By Paul H. Vickers, Prince Consort’s Library
On 18 June 2015 Britain celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, arguably the nation’s greatest military victory on land, and certainly one of history’s most decisive battles. In the years following the great battle national pride in the triumph, and in the Duke of Wellington as the architect of victory, was reflected in the naming of streets, buildings and landmarks, one of the earliest being Waterloo Bridge in London (1816), as well as the building of numerous monuments and memorials. In Aldershot we have many buildings and roads commemorating Wellington and Waterloo, but these did not did not come about until many years after 1815.
There is an irony in the story, in that the creation of Aldershot Camp was delayed until the 1850s by the opposition of Wellington to this radical innovation. During his brilliant military career the Duke had been open to new developments which would help win the war, but as he grew to an old man Wellington became ever more conservative in his views and he opposed all proposals for reform of the Army. Regrettably in this he was certainly mistaken, for military science had moved on since 1815 and the Army which had won Waterloo needed to change to meet the new challenges of the mid-nineteenth century. When the Duke died in 1852 the reform movement could at last begin modernising the Army. One of their aims was to improve training and conduct large exercises, for which Aldershot Camp was established in 1854 as the first permanent training camp in Britain.
At the time of Waterloo, Aldershot was a small rural village like many others and of no particular significance. However, with the building of the Camp and the arrival of some 15,000 soldiers, a whole new town grew up immediately to the south of the Camp. Almost inevitably, the first use of Wellington’s name in Aldershot seems to have been in connection with a public house, when the Wellington Arms beer house opened in King’s Road. However, this did not last long and in 1866 the vacant building was taken over by philanthropist Mrs Louisa Daniell who leased the building for use as a school for underprivileged children.
As the town was established so the new roads were given names. By 1859 Victoria Road, Union Street and Cambridge Road were all named, and so too was Wellington Street, making this probably the first official commemoration of the great Duke in Aldershot. In Wellington Street another pub, the Wellington Hotel, was opened on the corner of a small alley known as Wellington Court. This building was lost in 1989 for the development of phase two of the Wellington Centre shopping mall.
Waterloo Road, running from the High Street opposite Manor Park to Mount Pleasant, first appeared named on an Ordnance Survey map of 1875. There is evidence of buildings in the road dating back to 1861, but as the road is not named on the 1869 map it is reasonable to assume that it acquired the Waterloo name between 1870 and 1875.
Aldershot’s most famous memorial to the great Duke, the Wellington Statue, was erected in 1885 on Round Hill adjacent to the Garrison Church of All Saints. This huge statue was by the sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt and originally had been placed on the arch at Hyde Park Corner, London, in 1846. The statue attracted much controversy, as its detractors maintained that it was entirely out of scale, proportion and context on the arch, which had not been designed for a statue of this type or size. However, it remained in place until 1883 when redevelopment of the Hyde Park Corner road junction meant that the arch had to be re-aligned. The controversy over the Wellington Statue was re-ignited, and after much debate it was taken down intact as a result of Queen Victoria expressing her wish that the statue should not be broken up. Its removal to Aldershot came at the suggestion of the Prince of Wales, who proposed that the statue of Britain’s greatest general would be appropriately sited in Britain’s greatest Army camp. The site on Round Hill was personally chosen by the Prince of Wales, who formally handed over the great statue to the care of the Army in a ceremony in August 1885.
In contrast to the controversy over the statue in London, in Aldershot it was embraced by both military and civilian Aldershot as symbolising the town’s pride in our military history. To the present day the Wellington Statue has retained its place as the symbol of Aldershot, even appearing in silhouette on the most recent set of “Welcome to Aldershot” signs on the roads into the town.
