HMS Victory was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fleet against the French at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This road is laid out over the original site of Wanstead Hospital, which was opened in 1861 as the Merchant Seamen’s Orphan Asylum. The Asylum buildings were extended over the years and by 1883 housed 270 orphans but in 1920 it moved to Bearwood. It was purchased for a hospital in 1938 by Essex County Council and in 1948 became Wanstead Hospital when it joined the new NHS. With the change of use, came a change of name for nearby Asylum Road, which became Nelson Road. When the hospital closed in 1986 this road was laid out in its former grounds. Built from 6,000 trees, most of which were oak, the Victory was launched in 1765 at a cost of £63,176 (over £50 million in modern-day figures). The National Maritime Museum states: “The decision to name the ship Victory was not popular. The previous ship of that name had sunk with all on board in the English Channel in 1744, so sailors believed the name unlucky.” She was pressed into service to take part in the War of American Independence in March 1778. Her speed proved a huge advantage over the enemy. When peace ensued the Victory returned home and was refitted and recommissioned in 1793 as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Lord Hood in the Mediterranean. Two refits later she became Nelson’s flagship, during the new Napoleonic wars culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar. It was from Victory that Nelson sent his signal shortly before the battle: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” It was also where he met his death, shot by a French sniper. Historian Paul Johnson writes that the decision to be so conspicuous was a calculated one: “There was method in Nelson’s madness. He wanted his sailors to see him exposed on his quarterdeck, the hottest centre of danger, throughout the action. The willingness of ordinary seamen to give him their all was one of the secrets of the efficiency of his ships.” The ship was badly damaged at Trafalgar, both in the masts and hull, so when it returned to Britain with Nelson’s body on board in December 1805, it was again given a major refit and taken out of service in 1812.
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