Liverpool certainly has its fair share of Wellington memorabilia; the Waterloo Dock, Waterloo Road, Wellington Buildings, Wellington Column, the Wellington Rooms, Wellington Road Church, Wellington Street and even a chunk of Liverpool called Waterloo, to name a few.
All this, lends itself to some superb Civic Society or “Friends” groups planning; schools educational ‘walk-abouts’ and history curriculum work, guided tourist trails, architectural pointers in the form of advertising fliers highlighting the fine building and monument quality of the Wellington era; lectures, talks and even books on the fantastic historical links we have.
The publishers have certainly not been slow in looking ahead; with the ‘four days that changed Europe’s destiny’ published in all its glory and slaughter in a plethora of publications that have hit the shops recently. Maybe the Reader Organisation can engage with some of the reading material and plan some sessions at the Calderstones Mansion with historians giving a master-class in battle tactics of the Wellington age.
Two hundred years ago, come February 26, Napoleon, aged 46, escaped from Elba, landed in France and, averaging 23 miles a day, marched on Paris, mustered his old army of 123,000 men, deposed the Bourbon King Louis XVIII, made himself Emperor again and on June 18, clashed with Wellington at Waterloo, a hamlet ten miles south of Brussels.
It was, perhaps, Britain’s greatest military victory and the ferocious confrontation finally ended the tyrannical reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In front of the Walker Art Gallery and Sessions House in Liverpool’s St George’s Cultural Quarter is a triangular space formerly occupied by the old Islington Market. On this commanding site the Wellington Column was erected in 1861-3. The Duke died in 1852, but funds were slow to come in, and a design competition in 1856, won by Andrew Lawson of Edinburgh was followed by further delays while a site was secured. The bronze statue of the Duke is 40 metres high and cast from the bronze of melted-down cannon, captured from the French at the battle of Waterloo. The carved panel at the base has bronze plaques on the pedestal and is displayed with the names of Wellington’s victories, and on the face is a relief of Waterloo. It shows the grand charge from the battle, and the Duke can be seen mounted on his horse, telescope in hand. The form was no doubt intended to echo Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square and this it does so well!
The fact remains that, after Waterloo, Britain became the pre-eminent global power. In a battle that lasted 11 hours: 200.000 men, 60,000 horses, and 537 guns were in action on a patch of land five miles square.
We have no previous Waterloo celebrations to equate, as the universal slaughter and devastation was not to be surpassed until the trenches of WWI, which is probably why the first centenary anniversary in 1915 went unheralded.
Let’s hope the powers that be in Liverpool hold onto this hero and memorial to Britain’s greatest military victory, and plan a suitable occasion and event to commemorate June 1815. Perhaps the old Wellington Rooms on Mount Pleasant can be restored.
As yet, I have not seen or heard of any plans in Liverpool for this summer, but I do know that Tim Clayton the curator in London, has a fantastic forthcoming Napoleon exhibition at the British Museum. However, Liverpool’s Lady Lever Art Gallery does have one of the finest collections of Napoleonic, and I am always drawn to this display in the brilliant Empire Room showing the Death Mask of Napoleon and other artefacts of the period.
I am sure that this fantastic collection would draw the crowds if marketed, as well as a gaze up to view the magnificent monument that has been at the gateway to Liverpool city centre for many, many years!
I wonder how many people in Liverpool know WHO is standing at the top of this memorial?