Friday, 26 June 2015

Wellington Museum, Waterloo - Belgium 2015

Waterloo 1815 - French guns being taken back to Brussels after the battle, with Wellington's HQ on the left opposite St Joseph's church.
Today we arrived in Waterloo to begin our two day visit to one of the most famous battle sites. Somewhat fittingly, our hotel is situated just down the road from Wellington's HQ and eve of battle accommodation. The first thing that strikes the visitor about Waterloo is it is a busy town with lots of traffic motoring through on the road to Brussels.

The other thing that comes to mind when first visiting Wellington's HQ is the similarity this building has to any other coaching house that can be found in most county towns in England today and I am sure the Duke must have felt very at home in this inn prior to and after the battle.
The Royal Chapel and St Joseph Church of Waterloo as it looks in 2015
We had arrived at about 2.30 pm, and after getting our room at our hotel sorted and grabbing a spot of late lunch we began by visiting the Wellington museum. We also paid a quick visit to the St Joseph's church which is home to some very moving stone tributes to the men of the allied army involved in the battle. Unfortunately, it being a very hot day, we weren't appropriately dressed for visiting a church, so we decided to try and revisit later in the next two days.

These smallish Napoleonic museums all have similar items in their collections ranging from uniform examples on manikins to show them off to the different weaponry and battlefield finds. The Wellington museum is no different and so I thought I would select items that caught my attention the most.

The old coaching house and inn at Waterloo, now houses the Wellington museum. Gun carriages replaced by cars
The most important aspect for me was the building itself, still fitted out and decorated much as it must have been in 1815; you can really get a feel for the place and imagine the hustle and bustle of staff officers coming and going, during those tumultuous days two hundred years ago.

The museum has some wonderful personal items on display, such as these pipes belonging to General Ziethen commander of the I Prussian Corps. As a wargamer I like to see items like these as occasionally you end up painting a figure carrying the trusty pipe. I, for instance, have the AB model of General Lasalle carrying one of these items and these pictures will come in handy when I end up painting him.

Prussian General Zieten's pipe collection

The rooms in the museum are themed around the various armies involved in the campaign and in the French room was this excellent sepia drawing of a French cuirassier corps drawn up in line of battle. The picture is in three parts as seen and really captures the awesome appearance of such a force.

French Cuirassier Corps drawn up in line of battle
As you can see from the close up of the command group the detail achieved was really spectacular.

The close up of the HQ staff, with Imperial ADC heading off having delivered his orders
The classic French bell topped shako is as evocative of Waterloo as much as the British Belgic shako and this one on display had that battered crinkled leather look of an original, with the brass scales looped up to where the company pompom would normally have been atop the French cockade. The sturdiness of the French shako would seem to offer a modicum of protection from the downward cut of an allied cavalry sabre, certainly more so than the British version.

An original French shako of the period
The ironwork collected from the battlefield really brought home Wellington's reference to the "hard pounding" nature of the battle. My son Will is off to medical school in September and was taking a keen interest in the information presented on the medical care and the wounds encountered from these low velocity missiles.

Battlefield debris collected over the years
One display cabinet had a very nice arrangement of the various pistols used by British, French and Prussian cavalry. In the battles of this campaign cavalry were often forced to draw these weapons as their only option of causing harm to the many infantry squares that featured in most of the actions.

By this period the pistol was now a very functional mass produced piece of kit without the fancy metal scroll work seen on pieces from earlier periods.

French light cavalry pistol
British "Tower" cavalry pistol
Prussian cavalry pistol
The tour of the museum concludes with a visit to the rear courtyard where the scene is created of the officers mounting their chargers prior to making their way down to Mont St Jean and the coming battle. Today the rear garden area is host to some grave sites of British officers killed in the battle, the memorial to Lord Uxbridge's leg that was buried here after the battle but later disinterred and returned to the UK on the General's death.

This area also appears to be where old memorial stones replaced for this bicentenary have been relocated as the Scots Guards stone seems to be the one that was at the North gate of Hougomont and that I pictured in 1976 as shown in my Waterloo bicentenary post.

The rear courtyard of the museum

The last time I saw this was at Hougomont in 1976
"Sacred to the Memory of the major Arthur Rowley Heyland of his Britannick Majesty's Fortieth Regiment of Foot who was buried on this spot. He fell gloriously in the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 1815, at the moment of victory and in command of the Regiment aged 34 years".
"Here liest the leg of his Majesty's illustrious, brave and valiant Lieutenant General, the Earl of Uxbridge commander in chief of the English, Belgian and Dutch cavalry wounded on the 18th of June at the memorable battle of Waterloo who by his heroism contributed to the triumph of mankind's cause so gloriously decided by the victory of that day".

"To the memory of Colonel Sir H. W. Ellis 23rd Regiment, Royal Welch Fusiliers. Killed in action at Waterloo 18 June 1815
As far as I recall the French artillery at Waterloo was only composed of 12lbr and 6lbr guns, with the trusty workhorse of previous French campaigns, the 8lbr absent. This reduced hitting power coincided with the up-gunning of the British and KGL batteries to the preferred piece, the trusty 9lbr. 

Thus it was very nice to see this smaller French cannon on display at the museum that I took to be a French 6lbr which formed the mainstay of French artillery on the day of Waterloo.

The Wellington museum is a great place to start your visit to Waterloo from and I thought the building and collection of various artifacts well laid out and of interest to the knowledgeable visitor as well as those less so.

Thus ended our first Waterloo visit, with our tour to Quatre Bras, Ligny and Wavre ending in Plancenoit, arranged for tomorrow. Whilst writing this post the weather is still very hot, but even now I can hear the noise of summer rain, and a bit of thunder. How about that for a little reminder of the weather two hundred years ago.


  1. Thanks for posting Jonathan, could you tell me why the French had dropped the 8lbr is it because they had lost so many in previous campaigns .
    Regards Furphy .

    1. Hi Furphy, I've got a feeling that it was as you suggest, simply an issue of not having the cannon due to losses in previous campaigns.

  2. Brilliant Jonathan, very much looking forward to the next part of your trip!!! Looking forward to Plancenoit especially to see the church etc.

    1. Thanks Paul. We have had a very busy and amazing two days and I have a stack of pictures to wade through. I am aiming to split the visit up in to district parts or bite size chunks in a series of posts, and Plancenoit is in there.

  3. Yes Great stuff Jonathan, wonderful for those who can't get there because of the tyranny of distance. Thanks for posting!

  4. Excellent post again JJ - wnderful insight.


  5. Thanks chaps, plenty more to come as we travel around the four battle sites of this interesting campaign