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Additions 14.7.2012, 14.9.2012, 1.1.2014, 15.2.2014. Minor edits 3.11.15.


1631, Private William Henry PENNINGTON - 11th Hussars

Birth & early life

Born in Greenwich on the 26th of January 1833, the son of a civil servant. His father later had a school at the corner of Shacklewell Lane, Hackney, and trained his son as a schoolmaster with the intention that he should succeed him there.

Not liking the quiet life, the young Pennington left to join the Merchant Marine.

In the book by Mrs Tom Kelly, From the Fleet in the Fifties" (published in London in 1902), he is quoted as saying:

"I myself had previously seen some two or three years' service as a sailor, having made a five month passage in a ship called the "Isabella" and subsequently served in two others, respectively the "Briton" and the "Reliance". I had visited Australia, the East Indies, Java and Singapore.

I was accustomed to go aloft with the 'Parramatta's' crew [the ship in which he had travelled out to the Crimea] when 'shortening sail'. For this I received the nick-name of 'Sailor Bill' and it stuck to me for some time."


Enlisted at Portobello Barracks, Dublin, on the 24th of January 1854.

Age: 21.

Height: 5' 9".

Trade: None shown.


From the Fleet in the Fifties contains an account of the Charge by Pennington, and a portrait.

He was wounded during the Charge by a bullet passing through the calf of his right leg. His horse, "Black Bess", was killed by a bullet through the head.

1631 William Pennington, 11th Hussars, later recalled in detail how close to death Nathan Henry came at the hands of Russians. It is worth quoting the scene at some length:

It must have been when about two-thirds of the North Valley had been traversed by the Light Brigade, that my mare received a bullet, which lamed her very badly. This, of course, decreased her pace, and I found myself at some distance in the rear of my regiment, and quite alone. The enemy's fire seemed for a time to slacken.

Finding myself quite unable with my crippled mare to proceed in the direction of the still advancing Light Brigade, I was about dismounting, with, as it may be imagined, considerable reluctance, when Providence decided for me. The smoke and dust raised by the heavy fire and trampling horse, had partially cleared away; thus rendering me, in the open, a more distinctive mark for the enemy's attention.

I received a ball through the calf of my right leg from the infantry concealed on the Causeway ridges, succeeded immediately by a grape shot, which, just clearing the top of my skull by a hair's breadth, tilted my busby to the right side; "Black Bess" fell prone to earth without a struggle; she having accepted the coup-de-grace with a bullet through her head.

As I stood for the moment perplexed in the extreme with the bullets still making dust spots on the green (for the wound in my leg was bleeding somewhat freely), and was scrutinizing the ground in every direction, with intense and anxious gaze, I observed on my right front several parties of the enemy's lancers engaged in the cruel and cowardly work of maltreating and murdering some of our dismounted men.

One man of my own regiment, whose face was streaming with blood (I knew him to be one of ours by the colour of his overalls), was, in his wounded condition, which might have evoked the pity of the hardest heart, ruthlessly attacked and slain by some half-dozen of these butchers. The wretches were at no considerable distance from me.

I was also collected enough to observe with more distinctiveness, another man of the 11th left dismounted and unarmed.

Nathan Henry had lost his sword, and was of course quite at the mercy of these fiends; but, in his case, from some unexplained cause, they desisted from their murderous practice, and made him a prisoner.

I think it is probable that the appearance of an officer may have acted upon these ruffians as a deterrent; for I believe there were but few cases in which the enemy evinced unnecessary harshness when their officers were present."

[Source: quoted in From the Fleet in the Fifties; a History of the Crimean War, [add date, links, etc] p.198.]

Pennington was saved from capture by the Cossacks by being given a spare horse by 370 Troop Serjeant-Major Henry Harrison, 8th Hussars [ADD LINK].

Pennington did not meet Harrison again until twenty-five years later, when they dined together. They renewed the acquaintance following a letter he [Pennington?] wrote to the Daily News relating to the incident. In the meantime Harrison (known in his regiment as "Old Bags" because of his habit of wearing his overalls loose and easy) had received a commission and then retired from the Army. He was by now in a very good position in one of the Australian banks in London, a position he had obtained through Colonel De Salis [ADD LINK].)

