Exhibition recalls how majority of population spoke German

Bexhill Napoleonic SUS-150206-132148001
Bexhill Napoleonic SUS-150206-132148001

Bexhill Museum is staging an exhibition which explores the impact on a community of scarcely 1,000 of up to 6,000 German-speaking troops.

The exhibition is being held to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Bexhill, just a village in those times, was home to the Kings German Legion in the years leading up to the famous battle.

Ostensibly, the Hanoverian troops were stationed in Bexhill as an anti-invasion force. In reality, says museum curator Julian Porter there was a secondary purpose. Britain was close to revolution and the local smugglers were a law unto themselves.

He said: “There is a lovely anecdote, which we have never been able to prove, that Napoleon got his English newspapers via the Bexhill smugglers. It is probably true!”

He added: ““It would have been easier for the Government to have used German troops to shoot local people than to have used British troops.

“There are lovely stories about the German school which was established in the barracks. All the local children went to the German school. William Dorling, a printer in Bexhill, said his prayers in German to the end of his life.”

Sir Charles Whitworth was the second husband of Arabella, Duchess of Dorset, lady of the manor of Bexhill from 1799 to 1825. He was Ambassador to France after the 1802 Treaty of Amiens until war broke out again in 1803 and endured Napoleon’s abuse as the international situation worsened.

Julian Porter says: “It is fascinating to think that the lady of the Manor of Bexhill would have known Napoleon personally.”

A cannon ball from a French privateer which bombarded Bexhill on October 5, 1809 struck the hospital at barracks off Belle Hill occupied by troops of the King’s German Legion.

Those troops, loyal to King George III who was also Elector of Hanover, dominated the then village of Bexhill during the decade before Waterloo – during which they played a pivotal role in defending the key position, La Haye Sainte farm.

Though temporary and described by Colonel Christian Ompteda as “of all the uncomfortable ones I have known, the worst,” the extensive barracks at Bexhill led to the development of the village down into Belle Hill

The German troops being stationed there led to paternity orders, to many local marriages – as the parish registers reveal.

It filled St Peter’s churchyard and led to the creation of a new cemetery and left a place-name legacy which includes Barrack Road and Barrack Hall.