William Siborne: Model Maker and Historian

William Siborne has played a major role in our understanding of the battle of Waterloo , and has left a lasting legacy of his work in the form of two large models, a collection of letters containing the eyewitness accounts of Waterloo veterans, and a History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815 that has remained in print for almost 170 years. But Siborne’s skills as a model maker are largely unappreciated, and his work as a historian is clouded by controversy.

1. William Siborne

William Siborne © Peter Hofschroer

Siborne the Model Maker

How Siborne developed his interest in model making is not known. It may relate to his time as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military College, or his service with the Army of Occupation in Paris after the war. But when the idea was put forward in 1830 of constructing a model of the battle of Waterloo to form the centrepiece of the new United Services Museum, he was in an ideal position to undertake the project. He had recently constructed a model of the battlefield of Borodino, and had published A Practical Treatise on Topographical Surveying and Drawing, to which he had appended some Instructions on Topographical Modelling. As a result he was invited by Sir Rowland Hill, General Commanding in Chief of the British Army, to make the model. Siborne immediately took leave from his job as Assistant Military Secretary to the Commander in Chief in Ireland, and spent the next eight months at the farm of La Haye Sainte surveying the battlefield with the aid of a plane table and alidade (such as used below).

 .©.RCAHMS

The site had already been damaged by the construction of the Lion Mound, commemorating the location where William Prince of Orange (the future William II) was wounded, and so Siborne had to recreate part of the battlefield using an earlier plan by the Dutch surveyor Craan and the knowledge of the local farmers. The detailed plans that Siborne produced unfortunately do not survive, and the only hint that remains is a small-scale black and white engraving that was published by his son in 1891.

When the survey was completed Siborne returned to Dublin and set about making his model. After working out an appropriate scale of nine feet to the mile, he calculated the size of the base, and divided it into a number of sections to make it easier to construct and to transport. He then transferred the details of his plan to each section, and used this information to sculpt a clay pattern. When the pattern was finished he created a mould, from which he made a plaster cast. He then added the fine detail – the roads, hedges, trees, crops and buildings – before the 10mm high lead figures were fixed in place. When completed the model measured 21 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 9 inches, and was populated by 80,000 figures, representing the 160,000 Allied, French and Prussian troops.

Siborne had entered into the construction of the model in good faith without any form of written agreement, and when his official funding was suddenly withdrawn, either as a result of the Treasury’s realisation that the cost (£3000) was much more than they had anticipated, or because the new Whig adminstration was not inclined to support a project celebrating the senior figure in the Tory party, he was forced to continue the project at his own expense.

The Model illustrating the Crisis of the Battle, when Napoleon launched the Imperial Guard in a last desperate gamble to gain victory, finally went on display at the Egyptian Hall off Piccadilly in 1838 to popular acclaim, with over over 100,000 people visiting the exhibition. Only one major criticism was raised, that it over represented the contribution of the Prussians in the final victory, and in the end Siborne rectified the ‘error’ by removing almost 20,000 figures.

The Large Model © National Army Museum

The Large Model © National Army Museum

Despite the success of the exhibition Siborne’s financial position remained precarious. His hopes that the Government would purchase the model remained frustrated, and his attempts to sell it were unsuccessful. He was finally able to raise sufficient funds to pay off his creditors, when to everyone’s surprise he announced an even more ambitious project to construct a series of smaller models showing critical moments in the battle.

The first of the smaller dioramas showing the charge of the British heavy cavalry under the Earl of Uxbridge at about 1.30 pm was the culmination of all Siborne’s skill, knowledge and experience as a model maker. He had long realised that because models were viewed from above, the choice of scale was critical to give the correct visual impression of the ground. He therefore chose to adopt for the New Model a horizontal scale of 15 feet to 1 inch (giving an overall base size of 18 feet 7 inches long by 7 feet 9 inches wide), and a vertical scale of 6 feet to 1 inch in order to best illustrate the undulating nature of the terrain. The result is a splendid impression of the battlefield that illustrates not only the ridge of Mont St. Jean, but the major features such as the the sunken road, the sand pit, the farm of La Haie Sainte, and the re-entrant.

