Sunday 22 September 2019


It has been a long while since my last post, and the reason is not hard to explain: Hougoumont is no small undertaking.  As with everything at Waterloo, the extensive amount of evidence still leaves tantalisingly unresolved problems, which this post in its own small way seeks to address.

During the next few months, I'm going to show my emerging work - I'm afraid it will be slow work.  The sheer scale of the Hougoumont estate means that I have to keep each section boxed up - only occasionally can I bring the whole corner of the battlefield together.

But just to show you that I haven't been idle, here are some of the infantry I've been getting ready to put on the model:

Nassauers - mostly Hat
Close up
Grenadiers, many Qualicast, S Range, Legio and Art Miniaturen
1,400 French Centre Company Line Infantry waiting to be placed - mostly Esci skirmish poses.

The same 1,400 infantry

Almost too many to see anything worthwhile.

This took most the summer!

Dense ranks

Kneeling skirmisher

Voltigeurs - most of these are conversions.  I wanted action poses to convey movement across the killing zone.  You will notice some are carrying pistols.  Waterloo Uncovered have discovered a disproportionately high number of pistol rounds near to the wall.

Coldstream and Light Companies



I began my researches by convening a small conference.  We met at my house back in May.  I was lucky to attract 20mm enthusiasts, archaeologists, historians and model makers.  Many people couldn't make it, but were also kind enough to offer advice, ideas and help.

In my spare time, I support a small charity called Waterloo Uncovered, who have done some amazing work around Hougoumont (although the media focus this year was on their dig at Mont St Jean).

Courtesy of Waterloo Uncovered, I've been able to look at a 3D visualisation of the Hougoumont complex, two stills of which are below:

Waterloo Uncovered have also done a 3D scan of the Siborne Model - given its tiny size, the results are quite 'lumpy' but it is interesting to compare the modern scan above with the model below:

The Wood

The farm complex of Hougoumont is actually no bigger than La Haie Sainte, it is the Chateau's estate that gives it scale.  A key part of the estate is the wood to the south of the gardener's house.

The wood at Hougoumont was heavily fought through, but doesn't appear in itself to have presented too much of an obstacle to the advancing French infantry.  Waterloo Uncovered's research shows that road running south from the south gate was particularly hard fought for, with an extraordinary number of musket balls in the ground.

Painted a month after the battle, this picture conveys the damage done to the trees by artillery, notably shrapnel.  It also shows that there was a clear view through to the Farmer's House with no obvious secondary vegetation.

Another shot of the wood
The Walls

I would argue that the key to the defence of Hougoumont was the garden wall.  Its height necessitated the construction of a firing platform and loopholing to allow fire from ground level.  Its value lay not only in its robust construction but in the open ground to its front, known appropriately as the 'Killing Zone'.

Waterloo Uncovered's work suggests that the wall was breached by the French - the scatter of Charleville rounds is particularly concentrated just inside the wall at its mid point, so I shall be showing such a breach - we must assume that a British or Nassau counter-attack eventually plugged the gap.

Showing the steep slope towards to east

The south east corner

One of the most valuable aspects of the 3D scan is that it is possible to see just how long the garden wall actually is.  It is no wonder that its defence necessitated the deployment of Foot Guards Light companies near to the Chateau, Nassauers in the centre and 2nd Coldstream at the east end.

This view shows the slope from the west up to the east

This sketch is in the British library and was done by Charles Southey who visited Hougoumont with Edward Nash in October 1815.  He noticed that there were piles of rubble and surmised that it came from the demolition of the wall between the garden and the buildings.  He imagined the troops standing on top of the rubble and firing through loopholes.  Given the length of the wall it's hard to believe that enough rubble could have been found and I believe that a composite of loopholes, rubble and improvised firing platforms from doors and furniture would have been used.

His accompanying letter reads as follows:

Dear Sir,
Colonel Berkeley Drummond has been staying with me for some time – and told me that you were anxious to obtain some information as to the sort of ‘Defence’ which was executed inside the wall at Hougoumont.

I was for many years in the 3rd Regiment (since June 1815) and have heard many officers describe the action of the 18th of June.

In the year 1816 I made some drawings of the different objects of interest and now enclose you the only one I can at the moment put my hand on. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the drawings at this distance of time.

There is a fault in the perspective at the angle of the wall – this I think I made purposely in order to show that the wall stood someway in advance of he farm wing. I should say that I remember seeing a sort of rough platform inside the wall, made of stone. Taken I think from a cross wall which separated the homestead from the kitchen garden.

I will endeavour to show my recollection of the appearance of the platform by a rough drawing from the main house and grounds.

I think that there was a way in to this space from a window which had been broken away to make a passage.

