Duke Of Wellington


“I should have given more praise”

This is the twenty-third square of my London Faces Patchwork. It is a patchwork of papers gleaned from the pavements of the city in which I live. There are twenty-five squares making up the whole piece. You can see it here.

The 1st Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852), soldier and statesman, by Antoine Claudet, 1844.

I have a little personal connection to Wellington. I spent a chunk of my life standing watch over his Goya portrait. And what amazed me, was how many people walked past without even noticing him.

There is too much to say about the Duke of Wellington. Two days of research, and finally I reach the funeral part. He rests at St. Paul’s Cathedral, of course, I knew that. Now I start twitching at the possibility of another Fleet Street connection. How likely is it that the massive (even by today’s standards) procession went down Fleet Street? Very likely indeed. Any Londoner knows there is no other sensible route from St. James’ Park. Not good enough, though. I must be sure. Two more hours of online research followed. Searching for one tiny bit of information, with total disregard for the other interesting stories about Wellington I had been jotting down for days. I think I am becoming a bit obsessed with this Fleet Street thing (this will only make sense if you have read previous posts).

The 10,000 strong procession started in St James’ Park, and, led by Prince Albert, took the following route: Constitution Hill, Piccadilly, St. James’ Street, Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, Strand, Fleet Street and finally St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Thank you, Mike Paterson, for your help.

And so, (why do I get such pleasure from this?), Wellington’s body was paraded down Fleet Street, past the site where, some years later, a fifteen-year-old David Bailey started working as a copy boy, and where newlyweds Virginia and Leonard Woolf luncheoned (apparently, not a word), and where Arthur Conan Doyle had the odd tipple, and where one could buy a copy of Hamlet when Shakespeare was still alive, and where Charlie Chaplin talked to a parrot. I love this stuff.

Here is a snippet from a brilliant article in The Guardian by Ian Jack (your time will not be wasted if you read the rest of it):

The more puzzling case is Wellington. He died on 14 September 1852, but spent two further months above ground, until 18 November, when he vanished under the floor of St Paul’s to join Nelson. His funeral is unparalleled in British history for its vast crowds, frenzy and vulgarity. At least three people were killed in the crush at the week-long lying-in-state; Queen Victoria wept without restraint as she watched the procession from her balcony at Buckingham Palace, while the overweight and over-ornamented bronze hearse or “funeral car”, drawn by 12 horses and juddering awkwardly into potholes, was reviled by people of taste as an aesthetic and mechanical nightmare. Dickens thought that “there never was such a work achieved … for forms of ugliness, horrible combinations of colour, hideous motion and general failure.” A million-and-a-half people lined the route to watch.

The Times obituary read, ‘He was the very type and model of the Englishman’.

Flipping Heck!

The square was cut from a National Portrait Gallery leaflet.



5 thoughts on “Duke Of Wellington

  1. Well. I had no idea.

    People don’t change, do they? We have seen this same kind of spectacle ourselves. And I am intrigued about where they kept the poor man’s body for all that time, and why?

    • I had no idea either. Here is a bit more from the article : What had kept the duke waiting was Prince Albert’s plan for a spectacular funeral. Fresh from the success of the Great Exhibition the year before, the Queen’s consort had conceived a lavish ritual that needed time to arrange – not least the great hearse that had so appalled Dickens. Using at least 10 tons of bronze cannon captured at Waterloo, it had taken 100 men 18 days to cast and polish its parts in six foundries, only to achieve what Thomas Carlyle called an “incoherent huddle” of drapery, flags and emblems. The nation had been kept waiting for a flop.
      And also this: Various morbid processes, typical of their day, ensued. His false teeth of walrus ivory were removed and given to his daughter-in-law as a memento, a death mask was made and every lock of his hair shorn to make souvenirs for his closest admirers, including the queen. Then he was laid into his lead coffin, was soldered down, and a wooden coffin built around it, and a second, more decorative wooden coffin built around that, until the duke lay like the final Russian doll in a series of four.

      All this took time. The family ceremony of farewell took a day. Local people queued on the beach for two days to be allowed into the house to pay their respects. But so much time? When the guns boomed on the evening of 10 November to signal the bier’s journey from Walmer to Deal station and the London train, the duke had been dead for nearly eight weeks.

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