I wrote a brief piece about him which appeared in the Goole Times newspaper and reproduce it below.
Howden’s hero of Waterloo
On Wednesday 25th January 1837 Charles Ledsham, the landlord of the London Tavern in Hailgate (later number 55 Hailgate and, until very recently, solicitors’ offices) died at the age of 48. He had previously been the landlord of the Waterloo Inn at number 12 Bridgegate.
Charles was buried a few days later in Howden churchyard and his gravestone, although much eroded, tells us that he was ‘one of the immortal heroes’ of the battle of Waterloo.
So, as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle on June 18th, I wondered what part had Charles played all those years ago. Had he really been a hero? What was his story?
He was born in 1787, the son of John and Susannah Ledsham, and was baptised in the village church at Birkin on 13th May. On 29th September 1805, aged 18, he enlisted at Camblesforth in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards. Camblesforth seems an unlikely place to enlist and I suspect this was as a result of a recruiting drive.
The Horse Guards were a cavalry regiment and wore a blue uniform, hence their nickname of ‘The Blues’. After a battle in 1794 in which they defeated the French with very few losses they were often referred to as ‘the Immortals’ – as on Charles’ gravestone. The regiment was based at Windsor.
Charles served for the following 13 years and 90 days, rising through the ranks to sergeant. We know he was 5 feet nine inches tall, had brown hair, hazel eyes and a brown complexion.
He later received an army pension and appears as a Chelsea pensioner listed as one of those who served in Canada, presumably in the war of 1812.
But then in 1815 came Napoleon’s last battle when he was defeated by the Duke of Wellington.
Charles was then 28 years old. From the muster roll of those who took part in the battle of Waterloo, we know he was in Captain John Thoyts’ Company in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, of which the Duke of Wellington was the colonel.
The Blues were part of The First or Household Brigade of Heavy Cavalry and during the battle were commanded by Lord Edward Somerset. There were about 2,000 members of the heavy cavalry, all mounted on superb horses who charged the enemy. Charles Ledsham was one of these.
But Sgt Ledsham was probably not aware of the final victory for some time, as he was severely wounded and left for dead on the battlefield.
According to his obituary published in 1837, ‘he was engaged in personal conflict with the bearer of an Imperial Eagle whom he slew and seized the trophy, but his enjoyment was momentary as he was overwhelmed by a host of the enemy, his horse was killed and he himself left for dead, pierced by seven severe wounds and thus deprived of the honour of presenting it to his commander’.
The capture of an Eagle, the equivalent of regimental colours, was a great achievement and in fact only two were captured during the battle of Waterloo.
Captain John Thoyts’ troop was heavily involved in the fighting near the farm of La Haye Sainte. It was here that he and his men charged the French and so it was most likely there that Charles Ledsham seized the Eagle from a French officer and was then himself attacked.
There is no doubt that Charles was severely wounded during the battle, as this is noted on his army record.
It states that he was officially discharged from the army on 27th December 1818 at Windsor ‘in consequence of being disabled by nine sword and lance wounds received from the enemy at the battle of Waterloo’.
There seems to be some discrepancy about how many wounds he received but whether it was seven or nine he was lucky to survive.
In the conduct part of the record it states that ‘he distinguished himself particularly at the battle of Waterloo’.
Charles was one of 50 soldiers of the Blues who were wounded (44 were killed).
He was, like all who served during the battle, later awarded the Waterloo medal.
He came to Howden in late 1822 and had renamed the Black Horse Inn the Waterloo by 1823. Howden must have been a patriotic town as around the same time The White Hart Inn was renamed the Wellington, the name of course that it bears today.
By 1834 the Waterloo was no more and had reverted to the name Black Horse. Charles Ledsham was by then landlord of the London Tavern in Hailgate.
He died some three years later and on his gravestone, which is not very far from the chapter house, it is just possible to make out that he suffered from the effects of his wounds to the end of his life.
So on this 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, never mind the fictional Sharpe but remember Howden’s own hero who so nearly went down in history as the man who captured an Imperial Eagle at Waterloo.
He must have been able to tell some amazing stories as he served Howden people their mugs of ale
|Charles Ledsham's gravestone in Howden churchyard|
Addendum November 2021
Howden has always been proud of its Waterloo hero and the civic society is planning to put a blue plaque on 12 Bridgegate which was the inn which Charles renamed the Waterloo. We would also like to restore his gravestone in the churchyard which is, as can be seen from the picture, in poor condition.
But in order to do this we have to try and locate any descendants that Charles may have. This is not easy. There are no mentions of the Ledsham name in the Howden church records other than Charles' burial. And, as any family historian will know, names can vary in spelling in various records. I have found Ledsham as Ledsum, Ledsam and even as Sedsum where the capital L has been mis read as a capital S.
But I have made some progress.
Charles Ledsham died in January 1837 and I have searched for any other mentions of the name in Howden registers - and there are none. But in the 1841 census there is a Sarah Ledsham aged 50 living on Churchside, a grocer. I wondered whether she could be Charles' widow. But the only clue to who she was was that she was not born in Yorkshire - and after 1841 she disappears.
I searched for a Sarah Ledsham, dying or remarrying with no success. Then I spread the net wider and searched the name Sarah Ledsham in the 1851 census. There were several but as Charles had been stationed at Windsor when he left the army I searched in the Berkshire area.
And found a possible candidate. A Sarah Ledsham was living in Hungerford, a widow aged 63 in the household of her brother Daniel Allen, a grocer. She said she was born in Holybourne in Hampshire. I searched for the birth of a Sarah Allen born Holybourne and found a baptism for Sarah Allen baptised 1787, parents William and Sarah. Her brother Daniel was baptised in Tilehurst, now largely a part of Reading.
My next move was to search for a marriage for her to anyone called Ledsham. And, success. I found that Sarah Allen married Charles Ledsam on December 13th 1818. This was a few days before Charles officially left the army. They married at Thorpe church in Surrey and both were of nearby Egham. The witnessses were William and Frances Allen. The church is only a short distance from the Windsor barracks.
I then searched for the births of any children to Charles and Sarah between 1818 and 1822 when they came to Howden. As yet I have nor found any and wonder whether they had a family as after Sarah is widowed she seems to spend her later years with Allen family members.
In 1861 she was living in Tilehurst alone and says she is a retired innkeeper. In 1871 she is living with her niece Anne Dredge and her family in Reading. She died later that year.
And I was pleased to find the picture of her gravestone in Reading cemetery
It is not very clear but it is possible to make out that Sarah Ledsham was the widow of Charles Ledsham of Howden Yorkshire.