Going to my first NFL game at Wembley Stadium, London

A few days ago I managed to get to see my very first live-action NFL game at Wembley Stadium, London.  Normally Wembley is the home of Football but for a month or so eat autumn, it becomes the home of American Football!

I’ve watched American Football or NFL since around 1982 when it first appeared on UK screens on the then new Channel 4 station.  NFL have been coming to London for quite a few years now but I’ve never been as the tickets are expensive, I’m usually busy and I’m not much for crowds, especially after big events with all the bottlenecks to get away.

Interestingly this comes just 5 months after I saw my first ever Major League Baseball game so it gave me something to compare it too.

Of course my natural sports are Football, Cricket and Rugby but my football team is 300 miles away and is probably the most underachieving in the country.  My Rugby team moved away from where I live and cricket is in the summer when I’m particularly busy.  Also since the 1990’s football has become particularly money orientated which I don’t care for and the people who run cricket are in the process of ruining it with shorter formats.

I’m sure both baseball and NFL are even more money obsessed but I live far enough away not to have to put up with it in the media as I do with British sports (see https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2014/05/21/how-football-sounds-to-people-that-just-dont-care/) only having watched them for 40 years or so, I haven’t had to witness the descent as with football and cricket (Falling out of love, with Football)

My first NFL game was a bit of a last minute booking to see the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Houston Texans.  Most of the near 85,000 but not quite full Wembley Stadium seemed to be rooting for the Jaguars, they are the team that most frequently plays in London and it’s even been rumoured they might relocate one day.   Despite them often training just a mile or so from where I live, being an ‘original’ British NFL fan, I couldn’t bring myself to support either team so I was there just to witness a good sporting event.

Since you ask, my team is the Miami Dolphins who were great in the 1980’s but you can’t switch your sporting allegiances if you’re a true fan… otherwise I would have long ago switched my support to a better Premier League team.

So what did I think?  American sporting occasions are always big and brash and even more so than Baseball, I found there is almost more emphasis on the paraphanalia before and during the breaks in the game than the actual sporting event itself.  Compared to British matches where it all about the game and there aren’t really any stoppages.  I think it’s funny that the only two times I have heard the National Anthem have been at American sporting events!

Like Baseball I found it a totally different experience than watching it on the television.   I had an idea beforehand but I was surprised just how small the playing field is for NFL compared to football or rugby.  Whilst there is more of an atmosphere at the NFL than Baseball, I’d say Baseball is unquestionably better to see live.  NFL is better live than on the television in lots of ways, especially being able to see all the tactics and the bigger picture.  However as NFL is full of intricate moves, blocks and tactics, these can be better appreciated in close-ups and action replays in a way that can’t really be replicated live.

I really enjoyed the match although it was a very tight affair which might not be what you’re looking for at your first attendance in any sport.  It was rather one sided and it became clear it was a one-horse race.  That didn’t bother me in the sense that I didn’t care who won or lost but it was one of the least competitive games I can remember seeing which is a shame.

Being high up in the stadium meant being afforded a great overview of the game which I didn’t expect.

I would definitely like to go and see another game or two next year as I would with the Baseball.  Though no reflection on either sport, I would say that Baseball gains more from watching it live whereas though watching NFL live is still an experience, the increased enjoyment compared to watching it on the television isn’t quite the same.

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Electing a new Speaker to the House of Commons

Following the often delayed departure of the previous Mr. Speaker John Bercow, this week sees the election of the next speaker of the House of Commons.

How does one become a Speaker?  Firstly one has to already be a sitting Member of Parliament.  Their electorate is what has been described as “the most duplicitous electorate in the world”, namely other MPs.   Candidates need the support of at least 12 MPs, three of whom have to be from a different party, in order to be eligible to take part.

Speaker Nomination form

MPs who have signed the nomination for Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, Member of Parliament for Chorley to be the next Speaker.

