Nottingham and the Invasion of France: The Expedition to Quiberon, 1795

by Michael Kirkby

Whilst watching an episode of the Hornblower series (Napoleonic maritime drama staffing Ioan Gruffudd, based on the books by C.S. Forester) the audience is provided with an excellent window into the life of the Royal Navy during the age of Nelson.

One particular episode, The Frogs and the Lobsters, sees the newly promoted Lieutenant Hornblower and his irascible mentor and ship’s captain Sir Edward Pellew (played by Ilkeston born actor Robert Lindsay) sent on an against-all-odds mission to land exiled Royalist troops supported by British infantry into France to raise an army of Royalist supporters and overthrow the newly founded Republican government that has deposed of the French King following the Revolution.

Robert Lindsay (left) and Ioan Gruffudd as Capt. Edward Pellew and Lt. Horatio Hornblower-Photo Credit: Meridian Broadcasting.

Both book and film of the affair were based on actual events that took place in 1795 under similar circumstances. Following the fall of Toulon, a Royalist stronghold, in 1793 to the French Republican army, many Royalist troops and sympathizers were forced into exile in Britain. However, not all Royalists quit France though and areas such as The Vendeè and Chouan in Brittany remained openly loyal to the Royalist cause.

Both the Chouan and Vendean approach to waging war on the Republicans differed greatly. The forces in the Vendeè were disciplined and a mobilized para military, who fought the Republican army in the field, the Chouans on the other hand, waged an underground guerilla war. Both forces were comprised mainly of Catholic peasants who did not want to see France become a newly liberal state which Republican rule threatened to bring. From their exile in England, King Louis XVIII conducted his counter revolutionary plans in the South of France with his brother the Comte d’Artois taking charge of the activities in Vendeè, Normandy and Brittany. Artois named Joseph de Puisaye, an officer in the Swiss Guards, head of operations in the Vendeè.

Puisaye took charge of plans to invade Brittany using the exiled émigré army and in Spring 1795 laid plans on the desk of the Admiralty to an expedition to the Quiberon peninsula on the coast of Brittany. Puisaye’s plan was to land troops and supplies and secure a foothold in France and wait for local Royalist supporters to join their expedition. Once the force was strong enough they would break out of the peninsula and join up with the Royalist supporters in the Chouan under General Francois Athanase Charette de la Contrie and together march on Paris, sweeping away all of the Republican army that opposed them along the way. It was decided that the invading force should all be French troops as this would secure loyalty from the people who might be cautious about allying themselves to British troops as they would view their presence as an invasion of foreign troops.

Whilst the landing troops would all be French Royalists there was still the small issue of being ferried across the channel. For this, the Royal Navy was chosen to work closely with the French Royalist commanders to safely carry them across the sea.

The commander chosen for the expedition was Sir John Borlase Warren, a member of parliament and experienced seaman.

Born in Stapleford, Nottinghamshire, Warren had attended Emmanuel College at Cambridge University in 1769 and attained his B.A. in 1773 and M.A. in 1776. Whilst conducting his studies Warren joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman in 1777 during the outbreak of the American War of Independence and rose to Lieutenant a year later and was a Captain by 1781. Owing to his experience and capability at sea and his academic excellence, Warren was thought of as the ideal man to lead the expedition which required a mixture of caution, cool headedness and strict discipline.

Portrait of Sir John Borlase Warren by Mark Oates. Property of Greenwich Hospital Collection,National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

To conduct the mission effectively, Warren commanded a squadron of 10 frigates and ships of the line, including his own, HMS Pomone, and also took charge of 2 luggers, 5 gunboats, 2 cutters and 55 transports carrying the Royalist émigrés. Warren’s fleet set off on the 13th June 1795 with the expectation that on the 15th it would meet up with the Channel Fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport, and together they would sail to Quiberon.

The voyage to Quiberon was no easy feat. Prior to joining up with Warren, Bridport had encountered the French Republican fleet under Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse and had engaged them in battle. Whilst Bridport had been successful, the encounter had taken its toll on Bridport’s fleet rendering him short of supplies, ammunition and he had to send some of his ships back to England due to heavy casualties and damage, rendering them unfit for further service. Warren too had encountered and beaten back an attempt by the French navy during the voyage but again, whilst this was successful, it had alerted the Republicans that something was afoot and a large Royal Navy presence was making its way toward Brittany.

On the 27th June the Royal Navy reached their destination at the village of Cramac and the 2,500 émigrés were landed in two divisions. At 1am on the 27th a small Republican force fired on the landing Royalists but were easily beaten back and by 3am all Royalist émigrés were back on French soil and the order was now given for all stores and supplies to be brought ashore to equip Puisaye’s force and the expected number of 16,000 Royalists coming to them. Three hundred British marines were also disembarked alongside the Royalist force.

The first few days of the landings appeared to be a success and Warren wrote to Bridport informing him that many locals had cheered, wept and ran out to greet the émigrés as they advanced up the peninsula offering them food and wine. It would seem that the landings had been a success.

Problems soon began to arise for the mission when it became apparent that Puisaye and the other Royalist commanders, the Comte d’Hervilly and Comte de Sombreuil, were at logger heads and could not agree on an effective course of action. It was even discovered that d’Hervilly, whilst second in command to Puisaye, was considered more experienced and capable a leader and had privately been given permission to over-rule any bad decision made by Puisaye.

