© Royal Collection Trust | Licence: All Rights Reserved
© Royal Collection Trust | Licence: All Rights Reserved

The Encampment at Warley Common (Essex) in 1778 1778

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From the Collection


A view of the encampment on Warley Common 28 May-11 November 1778. American War of Independence (1775-83).

Originally described, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as a view of the camp on Cox Heath, this watercolour has now been identified as the camp on Warley Common.

Three years after the onset of the American War of Independence (1775-83), a new military emergency arose from the decision of France to form an alliance with the American colonists against Britain. Within a short time, the British militia were called to arms to counter the possibility of a French invasion of England. There ensued a spread of military activity across the country – ‘From camps to fleets, from Plymouth to Coxheath’ as one contemporary ditty put it. Encampments, ranging in size from a few hundred to several thousand men, transformed the social and economic life of the locality for their duration, and gave rise to what became known as ‘Castramania’.

The two largest encampments comprised about 10,000 soldiers and were both inaugurated on Thursday 28th May 1778. One was established on Cox Heath, just south of Maidstone in Kent. The other was situated on Warley Common, south of Brentwood in Essex. Both camps were terminated, nearly six months later, on 11 November 1778 and both were also visited by King George III and Queen Charlotte.

The most resplendant of these two camps must have been that on Warley Common where, on Tuesday 20 October, a grand spectacular was staged for the benefit of the King and Queen. A royal review of the troops took place and a fierce mock battle was fought on the slopes of Childerditch and Little Warley Commons. The colour and movement of that day was captured by Philip de Loutherbourg in two large oil paintings of the ‘Review’ and the ‘Mock Attack’. These pictures can be found at RCINs 406348, 406349.

Two weeks later, having enjoyed while at Warley Common the lavish hospitality of Lord Petre at Thorndon Hall, the King visited Cox Heath. Reviewing the troops there on 3 November, His Majesty and Queen Charlotte were afterwards entertained at Leeds Castle by the Hon. Mr Fairfax. Although there was no pictorial record of this occasion to match the de Loutherbourg paintings, it was thought, until recently, that this splendid large watercolour by Thomas Sandby entitled ‘The camp on Cox Heath, 1778’ represented the camp in Kent in the summer, some time before the King’s visit.

The title of this landscape appears to have been given as Cox Heath in the early nineteenth-century (c.1811-25) inventory of this collection, but Oppé, when cataloguing the item in the 1940s, expressed doubts about the accuracy of the location of the scene. His uncertainty was founded on the lack of correlation of any of the features in the watercolour with other contemporary views and maps known to be of Cox Heath. It had been suggested to Oppé that the camp at Blackheath in 1780 may have been the subject of the drawing. However, since, at the time he wrote, the group of materials which contained the view was known as the Cumberland Collection (after William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1725-60) uncle to King George III), Oppé himself inclined to the opinion, also based on stylistic grounds, that the watercolour might represent an earlier camp on Cox Heath which was reviewed by the Duke on 24 September 1754.

Further description for this work is presented on the Royal Collection Trust's page for this record.

Alternate title: 'The Camp on Cox Heath, 1778 (formerly identified as)', 'Encampment at Warley Common, 1778 (Great Warley Street, Essex, UK) 51°35/'34"N 00°17/'03"E'

Descriptive Medium: 'Pen and ink and watercolour', 'pen and ink', 'watercolour painting'

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© Royal Collection Trust

From the Watercolour World


Warley Common, Essex, England