 

The shortlist for the next speaker at the time of writing (Monday lunchtime) is as follows:

  • Chris Bryant – former minister and shadow Commons leader; Labour MP for Rhondda since 2001
  • Harriet Harman – former minister and deputy Labour leader; Labour MP since 1982, for Peckham and its successor constituency Camberwell
  • Meg Hillier – chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee and former minister; Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch since 2005
  • Sir Lindsay Hoyle – elected Labour MP for Chorley in 1997; elected deputy Speaker in 2010
  • Dame Eleanor Laing – elected Conservative MP for Epping Forest in 1997; elected deputy Speaker in 2013
  • Sir Edward Leigh – Conservative MP for Gainsborough since 1983; former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee
  • Dame Rosie Winterton – elected Labour MP for Doncaster Central in 1997; former Labour chief whip; elected deputy Speaker in 2017

The candidates all have an opportunity to speak to the Commons to put forward their ideas on how they would act as Speaker following which the MPs have 20 minutes to vote in a secret ballot. It will take about 45 minutes to count them.

If no candidate receives more half of the votes, the individual who receives the least votes will drop out, as will anyone who obtains less than 5% of the total cast.

After each round, there will be a 10-minute period for candidates to withdraw.

MPs will then continue to vote until one candidate obtains more than half of the votes. The process is being overseen by Ken Clarke, who as Father of the House is the long-serving MP in the Commons.

The role of the Speaker has come under increasing scrutiny over the past few years – and Mr Bercow has been both praised for boosting the influence of backbench MPs and criticised for stretching parliamentary rules.

Some have also accused him of not being impartial when it comes to Brexit.

The Speaker is responsible for choosing which amendments can be voted on – a power that has proved particularly significant in the Brexit process.

He is also in charge of upholding parliamentary rules, and Mr Bercow twice angered some MPs by refusing to allow the government to hold another vote on an already rejected Brexit deal.

The Speaker can also permit MPs to ask urgent questions whereby government ministers are summoned to the House of Commons over a time-sensitive or important matter.

During his years in the role, Mr Bercow dramatically increased the number of urgent questions asked and was seen by many to have broken the centuries old tradition of impartiality, something which the various successors of all parties have said is supremely important and must be adhered to in the future.

The title of Speaker dates back to 1377, and Sir Thomas Hungerford was the first.  Traditionally being the Speaker of the House of Commons was an extremely dangerous profession that saw many executed or otherwise killed.  Standing up for democracy was a dangerous thing to do against a King, even after the Magna Carta with perhaps William Lenthall being the most famous when he defied King Charles I.

Understandably then, many speakers required more than a bit of gentle persuasion for them to accept the honour that they had been selected for and so even today, the successful candidate will be dragged to the Speakers chair!

The modern role of the Speaker being independent from political parties evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries and whilst it is rarely now a life or death position, it remains one of supreme importance as is clear from the last few days.

My choice for the new Speaker would be Sir Lindsay Hoyle who is already a Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Ways and Means committee; he already gets to sit in the big chair on important occasions such as the Budget and I’ve always been impressed by his more Northern, blunt and no-nonsense approach to dealing with Members of Parliament as can be seen below, very different to John Bercow.

 

 

 

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A close look at a grave of a Pirate or is it?

Huddled on the the battered coast of Northumberland you’ll come across many an ancient ruin, castle or church.  There is more than enough to spend an hour or so at St Aidan, so named after the saint who died on the spot in 651AD.

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I first visited this church around 40 years ago and still remember that time very clearly and mostly it was for one reason.  Nested between the church and the footpath and in plain sight is the grave of a pirate; obviously something hugely exciting for a 3  or 4 year old boy.

Pirate Grave

Pirate Grave

As you can see the head stone has all the hallmarks of a pirate.  It has a very prominent skull and cross bones and there is what looks like a sword of the variety popularly assumed to be used by pirates and various other unusual paraphernalia.

Could it be a pirate?  It’s certainly possible and the gold earrings that pirates wore were in the hope that if they died in some foreign land, the locals would take pity on them and use the gold earring to pay for a simple Christian burial… despite their criminal activities.

Though the church is just a minutes walk from a beautiful sandy bay as well as some very treacherous rocky waters there is another possibility in that the grave might belong to that of an unfortunate Scot.

