The Wellington Connection: Shoes, Rather Than Boots

The French, the Prince of Wales, gunfire, political upheaval . . . really, you’d have thought the Duke of Wellington had enough on his plate, but more often than not it was left to His Grace to attend to a hundred myriad details each week regarding the military, politics, his social and his family life. Everyone turned to the Duke of Wellington for assistance and perhaps this was at least in part because he was so good at seeing to the details of a thing, as evidenced in the thread of dispatches below that deal with shoes for both human and horse. As we read, it becomes evident that Wellington had a knack for looking at a problem from every angle and for finding it’s most expedient solution. He always offered explanation and gave the whys and wherefores behind his requests in order to stress the practicalities surrounding them. Unfortunately, not everyone at the war office was as efficient, or as concerned about the day to day running of a vast army who traveled both on their stomachs and their feet.

The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington:

To the Earl of Liverpool. Cartaxo, 7th Dec. 1810.

I enclose a return of the number of men and horses required to complete the regiments of British cavalry in this country. As the appointments of the heavy cavalry are so much more weighty than those of the light dragoons, and the larger horses of the former are with difficulty kept in condition, it would have been desirable to have a larger proportion of the light dragoons, or hussars, with this army; but as the officers, the men, and their horses, are now accustomed to the food they receive, and to the climate, I do not recommend that the regiments should be changed, or that any additional regiments should be sent out, excepting possibly the remaining 2 squadrons of the 3d hussars, K.G.L., of which 2 squadrons are already at Cadiz.

Your Lordship will observe that nearly 1000 horses are wanting to complete the several regiments to the number of men they now have, and 1460 to complete to their several establishments. I would recommend that no horses should be sent for service to this country which will not be 6 years old in May; and that mares should be sent in preference to horses, as it has been found that they bear the work better than the horses.

I also beg leave to recommend that about 50 or 60 horses or mares of a superior description should be  purchased, at the price of £40 or £50 each, as a remount for the officers of the cavalry, who cannot find horses in the Peninsula at present fit for this service, and would pay this price for these horses.
As great difficulty has been experienced in making shoes and shoe nails for the horses of the cavalry by their farriers, particularly after the cavalry have been actively employed for any length of time, and many horses have been consequently lost, I recommend that 4000 sets of horse shoes, and a double proportion of horse shoe nails, should be sent to the Commissary Gen. for the use of the cavalry, of the same description with those provided for the horses of the Royal artillery. The regiments to which these shoes would be issued would of course pay for them.

A year after Wellington had done with horse shoes, it appears he turned his pen to the matter of shoes for his troops –

Selections from the Dispatches and General Orders of Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington –

To the Earl of Liverpool. Celorico, 31st March, 1811.

The demand for shoes increases to such a degree that it is desirable that 150,000 pairs should be sent to the Tagus as soon as it may be practicable. It is very desirable that the shoes sent to the army should be of the best quality for wear, and should be made of the largest size.

 

The destruction of this necessary article to a soldier is very much increased by the bad quality of the shoes sent out, and by their being in general too small: and as the operations of the army have now been removed to a distance from Lisbon, the inconvenience and difficulty of supplying their consumption are much increased; at the same time, that, as the soldiers pay for the shoes they receive, it is but just towards them that they should be of the best quality for their purpose, and should fit them.’

And yet another missive on the same subject:

A Memoir of Field-Marshal, the Duke of Wellington: with Interspersed Notices … By John Marius Wilson

“We are sadly in want of shoes, and the carts upon the road from Lisbon to Coimbra have been so ill used that I fear we cannot depend upon the communication; and if we could, I believe we should receive them sooner by sea. It will require 40 carts to bring up 20,000 pairs of shoes, which we want; and I shall be very much obliged to you if you will ask the Admiral to allow one of his ships of war to take them on board, and bring them as soon as possible to the mouth of the Mondego.”

And on arriving at Coimbra with the army, and finding there only 6,000 pairs of shoes, the Duke of Wellington felt obliged to issue general orders for economizing the distribution of them, and to write to Lord Castlereagh begging that a further supply of 30,000 pairs might speedily be sent to Lisbon, and that, at the same time, large supplies might be sent of biscuit, oats, and hay.

