What is The Trafalgar Way?
The Trafalgar Way is the name given to the route between Falmouth and the Admiralty in Whitehall, central London, taken by Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere to deliver Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood's Dispatch about victory at Trafalgar and Nelson's death. Lapenotiere travels the route by post-chaise (commonly pronounced 'post-chase'), a type of horse-drawn carriage used for transporting both passengers and mail in the 18th and 19th centuries. Post-chaises were particularly famous for their distinctive bright yellow livery. Read more about post-chaise travel
How long did the journey take?
Lapenotiere sails from the scene of the battle, off the southern coast of Spain, in his schooner, HMS Pickle
. The journey from Cape Trafalgar to Falmouth takes nine days, a remarkable achievement considering the unfavourable weather he encounters during the voyage. Lapenotiere leaves the Bay of Cadiz at around midday on 26th October 1805, setting foot ashore in Falmouth around 11am on the morning of 4th November. He departs in a post-chaise at around midday, arriving at The Admiralty at 1am on the morning of 6th November 1805 - a total of 37 to 38 hours. During the journey, he changes horses 21 times, stopping once every 10-15 miles, and probably changes coaches several times too. Read more about his journey
How do you know all this?
Historians and enthusiasts have found documents which provide evidence of the timings, the route taken by Lapenotiere and the cost of the journey. For timings we have the evidence of the ship's log, the local Falmouth newspaper from the time, harbour master's logs, letters providing eye witness testimony, and the personal documents and memoirs of staff at The Admiralty. For the cost we have Lapenotiere's own hand-written expense account from the naval archives. This also tells us key elements of the route. We can determine the fine detail of the route using old maps and travellers' road books such as Patterson's Roads.
Why didn't Lapenotiere sail up the channel to Plymouth or Portsmouth?
There continues to be speculation about Lapenotiere's decision to land at Falmouth. The most likely reason was that the weather conditions were against him, and he judged it expeditious to make landfall quickly so that he could make certain of progress. Navigating up the Channel is always tricky under sail. In the wrong conditions it could take days to cover a few miles, which is one reason that Falmouth became famous as a 'packet' port, a place where mail was dispatched to overseas destinations and arrived from them. Hence, the overland mail route from Falmouth was already relatively well-trodden. Lapenotiere would have known that a network of mail-coaches and express personal transport existed. Indeed he had almost certainly made this journey himself on previous occasions, probably in both directions.
There are other reasons Lapenotiere might have chosen to land at Falmouth. He certainly didn't want any delay in his mission, which could have been brought about by quarantine, customs or naval bureaucracy. He would have been wary of being questioned too long or heavily about the message contained in his dispatch, and of the risk of his honour for delivering the message and claim to the reward being snatched from him by someone higher up the chain of command.
Lapenotiere had an old friend and neighbour in Falmouth, the Harbour Master Captain John Bowen. Lapenotiere knew he could count on the good auspices of his contact to get him through any delay and possibly to lend him the money he would need for the onward journey.
Was he also aware that Captain Sykes was hot on his heels? We cannot know what was in his mind, but we can make some good guesses about it! And it's fun to imagine.
Why was Lapenotiere chosen to bring home the Dispatch?
According to custom, an admiral usually chose a favourite officer to carry home his dispatches, knowing that the bearer would be handsomely rewarded and probably promoted in recognition of their safe delivery. Not surprisingly, it is quite an honour to be chosen, especially for a junior officer like Lapenotiere, but Vice Admiral Collingwood is limited in his choice of messenger. This is because a great storm after the Battle of Trafalgar stops anyone from going anywhere. With his own ship damaged, Collingwood takes over HMS Euryalus, the ship commanded by Captain Henry Blackwood, who was Nelson's rumoured favourite for the duty. Blackwood and the other commanders are otherwise engaged, looking after the ships, the prisoners and prizes, as well as their own men. In his Dispatch of 24th October 1805, Collingwood says that the messages would be delivered by Lapenotiere, "having no speedier, or safer Conveyance with me at present." There is a legend that Collingwood's favour to Lapenotiere was made in return for an action previously taken by Lapenotiere to save a ship upon which Collingwood was a fellow passenger. However, we cannot find any evidence for this. Instead, it is likely that Collingwood knew well that Lapenotiere and his schooner Pickle could be trusted for their speed and dependability to fulfil this very important job.
Is it 'dispatches' or 'despatches'?
