Tag Archives: Walmer Castle

The Historical Tourist visits Walmer Castle

Between 1539 and 1543, King Henry VIII, who feared an invasion after divorcing his Spanish Queen Catherine of Aragon and splitting from the Catholic church, constructed a chain of defensive castles. Built to a common design, the three artillery forts created to protect a stretch of beach along the Kent coast consisted of a central circular keep with lower semi-circular bastions that were arranged symmetrically around the keep to allow several tiers of guns to be mounted. Although one of the three, Sandown Castle, was almost entirely destroyed in the nineteenth century, Deal, the largest of the three, and Walmer survive.

Walmer Castle is often overshadowed by the better known Dover Castle, six miles away, but the Historical Tourist chose to visit Walmer because of its unique history. Although the castle was occupied by Royalists and put under siege by Parliamentarians following the execution of Charles I in 1648, its design had become old-fashioned by the end of the seventeenth century and Walmer Castle began to be used as the official residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1708. Holders of the post are usually appointed for life, but it is not a hereditary title. The office continues to be “seen as a high honour to be conferred on those who have given especially distinguished service to the State”, so it is not surprising that previous Lords Warden include the Duke of Wellington, Viscount Palmerston, Sir Winston Churchill, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The Historical Tourist has to admit that while she certainly respects this illustrious company, her interest in Walmer Castle is primarily due to another Lord Warden, the Rt Hon. William Pitt, who was born 252 years ago today! The son of the Earl of Chatham, Pitt the Younger became the youngest man ever to become Prime Minister when he took office in 1783 at age 24. Remembered for his gift at managing the nation’s finances and for his eloquence in the House of Commons, Pitt is also one of the longest serving Prime Ministers, in office from 1783-1801, and again from 1804 until his death in 1806.

View from Walmer Castle

In a note following his well-written and extremely readable biography of the late Prime Minister, author William Hague wrote that he “felt closest to [Pitt], perhaps, in Walmer Castle, where the panelled landing and the dining room are not dissimilar from how they would have been in his time, and it is possible to imagine him sitting at the head of the table, entertaining military visitors, humouring Lady Stanhope, and going out onto the wide terrace to look for signs of activity at sea” (p 17 *). With such an endorsement, I couldn’t help passing over Deal and even Dover for the official residence of the Warden of the Cinque Ports!

Although the Willingdon room, near the entrance of the castle, contains objects associated with Pitt the Younger, including a mahogany desk and a campaign chair, named because its metal frame meant that it could be taken apart for traveling, Walmer Castle’s most interesting displays are the rooms associated with the Duke of Wellington. Wellington was a frequent visitor who called the castle the “most charming marine residence”. The proximity of Walmer Castle to the port of Dover made it ideal for entertaining foreign royalty, but it was also enjoyed by the British Royal family. Victoria visited the castle at age sixteen and returned seven years later, as Queen, with Albert and two of their children. They stayed for a month.

Today Walmer Castle is home to the Lucas Collection of Wellington Memorabilia, which was donated to the property in 1966. The collection contains portraits and busts, but I was more impressed by the other objects featuring the Duke’s likeness, which included pot lids, paperweights, and even a doorstop!

The smaller Wellington Museum room contains a number of objects associated with the Duke’s Wardenship, including a pair of his famous Wellington boots and the instructions written to the shoemaker about their design. More on the history of Wellington boots can be found in an earlier entry here. The collection also contains a death mask of the Duke, who died at Walmer Castle on September 14th, 1852 at age 83.

Successive Wardens usually bought furniture from their predecessor’s estate, but Lord Palmerston refused to do so and the late Duke’s items were moved to his Apsley House residence so they were not dispersed. After W.H. Smith became Warden in 1891, he initiated the Indenture of Heirlooms by an Act of Parliament so that historic items would remain at Walmer Castle. As a result, when Lady Reading, in the 1930s, attempted to restore Wellington’s bedroom to the way it had been at the time of his death, the original contents of the room were returned to the castle by the fourth Duke of Wellington. Wellington’s bedroom, which is decorated with period appropriate wallpaper, now holds his campaign bed and the armchair in which he died.

My favourite resident is remembered in the Pitt Museum room across the hall. Pitt became the first commoner appointed to the post in 1792. Deeply in debt, he accepted the position because it came with an annual salary of three thousand pounds, and when his finances forced him to give up his country house he moved to Walmer permanently in 1803. The Pitt Museum is smaller than the displays on Wellington, but I enjoyed viewing the Gainsborough-Dupont portrait, political cartoons, and letter written by Pitt that adorn the walls and the leather covered gaming chair and writing desk that likely belonged to him.

Walmer corridor

During his Wardenship, Pitt created the corridor that runs the full length of the castle, which was painted a vivid teal by the succeeding Granvilles, and added the room later used by the Duke of Wellington as a bedroom to the castle as a winter apartment because it was the warmest part of the castle. He also made important contributions to the castle’s gardens with the help of his niece and hostess Lady Hester Stanhope.

The Dining Room at Walmer Castle

Other rooms at Walmer Castle include the royal bedroom suite used by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during their month long visit in 1842, the 1920s/30s style drawing room, and the dining room mentioned in William Hague’s biography. The dining room continues to be set with a blue minton service that was used by the Queen Mother, Walmer Castle’s first female Warden, and the grounds contain a garden that was commissioned by English Heritage as a ninety-fifth birthday gift.

Queen Mother's Garden at Walmer Castle

* William Hague. William Pitt the Younger. London: Harper Perennial, 2005.