The internal politics within the Royal Navy were also equally bitter as Bridport made no attempt to hide his resentment that Warren had been given command of this expedition as a mere commodore, whereas Bridport, a full admiral, thought the leadership of the task should have fallen to him.

Upon learning that the landings had been a success, Bridport informed Warren that he would be taking the Channel Fleet back to England for repair after their engagement with Villaret-Joyeuse.

Warren wrote back to Bridport pleading with him to remain as Bridport’s presence was holding off Villaret-Joyeuse’s fleet from trapping Warren’s squadron in the Bay of Quiberon. Another issue facing Warren and the Royal Navy was that far more Royalists were converging on the area than anticipated, in numbers far greater than the number of supplies could be brought ashore to sustain them. The Royalist commanders were also pressing Warren for cannons which he needed to secure permission from the elusive Bridport for.

With tensions building on all sides, it was decided that on 3rd July the Royalist force would assault Fort Penthievre. The assault was a success and allowed the Royalists to establish a forward base and supply depot for the breakout into France. Three days later news arrived that Republican commander General Lazare Hoche was close to Nantes with 12,000 men. That same day a Republican attempt to retake the fort was beaten back by the use of Royal Navy gunboats and a Royalist counter attack.

Puisaye’s inactivity to break out of the peninsula had allowed more Republican forces under Hoche, numbering now at around 20,000, to converge on the area cutting off further reinforcement for the Royalists from Charette’s Chouans.

The lack of discipline or cohesion of the Royalists were further compounded by the increasing number of Chouan guerrillas joining their numbers. The Chouans refused to fight like regular troops and only interested in attaining arms and supplies to fight their own agenda. They had also brought with them large numbers of women, children and civilians who required regulation, feeding and supplying, which the plans had not accounted for.

On the 11th July 5,000 Royalists broke out and attacked the Republicans holding the north of the peninsula. They were successful but only succeeded in driving the Republicans back to an entrenched position they had dug in the bottle neck of the peninsula effectively cutting off all reinforcements to the Royalists.

Warren was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of communication and support from Bridport and the ineffectiveness of the Royalists. On the 16th July he took matters into his own hands and issued his own cannons to support the attack on Hoche’s right flank when the Royalist army attempted to break out of the peninsula.

In what was a 3 point attack, the main Royalist force would attack by land, simultaneously 1,100 Chouans assembled into gunboats to attack in the east, and a further 5,000 Royalists would attack the Republican force on the Sainte Barbe. The main Royalist force met heavier resistance than expected and they were forced to retire suffering close to 300 casualties including the Comte d’Hervilly amongst their number. The Republicans pursued the retreating Royalists until they were stopped by the combined force of British gunboats and marines who opened fire into their flanks.

Original map taken from This Disastrous Affair, The Age of Sail Vol. 2, 2003 by Tom Wareham.

No further attack could be made until Warren had received more ships, reinforcements and supplies. Warren at this time had already lost 3 of his 10 ships due to blockading duty and an outbreak of scurvy. Unbeknownst to Warren, the Admiralty were in the process of preparing to send another fleet to support him, this time 4 regiments of British troops, the 12th, 78th, 80th and 90th Foot, were also being dispatched with more Royalists on transports.

Due to the recent failure to break out of the peninsula the Royalist enthusiasm began to crack with dozens of Chouan guerrillas deserting daily. Late on the 20th July a party of Royalist troops (suspected recruits from Republican prisoners of war) sneaked out of Fort Penthievre and returned a short time later with a force of Republicans who entered through a side entrance. Completely surprised, the Royalists garrison was completely routed by the Republicans, a good deal of the garrison fled, joined the Republicans, and those who stood their ground and fought were killed. Puisaye, who was stationed in the fort, fled back to the British ships. Fort Penthievre was now back in Republican hands.

On the 21st it was apparent that the expedition was not going to succeed, little or no ground had been gained and the little discipline and enthusiasm the Royalist cause had had before the expedition was now totally gone, made even worse by the dwindling numbers of Royal Navy ships. The Royalists had suffered over 1,000 casualties and the expedition had cost the British government 10,000 arms, magazines and supplies for well over 40,000 Royalists which were left abandoned on the beaches and the fort. In addition to the 1,000 casualties, 6,263 Royalist supporters were captured and arrested of which 748, mainly Chouan guerrillas, were shot on the orders of General Hoche.

Whilst the initial expedition had been a failure there was still an opportunity to consolidate and launch another attack from the mouth of the Loire River. On 20th July the Ilè d’Hoedic surrendered without opposition to Warren which he planned to use as a new forward base off the French mainland. From here he could safely store supplies, station troops, and make plans without being harassed by an approaching superior enemy. He also had control of the coast so long as Bridport remained to cover his rear from the French fleet.

On the 11th August Warren received news that a new plan was being put in place to land Royalists on the island of Noirmoutier. General Charette’s forces in The Vendeè were still active and a new Royalist excursion looked promising here. Unfortunately, Warren had lost a further two ships from his squadron and if his new objective was to be a success, he desperately needed more ships.

