The Aristocrat Who Painted the Town Red, 1837

The legend of a Marquis’ drunken antics resulted in an epic night in town… painting it red despite the townsfolk’s spluttering rage. Read about the chaos this posh wild child caused.

One day in spring 1837 at the Thorpe End tollgate in the fine old English market town of Melton Mowbray, with its half-timbered Tudor townhouses and bustling square, a tollgate keeper lay a wary eye on an approaching party of men.

The scene was at odds with itself. Their veneer of clean, tailored clothing, fine riding boots, well-groomed moustaches and strong jawlines made the tollkeeper conscious for a moment of his own grubby stubble. Yet, from their cultured tones, boozy banter spewed. Laughter and shouts echoed down the narrow carriageway and the band of staggering, swaggering men jostled after it.

The tollkeeper hailed hopefully to a young man he took to be the ringleader but the big droopy eyes which met his twinkled with mischief and he wore an ominous, leery grin. To the side were some ladders, brushes and pots of red paint to effect repairs. The leader turned his gaze to them and, before the tollkeeper could step in between, the party leapt and scooped up the paint and brushes.

They set upon the tollkeeper who, dismayed, shrieked calls to wrest them away, but to their whoops and cackles they doused the poor man in red paint. A sputtering, red-faced constable rushed over… and he was turned even more red-faced!

Like a crazed troop of monkeys the men now rampaged into the town, smashing, kicking and pulling down pieces of property. They sploshed doors, a carved swan and anyone who tried to halt them in red paint while indignant townsfolk looked on, mouths agape. They vandalised the Post Office and the Leicestershire Banking Company and tried to overturn a caravan in which a man was fast asleep.

The time the Marquess of Waterford and his cronies went crazy in Melton Mowbray gave rise to a common idiom (leicesterchronical.co.uk)

Help was called in and, finally, to the clacking thrum of nail soled boots on street cobbles, constables clamoured into the street and set upon them. Clubs cracked and thumped and swang through the air and the scoundrels were finally subdued. Now for the biggest shock; as onlookers gawped, the party’s leader was identified to be a nobleman no less – Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford.

The noble was sent to sober up in the local gaol but that wasn’t even the end of it.

Marquess Henry’s cronies came to his rescue, beating up two guards and holding a sharp blade to a guard’s throat for the cell key.

So the Marquess escaped …but scot-free?

Aristocrats stand as exemplars of grace, class and decorum. The Marquisate of Waterford is no exception; rows and rows of windows festoon the grand, Georgian facade of Curraghmore House – the family estate – and their noble lineage goes back to the 17th Century. At some point, an impish streak seeped into the bloodline when Henry entered the world; the trouble in Melton Mowbray is not the only time he brought his peerage into disrepute.

Once Marquess Henry sobered up he hastened to shell out for the damages but the townsfolk wouldn’t be placated so easily. Eventually Henry and his party were fined a considerable £100 each and ordered to contribute an idiom to the English language.

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