Monmouthshire monument 'can play Trafalgar Day role'

By Neil Prior
BBC Wales News website

Image caption,
The Kymin, site of the Naval Temple, is 30 miles inland in Monmouthshire

The National Trust in Wales is urging the public to support Britain's maritime heritage by marking Trafalgar Day on Thursday... 30 miles inland in Monmouthshire.

The Kymin, towering 800ft (245m) on a hill above Monmouth, is home to the Naval Temple, Britain's oldest monument to the Royal Navy.

It seems as though the location was Georgian society's idea of a joke.

And if you are struggling to get it, you are not alone.

As Phil Park, National Trust's Mid and South East Wales Property Manager, explains, Admiral Lord Nelson was among the early visitors who expressed their surprise at finding a monument to Britannia land-locked on the Welsh borders.

He said: "In 1802 Nelson himself accompanied by Lady Hamilton visited, and expressed surprise that he should: 'Be known on such a little gut of a river as the Wye'."

The Kymin had long been a gathering spot for picnics and social events, but in 1794 a group of local landowners decided they needed additional luxury and protection against the unpredictable weather that high up.

So, headed by the Duke of Beaufort, the Kymin Club commissioned the site's most famous and imposing landmark, the Round House.

It boasted banqueting facilities, and there was also a bowling green shielded from the elements by an enormous wall, extensive hillside walks and woodland for hunting.

The Round House was topped off with telescopes in an observatory which was reputed to have views of nine Welsh and English counties.

Image caption,
Admiral Lord Nelson died as his fleet won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805

The Naval Temple followed six years later in 1800, as both a tongue-in-cheek reference to the elevated inland location, and a patriotic tribute to Britain's growing supremacy over the seas.

Admiral Lord Nelson's 1802 visit came three years before the Battle of Trafalgar, which would define both his life and death. He arrived by barge down the Wye, and was greeted by a cannon salute, brass bands and cheering crowds.

He breakfasted at the Round House, admired the views, and drank a toast to the Naval Temple, which he described as: "The only monument of its kind erected to the Royal Navy in the Kingdom!"

Following the defeat of the French and Spanish fleet and Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar, The Naval Temple became a focus for the commemoration of Trafalgar Day.

Celebrated each year on 21 October, the anniversary of Nelson's most famous victory remained an important date in the calendar throughout the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras, right up until the outbreak of World War One.

"Its public celebration declined in 1918, following the end of World War One," said Mr Park.

"The massive casualties and upheaval had changed the general public perception of war as a source of glorious victories to a more sombre view of it as a tragedy, for which the newly instituted Armistice Day on 11 November was created."

Image caption,
The site was created as a banqueting spot for local landowners

But after a decline of almost 100 years, Mr Park thinks the time is right to revive the tradition on The Kymin.

"Trafalgar Day is a great opportunity to introduce a new generation to Kymin, the Round House, and the Naval Temple, which is badly in need of renovation.

"The town of Monmouth has a long and proud association with the Royal Navy, through not only the Naval Temple, but also the Nelson Museum commemorating his 1802 visit, and the Royal Navy vessel, HMS Monmouth, named in honour of the town.

"The Kymin also plays a wider part in the history of the area; for hundreds of years it was the place to meet and socialise.

"It was the views which first attracted Georgian society figures from Monmouth to make the tortuous journey to the summit of the Kymin.

"Think Jane Austin, picnics, games and groups of the great and good whiling away sunny afternoons and you have the Kymin at its zenith."

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