Lord Nelson in Pembrokeshire

By Simon Hancock Stackpole Court

Lord Nelson in Pembrokeshire

This year Wales celebrates 2018 as the Year of the Sea and it is timely to remember the people and events which have done so much to shape our island’s story. The sea has been Britain’s highway for commerce but also a barrier of defence against invasion. Many times the Royal Navy has been the nation’s saviour and no greater name stands out in the annals of our maritime past than Lord Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). He was the most successful naval commander in our history rising to international fame during the Napoleonic Wars. Most of his adult life was spent on active service although when there was a brief interlude of peace in 1802 Nelson paid a famous visit to Wales, including Pembrokeshire, accompanied by his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton and her husband Sir William Hamilton.

Miniature of Lady Emma Hamilton

Miniature of Lady Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), model and actress who went by the name of Emma Hart. She first met Nelson in 1793 and became his mistress. Emma died of dysentery in Calais in 1815.

Horatio Nelson was born on 29 September 1758 in Norfolk, the sixth of eleven children of the Rev Nelson. He began his naval career on 1 January 1771 as an ordinary seaman and secured his own command in 1778, although after the American Revolutionary War he spent a time on half pay. He married a young widow named Frances Nisbet on 11 March 1787 although the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars took him away where he commanded the 64-gun HMS Agamemnon. Nelson fought at Toulon and Corsica (where he lost the sight of his right eye) and he distinguished himself at the Battle of St. Vincent (14 February 1797). Later that year at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he was wounded in the right arm which was partially amputated.  Nelson  sealed his reputation as one of Britain’s greatest commanders at the Battle of the Nile (August 1798) when he captured or destroyed thirteen French warships. A grateful nation created him Baron Nelson and he became a Viscount in 1801 after defeating the Danish fleet at the battle of Copenhagen

Lord Horatio Nelson

Lord Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), Britain’s greatest naval commander who fell at the Battle of Trafalgar. Three years before he had visited Pembrokeshire with Sir William and Lady Emma Hamilton.

After so many years at sea Nelson found himself with some leisure time when Britain and France concluded the Treaty of Amiens on 25 March 1802. The war was renewed in May 1803 but the thirteen months of peace gave Horatio Nelson the opportunity to visit Wales as a tourist, accompanied by the diplomat and art connoisseur Sir William Hamilton and his much younger wife Lady Emma Hamilton (1765-1815) who was Nelson’s mistress. The Hamilton's married in 1791, when the groom was 60 and his wife aged 26. Nelson lived with them, a curious arrangement to say the least and one which caused a great deal of fascination.

Nelson and the Hamilton's left London to journey west to inspect Sir William’s Welsh estates. Everywhere Nelson was greeted with incredible enthusiasm and huge crowds showing how celebrity is far from being a modern phenomenon. In 1758, Sir William Hamilton married the heiress Catherine Barlow of Slebech and she brought with her large estates including the Manors of Hubberston and Pill. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1790 enabling the development of a harbour and town on this land and Sir William’s nephew, Charles Greville led the project to develop the town of Milford Haven. A small naval dockyard was established there in 1797 and built seven ships in total. A number of Quaker whaler families from Nantucket Island settled in the new community from 1792. During the summer of 1802 Nelson and his party travelled through eastern Wales down the Wye to Monmouth and at a leisurely pace across to Pembrokeshire.

During his visit to the newly-established town of Milford Haven, Vice-Admiral Nelson was fulsome in his praise of what he considered to be one of the finest natural harbours in the world. Later the party dined at the New Inn on Hamilton Terrace which was soon renamed the Lord Nelson Hotel in his honour. Sir William Hamilton presented a portrait of Nelson by Leonardo Guzzardi to the hotel and this was later moved to Admiralty House in London. One of the most enthusiastic receptions accorded to Nelson and his party occurred at Haverfordwest, the county town. His carriage was greeted at the entrance to the town by a crowd of thousands who unhitched the horses and the carriage and its inhabitants were pulled up a very steep hill to Foley House. This fine Georgian Villa was built for Richard Foley, a local attorney, in 1794 and here the party partook of a public breakfast. Nelson was presented with a scroll conferring upon him the freedom of the ancient town and county of Haverfordwest. More than sixty years later one local inhabitant remembered how Lady Emma Hamilton appeared at one of the upper windows of Foley House and sang a chorus of ‘Rule Britannia’ to the immense crowd below which included the Haverfordwest Cavalry, bands and banners fluttering in the breeze.

Foley House

Foley House, the beautiful Georgian townhouse in Goat Street, Haverfordwest designed by John Nash where Lord Nelson received the freedom of the ancient borough in August 1802. Lady Hamilton also sang to the enormous crowd from one of the windows of the elegant property seen here covered in ivy.

After leaving Haverfordwest Nelson and the Hamilton's journeyed to Picton Castle then the beautiful home of Richard Philipps, 1st Baron Milford (1744-1823). The gentry of Pembrokeshire were as anxious as anyone to meet the great naval hero and Nelson also paid a visit to see John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor (1753-1821). He lived at the magnificent residence of Stackpole Court, constructed in 1735-6 and which was probably the largest private home in the county. It had magnificent grounds which led down towards the coast.

Stackpole Court

Stackpole Court, the great mansion constructed out of the local limestone in the eighteenth century which also boasted elegant gardens and  which Nelson visited.  This early twentieth century view shows two Napoleonic cannons outside the main entrance.

Nelson together with Sir William and Lady Hamilton later visited Tenby, then a growing sea bathing resort. They stayed at East Rock House where a blue plaque commemorates their stay. Nelson and Lady Emma strolled around the town and they visited the Blue Ball Theatre in Upper Frog Street where they saw a play entitled ‘The Mock Doctor.’ Lord Nelson saw a great deal of the towns and countryside of Pembrokeshire during that last year of peace. But it was not to last.

Commemorative plaque on East Rock House

Commemorative plaque on East Rock House, St. Julian’s Street, Tenby where Lord Nelson and the Hamilton's stayed during their tour of Pembrokeshire in 1802.

Sir William Hamilton died in 1803 and Horatio Nelson achieved immortal status on account of his heroic death at the moment of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.  Poor Emma Hamilton was plagued with debts and she died in poverty in Calais in January 1815 and her grave subsequently lost. In 2004 the charter handed to Nelson awarding him the freedom of Haverfordwest was discovered in the safe of the local council. It had been lost for well over a century but now it is on permanent display at Haverfordwest Town Museum in the grounds of Haverfordwest Castle.  It is a fascinating reminder of Nelson’s visit to Pembrokeshire when he came as a tourist and a sightseer rather than his usual role as warrior and commander.

Categories:Pembrokeshire, History

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