With Bridport still threatening to quit the mission and take the Channel Fleet home, and Puisaye determined to go back to the mainland to join the remaining Royalists, Warren was left with little option but to inform the Admiralty that unless reinforcements arrived by the 10th September, he would need to begin embarking the remaining troops, destroy the fortifications of the islands under the control of the Royal Navy and transport all the civilians to Guernsey and Jersey.

The Admiralty quickly wrote back confirming that Major General Doyle was on his was with the four British regiments and more reinforcements and supplies, and begged Warren to hold his position a little while longer. Again, Warren turned to Bridport for advice but, receiving no response, felt there was now no other option for him but to begin the re-embarkation of the Royalist troops and to begin destroying the fortifications on Hoedic.

The reinforcements did arrive as promised but by then it was too late. With the majority of the Royalist force back on their transports and the fortifications destroyed, the attack had lost its momentum and any forward base was now rendered indefensible.

On the 19th September, Bridport, who since the beginning of the expedition had been pestering the Admiralty to allow him to return home with the Channel Fleet for reasons of his own personal illness, was allowed to come back and was replaced by Admiral Harvey who took control of the Channel Fleet.

Back in France, Warren, Harvey and the newly arrived Doyle and his 4,000 reinforcements devised a final cast of the die to land the Royalist army at Bourgneuf Bay on the Ilè de Yeu. A spot had been found that was protected from enemy fire and like on Hoedic, afforded a good foothold to land stores, supplies and station the troops for a full on amphibious assault.

It was whilst the preparation for the assault was in place, Warren intercepted dispatches from an American vessel that that the French were planning an attack on San Domingo in the West Indies. The captured dispatches were sent hastily to the Admiralty who in light of this new threat informed Warren that they would need to requisition some of his ships and troops to be sent to the West Indies,.

On the 27th September Warren, Doyle and the senior naval and infantry officers met in Warren’s cabin on the Pomone to discuss the future of the doomed expedition. It was decided to completely abandon the attack on Noirmoutier but at the request of the Comte d’Artois the Royalist troops should still try launch an assault from the Ilè de Yeu.

The Ilè de Yeu fell without opposition and by the 12th October all troops had been disembarked. However, quite quickly it became apparent that the Ilè de Yeu was not the ideal landing base as Warren had been informed as he could not get the landing crafts close enough to transport the troops from the island to the coastline. By this time, Warren, completely fatigued with the whole expedition wrote home to England to say that the expedition had lost all momentum and was doomed to failure. The British government was also forced to acknowledge that as enthusiastic the Royalist cause was, it lacked the initiative, discipline and drive to raise the whole county in rebellion. As a last act to salvage the expedition, Warren was ordered to still land any men, arms and stores for those who wanted to join up with General Charette’s forces and to embark and bring home any British troops stationed on Ilè de Yeu.

With the expedition in complete tatters, on the 5th December Warren was so exhausted and broken by the futility of his task that he wrote to the Admiralty requesting that he be replaced as the commander of the expedition and be allowed to return home to recuperate. The following week all British troops were removed from the Ilè de Yeu and embarked onto the Navy transports homeward bound.

Whilst the expedition was an utter disaster, the French Royalists in France still continued to resist the Republican ideology through regular armed resistance. In March 1796 Charette was captured, and because he had quickly back-tracked over the signing of the Treaty of la Jaunaye in February 1795, he was summarily executed by firing squad on the orders of General Hoche.

Upon his return to England, Warren returned home to his family seat at Stapleford Hall, Nottinghamshire, to recuperate. He would remain here until March 1796 until he returned back on duty in his new role as Commodore, where he would continue to rise through the ranks of the Royal Navy for the period of the Napoleonic Wars in the following two decades.

Stapleford Hall in the early 20th century. The house was rebuilt in 1788 and demolished in 1935- Photo Credit:

Plaque commemorating Warren in St Mary’s Church, Attenborough, Nottinghamshire- Photo Credit: Micheal Kirkby.


  • Fleet Battle and Blockade: The French Revolutionary War 1793 – 1797

(Caxton Pictorial Histories, Chatham Publishing, 1996)

  • N. Tracey and M. Robson, The Age of Sail Vol. II

This Disastrous Affair: Sir John Borlase Warren and the Expedition to Quiberon Bay, 1775 by Tom Wareham (Conway Maritime Press, 2003)

Posted in Nottinghamshire Military History, Nottinghamshire Suburbs, Stapleford | Leave a comment

Beeston Station

by Jimmy Notts

Today Beeston Station is as busy as it was when it first opened in 1839. The station is still an important route into Beeston and the surrounding area for many local residents and visitors. The station is a Grade II listed railway station on the Midland Main Line and is managed by East Midlands Trains. Being located 3.2 miles (5.1 km) south-west of Nottingham the station is also on an easy route to London only being 123 miles 22 chains (198.4 km) from the capital.

The station was built in 1839 for the Midland Counties Railway. Services began on 4 June 1839. In 1844 the Midland Counties Railway joined with the North Midland Railway and the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway to form the Midland Railway. The original station was nothing more than a cottage and the growing population of Beeston needed a bigger station. In 1847 the original station was replaced with the substantially larger white brick building with ashlar trimmings which still exists. This is notable for its carved bargeboards, some remaining diagonal paned windows and the pseudo-heraldic shields with ‘MR’ and ‘1847’.