In fact they are interchangeable. See this detailed explanation regarding the origin and usage of the two forms. In Britain, 'despatches' was the most commonly used spelling in the 18th and 19th centuries after Dr Johnson listed it this way in his volume 'A Dictionary of the English Language', and while 'dispatches' preceded it and has overtaken it in modern times, the 'des-' spelling is still used occasionally. On this website we utilise the modern spelling, both generally and when referring specifically to the missive that Collingwood entrusted to Lapenotiere: eg 'Collingwood's first dispatch'. We may make an exception when quoting literally; for example, William Marsden, First Secretary to the Board of the Admiralty in 1805 wrote in his memoirs, "Admiral Collingwood's important despatches were delivered to me about 1 o'clock a.m. of the 6th of November...etc."
Who invented The Trafalgar Way?
The route itself was a common coaching road between Falmouth and London with regular stops at intervals of between 10-15 miles. Communities and villages would have grown up around this transport system, with inns and hostelries and post offices established to service the needs of travellers who used it. An organisation named The New Trafalgar Dispatch, which included members of The 1805 Club, named this route The Trafalgar Way as part of the activities to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005.
Where is Trafalgar anyway?
Trafalgar is a cape off the coast of Cadiz in south-west Spain, close to the Straits of Gibraltar. The word 'Trafalgar' comes from an Arabic name, Taraf al-Ghar or from Taraf al-Gharb which translate respectively as 'Cape of the Cave (or laurel)' or Cape of the West'. We've written a blog post
with pictures to show what it looks like today.
Lapenotiere? Isn't that a French name?
Indeed - Lapenotiere's great-grandfather was a Frenchman, who fled to England due to the French Crown's oppression of the Protestant Huguenots. Every successive member of his family up to John Richards himself served in England's naval or military forces. For the record, Lapenotiere was born in Ilfracombe, north Devon. We're not sure if the name would originally have been 'de la Penotière', 'Lapénotière' or some other variant, however we know from his own documents and signature that Lapenotiere chose the plain, English spelling. He must have been very fed up of his name being misspelled and mispronounced. We've found it spelled several different ways
in historic documents! Read more about Lapenotiere's life.
Can I walk the Trafalgar Way?
Unfortunately, it's far too dangerous to walk certain parts of the route as much of it lies along busy A-roads. However, the route is popular with cyclists, motorcyclists and drivers, and there are many resources online that detail routes to explore on your bike. We would however love to hear from anyone who would like to help with a community campaign to map a safe walking route that follows The Trafalgar Way as closely as possible along public rights of way and permissive paths. Please get in touch with us if you can help with this.
Where are the plaques?
There are 39 plaques, 21 of which are in the cities, towns and villages where Lapenotiere stopped to change horses at coaching inns. There are another 18 plaques in places through which he travelled on his journey. Here are all the places where you can find one of these plaques with the places in which he changed horses listed in bold. All the information about where to find them is on our Plaque Locations page.
Are you going to put up any more plaques?
Yes. The 39th plaque, in Perranwell (Cornwall), was unveiled
on Saturday 17th November 2018. We already have suggestions for two more further along the Way, and we welcome discussions with any communities who feel they would like to celebrate their place on this historic route. Read more about hosting new plaques
What happened to Lapenotiere after he delivered the dispatch?
Lapenotiere stays in London after delivering the historic news to The Admiralty. He visits an artist, Robert Dodd, to whom he gives a visual account of the Battle of Trafalgar (as it was proclaimed by George III on 10th November). For his heroic efforts, Lapenotiere receives a gratuity of £500 (about five years' salary) and is promoted to Commander. He also takes a share of the Battle's prize money, receiving a further reward for his participation, all of which amounts to another £226 and 11 shillings. Finally, as one of the commanding officers at the Battle, he is awarded a 100 guinea silver sword. This has been in the National Maritime Museum collection in Greenwich since 1932. There is a legend that King George III, who was at Windsor when news arrived from the Admiralty on that same morning, presented Lapenotiere with a silver sugar sifter, or 'muffineer'. In 1807, Lapenotiere takes command of HMS Orestes, a 16-gun brig-sloop. During the bombardment of Copenhagen, he is badly burnt when a gun explodes. He recovers and later distinguishes himself with the capture of three vessels during his next five years of Royal Naval service. Promoted to Post Captain, Lapenotiere's service at sea comes to an end. He retires to Menheniot, Cornwall, where he quietly involves himself with parish matters until his death in 1834. In 2005, The 1805 Club receives funding that is used for the preservation of his tomb in Menheniot churchyard.
How can I get involved with The Trafalgar Way?
We will be running events all along the route, so do sign up to our mailing list to receive your regular dispatches, "like" our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you if you have connections to this amazing story, if you have your own ideas for fundraising, or would like to spread the word through your own storytelling or other events.