No. 3, Panoramic Shot of the Royal Armouries museum Siborne model. © Royal Armouries

No. 3, Panoramic Shot of the Royal Armouries museum Siborne model. © Royal Armouries

Siborne made an equally careful choice of figure scale. He wanted to show the tactical formations used by the opposing forces at the exact moment of the charge, the two ranks of the British infantry standing in line, the nine ranks of the French infantry advancing in column, and the broken formations of the cavalry and infantry in melee, flight or pursuit.

To do this he adopted the generous ratio of 1 figure to every 4 actual soldiers, and 1 model to every field gun or limber. All of the figures were to be hand painted in the correct uniform colours and facings. But Siborne also wanted to illustrate the action, and so he had each of the 20mm figures cast with separate heads, arms and weapons to allow individual infantryman and cavalryman to be given unique poses. The capture of the eagles of the 45th and 105th Regiments by Sergeant Ewart (Scots Greys) and Captain Clark (Royals), and other scenes were clearly indentifiable. Finally he had a number of special figures made to represent the Duke of Wellington, the Earl of Uxbridge, Sir Thomas Picton, and Count d’Erlon. The result is a dramatic interpretation of the charge of the Household and Union Cavalry Brigades, and the rout of the 1st Corps d’Armee.

No. 4. The New Model can be seen at the Royal Armouries museum. © Royal Armouries

No. 4. The New Model can be seen at the Royal Armouries museum. © Royal Armouries

The model was not perfect. There were some errors arising from Siborne’s flawed research, such as the transposition of the location of the 1st and 2nd Divisions of d’Erlon’s Corps, the misidentification of the French cavalry regiments, and the absence of Bijlandt’s Dutch-Belgian Brigade, as well as some inaccuracies in the uniforms and weapons. But Siborne’s intention was to produce a model that would enable ‘a closer insight not only into the disposition and movements of the troops engaged, but also into those minutae of detail which characterize the actual battle-field’, and in that he succeeded.

 

‘Scotland for Ever!’: the story behind Lady Elizabeth Butler’s iconic painting

Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson) (died 1933) - National Portrait Gallery: NPG 5314

Lady Elizabeth Southerden Butler (née Thompson) (died 1933) – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 5314

Lady Butler was amongst the foremost battle painters of her time. Her earlier works on the Crimean War had already seen her win praise from the public, art critics and royalty. Butler always did her utmost to accurately render the details of her military subjects. Whenever possible she interviewed veterans and sourced genuine period equipment. This proved problematic when portraying the events of Waterloo, some 66 years earlier.

The Roll Call

‘The Roll Call’, Lady Elizabeth Butler – an archetypal picture of the Crimean War. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

It is testimony to her diligence that only four small errors of uniform appear in her Waterloo work, as seen below: the addition of braided epaulettes on the lead officer, the inclusion of full-dress shabraques and regimental standard and the omission of the bearskins’ oil-skin covers.  However, Butler’s choice to inaccurately portray the horses at the gallop suggest that what could be read as errors were probably deliberate artistic choices to enhance the drama of the piece. Butler’s research also involved observing the Scots Greys on manoeuvres at Aldershot in 1879, twice having the regiment charge towards her to fully understand the effect she sought to capture.

LMG100000 Scotland For Ever! 1881 (oil on canvas) by Butler, Lady (Elizabeth Southerden Thompson) (1846-1933); 101.6x194.3 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K.; (add.info.: charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815;); English.

Currently on display at the Royal Armouries: LMG100000 Scotland For Ever! 1881 (oil on canvas) by Butler, Lady (Elizabeth Southerden Thompson) (1846-1933); 101.6×194.3 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K.; ( charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815) English. Bridgeman Images.

This research, dedication, and attention to detail, created the painting ‘Scotland for Ever!’ – capturing the moment just before the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons crashed into the column of the French 3rd Infantry Division. The combined charge of the 2,500 men of the Household and Union Brigades – the entirety of the British heavy cavalry – totally shattered the first French attack of the day.  General D’Erlon’s 1st Corps had been pushing back General Picton’s 5th Allied Division, until the British cavalry crested the rise and thundered into the unsuspecting French.  Eyewitnesses recorded that some of the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders called out ‘Scotland for ever’ as the cavalry charged.

