The Restoration Man

The Pembroke Yeomanry Trust on The Restoration Man

The Restoration Man and Major Dudley Ackland

The Restoration Man is a successful Channel 4 series that features George Clarke helping neglected architectural treasures across Britain. This summer they filmed in Pembrokeshire and focused on a propGeorge Clarke filming The Restoration Man in Pembrokeshire. The Last Invasion of Britainerty built by Maj Dudley Ackland, a good friend of Lord Cawdor and his Second in Command when the French landed in 1797. I was delighted to be able to assist the filming of the program and provide some historical information about the French Invasion and Maj Ackland’s role. It will be aired on 21 Jan 2016.

Major Dudley Ackland

Maj Ackland was commissioned into the “Pembrokeshire Company of Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry” as a Lieutenant on 31 August 1794. This was the same day as Captain John Campbell (Lord Cawdor), and Cornet John Lloyd. The only officer to precede them was Captain Richard Lord Milford on 17 July 1794 (as per Army List 1795 under “Gentlemen and Yeomanry, Pembroke”. There may have been other officers but these are not listed.

According to the Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and County Families of Wales (Thomas Nicholas) Dudley Ackland was born in Philadelphia in 1748 and came from a Devonshire family. He had served as a Major in the 91st of Foot and purchased Boulston, near Haverfordwest in 1797. One assumes that this 91st was the Shropshire Volunteers which existed for 5 years from 1779 to 1784, mainly serving in the West Indies. It is unclear if Maj Ackland had service before this but the preceding 91st had been disbanded in 1763. He may have been a veteran of the American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783) but this is unclear, although there was related action in the West Indies in 1778-79.

Dudley Ackland would have been 46 when he commissioned into the “Pembrokeshire Company of Gentleman and Yeomanry Cavalry” (The Pembroke Yeomanry). The fact he commissioned as a Lieutenant when he was a retired Major makes sense as it was agreed to raise the Pembroke Yeomanry on 19 April 1794 as a Company of 2 x Troops in the first instance. Each Troop was to consist of 50 officers and men, meaning the appropriate rank to command was that of Captain. Although Lord Milford, as County Lord Lieutenant, had overall command (and command of the Dungleddy Troop. Dungleddy as a place name is a corruption of a Welsh word and is no longer used. It was the area around Haverfordwest.) Cawdor was to command the Castlemartin Troop, and Dudley, one assumes, was asked to be his Second in Command. Clearly a good relationship existed between them, and I imaging Cawdor turned to Dudley on more than one occasion because of the latter’s military experience – especially when then they marched against the French. Dudley was still showing as a Lieutenant in the Army list for 1800. He died in Oct 1809, but had clearly ‘retired’ from the Pembroke Yeomanry prior to 1804 when the next Army list was published.

The French Invasion

The Pembroke Yeomanry Trust on The Restoration Man

With George Clarke, ‘The Restoration Man’, at the site of the Last Invasion.

In correspondence during the French Invasion it is clear that Cawdor refers to Dudley Ackland as a Major, not a Lieutenant, as one assumes this is how he is known in social circles. He is also called a ‘Major’ in the returns after the invasion.

The French landed near Fishguard (Carregwasted Point) at 1400hrs on Wed 22 Feb 1797 and Maj Ackland was to have a key role. The Pembroke Yeomanry and attachments arrived late on the second day after the French had landed and for most of this day Fishguard had remained undefended as the Fishguard Volunteers had departed for Haverfordwest. The British Forces, with the Pembroke Yeomanry at the lead, halted their advance on the French just short of an effective ambush location (this was to the West of Fishguard on a lane leading from Dyffryn to Carn Gelli), and had then simply withdrawn to secure the area. Cawdor, Ackland and others then retired to the area around Hugh Meyer’s house (now the Royal Oak pub) in Fishguard. At 9pm some French officers were escorted into Meyer’s house with with a proposal of surrender. The Council of War that was set up in this house consisted of Maj Ackland, amongst others. It is an interesting note that aside from Cawdor, who maintained command of the operation, Ackland was by far the junior rank as a Lieutenant. The majority being Lieutenant Colonels. This must give an indication of how well he was regarded. It was Ackland who was to deliver the reply from Cawdor to Col Tate at the French HQ at Trehowell Farm. This reply was a bluff (based on invented superior manpower) and demanded unconditional surrender.

Major Ackland later escorted some of the French Officers, including Tate, to Haverfordwest from Trehowell Farm. There is confusion here as one account indicates this happened while the main French body was paraded on Goodwick Sands to surrender (to keep the senior officers away from the men) while another account has him at Goodwick during the surrender hurrying up a French Column. The truth maybe that there was an overlap in time and the officers didn’t depart Trehowell until later.

We get a sense of his character, and moral courage, prior to the French Invasion during the winter of 1795. The Pembroke Yeomanry had been parading on market days to stop disturbances from farm workers who were unhappy about the scarcity of bread which was mainly caused by the farmers trying to hold up supplies of grain to try and secure higher prices. Cawdor seems to have sided with the farmers while Ackland objected and went as far as resigning his commission saying that he hoped the troop ‘would not be brought to the disagreeable necessity of firing on our poor creatures’. The situation resolved itself and Acklabnd withdrew his resignation.

Without going into the full detail of the Last Invasion in this article about Maj Dudley Ackland, it is important to note that the young (bought commission) commander of the local Fishguard Volunteers, Lt Col Knox, was later accused of cowardice by Cawdor. This was mainly due to him marching the Volunteers out of Fishguard on the second day to leave it undefended (Knox claimed to be following orders). A letter was subsequently written to General Rooke on 15 Apr 1797 and signed by the principle Pembrokeshire Officers (not Fishguard Volunteers) offering to resign their commissions rather than to ‘risk our characters by acting under the command of Lt Col Knox, whose ignorance of his duty and want of judgment must be fully known to you’. The second signatory, after Cawdor’s, is Ackland’s.

The Pembroke Yeomanry Trust holds a number of related items to the Invasion, and these are on display in Fishguard Town Hall, alongside the Last Invasion Tapestry. This includes the award of the Battle Honour of ‘Fishguard’ and a later Guidon (Colours).