01 December 2022

Watching football in the pub
with princes and dukes

The Duke of Wellington on Wolverton Road, Stony Stratford … once known as the Duke of Edinburgh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

There is a story about the Duke of Edinburgh that is probably apocryphal but is still worth retelling.

It is said that one Saturday afternoon, during a football match, he personally rang one of the senior farm staff members at Balmoral. The phone was answered by the man’s son, who said his father was watching football on the television, and asked could whether he could take a message.

‘No, tell him I want to talk to him,’ Prince Philip insisted.

‘OK,’ the youth came back, ‘but who’s calling him?’

‘The Duke of Edinburgh,’ the duke said clearly.

Without dropping the ’phone, the boy shouted out, ‘Hey, Dad! Some bloke from the pub wants to talk to you. Are you in?’

There are pubs throughout England and Scotland known as the Duke of Edinburgh, and when Prince Philip died earlier last year many were – paradoxically – disappointed that they could not close as marks of respect, because they were already closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But, of course, few if any of the Dukes of Edinburgh up and down the land were not named after Prince Philip. Most of these pubs, it seems, were named after Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred (1844-1900), who was given the titles of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Ulster, and Earl of Kent by his mother in 1866.

Prince Alfred later became the sovereign Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1893-1900), and the title ‘Duke of Edinburgh’ lost its popularity as a name for pubs in England as tensions with Germany rose in the years before World War I.

The coat of arms of the Duke of Wellington on the pub sign (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

In the 1860s, the Duke of Edinburgh was the name of a pub on the corner of Wolverton Road and King Street in Stony Stratford. The popularity of the pub grew with the development of the tram line between Stony Stratford and Wolverton, but the name lost its lustre at the same time.

For a time it was known as the Dog and Gun, but a succession of proprietors eventually settled on the name of the Duke of Wellington for their premises.

Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), 1st Duke of Wellington, was born in Merrion Square, Dublin, and went to school at Drogheda Grammar School. He was one of the many Irish-born British Prime Ministers, but he is popularly remembered and celebrated as the victor at the Battle of Waterloo. He had been a proxy sponsor at the baptism of that earlier Duke of Edinburgh, and died in 1852, long before the Duke of Edinburgh in Stony Stratford changed its name.

In recent weeks, the Duke of Wellington on Wolverton Road has changed management, and the scaffolding has come down from around the building, revealing once again the sign displaying the coat of arms of the Dukes of Wellington. These arms quarters the arms of the Wellesley and Cowley families, with an additional representation of the crosses of Saint George, Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick as ‘the union badge of the United Kingdom.’

The Colley or Cowley family, the direct male line of ancestors of the Dukes, came to Ireland in the late 16th century. When Richard Colley’s distant cousin Garret Wesley died and he inherited the Dangan and Mornington estates in Co Meath, Richard Colley changed his name to Wellesley.

The Duke of Wellington is the only pub in Stony Stratford that I know to have a name with Irish associations. The new-look pub has become a popular local venue in recent weeks for World Cup fixtures. For England supporters, it matters little whether the Duke of Edinburgh was Scots or German or the Duke of Wellington was Irish or English. Hopefully, there are more pressing issues, such as human rights in Qatar, including the rights of women, gay people and migrant workers, the lack of democracy, and the despotic and explotative regime, and the arrogant, grubby attitude of senior officials in FIFA.

The Duke of Wellington at night … a popular venue for watching live sport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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