The People of Gibraltar
1778 - Roger Aytoun - Spanking Roger

Charles Mawhood and Captain John Drinkwater - Lieutenant John Upton and General Eliott 
General Ross and Captain John Spilsbury 

Roger Aytoun was supposedly a rather well known character of whom unfortunately I have been able to find out very little. He was a Scotsman born in Inchdarney in Fife and was apparently a big man in every way - six foot four, a huge gambler, always drunk and addicted to fighting - hence the "Spanking Roger" nickname. 

Major Roger Aytoun  ( John Kay )

In 1769 he married the 65 year old Barbara Minshull the rich Manchester heiress to a massive estate that covered lands between Piccadilly and Princess Street along their intersections with Portland Street in Manchester. Today one of the streets leading into Portland Street bears his name - Aytoun Street.

Tradition has it that Aytoun took part in a race on Kersal Moor in which the competitors ran naked. The spectacle attracted large crowds, among them Barbara Minshull. She obviously liked what she saw and proposed marriage. He was so drunk during the ceremony at the local Collegiate Church that he needed help from his friends in order to be able to stand.  His wife's wedding present to him was Hough Hall.

By 1775 after he had squandered most of the family fortune he sold off the estate. The sale must have provided him with enough cash to fund or at least partially finance his own regiment, the 72nd Regiment of Foot - or Manchester Volunteers - which he intended to serve in the later stages of the American War of Independence. 

The story goes that he was an extremely active and zealous - not to say aggressive - recruiter. He is reputed to have often been seen promenading and strutting around the streets in Manchester seeking recruits - activities which served to reinforce his nickname of "Spanking Roger".  In fact he would frequently challenge people to a fight on the understanding that if they lost they would have to join his regiment. Another of his favourite ploys was to march around with a watch pinned to a banner, promising it to the first person who joined on the day. Organised football matches were also used as a recruiting device. 

Copy of the recruiting poster. The army must have regretted their description of Gibraltar as ‘the best Garrison in his Majesty’s Dominions’ as well as their decision to highlight the generous provisions on offer

The 72nd was officially raised in December 1777, with Charles Mawhood as its colonel but the regiment did not go to America but was sent to Gibraltar instead. I have as yet been unable to discover the whys and wherefores of this change of plan.  General Burgoyne had not yet surrendered his army at Saratoga and Britain had still to lose  this particular war. Whatever the case, the regiment arrived on the Rock in June 1778, just in time to settle in for the duration of the Great Siege (See LINK

The Rock during the Great Siege     ( 1780s - Esnauts et Ropilby )

It is curious that two of the many well known characters who seem to have fallen for his recruiting talents were Captain John Drinkwater (see LINK) and Lieutenant John Upton.  Both of them - despite the wording on the poster - believed they were about to be transferred to America to fight against the 'Patriots' in their war against their colonial masters. 

Captain John Drinkwater

Drinkwater wrote what many consider to be the definitive book on this conflict. He was also the prime instigator for the creation of Gibraltar's Garrison Library. (See LINK) As regards John Upton we know of him mostly through his wife - it was she who wrote of her experiences to her brother back in England. The letters were eventually published a few years later offering interesting insight into non-military aspects of the long siege. (See LINK)

The Siege ended in 1783 - the same year in which Roger's wife died. Some sources suggest that Aytoun later took part in the Spanish Peninsular War but it seems unlikely. The end of both the American War of Independence and the Great Siege of Gibraltar allowed the regiment to return to Manchester where they were disbanded that same year. The regiment had played a very credible part in defending the Rock against French and Spanish forces without having suffered too many casualties. As for Spanking Roger - how did he fare during the siege?

According to Captain John Drinkwater, Mawhood  - the original Colonel of the 72nd - died in Gibraltar in 1781 and  Brigadier Ross who had just returned to the Rock after a short spell back in England immediately took charge of the regiment. 

Just before the well-known "sortie" of 1781 (see LINK) that was organised to destroy newly built Spanish fortifications on the isthmus, General Eliott - the Military Commander and Governor of Gibraltar - issued very specific Garrison Evening orders. It contained among other things the following instructions: 
. . . the whole to be commanded by Brigadier General Ross; and to assemble on the Red sands at twelve o'clock this night, to make a Sortie upon the enemy's batteries.

The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar - Brigadier General Ross is fourth to the right of the pointing General Eliott  (1780s - John Trumbull )

All in all it could be said that the 72nd was always in the thick of things during the Siege and as such is often referred to by Drinkwater. Nevertheless neither he nor Captain John Spilsbury (see LINK) - another officer who also kept a detailed record of the war - ever makes mention of the Roger Aytoun or indeed of "Spanking Roger" - which seems a trifle odd given the larger than life personality of the Captain. Drinkwater who was also a captain would surely have shared his mess with him. Which leads one to speculate - did he even go there? Whether he did or not he certainly returned to Manchester as a hero.  According to the local newspaper the Manchester Mercury:
Soon after his arrival, the Bells were set in motion and joy glowed in every countenance
His regimental colours were deposited in Manchester Cathedral and later in Chetham's College but were later lost. Unfortunately his wife died very soon after his return and by 1792 he had mortgaged off just about everything he owned. Although he married another rich woman in his native Scotland in 1794, three years later he still owed over £11 000 - probably worth well over sixteen million pounds at the time of writing. 

In 1805 the War Office put him on half-pay and five years later in 1810 he died in Inchdairnie the town of his birth. Some say he died a bankrupt leaving friends and trustees to sell off whatever was left of his estates to clear his enormous debts - others that he died a rich man. His name lives on in public house off Oldham Road in the Newton Heath district and an equestrian effigy of him is proudly displayed on the bar. No doubt he would have approved.