The wall was higher perhaps than my sketch would represent.

Whether the platform was at the angle A or commence at B I cannot positively say – but as it must have been a great object to defend the curtain, I have little doubt but that it was at A. Captain Evelyn and the Light Company of the 3rd Regiment made the ‘Defence’. Evelyn was a very ingenious man, and acquired great credit in the regiment for the manner in which he affected the duty allocated to him. Captain Elrington (Who has now left the regiment and is living in Wales) has I am quite sure a most accurate recollection of every particular of the French attack in this quarter – he was stationed I know at the gate – and used to describe the affair with great accuracy of detail.

Drummond left me without taking the drawing, and I now send it to you – and if it is of the slightest use – I shall be most happy to think that I have been able to afford you any information however trivial.

The work on which you are now employed as so apparently national that every person must feel an interest in hoping that your labours will soon be answered with success

Believe me, faithfully yours CHARLES FAIRFIELD
While the story of Hougoumont is told with a very heavy slant to the light companies of the Foot Guards, the garrison in fact contained many Germans.  Bugsen's Nassau battalion was detached from the east flank of the battlefield.  Bugsen deployed two companies of 270 men into the wood to assist Brunswick Field Jagers and some Lunebergers; these then fell back into the garden.  He also placed another company in the Great Orchard, and two more companies in the formal garden.  His Grenadier company was placed in the farm complex.  The problem with the Nassau battalion is that it is very hard to assess just how central it was to the overall success of the defence.  The relatively few casualties that it suffered compared to the Foot Guards, suggests that it was not as heavily committed as might be supposed.

Showing the line of the old hedge behind which the French attack ground to a halt.

The Gardener's House

This sketch by Denis Dighton is a fine precursor to his eventual watercolour.  It shows the damage to the roof of the east extension and the large bush in front of the west extension.  There are many bullet holes in the gate, but no evidence that it was breached.
This photograph was taken before the Victorian extension was built (and which has now been dismantled)

The North Side - the Covered Way

There are no good pictures of what the Covered Way looked like in 1815, but at its west extremity the evidence suggests some brick kilns and on the map, the location of a pond.

Dighton's sketch

And the worked up watercolour

The Interior

This Victorian photograph shows the rising ground to the east very well.

 The West Side

There is evidence that the French were able to make good use of the west flank of the farm - they used the high ground opposite to deploy artillery and were able to gain entry through the small door, but were expelled.  It's not hard to see how this would have been difficult for the British - they were effectively blind to what the French were doing.

The 3D scan showing the west side

The Garden

The lay out of the garden in 1815 is perhaps the most contentious aspect of Hougoumont. To what extent did the formal parterres of the 18th century garden endure into the early 19th Century?

Garden layout

This is a useful picture, but to what extent it is based on conjecture is hard to say.
Siborne's map showing the garden.

This contemporary diagram clearly shows that the garden was formally divided between a staff at the east end and six quadrants to its west.

Again the star and quadrants are clearly visible.

The garden and surrounding estate

And in detail, showing the important join between the hedges - this 'hinge' allowed the French to manoeuvre between the Great Orchard and the wood.  Waterloo Uncovered have found a French Marine Artillery button here.  We know the Napoleon supplemented his Army artillery with Marine gunners from 1813.  This suggests that the French were able to bring up at least one gun to this corner point.

This modern image captures the ghostly outline of the old garden

The Balustrade

This Victorian photograph shows parts of the balustrade scattered in the undergrowth.

And in close up.

A surviving stone

This Victorian picture gives a tantalising glimpse not only of the balustrade but of the parterre

The sketch shows the balustrade in close-up.

So turning now to the model.  The first few shots are rather grainy having been taken in my barn by another camera.  

From the wood looking west towards Hougoumont (ignore La Haie Sainte in the background!).  The blank area is where the formal garden will be built.

From the north looking south.  The brown area is yet to be modelled.

Part of the wood.  The southern half of the wood is not yet built.
The North Gate.
And now some better shots with a good camera showing one of the six sections:

Looking south over the gardener's house.  Some British are placed experimentally.

The south gate - work in progress.  My next job is to construct the small kitchen garden adjacent to the Gardener's house.
The view looking north east - I'm building platforms for the British to fire over.

 Postscript: for some reason I am having trouble posting replies to messages, so for Lee and Stryker, may thanks for your kind comments, they are much appreciated.  I attach some conversions from Speira miniatures.  These are 3 D printed ACW figures.  One of the problems for Napoleonic diorama makers is the relative lack of action poses.  ACW figures can quite easily be changed to British Napoleonic figures - trousers, not gaiters, square packs and similar cross belts.  All that's needed are new heads!