We’re very proud here in Norfolk that we gave our country its greatest naval hero and the man who single-armedly paved the way for Britain’s domination of the seas through the 19th and into the 20th century.
A portrait of Nelson, painted by William Beechey in 1801.
‘I am myself a Norfolk man and glory in being so,’ said Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, addressing a cheering crowd outside The Wrestler’s Inn at Great Yarmouth after his return from the Battle of the Nile.
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.
Nelson features on the county sign.
Here’s how you can discover Horatio Nelson in his home county.
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 and raised (it was knocked down in 1803) before going to sea aged just twelve. In the old grounds, signposted from the road, you can see the pond that Nelson dug. Visit All Saint’s Church where his father Edmund was rector and where a baby Horatio was baptised (the font is still there) and Nelson’s local pub, The Lord Nelson, known at the time as the Plough Inn.
Head to nearby Burnham Overy Staithe or Brancaster and you can discover the creeks where Nelson learnt to sail. Nelson’s nurse, Mrs High, lived in Brancaster and married the landlord of the Ship Inn.
Burnham Overy Staithe.
Nelson was no stranger to Great Yarmouth. Arriving here on November 6, 1800, after belatedly returning from The Battle of the Nile, he famously declared, ‘I am myself a Norfolk man and glory in being so!’
Enthusiastic 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’.
Britannia tops the Nelson Monument in Great Yarmouth.
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’.
A painting of Great Yarmouth from the 19th century with the Nelson Monument.
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.
A seaman, James Sharman, who had served on The Victory with Nelson at Trafalgar and who legend has it helped carry Nelson below after he had been fatally wounded, looked after the monument for 50 years until his death in 1867 at the age of 81. Sharman was a 14-year-old waiter at The Wrestler’s Inn when he was pressed into service in the navy in 1799 and was said to have been the inspiration for Ham Peggotty in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.
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.
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.
Suckling House, opposite St Andrew’s Hall, was the home of Robert and John Suckling, ancestors of Nelson’s mother Catherine. The Great Hall and remains of the Great Parlour are now the bar and café areas of Cinema City.
The statue of Nelson in the Cathedral Close, Norwich.
Nelson’s mother Catherine Suckling was born in the former Rectory, Roos Hall, a three storey stepped gable property, on May 9, 1725. It was the home of the Sucklings for over 400 years. She was always with him, despite her death when he was just nine years old. ‘The thought of former days brings brings all my mother to my heart, which shows itself in my eyes,’ he wrote later. The house is near the Beccles-Bungay Road, close to the church, which has a stained glass window commemorating Trafalgar.
Horatio’s father Edmund was curate at St Michael’s Church from 1745 to 1747 and his parents married in the church on May 11, 1749. On the day of Nelson’s funeral, January 9, 1806, the church bells tolled from 10am to 2pm.
Edmund Nelson was born here on March 19, 1722.Bradenham Hall was let to Thomas Bolton and his wife, Nelson’ sister Susannah in 1811. Horatio’s mistress Emma Hamilton and their child Horatia were invited for Christmas and Emma signed the parish register as a witness at the marriage of Eliza Bolton. It was the last time Emma visited Norfolk.
Barton Hal was the home of Nelson’s sister Catherine and brother-in-law George Matcham, which he often visited. The Matchams were staying at Merton, Nelson’s home, when he left for Portsmouth in September 1805, never to return.
119 of the crew of The Invincible, part of the Copenhagen fleet of 1801, are buried in the north churchyard. Arriving late at Gt Yarmouth, she set off three days behind, hugging the coastline. Passing through the ‘Hazeborough Gateway’, the ship grounded on the Hammonds Knowl Bank. At the mercy of the sea and wind, she sank the following morning. 400 of the 522 crew drowned. Some survivors were taken to the naval hospital at Gt Yarmouth where Nelson visited them on his return.
Happisburgh beach with the lighthouse and church.
Nelson’s father presided at the 14th century Church of All Saints for eight years, before going to Burnham Thorpe in 1755. Nelson’s brother William was also a vicar there. There are several memorials to the Nelson family in the church, and Edmund and Catherine’s first two sons, Edmund and Horatio, are buried next to the altar.
Between King’s Lynn and Fakenham, Houghton Hall was built for Nelson’s great, great uncle Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, who bequeathed No 10 Downing Street to the nation.
Nelson was a pupil at Paston Grammar School from autumn 1768 to March 1771, when he went to sea. While there he was involved in an episode in keeping with his character. In the master’s garden was a pear tree, the fruit of which many pupils lusted after but dare not steal. Horatio, then 11, volunteered to secure the bounty. One night, he was lowered to the ground by sheets tied together from his dormitory window, and stole away with the fruit which he shared between his friends. A five guinea reward was offered to catch the thief but such was the affection in which Nelson was held that no boy gave him away.
The school, now Paston Sixth Form College, has many items of Nelson memorabilia.
During his Five Years on the Beach, Nelson would ride to Wells-next-the-Sea to pick up newspapers by which he could stay in touch with the outside world. Nelson is said to have visited The Crown Hotel on Buttlands and there are many pictures of him there to this day.
Near Erpingham between Aylsham and Cromer, this fine Georgian country house was home to the Walpole family, distant cousins of Nelson on his mother’s side, whom he visited regularly.
Woodton Hall, 9 miles south of Norwich, was the home of Maurice Suckling, who took Nelson to sea. In 1771, young Nelson was entered on the books of the newly commissioned Raisonnable, commanded by Suckling, and joined the crew several months later.
Of course, you could also make a toast to Nelson at one of the countless eponymous pubs here in Norfolk. Cheers!