Experts

Expert’s astonishment as brooch featuring Shropshire military hero’s medals turns up

The brooch, commissioned by Lieutenant-General Rowland Hill, is still in its original box. Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire says it is one of the richest historical finds he has ever come across.

“The rarity and historical importance of this item cannot be overstated,” said Mr Hanson.

It is going under the hammer on Tuesday, when it is expected to fetch a bumper price.

Hill was a Shropshire hero who made his name as the right hand man to the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War, and was one of Wellington’s trusted generals at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The statue of Lord Hill in Shrewsbury

A grateful public erected a monument to him on the outskirts of Shrewsbury – Lord Hill’s Column.

The brooch excited the experts when it was taken into a saleroom. The owner has asked to remain anonymous, but is understood to be a descendant of the Hill family living in Derbyshire.

Thanks to Hill’s bravery, he was awarded a clutch of medals – the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath; the Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order (Hanoverian); the Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and the Sword (Portugal’s highest award); and the Peninsular Cross (awarded to British officers).

All those medals feature on the bespoke badge of honour.

“This bar brooch is so unique and original, it is an object money cannot normally buy. We expect it to soar at auction and mirror the ferocious battles of the Napoleonic era. Its estimate is £1,000 to £2,000 but we think it could fetch far more,” said Mr Hanson.

“This gold and enamel badge would have been custom-made for him by a jeweller. Small and elegant, it perhaps sums up the character of the man himself.

“He was brilliant on the battlefield and yet humble, a commander renowned for looking after his men. He rarely swore, only uttering an expletive in the most trying of circumstances.

“This badge deserves to sell for many thousands of pounds and is worthy of a military museum. It was brought into our saleroom in Etwall and it is an astonishing find.”

Mr Hanson went on: “Lieutenant-General Hill was a hugely respected and successful army officer.

“A man who never married, he devoted his life to serving his country. He led armies of up to 30,000 men in some of the most important battles of the 1800s in Egypt, Spain, Portugal and France.

“He inevitably had brushes with death. At the Battle of Waterloo, where Hill commanded the II Corps, he was lost in the melee and feared dead but escaped unscathed. He wrote to his sister, ‘I verily believe there never was so tremendous a battle fought as that at Waterloo’.

“Also, in 1801, while commanding the 90th Foot in Egypt, Hill was seriously wounded when a musket ball hit his head.”

General Hill – known as “Daddy Hill” by his troops due to his caring nature – was made Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1828, succeeding Wellington.

An unexpected achievement of Hill’s was contributing to the saving of the ancient and historic Westminster Hall from destruction during the great fire at the Houses of Parliament in 1834.

In the confusion Lord Hill, who was unknown in the crowd, saw that the flames were approaching the hall and “pointed out the propriety of making a gap in some buildings, so as to cut off the flames.” This was done “and thus was a great national structure saved from demolition.”

Hill, who had been born at Prees Hall, died in 1842, aged 71.

The bar brooch will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers’ Coins, Medals and Militaria Auction at Etwall on Tuesday, which starts at 10am.

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