This week the new £20 note enters circulation in the UK, but did you know that on the 26th February 1797 the first £1 was issued. The bank of England did this as a result of the panic the Invasion of Fishguard created. But what was the invasion of Fishguard?
It’s the year 1797 and Britain is about to be invaded for the last time by a foreign force. The location, the towns of Fishguard and Goodwick in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The invaders, the French.
Now anyone who knows the area will tell you it’s a quiet place with a nice walk along the parrog at Goodwick and the old harbour of Fishguard. At the time of the invasion the area was deeply agricultural (as it is today) and small fishing vessels would have been out and about.
So how did this come about? Well it’s was a kind of past time that the French had a go at the British and we had a go back. On the 22th February 1797 it was the French’s turn. They thought if they invaded the people of Britain would join forces with them against the nobility and land owners in an attempt to gain more rights. The French people had successfully done this in the late 1780’s early 1790’s during the French Revolution.
The French were under the command of Colonel William Tate, who incidentally was of Irish American ancestry, and disliked the British as some of his family were killed during the American Revolution. What better way to get back at us than to invade. He had 4 ships loaded with around 1400 soldiers, around 600 regular troops and the rest were ex and part time soldiers as well as criminals. He anchored his ships 2 miles from Fishguard and the landing parties began.
There was panic amongst the people as you can imagine. They took up arms under the command of Thomas Knox who was a local landowner. They used any weapon they could find including the scythes from the land and what guns they had.
The French were busily looting in the surrounding areas and farms where their main target so they could get food and steal what valuables they could find. In one instance a French soldiers shot a grandfather clock thinking it was a person. As a side note the clock still exists with its hole. By the second day of the invasion it was reported that many of the French soldiers were rather merry on the wine and beer they had found.
The locals had had enough and moved to where the French were with their makeshift weapons and began capturing them. It’s said that the local shoemaker Jemima Nicholas who was in her late 40’s captures 12 soldiers using only a pitch folk and marched them back to Fishguard. She allegedly later brought 2 more to the town, one under each arm (well she was described as a well-built lady).
Now Colonel Tate was at an impasse. His ships had returned to France as he was convinced of his success, but the locals were closing in on them. He then got the shock of his life when he saw British armed soldiers heading in his direction. What he actually saw was Welsh women in the traditional costumes who from a distance could be mistaken for soldiers by their hats (there is some debate about whether this is true but I love the story).
As a result the Colonel surrendered that night to the British commander Lord Cawdor. The next day the people of the town gathered to watch the capture of the remaining soldiers. So by 4pm on the 24th February 1797 it was all over. The jovial French set off to walk to Haverfordwest and the prisons and churches (which were used as an overflow prison). The prisoners remained in the area until the following year when they were returned to France, Tate included, under a prisoner exchange.
So in just 3 days the last invasion of Britain was over. The French were defeated and no one would try and invade our lands again. Jemima Nicholas was the heroine of the day and she lived until 1832 when she died aged 82.
If you go to Fishguard there is a tapestry depicting the events of the invasion. It was made in 1997 and is designed along the same lines as the Bayeux tapestry. It can be seen in Fishguard town hall. There is also a video made of the recreation of the capture of the French which was done in 1997 (I’ve seen some of it, but homework called!), the lady playing Jemima certainly gave it her all.
So we can really thank the French for giving our ancestors a new currency note. Mind you most probably never got to see them.
This week sees the anniversary of Malcolm Campbell breaking the land speed record again. It got me thinking how different the speeds he was achieving were from those of the general public.
Malcolm Campbell was born in 1885 in Kent. He first took up motorcycle racing in the 1900’s and then cars as well in the 1910’s. It was with the cars that he started to call them Blue Bird. During WW1 he started out as a dispatch rider and was then in the Royal Flying Corp as a pilot.
It was in the 1920’s when he began taking on speed records, as well as Grand Prix racing. In 1927 and 1928 he won the French GP. Campbell first broke the land speed record in 1924 on Pendine Sands in Carmarthenshire, Wales when he achieved 146 mph in a V12 Sunbeam beating Ernest Eldridge’s record of 145mph. He then broke this record again in 1927 at 174 mph in the Napier Campbell Blue Bird also at Pendine Sands beating Parry Thomas’ 170mph record set on the beach. For his next 2 records he took to the USA. In 1931 on Dayton Beach he achieved 244mph beating Henry Segrave who achieved 231mph. The result of this record earned Campbell a Knighthood from the King. He continued getting faster and faster but when he moved the attempts to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and with his car Blue Bird he achieved 301mph beating his own record he set on Dayton beach of 276mph.
Campbell then moved to the water and took on the water speed record which he achieved in 1939 on Conniston Water in the lake district of England when he achieved 141mph in Blue Bird K4 beating his own record of 126mph he achieved in Blue Bird K3.
Sir Malcolm Campbell died in 1948. Unlike most of his fellow speed men he died as a result of a stroke and not behind the wheel of a vehicle.
So how did these speeds compare with what regular drivers were achieving? Well despite what you might think drivers never had to have someone walking along with a flag in front of them and it was the technology of the day that limited the speed, to an extent.
In the UK until 1931 the speed limit was 20mph, so when Campbell broke his first record at 146mph he was 126 mph faster than he could drive on the roads. Admittedly when he broke the records between 1931 and 1935 there was actually no speed limit in the UK. You really could go as fast as you wanted. Let’s put that into perspective. In the 1920’s the fastest production car in the world was the American Dusenberg Model J which could achieve 119mph. The UK Government decided this was daft as people were speeding along and unfortunately hitting people. So in 1935 they introduced a speed limit of 30mph in built up areas but else where you could still go as fast as you wanted. Thus on the early motorways car companies used them as test tracks late at night. It wasn’t until 1965 that the 70mph limit was introduced. But if you think about it the last speed record set by a car with an internal combustion engine was in 1947 at 394mph. That’s 324mph higher then we can do now.
Can you imagine the speed in the 1920’s at 20mph. Your ancestors would have been astounded if they could go in a car, as unless they had gone on a train or had a really fast horse they wouldn’t have known such speed. These days 70mph is the norm on motorways and 125mph on the trains. Planes are a little faster at around 500mph so when you jet off abroad you are faster than the land speed record of an internal combustion engine but not as fast as Wing Commander Andy Green who hold the record in a jet powered car of 760mph.
Me, the fastest I’ve gone is 125mph on a train, although I swear when I fell down the stairs as a kid I was going much faster! I have driven along Pendine Sands in a car and a mobility scooter but I didn’t achieve Malcolm Campbell’s speeds. That was back when you could still take your car on the beach and drive along.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!