Scotland is less than 20 miles away and after the reformation, such macabre symbolism was quite popular in some parts of Scotland as the the traditional cross was seen as unduly Papist which was obviously a terrible crime!

Additionally if it were a pirate, it is slightly bizarre that they were buried in such a high profile spot almost next to the church doorway that everyone would walk past rather than in a quiet corner.

What do you think?  Either, way it’s a great gravestone to study and its far from the only sight to see in St Aidans churchyard.

Across the churchyard you can also visit the impressive tomb of Victorian heroine Grace Darling who lost her life after her famed venture to save the lives of sailors in treacherous seas.

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You can visit St Aidan’s, Bamburgh Castle and lots of other amazing places with Ye Olde England Tour and our tour Magical Northumbria – Castles, Conquest and Cathedrals

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An eerie journey along old Corpse Roads

Can anyone believe that I have written Halloween (related posts for 7 years now.  When I started this blog I thought I’d be lucky to still be going in a month.   As with everything else, I always try to keep my Halloween posts grounded as I think that makes them more realistic and also more scary.

This year is going to be relatively tame as I’ve posted quite a few true-life gory events in the last year or so but it is still hopefully an interesting theme, that of Corpse Roads.  Sometimes they have variations such as Coffin way or Church fields but the connotations are the same.

In days gone by, remote communities often had nowhere nearby to put their dead as only churches were sanctioned for burials in most situations (not so plague pits or criminals).  However in the countryside hamlets and smaller villages could be 10-15 miles from the nearest churchyards but they could be miles away from the smaller villages. Corpse roads, burial roads, funeral roads, or lych ways offered a dedicated means for the dead to be taken to consecrated grounds.

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The Old Corpse Road from Wasdale in the Lake District.

A lot of the old corpse roads now only exist as footpaths. For the latter, few remember or know their original purpose.   Obviously most landholders didn’t particularly want distressed families and friends traipsing rotting bodies across their lands and so such Corpse Roads were deliberately given remote and barren routes which were far off the beaten track even in centuries past, let alone with the spread of motorised transport in the 20th Century.

There was also a popular belief that should three funeral corteges pass over a route then it automatically becomes a public right of way which would also be something many landowners would try to avoid.

Things became obviously incredibly difficult during a snowy winter or wet period and there are stories of coffin bearers mired in mud and mourners wading through bogs. It must have made the loss of a family member even more painful, unless it helped to take your mind off things. It certainly means that coffin roads go through some of the most desolate and remote parts of our fells, giving them an atmosphere appropriate to their role.

Corpse Roads began to decline when even the poor were able to afford rudimentary hearses and when much common land was fenced off during the Enclosure Acts which made using some of them difficult on a practical basis.

Back in times when people were much more superstitious,  people believed spirits only travelled in straight lines. Not wanting to be haunted by aggrieved ghosts it was thought that one way to stop ghosts returning to their home involved taking a meandering route to the graveyard through the countryside rather than a more direct and easy route. This may have its roots in prehistoric times when Neolithic earthen avenues called cursuses link burial mounds: these features can run for considerable distances, even miles, and are largely straight, or straight in segments, connecting funerary sites, there is even one just outside Stonehenge.

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A neolithic cursus leading to Stonehenge

In some areas such as Wales, there would be the corpse candle with people believing it travels along the route from the cemetery to the dying person’s house and back again. Seen as an omen, the lights allegedly appeared on the night before a death when the spirit traced the path to the cemetery in advance.

Not to be confused with other non-earthly spirits such as the Will-o-the Wisp that would try and lead travellers astray and often to their demise into marshes and bogs with even some scientific belief that they could be due to decomposing methane apparently.,

Corpse lights have been a very common occurrence and they would sometimes be seen to flicker around the home and eventual burial sight of the unfortunate person nearing the end of their life though at least one 19th century researcher in Sussex believe the lights were likely to be glowworms.