Extracts of a letter dated 7 December 1854 from William Pennington to his father published in a British newspaper [which?]. Slightly different versions were published in e.g. The Times and The Field.

(Click on image to enlarge)

From The Field, 30th of December 1854:

"The Light Cavalry Charge at Balaclava"

"A private of the 11th Hussars, named William Pennington, when writing to his father, says... 'I was surprised to hear that no letter has reached you, as I wrote a month since, describing the Light Cavalry charge on the 25th October as far as it concerned myself. My wound was from a musket ball through the calf of my right leg, but so far has healed that I began to walk upon it for an hour or so in the day. It was a mad but gallant charge made by our Light Cavalry at Balaclava.

The newspapers will let you see our position at the time. The word was given to "Charge guns to the front." We advanced at a gallop to these guns, and a fearful fire of grape, shell and canister, with ditto on the right and left flanks and infantry pouring in a dreadful fire; horses and men fell thick and fast, but even this did not check our onward rush. All the Russian artillery men were sabred and for a instant we were masters of the guns, but having no support, could not hold them.

In this condition we were charged in flank and rear by numerous regiments of Russian cavalry and but for the desperation with which our men met their way there would not have been a single man retire from that fatal charge.

As for myself, I never reached the guns in front as a grape-shot went through my busby, about two inches above my head, knocking it to one side, another ball through the calf of my leg and the next through my horse's head (a fine black mare).

I was now at the mercy of their Lancers, whom I saw lancing wounded and dismounted men. The demons give you no quarter when you are down. At this moment the 8th Hussars came by with a horse without a rider. This I mounted, and formed in the rear of the 8th as if it were my own regiment, dashed on. But worse again - we were obliged to wheel "Right about" and to pass through a strong body of their cavalry which had gathered in our rear, and cutting off our retreat.

Of course, with our handful, it was life or death, so we rushed at them to break through, but as soon as we got through one body there was another to engage. At any rate, with five or six fellows at my rear I galloped on, passing with the determination of one who would not lose his life, breaking the lances of the cowards who attacked us in the proportion of three or four to one, occasionally catching one a slap with the sword across his teeth, and giving another the point on his arm or breast.

They still pressed on me till I got sight of our own "Heavies" when, thanks be to God, they stopped pursuing us, and I got clear, without a scratch from their lances... (Oh, the sabre before the lance!)

I found that I could not dismount from the wound in my right leg, and so was lifted off, and then how I caressed the noble horse that brought me safely out. I will not disgrace you as a soldier, father, take my word.'"

This letter originally appeared in The Times, prefaced by a letter from his father:

"The accompanying letter was today received from my son, a youth of 21 years of age, who, last Spring, in a military fit, enlisted in the 11th Hussars, and in the incredibly short time of six weeks had passed through all the rough riding and other drills into his troop as a competent soldier, although the extent of his horsemanship before was a pony ride on Blackheath!

I mention this to show how quickly intelligent young men can be fitted to receive service on the field of battle. The sabre practice with which he cut his way through the enemy on the retreat of the Light Cavalry at Balaclava proves that the recruit can be trusted equally with the veteran. The terrible Cossacks need no longer be feared, for the superiority of the sabre in attack and defence is most graphically shown in the dreadful melee through which his own bravery, through the providence of God, so wonderfully delivered him.

While I regret that my son turned his back on the profession for which he was educated, I cannot but rejoice that he has proved that the youth of England can be so rapidly trained to lofty deeds of man.)

Yours, etc.,

A. Pennington.

In Scutari General Hospital from the 6th of November 1854 and returned to the regiment on the 25th of February 1855.

In hospital again at Scutari, 4th of April - 10th of May 1855, and was later Camp Cook at Scutari in June 1855.

Invalided to England on the 30th of June 1856.

