Philip Thicknesse, the notorious Lieutenant-Governor of Landguard Fort

There has been an artillery fort guarding Harwich port for over 400 years. Now giving a close-up view of Felixstowe container port it also gives us a fascinating window into history.  Among all the features which intrigued me while visiting the fort, was the name Philip Thicknesse and his colourful life.  A handsome man, witty in conversation he could also be rude and insulting.

Philip attracted loyalty and derision.  Born a vicar’s son, he became apprentice to an apothecary, but in 1735, at the age of 16, he decided to accompany John and Charles Wesley on a journey to America.  After two years living as a hermit in a log cabin, he returned home and then travelled to Jamaica where he was made captain of a militia hunting down escaped slaves. On returning to England he became captain-lieutenant in a marine foot regiment, based in Southampton.  Needing money, he sought out a rich wife.  His chosen victim was Maria Lanove, who agreed to elope with him despite her parents’ objections.  Her money provided them with an entertaining life in Bath until Maria and 2 of her children died of diphtheria. Needing to care for his remaining daughter, Anna, and to support his need for gambling and taking laudanum, Thicknesse spent considerable time trying to claim Maria’s considerable inheritance

Proving to be a very bad-tempered, unpleasant man, Philip had few friends, especially among fellow officers but women found him attractive and his men were loyal to an officer who treated them fairly. Only a few months after Maria’s death, he married Lady Elizabeth Tuchet. Lady Elizabeth brought a dowry of £5000 which Thicknesse used to purchase the lieutenant-governorship of Landguard Fort. He remained at Landguard Fort from 1753-66 and won the absolute loyalty of his men by opposing the use of corporal punishment which he regarded as barbaric. However, he had little respect for his superiors.  He enjoyed quarrelling with local dignitaries and officers. His bĂȘte-noir was Colonel Francis Vernon of the Suffolk militia after Vernon had reprimanded him. Thicknesse tried to scupper Vernon’s election chances by publishing scandalous broadsheets. Finally, Vernon took Philip to court for slander and in 1763 Thicknesse was fined £100 and sent to prison for 3 months.

Ann Ford Thicknesse

A year prior to this, Elizabeth had died, but once again Philip had made a swift marriage, this time to Elizabeth’s companion, Ann Ford, a skilled musician and singer, who spoke 5 languages.  Thomas Gainsborough, a good friend of Thicknesse, painted Ann with her viola da gamba sitting on her lap. Ann and Philip were married for thirty years and had six children.

After leaving prison, Philip’s behaviour as Lieutenant-Governor of the fort was so unreasonable that he was judged unfit for command and resigned his post. Returning to Bath in 1766, the family soon travelled to Europe where Philip wrote several travel books including, “Observations on the Customs and Manners of the French Nation.”  In a guide to Bath he recommended, “drinking to excess,” and “the frequent inhalation of the breath of young women.”

In 1792 Philip Thicknesse died on one of his European journeys in a coach near Boulogne and was buried there. As the French Revolution had recently commenced his wife Ann was imprisoned in a Convent for several years, narrowly escaping the guillotine

The 10th celebration of La Semaine du Golfe de Morbihan #France #Travel

Ten years ago I travelled for the first time to a part of the world I had always wanted to see, the Gulf of Morbihan in southern Brittany.  The complex maritime geography combined with a fascinating history of battles between England and France make it a favourite subject for artists and storytellers as well as sailors.

Every two years since 1999 there has been a celebration of classic boats during the last week of May.  This year I was lucky enough to spend a week at La Semaine du Golfe for the second time.

There are parades and celebrations in several towns and villages in the gulf but the focus is at the medieval city of Vannes where a mile and a half long canal runs from the sea to the port outside the city gate.  In this picturesque setting 21st century electric buses pass by timber framed houses and boats from many countries and eras.

There were 8 fleets (Yoles de mer for sailing or rowing - small pleasure - classic yachting - yachting 60-70 years - work boats - small classics regatta - small classics leisure - power boating) crisscrossing the gulf from port to port, as well as a 40 sailboats from Port Blanc and Larmor-Baden.

This year there were gondolas from Venice and within the week Norwegians built a long boat.

There was plenty of food, stripy T Shirts to buy and bagpipers and bands to entertain you.

And finally the week drew to an end and the boats returned to their home ports.