Supplementary Despatches and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur, Duke of Wellington, Freneda, 30th Nov., 1812 –

1. The Commander of the Forces has directed that those non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the infantry and artillery who were present at the siege of Burgos, and those who were present with their regiments in Spain between the 15th and 19th November, as well Portuguese as English, shall receive a pair of shoes gratis from the Commissary.

2. The officers commanding regiments will accordingly make requisitions for these shoes.

3. Many soldiers are probably already provided with the required quantity of shoes. The officers commanding regiments will make a list of the names of these soldiers, and will have this list lodged with the Paymaster-General, in satisfaction of the demand of the Commissary-General for as many pairs of shoes last delivered to the regiment as there will be names in the list.

4. The soldiers whose names will be in these lists are not to be charged for a pair of shoes each man last received by them from the Commissary, in their accounts with the Captain of their company.

5. Of course the requisitions for shoes under this order are not to include the names of those who will be included in the lists adverted to in Nos. 3 and 4.

6. The shoes which will be required under these orders will be delivered between this time and the 1st February next.

 

 

And next it appears that the Duke had at some point been sent the wrong kind of shoes, adding to his level of frustration:

 

To Earl Bathurst, Lesaca, 23rd August, 1813.

My Dear Lord,
——–  has sent me several pairs of his shoes, which I have endeavored to prevail upon him to desist from sending me, in terms not to mortify him. They are, in fact, of no use whatever. Those who travel on foot in this country do not wear shoes of that description. The Basques and Navarrois, and even some of the Castillians, wear sandals. The shoes worn by the common people, who do wear shoes, are made of brown leather. A man who should have on his feet, or in his possession, a pair of such shoes would be suspected immediately. They are, besides, too small for any common man. They are really quite useless, and it is better that no more should be sent.

Later in life, the Duke turned his great attention to detail upon the health and welfare of his friends and family. In the case of Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts, matters again turned to shoes. In Lady Unknown: The Life of Angela Byrdett-Coutts author Edna Healey tells us that Wellington wrote to Angela:

`Don’t forget you are to leave a pair of your shoes for me that I may have some galoshes made for you. I am in earnest with this; you like walking and appear not to mind much in which state of streets you go out in . . . all that I care about is that you must be kept dry when you go out into the wet streets.’

A pair of the Duke’s own gutta-percha galoshes are preserved at Stratfield-Saye. And in order to round out our piece on Wellington and shoes, here’s a link to an ad in a 1944 issue of Life Magazine featuring the Duke of Wellington.

The Wellington Connection – Beer

Once upon a time in England, an alehouse/tavern licence was very expensive and was based upon the size of the premises. Many who sought to open such an enterprise were financially prohibited from doing so until the Duke of Wellington’s Beer House Act of 1830 changed the playing field dramatically. The Act reduced the licence fee to two guineas, permitting the sale of beer and cider only. The main object of the Act was to reduce the consumption of spirits, such as gin and other strong liquors.

As the website Exeter Memories tells us: “During the 18th-century, the production and consumption of gin exploded, especially amongst the poor, causing violence and misery for many. Government attempts to prohibit the production of gin with the Gin Act of 1736 had little effect. Distilling changed from straight gin to “medicinal” spirits to circumvent the Act, and fanciful names such as Cuckold’s Comfort and My Lady’s Eye Water were used to describe the new drinks.

“The introduction of the Beer House Act of 1830 tried a different approach to reducing gin consumption and hence, public drunkenness. Anyone, on payment of 2 guineas to a magistrate could obtain a license to open a beer house. Permission was only granted for six days a week, with Sundays excepted. Only beer and cider could be sold.

“The result was a huge growth of beer houses and beer sellers, many from the front rooms of terrace houses and cottages. Another provision of the act was that existing taverns, inns and pubs could also brew their own beer on the premises. This had a knock effect, for there was a growth of demand for hops and barley for malting, thus bringing a new market for many farmers. Within eight years of the act being passed, 46,000 beer houses were opened, almost equalling the number of existing, pubs, taverns and inns.”