The growth of Beeston’s population in the Victorian and Edwardian periods led to substantial expansion of the station facilities. An extension containing a large booking hall, ladies’ waiting room and parcels office was added to the rear of the station building, doubling its floorspace. After the Second World War the level crossing, lattice footbridge and signal box survived until 1969 when Beeston and Stapleford Urban District Council built a road bridge (“Station Bridge”) across the railway. This was to ease traffic delays caused by the frequent closure of the level crossing. This effectively replaced the footbridge between the two platforms.

During the 1980’s with the decline of passengers using the station led to great neglect which resulted in vandalism and crime. In fact the station’s overall condition got that bad British Rail at the time proposed to completely demolish the station. However the station was saved after a local campaign was set up by the local civic society and local railway enthusiasts. Their subsequent campaign led to the station being listed in 1987. This was followed by restoration of what remained of the 1847 building and the platform shelters. The original platform masonry survived until 2004 when the platforms were completely rebuilt. In recent years Beeston Station has seen a boost in passengers using the station and it continues to be used by local residents and visitors.

Beeston Station, 26 June 2016- Photograph Credit: Joseph Earp.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

The Nottingham Canal

by Joseph Earp

The Earliest canals in England were the Foss Dyke, The Cuer, or Carr’s Dyke, both of them at the northern boundaries of Nottinghamshire. Constructed by the Romans and improved in the twelfth century, the Foss Dyke was scoured out under Henry I in 1121 and in some parts is still navigable.

The Nottingham Canal original proceeded from the Trent at Nottingham, Wollaton and Cossall to Langley Mill, fourteen and three quarter miles, where it joins the Cromford Canal. The act to build the canal was obtained in 1792, and the canal completed in 1802. The man who designed and built the canal was William Jessop, who previously had success designing and building the Cromford Canal.

Portrait showing William Jessop who was called upon to design and build the Nottingham Canal. William Jessop (1745-1814) was a noted English civil engineer, particularly famed for his work on canals, harbours and early railways in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Perhaps the most exciting incident from the Nottingham Canal’s history came in 1818. The incident in question was the first great British canal explosion which occurred in a canal warehouse in Nottingham. Hezekiah Riley was the captain of a boat that plied along the Trent up as far as Nottingham, where goods could be transshipped to and from the canals of central England.

In September 1818 he took his boat, belonging to Richard Barrows, down the Trent to Gainsborough with its small crew of Joseph Musson and Benjamin Wheatley. He loaded up a mixed cargo of stone, cotton, molasses, soap and 21 barrels of gunpowder. The gunpowder, from Messrs Flower at Gainsborough, was destined for the mines of Derbyshire via Cromford, and each wooden barrel contained about 100lbs of it. The boat was brought into the canal basin at Nottingham under the crane and moored under the arch of the warehouse for unloading into the dry of the stone building.

What followed was described as a “most dreadful calamity”, which “threw the whole town into consternation and spread the most extensive devastation throughout the neighbourhood” A man in the Meadows described how “the whole warehouse appeared to lift up several yards into the air and then burst asunder into innumerable fragments.” Then, “The explosion was followed by a cloud of smoke which completely darkened the atmosphere”.

The explosion was reported to have been caused by poor quality storage of gunpowder. The explosion was a devastating incident killing approximately ten to fifteen men and boys. The damage estimated from the explosion came to £30,000, which included 4000 quarters of corn, some paper and cheese in the warehouse. The warehouse was insured, but the insurance company refuse to pay up and the canal company sued Musson’s employers, the Nottingham Boat Company. They won £1000 but the boat company could not pay, and had to settle for £500. The people of Nottingham set up a fund to help the relatives of the victims.

With the Industrial Revolution came the birth of the Railway which overtook the canal as a viable economic transport route into Nottingham. As a result of the railway the canal quickly declined in use and became neglected. In recent years since the 1970s, the canal has enjoyed a ‘re-birth’ as a nature reserve and walking trail. The stretch of the canal in the City has especially enjoyed a new ‘rebirth’ with the area being well served by a number of pubs, restaurants, cafés, gyms and luxury apartments.

Photograph showing The Nottingham Canal between Wilford Street and Carrington Street, 2014. This stretch of the Nottingham Canal has been extensively refurbished, with new waterside pubs and bars complementing the fine old British Waterways warehouse. Out of picture to the left is the impressive Magistrates Court. Photograph Credit: Joseph Earp.

Posted in Nottingham History, Nottinghamshire Industrial History | Leave a comment

Nottingham and the real life Game of thrones

by Michael Kirkby

Walking up to the Castle from Castle Gate you pass a remarkable Georgian built town house with a red door that today is a restaurant called World Service. Built into the fabric that was once Newdigate House, the building has a plaque next to the red front door that simply states ‘In this house lived Marshal Tallart from 1705 – 1711 while a prisoner of war after the Battle of Blenheim 1704’

Who was Marshal Talllart and why is he important to Nottingham? To understand why Tallart (more commonly spelled Tallard) came to being here we need to go back further and look at how Britain came to be waging war in the early eighteenth century. In October 1700 the King of Spain, Carlos II, named the Duc D’Anjou as his successor upon his death. When Carlos died a month later the monarchs of Europe contested who should be heir to the Spanish throne with the main armies mobilizing and moving in to reinforce their borders against ever increasing hostilities. The following year Austria, Holland and England sign the Grand Alliance, and in 1702 declared war on France and Spain.

