THE First Lord Nelson was one of the greatest heroes of England. He was granted an estate and pension in perpetuity. His mornument in Trafalgar Square and HMS Victory are a constant draw for tourists.
The Eighth Lord Nelson lives in a terraced house outside Swansea. His age and poor health prevent him attending the Lords. The family pension was stopped by the 1945 Labour Government. Trafalgar House was sold up. Before their retirement, Lord and Lady Nelson kept a pub.
Put in these terms, it seems that fortune has dealt the family a monstrous blow. But the Nelsons made me most welcome and their home exuded security.
Lady Nelson told me that her husband was the most stable person she knew. His emphysema sometimes makes him angry, he admitted, when he is unable to dig the garden. He still attends the nearby convent of the Poor Sisters. Nazareth House, for Mass.
"The history of my family means a great deal to me," Lord Nelson said." We are descended from Nelson's sister really, and the name was changed from Bolton.
"The family was granted a £5,000 pension. The Labour Government stopped it with the Nelson Estates Act passed in 1947. They allowed it to continue until my father's death, which Since he was in his eighties was no great concession.
"I think it rather unjust and paltrey. When it was given, £5,000 was a very' large sum. When it was taken away. it was chickenfeed as far as the country was concerned. There was no compensation as with other pensions. Sir Winston Churchill called it theft, but nothing was done to restore it when the Conservatives got in."
Lord Nelson has moved from place to place in his 75 years. His third home was in Swanage and he went to Boscombe Convent school, then to Wimbledon College and the Cardinal Vaughan School, and Ampleforth. His schooldays were happy. His disappointment was not to be allowed to pass into the Navy, "I would have put up with being an unpopular cadet."
Above the fireplace hangs a, plaque presented by the captain of the victory when the Nelsons visited Portsmouth. The naval connection has also put Lord Nelson among the vice-presidents of the Apostleship of the Sea. And when British Railways began to name their locomotives again. Lord Nelson was among the first to unveil a nameplate bearing his own title.
He is also the bearer of one of the most extraordinary coats of arms in the College of Heralds' rolls. It features three handgrenades, proper. a disabled ship and a battery in ruins, a palm tree, and among the crests the diamond plume presented to Nelson by the Sultan Selim III, The bearers are a sailor and a lion gripping the broken flag staffs of Spain and France in his jaws and a palm branch in his paw. Put together, it is a sort of illustrated guide to Nelson's victories.
He never expected to succeed to the earldom (his three elder brothers died). He settled down to life as an accountant, which included some years spent in Greece after his marriage, appraising plans for American aid after the War.
Buck in England again they went into the licensing trade, first with a pub in Southgate, London, then at the Hanbury, Swansea, Lady Nelson's home town. "It was great fun while it lasted," they both agree.
Lord Nelson hopes that his heir, a nephew, will take up his seat in the Lords, For himself, he feels that the Lords fulfil a valuable role in checking Government powers and that a Catholic lord has some extra duties. In the face of un-Christian legislation," even if it has no effect he can at least bring it to people's notice. He can at least represent it as against the desires of a considerable body of the Queen's subjects."
Right: the present Lord Nelson.