Most isolated and remote parts of Britain and their Corpse Roads and many had local traditions, around the bleak moors of Cornwall and Devon in the SW mourners would carry the corpses feet first, so they pointed away from their home. Sometimes the road would cross bridges or stepping stones, since spirits couldn’t cross running water. In fact everywhere in Britain a great deal of effort went into making sure the dead didn’t come back to haunt the living unlike in other places.

Interestingly some of the corpse roads featured coffin stones to allow mourners to set the coffin down on while they rested. With the coffin never touching the ground, everyone could be assured that the spirit of the deceased wouldn’t wander off!   You can still see some of these around the countryside though knowing what they are is another matter.  Some can be simple stones and others something all the more elaborate.

Lamplugh in Cumbria is one such location to boast a coffin rest, also known as a corpse cross. It’s near the church and gave pallbearers somewhere to put the coffin while they caught their breath.

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A coffin rest in Lamplugh, Cumbria not far from where I was born.

Times being as tough as they were and so many being impoverished, it was common that the family and friends couldn’t afford a coffin in which case you could actually borrow a public coffin for most of the journey with the person being enclosed in a sack or cloth.  When you had finished with the coffin, you’d take it back to the pickup point at the churchyard like the coffin rest below.

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An 18th Century Coffin Rest.

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a ghost story so how about this one from the old Wasdale Head to Eskdale Corpse Road whose family made the mistake of using a horse rather than carrying the deceased by hand.  A young man had died and his body was being taken from Wasdale Head to Eskdale on the remote corpse road over Burnmoor. It was a misty winter’s day and some way into the journey the horse took fright and bolted. The party of mourners searched for hours but the horse and its grisly cargo had vanished.

Returning home in absolute despair having first lost only son and then his body, collapsed and died. During her own funeral procession, on the same path and at the same place, her horse too took fright and ran off into a snowstorm. In the desperate search that ensued the son’s horse and corpse were discovered but the mother’s had disappeared for good. From time to time, a ghostly horse and coffin appear on this lonely fell path to no doubt scare the living daylights out of intrepid hikers.

A Corpse Road

The double-backed bridge on the corpse road from Wasdale to Eskdale, Lake District, (photograph by Alan Cleaver)

 

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A piss-poor history of urine

I’m going to try not to use the P word too much in this post, as tempting as it is as that would be taking the Pee but urine has actually had a long history of practical uses especially in medicine.

None other than Pliny the Elder back in Rome  recommended fresh urine for the treatment of “sores, burns, affections of the anus, chaps and scorpion stings”, while stale urine mixed with ash could be rubbed on your baby for what we would now call nappy rash.

In early-modern Europe urine went on to have even more uses with  pioneering French surgeon Ambroise Paré noting that itching eye-lids could be washed in the patient’s urine provided that it had been kept “all night in a barber’s basin” first. The father of chemistry, Robert Boyle, advised certain patients to drink every morning “a moderate draught of their own urine”, preferably while “tis yet warm”.  He also performed numerous experiments with human blood and urine including using both as invisible inks and noted how the latter was highly valued by dyers;

As disgusting as this might sound,  Thomas Willis who was then the richest doctor in England instructed a young lady to drink her own warm urine against “extreme sourness” in her throat.

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Thomas Vicary

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Paying homage at the tomb of the Venerable Bede

If like myself you have anything like a passing history in old Anglo-Saxon history or even history itself, the works of Bede are something to behold.

I always find it a bit boring I suppose that so many people think of British history as being Stonehenge, Romans, Vikings, a bonkers king who kept killing his wives, Victorians and WW2.    Similarly populist history such as on the History Channel were all Romans, ancient Egyptians and Nazis but nothing about the 99% of history that is lesser known and all the more interesting for it.  Rather like being a food connoisseur but only being interested in McDonalds.

Hopefully if there is one thing my 7 years of blogging has proved it is that people love obscure history too as history is all about people.

St Bede the Venerable is the bedrock of our understanding of the centuries up to and including early Anglo-Saxon history.   As well as his incredible range of work he is chiefly responsible for working out the calculations for Easter as well as establish the to us extremely obvious and easy way of dating events from the time of Jesus.  Of course people use various events for year zero but incredibly at one time in the British Isles and Europe at least, this was an entirely new concept!

