A Family Wedding, October 1884: A personal reminiscence

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The Naval Temple on the Kymin above Monmouth was built between 1800 and 1801 and is one of the most important monuments erected to the British Navy. There are the names of sixteen British admirals commemorated on it, and there is also a marble tablet on one side to show that it is dedicated to the fifth duchess of Beaufort who was the daughter of Admiral Boscawen, (1) who defeated the French at Lagos in 1759. Her husband was the local landowner and had arranged for there to be a road up to the temple from the Staunton road, a road which is no longer there. The tablet reads 'This Naval Temple was erected to perpetuate the names of those noble admirals who distinguished themselves by their glorious victories for England in the last and present wars and is respectively dedicated to her Grace the Duchess of Beaufort. Daughter of Admiral Boscawen'.

When the duchess looked at this in 1801, she probably did not think that one day her great-grandson would marry the great grand-daughter of the admiral whose name was on the top of the temple - Horatio Nelson. This shows the connection between the two families. The fifth duke and duchess of Beaufort had seven living sons. Henry who was the eldest became the sixth duke, the second son, Charles, became a governor of the Cape of Good Hope, the next, Edward, led the Household Cavalry at Waterloo and the fourth son, Arthur's, family lived in the Isle of Wight. William took holy orders and became the vicar of Tormarton in Gloucestershire. He also had fourteen other livings with some in Wales and as a result learnt a certain amount of Welsh. I still have his Bible with which he studied the language. His son was also ordained and was the vicar of Woolaston in Gloucestershire to which, from 1711 to 1932 was annexed the parish of Lancaut. (2)

He seems to have been a great character, as I found out when I met a group of teachers from Woolaston on holiday in Majorca. I asked where they came from, and when I told them that my great-grandfather had been the vicar there in the 1860s, they with one accord said 'Not old Somerset - there are stories about him still going around'. The story that I know relates to a day when he was out shooting when he suddenly remembered that he should be at a christening. He had a brace of pheasants in his belt but he forgot about them. He dashed to the church pulling his cassock on as he went. He was just in time, but halfway through the service, one of the pheasants fell out. I wonder what he said. (3)

There used to be an old lady in Raglan who was the last baby that he had christened. My father was very thrilled to meet her and every time that we drove down the Chepstow road out of the village and passed her house, he always used to remind us of this fact. The house had been an old mill and my father had caught his first trout there in the millpond. The water has long since gone, but those two memories are firmly entrenched in my memory.

William's son was my grandfather who I have already mentioned. The next son after William was John, who served on the staff of the Prince of Orange at Waterloo and who gave him a length of Brussels lace for his new baby to wear at his christening. I still have the much mended robe. The youngest of the family was FitzRoy, who eventually became Lord Raglan and was aide-de-camp to the duke of Wellington. His family have lived at Cefntilla Court, Llandenny for many years. That is also the house where the treaty was drawn up and signed after the fall of Raglan Castle.

My grandfather, the son of the Rev'd William Somerset of Woolaston, was called Raglan Somerset after one of his godfathers. He was born in 1858 at Ewenni in Glamorgan where his father was vicar to the Turberville family. They had then moved to Woolaston, where he was one of a large family. His father's first wife had died and then he had married again so there were many children. My aunt, Horatia Durant, (4) well-remembered going over to Woolaston and meeting her Aunt Edith, who in a very Victorian manner said 'I am your Aunt Edith. You will find me strict but kind'. My aunt was about five at the time but she never forgot it.

In 1880, Raglan had met the daughter of the vicar of Radstock in Somerset, the Rev'd Horatio Nelson Ward. Her name was Elizabeth Horatia Anne and they wanted to get married. She was the great-granddaughter of Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton. There were two big problems. They had no money and he had no job. He thought that perhaps his cousin the eighth Duke might possibly have some work and he discovered that he was staying at Troy so he walked over the hills to Monmouth, knocked on the door and asked to see the Duke. He told him who he was and said that he needed some work.

Horatia Ann Nelson-Ward of Radstock. Wedding, 1884

The Duke was very kind and asked what he could do. He replied that he was good with his hands and could do carpentry. He was asked if he would like to learn how to look after a castle as the warden, now a custodian, of Raglan Castle had died the week before. (5) On the strength of that they got married in October 1884. First they lived at Llangynidr near Talybont and took rooms near the church. Every day he would ride on a pony over the mountain to Beaufort where the office was, to learn what needed to be done. My grand-parents moved to Raglan and rented a house and he started his new job at the Castle. My father, another Raglan Somerset, was born in August 1885 and they moved house to where I still live at the end of that year.

