Woodford Northamptonshire

Woodford, Waterloo, Wellington and a Warhorse

Sir Charles ArbuthnotThe Right Honourable Charles Arbuthnot MP a widower of eight years, married Harriet Fane the youngest daughter of the late Henry Fane MP on 31 January 1814. She was some 26 years his junior. The age difference was noted with some concern by her family. The marriage took place in Fulbeck Lincolnshire and the couple honeymooned at Apethorpe Hall (seat of the Earl of Westmorland). Following their marriage the couple purchased the property now known as Woodford House at this time for use as a country seat.

Arthur Wellesley, later first Duke of Wellington had married Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham (1773-1831) in 1806 after a protracted courtship. The couple had two children, yet spent much of their married life apart. It is known that the Duke had several mistresses (the most famous probably being Harriette Wilson), and there was, and has been much speculation over the relationship between the Duke and the young Mrs Arbuthnot who was described as a most beautiful woman.

Following her marriage to Charles, Harriet Arbuthnot took a deep interest in politics and frequently accomopanied her husband, Sir Charles, who was Under Secretary to the Treasury under Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool. Being well acquainted with her husband’s circle of colleagues and friends, she frequently hosted parties and events on behalf of her husband, the Tory party (and later the Duke himself). The Arbuthnots probably first met the Duke in Paris following the exile of Napoleon in 1814. There were many rumours at the time and since over the relationship between the Arbuthnots and the Duke. Despite the rumours, neither Harriet's journals or many other writings of the day offer any concrete evidence of the relationship other than it being a close friendship.

Harriet ArbuthnotHarriet refers to some of these rumours in her journals, for example, on 24 April 1824 she writes "Mr. Arbuthnot and I have been greatly annoyed by another anonymous letter accusing me of being in love with the Duke of Wellington, of being always in holes and corners with him, and of being so jealous of him that I never can bear him to speak to any other woman! Luckily my dear husband and I live upon terms of such affection and confidence that these base insinuations have only the effect of making us abhor the wicked feelings which could prompt anyone to write such a letter."

Lady Shelley, a close friend of both families reportedly said she was certain that Mrs Arbuthnot could not have been Wellington's mistress. "Mrs. Arbuthnot was devoid of womanly passions,"and was possessed of "a man-like sense." These attributes become apparent in her journals, so as a beautiful woman living in a man’s world, one sees no reason why a leading soldier and politician wouldn’t wish to be in the company of such a person. There are many reports in the London press of the early 19th century detailing events to which Mr and Mrs Arbuthnot and the Duke of Wellington (as he became) attended as guests. Harriet ‘s diary tells us that on 12 August 1820 “The Duke of Wellington came down to see us at our farm and spent two days with us. He went to church with us on the 13th, to the great delight of the people of Woodford who assembled in crowds to see him and rung bells in token of their joy. We afterwards rode to Drayton (House).”

Woodford House North Facade The residence at the time was a farmhouse but in 1824 a number of alterations commenced including the removal of farm buildings (for reconstruction ¼ mile to the SE) and the building of a new dining room. Harriet recorded in her journal (September 1825) that “the Duke came to us with my brother Cecil and Sir Henry Halford (President of the Royal Society of Physicians and Physician extraordinary to King George III) and on the 10th which was my birthday we dined for the first time in our new dining room... we were a large and merry crowd.”

Renovations of Woodford House were completed in about 1826. However, the architect’s balanced northern facade was upset by the protruding billiard room added in 1901-2

In future visits she describes how the house and grounds were being improved with the clearance of ground, the construction of a French parterre in the old farm yard and the building of the new farm. The following September she writes that “I have been putting the house to rights as we are going to have a large party and the Duke brings his own little travelling bed and I have been hanging the pictures in the new dining room.

Waterloo Round House It is known the Duke frequently walked the fields and likened the local landscape as being similar to that of Waterloo. The Northampton Mercury recalls in a much later article that “Many will pass the strange “Round House” with its inscription “Panorama - Waterloo Victory 18th June AD 1815” Others will explain the significance, which is that the Rt. Hon Arbuthnot, a friend of the Duke of Wellington pointed out to his gallant guest the scenery around. The Duke was standing on the spot where the “Round House” now stands and his eyes met a scene that reminded him of the fields around Waterloo – in other words there was the panorama of the scene of his great triumph”

As evidenced by the press and also Harriet’s journals the Duke made frequent visits to Woodford and also used the house as his base when visiting in this area. The Northampton Mercury of 20th September 1828 for example, reports that the “Duke of Wellington arrived in town on Tuesday evening from the seat of the right Honourable C Arbuthnot, at Woodford of this County”

Sadly, Harriet died on Sunday 2 August 1834. She was 40 years old. Whilst walking near a local farm she was taken ill reportedly with cholera. The London Morning Post of 5 August 1834 reports “the demise of this beautiful and accomplished lady was very sudden... we learn that the deceased died at a farmhouse near Woodford, to which she had walked. Whilst there was seized with spasms. Sir Henry Halford was sent for but before the Baronet’s arrival she was no more. An express was sent to Apsley house arriving on Saturday evening, where the bearer not finding the Duke of Wellington set off for Hertfordshire where he found his Grace at dinner at Hatfield with the Marquis of Salisbury.”