The sounding of the Charge

Pennington maintained that the "Charge" was never sounded at Balaclava and wrote many scathing letters to the newspapers about those who claimed they had actually sounded it. One of these was:

To the Editor of the "Standard"

Sir, - I heard no trumpet sound that day, but only the verbal order from my place in the ranks of the 11th Hussars - and at such a time you may well believe one is "all eyes and ears" - "The Light Brigade will advance", and almost immediately afterwards, "Trot."

Lord Tredegar's recent account confirms this. He says there was no order after the word "Trot". Mr. Bird of the 8th Hussars, L.C.C., informs me that an order had been issued prohibiting "sounding", I assume in view of the impolicy of possibly furnishing the enemy with notification of projected movements.

My impression remains indelible that no trumpet ever sounded the "Charge".

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

W. H. Pennington.

Stoke Newington, N., April 5th.

(There are other examples of this correspondence in the "Memoirs" file.)

Discharge & pension

Purchased his discharge at Chatham Invalid Depot on the 20th of September 1856, with a payment of 30.

Served 2 years 240 days.

Conduct: "good". Not in possession of any Good Conduct badges.

There is a photograph of Pennington in uniform in the 11th Hussar file.


Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava and Sebastopol, and the Turkish medal.

Further detailed medal information archived.


Present at the first Balaclava Banquet in 1875.

Member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society in 1879.

Signed the Loyal Address to the Queen in 1887.

William Pennington appeared with other Crimean War veterans as a "Battle of Balaklava Hero" in the Lord Mayor's Show, 1890. He is shown travelling in the 12th carriage in the procession.

Received 15 from the "Balaclava" Fund, 20th of July 1891.

Present at the Jubilee celebrations held in the Fleet Street offices of T.H. Roberts in June 1897.

Attended the Annual Dinners in 1897, 1906, 1908, 1909, 1910 and 1913.

Annual Dinner, 25th October, 1906

William Pennington is in the front row, 3rd from the right, with a large hat on his lap. [CHECK]

(Click on image to enlarge)

Towards the end of his life, by which time there were very few survivors of the Charge, he was feted throughout the world, as in this item from Sydney, Australia (1913):

Last 15 Balaclava Survivors 1913 (Sunday Times, Sydney NSW, Australia). Click to enlarge.

(Click on image to enlarge)


Reduced by one by the recent death of Lord Tredegar, the following are now the survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade:

Sir George Wombwell, 17th Lancers.
Major Phillips [8th Hussars]
Alderman Kilvert, 8th Hussars [actually, 11th Hussars]
J Mustard, 17th Lancers
T. Boxall, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
J. Whitehead, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
H. Wilsden, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
J. Olley, 4th Hussars [formerly 4th Light Dragoons]
W.S.J. Fulton, 8th Hussars
J. Parkinson, 11th Hussars
T. Warr, 11th Hussars
G. Gibson, 13th Hussars [formerly 13th Light Dragoons]
E. Hughes, 13th Hussars [formerly 13th Light Dragoons]
W. Ellis, 11th Hussars
W.H. Pennington, 8th Hussars [actually, 11th Hussars]

[Source: Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 20 April 1913 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/126459695 (accessed 15.2.2014) [PB].]

Life after service

After leaving the Army Pennington worked for a while as a clerk in the Post Office, as his father had done before him. He later became a Shakespearean actor, first appearing at the New Royalty Theatre in 1862. He was widely-known as Gladstone's favourite tragedian after the Prime Minister had said that Pennington's "Hamlet" was the best he had ever seen. In 1870 he became lessee and manager of the Sadler's Wells Theatre.

According to certificates which Miss Pennington [which?] had kept (a duplicate was issued in 1902) he had been received into the Freemasonry in 1870 and was, in 1902, a member of the Royal Alfred Lodge, No. 780.

In 1875 or 1876 Pennington modelled for the central figure (the dismounted and violently excited Hussar) in the painting by Elizabeth Thompson (later Lady Thompson), "After the Charge" (also known as "Balaclava").

In later life he was a teacher of Elocution and Dramatic Art. (There is an original programme of one of his performances in the 11th Hussar file.)

