Lymington and the Napoleonic Wars
‘Lymington and the Napoleonic Wars 1793—1815’ is a subject of which few Lymingtonians would claim more than a passing acquaintance. However, Jude James, President of the Society, gave an in-depth and extremely well-researched talk to the January meeting of members detailing the major impact on the town and its inhabitants during this important period in our history.
At national level, fears ran high among the governing class, that the revolution in France might be imitated here by disaffected radicals This was a period of considerable turmoil in the country when there were many changes occurring or anticipated. War with France would be a costly enterprise and so it proved, for in 1798 parliament decided on a novel solution of introducing ‘a war emergency income tax’. At a more practical level , there was the requirement to identify all farms close to the coast and ascertain what livestock, crops and agricultural equipment each possessed so that in the event of invasion, arrangements could be made for these assets to be moved inland and so prevent any invader from benefitting from their availability. The speaker provided an example from Newtown Park farm.
At that time, Lymington was a traditional small port and market town, governed by a mayor and burgesses, supported by relevant town officers. The salt industry continued to operate throughout the time of war and notwithstanding that the majority of the goods were obtained from France, so did the smuggling, leading to the murder of a Lymington custom officer, Charles Colborne. But what was to bring the war home, dramatically, to the local population was the arrival, mostly after 1793, of considerable numbers of disaffected royalist supporters of Louis XVI who became known as the Loyal Emigrants. This influx of, not only soldiers, but also their families and supporters put a considerable strain on both accommodation and resources of the area; Buckland Farm was earmarked as one of their barracks. However, In June 1795 these Loyal Emigrants were moved to Portsmouth from where they sailed in British ships to Quiberon Bay, there to join forces with royalist sympathizers on the mainland in an attempt to overthrow the French Revolutionary forces. This expedition turned out to be a complete failure with heavy royalist losses. Only remnants of the army returned to England.
The departure of the majority of the Loyal Emigrants saw the arrival of some 2000-3000 (mainly) Dutch troops to supplement the many English militia regiments in the area and who had been recruited to defend the southern coast. It was not until 1802 that the Dutch troops left Lymington and only by 1814 that all the foreign troops had departed and the town could return to some form of normality.
What was life like for Lymingtonians during this time? With a population of only some 2700 inhabitants the presence of Loyal Emigrants followed by mercenary continental troops and coupled with our own militia created an obvious problem. This was exacerbated by a succession of bad harvests which forced up bread prices to an unprecedented level causing an adverse affect on the community, particularly the poor. But life went on. The marriage increases reflected the influx of the ‘temporary visitors’. Interestingly the Dutch troops were highly regarded for ‘their decent and orderly behaviour’ Despite this there were two murders, one when a French soldier was killed in an affray with British ‘tars’ in a Woodside pub.
Jude fleshed out the story with a number of fascinating cameos of incidents describing the wide range of events which occurred in the town during this period. The talk was enthusiastically appreciated by the audience.
The next meeting of the Society will be held on Friday 22 February at 7 15pm when the speaker will be Colin Piper whose subject will be ‘Rights of Way—Past, Present and Future’.