Emma planned a paradise home for Nelson at Merton, but the dream was sadly short-lived. Stephen Benton, walking tour guide, tells us more and uncovers Merton's fascinating hidden history.

Paradise lost

In her last letter to Nelson, Emma Hamilton wrote:

“May God send you victory and home to your Emma, Horatia and Paradise Merton – for when you are there it will be paradise.”

Sadly the letter arrived after his death and the paradise that was Merton Place was soon gone. Within a couple of years Emma could no longer afford to live in the house in Merton. Eventually it was demolished and the grounds developed for housing. The Nelson and Hamilton connection lives on only in names of streets, pubs, a garden and a hospital.

Nelson's Japanese pattern breakfast service from Merton Place
Nelson and Emma's Japanese pattern breakfast service from Merton Place

Merton's hidden history

But Merton is not just about Nelson and Lady Hamilton. It has a long history, starting as a settlement near where the Roman road between London and Chichester crossed the river Wandle. It is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086 and this was where Westminster Abbey set up a priory in the 12th century. 

Captain Cook’s widow and her cousin Admiral Isaac Smith, said to be the first European to set foot in eastern Australia, lived out their last days in Merton in the 1820s. And from the late 19th century, William Morris had his works on the river at Merton Abbey Mills and this was where Liberty had much of its silk printed.

Merton was home to John Innes whose name gardeners will know because of the standardised compost mixes. Yet he never knew he would be famous for compost!

There is so much hidden history to be told about Merton.

Join Stephen at the Seduction Late event on 14 February to hear more about Emma and Merton Place.

Find out more about the Seduction Late and book tickets

Stephen Benton explores the history of famous places with a regular series of walking tours. Find out more

Banner image: left - embroidery of Merton Place; right - needlework picture thought to be the work of Emma Hamilton, and to represent Emma and Nelson walking with a prospect of Merton Place.