Until Horatio Nelson, George Brydges Rodney (February 1718 – May 24, 1792), was probably the best known admiral of his age. He is said to have “personified the might of British naval power”. This and other nearby roads were developed and given names on a naval theme following the end of the First World War, the inspiration coming from the nearby Merchant Seamen’s Orphan Asylum which had opened in 1861. The sea connection was lost when in 1938, Essex County Council purchased the building for use as a hospital, which in turn became part of the NHS and renamed Wanstead Hospital. Rodney went to sea aged 14 and rose swiftly through the ranks thanks to a combination of his own skill and the patronage of more senior officers. He saw his first major action at the Second Battle of Cape Finisterre in 1747 and made a fortune from his share of the booty taken from captured French vessels. It was enough to buy him a country estate and pursue expensive political ambitions. He came to wider notice following his amphibious attack on the French island Martinique, in the West Indies, succeeding in reducing one of the enemy’s most lucrative possessions in the region. On January 8, 1780 he captured a Spanish convoy of 22 vessels off Cape Finisterre and eight days later destroyed seven of 11 Spanish ships in the so-called Moonlight Battle, providing relief for Gibraltar, which had been under siege since July 1779. His exploits continued in the Caribbean during the War of American Independence. During one raid he confiscated huge stocks belonging to British merchants trading illegally with American Revolutionaries, at a stroke crippling a contraband trade on which the Americans depended. However, accusations that he had risked his fleet for the sake of prize money hung over him. Orders for his recall had been sent when Rodney won a decisive victory at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782, ending the French threat to Jamaica. In April 1783, he accompanied William IV on his visit to Captain General Luis de Unzaga to reach the preliminaries of a peace agreement, which would later recognise the birth of the United States of America. On his return to Britain, Rodney was made a peer and awarded an annual pension of £2,000. He lived in retirement until his death. He was therefore a popular figure, surpassed only by Nelson, to be commemorated by jingoistic developers.
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