General Sir Thomas Picton

General Sir Thomas Picton, whose monument stands in such a commanding position at the highest point of the road to Johnstown, is one of Carmarthen's most famous personalities.

Thomas Picton was born in 1758 at Poyston in Pembrokeshire and lived at Iscoed, Ferryside, for a number of years. He became one of Wellington's most able generals, serving with distinction throughout the Peninsular Campaign. When peace was declared in 1814, he retired from the army, but was recalled and joined Wellington for the final campaign against Napoleon which ended with the battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Picton played a decisive part in this battle (he is mentioned in Victor Hugo's account of Waterloo in 'Les Miserables') but was mortally wounded in leading his final charge.

Although General Picton was buried in the family vault St. George's Hanover Square, a proposal was made that a monument should be erected to him in Carmarthen. A notice was placed in the Carmarthen Journal on August 15th 1815, convening a meeting at the Ivy Bush Royal Hotel, under the chairmanship of the Lord Lieutenant Lord Dynevor, and subscriptions towards the cost of the monument were invited.

The campaign to raise money for the monument went on for a number of years and the Carmarthen Journal for May 28th 1824 carried a list of subscribers. On October 15th the Journal reported that the plan of the Picton Monument is 'the production of Mr. Nash, the King's Architect'. John Nash had earlier been connected with Carmarthen when in 1785 he came to build a new roof for St. Peter's Church, and he later built the County Gaol on Castle Hill. By 1824, of course, he was the architect famous for the design of Regent Street and many terraces around Regents Park.

On November 12th the Carmarthen Journal reported that the site of the Monument had been fixed at the top of the hill called 'Penllwyn-y-witch . . . with two new lines diverging crescent fashion'.

The design for the Picton monument was extremely elaborate. It was 75 feet high with an internal staircase leading to a viewing platform, with small cannon at the four corners. Above this rose a pillar surmounted by a larger-than-life-size statue of Picton. At the base, there were friezes representing Picton's military exploits and his death at Waterloo, with detailed inscription in English and Welsh. The monument was built by Daniel Mainwaring, a highly respected Carmarthen stone and marble mason, and the friezes were sculpted by Edward Hodges Baily, a young London sculptor. (Carmarthen Museum has issued a postcard showing this monument, which gives a good idea of its elaborate features).

 The foundation stone was laid on August 16th 1825, but work proceeded slowly. On June 9th 1826, the Carmarthen Journal reported that the column had not quite reached 60 feet, but should be ready to receive the statue by the end of the month. Presumably in order to encourage those who had pledged subscriptions but had not yet paid, the Journal stated that their names would be published in the London and provincial papers!

On September 1st of that year the Journal reported that the statue and ornaments intended for the monument had been shipped and were 'now on their way to Carmarthen'. The monument had attained its maximum height and the scaffolding had been removed. The Journal concluded its report with a rhetorical flourish that was sadly belied by future events: 'With respect to its durability, we verily believe it will be co-existent with time itself'.

It was another two years before the monument was finally completed. On April 11th 1828 the Journal recorded that the railings round the foot of the monument had been put up and that the monument would be open for public inspection on June 18th, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, where Picton 'closed a brave and brilliant career'.

The monument was dedicated on July 29th, and the Journal described the colourful civic procession that started out from the Town Hall and paraded through the town to the monument. It included the Town Crier, the Chief Constable and the 12 constables, 60 Waterloo veterans, a Military Band of Music, the Carmarthen Militia, the Corporation of Carmarthen and a large number of subscribers. At the conclusion of the ceremony at the monument there was 'loud and long and continued cheering', and the Carmarthen Militia fired three volleys, which was answered by a salute of 19 guns from the shipping in the river.

Unfortunately, in spite of all this corporate euphoria, within a few years the monument had fallen into a dilapidated state. The bas-reliefs which had been sculpted by Edward Hodges Baily were 'unable to withstand Carmarthen's inclement weather', as Joyce and Victor Lodwick put it (see 'The Story of Carmarthen' p.391). Although the sculptor made replacements, they were never put up, and the entire monument was taken down in 1846. The replacement sculptures lay neglected and forgotten in Johnstown until the 1970's, when they were rescued and transferred to the Museum.

The monument we now see was designed by the architect Frances Fowler and the foundation stone was laid in 1847. This monument, too, has had its troubles. In 1984, the top section was declared to be unsafe and was taken down, and in 1988 the whole monument was rebuilt stone by stone on new stronger foundations.

The monument still stands on its commanding position at the top of Picton Terrace, but the road itself, no doubt fortunately for the monument, is no longer the main road out of Carmarthen to the west - the traffic now sweeps along the bypass without a thought to that gallant general, Sir Thomas Picton.

Barbara Lewis Webb

Reproduced from THE FRIEND April 1998

Barbara Lewis Webb

has contributed a wide variety of articles to The Friend. She has a deep knowledge of Carmarthen and its people. Her maternal grandfather was vicar of Llanllwch for half a century while her father was one of the ten sons of B A Lewis, the artist and manager of the town gas works. (Another son was Morland Lewis, an internationally known artist).

Other articles by Barbara Lewis Webb: A Country Parson  and  Sir Thomas Picton