A painting of Philip Meakins Hardwick, in Monmouthshire Museum, portrays him as a portly gentleman who clearly enjoyed his food. During the Georgian period,
Hanoverian Royalty made over indulging fashionable. Having a large body was considered stylish and an indication of one’s wealth. As a result of his gluttony and dissolute lifestyle, King George IV was so obese that a crane, operated by flunkeys, was installed in the royal bathroom at the Brighton Royal Pavilion. Without it, the king was unable to get into or out of the bath. A 1792 caricature by James Gilray described George as, ‘A voluptuary under the horrors of digestion.’
In keeping with the fashion, Mr. Hardwick got together with wealthy friends in 1794 and created the Monmouth Picnic Club, sometimes also called the Kymin Club. This exclusive club for gentlemen included eight Members of Parliament. The Duke of Beaufort, a prominent land owner, was also a leading member.
The Kymin, a Gentlemans' luncheon club
Club members gathered weekly, ‘for the purpose of dining together and spending the day in a social and friendly manner.’ Instead of frequenting public dining rooms or taverns, the members wanted a private venue and started collecting money to build a banqueting hall suitable for such distinguished occasions. The location they chose was the summit of Kymin Hill, a mile east of Monmouth. Kymin had once been the site of a prehistoric hill fort and afforded the diners excellent long distance views across nine counties.
The banqueting house, known as the Kymin, was a circular two storey building with a kitchen on the ground floor and opulent dining room above. To take full advantage of the views, club members mounted a powerful telescope on the roof. Stables and a new road for the members’ carriages were constructed to give better access. Later, a bowling green was laid out together with a park so the gentlemen could enjoy the country air after their meals.
In 1800 the Kymin Club decided to build a temple to honour the Royal Navy and
its glorious victories. Two years earlier the Royal Navy, commanded by Admiral Nelson, had annihilated a French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, forcing Napoleon Bonaparte to abandon his army in Egypt and return to France. It was a significant victory that removed a serious threat to British interests in the Middle East. The Battle of the Nile is regarded as one of the Royal Navy’s most famous triumphs.
The temple was built in a classical style and commemorates sixteen famous British Admirals from the 18th Century. Four plaques were hung on each of the four aspects of the temple giving details of the admirals and their battle honours. A bronze of Britannia depicted seated was mounted on the top of the structure. Traditionally, Britannia had been shown holding a spear but because the temple was recording naval battles the spear was replaced with a trident. The patriotic poem ‘Rule Britannia’ where Britannia rules the waves was turned into a popular song in 1740. When it was completed, the temple was dedicated by the Duchess of Beaufort, her father, Admiral Boscowan, being one of the naval officers celebrated on the monument.
In 1802, the hero of the time, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson accompanied by his lover, Lady Hamilton and her husband, Sir William Hamilton visited Monmouth during a tour of south Wales. Their party arrived in the town by boat along the River Wye, to the sound of celebratory cannon fire and rousing music from the town’s brass band. They stayed in Monmouth and visited the Kymin where they enjoyed a breakfast with club members. Visiting the Naval Temple, Nelson was reported to have been impressed and said, “It was the only one of its kind erected to the Royal Navy in the Kingdom.” Three years later, in 1805, Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar but another thirty eight years passed before the famous column honouring him was erected in Trafalgar Square.
The Naval Temple, restored in 2011, was greatly admired by Admiral Nelson
Following the demise of the Kymin Club, the Kymin passed into the ownership of Monmouthshire County Council who opened the park to the public. In 1902 the Kymin was given to the National Trust who restored it to its former glory. In 2011, the trust announced an £85,000 restoration scheme would be undertaken to save the almost derelict temple. The restoration included replacing missing plaques, repairs to the roof and commissioning a new statue of Britannia. The temple was rededicated in August 2012. The ceremony was attended by Mrs Anna Tribe, the great, great, great granddaughter of Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton. Mrs Tribe lives in Monmouthshire, is a recognised authority on her ancestor and has presented lectures on Nelson at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Most of Mrs Tribe’s six children have been given the names Horatio or Horatia. Nelson and Lady Hamilton named their only child, a daughter, Horatia. Perhaps, because of interest by the gentlemen of Monmouth in naval achievements, the museum at Monmouth now contains one of the most important collections of Nelson memorabilia.
Today, the Kymin and the Naval Temple are fully restored and in the stewardship of the National Trust. The Kymin is available for private functions, including weddings and both buildings are open to the public at certain times. Each year, runners participate in the ‘Kymin Dash,’ a lung bursting, 7.5 mile race, up the hill to the banqueting house and back to Monmouth School; something that Philip Meakins Hardwick would never have contemplated.