Although a great triumph in which two French Eagles were captured (one by Sergeant Ewart of the Greys), 15,000 infantry were dispersed and 3,000 prisoners taken, the charge did not end with the defeat of D’Erlon’s Corps and the supporting Cuirassiers.  Most of the British heavy cavalry regiments were inexperienced, with the Greys not having seen active service in 25 years.  Flushed by their initial success, the two brigades charged on to the French Grand Battery and overran the enemy artillery.  Disorganised, and on tired horses, the British fell prey to counter-attacking French Lancers and Cuirassiers as they belatedly tried to return to the Allied lines.  The Greys suffered particularly, unusually having more men killed than wounded, amongst them their four most senior officers. The two British brigades sustained almost 50% casualties, including their commander Major-General William Ponsonby who was killed by a lance thrust.  Although on balance a success, the impetuosity of the charge, so well captured by Butler, led to unnecessary causalities and robbed the Allies of an effective heavy cavalry reserve for the rest of the battle.

Below are two images of a Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword belonging to the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (Scots Greys), which Lady Butler therefore incorporated into her work above. To find out more about the sword and it’s development, please click here.

DI 2014 3811

DI 2014 3812

DI 2014 3811 & DI 2014 3812: A heavily modified Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword with an acute spear point and with the inner guard ground down. The sword is marked to the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (Scots Greys).’

To see this iconic painting alongside other key artefacts of Waterloo, be sure to visit the Royal Armouries museum’s ‘The Art of Battle’ temporary exhibition in Leeds. To find out more about the museum’s full events programme of commemoration, please visit our website.

Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword

The Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword is one of the most recognisable and, to the British at least, iconic swords of the Napoleonic period. The sword was used by all regiments of British heavy cavalry (Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards, Dragoon Guards and Dragoons) throughout the Peninsular War (1807-14) and during the Waterloo campaign.

Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry  Trooper’s sword and scabbard

Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword and scabbard © Royal Armouries

Although for ever associated with Waterloo due to the swords use in the massed charge of the British heavy cavalry of the Household and Union brigades, Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword was also used by other countries. As part of supporting allied nations warring against the French, Britain exported a huge amount of weapons to its allies over the course of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Amongst these were Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry swords, which were used by both Portuguese and Swedish cavalry against the French.

Scotland For Ever! 1881 (oil on canvas)

‘Scotland for Ever!’ by Lady Butler, with the 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword pictured. The artwork is currently on loan to the Royal Armouries from Leeds Art Gallery.

Above you can see the 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword pictured in Lady Elizabeth Butler’s iconic ‘Scotland for Ever!’, which captures the charge of the Scot Greys. The painting currently features in the Royal Armouries’ Waterloo exhibition ‘The Art of Battle’, alongside other stunning arms, armour and art from the battlefield. To find out more about the painting and work of Lady Butler, please read more here.

Development

The Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword was adopted due to the failings of its predecessor, the 1788 pattern sword. This first sword was found by a Board of Cavalry General Officers “from long and repeated experience”, to be “unmanageable, owing to the length of the blade and the weight of the hilt”.

Heavy cavalry officer's sword, British, late 18th century (IX.606) © Royal Armouries

Heavy cavalry officer’s sword, British, late 18th century (IX.606) © Royal Armouries

The new heavy cavalry sword was adopted rather than developed in 1796, as unlike the light cavalry sword of the same year, it was not a new design. Whereas for the light cavalry the British cavalry officer John Gaspard Le Marchant had developed an entirely new sword, for the heavies he simply proposed an almost identical copy of the sword currently in Austrian service, the Dragoon Pallasch of 1769. This pallasch was a sword he had seen used to good effect by the Austrian cavalry during the Flanders campaign (1794-96). However it is likely that it was due to the Austrians’ high levels of training and superior levels of swordsmanship that the sword was used successfully, rather than due to the sword itself.

Use and Effect

A14.370 - Heavy cavalry sword (Model 1769 Heavy Cavalry Sword). Austrian, late 18th century (IX.1829) © Royal Armouries

A14.370 – Heavy cavalry sword (Model 1769 Heavy Cavalry Sword). Austrian, late 18th century (IX.1829) © Royal Armouries

Despite being a cutting sword, with a broad, single edged blade, the straight blade meant the sword was not optimised for cutting as it could not produce the slicing effect of a curved blade. Additionally the hatchet point made thrusting all but impossible. However, when compared with its predecessor, the 1788, the 1796 heavy cavalry sword was much better balanced and manoeuvrable, especially for the cutting based combat system that the British cavalry were taught.

