The nation's toast to Horatio Nelson

As first light breaks over the village of Nelson's birth tomorrow morning, a communal gathering will take place to honour a Norfolk hero: breakfast for 120 at the Vice-Admiral's local at Burnham Thorpe.

As first light breaks over

the village of Nelson's birth tomorrow morning, a communal gathering will take place to honour a Norfolk hero: breakfast for 120 at the Vice-Admiral's local at Burnham Thorpe.

This is the where the story of Britain's finest naval warrior all began.

And perhaps it is fitting on a Trafalgar Day marking the bicentenary of the battle and his death, that an informal gathering of villagers should herald a weekend of events that will take place the length and breadth of the country.

From 7am onwards many of Burnham Thorpe's inhabitants will gather for breakfast rolls of bacon, sausage and eggs, coffee, tea and orange juice, all served up at the Lord Nelson pub.

It will take place in a setting that Nelson himself would still find familiar.

Most Read

The lanes of the village have changed little in two centuries, the church where his father was rector still stands as a sentinel of faith and while the rectory in which the family lived has long gone - demolished during Nelson's lifetime - the pub remains as he would have imagined.

Called the Plough when he drank and dined there, those who follow in his footsteps walk perhaps on the very flagstones trodden by the Norfolk hero.

Tomorrow's breakfast feast recalls a meal offered by Nelson to the village back in 1793 when he returned to sea after five frustrating years "on the beach" without a ship and marooned on half pay in North Norfolk.

Landlord David Thorley said: "Before going back to sea in 1793 Nelson hosted a final meal at the pub for the whole village, which was rather nice and we thought we should recreate that at breakfast time. We will have about 120 people from the village coming along, one of them will be dressed as Nelson, welcoming people and helping re-enact what was a significant chapter in Burnham Thorpe's history."

It pre-empts a series of events in the village over the whole weekend: A Trafalgar Dinner; village hog roast, fireworks and lighting of a Trafalgar beacon; a lecture by eminent naval authority Professor Andrew Lambert; a performance of Haydn's Nelson Mass; and a service of commemoration on Sunday with the Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham James preaching.

The pub was still called the Plough in 1793, but renamed the Lord Nelson in 1798 in honour of Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile.

"It was the first ever pub in Britain called Lord Nelson, now there are 153," said Mr Thorley, who like all villagers is acutely aware of what their finest son did for the nation.

"Without that victory over the French we would have been invaded. The invasion fleet was there ready and there is no doubt Napoleon would have defeated our army, we were not as ready as we were in 1815 with Wellington. But for him we would all have been speaking French today.

"But Nelson also had incredible management technique, he was quite revolutionary in the way he managed his men, he was way ahead of his time."

Eloquently put.

Another major driving force behind the national celebrations, Trafalgar Weekend chairman Bruno Peek, puts it a little more succinctly and

continues the breakfast theme. "Nelson saved our bacon at Trafalgar," he is fond of saying. "What better way to salute him than start the day the British way."

Something of a sound bite analogy, but undoubtedly true.

Food is an underpinning theme of the Trafalgar celebrations, with Mr Peek encouraging people to hold Trafalgar Dinners and use British produce for the dishes. Any charity money raised will go to Seafarers UK and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

Yet the uniting theme for the nation will be a chain of beacons, as in the style established by Mr Peek for the Millennium and the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

The Queen will light the first beacon alongside HMS Victory tomorrow at Portsmouth at 6.45pm with four other members of the Royal Family lighting beacons across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales soon after.

The beacon at Burnham Thorpe will follow, lighting up the sky along with hundreds more nationwide including many in Norfolk at such locations as Knapton, near North Walsham and the recreation ground at Thorpe St Andrew near Norwich.

Some are organised events following large Trafalgar dinners, others more informal following a family get together or a friends' reunion with a toast to Horatio Nelson.

