Southsea's two missing Historic Monuments.
The Mystery of the Lost Statues of Nelson and Wellington.
To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest,
Here in Southsea we have many monuments scattered about the town. Some of them, such as the magnificent War Memorial, occupy positions of prominence whilst others are to be found tucked away in obscure corners. However, this article is about a pair of monuments that have vanished completely: Monuments that were erected to honour Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, two men who earned immortality for the part they played in leading Britain to victory over Napoleon.
Horatio, Lord Nelson, died at the moment of his greatest triumph, on October 21st, 1805, when warships under his command defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, establishing British supremacy at sea and destroying any ambitions Napoleon may have nursed towards invading our shores. Ten years later, on June 18th, 1815, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, led British troops to a victory at Waterloo that saw Napoleon forced into exile.
Now, although two limestone statues were erected in Southsea to commemorate the two heroes, anyone wishing to include them on their sightseeing itinerary will be disappointed because they have mysteriously disappeared. Both statues were around seven feet high and each stood on an eight foot high pedestal. The statue of Nelson was last seen c1860 and that of Wellington around 1874.
The story of this astonishing disappearance is described by Tim Backhouse:
In 1850 Lieutenant-General Lord Frederick FitzClarence was coming to the end of his command of the Portsmouth Garrison. As was customary in these circumstances, he decided to make a gift to the people of Portsmouth. This may not have been altogether altruistic as he had hopes of becoming Liberal MP for Portsmouth and was perhaps garnering favour from the local populace.
His gift was to be two enormous statues of the nation's heroes, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson, which were to be placed on Southsea Common. Unfortunately they raised great controversy from the outset. In particular, it was alleged that FitzClarence arranged that the statues faced inland, across the common, where they could review the troops. This incensed the navy, who asked why Nelson should be required to review the "cavortings of the Junior Service" - and what sort of an admiral would keep watch by turning his back on the old enemy, France.
In the end FitzClarence had his way and in May 1850, the statues were erected and the unveiling was set for Waterloo Day, June 18th. The event was widely publicised and brought people from as far away as the Midlands. At the appointed hour FitzClarence was nowhere to be found and it took some hours to locate him amongst the many drinking booths on the common. Unsurprisingly the delay allowed time for the crowd to consume a large amount of alcohol and when they heard there would be a display of drill marching rather than the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo as they had been promised, things got out of hand.
Order was eventually restored and the statues were duly unveiled.
They remained standing on the common for a number of years, quickly succumbing to erosion caused by the salt air, until one night they vanished. According to legend, a well known naval officer organised a party of Bluejackets who swarmed ashore at night and simply removed the statues, possibly throwing them into the sea, but no one was ever charged with the offence.
The matter of the exact siting of the statues was initially confusing, given that two successive Ordance Survey maps of the area placed them in somewhat different orientations. On the earlier map (1861) they are situated on a line parallel to the shoreline just east of what is now Clarence Pier. On the later (1867) they are in a line at right angles to the shoreline in direct line with the eastern side of Pier Road - the Wellington Statue at a point where the line crosses the north side of Clarence Esplanade and the Nelson Statue further south immediately outside what was then (in 2006) a Wimpy Bar.
A drawing of the period that appeared in "Portsmouth in the Past" by William Gates showed the statues in line, parallel to the shoreline outside the Hollingsworth (later Kings) Rooms.
On his local history website, http://homepage.ntlworld.com/stephen.pomeroy/ Stephen Pomeroy placed the two statues either side of Pier Road. The 6in. OS map revised in 1873-4 records a single unnamed statue in what is now the car park at Clarence Pier. If the story of the sailors removing Nelson is accurate it is possible that the statue of Wellington remained in place at least until 1874.
The issue was not finally resolved until 2008 when two photos taken in 1855 were discovered (see below) in Portsmouth City Museum. These showed the two statues in the same orientation and position as in the Gates drawing but contrary to legend, Nelson is not facing inland but towards Wellington, ie also parallel to the shoreline, pointing in a south-easterly direction which would if extended reach France.
To see the photographs of the statues and to read about other memorials in Southsea, visit Tim Backhouse’s website http://www.memorials.inportsmouth.co.uk/southsea/index.htm