Over­looked Bri­tain

Lucinda Lambton on the mag­nif­i­cent horse ad­mired by Napoleon, and its brave rider

The Oldie - - NEWS - Lucinda Lambton

Walk into St Luke’s Church, at Gad­desby in Le­ices­ter­shire, and the il­lu­sion is dis­qui­et­ingly im­me­di­ate.

Here is a man in early 19th cen­tury mil­i­tary uni­form, still sit­ting astride his dy­ing horse as it sinks to the ground, with its mouth wide open and teeth bared in the ag­o­nis­ing throes of death.

I write ‘il­lu­sion’ but there it is, in all its grim glory; life-size and life­like; made of grey-veined, white mar­ble – so suit­able on the flanks of a horse from the leg­endary Royal Scots Greys – amidst the shad­ows of the 13th-cen­tury chan­cel of St Luke’s.

This is the stir­ring like­ness of Colonel Ed­ward Hawkins Cheney of the Royal Scots Greys, a hero of Water­loo, who had four horses shot dead from un­der him in the field of bat­tle.

Here he rides off on the fifth – which is

soon to be shot and wounded – when Cheney was given the com­mand of the reg­i­ment, as well as the rep­u­ta­tion for as­ton­ish­ing brav­ery that is still kept so mov­ingly alive at Gad­desby.

Ev­ery inch of the statue should be stud­ied, if only for the ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence of what a Colonel of the Royal Scots Greys at Water­loo would have looked like.

His uni­form has been sculpted in its ev­ery de­tail. His bearskin lies with its chin­strap bro­ken by the horse’s hoof. The scab­bard hangs from the Colonel’s waist, as does the elab­o­rately em­broi­dered sabre­tache – the flat shoul­der bag for doc­u­ments, with a writ­ing sur­face on which mounted of­fi­cers and the cav­alry wrote or­ders and mes­sages.

Colonel Cheney’s trousers would have been grey and his jacket scar­let, with ‘garter blue’ fac­ings, trimmed with gold lace. He gath­ers the reins in one hand while, with the other, he still man­ages to hold his sword aloft and point­ing for­wards to urge on his men. The wretched mount – this was his favourite horse, Tan­ner – floun­ders on a flat­ten­ing field of wheat; with the fa­tal bul­let wound spurt­ing forth mar­ble blood on the mar­ble charger’s breast. ‘Ces ter­ri­bles chevaux gris! Comme ils tra­vail­lent!’ –‘ Those ter­ri­ble, grey horses! How they strive!’ was Napoleon’s famed re­mark, as 416 were killed that day.

On the elab­o­rate base, a pas­sion­ately por­trayed carv­ing – crowded with horses and hu­mans, and bristling with bay­o­nets – shows a Sergeant Ewart de­fend­ing a Napoleonic ea­gle that he had just cap­tured.

Sergeant Ewart af­ter­wards wrote ‘One made a thrust at my groin, I par­ried him off and cut him down through the head. A lancer came at me – I threw the lance off by my right side and cut him through the chin and up­wards through the teeth.’

Such was the re­al­ity be­hind this ex­quis­ite white mar­ble scene.

The sculp­tor of the me­mo­rial was Joseph Gott, son of a wool man­u­fac­turer from Leeds, who was swept into artis­tic cir­cles when only thir­teen, with an early ap­pren­tice­ship to the sculp­tor John Flax­man. He en­rolled at the Royal Academy when he was twenty, win­ning medals ga­lore, and was sent to Rome with a pen­sion from Sir Thomas Lawrence, who, in his let­ter of in­tro­duc­tion to Canova, de­scribed Gott as hav­ing ‘Tal­ent, if not ge­nius.’ No mean cre­den­tials!

He spe­cialised in what I fear must be de­scribed as sickly sen­ti­men­tal sculp­ture. The me­mo­rial to Colonel Cheney, who died at Gad­desby in 1848, was Gott’s tri­umph; most par­tic­u­larly, the star­tling dex­ter­ity with which he man­aged to sculpt the hinterland of Tan­ner’s tes­ti­cles.

A dis­pleas­ing de­tail is that the backs of the horse’s teeth are black, an ap­ple hav­ing been put in his mouth at har­vest fes­ti­vals.

Colonel Cheney and Tan­ner, St Luke’s, Gad­desby – equine tes­ti­cles (fac­ing page) and all. The plaques are in mem­ory of the colonel and his wife

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