Tragic Shropshire soldier's letters found in skip are returning 'home'

Letters and papers relating to a soldier who died after being wounded in battle more than 200 years ago will soon be returned to his family after being discovered in a skip.

Rory Constant says this miniature of Lieutenant John Meyricke was perhaps painted when he was commissioned in the Shropshire Militia aged 12.
Rory Constant says this miniature of Lieutenant John Meyricke was perhaps painted when he was commissioned in the Shropshire Militia aged 12.

Lieutenant John Meyricke, of Ludlow, fought at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. He was 23 when he died and his name is included on the Meyricke family memorial in Ludlow Parish Church.

Documents, reportedly found among unrelated bric-a-brac including a stuffed seagull, include a poignant letter written home on the eve of his departure for the campaign, and the letter sent to his family in Shropshire telling them of the circumstances of his death.

They were passed on to historian Nicola White and recently featured on her YouTube channel, which resulted in the family coming forward.

Nicola said: “They were found in 2005 in Bognor Regis outside a house in a skip and it’s my understanding that they were thrown out along with a lot of other unrelated objects by builders who were doing up the house.

“The owner of the house, an old lady who lived on her own and who was probably a collector, died and had no relatives.

Meyricke was severely wounded at the The Battle of New Orleans

“I’ve a YouTube channel about mudlarking the Thames and I research the history behind my finds. So occasionally when viewers have something they’ve found, in this case these letters, they contact me to ask me if I would like them.

“Since the article has come out I have been contacted by the family of the soldier which is great and so the letters will be returned to them as soon as travel allows. I waited to tell people about them for a few weeks after I got them as I wanted to wait until it was the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans in January.”

Rory Constant, great-great-great nephew of Lieutenant Meyricke, said: “We are delighted that the papers and letters are going to be returned to us. It has been an incredible stroke of luck.

“They form a small but very interesting part of a collection of family papers we have stretching back 800 years.”

Meyricke is remembered as part of a family memorial at Ludlow Parish Church.

Rory, who grew up in Yorkshire and whose grandfather was the last Meyricke to own Dinham Lodge in Ludlow until it was compulsorily purchased in about 1950, added: “It appears they were removed from a trunk of papers during a family move some time ago, when other items also went missing.

“We had not realised they were missing these last few years because, as they are difficult to read and fragile, we always refer to typed transcripts I hold.

“I expect a collector bought the letters at a car boot sale or something similar and they were thrown out when she died.

“We have about 20 of his letters in total, many of which were written while fighting the French in the Peninsular Wars in Spain and here in south west France where I now live.

“His father was a Captain John Meyricke of the Shropshire Militia, the recipient of many of the letters. Captain John Meyricke inherited Dinham Lodge, Ludlow, from his uncle Edward Meyricke who had built it in 1782.

This letter written to family back home in Ludlow detailed the circumstances of the young Shropshire soldier's death.

“This inheritance would have been after the death of his son in 1815 but Lieutenant John Chabbert Meyricke would have known the house well and indeed would have lived in one of the dozen or so houses in Dinham owned by the various Meyricke relations. One of their ancestors, Thomas Meyricke, was the High Bailiff of Ludlow at the beginning of the 18th century.

“Lt John’s brother, ordained some years after his death, was the Rev Robert Meyricke , the Reader at the church of St Laurence in Ludlow for nearly 50 years in the 19th century. There are various marble and brass plaques in the church to members of the family.

“Robert lost four of his five Meyricke grandsons in the Boer War and World War One, leaving my grandfather the Rev Arthur Llewellyn Meyricke who was a vicar in Yorkshire who had hoped to retire to Dinham Lodge, which he owned, up to and after World War Two.

“He maintained it well but it was compulsorily purchased by the council under new post-war legislation because it was unoccupied at that time. The family thought this most unfair as he could not live in two places at once and it was the only house he owned!

Historian Nicola White with one of the documents.

“It was later sold back into private hands. I was recently in touch with the current owner of the house to provide him with copies of the beautifully written account books for the building of the house which we still have.

“I was recently contacted by the Soldiers of Shropshire Museum and have provided them with copies of the whole collection of letters and copies of papers on the Shropshire Militia and on all the other Meyricke soldiers down the generations.”

Lieutenant Meyricke had become an Ensign (Second Lieutenant) in the Shropshire Militia in 1804 aged only 12, and joined the 43rd Regiment aged 17. The regiment fought in a number of engagements during the Peninsular War.

His story was among those written and researched by historian Paul Ridgley for his book ‘Shropshire Soldiers of the Peninsular War and Waterloo’.

A letter written to John's brother Robert Meyricke in Ludlow.

Paul, who is from Baschurch and a member of the Waterloo Association, has hailed the importance of the find.

“Letters from British army officers which have survived for over 200 years are very rare,” he said. “They are first hand accounts of life at that time.

“This young Shropshire-born officer had survived the rigours and dangers of the Peninsular War, despite fighting in many major actions and also being wounded at the battle of Nivelle in November 1813, only to have his life taken at New Orleans.

“I am so pleased that these letters have been found and I am sure that they will reveal information, both social and military, that is not at present available in the public domain.”

Some of the items found dumped in a skip in Bognor Regis.

In one letter, sent on the eve of his departure for America in October, 1814, Meyricke described how he received his urgent embarkation orders while preparing for a dance. He urged his family to forward him letters from his sweetheart.

A letter to his family details the circumstances of his death in the wake of the Battle of New Orleans which had been a devastating defeat for the British at the hands of a much smaller American force.

It read: “Dauphin Island, Gulf of Mexico, February 18, 1815.

“Sir, it is with the deepest regret I have to communicate to you the melancholy information of the death of your nephew, Lieutenant Meyricke, late of the 43rd Regiment and of my Company who died on board the frigate Gorgon on the 17th of last month, most sincerely lamented by his brother officers and all who knew him.

Dinham Lodge, which Meyricke would have known well.

“It will be of some consolation to you to know that his remains were taken onshore that day after his demise and decently interred in Cat Island attended by his servants and some people off the ship.

“With respect to your nephew’s effects they have all been sold with the exception of a sash, sword and watch which I shall endeavour to take care of while I have an opportunity of sending them to you or to his father.

“I understand Mr Meyricke left a large box in charge of Mr Lowcroft a friend of his at Plymouth containing a writing desk, pair of pistols, some shirts, and sheets. What few papers he had have been carefully examined and destroyed except a letter addressed to you which I have forwarded by this mail. And I am with esteem truly yours, John Champ.”

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News