Bede’s most famous work is the Historia Ecclesiastica and his primary motivation in writing the Historia Ecclesiastica was to show the growth of the united church throughout England. The native Britons, whose Christian church survived the departure of the Romans, earn Bede’s ire for refusing to help convert the Saxons; by the end of the Historia the English, and their Church, are dominant over the Britons.

This goal, of showing the movement towards unity, explains Bede’s animosity towards the British method of calculating Easter: much of the Historia is devoted to a history of the dispute, including the final resolution at the Synod of Whitby in 664.

Bede is also concerned to show the unity of the English, despite the disparate kingdoms that still existed when he was writing. He also wants to instruct the reader by spiritual example, and to entertain, and to the latter end he adds stories about many of the places and people about which he wrote.

Bede’s extensive use of miracles can prove difficult for readers who consider him a more or less reliable historian, but do not accept the possibility of miracles. Yet both reflect an inseparable integrity and regard for accuracy and truth, expressed in terms both of historical events and of a tradition of Christian faith that continues to the present day. Bede, like Gregory the Great whom Bede quotes on the subject in the Historia, felt that faith brought about by miracles was a stepping stone to a higher, truer faith, and that as a result miracles had their place in his works.

Bede died on Thursday, 26 May 735 (Ascension Day) on the floor of his cell, singing Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit and was buried at Jarrow.  You might like to see my photos of the ruins of the old Jarrow Monastery, the old church and the oldested stained glass window in the world.

Bede was so studious that he worked up right until an hour or two before his death despite his ill-health as can be seen below in this wonderfully evocative painting.

The Venerable Bede translating the Gospel of John on his deathbed. Painting by James Doyle Penrose in 1902.

The Venerable Bede translating the Gospel of John on his deathbed. Painting by James Doyle Penrose in 1902.

Just before he died, Bede composed the following verse which has become known as Bede’s Death Song.  Here it is in its original Northumbrian.

Fore thaem neidfaerae ‖ naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra, ‖ than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae ‖ aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae ‖ godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege ‖ doemid uueorthae.

And translated into modern English…. Before setting forth on that inevitable journey, none is wiser than the man who considers—before his soul departs hence—what good or evil he has done, and what judgement his soul will receive after its passing.

Bede became known as Venerable Bede by the 9th century because of his holiness.   According to a legend the epithet was miraculously supplied by angels, thus completing his unfinished epitaph.

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Inside the majestic Durham Cathedral

Centuries after his death, the Bishop of Durham sent his men to Jarrow in the middle of the night and dug up the remains of Bede (translated is the ecclesiastical term for it) to the majestic Durham Cathedral most likely in 1020 and it was placed in the same tomb with Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Later Bede’s remains were moved to a shrine in the Galilee Chapel at Durham Cathedral in 1370.

The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation, but the bones were reburied in the chapel. In 1831 the bones were dug up and then reburied in a new tomb, which is where I found him today although some of his relics can also be found in Glastobury, York and Germany.

I always enjoy visiting Durham and the Cathedral there is one of my very favourites.  In fact American-British travel writer Bill Bryson states it is the most beautiful cathedral in the world.   It is full of shrines and statues, chapels and stained glass windows but my favourite place is always the shrine of the Venerable Bede.

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One isn’t normally encouraged to take photos but after having a little chat to the charming lady overseeing the chapel, I was allowed to.  It’s quite something to visit the resting place of the father of English history.  If we had an hour together to chat, I’m sure we would have the most incredible conversation about the past, present and future presuming of course we could understand each other which couldn’t be take for granted if you read An example of how English has changed over 1200 years.

 

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Original hand-drawn battle plans by Admiral Lord Nelson for the Battle of Trafalgar are discovered.

Incredible a hand-drawn sketch by Admiral Lord Nelson himself showing his plan for victory at Trafalgar has been discovered tucked inside the pages of a scrapbook after nearly 200 years.