Despite problems with its design, the sword could be used to fearsome effect, especially by the typically larger men employed as heavy cavalry. Both of the French eagles (Regimental standards) taken at Waterloo we secured by men wielding the 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword, however each used it in quite a different way.

Sergeant Ewart of the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (Scots Greys) exclusively employed cuts, as prescribed in the training manual:

‘The officer who carried it [the eagle of the 45th Regiment of Line Infantry] and I had a short contest for it; he thrust for my groin, I parried it off and cut him through the head; in a short time after whilst contriving how to carry the eagle and follow my regiment I heard a lancer coming behind me; I wheeled round to face him and in the act of doing so he threw his lance at me which I threw off to my right with my sword and cut from the chin upwards through the teeth. …I was next attacked by a foot soldier who after firing at me, charged me with the bayonet; I parried it and cut him down through the head; this finished the contest for the eagle which I was ordered by General Ponsonby to carry to the rear.’

Despite his method, it is thought that Ewart carried one of the swords that had had its hatchet point converted into a spear point; a process that Private Smithies of the 1st (Royal) Dragoons describes as happening in the days before the battle.  Captain Clarke of the same regiment clearly had his sword so ground as he took the Eagle of the 105th Regiment of Line Infantry in the same charge by thrusting with the point: ‘On reaching it [the Eagle], I ran my sword into the Officer’s right side a little above the hip’.

A spear pointed Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword of the 1st (Royal) Dragoons.

A spear pointed Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword of the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. © Royal Armouries

Blades with  modified spear (left) and original hatchet point (right)

Blades with modified spear (left) and original hatchet point (right) © Royal Armouries

These spear pointed swords are shorter than the unmodified versions and also have slightly less mass for cutting.  Even without the hatchet point the sword did not have a blade profile, being broad and single edged, for good penetration. However, the option of being able to use the point, especially when facing armoured Cuirassiers as the British were for the first time at Waterloo, made the modified sword a more versatile weapon.

A spear pointed Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword of the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. The Royals were the regiment of British heavy cavalry which saw the most action during the Napoleonic Wars.  ‘D’ Troop, which this sword is marked to, was led by Captain Methuen at the Battle of Waterloo.  Captain Clark and Corporal Stiles of ‘G’ Troop took an Eagle from the French 105th  Regiment of Line Infantry during the charge of the Union Brigade.

A spear pointed Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword of the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. © Royal Armouries

Above: A spear pointed Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s sword of the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. The Royals were the regiment of British heavy cavalry which saw the most action during the Napoleonic Wars.

‘D’ Troop, which this sword is marked to, was led by Captain Methuen at the Battle of Waterloo. Captain Clark and Corporal Stiles of ‘G’ Troop took an Eagle from the French 105th  Regiment of Line Infantry during the charge of the Union Brigade.

Trooper  of the Royal Horse Guards with Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword. The Royal Horse Guards were one of seven British cavalry regiments to use the sword at Waterloo

© Royal Armouries. Trooper of the Royal Horse Guards with Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword. The Royal Horse Guards were one of seven British cavalry regiments to use the sword at Waterloo

Below are two images of the Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Trooper’s  sword associated with Corporal of Horse (Sergeant) John Shaw of the 2nd Life Guards. Shaw was a renowned prize fighter and is thought to have personally slain several French Cuirassiers during the charge of the Household Brigade.

DI 2014-3795

DI 2014-3795

DI 2014-3797

 

Shaw in combat with French Cuirassiers at Waterloo

Shaw in combat with French Cuirassiers at Waterloo

Popular Culture:

Of course one the most famous users of the Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword is a character of fiction – and one that would not have been issued with this type of sword. Bernhard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe, despite being an officer of the 95th Foot (Rifles), uses the sword throughout his adventures.  Cornwell has Sharpe carry the sword due to personal preference, with Sharpe favouring the  straight bladed heavy cavaly sword to the lighter, curved Pattern 1803 Flank Officer’s sword a Rifle officer would have more normally have carried.

