Nelson (1758-1805) has a very good claim to being Norfolk’s most famous son. Bernard Mathews was certainly a keen supporter for the position of Nelson in this respect, paying for the road signs that announce the fact that Norfolk was Nelson’s county where the major routes cross the county border. Nelson was born in North Norfolk and visited his mother’s family who lived at Woodton in South Norfolk. His father was the clergyman of the parish of Burnham Thorpe and his mother was a Suckling, a family of country gentry who were related to the Walpoles. Robert Walpole (1676-1745) also has a claim to being the premier Norfolkman, being the first Prime Minister of this country.
As far as Nelson is concerned, in my opinion he was rather vain and treated his wife very badly. I must admit however that he was extremely popular with his seamen and was unusually humane for his time. Anyway, he had a great following in Norfolk while he was still alive, as these extracts from the NORFOLK CHRONICLE indicate:
MARCH 7 1801.—Arrived in Yarmouth Roads, the St. George, of 98 guns, bearing the flag of Lord Nelson. The grand fleet of 47 ships of war (with 3,000 marines), sailed on the 12th, under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, in the London, of 98 guns, with Nelson as his Vice-Admiral. The fleet first “rendezvoused” in Leith Roods, where it was joined by seven sail of the line, and afterwards proceeded to Copenhagen.
APRIL 14 1801.—Intelligence received at Yarmouth of the destruction of the Danish fleet in Copenhagen Bay, by the British fleet, under the immediate command of Lord Nelson, on April 2nd, after a battle of four hours. Seventeen sail of the Danish navy were taken or destroyed. The news was conveyed to Norwich by the coach, which entered the city with colours flying; the Volunteer corps paraded in the Market Place and fired a feu de joie, and the bells of St. Peter Mancroft and of other churches were rung.
JUNE 29 1801 Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson arrived at Yarmouth in the Kite sloop, Capt. Domett, from Copenhagen. He immediately proceeded on foot from the jetty to the Hospital, and visited the sick and wounded seamen. After a stay of about three hours, his lordship left Yarmouth for London, under escort of a troop of Yeomanry Cavalry.
AUGUST 31 1801.—The annual Venison Feast was held at the Red Lion, Fakenham, to celebrate Lord Nelson’s victory of the Nile.
Norwich School likes to claim Nelson as an old boy. The truth is anyone who was anyone from Norfolk was likely to have attended the Norwich Free School, as it was called until relatively recently. There were hardly any other schools in Norfolk until late in the nineteenth century, but one of these was the Paston School in North Walsham which, as it happens, has a rather better claim to be the alma mater of Nelson. But school, whether at Norwich or North Walsham, had no great formative influence on Nelson; while still barely in his teens he was shooting a polar bear on an ice floe in North Atlantic as a midshipman in the Royal Navy.
For a county surrounded by sea on the north and east coasts, and part of the western boundary it is not surprising that a number of famous seamen have come from the county. Nelson is by far the most famous, and if the people of Norfolk loved Nelson, he loved his home county in return.
We have a leather chair in our sitting room which is part of a limited edition of reproductions of Nelson’s armchair. The original comes from the cabin on HMS Victory. It was made to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Having originally been made for the Admiral there are two pockets, one on either side, that were used to hold papers while he worked in his cabin at sea. It is a nice touch, but I did not buy it myself – it was inherited from my father-in-law. It is authentic right down having the cushion stuffed with horsehair. To accommodate the broad posteriors of the 21st century it is somewhat wider than the original; Nelson had a slight physique.
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