They were discovered by historian Martyn Downer in a scrap book book from the 1830s which was recently sold at auction.

It shows his plan for splitting the Royal Navy fleet into three divisions to break and destroy the enemy French and Spanish lines coming out of Cadiz harbour.

Lord Nelson

Painting of Admiral Lord Nelson

The plan even includes lines representing wind direction which give a unique insight into how Nelson intended to attack across the wind to take advantage of increased speed.

The drawing, which has been donated to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, was found alongside an address leaf bearing Nelson’s signature and is dated September 5 1805.  The early date also shows us Nelson had long been plotting on his final great victory long before he ever set foot on HMS Victory.

Admiral Lord Nelson's hand drawn sketch found on the top right of this page in an old scrap book after 200 years.

Admiral Lord Nelson’s hand drawn sketch found on the top right of this page in an old scrap book after 200 years.

The plan is on display today to mark the 214th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar before being placed on permanent exhibition from next spring in the museum’s refurbished Victory Gallery.

You can visit HMS Victory and the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on our hugely popular day tour from London with Ye Olde England Tours   or alternatively you can look at my HMS Victory and Portsmouth post from a few years ago Day Tour to Portsmouth Historic Dockyards

Nelson was already an assured national treasure before his great victory at Trafalgar which made him an eternal national hero and incidentally brought about a century or more of comparative peace on the waves.

It was September, of 1805, when Horatio Nelson first told someone of his plans for a new kind of naval warfare. The Vice Admiral was his home, at Merton Place in Surrey and taking a walk with his colleague Captain Richard Keats who was then the commanding officer of HMS Superb, a 74-gun battleship.

Until this time naval battles largely consisted of two lines of ships lining up parallel to each other at something like point blank range and blasting each other to smithereens until one side was clearly beaten.   Nelson wanted to change this not just because he saw the chance for a great victory but because navies had got so large it was getting impractical to fight in this way.

On hearing that the French-Spanish combined fleet had put into the port of Cadiz (in Spain), left his home on the 13th of September, 1805, to take command of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. Hoisting his flag aboard HMS Victory, he sailed to join the rest of the ships.

Nelson and his fleet finally got their opportunity to put the new tactics into practice  when Napoleon gave orders to his fleet to leave Cadiz as Emperor Napoleon was mounting a land campaign against Austria and wanted his ships closer to that action.

It was a decision that proved to be disastrous for Napoleon because as soon as they were out of the comparative safety of the harbour, it gave the Royal Navy a chance to strike.

The new plan envisioned that Nelson would position his ships very differently than enemy officers would expect. The British ships would approach the French and Spanish ships in separate columns.

One column of ships (led by Nelson) would be in the windward position, moving as fast as possible using as much sail power as circumstances allowed. They would split the French and Spanish line in the centre, thereby preventing those ships from helping the rest of their fleet.

The other column of British ships, led by Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, would rout the enemy’s rear.

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The Battle of Trafalgar

The actual battle unfolded just as Nelson had planned. Smashing through the middle of the French and Spanish line, he cut the fleet in two. Ships in the northern part of the line could not join the battle in the south, where Collingwood was routing the enemy’s rear.

Nelson started the battle with 27 ships of the line and lost none. The combined fleet against him started the battle with 33 ships of the line and lost 18. and more enemy ships were lost following a terrible storm.

The Royal Navy didn’t quite have everything its own way as the wind had rather eased at the commencement of battle and HMS Victory became something of a sitting duck as it led the attack on the enemy fleets and suffered terrible damage.

As Victory came into close contact with the French ship Redoutable, a sniper in her rigging spotted Nelson who as always led from the front and was on the upper deck of HMS Victory. Nelson was mortally wounded by a musket ball in the left chest that caused numerous terrible external and internal injuries that would have been untreatable even in the bed hospital in London.

Nelson was correct when he told Thomas Hard “Hardy, I believe they have done it at last” and died hours later though not before knowing his navy had achieved perhaps the most famous history in naval history.

Spot where Nelson was shot

Freshly placed wreath on the plaque marking the spot where Nelson fell.

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