With the major armies of Europe now all forming alliances, breaking bonds, switching sides and mobilizing troops the continent itself was a tangled web of mixed allegiances and political machinating.

Camille d’Hostun, duc de Tallard was a Marshal in the army of King Louis XIV of France. Born in 1652, Tallard rose through the ranks of the French army through his connections with influential characters. During the early stages of the war of the Spanish Succession, Tallard was successful in capturing important towns and strategic positions in the early campaigns against the German states.

Camile d’Hostun, Duc de Tallard- Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum.

From 1702 the French army under King Louis XIV had launched an offensive into the Spanish-Netherlands (modern day Belgium, Holland and northern Germany) and began taking land under their control to hold an offensive against the Austrian army in the east. The Austrian Archduke Charles travelled to England to beg Queen Anne to send British troops to support her allies in the Rhineland.

John Churchill, The Duke of Marlborough took up his position of commander in chief of the allied armies in Flanders in June 1702. Between 1702 and August 1704 the opposing armies aimed to out-manoeuvre each other at the British and Dutch tried to prevent the French from completely taking control in the Low Countries.

In 1704 King Louis of France turned his attentions east with the intention to defeat the Austrian Hapsburgs. In a bid to cut him off Marlborough marched his troops into Southern Germany to make it to the River Danube before Tallard and prevent them from crossing into Austrian territory. In June 1704 the British and allies attacked the French and Bavarian position known as the Schellenburg and forced the Elector of Bavaria to retire to Augsburg. In late July 1704 Prince Eugene of Savoy sent news to Marlborough that the French and Bavarian’s were crossing the Kessel River to which Marlborough responded by crossing the Danube at Donauworth and turning to join up with his ally.

The first major engagement of this so called War of the Spanish Succession involving British troops took place on 13th August 1704 near the small town of Blindheim (Blenheim) along the banks of the River Danube in southern Germany.

Tallard was convinced that this was not a full scale action and that Marlborough was trying to march north and restore his communication lines. Due to this, Tallard had not consolidated his cavalry and they were still dispersed to forage for food.

John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough- Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum.

At 2am on the 13th, with the French positioned on the other side of the River Nebel, Marlborough approached the French lines in 8 columns. Marlborough’s army formed up with the cavalry holding the centre and the infantry holding the flanks of the army. To Marlborough’s right, Prince Eugene was marching his force to attack the Elector of Bavaria’s army. At 7am the French realised they were being engaged for battle and hastily recalled their cavalry and formed up to meet the British attack. As the British columns advanced they had one last obstacle to cross and that was the Nebel River on which the French army lay on the other side. With only one stone bridge in place, Marlborough ordered that 5 pontoon bridges be constructed for the army to cross quicker.

At 8am the French guns opened fire on the advancing British columns whilst Marlborough waited for news that Prince Eugene was ready to link up and attack the enemy. At midday Eugene was ready on the first British troops marched on Blenheim.

John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough

The British infantry were ordered not to halt and return fire for fear that this would break up their formation but instead to march through the hail of French artillery and infantry fire and when close enough launch a mass bayonet charge on the village. The British made several attempts to take the village but were met with heavy resistance and forced to retreat, reform and attack again.

This assault on Blenheim and the other villages of Oberglau and Lutingen did however allow Marlborough to bring all of his cavalry across the Nebel unmolested by French artillery fire and charge straight at the French regiments stationed in the open plain before them. This caused the French to break and flee leaving Tallard and his force abandoned and cut off. Tallard’s cavalry fled further back leaving only the infantry and cavalry to defend themselves. In the ensuing melee Tallard was wounded and captured and many of his men drowned trying to cross the river to rejoin the French. With Tallard’s force now completely cut off from any reinforcements, Marlborough’s army swept around the village. Marlborough’s brother Charles was given the task of assaulting the village but the French, seeing all was lost, parlayed a n honourable surrender that allowed them to leave rather than become prisoners of war but only if they accepted total surrender and lay down their arms.

Marlborough accepted their surrender unconditionally and the Battle of Blenheim had drawn first blood for the British troops.

British troops advancing at The Battle of Blenheim- Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum.

In an engagement that would echo through history, the French of 56,000 commanded by Marshal Tallard and his ally, the Elector of Bavaria was far superior in training and numbers to Marlborough and Eugene’s force of 52,000 men. The British and allied losses were 12,000 compared to French and Bavarian 40,000 killed, captured and wounded.

One of the reasons that the battle was so impressive in terms of British success was that the British had only really had a full time, professional army since the Restoration in 1685 and had been much later in converting from the older method of using pikemen supported by musketeers to arming individual infantrymen with muskets and bayonets. This was really a test of how the newly formed British army would stand against a well established and better prepared enemy.

The Battle of Blenheim was also the first engagement in a 200 year period where all combatants came from standing and professional armies and not made up of mercenaries and volunteers solely called up in times of warfare as most armies of the seventeenth century and prior to this had been made up of. The British army was well drilled in terms of tactics and efficiency and, despite still being a Stuart-era army would display a efficiency on the battlefield that would be accredited to them a century later during the Napoleonic Wars and the efficiency of the Georgian army under The Duke of Wellington.

