Kipling often frequented Gatti’s music hall across the street (no longer there): ‘The smoke, the roar, and the good-fellowship of relaxed humanity at Gatti’s set the scheme for a certain sort of song. The Private Soldier in India I thought I knew fairly well. His English brother (in the Guards mostly) sat and sang at my elbow any night I chose… the outcome was the first of some verses called Barrack-Room Ballads.’
Kipling worked on the ballads in his Villiers Street rooms with a note pinned to the door: ‘To publishers: a classic while you wait.’
The old Admiralty building lies at the top end of Whitehall, not far from Charing Cross. Around 1 a.m. on 6 November 1805, a coach drew up outside after travelling 37 hours non-stop from Falmouth in Cornwall.
A weary naval lieutenant got out. Presenting himself to the night porter, he was taken straight to the board room, where the navy’s secretary William Marsden was just finishing work for the night.
Lt Lapenotiere wasted no time delivering his despatches. ‘Sir,’ he told Marsden. ‘We have gained a great victory, but we have lost Lord ******.’
Shocked, Marsden listened to Lapenotiere’s story. Then he went to find the First Lord of the Admiralty, asleep in another part of the building. The First Lord rose at once and issued orders for the despatches to be copied immediately and delivered to the King at Windsor Castle and the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, across the parade ground.
Prime Minister William Pitt was so shaken by the news that he decided to stay up for the rest of the night, rather than go back to bed. King George III was so dumbstruck that he couldn’t speak for five minutes. His wife and daughters burst into tears.
The rest of the nation felt the same as the news spread and the church bells rang out. The Royal Navy had won the greatest victory in its history, but at what cost?
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 57. Name this famous naval victory. Who had died in the battle?
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