William Pennington wrote an autobiography, Sea, Camp, and Stage, published at Bristol in 1906, and Left of the Six Hundred [?], privately printed in London in 1887. (There is a copy of the latter in the "Memoirs" file.

Marriage registered

William Henry Pennington married Frances Emma Harford, December Quarter 1857, Hackney. [Actual date, 31st Oct 1857.]

1851 Census

13 High Street, West Hackney, Tower Hamlets.

Louisa Harford, 60, widow, Annuitant, born Hackney.

Frances E [future wife], 18, born Hackney.

Births registered

Eleven children: 3 boys and 8 girls.

Louisa Mary Pennington, December Quarter 1858, Derby [actual date, 25th September 1858].

Florence Emma, December Quarter 1861, Hackney.

Albert William, March Quarter 1864, Hackney.

Percy, June Quarter 1865, Hackney.

Alice Margaret, June Quarter 1867, Hackney.

Harold, September Quarter 1869, Hackney.

Kate, March Quarter 1871, Hackney.

Catherine Gladstone, March Quarter 1872, Hackney.

Margaret Grace, March Quarter 1873, Hackney.

Amy, March Quarter 1874, Hackney.

Marion Elizabeth, September Quarter 1878, Hackney.

1871 Census

475, Kingsland Road, Hackney.

W H Pennington, 38, Tragedian [sic?].

Frances, 38, wife.

Louisa 12, Florence 7, Percy 5, Alice 4, Harold 1.

1881 Census

475, Kingsland Road, St. John's, Hackney.

William H. Pennington, 48, Actor, born Middlesex.

Frances E., 48, wife.

Louisa M. 22; Florence E. 19, Albert W. 17, Percy 15, Alice M. 14, Harold 11, Catherine G. 8, Amy 7.

One of the sons is shown as a Mercantile Clerk, the other a Telegraph Boy.

A lodger is also shown.

Marriages registered

Florence Emma Pennington [daughter] married Egbert Lampard, September Quarter 1887, Hackney.

Percy Pennington [son] married Harriet Hurworth, December Quarter 1889, Hackney.

Birth registered

Ella Francis Pennington [daughter of Percy], December Quarter 1890, Shoreditch.

1891 Census

22 Mountford Road.

William Pennington, 58, Teacher & Lecturer, born Hackney.

Frances, 58, born Hackney.

Five children shown: Louisa 32, Albert 23, Harold 21, Catherine 18, Amy 17.

1891 Census

11, Gt Chart Street, Shoreditch.

Percy Pennington [son], 25, Commercial Clerk, born Kingsland.

Harriet, 29, wife.

Ella F., 8 months.

One lodger is also shown.

1901 Census

84, Princess May Road, Stoke Newington.

William H Pennington, widower, 68, Actor & Elecutionist, born Hackney [sic].

Louisa, single, 42, born Derby.

Harold, 31, Sorter GPO, born Hackney.

1901 Census

45, Ravenswood Road, Streatham.

Albert Pennington [son], 36, single, Actor, boarder, born Kingsland.

1911 Census

2, Arnold Road, Tottenham.

William Henry Pennington, 78, widower, Tragedian (retired), born Battle, Sussex.

Harold, 41, single, Sorter GPO, born Kingsland, London.

Louisa Margaret, 52, single, born Burton Road, Derby. [sic?]

1911 Census

49 Victoria Grove, Stoke Newington.

Percy Pennington [son], 45.

Harriett, 49.

Five children shown: Ella Francis 20, Christine Harriet 16, Harold Percy, 14, Florence Louise 11, Kathleen Alice, 9.

Deaths registered

Kate Pennington [daughter], 0, March Quarter 1871, Hackney.

Albert Pennington [father], 64, June 1874, Hackney.

Marion Elizabeth Pennington [daughter], 0, September Quarter 1878.

Margaret Grace [daughter], 5, September Quarter 1878.

Margaret [mother], 83, September Quarter 1890, Dorking.

Frances Emma [wife], 64, December Quarter 1896, Hackney.

