pavilion, he could not have known that this was to lay the groundwork for his own son’s most famous and enduring project.

brighton-pavilion

Brighton Pavilion – the Prince Regent’s playground

It is said that young Frederick first came to the attention of the Prince of Wales whilst he was at work gilding a staircase at Windsor Castle. The Prince was so enamoured with the artistry on show that he asked Frederick to decorate the Royal Pavilion in a style to match the Chinese art housed therein – hence Frederick designed and installed the exotic Chinese-inspired décor of the Music Room and later, when the Prince Regent became George IV, he decorated the King’s private apartments at Windsor Castle. Other significant projects attributable to Frederick included designing the St James’s Theatre (1835)

st-james-theatre-exterior

St James’ Theatre (1835) designed by Frederick Crace & Son

Frederick died peacefully at his home in Hammersmith on 18th September 1859. The Morning Post eulogised upon his professional talents and achievements but went on to add

Mr Crace has always taken a great interest in the history and topography of London, but for the last 30 years of his life he has devoted himself with untiring energy and industry in perfecting a very valuable and extensive collection of maps, plans, and views of every part of the metropolis from a very early period to the present time

Frederick’s collection was left to his son John, who further added to it, catalogued it and eventually put it in a free exhibition at South Kensington Museum in December 1878. The Morning Post enthused called ‘a most honourable monument’ to Frederick’s patriarchal and archaeological skills:

To historians and antiquarians it will prove of great value as describing the marvellous changes enacted by the lapse of time, not alone in the architecture of London, but also in the manners, fashions, and social usages of its inhabitants.

Within two years (around 1880) John Crace sold the entire collection to the British Museum, where it remains today every bit as important as the Morning Post described it 140 years ago. I am not sure what the Museum paid for the privilege of owning this collection, but I hope and suspect that the Crace family would have been more anxious to preserve the collection than to maximise profit by this transaction.

craces-home-by-shepherd

In my next post I will introduce Thomas Hosmer Shepherd and talk about his life, and in subsequent posts will collate some of Shepherd’s images into themed headings and try to provide more background upon each London scene. I hope you will be able to join me as I try to add historical notes to the images selected, to help breath life back into Crace’s London.

In conclusion, I am irresistibly drawn to make a comparison between Frederick Crace and the modern-day work of Mr Paul Talling, who I believe is undertaking an equally commendable and worthy task of recording derelict and forgotten London before it too disappears from our consciousness. Whereas Frederick relied upon artists such as Shepherd, Paul is able to utilise his own camera to capture equally historic scenes which are already being acknowledged as culturally vital – Its good to know that the feelings which motivated Frederick Crace remain alive today with modern historians of London life.

For further information on the Crace family, may I recommend and cite as sources of reference

  1. London Street Views – page on the Crace business premises
  2. Victoria and Albert Museum Archive of Art and Design catalogue of items relating to Frederick Crace
  3. Carlton Hobbs’ excellent images and details about the Crace family
  4. Cooper Hewitt’s list of Crace items at the Smithsonian Museum
  5. A visit to the Brighton Pavilion to see Frederick’s Crace’s masterpiece of the Music Room as well as his portrait

If you are interested in the lost history and traditions of London, you make like my series of blogs on the Epping Hunt, or the history of Royal Ascot. Or for another forgotten and under-appreciated genius why not check out William Wellesley-Pole – the man who gave us the splendid shilling – which is fast approaching its bicentenary of creation.

 

 

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

 

‘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

Creating Tradition: Wellesley-Pole & Royal Ascot

 

Tell Lord Maryborough that whatever may happen to me, I declare no interruption may be given to the races at Ascot

King George IV on his deathbed June 11, 1830

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

modernday royal ascot

Modern day Ascot -a beautiful race venue

A day out at Ascot Races earlier this month encouraged me to look into its history in the hope that Lord Maryborough (William Wellesley-Pole) would feature prominently. But despite his pivotal role in elevating Royal Ascot from a run of the mill race meeting to a must-see event in the British sporting calendar, I could find no commemorative picture or plaque adorning the walls of Ascot’s magnificent new stand. Ascot’s website is equally unforthcoming in its brief history page – meaning that Wellesley-Pole (as per usual) has been airbrushed from history.

 brothers

Spot the nonentity? – Wellesley-Pole (Centre)

Sandwiched between successful brothers Richard (Marquis Wellesley – Governor General of India 1797-1805, Foreign Secretary 1809-1812) and Arthur (Duke of Wellington), Wellesley-Pole is destined to remain in the shadows. But this hardly justifies why numberless books about the Wellesley brothers feature Wellesley-Pole in a cameo only – He flits about like a kind of pantomime villain – a social climber, grasping opportunist and perpetually angry ‘with anything and anyone’ who gets in his way. I’m not sure what is worse about these assessments – the lazy complacency of poor historical research or the complete inability/unwillingness to place Wellesley-Pole in his correct context. Because the fact is that even a rudimentary study of Wellesley-Pole reveals the important role he played in establishing and consolidating the Wellesley family dynasty.

waterloo medal

Wellesley-Pole’s Waterloo Medal (1816)

coin

 

It doesn’t come more iconic than this! Wellesley-Pole’s Gold Sovereign (1817)

In his own right Wellesley-Pole was responsible for the Waterloo Medal (1816), opening of Waterloo Bridge (1817) and the iconic Britannia design for gold sovereigns (1817). As Master of the Mint (1814-1822) his finest achievement was the introduction of new silver currency in 1817, dubbed the ‘Great Recoinage’. Over a period of two weeks Wellesley-Pole organised the nationwide distribution of 2.6 million coins whilst simultaneously collecting up and melting down all the old currency – a task completed without a single mishap –at a time when there was only a rudimentary transport and communication system in Great Britain. Sir Joseph Banks enthused

The bold manner in which [Wellesley-Pole] devised, and… executed one of the most difficult works…during the present Reign, or possibly any former one, does honour to the name of Wellesley

This new silver coinage was to remain legal tender right up until 1971. That’s over 150 years in which Wellesley-Pole’s handiwork permeated every nook and cranny of British society – becoming a recognisable symbol of Britishness – His coins even outlasted the Beatles (whose last public performance was coincidentally held on the roof of Wellesley-Pole’s old family mansion in Savile Row). All this and no blue plaque!!

savilerow

No 3 Savile Row, Wellesley-Pole’s mansion & latterly Apple Studios

This series of blogs will look at Wellesley-Pole’s 7-year tenure as Steward of Royal Ascot, a time in of great change, during which Ascot’s place was embedded in the annual sporting calendar. This may not be the most important duty Wellesley-Pole undertook in his many years of public service– but it tells us a lot about him as a man – revealing both his brilliant and irrational nature. (Links will come live as they are added)

  1. Master of the Buckhounds – How Wellesley-Pole was unceremoniously dumped from the Cabinet and duped into accepting a role in the King’s Household – which included responsibility for Ascot races.
  2. The Age of Reform – Detailing structural, ceremonial, and organisational changes effected by Wellesley-Pole  as Chief Steward of Ascot between 1822 and 1830
  3. Anger Management – A look at the advantages and disadvantages of Wellesley-Pole’s hot temper, and how it led to his departure from Ascot
  4. Legacy – Why Ascot ought to re-examine its history and traditions to give Wellesley-Pole the credit he deserves

For more information on Ascot Racing visit their website or read the BBC’s brief history

For more equine-related japes on this blog you might like a brief history of the Epping Hunt