James Tibbett, a Waterloo Pensioner
As can be seen in the photograph, James Tibbett’s grave stands in a prominent place in the graveyard at Edlesborough Parish Church, opposite the Bell and Greyhound Inns and in clear view of travellers along the main road. At that time, they were both fully licensed inns and both had good accommodation and were well used by the waggoners who trundled slowly to London with heavy farm produce.
The inscription reads:
DIED NOV 1878
DEAD IN CHRIST
TRUE TO THE END
It is believed that the ‘M.S.’ could stand for ‘Memoriae Sacrum’ ie ‘Sacred to the Memory of’.
There are a couple of inconsistencies with the gravestone:
James was baptized at Edlesborough Parish Church on 2nd March 1794, son of John Tibbett. Infants were usually baptized fairly soon after birth in those days, which therefore means that he was probably 84 years old when he died in November 1878.
James was buried 28th November 1878 and it is fairly unusual for the actual date of death not to be recorded on the tombstone, or for “occupations” to be recorded.
Given the above, together with the fact that the family were generally occupied as straw plaiters and/or agricultural labourers, it is possible that the money for the gravestone was raised by public subscription which, if correct, stands testament to the regard that his service at the Battle of Waterloo was held by the village. (This is speculation and should not be taken as fact, except see paragraph at the end.)
The Battle of WaterIoo took place on 18 June 1815 between NapoIeon's French Army and the Seventh Coalition — a combined army that included British troops under the command of the Duke of WeIIington. It was in this battle that Napoleon was defeated and his rule of the French Empire ended.
In the early 1800s there were few members of a standing army. The Buckinghamshire regiments at the time of Waterloo (The Bucks Yeomanry, volunteers and militia) were predominantly irregulars intended for defensive purposes at home rather than fighting abroad and so did not therefore fight at Waterloo.
The 14th Regiment of Foot (later the West Yorkshire Regiment) bore the title of the Buckinghamshire Regiment at the time of Waterloo, though only the 3rd Battalion served.
Recruitment to the 3rd battalion started in earnest in early December 1813. Most of the men were militiamen rather than raw recruits, partially trained and who had decided that army life was a long term career option for them. Various militia regiments offered up volunteers to the new battalion, including 3 men from Buckinghamshire Militia who joined up in April 1814.
The Waterloo Medal
The Waterloo Medal is historically important in that it was issued to all who took part in the campaign, irrespective of rank, thus making it the British Army's first campaign medal. It was given to approximately 39,000 men and the Waterloo Medal Book effectively forms a roll call of WeIIington's army.
A search of the Waterloo Medal Book produced the information that James was a Private in the 3rd Battalion 14th Regiment of Foot, in Captain William Bett’s Company.
James was 21 years old.
It is not known whether he was a militiaman or a new recruit.
The 3rd Battalion /14th Regiment of Foot in the Waterloo Campaign
On 21st March 1815 orders were received to hold themselves in readiness for embarkation to the Continent. Napoleon had escaped from Elba and was once again a menace and the 3/14th were one of the few battalions near to the south coast able to embark at short notice.
The battle began on the morning of Sunday 18th June, drummers beat the Reveille at 4.30 a.m. For a full account of the Battle of Waterloo and the 3/14th battalion’s part in it, please follow the link here
By 25th June 8 men had been killed, another 5 would die later of their wounds, though none of these was from Captain William Betts Company, in which James served.
The victorious troops spent a pleasant autumn and Christmas in Paris and went home via Plymouth in January 1816. The third battalion was disbanded in February 1816, the men fit for duty being transferred to the second battalion.
It is not known whether James returned to Edlesborough then, or whether he had a further career in the army. However as can be seen in the next paragraph, he did not marry until he was 45 years old so he probably stayed in the army after the Battle. (Documents relating to soldiers who were discharged to pension in this period are held by the National Archives, which also hold the regimental Muster Rolls and Pay Lists to 1854. Examination of these should establish his length of service in the army.)
James married Charlotte Woodcroft from Whipsnade 1st April 1839, at Edlesborough Parish Church. He was 45 years old and she was about 13 years younger than him.
In the census of 1841 he was described as an Agricultural Labourer, as was his father, who lived nearby.
By 1851 his father, an 82 year old widower, was living with them, relying on Parish Relief and working as a labourer. James was still an agricultural labourer and Charlotte was a straw plaiter. They had 2 children living with them, and also a 15 year old niece and 10 year old nephew, both straw plaiters.
The 1861 census records him as a Straw Plaiter/Plait man. This was perhaps one of the men who prepared the straw by stripping it to lengths of 9-10 inches (about 250 cms), fitting them into pottles (about half a gallon), ready for straw to be bleached and graded before being issued to the straw plaiters, who were usually women and children. His wife and daughter were both straw plaiters.
In the 1871 census he gave his age as 77 years and his occupation as Army Pensioner. Charlotte, age 63, was still a straw plaiter.
He died in November 1878. One can imagine that he was very proud of his medal, possibly the only one in the village.
Charlotte died in 1884 – in the census of 1881 she was living with her daughter, a straw plaiter and son–in-law, an agricultural labourer. She was recorded as a Pauper.
Testament to the regard in which James’ exploits were held by the village can be seen in the following paragraph, written nearly 18 years after his death.
‘Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette - Tuesday 30 June 1896
EDLESBOROUGH - June 18th being Waterloo Day, a wreath of laurel leaves was, as usual, placed upon the headstone of the grave of James Tibbett who fought with the Old 14th, a Buckinghamshire Regiment, led by the Earl of Albermarle, at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.’
The Earl of Albemarle does not appear in the account of the battle in the link above, but actually he is George Keppel, who is mentioned.
Research, text & photos by Chris Roddis