In the 1890s, they held pageants at the Castle with teas for visitors (6) and they even had one splendid occasion when Queen Mary's mother, the Duchess of Teck came. My aunt could remember my father being drilled to make his bow to her but not to say anything as they were afraid what a rather tactless little boy of about eight might say, as she was a very large lady. All was well, he made his bow, and only when she was out of earshot did he say 'She's enormous!'

Raglan Somerset wrote a guide book and encouraged people to come to the Castle. He used to take the money under the first archway that you come to at the approach to the castle. Whenever we came to stay, we used to spend a lot of time there and there was a very large old elm tree which had a table round it and he used to go down to his office on a ladder to boil a kettle and bring it up the ladder again to make the tea. It was all great fun. After the winter of 1947, a sprig grew out of the tree but that was its last offering and some years later it was taken down.

The eighth Duke continued to be kind to his young protegee and they used to be invited to stay at Badminton. I have a letter to her mother from my grandmother describing her stay there with delight, a rather new experience for the daughter of the Radstock vicarage. Raglan carved a mantelpiece for our house with the family motto on it - 'Mutare vel tim ere sperno' ('I scorn to change or fear') - and also their initials underneath it. The motto was chosen for the family by William, third earl of Worcester who loved being at Raglan. It was engraved under the coat of arms in the great hall. The weather has gradually effaced it, but 1 can remember seeing it. They also used to be invited over to The Hendre by Lady Llangattock (7) and 1 suppose she was rather pleased to be entertaining a living relic, because she was already collecting Nelsoniana. There used to be a saddle of hers in the old Museum."

I know from family letters that there was a great worry that the castle job would not give them enough to live on, but somehow they managed and he was very enterprising. They kept a cow in the paddock and he had his carpentry workshop. He even started a small business making soda siphons with the family crest of a portcullis as a trademark, one of which I still have. Other earthenware containers turn up from time to time in the garden next door. They joined the Raglan Archery Club at the castle, and they used to play tennis up there as well. They both became members of the Monmouthshire Antiquarian Association, so 1 am carrying on a family tradition. Of course there were none of the luxuries that are now regarded a necessities such as heating and electricity, and the fires smoked and the oil lamps flickered until 1950.

My grandmother died in 1929, and my grandfather in 1938. Then the Office of Works looked after the Castle and the custodian was a meek little lady called Ada James who was given a very smart uniform. Her father and mother were Mr and Mrs Joe James who had always helped my grandfather. My grandfather, Raglan, became a magistrate and a churchwarden at Raglan church, and Lily as she was known (my grandmother) started the Mothers' Union. There are still people living in Raglan today who remember them and I only discovered last year that it was Lily who played the mandolin that I have. They are both buried in Raglan churchyard as are my parents and my late husband.

By Anna Tribe


Sources:

  • I See 'The Somerset Pedigree' in Durant, H., Henry 1 sf Duke of Beaufort and his Duchess, Mary (The Griffin Press, Pontypool, 1973)
  • 2 The Victoria History of the County of Gloucester X (London, 1972) 115.
  • 3 William Somerset, son of Lord William Somerset, was rector of Woolaston, 1859-1902. He held the degree of LL.B. His financial difficulties created problems for his successor as rector, W.F.A. Lambert; Victoria History, op. cit. 116.
  • 4 Also author of The Somerset Sequence (Hughes & Son Ltd, Pontypool, 1976).
  • 5 He held the position for 53 years: The Times, 4 June 1938.
  • 6 The Times, 6 July 1886.
  • 7 For a history of The Hendre, and pedigree of the Rolls family, see Bradney, Sir lA., A History of Monmouthshire, Vol. 1: Part 1, The Hundred of Skenfrith (reprinted by Academy Books, 1991) 48-9. 8 In Glendower St., Monmouth.

re-printed from: The Monmouthshire Antiquary. Proceedings of the Monmouthshire Antiquarian association. Edited by Annette, M. Burton and David H. Williams. Vol. XXV=XXVI (2009-2010

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