A new book, by television and radio journalist Peter Snow, details the military career of the Anglo-Irish aristocrat Arthur Wellesley who became the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852).

During his time in the army he did not have a great deal to do with Dover but he proved to be a very popular Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle during the last 23 years of his life.

Wellington died at his home Walmer Castle in 1852, just five days after riding to Dover on horseback to study the construction of the Admiralty Pier.

Dover people were well used to seeing the ageing Duke riding around the town and port and he always remembered the reception he received from Dovorians when he returned home after defeating Napoleon in 1814, leading to the Treaty of Ghent.

Dover folk waited with excitement for Wellington’s arrival by sea, remembering that only a few years earlier they had prepared for Napoleon’s invasion.

Wellington’s arrival at Dover, on board the sloop Rosario, took place early on June 23 in 1814. The yards of all the ships in the port were manned by sailors and guns on the Western and Eastern Heights boomed out a salute.

He landed at the Crosswall where, according to records, hundreds of people from Dover and inland had gathered there and on the dockside to welcome him.

As Wellington stepped ashore three leading citizens from the Pier district, Henry Jell, Emanuel Levey and Tom Birch, lifted him up and carried him to the nearby Ship Hotel.

At the Ship the Duke noticed the low headroom of the entrance door and begged to be put down, which his carriers did. “We pledge ourselves not to hurt a hair of your head,” one of them is reported to have said.

Waiting to greet the hero at the hotel was his nephew, the Honourable Wellesley Pole, along with scores of others mostly from Dover.

Someone had forgotten to tell the mayor James Walker of the Duke’s early arrival and he was not there to provide the official hand of friendship.

Next day, after the Duke had rested, he and his entourage rode out of Dover amid scenes of great excitement from the people of Dover. The Duke rode along the Old Folkestone Road, past Archcliffe Fort, on his way to meet the Prince Regent.

Not many months later Napoleon, who had been held a prisoner, escaped from Elba and the Duke of Wellington and his army were in action again, leading to the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and banishment to St Helena.

The Duke went into politics and was elected prime minister in 1828-1830 (he opposed the 1832 Reform Act) and on retirement spent that last 23 years of his long life enjoying his appointment as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Much of that time was spent at his favourite official home at Walmer Castle.

Here he lived an arduous and simple life, getting up early, taking regular exercise, eating and drinking in moderation and sleeping on a hard bed.

At Walmer Castle, during his time, there was a continuous stream of visitors including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Despite national economies the Duke retained the services of old servants at the castle, continuing to pay an annual salary.

He struck up a close friendship with John Irons, one of the number of Dover harbour masters of that family, and in 1834 appointed Irons “Lieutenant of Moat’s Bulwark.” He also appointed James Worsfold a Commissioner of Salvage of the Admiralty Court of the Cinque Ports.

The Duke held a series of dinner parties and his guests invariably included people from Dover because, he said, they were able to keep him informed about local news. Talking to Lady Guilford he commented that Deal and Walmer were poor places for news while gossip from Dover was always newsworthy.

In those days the duties of the Lord Warden including chairing meeting of Dover Harbour Board which he carried out with care. During the whole of his 23 years as Lord Warden (and Constable of Dover Castle) he hardly missed being present at the annual Harbour Sessions.

One tune apparently got up his goat. Wherever he went, especially in Dover, bands played See the Conquering Hero Comes. It made him rather tired as he tried to explain to bandsmen.

The Duke was never formally installed as Lord Warden at the traditional Court of Shepway but there was great excitement at Dover in August 1839 when a huge marquee was erected in Priory Meadows (near the present Town Hall) for a grand dinner to celebrate his appointment-some ten years too late.

1992 scene in Dover Pageant

Cost of the structure was £1,200 and there were 2,250 guests at the banquet, the food alone costing £3,000. A medal, now rare to find, was struck to commemorate the grand occasion.

His interest in the work of the port is still recalled in the Wellington Bridge that links Union Street to the sea front.

Day after day he rode his horse from Walmer to Dover to inspect modernisation work on the harbour, especially on the construction of the Admiralty Pier and building of quays around the Pent. During his time the Castle Jetty was extended and the sea front sea wall built.

When the South Eastern Railway was being cut through to Dover he inspected Shakespeare Tunnel by walking through with ladies on each arm-Lady Wilton and the Marchioness of Douro.

The return walk was too much for the ladies and they were dragged back by a crowd of navvies on a rail track carriage.

The Duke regularly presided at the Court of Loadmange at which trainee pilots were admitted to the Brotherhood.

On August 18 in 1852 the Duke, who had ridden his horse from Walmer, was in Dover with John Irons and S.M Latham inspecting the sea wall under construction. A few days later he was back again to watch the progress on the construction of the Admiralty Pier, returning to Walmer the same evening.

On the following Tuesday morning he was taken suddenly ill and died peacefully during the afternoon. He was 83.

The Duke was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral and one of those there, representing the Cinque Ports, was Tom Birch one of the trio who carried the Duke to the Ship Hotel when he landed at the Crosswall 38 years before.

 

Feature for TWWW for Dover Express. By Terry Sutton