Just over two hundred years ago on 21st June 1815 Major Henry Percy staggered into Mrs Boehm’s house in St. James’s Square while a ball was in progress. Major Percy covered in dust and carrying captured French Colours in each hand had had an arduous three days.
He arrived just as the first quadrille was lining up looking for the Prince Regent to tell him of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.
Three days previous Wellington’s aide-de-camp had remained at Wellington’s side on the battlefield, having his horse killed under him, becoming one of just three of the General’s staff not injured in the battle.
On Wellington’s orders he was despatched to England to bring news of the victory. The journey to Ostend took a full day, then embarking on a ship that lay becalmed mid-Channel. Taking to a rowing boat to reach the English coast and finally riding post haste to London. After calling at 10 Downing Street he was sent to St. James’s Square to deliver news personally to the Prince Regent.
Arriving at the ball the music stopped as he dropped on one knee before the Prince proclaiming “Victory, Sir! Victory!”
Wife of the nouveau riche merchant Mrs. Boehm bore a grudge of the man who stopped her ball writing:
Well, I must say it! Of course one was very glad to think one had beaten those horrid French, and all that sort of thing. But still I always shall think it would have been far better if Henry Percy had waited quietly till the morning, instead of bursting in upon us, as he did, in such indecent haste.
Wellington by contrast would be feted as England’s greatest commander. His house Number 1 London (taken to be the first house encountered on arrival at the capital) is a museum. Around London there are many other monuments: the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, his sarcophagus in St Paul’s Cathedral and an equestrian statue of him outside the Royal Exchange [above] in the City of London to name but a few.
He would become Prime Minister and a member of the newly founded Athenæum Club at Waterloo Place. In 1830 – six years after the club was founded – Prime Minister Wellesley suggested the club should erect some mounting stones to assist in getting on and off horses. Then in his 60s, the Duke would not have been as able as he once was so the stones would have encouraged a more graceful dismount.
Over 180 years later, the stones remain on the kerb, although these days unused.
On the inward facing side, a rusty plaque reads: ‘This horseblock was erected by desire of the Duke Of Wellington 1830.’