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Filed under British History, Georgian, The Historical Tourist, The Regency

First Blogiversary

by Tele Chhe - Flickr

One year ago I published my first posts here at Truth in Fiction making today my blogiversary! I haven’t always been a consistent blogger, something I’ll do my best to change this year, but I have enjoyed watching, researching, and writing for this blog.

Truth in Fiction doesn’t fit neatly into one category. I’m not solely a film or book blogger and although I enjoy writing the Historical Tourist feature, I don’t travel enough to devote an entire blog to it. So when I decided to mark one year of blogging by looking back on the most popular posts of the year, as measured by the number of page views recorded by WordPress, I was pleased to find that the posts covered a variety of categories.

The leader in page views benefits from an attention-grabbing title as well as curiosity about the subject. Wellington’s Boots was written after I spotted a pair of the Iron Duke’s creation, while visiting his former residence of Walmer Castle. The display also included Wellington’s 1839 letter to his shoemaker instructing how a pair of boots should be made. So far 423 people have learned the history behind these enduring boots!

When I visited Ireland’s Glasnevin Cemetery in 2009, I was surprised by the number of people who arrived for the guided walking tour. I assumed the cemetery in North Dublin would be off the beaten tourist track but it has been both a popular tourist destination and a popular post. Over the past year 239 people have viewed The Historical Tourist visits Glasnevin Cemetery and “glasnevin cemetery”, “www.glasnevintrust.ie”, and “glasnevin heritage centre” have all been used multiple times as search engine terms. I’m glad to see that this important historical place remains a popular choice.

My review of The Young Victoria is the most popular movie post on Truth in Fiction and ranks number three overall. Written as part of a Victoria Day-themed series of posts, The Young Victoria has been visited 226 times. Many of the visitors have been searching for whether parts of the film were true or false and among the search engine terms used to find the post, which I have left to their original wording and spelling, are: “the young victoria was albert shot?”, “why did the young victoria have to escorted on the stairs?”, “what did Melbourne advice young victoria to do that upset the people!”, and “young victoria king’s birthday speech”. Hopefully my review of the film was able to answer all of their questions!

Rounding out the top five are two very different book reviews. I raved about Morgan Llywelyn’s 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion, in a post viewed 175 times so far, praising her meticulously researched fictional re-telling of the Easter Rising and her ability to bring historical figures to life as compelling characters.

I was less impressed by Gillian Gill’s joint biography of the Queen and her Prince Consort We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals, but the popularity of the film The Young Victoria likely helped generate the 134 views of this post.

On this anniversary I’d like to thank everyone who does read Truth in Fiction and especially the fellow blogging members of my family, who can always be relied upon to leave comments and offer encouragement. Hopefully my second year of blogging will continue to be as informative and fun as the first!

Image:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY
© Tela Chhe | Flickr Creative Commons

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Wellington’s Boots

Portrait of The Duke of Wellington by George Dawe, 1829

During the Regency period, men’s fashion underwent a change as knee breeches were exchanged for trousers. Although trousers had been entering fashion since 1800, they only became appropriate casual and semi-casual wear for men between 1810 and 1820. In America, James Madision (in office 1809-1817) was the first President to wear trousers instead of knee breeches, and the future Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, had been turned away from a fashionable London social club in 1800 both for tardiness and for wearing trousers, which were against the strict dress code.

Hessian boots, which had begun as standard issue military footwear but became widely worn, accompanied knee breeches. With a semi-pointed toe and a low heel, Hessians also included decorative tassels. In fact, Dickens’ famous character Jacob Marley likely wore Hessian boots in A Christmas Carol:

“The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head.”

But Hessian boots were unsuitable for wearing under the newly acceptable trousers, so Wellington instructed his shoemaker Hoby of St. James Street, London to modify the popular boot. The result was cut higher in front to cover and protect the knee and had the back cut away, in order to make it easier to bend the leg. It was also cut closer to the leg. They quickly gained a reputation as hard wearing in battle yet comfortable for evening wear. After Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon, “Wellington boots” became extremely popular as stylish footwear that could be worn with trousers.

In an 1839 letter from his residence at Walmer Castle, the Duke instructed his shoemaker on how to make a pair of his boots:

“Mr Mitchell
I beg that you will make for me two pairs of Boots, of the usual form only four (or the thin of an hand) lines longer in the foot than usual. Send with new false soles that will fit this new size. If needed make them broader. If these boots should suit me I will send another [pair] of galoshes. If I fit them; and [a pair] of shoes of the same size. I beg to have these boots as soon as possible, as I am pained by those which I wear at present.
Your obedient Servant
Wellington.”

The boot evolved again when Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanization process for rubber. In 1852 Goodyear met American Hiram Hutchinson, who bought the patent to manufacture footwear and established his company A L’Aigle in France. The footwear was an immediate success, replacing wooden clogs among farmers. Four years later, entrepreneur Henry Lee Norris established the North British Rubber Company (which would later become the Hunter Rubber Company) in Scotland.

Initially produced in limited quantities, the popularity of the rubber Wellington boot skyrocketed during World War One. The United Kingdom Office of War hired the North British Rubber Company to produce a boot suitable for the trenches in France and Belgium, and during the course of the war nearly two million Wellington boots were sold to the army.

Wellingtons remain popular today and come in assorted colours and patterns to suit your fashion needs, although it’s hard to picture the Iron Duke wearing a pair of these!

A pair of the Duke of Wellington’s boots is on display at Walmer Castle, where he lived for 23 years.

For more information on changing men’s fashions in the Regency, visit Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion.

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Filed under British History, Historical Fashion, Historical Tales