Discover Nelson in Norfolk
We’re very proud here in Norfolk that we gave our country its greatest naval. And here’s how you can discover Horatio Nelson in his home county.
‘I am a Norfolk man and glory in being so,’ said Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.
Nelson Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson is Norfolk’s most famous son (you’ll see we call ourselves Nelson’s County on the signs coming in) and there is plenty to discover about him here. A good starting point is the Nelson Museum in Great Yarmouth, a museum dedicated to his life and times. Here you can find out about his early years in Norfolk as well as his naval career, personal life and death at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805 when he famously exclaimed: ‘Now I am satisfied – thank God I have done my duty’.
Nelson was no stranger to Great Yarmouth. While here in 1800 after belatedly returning from The Battle of the Nile, he famously declared, ‘I am myself a Norfolk man and glory in being so!’
After arriving on November 6 crowds unharnessed the horses from Nelson’s carriage and hauled it themselves to the Wrestlers Inn on Church Plain, where the widowed landlady Mrs Suckling begged permission to rename the hostelry The Nelson Arms. ‘That would be absurd,’ retorted Nelson, ‘seeing that I have but one’.
During his stay, accompanied by Lady Emma Hamilton, he received the Freedom of the Borough. At the swearing-in ceremony he put his left hand on the Bible. The clerk said, ‘Your right hand, my lord,’ and Nelson famously replied: ‘That is in Tenerife’.
Nelson found himself in Great Yarmouth again in 1801, preparing to sail to the Baltic for what would be the Battle of Copenhagen, during which under heavy bombardment he refused orders to withdraw. He raised his telescope to his dead eye and said: ‘I really do not see the signal’.
Returning to the port he walked across the Denes to the Naval Hospital where he spent three hours with wounded seamen. Seeing a man with an empty sleeve like himself, he remarked: ‘There Jack, you and I are spoilt for fishermen’.
Tucked away in the South Denes industrial area of the town is the Grade I listed monument erected by the people of Norfolk to Nelson’s memory. Completed in 1819 and standing at 144 feet, 24 years before the column in Trafalgar Square, it is well worth a look. On Sundays during the summer it is open for ascents to the top and once you have climbed the 217 steps there are stunning views over the town and surrounding countryside.
Inscribed at the base of the monument are Nelson’s victories – St Vincent, Aboukir (The Nile), Copenhagen and Trafalgar – and an inscription in Latin: ‘This great man Norfolk boasts her own, not only as born there of a respectable family, and as there having received his early education, but her own also in talents, manners and mind’.
The figure of Britannia tops the pedestal, facing inland, possibly towards Nelson’s birthplace in north Norfolk. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that it was a mistake that so embarrassed the architect he threw himself off the top, although it’s true that an acrobat named Marsh fell to his death after slipping while climbing down from Britannia’s shoulders in 1863. Oh yes, and the town surveyor did collapse and die while inspecting the monument in 1819.
You can find a little more of Nelson in Norwich, where he attended Norwich Grammar School within the cathedral precinct in 1767. The city paid 800 guineas in 1847 for the Thomas Milnes statue of Nelson which resides in Cathedral Close, facing the school. Nelson was later educated at the Paston School in North Walsham.
An enormous portrait of Nelson, painted by William Beechey in 1801, hangs in Blackfriars’ Hall in Norwich, while the dress naval hat and the sword of the defeated Spanish admiral from the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797, as well as other artefacts, can be found in the Norwich Castle Museum.
For Nelson enthusiasts no trip to Norfolk would be complete without a visit to Nelson’s birthplace, Burnham Thorpe. A stroll around the village reveals the site of the Parsonage where Nelson was born (it was knocked down in 1803) and raised before going to sea aged just twelve, All Saint’s Church where his father Edmund was rector and Nelson’s local pub, The Lord Nelson, known at the time as the Plough Inn. Go now and you can try Nelson’s Blood, a unique recipe of blended rum and mixed spices.
Take a walk at Burnham Overy Staithe and you'll be viewing the very waterway where our greatest naval commander learnt to sail!