An Albert W. [son], 51, December Quarter 1914, St Pancras.

William H., 90, June Quarter 1923, Hackney [actual date: May 1st 1923].

Harold [son], 86, June Quarter 1955, Hastings.

Louisa [daughter], 97, June Quarter 1956, Hastings.

Percy [son], 92, June Quarter 1958, Middlesex S.

He also lived at one time at 2, Arnold Road, Tottenham, and died at 34, Albion Road, Stoke Newington, on the 1st of May, 1923.

Elizabeth Thompson (later Lady Butler), "After the Charge" (1876)

Pennington modelled for the central figure (the dismounted and violently excited Hussar) in the painting by Elizabeth Thompson (later Lady Thompson), "After the Charge" (also known as "Balaclava"). First shown in the Fine Arts Society Bond Street rooms in April 1876, by the time it had arrived in Liverpool in January of 1877 it had been seen by over 100,000 people.

Detail of painting showing figure modelled by William Pennington in After the Charge (Balaclava), by Elizabeth Thompson, 1876

The figure modelled by William Pennington in "After the Charge" by Elizabeth Thompson, first shown in 1876.

The Fine Arts Society had paid 3000 for the copyright (a record sum for the time, according to the newspapers) and published by them as a reduced size engraving in the same month. The picture itself was purchased by John Whitehead in 1875 and presented by his son, Robert Whitehead, in memory of his father to the City of Manchester Art Gallery in 1898.

Painting: After the Charge (Balaclava), by Elizabeth Thompson (later Lady Butler), 1876. Manchester Art Gallery.

"After the Charge" by Elizabeth Thompson, also known as "Balaclava", 1876, now in the Manchester Art Gallery.

The Gallery's online "Detailed description" (www.manchestergalleries.org, accessed 14.7.12) reads:

"Battle scene at Balaclava, depicting the return of survivors of the charge of the Light Brigade. Soldiers on horseback and on foot make their way up a hill, towards the viewer, in various states of injury, some still carrying standards.

In the foreground, centre, a soldier stands gazing into the distance, an expression of shock on his face, carrying a bloodied sword in his right hand. On the left, mounted survivors and men on foot are gathered together, some of the wounded being helped along. More soldiers make their way up the hill on the right.

To the right of the central figure, a mounted soldier rides forward carrying an injured trumpeter in his arms. The distressed horse of the wounded rider next to him is lead forward by a man on foot. In the right corner, a soldier lies on the ground, badly wounded. Plumes of smoke rise in the distance."

Elsewhere on the same site, in an "Overview" of the work, Pennington is named as the original of the central figure:

"'Balaclava' was a major battle of the Crimean War, fought between British and Russian forces. Thompson's painting represents the aftermath of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854, when a misinterpreted order led to heavy British losses: 661 cavalrymen were reduced to 195 in 20 minutes.

The subject became a favourite for painters after Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. This was quoted by Thompson in the catalogue accompanying her work's debut at the Society of Arts.

The central figure was modelled by WH Pennington, an actor who had taken part in the action. Other veterans were also consulted and used as models. Thompson's portrayal of the soldiers was controversial as it focused on the psychological effects of war.

The painting was seen by thousands, at several venues, and was further popularised by large editions of prints.Although it was unusual for a woman to paint war, the artist was praised by the Army for her accuracy."

In her autobiography Lady Butler wrote that: "Balaclava was painted for Mr. John Whitehead of Manchester [actually of Bury]. I had owed him a picture from the time I exhibited "Missing." It was to be the same size and for the same price as that work..." No price was mentioned, although a figure of 80 is mentioned in the text for a picture - but which, is not clear. This figure, though, in view of the amount paid for the copyright alone would not appear to be a realistic one.

In the main, the picture was praised by the reviewers, with the exception of the figure modelled by Pennington - one in the Manchester Critic going so far as to say, "We think it would have been as well, Mr. Pennington, if you had never come back from the charge. You are theatrical - not dramatic - but simply ruinously obtrusive and unreal."

