The National Maritime Museum said it will not meddle with its displays on Lord Nelson, despite the fact he was an avowed opponent of the abolition of slavery. One national newspaper in particular seemed to think acknowledging this fact was a dangerously subversive, leftie idea. TOBY PORTER looks at the victor of Trafalgar’s links to South London…
Lord Nelson made his name with victories at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and Copenhagen three years later – and died during his greatest victory, at Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain, in 1805.
By 1801, Lord Nelson, had separated from his wife Fanny and wanted a home where he could entertain his friends.
Acting on his behalf, his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton bought Merton Place, close to what is now South Wimbledon Tube station, for £9,000.
She lived there with her husband, Sir William.
Nelson first arrived on October 23, 1801. This bizarre domestic arrangement scandalised British society.
But Nelson’s status as a national hero endeared him to the local population.
Nelson loved the peace and charm of the area he termed “dear, dear Merton.”
Sir William died in April 1803. The following month, war broke out again and Nelson prepared to return to sea.
After pursuing the French fleet from Toulon to the West Indies and back, he expected to be blamed for not catching them – but instead crowds gathered to cheer him on his return and senior British officials congratulated him for saving the West Indies from a French invasion.
Nelson spent most of August 1805 in Merton before war flared again and he put his affairs in order and left in mid-September.
He would not return – he was killed by the bullet of a French sharpshooter on the day of his greatest victory, at Trafalgar – his last words the memorably eccentric phrase addressed to his deputy: “Kiss me, Hardy”.
Nelson’s body lay in state for three days in what is now the Painted Gallery at Greenwich, on its way to being buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The former front entrance to Merton Place is now the site of the Nelson Arms – which seems a harsh name – in Merton High Street.
Nelson’s pew survives at the front of the nearby St Mary the Virgin, Church Path, Merton.
He is also said to have watched the local cricket team in action –- Mitcham Cricket Ground, Cricket Green, Lower Mitcham is said to have hosted matches since the 1690s.
Before his departure for Trafalgar, the admiral reputedly gave a young player a shilling, to “drink to the confusion of the French”.
After Nelson’s death at Trafalgar, Lady Hamilton’s lavish lifestyle sent her into debt and she sold Merton Place.
The house remained empty and was finally demolished in 1823. Nelson’s 160 acres of land now lies under High Path estate, built in the early 1950s and planned for demolition.
There is also a pub called the Kiss Me Hardy, 500 yards from the Nelson Arms, at the other end of Merton High Street; four Lord Nelson pubs in Greater London, a statue in Park Row, Greenwich, and a slightly more prominent one in Trafalgar Square.
Nelson’s column is big enough to ensure the great man’s reputation can survive the addition of a few accurate facts about his views, on museum displays about his life.
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.