Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Johanna Vardon presenting the John Vardon scroll of Nelson's State Funeral Procession to the Company in the Drawing Room.  Herbert Draper's increasingly well known painting,  Gates of Dawn, painted to symbolise the beginning of the twentieth century in the background.
Following the Court of Wardens, and the admission of Edward Chalk - see previous post, there was a short ceremony to thank Freeman Johanna Vardon MBE for her generous and interesting gift to the Company of a scroll painted by her forebear John Vardon (1796-1869) depicting Admiral Nelson's state funeral. 

Sir William Beechey's portrait of Nelson in the Court Room. This is one of a number that Beechey painted of Nelson at the time.  It is particularly interesting as it shows Nelson in an admiral's uniform late in his career.  The Court paid Beechey 200 guineas for the portrait in 1805.
Nelson is one of the very few individuals who have been made members of the Company honoris causa. This was after the Battle of the Nile 1798 and there is a letter in the archives accepting the offer of freedom.  He describes it as a great honour and promises that he will make it, 'The study of my life to preserve their (the Drapers' Company) good opinion.'
Not a particularly good picture but one that gives a reasonable impression of the work.  Nelson's funeral carriage drawn by six black horses is the large black square on the bottom row on the left.  Also it shows, as was indeed the case, very few sailors in the procession.  For some reason the Army provided most of the escorts. 
Assuming the scroll was painted shortly after Nelson's funeral in 1806 John would have been 9 or 10.  It is a charming procession of carriages, military figures and other participants.  It was probably not painted from life but inspired or copied from one of the many depictions of the funeral procession that appeared at the time.  But our records show that John lived in Gracechurch Street, London at the time so he might have observed the procession that made its way from the Admiralty in Whitehall to St Paul's Cathedral on 9 January 1806.

The Vardons are a family long associated with the Company. It was John Vardon's father, another John, who began the association with the Company in the late eighteenth century.  Johanna noted the two Vardon Court Assistants whose shields are displayed in the decoration of the Court Dining Room when it was remodelled in 1869.  Past Master Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Liveryman Philip Beddows, both Johanna's nephews, also attended.  At present there are twelve members of the Company with Vardon links.

Johanna is well known in the equestrian world for having founded the National Foaling Bank.  Since she started in 1965 her drive and enthusiasm has united thousands of orphan foals with foster mares who have lost their own foal.  Additionally every year hundreds of owners also call the Bank for help and advice on difficult foaling cases, twenty-four hour nursing, and information about colestrum, milk replacements, and special dietary requirements.  For more details go to www.nationalfoalingbank.com/

On handing over the scroll Johanna recalled that it had been stuffed into a tin in the kitchen for many years and it was a matter of good fortune that it had survived with only minimal damage.

One final anecdote is that amongst other Nelson memorabilia owned by the Vardons was a lump of fossilised soup that had originally been served on HMS Victory on the day of the battle of Trafalgar.  Johanna said she had surreptitiously tasted a flake of it when a child and said that it was still remarkably chewy but rather salty. 

Eventually in 1947 the Vardon family decided to break up the lump with the major chunk being presented to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip as a wedding gift.  Some years later an enquiry to the Palace about the fate of the soup was, perhaps surprisingly, met with a response from the Private Secretary to the Duke of Edinburgh that it could not be found.

Afternote: For further comment on Paul Vardon's painting abilities, the fossilised soup and the almost certain inspiration and purpose of the scroll see a further post of 27 February.

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