Day trippers flock to watch sham battle

Day trippers travelled by train to Buckingham
Day trippers travelled by train to Buckingham

Back to the past with historian Ed Grimsdale.

Sham battles were all the rage in the 1860s.

View across Stowe Park to Wolfe's Obelisk

View across Stowe Park to Wolfe's Obelisk

They pleased the public, satisfied the vanity of noble commanders, gave volunteers a pleasant holiday but were closer to playing soldiers than training men to fight effectively.

The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos took pride of place as Lieutenant Colonel to the Royal Bucks Yeomanry Cavalry during the Stowe Sham battle of June, 1864.

It was his first chance to shine for he’d inherited Stowe from his father, the 2nd Duke, less than two years before.

His cavalry were part of a force defending Wolfe’s Obelisk ground.

It promised to be a great day, maybe the highlight of 1864 – a Great Volunteer Review in Stowe Park, a mansion virtually in lock-down since 1848.

London & NW Railway ran a cheap day excursion from Euston for 4 shillings “return” in a smart “covered carriage”.

The train departed from London at 8.15 am, arriving at Buckingham ‘about’ 10.30am and the return to town was arranged for 10pm.

Demand was buoyant, so train after relief train crawled to Buckingham and beyond, for the Duke of Buckingham had arranged for a siding where trains could park to be built at Bacon’s Crossing – the nearest point that the railway came to Stowe Park.

He had asked for a double track to be installed so that trains might pass each other but that hadn’t been done.

Such faulty planning ensured a train jam built up between Buckingham and this crossing.

Excursion trains arrived, snuggled up close but no regular train service could pass all day, either in the up direction to Brackley and Banbury or down to Buckingham, Bletchley and beyond.

The infantry tested a new tactic – in the face of cavalry attack, instead of forming into squares, they formed four lines, the front two dropping to their knees so that those behind might fire over them.

Stowe’s 1,300 acres of park provided a great fighting arena, and the troops’ ‘circuit’ of almost three miles was engineered so the spectators could see everything.

Possibly, 20,000 spectators viewed from in and around a special grandstand erected between the rifle butts and Wolfe’s Obelisk (pictured), looking along a shallow valley where the action and skirmishes were to take place.