All of Marlborough’s army by this time was obsolete of the traditional pike that made up the backbone of the army during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the previous century infantry moved in square blocks similar to a Roman phalanx with pikemen protecting the edges and musketeers firing form the middle ranks. With the recent introduction of the bayonet the role of the pikeman had been rendered obsolete and the cumbersome and unreliable match-lock and wheel-lock muskets being gradually replaced with flintlock musket which was lighter, easier to use and though not completely reliable if the powder got damp, still able to fire in weather less than desirable. All infantrymen were taught to fire as part of a unit and Marlborough’s army system did away with firing by rank and instead firing by platoon thus meaning that in battle the British redcoats could keep up a constant rate of fire instead of having to stop to reload. Marlborough also introduced the 3 rank system meaning that of the 1000 – 1200 men in a battalion only being able to fire a fraction of their muskets due to being in a dense rank, all of them could now bring their weapons against the enemy.

Following the battle and his capture, Tallard was brought to England where he gave his parole and eventually settled into the fine Georgian town house of Newdigate House in the shadow of Nottingham Castle. From 1705 – 1711 Tallard resided here but became a well known and likeable figure throughout the town.

He stayed loyal to his country though and is reputedly to have written a letter to King Louis urging him to continue to war against Britain as the country was suffering due to the war financially and that they could soon be defeated. After a visit to the Goose Fair he reputedly wrote another to the King urging him to sue for peace as the British still had a strong stomach for fighting and that the lines of recruits who had signed up to join the army at the fair were long!

It was during his stay in Nottingham Tallard also discovered celery growing in the marshes at Lenton. He cultivated it in the gardens at Newdigate House and introduced to his guests at his dinner parties who in turn introduced it gradually into British society.

In October 1711 France and Britain declared peace and Tallard was free to return to his native France. Whilst he never took up another military post, Tallard was made a Duke in 1712 and again made a Peer of France in 1715. He took up a French ministerial position in 1726 which he held until his death in 1728.

Whilst it will never be known whether The Duke of Marlborough and Tallard’s adversary ever came to visit him in Nottingham as he was still in the Rhineland continuing the war, we can safely say that Tallard has left a legacy, not only within Nottingham, but the national community also, especially with celery lovers!

Newdigate House- Photo Credit: Michael Kirkby.

Plaque to Tallard at Newdigate House- Photo Credit: Michael Kirkby.


Bibliography and sources used:

  • James Falkner, The War of the Spanish Succession 1701 – 1714

(Pen and Sword Books, 2015)

  • Frederick Myatt, The British Infantry 1660-1945 The Evolution of a Fighting Force

(Blandford Press, 1983)


Posted in Nottinghamshire Military History | Leave a comment

Secret Beeston

New Book Available From August 2017

Secret Beeston

by Frank E Earp and Joseph Earp

“The Nottinghamshire town of Beeston as we know it today began life as an Anglo-Saxon settlement close to the banks of the River Trent. By the late eighteenth century the town had developed into a thriving textile centre. The nineteenth century saw a new mix of other industries, including famous names like the Humber Works and Boots the Chemist. Over the last decade Beeston has witnessed its greatest change with the introduction of an extension to Beeston of Nottingham City’s Tram Network. Local authors and historians Frank E. Earp and Joseph Earp delve into the town’s murkier past in this unique approach to the town’s history, blending the serious with the not so serious, and seeking out its hidden secrets”.


Available from all good book shops and also available on-line. The book can also be ordered directly from Amberley Publishing:

Telephone: 01453 847800

Posted in Nottinghamshire History News and Events | Leave a comment

Skipper on the Trent

Les Davey started working for British Waterways in 1960 when he was 27, and describes the job he loved on the huge lighters (barges) of the River Trent as “…an adventure every trip”. The work was hard and sometimes took him away from home for up to a week, depending on the weather and the types of load his boat would be required to carry. In winter, it was often so cold that the crew had to take the ropes inside the cabin instead of stacking them neatly on deck where they might freeze and be unmanageable.

But Les has always been adventurous, and although he was glad to return between trips to his wife Susan and three sons in Sherwood, he also enjoyed going camping in all weathers – and still does at the age of eight-four. Interestingly, for the last fifty years Les has also found poetry very therapeutic, writing it as well as reading it.

The following are accounts of some of the ‘adventures’ Les experienced during his time as skipper of one of Nottingham’s lighters in the 1960s:


We cast off from Nottingham on the Trent at 8.30 in the morning, heading for Hull, intending to reach there sometime tomorrow. Our cargo would be gravel, which we would load up on the lighter (or ‘dumb boat’) from the river-bed by the dredger, just south of Newark. We made it there and moored up to the dredger; me and my brother Robert loaded up, and we set off for Hull.

We were making good time and decided to moor up at West Burton. It was possible to get to Hull in a day but we decided to stay for the night at West Burton as there was a jetty there where we could stay for the night, not far from a nearby power station. We arrived and moored up, checked the rope and stepped ashore. It was about a mile from the pub that we were heading for, and when we reached it and being a winter evening it felt very cold. We ordered a pint and stood there chatting.

