The admiral and the antiques shop

THE BATTLE OF Portobello was fought between the British Navy and the Spanish in November 1739. It was an event during the War of the Austrian Succession. The battle’s aim was to capture the port of Portobello in Panama from the Spanish. The British were victorious.

I have been walking along Portobello Road frequently for over a quarter a century. Each time, I have passed a series of neighbouring shops collectively known as Admiral Vernon Antique Market. I thought it was an odd name until today when I noticed that it is close to an alley called Vernon Yard. Then, the penny dropped, and I began thinking about the choice of the shop’s name – an admiral on Portobello Road.

Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757) was born in London. He joined the Royal Navy in 1700, aged 12, and rose through the ranks. One of his many achievements was the creation of the name ‘grog’ for the commonly consumed drink consisting of rum diluted with water. Also, he made improvements to the methods of naval manoeuvres and the welfare of sailors. Another of his claims to fame was that along with Lieutenant-General Thomas Wentworth (c1693–1747) he led the British forces that captured Portobello.

Knowing this makes sense of the name of the antique shop and the name Vernon Yard. The shop and the dreary little alley are not the most magnificent of memorials to Edward Vernon. There is a more elegant one in Westminster Abbey. The most impressive item commemorating the admiral is the estate of Mount Vernon in Virginia (USA), which was once owned by George Washington’s family. It was named after Edward Vernon because one of Washington’s brothers, Lawrence (died 1752), had been under Vernon’s command during the capture of Portobello.

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