The Age of Sail in everything – Seaton Delaval Hall

This weekend we were dancing at Seaton Delaval Hall – which, when I looked it up, turned out to have been built for an admiral, George Delaval – and, when he died before it was completed in 1728, inherited by his nephew Francis Blake Delaval, a naval captain.

This is possibly not surprising for a building so close to the sea, although it would have been less industrial looking in their days.

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Sea view

The main block of the house looks impressive, but it was burnt out by a fire in 1822, less than a hundred years after it was built, and is only an empty shell.

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Central block
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Central block interior

The west wing was lived in for part of the 20th century, and is in much better repair – as well as having a lovely cloister place along the front.

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West wing
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Cloister

This obelisk might mark the place where Admiral Delaval fell from his horse – or it might not. A second obelisk marking the spot where he died has been demolished.

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Obelisk

Throwback: Collingwood House, Morpeth

My first visit to Morpeth was as the light failed late on a December afternoon – 2009, presumably – and it began to snow as I walked up the high street to Oldgate – a vivid image still in my mind, but not so good in a photograph. I’m not sure when these photoss come from, as I’ve been back quite a few times since.

Morpeth was famously the home Collingwood longed for when he was away – outside the noise and bustle of Newcastle, where he could dig his garden and walk by the river and read by the fire.

The house now belongs to the local Catholic church, who do open it to visitors occasionally.

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Collingwood House
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Collingwood House plaque

The house is on a road running down to the river, where there’s now a solid bridge – which isn’t nearly as old as it looks. In Collingwood’s day I think it would still have been a ford, before even the first of several footbridges, but the street names suggest that it was the main route to the west at one time – this is Oldgate, while the road now skirting the north of the river is Newgate.

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Oldgate Bridge

Collingwood’s garden is mostly under the grounds of the church now – which does at least mean that there’s some kind of access to where he would have had his ‘quarterdeck walk’ along the riverbank.

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High Stanners board

From the opposite bank you can see the remains of the poop deck summerhouse – in the centre, with the gardens running off to the right.

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The poop deck

And here’s the view over the river from the poop deck itself – still a peaceful view. The stepping stones are traditional, although this set are modern!

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View from the poop deck

HMS Victory and the Portsmouth naval museum

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I’ve been having a good summer for adventures – they just all seem to have piled in at once. This wasn’t quite as exotic as Spain, but still something I’d been wanting to do for a long time – a combined trip to see HMS Victory at Portsmouth, and to go on a south coast trip on Waverley from Southampton.

It was a horribly wet day, and my arrival was slightly disappointing – I had read but had forgotten that Victory‘s topmasts were struck down, so I was expecting something like the arrival into Hartlepool only more so, and didn’t get it.

There didn’t seem to be any rule about how many times you could go to the diffeent things, so I decided I was going to start and finish with Victory, and see what happened in between. (The pictures are a mix of both visits, but I only got outside in the morning, because they’d decided it was too slippery and dangerous by the end of the day).

I was kind of disappointed by my first sight of the ship, too – I was expecting something *more* bigger than Trincomalee than I got. I think it was partly the effect of the missing masts, and partly that Trincomalee is 50 years younger and pretty big for a frigate, but although Victory is obviously much taller and generally bulkier, I think my impression was roughly right – we seem to be talking about roughly 20% longer and wider.

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Gunports

Still, there was plenty to explore. The ship has a very impressive front door, but I was a bit confused by it having a door at all – I thought you went up and over (and there were steps to do that too). Maybe the door is for more modern guests, since it’s still a working ship in a sense?

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Victory’s front door
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Guns

The man checking the tickets had sympathised with me being alone (which surprised me, because I forget it’s odd!), and told me not to miss the spot where Nelson died – which you can’t, really, because it’s more or less the first thing they funnel you to. (I’m not sure how I feel about having this as the great attraction. Not particularly moved, anyway.)

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Site of Nelson’s death
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Wet quarterdeck
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Missing masts

This level has the captain’s cabin, with easy access to the deck. Apparently they’ve cleared away a lot of Victorian clutter that was on the ship, trying to put the furnishings back to something nearer how they would have been at Trafalgar. This means not a lot of explanation either, although there are guides dotted about to explain things.

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The captain’s cabin

The great cabin is the level below – Victory was usually a flagship, so this was usually the admiral’s cabin. I found this more moving than the memorial on deck, really, because I could begin to picture not only Nelson but other admirals in other similar spaces, living and working away.

