Should Trafalgar day on October 21st become an official bank holiday?
IN 1802 a one-armed, one-eyed, 42-year-old, 5’5″, man arrived in Merton to live with his mistress and her husband in a bizarre Tria juncta in uno (three joined in one).
September 29th marked 251 years since Horatio Nelson’s birth and his “dear, dear Merton”, as he knew it, is still full of nostalgia for one of the greatest Britons.
When he arrived his naval career was progressing rapidly. A magnificent victory at the Battle of the Nile saw him become a baron and he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red in the 1790s.
However, it is not his success on the seas but rather his violent love for Lady Emma Hamilton that connects Nelson to Merton. She pitied the injured Nelson and threw him a 40th birthday party and their affair began.
Despite both of them being married, there was a certain degree of acquiescence from their spouses.
Nelson’s wife, Lady Fanny Nelson desperately tried to retain her dignity despite her cheating husband, but inevitably they split. Whereas Lady Hamilton’s elderly husband Sir William Hamilton, actively and openly encouraged the relationship such was his admiration for Nelson.
Nelson’s success and Lady Hamilton’s glamour made the new couple the ‘Posh and Becks’ of the 1800s. Newspapers reported their every move and the public were fascinated by their unusual living arrangements.
Such harassment led Nelson to instruct Lady Hamilton to find them ‘a little farm’ away from the prying press and the chattering masses. He would not move back to his native Norfolk as the newly promoted Viscount Nelson, Admiral of the Blue required close proximity to London for public affairs and naval duties.
Merton became the home of two of the most famous people in Britain and indeed the world. The eclectic gang of Nelson, Lady Hamilton, their new-born daughter, Horatia, Sir William and Lady Hamilton’s mother moved into Merton Place on the outskirts of modern Wimbledon.
Judith Goodman of Merton Historical Society said: “Nelson loved Merton. Emma had chosen Merton Place while he was at sea, but anything she approved of was all right with him. And when he finally saw it he said he was delighted with everything about it.”
Today all that remains of the Merton Place Nelson knew is an archway entrance. It was demolished in 1821 and now exists primarily as a housing estate. Although, tributes to Nelson and Lady Hamilton still exist in road names and pubs surrounding the old site and residents certainly haven’t forgotten their former occupant.
Resident of Merton Place house, Sheila Williams said: “I’m really pleased everything is named after him. I live in the old kitchens [of Nelson’s Merton Place] and I like that fact but maybe I would feel differently if it was the toilets!”
Nelson and Lady Hamilton lived happily in what she called Paradise Merton until his death on October 21st 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. He left Merton Place for the famous battle on September 13th 1805, just over 204 years ago.
Merton still celebrates his life and naval success to this day.
Landlord of the Trafalgar Freehouse, David Norman, said: “Nelson was part of one of the great moments in British history. We always have a celebration on October 21st.
“I would fully support a national bank holiday, I mean not only should it be celebrated but logistically it makes sense to have a bank holiday between August and Christmas.
It would be fitting to remember Merton’s most famous resident with a national celebration.
Merton Councillor Linda Scott, Cabinet member for Housing and Community Services said: “We clearly have a cluster of bank holidays in the spring but none in the autumn and so I can see definite merit in moving one of the May bank holidays to later in the year.
“In that case, I believe Trafalgar Day, which falls on 21st October, would be a very strong and popular contender. I have no doubt it would gain the support of many people in Merton and beyond.”