04/06/2015Wellington at Walmer
The room in which the Duke of Wellington died in 1852 has been re-created by English Heritage as part of a major re-presentation of Walmer Castle in Kent. A pair of original Wellington boots and the Duke's death mask are among the objects in a new exhibition, opening on Friday 5 June, looking at the life and 'celebrity' status of the victor of Waterloo.
The Duke stayed at Walmer Castle every autumn in his role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a post he held from 1829 until his death at the age of 83 in 1852. After the Duke died his body lay-in-state at the castle for two months, whilst preparations for his state funeral at St Paul's Cathedral were taking place. 'Now it will be seen how a nation can mourn,' wrote one commentator and his funeral was the largest ever known, with over 1.5 million people lining the route.
Now for the first time since 1934 and to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington's bedroom at Walmer where he breathed his last has been re-presented. Drawing on a watercolour of the room made shortly after the Duke's death by Thomas Shotter Boys, English Heritage curators have re-created the original carpet and wallpaper. On 14 September 1852, the Duke's valet found him unable to stir from his small campaign bed, Wellington was moved to his armchair and made comfortable but he died that afternoon. Both the bed and armchair are on display and the room retains its spartan appearance from the Duke's days there.
In adjacent rooms, new displays will explore Wellington's career, the story of his death, the state funeral and the 'celebrity' status he attained during and after his life.
English Heritage Senior Curator Rowena Willard-Wright said: 'In 1852, the eyes of the world fell upon Walmer Castle as one of the most important figures of that century died within a small and modest room there. We've now carefully re-created that room and our new exhibition explores Wellington's life and legend. We will also reveal many of Walmer's other intriguing stories including its role during the First World War when the castle played host to Winston Churchill and the poet Rupert Brooke.'
Throughout Walmer Castle - built originally by Henry VIII to defend against invasion - re-presented rooms and new interpretation bring to light the castle's other stories, from the Napoleonic Wars to the First World War including how:
- Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger) used the castle as a base to plan England's coastal defences against invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. A print room typical of the late 18th century has been created and decorated with satirical cartoons which show a surprising irreverence to one of the most successful British Prime Ministers of all time
- One hundred years after the Battle of Waterloo, the then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith met ministers including Winston Churchill, and Field Marshals Kitchener and French, to plan and discuss the progress of the First World War. All present were very much aware of the great man and former resident in whose footsteps they trod - the first Duke of Wellington
- First World War poet Rupert Brooke stayed there at the start of January 1915 and, it is believed, finished his most famous sonnet, The Soldier, with its lines: 'If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England.' He would die a few months later.
A new multimedia guide including a special programme for children will enable visitors to surround themselves with the many colourful stories of the castle's history. Special activities will provide fun and entertainment for all the family as they tour the rooms.
Walmer Castle and Gardens is open 7 days a week 10am - 6pm. Admission costs £10.70 adults/ £9.60 concessions/ £6.40 child 5-15yrs/£27.80 family (2 adults and 3 children). English Heritage members go free.
Further information can be found at www.english-heritage.org.uk/walmer