We didn’t know, of course, but 30 minutes earlier there’d been a big fight between some local men and a few Irishmen who worked at the power station. The locals had given the Irishmen a thrashing and by the time we got there it was all quiet. We all six of us – me and Robert and the crew from the other lighter – stood there chatting when all of a sudden we heard voices and a crowd of very angry Irishmen came barging in.

They all had large screwdrivers and large spanners, and thought we were the local men who had beaten their friends up. To me they didn’t seem reasonable – they just wanted revenge.

We stood at the bar in amazement, then I saw the side door and did a runner. When I returned the place was empty except for our bargees. One of our lads had a large bandage over his head, put there by the landlord’s wife who was a nurse. Apparently they had started fighting, then the landlord had told the men to stop fighting, pointed to one of the Irishmen and said, “Patrick, what’s going on?”

Patrick explained that some local men had beaten them up earlier – but the landlord replied that we were not from this area, and added, “Leave now or I’ll call the police! So they left, but we had a lucky escape. That bandaged man could have been me. We supped up and went back to our boats and crawled into our bunks.


We cast off in the lighter from Nottingham at 10am, bound for Hull with another load of gravel. We  moored up at Gainsborough and stayed the night there, casting off from there next morning and arriving at Hull mid- afternoon. From there the tug would sort a load to take back to Nottingham, which would be the following day. After the task of dropping down to near the mouth of the river Hull, we had a meal. My younger brother Robert, who was mate on the boat, went for a walk to the shops to get some groceries, and I settled down for a read.

After a while I thought I’d make a cup of tea. It was 4 pm. The tide was ebbing and bearing in mind it was late October, it would soon be getting dark. At this time, twilight, there would be visitors who were not welcome on board. Rats! They always come out when it starts to get dark, a bit like vampires. So I got my airgun and loaded it.

I went up on deck and lay behind the Carley Float [an emergency raft carried on board, consisting of a buoyant canvas ring with a wooden grid deck]. I lay down and sure enough about 30 minutes later a big rat started walking along the head rope, intending to get on board. It was about 15 feet from where I lay.

I aimed – and smack, it was a head shot. The rat just fell off the rope into the water. It splashed about a little and then sank into the quagmire. A boating friend of mine told me a short while back that he once fell overboard and in no time he was up to his waist in mud, which is like grey porridge, and if it wasn’t for his friends pulling him out he would have disappeared.

Then I looked along the craft and saw another rat coming aboard so I loaded my air rifle again and started crawling along the deck so that the visitor couldn’t see me. When I thought I was near enough I spied the rascal and took aim. That one joined its partner in the  mud and disappeared. It was starting to get dark and I made my way along the decking to the cabin which was aft. Just then my brother appeared and said he’d got us some fish and chips.

We climbed down into the cabin. We had two foldup chairs, a drop down table and two comfortable bunks and we also had a coal or wood burning stove so it was a home from home. After we had dined and had a drink we decided to turn in. The toilet was in the forecastle, so we used that and then turned in. By this time it was almost low water outside.

Next morning we got up at 6 am and I had a look outside, where the tide was flooding (which means that the water was rising). We were prepared for it and got our breakfast and afterwards did our ablutions.

About an hour later I stuck my head over the side and checked the other boats in the river. They were all afloat, yet we were still sitting on the bottom. I thought, how strange, and started to potter about tidying the deck ropes. My brother and I drank some more tea.

I then had another look over the side, and we were still sitting on the bottom whilst the other boats around us were afloat. Why weren’t we?

By this time I was concerned and told my brother to get all our personal gear on deck. I remembered I had a heavy lump hammer so I walked round the decking, smashing the hammer down with all my might on the steel decks, hoping the boat would rise with the vibration. I soon got fed up with it, but by this time the waters had risen to the decks.

Suddenly she rose, just like a submarine. My – was I pleased!! My brother put our personal gear back down into the cabin. Just then the tug came for us and took us to King George’s dock for a load of timber planking from Norway. And when we were loaded up and ready, we set off for Nottingham.

Memories by Les Davey. Words Edited by Viv Apple. 

Mr Les Davey

Posted in Memories of Nottinghamshire, Nottinghamshire Industrial History, River & Parks, Trades & Characters | Leave a comment

Arthur Mee

by Frank E Earp

Biography: Arthur Henry Mee was born in Stapleford Nottinghamshire on 21st July 1875. He was the second child and eldest son, of the ten children born to Henry and Mary Mee (nee Fletcher). Henry Mee was a mechanical engineer working for the railways and in various biographies Arthur’s upbringing is described as ‘working class’. His father was a Baptist Deacon and throughout his life, Arthur was a devout Christian, although he had an understanding and firm belief in evolution. At school the young Arthur does not seem to have inherited his fathers practical skills, but developed a passion for English. He excelled in both the written and spoken word and his reading skills were second to none. Before leaving school Arthur put his abilities to good use and earned a little money by reading allowed ‘Parliamentary Reports’ and newspapers to blind neighbour and local baker, Henry Mellows.