Midlands Pubs picks up the story from there – “Following the 1830 Act, beer production went through the roof. Large common brewers engaged travelling sales people to find new trading locations. These agents actively encouraged householders to open up a part of their property, usually the front parlour, in order to sell beer. They even offered to pay the two guinea licence on their behalf and would offer credit terms to their clients.

“Many of the new beer houses throughout the land named their pubs in honour of the Iron Duke. Their pub signs tended to display Wellington in his military roles and often celebrated his battle achievements that had captured the imagination of the public. However, more often than not, the new publicans were showing appreciation to the man who had helped them set up in business. Not all houses bought their beers from common brewers. Some chose to brew themselves whilst others employed a travelling brewer who would go from pub to pub producing the house ales.
“Naturally, some beer houses were more successful than others. Those who gained a reputation for their ales enjoyed good trade. The licensee would often use the profits to buy the neighbouring cottage into which the family would move whilst the existing house was expanded. Indeed, there are some pubs that have expanded into a full row of a terrace, the rooms being used as separate bar, parlour, smoke room, lounge and family room. The early beer house movement was all very laissez-faire.
“Although many beer houses were eradicated under later legislation, many survived and evolved into fully licensed premises. Accordingly, in addition to beer and cider, they were allowed to sell wines and spirits. 1869 was a key cut-off point, after which it was not so easy to obtain a full licence. Indeed, the 1869 Wine and Beerhouse Act was designed to curtail the number of pubs that were opening around the country. However, pubs that had obtained licences before this date did have a degree of protection in terms of magisterial control.
“Many houses that did not obtain a full licence managed to continue in business providing that the house conformed to all legislation and was kept orderly. These continued to simply sell beer and cider. For example, by 1890 almost half of Birmingham’s 2,178 public houses were beer houses. In fact, beer houses continued up until the 1950’s when finally a full licence was granted to those that had survived.”
The Duke of Wellington . . . what a guy!

The Wellington Connection: Lord Nelson

Horatio, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington met but once in their lives and, thanks to diarist John Wilson Croker (The Croker Papers), we have an account of that meeting, in Wellington’s own words. The following account was told to Croker whilst he was visiting the Duke at Walmer Castle on October 1, 1834. The Duke’s telling of the story was prompted by a question put to him by Croker concerning Nelson’s reputation for egotism and vanity –

“Why,” said the Duke, “I am not surprised at such instances, for Lord Nelson was, in different circumstances, two quite different men, as I myself can vouch, though I only saw him once in my life, and for, perhaps, an hour.

“It was soon after I returned from India. I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, and there I was shown into a little waiting-room on the right hand, where I found, also waiting to see the Secretary of State, a gentleman whom, from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognized as Lord Nelson.

“He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side, and all about himself, and in really a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something that I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody, and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affiars on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact, he talked like an officer and a stateman.

“The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly for the last half or three quarters of an hour I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now, if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.”

The Battle of Vimeiro, Revisited

I first wrote about Vimeiro when Zebra Regency Romances published my novel Least Likely Lovers in August 2005.  In the story, Major Jack Whitaker, formerly of the 22nd Foot, was severely injured in the Battle of Vimeiro, (21 August, 1808) and has come home to England to complete his recuperation, hoping to return to the front beside his comrades. However, in the meantime, Sir Arthur Wellesley (eventually to become the Duke of Wellington) has asked Jack to build support for the army among politicians and social leaders in London, an assignment that Jack finds impossibly frustrating. You won’t be surprised to find that Jack finds a lady with whom he falls in love.


The Battle of Vimeiro (also called Vimiero or Vimera) was the first major conflict of the Peninsular War, part of the greater continent-wide Napoleonic Wars. Up to Napoleon’s 1807 invasion of Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally, British participation in the European war had involved the navy, diplomacy, perhaps major scheming, but not many actual soldiers. When the Portuguese needed help, however, the government in London sent troops to oppose the French. They arrived in August 1808 under the leadership of Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley.

