Merton Place

Merton Place [109kb]


In 1797 Nelson paid 2,000 for another house known as Roundwood, near Ipswich, but he never lived there. Lady Nelson did. Their estrangement ensured that it was no home to him in 1801. It was demolished between the wars.
Nelson was aware that his naval career could be cut short if there was to be peace with France. The purchase of a house prepared him for the future. It is open to speculation whether he seriously believed that his naval destiny was fulfilled.
Establishing Horatia at Merton was a protracted affair and it caused Nelson much anxiety. It was not accomplished until August, 1805.
An interest in farming was acquired during his five years 'on the beach' and would almost certainly have been influenced by Coke's revolutionary agricultural improvements on the Holkharn Estate.
In fact, Mrs. Greaves was slow to give vacant possession, even for a hero, and Merton Place did not become Nelson's until 13th. September, 1801. It is interesting to note that William Axe's tenant was also unimpressed by Nelson's fame and station.
Some sources claim Nelson also borrowed money from John Tyson, his secretary while in Naples. This seems unlikely; originally he had planned to pay the 6,000 by instalments over three years and was adamant that he would not call on Sir William. He made clear to Emma that he would pay for everything. In fact he sold all his shares and raised 6,000 towards the purchase price, and Davison paid the rest.
Nelson was at Merton from 23rd. October, 1801 to 18th. May, 1803, and between 20th. August and 13th. September, 1805. Sir William Hamilton died on 6th. April, 1803. This means that he lived 'free' with Emma for less than ten weeks out of the remaining two and a half years before Trafalgar.
Merton Place

Merton Place [150kb]

A ground floor plan of Merton Place was drawn by Thomas Chawner. It shows the extensions.
Emma was furious that Mrs. Greaves had removed most of the good fish before contract completion.
The River Wandle was praised by Isaack Walton, so it is not hard to imagine Sir William's enthusiasm.
In fact Emma bought a rowing boat. There are drawings of them using it in Thomas Baxter's sketchbook. See also footnote 14.
This alluring description is taken from the deeds.
The statuary was quickly removed, either because Nelson regarded it as unseemly on a farm, or because it did not meet up to Sir William's refined classical taste.
Nelson felt that he could afford the extra land because the sale of diamonds, presented to him by foreign sovereigns, would allow him to repay his existing debts. However, he still borrowed 4,000 from George Matcham. This was his sister Catherine's marriage settlement and caused him some feelings of guilt. "I will take care if the money is wanted that all should be done properly for my sister and family who are of more consequence to me than 50 Axe's Estates" (16th. July, 1801).
Thomas Baxter, a young artist, first met Nelson and the Hamiltons during their visit to the Chamberlain-Worcester factory in 1802. He designed the breakfast set which was presented to Nelson. Taking a casual invitation to visit Merton literally, he went on a number of occasions between 1803 and 1806. While there, he filled a sketchbook with drawings and watercolours of the house and household. They are an intimate view of social life at Merton, full of notes and details such as furniture, costume, and even the archetypal parrot. His pictures show that the grounds were lush with shrubs and trees. They are now in the National Maritime Museum.
The Danish author, J. A. Anderson visited Merton on 20th. August, 1805. Entering the house, he 'passed through a lobby which contained amongst a variety of paintings and other objet d'art, an excellent marble bust of the illustrious admiral. I was then ushered into a magnificent apartment where Lady Hamilton sat at a window'.
Nelson left the house at Merton and part of the land to Emma. This fulfilled his joyous declaration in October, 1801 that of the three of them; 'the longest liver shall have it all!'. The deed dated 4th. March, 1806 includes a drawing which shows the 70 acres that Emma selected for herself plus two acres that she bought from Lord Nelson's trustees, Earl Nelson and William Haslewood. It lists 'a house with pleasure grounds, Barnfield, Middle Field, Sheephouse Field, The Three Lawns and the Shrubbery & etc.' She resigned all claim on other Nelson land, such as East Lords Leaze.
A total of 18,000 was needed to remove the threat of arrest altogether. About 5,000 of this sum was for the extensive alterations to Merton. The trust valued the Merton assets at 17,000.
There are contradictory sources for the date of demolition. Lot 28 of the 1823 auction particulars, states, 'upon this lot the mansion recently stood' (author's italics).
This was a link line, now disused, London and South Eastern and London, Brighton and South Coast Railways. South Wimbledon (Merton) station on London Underground's Northern Line was also built on the estate's land.
There were 'second gates' on the Epsom to Dorking Road (Merton Road).
George Romney painted about fifty pictures of Emma Hamilton. If the Southside portrait was commissioned by Nelson for Merton Place, it would have been one of Romney's last works since he died in November, 1802. However, he was very unwell during the last few years of his life and had moved away from London. This means that sittings would have been unlikely. So either he painted Emma from memory or the Southside picture is an earlier canvas. Either way it helps to explain the youthful represention of Emma's face.
According to the story told by Major Malcom Munthe his ancestor, John Pennington, met Sir William while they were both rough fishing from a bridge across the River Thames. On one such meeting there was a heavy downpour and 'the humble old stranger' asked his fellow angler back to Merton Place so that he could dry his clothes. Only then did Pennington discover the identity of his distinguished companion. They became friends and Nelson and the Hamiltons were frequent visitors to Pennington's home, Southside House. At Nelson's request, Emma performed her 'Attitudes' in the Musick Room. The hooks for the tableau vivant curtains and a wooden platform constructed for her use, are still there.
IAn indenture dated 5th. May, 1807 between Emma and Francis Giffard of Upavon, a moneylender, was purchased by Wimbledon Museum in 1991. By the indenture, Emma borrowed 1,000 and agreed to pay Giffard 100 per quarter for the rest of his natural life. If she was 7 days late on any payment, Giffard was entitled to a further 2,000! This was appalling usury, but similar advances in exchange for such exorbitant 'annuities' accounted for most of Emma's other debts.
The three storey building was built as two houses in 1846. Conveniently this is the same year that some sources say Merton Place was demolished. There is a specific reference in Dorking Library and Sally Birkbeck, a member of The 1805 Club, is researching the details.