Legend has it (supported by an article in the London Examiner) that in the early hours of 6 April 1837 the Marquis of Waterford and his hunting party, while celebrating a particularly successful hunt in the town of Melton Mowbray, found several tins of red paint which they proceeded to daub on to the town’s toll bar and several buildings of the High Street.
The Marquis of Waterford in question was actually Henry de la Poer Beresford. He was also known as ‘the Mad Marquis’, and according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he was a ‘reprobate and landowner’. He is reported to have been ‘invited to leave’ Oxford University, and other recorded transgressions include fighting, stealing, being , breaking windows, upsetting apple-carts (literally), fighting duels and, last but not least, painting the heels of a parson’s horse with aniseed and then hunting him with bloodhounds.
There are also suggestions that the Marquis of Waterford was ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ – a character who has gone into British Folklore and about whom I will write more on another occasion.
Whatever the origins – to this day, traces of red paint can be seen on doors of older buildings in the town.