The paper went on to say

"Not merely did he seem to lack the restraint that audiences had come to expect of Miss Thompson's figures, but it was thought that he also bore disturbing signs of having suffered some kind of mental derangement in the fray, a level of realism in the portrayal of war that was still unacceptable." [CHECK PUNCTUATION OF QUOTE]

The Sunday Times said, "Deaf to the calls of his comrades, dazed and drunk with the wine of battle, he marches on clenching his bloodied sword."

However, some of the other figures in the painting, such as those gesturing with outstretched arms, could be seen as even more "theatrical" and it seems possible that this charge was levelled at the figure because of Pennington's own reputation as an actor.

In fact, also in 1876, Pennington appeared in a "tableau vivante" based on the figure, which the painter herself arranged, and she records her irritation at his performance: "We really did not want a representation of Mr. So-and-so in the becoming uniform of an hussar, but my battered trooper. The whole thing fell very flat."

In the 11th Hussar files there is a copy of the Souvenir progamme for a Benefit concert held on his behalf at the Royal Victoria Theatre on the 23rd of June 1876 in which his appearance in the picture is mentioned and also a pencilled request by him written from 475, Kingsland Road, Hackney, to a Mr Hutton, that "the bearer (a friend of mine) be passed through to see the picture".

Death & burial

William Pennington died at 34, Albion Road, Stoke Newington, on the 1st of May, 1923.

His obituary notice in the Hackney Gazette, 12th of May 1923, reads:

"PENNINGTON, William Henry, on May 1st, at Stoke Newington, in his 91st year, after a short illness. [Now known to have followed a stroke.] A survivor of the Light Cavalry Charge at Balaclava: late 11th Hussars. Funeral at Abney Park on Monday, May 7th, at twelve o'clock. Will friends accept this intimation."

See the report of his funeral taken from the Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 9th of May 1923, in the 11th Hussar file.

He was buried in Grave No. 54279, Section J4 of Abney Park Cemetery. First enquiries failed to reveal that a man of this name had indeed been buried there on the 7th of May 1923, but a check on the name inscribed on the erected tombstone established that the man buried there was indeed William Pennington and not "William Pessington", as shown in the cemetery records.

Others buried in the same grave-space are, Albert Pennington, 20th of April 1874, C. Pennington, 7th of August 1878, W. Pennington, 16th of July 1884, E. Pennington, 7th of August 1888. M. Pennington, 23rd of July 1890 and F.E. Pennington, 10th of December 1896.

William Pennington was shown as being 90 years of age at the time of his death. In the newspaper report of his funeral it was stated that his wife, his father, mother, and a brother, were all buried in the same grave-space.

The erected family headstone bears the following inscriptions:

"To the memory of Albert Pennington, who died on the 17th of April 1874, in the 65th year of his life. Also Margaret Grace Pennington, who died July 1st 1878, aged 5 years. And Marie Elizabeth Pennington, who died August 2nd 1878, aged 5 weeks. 'He shall gather the lambs unto his arms.' Also the Revd. Walter Pennington, died July 6th 1884. [followed by another name, almost illegible, but thought to be] E..... Pennington, died 7th of August 1888. Also Margaret, wife of Albert Pennington, who died July 20th 1890, aged 78 years. Also Frances Emma Pennington, died December 16th 1890, aged 64 years. Also William Pen........"

The rest of the wording has all broken away. The stone is now (1986) very weathered and much of the facing stone has now flaked off. Now possibly away from its original site, it is leaning against a tree, and has been so for some time, the tree growing around the edge. (See photograph in the 11th Hussar file.)

The number of the people recorded on the stone would seem to exceed the normal allowable number of interments, and the later interments may have taken place close by. Some of the dates and names do not agree with those originally given by the cemetery authority. It is also very difficult to say just who Margaret Grace and Elizabeth Marie were, but from their ages were probably his daughters, Albert and Margaret Pennington his father and mother, Frances Emma, his wife, and the Revd. Walter and E..... Pennington, his brothers.

(The Revd. Walter Pennington was formerly the curate of Shebbear, Devon.)

