Essential Wessex: The Napoleonic Wars in Wessex

HMS Victory, the world’s oldest serving warship, is a visible symbol of the Napoleonic wars, and of Wessex’s naval might. Moored in a dry dock in Portsmouth, visible from the main railway station and ferry terminal, she doubles as both a museum ship, and as the flagship of the First Sea Lord. She most famously served as the flagship of Admiral Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar.

When Nelson died in 1805, severe storms meant that the news took sixteen days to reach the Admiralty in London, which was exceptionally slow even by the standards of the time. The despatch was carried on the schooner Pickle, landing at Falmouth in Cornwall. From there, messengers took it across Wessex to Surrey and, eventually, London. The route those messengers took has now been labelled the Trafalgar Way.

The wars were by no means universally cheered in Wessex. In 1795 and 1801, riots took place in the Forest of Dean over bread shortages caused by the need to feed the armed forces.

Tiverton saw a substantial number of French prisoners of war. They appear to have been treated well, and integrated into the life of the town.

The Napoleonic wars were the subject of Thomas Hardy’s only play, The Dynasts. Due to its length and ambition, it has never been staged in full.

Links of Interest

No time for a full blog post this week, as I am away for a couple of days, but here are a couple of links that might be of interest:

As a coda to the Best of 2023 playlist from a couple of weeks ago, this site allows you to link to those artists who have their songs for sale on Bandcamp. Bandcamp allows artists to sell their music and merch directly to the public, allowing them to cut out the middlemen and keep a greater share of the profits for themselves.

And here is a proposal for a “lost” route between Bristol and Oxford to be named the North Wessex Way.

Wessex Attractions: Great Chalfield Manor

Great Chalfield Manor is a 15th century manor house in Wiltshire that has served as a location in many films and TV series including Wolf Hall, Poldark and The Other Boleyn Girl. It features a romantic Arts and Crafts garden, and an extensive collection of antique oak furniture.

It was built on the site of an earlier fortified house for Thomas Tropenell, a lawyer and member of the landed gentry. After his death, it passed into the hands of the Eyre family, and was purchased by George Fuller MP in 1900. It was refurbished prior to the First World War, and donated to the National Trust in 1943, along with nine acres of land.

The manor is located three miles north-east of Bradford-on-Avon. The postcode is SN12 8NH, the What3words address is ///machine.mermaids.hiker. Faresaver bus number 69 from Bradford-on-Avon to Melksham stops at the Toll Gate in Holt, 1.4 miles from the manor.

The Best of BBC Introducing in Wessex and Cornwall 2023

Something a bit different this week. Some of you may remember that we used to publish a weekly playlist compiled from the excellent BBC Introducing shows from across the local radio stations in the region (and Cornwall, which shares a show with Devon). Unfortunately the BBC removed the ability to export track listings from their shows directly into Spotify, which meant that we would have to add each track individually. That’s rather a laborious task to do on a weekly basis, but once a year is doable. So this playlist is all the tracks from their end-of-year retrospectives, apart from the ones that aren’t on Spotify.

A plea: streaming services like Spotify don’t pay artists very much, apart from the huge superstars with millions of streams every month. So if there’s a band or artist on this list whose work you particularly enjoy. please consider buying music and merch from them, and/or a ticket to one of their live shows.

Wessex Attractions: Heddon Valley

Exmoor’s Heddon Valley was a favourite landscape of the Romantic Poets, and is now under the care of the National Trust. From its coastal paths, one can see across to South Wales on a clear day, and it contains several valuable butterfly habitats. The River Heddon itself is well populated with native brown trout, and the Trust manages an inn, the Hunter’s Inn, where food is served.

The satnav postcode is EX31 4PY, and the valley is on Regional Cycle Route 51. Sadly, it is not well-served by public transport, and the nearest bus stop is two miles away, near Parracombe.