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Nelson’s desk

There are four different sections here – an anteroom, a dining room, the main cabin, and a sleeping cabin – plus the quarter galleries!

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Nelson’s toilet!

Laid out on the tables were various charts of the area around Trafalgar, and I had fun picking out all the places I’ve been this summer – as well as the Barbary Coast for Pellew!

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Topical map

Down below there was an area laid out for the surgeon – and down below that it was mostly two dark for taking photos, although fun to explore.

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Surgeon’s table
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The surgeon’s bottles

I was surprised by just how low the beams were in some places – I know there’s 5’4″ of clearance on Trincomalee, because I can walk straight under the beams as long as I’m brave, but there wasn’t always quite that here.

Outside there was a figurehead from HMS Trafalgar.

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HMS Trafalgar figurehead

In the main museum there was a lot of Nelson memorabilia, and a gallery more generally about the navy – and they let me go up the conference room stairs to have a better look at the Geoff Hunt paintings for the Master and Commander books (but despite a sign in the museum saying that they sold prints, they didn’t, which was probably a good thing!).

Another part was about Victory and Trafalgar, including a quiz where you could choose Hornblower as the commander at Trafalgar if you wanted to, and a little panel about Collingwood.

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Collingwood

There was an explanation here that the first some of the ships knew of Nelson’s death was seeing his cabin windows dark that night – I’ve read elsewhere that the first Temeraire knew of it was seeing the Commander in Chief’s night signal on Euryalus (which had the dismasted Royal Sovereign in tow), which gives me shivers – that ships went a long time with no contact with land is obvious, but that they had so little contact even with each other is hard to get your head around now.

Upstairs there was a collection of figureheads, Nelson’s favourite signal (‘Engage the enemy more closely’, which flew all through the battle), and Charles II’s barge, used for Nelson’s funeral.

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Nelson’s favourite signal
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Funeral barge

I had hoped to get over to the firepower museum at Gosport, but the waterbus was off. So instead I went to see HMS Warrior, which was a bizarre cross between Trincomalee and the Waverley, but did finally give me a good masts picture!

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HMS Warrior
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Warrior’s masts

Book of the month: August – Pellew

(I will catch up with the rest of the months eventually – I hope.)

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Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain
Stephen Taylor

I fell across this book while I was on holiday – one of the shops in Tarbert always has a bookcase full of books about the sea – and even without the Hornblower connection, as I’ve said before, I’m interested in different people’s different kinds of lives.

And Pellew does seem to have led quite a different life from most officers*, beginning his career rated as purser’s servant and progressing to able seaman and master’s mate before finally being promoted to midshipman and then to lieutenant.

The book covers his life in three sections, with the first taking him from childhood through service on the Great Lakes and most of his famous exploits – the first naval action of the French war in Nymphe, the destruction of the Droits de l’Homme in Indefatigable, and my favourite story, the evacuation of the Dutton, wrecked off Plymouth.

By the second part, things are starting to fall apart – disagreements with the Admiralty, an attempted mutiny, troubles in parliament, and a posting to the Indian Ocean which sees him on the other side of the world at the time of Trafalgar.

The third part covers his final battle, negotiating with the Barbary States for the release of Christian slaves, and the final successful bombardment of Algiers.

It’s a nice book, written by someone who obviously likes and appreciates Pellew, without being blind to his faults – his inability to leave a job alone if it needs to be done, which can be a good thing, when it leads to a rescue, or to inspiring the men who know that he won’t ask them to do anything he wouldn’t, but can be a problem as well, and particularly his concern for his family, which led to his sons in particular being promoted to positions they were unfit for.

It seems to be obligatory for authors of naval biographies to compare their subjects to Jack Aubrey, and in this case they do seem to have quite a lot in common** – active interest in gunnery and in improving the performance of their ships, the loyal followers, the understanding of the lower decks, and a tendency to save people from the sea. They’re quite different people as well, though, and it does seem to me more the use of a type than of a particular character.

Comparison with Nelson is inevitable in a different sense – at one time Pellew had been the better known of the two, but the business of setting Nelson apart from all others had begun even before his death. For Taylor it’s the wrong comparison in any case, seeing Pellew more in the mould of Collingwood or even St. Vincent, all successful in different ways in their own right.

* Although it did remind me of John Quilliam, with the farm background in a place strongly connected to the sea, and the rise through the ranks.
**Whatever Max Adams may think, Collingwood has more in common with Stephen, or vice versa!