Tales of the sea
Many of our places have nautical connections. From Sir Francis Drake's house to hoards of buried treasure, each one tells its own tale of the sea.
Captain Ralph Shelton inherited The Argory in 1866. His eventful military career included surviving the wreck of the HMS Birkenhead off the coast of South Africa in 1852. This was the first occasion when the rule of 'women and children first' was implemented. Captain Shelton is reputed to have shown considerable courage, rescuing two children. At The Argory you can see the vest he wore when he swam ashore through shark-infested waters.
Arlington was the family home of the sea-faring Chichester family in the 1800s. Sir Bruce Chichester took his daughter Rosalie on long cruises, which later inspired her to travel the world. The legacy of her travels is an impressive collection of 'prisoner of war' ship models. Also on display are models of Gypsy Moth IV, the yacht in which Miss Chichester’s nephew, Sir Francis Chichester completed the first single-handed voyage around the world in 1966-67
Sir Francis Drake bought Buckland Abbey after completing the first ever circumnavigation of the world by an Englishman in his tiny ship Golden Hind. From the Abbey some years later, he planned his historic attack on the Spanish Armada. At the abbey you can see Elizabeth I’s commission of 1587, giving Drake command of the fleet and permission to 'singe the King of Spain’s beard', and Drake’s Drum that accompanied him on his global voyage. It is said to beat if England is ever in danger.
Tudor Melford Hall was been owned by the Hyde Parker naval dynasty since 1786. The 5th Baronet, Sir Hyde Parker was regarded as one of the greatest sailors of his day. He famously captured the cargo of the Santissima Trinidad, a large Spanish galleon full of gold and precious china - valued at £600,000. You can see booty from the capture at the Hall.
The second Admiral Hyde Parker was commander of the victorious British fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. Nelson famously disobeyed his orders by putting his telescope to his blind eye and declaring he saw no signal.
The Pennant family, who owned Penrhyn Castle, made a fortune from Jamaican sugar plantations and Welsh slate. The family were pioneers in developing the very profitable sugar industry, which satisfied the demands of the Europeans to use a sweetener for food and newly fashionable tea and coffee.
Back in Wales, the Pennants developed Port Penrhyn in Bangor, building road and rail links from their slate quarry – then the largest in the world – to the port so it could be shipped to wherever it was needed.
Inside Plas Newydd is artist Rex Whistler’s largest, finest mural. It was commissioned to reflect the Angleseys’ great love of the sea. The mural is painted in oils on a single piece of canvas 58ft long. The imaginary scene shows a Mediterranean harbour sitting within the dramatic landscape of Snowdonia.
One of the earliest families to live at Saltram was the Baggs who bought the house in 1614. When Charles I launched an attack on the Spanish in 1625, James Bagg was responsible for the press gang of the expedition. Though he was knighted when the King visited the troops, the expedition failed because Bagg embezzled the £55,000 given to him to buy provisions. Instead, he supplied the fleet with cheap rotten food, which 'killed four thousand of the King’s Subjects.'
George Anson, a Lord of the Admiralty, is recognised as the Father of the Royal Navy. The improvements he made to administration and victualling changed the way the Navy was run in the 18th century. Following the footsteps of Drake, Anson became the second Englishman to circumnavigate the world. His dream was to intercept a Spanish treasure galleon. In 1743, he finally achieved his goal, capturing the Nuestra Senora de Covadonga that was carrying treasure worth £400,000.
On the sweeping road clinging to the rugged coast between the rivers Tyne and Wear, the dramatic red and white tower of Souter Lighthouse stands proud. When opened in 1871 it was a marvel of its age, being the first lighthouse in the world to be built to use the new technology of electricity. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1988, purchased by us, and opened to the public in 1990. Though it is no longer a working lighthouse, we can (with permission from the harbourmaster) sound the foghorn, and light the light.
On a windswept heath overlooking the River Deben, a group of 18 mounds attracted the interest of their owner, Mrs Edith Pretty. Archaeologist Basil Brown was sent to investigate in 1938. He found two of the mounds contained cremation burials of important, pagan Anglo-Saxons. Inside the largest mound they came across iron ship rivets in the soil and uncovered the imprint of a huge ship. Brown carefully revealed the ship’s 27m long outline. He kept digging and he unearthed a grave with a breathtaking array of treasures. It was among the richest graves ever found in Europe, though no trace of a skeleton was found. Many people now believe Sutton Hoo is the final resting place of Raedwald, King of East Anglia.
Uppark was the home of Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, who took a mistress, the beautiful 16-year-old Emma Hart - the future Lady Hamilton of Nelson fame. She is said to have danced naked on the dining table at Uppark during her year’s tenure there. After having a child by Sir Harry, Emma became mistress to politician Charles Greville who asked his ageing uncle Sir William Hamilton if he would marry her. While he was Britain’s Ambassador in Naples, she was introduced to Nelson and the rest as they say, is history.