Lord Nelson, with Sir William and Lady Hamilton, stayed overnight at the Castle Hotel in Llandovery on 28th July, 1802, but why did this illustrious trio come to a modest coaching inn in a small market town in the Mid Wales?
To get to this point we have to go back a year to the signing of the Treaty of Amiens which brought about a pause in the war with revolutionary France. The First Sea Lord, Lord St.Vincent, took the opportunity to try to remove the corruption within the Navy Board and break the stranglehold that the timber merchants had over the price of timber required for the warships, but his intentions backfired and the timber cartel held out. The shortage of “compass and great” oak timber meant that the warships could not be built and repaired to bring them back into service in time for what many saw as the inevitable return to war with France. Lord Nelson could see that this stand off could not be allowed to continue.
Lord Nelson and Lord St. Vincent had respect for each other’s achievements, but latterly disagreements had brought about a law suit between them in the High Court. Nelson was probably the only person in a position to negotiate an agreement with the timber merchants, but the plans had to be carried out without drawing public attention to their real purpose.
His friend, Sir William Hamilton, had estates near Milford Haven, inherited from his first wife, and so it was decided that Lord Nelson should accompany Sir William and his second wife, Lady Emma, on a visit to the estates. They left the Hamilton’s home in Merton, west of London, on 14th July and travelled westward, through Monmouth, reaching Llandovery on 28th July. The early part of the journey was well documented in the press with enough innuendo to satisfy London Society.
1802 was a difficult year for Lord Nelson. Once known as “the fiercest and most brilliant sailor in the whole Navy”, he was now “yellow and shrunken”, but despite his failing health, he would be expected to command the fleet in the Mediterranean when war resumed. Now though he had to resolve the immediate problem of a lack of timber. Returning from Milford via Carmarthen where they spent a day on 14th August, they arrived back at Monmouth on the 15th. On 19th August, they were due to open the Naval Temple at Kymin Hill.
There were no appointments listed for the intervening days, but the party travelled to Chepstow where Lord Nelson met with one of the leaders of the cartel, John Bowsher. Suffice to say, the meeting had a successful outcome as timber trows and other vessels sailed from Chepstow on 22nd August for Plymouth and Portsmouth carrying “the best oak timber the Forest of Dean could supply”. (Gill Wright 2012)