The London Standard reported that she died after ten days of illness which would suggest she died at home rather than at the farm. The message to Sir Henry Halford was sent on the Thursday, prior to her death, but by the time it reached him and he arrived in Woodford she had died.

Harriet was taken to her home village of Fulbeck for burial with “the cortege remaining overnight at the George in Stamford on Saturday 16. Following morning service the cortege moved on, passing St Martins and St Marys, as the bells tolled the passing of the procession. The cortege of a hearse and two mourning carriages reached Grantham on Sunday evening and the coffin covered in rich black Genoa velvet was deposited in the Church overnight, while the procession made their melancholy way to the George Hotel. On Monday morning the procession set out for Fulbeck and the remains were interred in that church along with those of her father and kindred”.

The London Morning Post of 21 August reveals that the Duke of Wellington had left town for the home of Charles Arbuthnot on the previous day.

The closeness of the friendship between the Arbuthnots and the Duke is further demonstrated by the report in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (28 Aug 1834) which said that “Readers will recall that the Duke of Wellington made a present to the late Mrs Arbuthnot of the horse which had borne his Grace and participated in the fatigues and dangers of the field on that ever-memorable 18th of June. Since the present was made, the horse, which is now in the 26th year of its age has been taken the greatest care of, at Mr Arbuthnot’s estate at Woodford. On his Grace’s recent visit to the Right Hon. widower, we understand his Grace was induced to accept back the charger and it has been sent to his Grace’s seat at Strathfieldsaye.”

The charger was a stallion called Copenhagen. Born in 1808, Copenhagen was a chestnut of 15 hands and was sired by Meteor, who was second in the Derby of 1786. As a failed race horse (two wins out of twelve starts), he was then shipped off to Spain during the Peninsular War and it was here Wellington purchased him in 1813.

Duke of Wellington £5 note (11 Nov 1971 - 29 Nov 91)Other reports, such as in “The Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle” elaborated on the gift of the charger, but also reported that “the noble and gallant Duke had also presented the lady (Mrs Arbuthnot) with a beautiful pair of ponies, quite unique in symmetry and appearance, and a park phaeton and harness. These too, are on their way to the Duke’s seat at Strathfieldsaye”. The article goes on to say that “...such is the interest attached to the Waterloo charger, that at several curiosity shops in various parts of the Metropolis, there are no less than seven feet, stuffed and preserved in cases, all of which are asserted to have belonged to the horse rode by the Noble Duke at the battle and a consequent high price is demanded for each of them. The noble animal, however, has yet four good feet left him to proceed on his journey to Strathfieldsaye.”

Copenhagen died in 1836 and was buried with full military honours in the grounds of Wellington’s estate.

Shortly after Harriet’s funeral, her husband Sir Charles left Woodford and went to live with his friend the Duke, at Apsley House where he died in 1850 aged 82. The Duke died in 1852 aged 83

Woodford House passed to Sir Charles' son, also Charles a former Grenadier Guardsman, and equerry to Queen Victoria. A career soldier who when placed on half pay in the 1840’s moved permanently to Woodford House where as a country gentleman and later a JP sitting at Thrapston, was able to exploit the minerals on his land, creating some of the early quarries in the area, which due to the manpower required, changed the demographic of the Woodford population by creating a new employment role – Ironstone labourer / miner.

At a memorial service in St Mary’s Parish Church in October 1870 (following his death in Folkestone) 150 of his employees from the Ironstone Pits and about 30 labourers from his farm were among the congregation.

Local Legacy

The road junction in the area of Woodford House is known locally as General’s Corner named after Charles (son).

The Lord’s Arms Public House in Woodford was renamed in the mid 19th century as The Dukes Arms, as a tribute to Wellington, the sign for many years carrying his armorial crest. Whilst the sign has gone the name is retained

Nb Strathfieldsaye as reported in the press at the time is now known as Stratfield Saye

The term Duke of Wellington is used interchangeably with the name of Arthur Wellesley, he was in fact created first Duke of Wellington in 1814.