Extracts from the Hackney Gazette, 2nd of May 1923:

Widespread regret will be expressed by the news of the death, in his 91st year, of William Henry Pennington, which occurred on Tuesday at his home, No. 34 Albion Road, Stoke Newington; after an illness that commenced with a stroke, only a week previously. His passing has brought to a close a life crowded with adventures. He participated in the immortal charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in 1854, when he escaped after being twice wounded and having his horse, "Black Bess", as he called her - shot under him...

After being invalided [sic] from the Army his inclinations turned towards the theatre as a means of earning a livelihood. He was not without classical learning and had lectured on drama from time to time. Accordingly he sought employment in the theatre and was told, "Pennington, play anything and everything that comes your way during the next three or four years and you will do well."

First appearing at the New Royalty Theatre, London, in 1861, there followed parts in "Othello" (1862) "Lady of Lyons", the "Doge of Venice, " and in 1867, "Macbeth." The passage of the years brought a deserved success and the close of 1869 saw his playing "The Hunchback" at Sadler's Wells, and later "King Lear" and "Hamlet" in 1871 - the latter on one occasion in the presence of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Gladstone, who showed his approval of Pennington's interpretation of the role.

A few weeks later he was summoned to meet the P.M. at Carlton House Terrace, and received the personal commendation of the great man, who subsequently suggested a season of afternoon recitals at No. 11. The first such occasion was in 1872 before an audience graced with the presence of H.R.H. Princess Louise and many of her noble friends.

Thus Pennington "arrived" in the sphere of dramatic recitations, aided by the approbation of society audiences and by the press. He took his farewell from the stage in a special performance at the Avenue Theatre on the 12th of December 1891... At the close, Mr. Pennington said good-bye in a few gracefully chosen words - which he spoke with much feeling...

From 1892 Pennington occupied himself as a teacher of elocution at the Birkbeck School, Colvestone Crescent, Dalston, and occasionally lectured. In 1900 a committee of friends sponsored a testimonial fund in the form of a Grand Entertainment at the Shoreditch Town Hall. Sir Henry Irving promised his support and sent a telegram (which went un-read before the audience - and indeed, this remained in the pocket of one of the Committee for the following three days).

The proceeds were sufficient to provide a small annuity, and although little is known of his later years in Stoke Newington, it seems most probable that William Pennington, sailor, soldier and actor, passed them serenely with his memories of sea, camp, and stage."

The Pennington family headstone in Abney Park Cemetery, from Roy Dutton, Forgotten Heroes, 1st ed, p.180, online here.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The following information came from a Mr. W. J. Hawley in September 1974:

"At the time of his death he lived in Albion Road, Stoke Newington, London, with his son, Harold, and a daughter, Louise. The latter died at Hastings, still a spinster, about 1956, aged 96 or 97. The son was a G.P.O. colleague and fellow oarsman of my late father. Harold died in May of 1955, when his sister sold up the home and went to St. Leonard's in Sussex.

Louise had kept her father's medals and when she was being moved to a Home for the Aged near Hastings, gave them to my father, no other member of the family being interested, and he, as he had always intended, passed them on in May of 1957 to the Adjutant of the 11th Hussars, then at Hadrian's Camp. Carlisle, on the strict understanding that any announcement or mention of their receipt should be connected with the daughter's name.

I dimly recall being presented to the old soldier when I was a child of some six or seven years of age. Subsequently my father told me that W.H.P. was the favourite Tragedian and Shakespearean actor of William Ewart Gladstone, when he was the Prime Minister.

When W.H.P. died, the usual arrangements were made for interment in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington. Some of the mourners were already in their coaches and the family were on the point of following the coffin out when, unexpectedly, the officer commanding the small military party which arrived with a horse drawn gun-carriage requested that his regiment should have the privilege of taking their old comrade on his last journey. The request was granted and the hearse dismissed.

After the committal the "Last Post" was sounded and a salute fired over the grave."

There is a reference to WP in e.g. Hackney's hidden gems: Abney Park.]