 

On a trip to Lisbon, my husband and I hired a car to take us to see the site of Battle of Vimeiro. We drove via multi-lane freeways north out of Lisbon, thinking about what a difference 200 years made in transportation. When we turned off the road, not far from Torres Vedras, we saw a primarily agricultural countryside filled with deep ravines, craggy rocks, rough pastures, and adorned with olive groves.

The village of Vimeiro is whitewashed, with its buildings right up against the road. We looked for the promised sign to the battle’s memorial but missed it. The driver had a solution to our dilemma: his friend who managed the Hotel Golf Mar on the coast, not far from the village. In fact, the hotel manager escorted us to the cliffs overlooking the Rio Maciera where the British troops landed on the sandy spits at either side of the river’s mouth. I could look out at the empty sea and imagine those tall ships anchoring and the troops in their red coats climbing down the rope ladders into small boats to be rowed to the beach.

Armed with better directions, we drove back into the village past the large barn-like structure which was used as a hospital during the battle and the church, near which some skirmishing took place.

 

With one or two deft turns, we found the park on the heights with its memorial and blue tile pictures of the battle, shown here. I walked around the park, looking out at the battle site, trying to visualize the British and French troops in their colorful uniforms, to hear the explosion of artillery and rattle of musket fire. A map of the battle overlooks the countryside from the heights. But aside from the memorial park, one would never guess this peaceful place had ever seen the deaths of hundreds of men or heard cries of the wounded.

Our driver said in his more than twenty years of experience taking tourists around Portugal, no one had ever asked to come here before. Why, he asked, was I eager to find the site of the Battle of Vimeiro? When I told him about my novels, I imagined he thought of war stories filled with blood and gore. It probably never occurred to him that I write gentle stories of love and lifelong commitment. I wished that I had a copy of one of my novels to give him.

Returning to events of 1808, Major General Wellesley had landed his troops in central Portugal, with the goal of moving south to take Lisbon from the French. They fought a battle at Rolija, August 17, 1808. After several hours of brutal combat, the French were forced back. Wellesley moved on to the Maceira River, just west of Vimeiro, where more British troops came ashore with their horses and equipment.

Four days later, about 16,000 British troops and 2,000 Portuguese defeated about 19,000 French under General Jean-Andoche Junot (1771-1813) at Vimeiro. Wellesley stationed his troops on ridges between the village and the beach on the night of August 20th. By dawn, they could see the French approaching. In the face of British fire, General Junot’s men repeatedly failed to take the heights, though in various skirmishes, there was hard combat, including hand-to-hand fighting in the village. To the north of town, the French fell prey to one of Wellesley’s favorite strategies: stationing his troops out of enemy sight behind the crest of a hill, then wiping out the enemy as they came over the top.

By midday, Junot was beaten and the newly arrived British generals called an end to the firing. Wellesley advocated continuing the rout, driving the enemy out of Portugal all the way to French soil. However, as the battle had progressed, Wellesley’s overly cautious superior officers came ashore; first, General Harry Burrard (1755-1813), then General Hew Dalrymple (1750-1830). They overruled Wellesley’s plans to chase after the French. Thus, by allowing the French time to regroup and bring in reinforcements, the British lost their advantage. Instead, over Wellesley’s objections, Burrard and Dalrymple organized a conference to negotiate with the French at Cintra (aka Sintra) several days later.

The Convention of Cintra was signed August 30, 1808, nine days after the Battle of Vimeiro. It obligated the Royal Navy to carry 26,000 French soldiers to France, with their weapons and whatever spoils they had acquired. There was no restriction against their return to fight again in Portugal. Sir Arthur Wellesley voiced his objections, but, in the end, signed the Convention. The reaction in Britain was dramatic, led by the opposition to the government and their allies in the press. Scathing articles, mocking cartoons and contemptuous speeches condemned the terms of the convention. Wellesley, along with Generals Burrard and Dalrymple, was ordered back to London. The three generals faced a hearing before a Board of Inquiry at Horseguards, beginning November 15, 1808.

