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The Tria Juncta In Uno in Shepperton 

(First published in the Kedge Anchor in 2021)

Shepperton is a Surrey village, equidistant between Chertsey and Sunbury-on-Thames, that holds a surprising number of accounts of Lord Nelson, Emma and Sir William Hamilton living or owning property there.  


‍    The Lodge Hotel, claims “Sir William and Lady Hamilton lived at nearby Halliford House in the 18th Century”. 


‍    Halliford School, a selective boys independent school, confidently claims, “The building closest to its road is the oldest, a tall-storied Georgian House set in six acres beside the River Thames that was once home to Emma Hart (later Emma, Lady Hamilton) when she lived with Charles Francis Greville before she married and then became Lord Nelson's mistress.” 


‍    In 2019, multiple publications ran the story that one of the many gifts Nelson was awarded for his Nile victory was, in the words of Country Life, “an island in Shepperton… originally called Dog Ait, later renamed Pharaoh’s Island to commemorate the historic battle.”


Village Matters magazine debunked the Pharaoh Island story in 2013, explaining that the Egyptian name had come, not from Nelson, but from Sir Cyril Atkinson who built a house on the island in 1904, which he named The Sphinx because of his interest in Egyptology. Subsequent houses were also given Egyptian names, leading the island to be renamed Pharoah’s Island. As you may see in the 1897 map accompanying this article, the island was still named Dog Ait. However, despite the debunking of the Pharaoh’s Island story, it does, in fact, transpire that Nelson and the Hamiltons –or the Tria Juncta In Uno as they named themselves– had multiple connections to Shepperton and its surrounds. These unearthed stories involve three local residents: a great-grandson of the 5th Baron Brooke, a blind widow, and a black man who Nelson’s extended family supported for life.


The great-grandson of the 5th Baron Brooke was Charles Greville (but not the Charles Greville Emma lived with before marrying Sir William Hamilton). This Charles Greville, born in 1762, was a captain of various foot regiments, and, according to The History of Parliament’s website, a disinterested MP for Petersfield. Emma’s Charles Greville was his second cousin once removed. As many readers will know, Emma’s Greville was the son of Sir William Hamilton’s sister. An 1802 letter to her from Sir William suggests he visited Shepperton as much as her and Nelson’s paradise home at Merton, “I mean to have a light chariot or post chaise by the month, that I may make use of it in London and run backwards and forwards to Merton or to Shepperton, &c.”


Sir William Hamilton’s 1803 obituary in the London Gazette notes, “he will be a great loss to the fishermen at Hampton, Shepperton, &ct. His pay, while angling for gudgeons, was a guinea per day. Lord Nelson was a frequently an active spectator of his friend’s breaking the LINE!”


The Morning Post reported on 17th July 1801, “Lord Nelson and Sir William and Lady Hamilton have taken up their residence at Shepperton for a few days, as it is said, for the benefit of the air, and the amusement of angling.” Whereas, according to Tom Pocock in his 2020 Nelson biography, The Oracle was more satyrical, “The gallant Lord Nelson, the terror of the French, the Spaniards and the Danes, is now amusing himself with Sir William and Lady Hamilton by catching gudgeons at Shepperton.”


It transpires that Nelson had family of his own a mere two-and-a-half miles from Shepperton in the village of Laleham. His relation there was Susannah Ford, the common-law widow of his brother Maurice. Known to family as Sukie, Nelson affectionately nicknamed her ‘Blindy’ because of her failing sight. According to Sugden’s ‘Nelson: the Sword of Albion', Maurice and Sukie had lived together for more than twenty years, during which time “her health steadily deteriorated, especially after 1789, when regular medication became necessary, and she eventually lost her sight.” Biographer Tom Pocock, describes Maurice Nelson’s death in April 1801 as a sudden occurrence following a brain fever. The National Maritime Museum hold correspondence from Nelson’s father, Reverend Edmund, detailing his wish for Maurice to be buried at Burnham Thorpe; with concern expressed for the provision for “the widow”; and for “the black servant to attend” (we’ll come back to him). Sukie, apparently much distraught during Maurice’s Burnham Thorpe funeral, was named in his will as “Mrs Susannah Ford (alias Nelson) with whom I have lived in the habit of the utmost friendship for many years.” Although Sukie inherited everything, according to Sugden, Nelson still felt responsible towards her, wishing that everything should be done right for “the poor blind widow.” He sent her £100, promising to help her to remain at Laleham “and secure all her necessities from a horse to a tipple of whiskey”. 


Nelson visited Sukie at Laleham, with Emma, in the summer of 1801, and was so moved by its rural idyll, that he wrote to Emma later that year, “Would to God I was with you at Laleham. I shall never forget our happiness at that place.” It was soon after this that he set his heart on buying an English countryside home to share with Emma. As readers will know, the home he went on to buy was Merton Place, thirteen-miles to the east of Laleham and Shepperton; which Sir William wrote of using a chaise to “run backwards and forwards” between there and or “Shepperton, &c.”


Nelson’s uncle, William Suckling, bequeathed one thousand pounds annuities upon trust to his servant James Price. This man, according to Sugden, was the black man who had joined Maurice’s household after William Suckling’s death. Nelson had taken a special interest in Price, saying he would never want a home if he had anything to do with it. It seems James Price retired to Laleham with Sukie. She left everything to him in her will. She was buried in St Marylebone in 1811: the same church in which Emma’s mother, Mrs Cadogan, had been buried the year before. The parish burial book records her as “Susannah Ford alias Nelson”.


In conclusion, although the much-publicised Nelson Shepperton link to Pharoah’s Island has been debunked, the Tria Juncta In Uno did spend time in the Shepperton surrounds, staying both in the village itself, where Sir William enjoyed fishing gudgeons, and in nearby Laleham, where Nelson’s blind, widowed common-law sister-in-law ended her days in the company of the black, former servant James Price. 


Acknowledgements

With thanks to Shepperton resident, Carol Beastall for alerting me to the local stories; and to Emma Hamilton Society member, Richard Venn, for his invaluable aid in researching the bones of this article.