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History & CommunityOh! The Grand Old Duke of York

Oh! The Grand Old Duke of York

One day some years ago when our son was at primary school he came home one day brimming with excitement. Later we all sat down to listen and he recited:

 

“Oh! The Gwand Old Duke of York

He had ten thousand men, He marched them up to the top of the hill

 And he marched them down again. Now when they were up, they were up

And when they were down, they were down

And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down”.

 

He was word perfect, apart from the substitution of “w” for “r”, and we all applauded. His face was jubilant, displaying a toothy grin. The recitation was repeated at each meal time for several weeks, until something else caught his fancy.

I had forgotten about this until last year when I received a kind present of Jurassic Coastline and Dorset Verse written by John Snook, with a different look at the verse, as follows :

 

“Most Dorset boys at sometime will have heard

Of Weymouth visits made by George the Third

When he was King of England – and moreover – Elector Imperial of Hanover.

But when the German state incurred defeat – At Napoleon’s hands, soldiers in retreat,

As Hanovarian subjects under fire – Escaped to join their king in Dorsetshire.

There hussars, dragoons and a German band – Recruited to the Duke of York’s command

 Marched up the Bincombe Hill and down again – As chorused in a jingled rhyme refrain,

Detailing how ten thousand men and more

Were drilled and trained to guard the Dorset shore.       

When King George fell ill as a mad buffoon – The jingle-rhyme was written to lampoon,

His Duke of York son – calling men to arms, – When confused by false invasion alarms,

He feared could bode ill for the British Crown –

Where Bincombe Hill declines from Bincombe Down

Through Littlemoor and Lodmoor to a strand –

Where Weymouth thought the French would land! –

The many French invasion rumours led –

To Grenadier Guards dressed in scarlet red,

Escorting German Hussar Cavalry – To Bincome Down where Dorset Yeomanry –

Eclipsed the Germans on occasions when –

Duke Frederick’s army topped ten thousand men:

And he moreover, in his father’s reign – Marched his men up the hill – and down again”.

 

 

Is this rhyme true or did author John Snook have his tongue firmly in his cheek?

Thomas Hardy in The Trumpet Major describes how “King Jarge” drove up to Bincombe Down to review his troops, which were 10,000 strong. He was escorted by his German Legion and the Dukes of Cambridge and Cumberland, but not the Duke of York. King George III stayed at Gloucester Lodge, Melcombe and was always accompanied by a contingent of his German Legion since he and the surrounding people expected a French invasion. He is depicted on the downs above Weymouth on horseback, cut into the chalk by his soldiers in 1808.

The Duke of York was the second child of King George III and Queen Charlotte, born in 1763. He was made Field Marshal in 1795 and Commander in Chief of the Army in 1798. His portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and his statue stands in London, just off Trafalgar Square. He was a good organiser and reformed the British Army, founding Sandhurst College. However, leading the British Army against the French in 1794 at Tourcoing in Flanders he suffered a surprising defeat which it has been said led to the rhyme of The Grand Old Duke of York.

An article in The Independent by Andy McSmith in 2009 says that The Duke could not stand his wife and took a Mary Clarke as his mistress in 1803, setting her up in a luxurious house in London. When he tired of her he promised her an annuity for life of £400 per annum, but unfortunately it is said that because of his drinking and gambling he could not maintain the payments. She met Col. Gwyllym Wardle, MP for Okehampton and told him she had sold commissions to would be officers, which the Duke would endorse. Wardle raised this in the Commons in 1809, accusing the King’s son of corruption, to which Mary Clarke testified. It was also suggested that the Duke of Kent was in a conspiracy against his brother the Duke of York. The Duke of York resigned his post as Commander in Chief of the Army, but was reinstated two years later. This scandal provided further reason for the ridicule and popularity of the well-known rhyme, probably not known to Primary School teachers.

Bridport History Society meets on Tuesday 13th February at 2.30 pm in the United Church, Main Hall, East Street, Bridport. All welcome, visitors fee £3. Lucy Goodison will talk about “Sacred Trees: from the South West to Prehistory”.

Cecil Amor, Hon. President, Bridport History Society.

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