London locations in the story of a great night

I gave a talk about London and the news from Waterloo the other night to an audience of Blue Badge guides, the registered and distinctly learned elite of British tourist guides. You can read about them here: http://www.britainsbestguides.org

My aim, besides telling the story of Major Percy’s arriving in town with the Duke of Wellington’s dispatch (which you can read about in the book), was to highlight the principal London locations that were involved.

One of these is relatively famous: the house at 16 St James’s Square where Percy presented the dispatch and the captured French eagles to the Prince Regent. It is now one half of the very grand East India Club, where they are very proud of the connection and where the room in which the dramatic presentation took place can still be seen, and is known at the Waterloo Room.

Less well known, however, is the role of number 44 Grosvenor Square, from the steps of which, a little earlier on that night of 21-22 June 1815, was made the first official public announcement of the victory. Percy had gone there to deliver the Duke’s dispatch to Lord Bathurst, the War Secretary, who was attending the monthly Cabinet dinner with colleagues.

It was by chance that the dinner fell on that night, and Bathurst’s colleagues were glad to be with the man who would be the first to receive official news. The host was Lord Harrowby, the Lord President of the Council, whose home it was – a fairly plain and simple Georgian terraced house close on the street.

After a tense wait Percy turned up with a large and excited crowd in tow. The ministers read the dispatch, the scale of the victory was grasped and a Treasury minister, Charles Arbuthnot, was sent out to share the news with the crowd. According to the Morning Post, this prompted ‘universal and ecstatic cheerings’. Only then did Percy set out for St James’s Square and his encounter with the Prince Regent.

For many years the role of 44 Grosvenor Square in these historic events was celebrated in the presence of a pub called The Waterloo Despatch in the mews behind. That has long gone, and so, sadly, has number 44 itself. The building still stood in 1965, when the 150th anniversary of its famous moment was marked, but by then it was the last private residence in the whole square, and three years later it was demolished.

Today the site is occupied by the Millennium Mayfair Hotel, but the history of the location is not quite forgotten. Inside, there is a function room called the Waterloo Room, decked with appropriate art including paintings of both Wellington and Napoleon. The building’s role will be marked this June in the activities of the New Waterloo Dispatch. You can read about that here: http://www.nam.ac.uk/waterloo200/about/the-new-waterloo-dispatch-2015/