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Henry Shrapnel - a name in daily use
the inventor of the exploding shell
When researching for my exploration of the village of Wingfield, I came across the story of Henry Shrapnel. I decided to save this story for another day, and that day has come!
Midway Manor lies halfway between Wingfield and Bradford on Avon, the driveway close to the Westwood crossroads. I have driven past the gateway with its impressive pillars many times and wondered what lies at the end of the driveway. There are many stories to tell, but this one takes you back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
On the pillars of the gates to Midway Manor are four cast balls on each post. Many place names are carved into the posts on the inside, not visible from the road. Let’s find out why.
The four cast balls represent shells, which were packed with lead shot and an explosive. These represent artillery shells invented by Henry Shrapnel. For the first time, exploding shells could be used in battle with devastating effects. The place names on the columns are battles, including Waterloo, where the shells are proven to be battle winners.
Henry Shrapnel, Midway Manor, inventor of the exploding shell
Henry Shrapnel was born at Midway Manor on June 3rd 1761. He joined the army at age 15 and began to rise through the ranks. In 1784, whilst a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he developed what he called spherical case ammunition with his own funds. The shells exploded mid-air onto the enemy troops below, projecting the lead shot and the shell casing at high speed towards them. Hence today, we use the term shrapnel for such pieces of death-dealing metal. He successfully demonstrated this in 1787 at Gibraltar. In 1803, the British Army used a similar but elongated shell which carried the name, Shrapnel. The shells were used until the end of the First World War.
Lieutenant-General Henry Shrapnel
Henry reached the rank of lieutenant-general on June 10th 1837.
Henry Shrapnel went on to invent many things. He died on March 13th, 1842; a disappointed man as he felt the army had not suitably rewarded him for his invention and the cost he incurred. He was awarded a pension of £1,200 per annum; however, bureaucracy prevented him from receiving the full amount.
He died in Southampton at his home there and is buried in the family vault in a church in Bradford on Avon.
The current home on the site was built at the end of the nineteenth century, having been acquired by another family. I have found a drawing of the house as it was when Henry Shrapnel was born.
The house today is a farm, livery and riding stables. It is also a venue for weddings and other special occasions.
I never realised that the word shrapnel related to a person and was more surprised to find out that Henry was born just a short drive from my home.
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