Over the summer, there have been numerous exhibitions held, concerts, events and regattas, including the spectacular fleet review off Portsmouth in June, with more to follow.

But this weekend of October 21-23, it is for the people of Britain to remember Nelson and his victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805, a conflict that saved the nation from invasion but cost Horatio Nelson his life.

And with hundreds of events planned, Norfolk - as Nelson's home county - is leading the way.

Schools are holding Nelson days, such as Fakenham Junior School or the Fred Nicholson School at Dereham.

Educational establishments where Nelson had direct links, Paston College ( Paston Grammar in the days when Nelson was a pupil) at North Walsham and Norwich School, will stage more formal ceremonies and services.

Pubs, clubs and restaurants have Nelson-themed events and dinners, there are street celebrations and activities taking place in North Walsham and Anglia Square, Norwich, and Hilborough near Swaffham - where the Nelson family lived before heading to Burnham Thorpe - will celebrate its links with the naval hero with an exhibition.

On Saturday a planting ceremony will take place on the Holkham estate to create Tonnant Wood, one of 33 new woodlands around Britain created by the Woodland Trust to mark the bicentenary with one named for each of the 27 ships of Nelson's fleet and the six supply vessels.

Motorists entering Norfolk have been reminded they are entering Nelson's County, thanks to road signs provided to the county council by turkey tycoon Bernard Matthews.

In addition the council has arranged for Nelson's home village of Burnham Thorpe to be added to the giant marble map of Norfolk featured in County Hall.

Tomorrow morning there will be a wreath-laying at the restored Nelson Monument at Yarmouth with a rum toast to his memory.

Chairman of the Norfolk Nelson Liai-son 2005 Committee, John Alston, said: "The anniversary has captured the hearts of people throughout the county in a way which I hope will strengthen our communities. The support we have seen gives me hope that we can continue to develop Norfolk as Nelson's County in the future."

County council chairman John Baskerville said: "I am delighted to see so many events taking place celebrating the life and achievements of Norfolk's most famous son. It's particularly pleasing that so many young people are involved in the celebrations and teachers are playing their part and teaching children about Nelson."

Church services will bring the Trafalgar Weekend to a close with bells being rung across the country, including one at St Nicholas' Church, Yarmouth, where descendants of those who fought at Trafalgar will attend to honour the contribution of Nelson and his crews.

Nationally, a wreath will be laid on Nelson's tomb at St Paul's Cathedral tomorrow with reception dinners aboard HMS Victory and a National Trafalgar Night dinner at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Norfolk's premier Trafalgar Dinner will be at the Ocean Room, Gorleston, tomorrow night for 674 guests.

There will be the Royal Navy Remembrance Service at St Paul's on Sunday.

Nelson will also be remembered on the other side of the world by Nelson City Council in New Zealand, one of the first places to see the sun rise on Trafalgar Day. The city that takes the Norfolk hero's name also commemorates other associations with the battle in streets named Trafalgar, Hardy and Collingwood and Victory Park.

The Duke of York launched the city's Trafalgar 200 celebrations this month. Events include parades, re-enactments, a Trafalgar 200 ball, a performance of Haydn's Nelson Mass, fireworks and commemorative church services.

Ships from the New Zealand and Australian navies will also dock at Nelson for the celebrations.

Nelson mayor Paul Matheson said: "Nelson's history and culture have been stamped by the sea and things nautical. Trafalgar 200 is our chance to recognise our unique historical links and our connections with Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar."

Back in the UK, after the weekend of celebrations, a number of other events and lectures is planned for next month and the grand Trafalgar Ball at the Assembly House, Norwich, on December 21, re-enacts the 1805 event.

But tomorrow is Trafalgar Day, the focus for celebrations and commemorations. It is a time to pause and remember the life of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, a saviour of Britain, and the moment to offer a toast and salute to Norfolk's finest son.

Tomorrow's Event guide carries more Trafalgar Weekend listings.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter