The Great North Road, the A1, bypasses the villages that used to punctuate it and so misses out on the inns where John Byng, Lord Torrington, regularly used to stay on his touring holidays during the 1780s and ’90s. I have driven along it from London to Newark and back again far too often and am grateful to him for helping me relieve the boredom by recalling his experiences at the Sun in Biggleswade, the George at Buckden (good cream there, and a political barber), the Wheatsheaf on Alconbury Hill, or the Haycock on the Nene at Wandsford. They are recorded in the travel journals of this retired Colonel of the Foot Guards – he was only the 5th Viscount Torrington for the last few weeks of his life after his elder brother died in 1812 without an heir.
The Byngs came to prominence as a naval family, the 1st Viscount wisely backing William of Orange in 1688, and his career culminating in his crushing defeat of the Spanish fleet at Cape Passaro in 1718. His third son, another admiral, was less fortunate, ending up before a firing squad on his own quarterdeck after a court martial for his failure against the French at Minorca in 1757. His nephew the diarist (b. 1742) was already being ‘train’d up to glory’, as a page of honour to George II, before becoming a cornet in the Royal Horse Guards in 1760, transferring to the Foot Guards in 1762. He married in 1767 and although this resulted in thirteen children it seems he was cuckolded by his friend William Windham of Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk. Another major misfortune was his involvement in his elder brother’s financial collapse in 1777, which led to them both having to flee to the Continent to escape their creditors. Byng left the army in 1780 for a post in the Stamp Office, part of the Inland Revenue located in the newly built Somerset House, where he worked until 1799.
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About the contributor
Roger Hudson reckons he must have driven about 185,000 miles in the last fifty years or so, going from London to Newark and back again on the Great North Road. His An Englishman’s Commonplace Book was published by Slightly Foxed last year.
For those who would like to read more about the diaries, Roger has supplied an appendix which can be found here: www.foxedquarterly.com/roger-hudson-torrington-diaries.
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