Thursday 12 November 2009

Admiral Vernon


325 years ago today, on 12 November 1684, one Edward Vernon was born in London. He became an English naval officer, nicknamed 'Old Grog' after his habit of always wearing a grogham coat while on deck. When, in 1746, he brought in the practice of diluting with water the Royal Navy sailors' daily rum ration, the watered-down ration became known as grog. Later on, lemon or lime juice was also added to the rum and water. (Note: Some historians refute the Vernon connection with grog; saying the word grog had been in use for some time previously).

1746 was also the year Vernon was court-martialled on a charge of publishing defamatory pamphlets against the Government. He always denied he had been involved with the pamphlets, but history now tells us he was certainly behind some of them.

Just a few years previously, he had been the commander of an expedition to the West Indies, capturing Spanish colonies. It is recorded that Vernon caused great excitement and joy for the British people when they heard how he had taken Porto Bello in 1739. Medals were struck, commemorating the victory, and these featured a depiction of Vernon's head, complete with the legend "He took Porto Bello with six ships".

My treasured copy of 'The Everyday Book Or A Guide To The Year: Describing The Popular Amusements, Sports, Ceremonies, Manners, Customs, And Events, Incident To The Three Hundred And Sixty Five Days, In Past And Present Times' by William Hone, published in 1888, states:

"The anniversary of this famous old admiral's nativity was formerly kept with great enthusiasm. It was distinguished in 1740 in a very extraordinary manner, by the ringing of bells, and public dinners in many places, &c. In the evening there were the greatest rejoicings, bonfires, and illuminations in London and other cities, that had been known for many years. Don Blass was burnt in some places, and at Chancery-lane-end was a pageant, whereon was represented admiral Vernon, and a Spaniard on his knees offering him a sword; a view of Porto Bello, &c.; over the admiral was wrote, "Venit, vidit, vicit;" and under him, "Vernon semper viret." "

The 'Don Blass' referred to in the quote above was Don Blas de Lezo, the one-legged, one-eyed Spanish hero who held off Vernon in the Battle of Cartagena (1741), a great disaster for the British, during the War Of Jenkin's Ear - part of the on-going conflict between Great Britain and Spain (1739-1748).

Admiral Vernon's name was, at the height of his fame, a popular public house moniker, his portrait featuring on the signs of such inns.

Reg Cundick, in his book The Inns And Taverns Of Warminster (published 1987), included some notes for a Warminster inn called the Admiral Vernon. Reg stated that this inn existed in Warminster in 1700 and that its name must have originated from the Admiral Vernon who had taken Porto Bello.

We have to remark though, that the Vernon we have been referring to, was only 16 years of age in 1700 (which was in fact the year he joined the Navy as a volunteer). He was promoted to a Leuitenant in 1702, to a Captain in 1706, and became an Admiral in 1745. If the inn existed in 1700 it must have had another name at that time, prior to becoming The Admiral Vernon.

Warminster's Admiral Vernon inn was at Silver Street, in the premises used in recent years as the Obelisk Antiques shop, next to the current Farmers Hotel and nearly opposite the entrance to Ash Walk. Reg Cundick also states in his book that the name of this inn changed from the Admiral Vernon to the New Inn "presumably after Vernon fell into disgrace".

Yet, "An Indexed Summary of the Alehouses named in the enrolled recognizances of licensed victuallers, 1747 to 1757" includes the inn still using the name Admiral Vernon (and records that the landlord was a Daniel Webb between 1754 and 1757), that's up to 11 years after Edward Vernon had been court-martialled. It seems more likely that the name of the inn ceased to be the Admiral Vernon, after 1757 (which was the year that Edward Vernon died).

I can confirm that the name The New Inn was being used in the second decade of the 19th century. It is listed in "An Indexed Summary of the Contents of the Register of Alehouses 1822-1827." The same summary records that the landlord of the New Inn, Warminster, in 1822, was a Christian Doswell; and for the years 1823 to 1827 the New Inn landlord was a John Lidbury.

Additional research may yield some more facts concerning the Admiral Vernon inn in Warminster.

In the meantime, if you have some rum and water and lemon or lime juice, and fancy the idea, you could raise a glass of grog today to the memory of Edward Vernon, the man who was not only victorious at Porto Bello but also had a career in politics, serving as Member Of Parliament for Ipswich. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. Those of you who don't like grog, especially if you live in London or another city, could possibly light a bonfire instead!

Danny Howell.