 

After extensive deliberations, the board voted on December 22, 1808, to accept the convention. The generals were officially exonerated, but neither Burrard nor Dalrymple ever saw military action again. Unofficially, all of London knew of Wellesley’s reluctance, and most probably knew the story of how his plan to continue the battle and push the French back to Lisbon and out of Portugal forever was thwarted.

The command in Portugal was taken over by General Sir John Moore  (l). Moore died after the Battle of Corunna when French commanders chased the British troops through the mountains. Six thousand British troops, including Moore, were killed in January 1809. For more details, see this blog of May 10, 2011.

The British government in London sent Sir Arthur Wellesley back to Portugal in April 1809 with 20,000 troops to join the remaining 9,000 still there. The war continued in Portugal and Spain for another five years, ending in 1814 with Napoleon’s first abdication. British troops, by then, had fought their way through Spain and into southern France. Wellesley was honored with the title of Duke of Wellington, a tribute he enhanced with his victory at Waterloo in June, 1815.

Give `Em The Wellie – An Introduction to Bootmaker George Hoby

George Hoby was not only the greatest and most fashionable bootmaker in London, but, in spite of the old adage, “ne sutor ultra crepidam,” he employed his spare time with considerable success as a Methodist preacher at Islington. He was said to have in his employment three hundred workmen; and he was so great a man in his own estimation that he was apt to take rather an insolent tone with his customers. He was, however, tolerated as a sort of privileged person, and his impertinence was not only overlooked, but was considered as rather a good joke. He was a pompous fellow, with a considerable vein of sarcastic humour, as evidenced in the following anecdotes handed down to us by Captain Gronow –

I remember Horace Churchill, (afterwards killed in India with the rank of major-general,) who was then an ensign in the Guards, entering Hoby’s shop in a great passion, saying that his boots were so ill made that he should never employ Hoby for the future. Hoby, putting on a pathetic cast of countenance, called to his shopman, “John, close the shutters. It is all over with us. I must shut up shop; Ensign Churchill withdraws his custom from me.” Churchill’s fury can be better imagined than described. On another occasion the late Sir John Shelley came into Hoby’s shop to complain that his topboots had split in several places. Hoby quietly said, “How did that happen, Sir John?” “Why, in walking to my stable.” “Walking to your stable!” said Hoby, with a sneer. ” I made the boots for riding, not walking.”

Hoby was bootmaker to George III, the Prince of Wales, the royal dukes, Beau Brummell, most of the aristocracy and many officers in the army and navy. His shop was situated at the top of St James’s Street, at the corner of Piccadilly, next to the old Guards Club. Hoby was the first man who drove about London in a tilbury. It was painted black, and drawn by a beautiful black cob. This vehicle was built by the inventor, Mr Tilbury, whose manufactory was in a street leading from South Audley Street into Park Street.

No doubt Mr. Hoby had patterns for all manner of desirable boots, evidenced not in the least by his impressive client list. However, he will forever be linked to a boot design not of his making. Of course I refer to the Wellington boot, a pair of the Duke’s own boots of this design are pictured at left. Hoby had been bootmaker to the Duke of Wellington from his boyhood, and received innumerable orders in the Duke’s handwriting, both from the Peninsula and France, which he always religiously preserved. The Duke asked Hoby to modify the 18th-century Hessian boot to a height below the knee, in order to make them more practical for walking and riding. The resulting  boot was made of softer calfskin leather, had no trim, boasted heels one inch high and fit more closely around the leg, making it more practical and hard-wearing for battle, yet comfortable for the evening. The boot was dubbed the Wellington and was quickly adopted by Hoby’s other customers.

Hoby was also bootmaker to the Duke of Kent; and as he was calling on H.R.H. to try on some boots, the news arrived that Lord Wellington had gained a great victory over the French army at Vittoria. The duke was kind enough to mention the glorious news to Hoby, who coolly said, “If Lord Wellington had had any other bootmaker than myself, he never would have had his great and constant successes; for my boots and prayers bring his lordship out of all his difficulties.”

Hoby may have had a penchant for sarcasm and a high opinion of himself (and his own influence upon British military history) but he knew how to run a business – Hoby died worth a hundred and twenty thousand pounds.