At the time of the Statue’s arrival in Aldershot, the barracks of the Camp were still without names. All of North Camp and most of South Camp consisted of the wooden huts built in 1854-56, which were just known by letters (A to Z lines in South Camp and A to P Lines in North Camp). The only brick barracks were a line across the southern edge of the Camp, known as East, West and South Cavalry Barracks, East, Centre and West Infantry Barracks, and East and West Artillery Barracks. It was not until 1890 that the wooden huts began to be replaced by brick barracks, the building work completed in 1894. The moving force behind the rebuild was the GOC, General Sir Evelyn Wood VC, who was also responsible for persuading the War Office to finally give the Aldershot barracks names. As part of this scheme, the 1850s barracks in the south of the Camp were given the collective name of Wellington Lines. East, Centre and West Infantry Barracks became Badajos, Salamanca and Talavera barracks, named after Wellington’s Peninsular War victories, and the two artillery barracks became Waterloo Barracks East and West, finally giving the great battle formal commemoration in Aldershot.
The Waterloo Barracks were either side of Gun Hill, and Burger King is on the site of the guardroom for Waterloo Barracks West. The two barracks were built to a similar pattern and designed for each to accommodate three batteries of artillery, with the Royal Horse Artillery occupying the west barracks and the Royal Field Artillery in the east. On each site were three main buildings to accommodate men and horses, the horses on the ground floor and the men above. To the rear was a large rectangular parade ground, around which were buildings for schools, magazines, gun sheds, a forge, saddle and collar makers workshops, tailors and farriers shops and an officers’ mess.
All the Victorian barracks were demolished in the rebuilding of the garrison after the Second World War, and Waterloo Barracks were demolished in 1958. In 1964 plans were approved for 222 married quarters to be built on the former sites of Waterloo East and West. Waterloo West became part of Talavera Park, while Waterloo East retained its historic name as it became Waterloo Park.
In the 1890s naming of the Garrison’s road and barracks, the road which ran east-west in a straight line from the front of Waterloo Barracks to the Garrison Church of All Saints was also given a new name. Previously known simply as “The Avenue” or “Avenue Road”, this road now became “Wellington Avenue”. For many years in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Wellington Avenue became a popular destination for the people of Aldershot, especially on Sundays when crowds would turn out to watch the colourful church parades to the Garrison Church. Afterwards they would stay to walk along this elegant avenue lined with chestnut trees, enjoying the company, the ambience, and occasionally also being entertained by the regimental bands who would give static performances after the formal parades were over. Wellington Avenue was another victim of the post-war rebuild, which took it on a new line from the Hospital Hill junction to the roundabout on the Farnborough Road, cutting off the part of the avenue leading to the Royal Garrison Church. This section was renamed Willems Avenue and is now a rather neglected stretch of road behind Tesco’s supermarket.
Over the years as both town and camp have grown, there have been many other instances where Wellington’s name has been used. The GOC’s official residence adjacent to the Royal Garrison Church is Wellesley House (Wellesley is the family name of the Duke of Wellington) and the road east of the Wellington Avenue / Farnborough Road junction is Wellesley Road. Elsewhere in Aldershot are Little Wellington Street and Wellington Gardens, and when the new shopping centre was built in the town in the 1970s it was rather inevitably named the Wellington Centre.
Such is the resonance of the name of Wellington and his great triumph at Waterloo, that even the most recent developments continue to use it. The first of the new buildings to be handed over under Project Allenby Connaught was the new Garrison Headquarters in St Omer Barracks, which was named Wellington House (now the headquarters for 101 Logistic Brigade). The biggest change to the town for many years is the huge new civilian housing development on the old South Camp barracks sites. Originally known by the prosaic title of the Aldershot Urban Extension, the lead developer, Grainger plc, have once again looked to the great Duke and renamed it as Wellesley.
Although at the time of Waterloo the little village of Aldershot had no idea that it would become a great military centre, once established as the “Home of the British Army” nowhere has embraced the memory of that victory and its general with more enthusiasm. One need only walk along the streets or look at the major buildings in town and garrison to be reminded of that bloody day 200 years ago when Britain triumphed over Napoleon’s imperial ambitions.
Article originally published in the Aldershot Garrison Herald, issue 002, June/July 2015
Copyright © Paul H. Vickers. This article, including the accompanying pictures, may not be reproduced or republished, in whole or in part, either in print or electronically, including on any websites or social media sites, without the prior permission of the author.