‘HERO OF THE NILE’
Admiral Nelson was one of many famous visitors to the Wye Valley. He toured the area in 1802 with Sir William Hamilton and his wife, Emma, Nelson’s mistress, as well as some family members. The party travelled by boat from Ross to Monmouth on 19 August. Here, Nelson was feted by the town corporation as the ‘Hero of the Nile’, in honour of his crushing victory over the French fleet in 1798, and given a public dinner at the Beaufort Arms. This handsome 18th century building still dominates the east side of Agincourt Square in Monmouth. No longer a coaching inn, today, it is home to a group of shops, including an antiques gallery and, through the archway, Valerie’s café.
After dinner, the admiral and his party had coffee with town clerk Colonel Lindsay in the summer house of his garden, described by a contemporary as “a charming retreat”. The garden, now known as Nelson Garden, is run by a team of volunteers and is open to the public at the weekends. Tucked away behind Monnow Street, it is quite difficult to find, but there are signposts from Monnow Street car park. It has been suggested that in the 15th century, the garden was the location of archery butts, where the Welsh archers may have practised in preparation for an earlier victory over the French; that of local hero Henry V, at Agincourt. Later in its history, the garden was the site of a real tennis court and, by 1718, a bowling green.
Forty years after Nelson’s visit, a Neoclassical temple was built in the garden to mark the site of the occasion. It demonstrates the almost religious veneration the town had for him, as it incorporates part of the armchair Nelson sat in at the Beaufort Arms banquet. The town’s connection with Nelson was strengthened by the bequest to Monmouth Museum of an extensive collection of Nelson memorabilia by Lady Georgiana Llangattock, wife of local landowner John Rolls, in 1923. It includes items such as Nelson’s fighting sword, letters to both his wife and Lady Hamilton, as well as intriguing forgeries. Among the latter is a glass eye purporting to be his, although Nelson lost his sight, not his actual eye.
The museum, which is currently closed for relocation to Shire Hall, also has displays on local history and an archive relating to Charles Rolls, Lady Llangattock’s son and co-founder, alongside Henry Royce, of the firm Rolls-Royce. A pioneering aviator, a statue commemorating his achievements was erected in Agincourt Square in 1911.
Monmouth’s connection with Nelson can also be seen a few miles to the east of the town, at the top of The Kymin, which is a steep hill, with extensive views. A crenelated folly was built here in 1794 as a banqueting house, by members of the Monmouth Picnic Club. Six years later, they constructed the Naval Temple nearby to celebrate the achievements of the British Navy. Two paintings, according to the inscription, depict ‘the standard of Great Britain waving triumphant over the fallen captive flags of France, Spain and Holland’ and ‘the glorious and ever-memorable Battle of the Nile’. Nelson was impressed by the temple and, after his visit, commented that it was not only one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen, but was the “only monument of its kind erected to the English Navy in the whole range of the Kingdom”. Both buildings are now owned by the National Trust.