As a proud Portsmuthian, you can’t live in this naval city without knowing a little bit about Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson – it would be unthinkable. We have his flagship HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, his memorial atop Portsdown Hill and even Fort Nelson, one of Palmeston’s Follies – a brilliant museum to visit.
So I was intrigued to learn recently that he spent an enjoyable little interlude with Emma, Lady Hamilton at a new client of mine, the soon-to-reopen Mercure Burford Bridge Hotel before he left for the Napoleonic Wars and Trafalgar. Indeed he is purported to have said about Burford Bridge: “The first choice for a few days’ country quiet of a man who had no home in England has been a picturesque inn well known to sea-officers”.
So, having recently undertaken Portsmouth’s Nelson Trail – a walk charting his last walk in England – it’s left me pondering whether this following scenario could possibly relate to his final weeks? After leaving his home, he travelled by coach through those Surrey Hills he obviously loved so much, down into the fortified town of Portsmouth, entering by the Landport Gate – the city’s principal entrance and the only gate to remain in its original position.
He headed to the George Inn in what we now call Old Portsmouth (the inn was destroyed in WW2), along the High Street and stayed overnight – meeting representatives of the government and paying a courtesy call on Commissioner Saxton at the Dockyard. By this time, news of his arrival had spread and the Inn was besieged with well-wishers wanting to wish him God-speed (many were said to be in tears and kneeling down before him as he passed, giving him their blessing).
Due to the press of people, rather than leave by the front door, he exited the back way, through Penny Street, past the Garrison Church and along Pembroke Street. Here, his sister, Mrs Matcham, bade her brother farewell at Trafalgar House, a home again destroyed in WW2.
Next to an innocuous single level building (the old guardhouse) which still stands, he walked down a a small lane to what was the Spur Redoubt, across Nelson’s Bridge (this is the modern version below) through a small sally port opening out onto the beach near what is now Clarence Parade.
Imagine the crowds waiting for him at the beach – many waving, in tears, cheering him on, honouring his courage. He apparently turned to Hardy and said, “I had their huzzas before – I have their hearts now!” He turned to wish them a last goodbye on on the beach, close to where Victory’s anchor (below) is now standing by the Hovercraft Terminal.
He waved his hat to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd before being taken on a long, hard row out to HMS Victory, thought to have been at anchor just off the Isle of Wight by St Helen’s.
With special thanks and acknowledgement to The Nelson Society’s Colin White’s feature which brings The Nelson Trail alive for me. It sounds a very likely scenario to me but then, as Colin acknowledges, this could all be just whimsical conjecture – it just feels right though.
God bless the memory of Lord Nelson and sailors everywhere.
Contributor & photographer: Sue Lowry
The Mercure Burford Bridge Hotel is re-opening Monday 1st September 2014 after a nine-month refurbishment. Follow the hotel on Twitter: @MercureBoxHill and on Facebook: Mercure Burford Bridge.
Follow A3 Traveller on Twitter: @A3Traveller and Sue Lowry on Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr and Pinterest. I also operate another blog for my company, Magellan PR – http://www.magellanstraits.com. They can be followed on Twitter @MagellanPR, on Google+, on YouTube, on Pinterest and on Facebook.