Among its inhabitants are some of the affectionately-titled 'heroes of Abney' including General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army; William Pennington, survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade; and Victorian music hall performer George Leybourne, who sang 'The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze'.

Further information

Canon Lummis states that he "invited [WP] to the Soldiers' Christian Association in London in 1913 and although he confessed himself to be an agnostic, he was much impressed by the witness of those present."

Extract from the Holborn and Finsbury Gazette, 5th of September 1897:

"A Polite Burglar - The house of Mr. W.H. Pennington (who is one of the survivors of the Balaclava Charge.) of Stoke Newington, was visited by a burglar a few days since, who carried off certain items of jewellery and medals of no particular value to anyone but the owner. The house had been temporarily un-occupied. One of the stolen medals was from Queen Victoria and the other from the Sultanate of Turkey.

The other morning Mr. Penningtom received an unpaid postal packet containing his medals and the following note... 'I return your medals. I was very sorry to have taken them, not knowing what they was at the time. They would only have brought me in 4/-, so you can send me the money on by return of post.'"

In the New York Times for the 28th of November 1877 the newspaper's theatre critic commented on the formation of an English association to improve the quality and taste of some of the plays that were being put on by the English theatre managements.

The association was supported by a number of politicians, members of the clergy, the theatrical profession and other public figures. One of these men was Mr. Gladstone, the Prime Minister. Referring to him, the critic said:

"As for Mr. Gladstone, he is a capital wood-cutter, a clever political actor, and a ripe old scholar, but he knows no more about dramatic art or the play-going public than he does about a gin-cocktail or terrapin soup.

The other day he went to a country theatre and saw Mr. Pennington play Hamlet. He was so delighted that he wrote Pennington a testimonial. Now, Pennington has been frequently the laughing-stock of London, but in consequence of Gladstone's praises Chatterton has brought him to London's Drury Lane to play Charles the Second in Willis's "London in the days of Charles the Second."

A crowd of people went to see "Gladstone's actor" and when poor Pennington began to be both chivalrous and pathetic, they roared with laughter."

Further evidence that he was not always successful comes from a newspaper article at the time of his death:

"A Giant in Pantomime"

"For a while Mr. Pennington acted at Drury Lane, appearing as a giant in one pantomime there. He performed a good deal in the provinces from time to time and indulged in many unproductive speculations, among them being the running of the Greenwich Theatre in 1862.

His recitation of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" [presumably Tennyson's poem] was often given in the uniform he wore on the occasion, was always popular with audiences, but when he appeared at the "National Standard", Shoreditch, as the dashing hero in a drama entitled "Balaclava" little success attended the production."

Extract from Norfolk Annals, 19th of February 1877:

"At Norwich Theatre, Mr. W.H. Pennington, the celebrated tragic actor, one of the Six Hundred, formerly of the 11th Hussars and one of the few wounded survivors of the world-famed cavalry charge at Balaclava on the 25th of October 1854, made his first appearance in the character of Macbeth and was supported by Miss Viola Dacre as Ophelia. On subsequent nights Mr. Pennington appeared as Macbeth, as Richard the Third, and on the 23rd he recited, wearing the uniform of his old regiment, 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'."

From The Regiment, 26th of December 1896:

"A Balaclava Veteran"

"At an entertainment given on his behalf, Mr. W.H. Pennington gave a recitation of the "Charge of the Light Brigade" dressed in the uniform of the 11th Hussars and wore the same jacket he had worn at Balaclava during the action. At a certain passage in the poem he drew the sword which was carried by Colonel John Douglas, who led the 4th Light Dragoons [actually, the 11th Hussars] through that day."

See also the record of 1153 Richard Brown, 11th Hussars.

See also XI Hussars Journal Number 1, Volume 4, Aldershot, January 1913, "One of the Light Brigade. Chapter from the life of Mr Pennington."

References & acknowledgements

Considerable census information and details of births, deaths and marriage registration kindly provided by Chris Poole.

New on the site Search Index of men P
For further information, or to express an interest in the project, please email the editors, Philip Boys & Roy Mills, via info@chargeofthelightbrigade.com