First Job and Cub Reporter: In 1889, – shortly before Arthur left school at the age of 14, – the Mee family moved to Nottingham. This move gave Arthur the opportunity of taking what seems to be his perfect first job. This was at the ‘Nottingham Express’, where he was employed as a ‘copy-holder’ an assistant to a ‘proofreader’. The worked entailed reading allowed the original hand written manuscripts so that the proofreader might check the typeset text. At the age of around 15 Arthur taught himself ‘Pitman’s shorthand and regularly honed his skills every Sunday morning by taking notes of the sermon at the Baptist Chapel. Arthur found one sermon particularly interesting and after the service hurried home to write up his notes as an article. The following day he submitted his work to an editor at the paper who saw its merit. The article was subsequently published and he was taken on as an apprentice reporter. So began Arthur’s long career as a writer and journalist. At this time, it was the job of a ‘cub reporter’ to gather whatever news they could from Hospitals, Police and Fire Stations, and to report on Court cases, Council meetings and the like. All of this meant long days travelling the streets. Where ever possible Arthur would save his tram-fare and walk between location. He considered his meagre income better spent on pork pies and custard tarts.

Life long friend and holiday romance: Arthur finished his apprenticeship with the Express at the age of 20 and was given an editorship at its ‘sister paper’ the Nottingham Evening Post which commanded a substantial wage of 30 shillings a week. With this new found ‘wealth,’ Arthur was to take up rooms in Nottingham with fellow journalist John Hammerton. Hammerton was also a newly appointed editor, but at Arthur’s former paper the Express. Although the two young men were in many ways polar opposites, – unlike Arthur, John was neither religious or tee-total, – they were to become life-long friends. Whilst on holiday in 1895 Arthur met and fell in love with Amelia Fraston, the woman who was to become his wife.

London calls: The ever ambitious Arthur taught himself to type and to supplement his wages further, took to writing articles for National journals like ‘Tit-bits’, – a popular weekly magazine founded by George Newnes in 1881. Arthur’s interest and style of writing meant that his contributions to the magazine soon became popular with the readership. It wasn’t long before his talents were spotted and in 1896 Newnes in person, offered Arthur £1,000 a year to work for him full-time. This was an offer Arthur could not refuse and he moved to the London based magazine. For the next few years he made a sizeable contribution to its content whilst further supplementing his now substantial income, by contributing articles to the Morning Herald and the St. James Gazette. A year after his move to London, Arthur and Amelia were married and moved into a house on Tulse Hill, London.

1901, eventful year: The year 1901 was a truly significant one for Arthur with some life changing and life affirming events. To begin-with, Arthur had that year, taken the post as editor of a ‘sixpenny weekly paper’ know as The Black and White. Here he was able to employ his friend John Hammerton as literary and dramatic critic. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful cooperation, which produced some of Arthur’s best known works. It was also whilst working for this paper that Arthur was to meet a Miss Margaret Lillie, who was to become another life-long friend and his personnel secretary for the next 40 years.

Inspirational daughter: On a more personnel level for Aurther, it was in 1901 that Amelia gave birth to their only daughter, Marjorie. Soon after the birth the couple moved to a new home in Hextable, Kent. No one at the time could have foreseen that it would be Marjorie’s inquisitive nature that seven years later, would inspire Arthur to write The Children’s Encyclopaedia. The work was published in 50 parts between 1908 and 1910 and became one of the most popular children’s books of the day.

Dynamic Duo: In the next two years together with his friend John Hammerton, Arthur came up with an idea for a new magazine with a proposed title ‘Who’s Who This Week’ which they presented to Harmsworth Amalgamated Press, owned by ‘publishing mogul’ Alfred Harmsworth, (Lord Northcliffe). The idea was rejected, but Harmsworth instantly recognised the great potential of both men. Arthur was appointed general editor of The Harmsworth Self Educator which in collaboration with Hammerton, was published as a part-work between 1905 and 1907. Next came ‘The Children’s Encyclopaedia’, the success of which led to Arthur’s editorship of the World’s first weekly newspaper especially for children, ‘The Children’s Newspaper.’ The paper remained in print from March 1919 to May 1965 when it was absorbed by another title. Over its 46 year life, – 25 of which were under Arthur’s editorship, – the paper produced 2,397 issues.

For Arthur and Hammerton their time working for Harmsworth Amalgamated Press was their most productive years. In his lifetime Arthur Mee wrote around 200 books including the most of the 41 volumes of the Kings England series. John Alexander Hammerton, (1871-1949), went on to receive a Knighthood for his services. The ‘Dictionary of National Biogrophy describes him as The most successful creator of large-scale works of reference that Britain has known”.

Unexpected death: Arthur Henry Mee’s death was sudden and unexpected. On the 27th May 1943 he was admitted to hospital for a routine operation on a gland. He died unexpectedly the following day. A service of remembrance was held at St. Dunstan’s Fleet Street, London, on 6th June. Sadly, the house in Stapleford where he was born, – which was behind the parish church of St. Helen, – has now been demolished. A Blue Plaque on the wall of the Arthur Mee Centre, – next to the Library, – is all that marks the town as the birth place of this great man.

A young Arthur Mee at his desk.

Eynsford Hill, Mee’s old house near Sevenoaks in Kent

Posted in Nottinghamshire People, Legends and Characters, Nottinghamshire Suburbs, Stapleford | Leave a comment