R Sharpe

The Diary of Private Holden: Part Two – The Remount Depot (24th May – 1st July 1915)

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden In our last post, Holden described the journey to France and has now crossed the channel.

Now arriving at Rouen, the soldiers faced a 4 mile hike to Base Depot Number 5 where Private Holden was to stay for nearly 6 Weeks. The base at Rouen consisted of different camps, largely firing Infantry, and was the primary hospital centre for the British Expeditionary Forces, in addition to housing the Cavalry Remount Depot. Private Holden describes it:

“like a big canvas city, & the distance round it, would be somewhere about, six miles, so you can form from that the amount of space taken, & very little space was wasted. In our camp alone we had over 50 stables, each one having over a hundred stalls, & about half a dozen lines, & at times these had over a hundred horses on each one”

Example of a British Army Camp ©Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Archive/ Royal Armouries FWWA

Though entranced by the appearance of the ‘canvas city’, the reality of accommodation at the base seems to have left something to be desired.

“The first few weeks, we had three tents between us, but we did not have them long, & we had two between twenty of us, it was so hot …. .after that we spent most of our nights outside, with the stars for a roof. Wet nights we looked for an empty tent.”

During the day the soldiers worked at the Remount Depot. Private Holden describes a typical day:

  • 6 am               Fall in and report to designated stable to groom and take to                                        water about one hundred horses per man
  • 7:30 am          Breakfast
  • 8:30 am          Back to the stables to groom and exercise the horses
  • 12 Noon         Rest period
  • 2:00 pm          (if on Cavalry Depot duty) Saddle horses ready to move out
  • 4:00 pm          Grooming, watering and feeding the horses
  • 6:00 pm          Released from duty

Evenings at the base were typically spent in the YMCA hut writing, playing cards or watching one of the nightly concerts or performances. Private Holden was lucky enough to be at the base when it hosted one of Lena Ashwell’s famous Concert Parties. Lena Ashwell was an actress and theatre manager who organised concert parties for troops as far afield as Egypt during the war, receiving an OBE for her work in 1917.

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

When not attending camp entertainments soldiers could request a pass to go into Rouen during their free time. Private Holden seems to have been very taken with the city, describing its churches, roads and cafes, and even going as far as to comment:

“I must say that most of their public buildings are much better looking than ours in England, the churches, were all very pretty buildings, the carving being the chief thing”

On 25th June, after 5 weeks at the base, Private Holden and 12 others were warned to prepare to travel to the front, and on 1st July they finally moved out.

“this time we were on the last stage of the road to the fighting line, we again left friends”

The Diary of Private Holden: Part One, a journey to France

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden

Unlike those who joined the army to become career soldiers, Private Holden was part of the Special Cavalry Reserve. Volunteers or conscripts who enlisted after the start of the war served with the reserve regiments in England, undergoing basic training before being sent overseas to supply drafts to their affiliated regiments.

Though it has not been possible to locate him in the surviving WW1 records, Private Holden most likely belonged to the 4th Reserve Regiment, based at Tidworth, which was the regiment that supplied drafts to the 7th Dragoon Guards until 1917.

Private Holden does not seem to have taken naturally to soldiering and his diary has few place names or dates and very little mention of enemy action. It does however give a wonderful picture of his everyday worries and wishes and the various mishaps that befell him.

The Journey out (22-23 May 1915)

 “It was on May the 20th, when, along with ten more men, I was warned for France, but it was not until two days later, that we were told the day for leaving. On the evening of the 22nd we got orders to parade at 8 A.M the following morning, when, I should say, about forty eight men & two NCO’s turned out, we marched down to the station, but unlike all other drafts we had no band, at the time they were on leave. At the station we were given a good send off, by our own men & also the 9th Lancers and the 18th Hussars, they were also sending men away and we were all on the same train, & we steamed out of Tidworth station, which to most people, was a thing to be remembered, the two bands of the 9th and the 18th were playing , & the chaps wishing us all good luck, & a few wondering if they would ever see their chums again, then all was left behind and the future talked about”

Cavalry Troops at southampton docks

P.269/2 Cavalry Troops at Southampton Docks ©Southampton Archives

 

Arriving at Southampton Docks, Private Holden had to wait for the troop ship to be prepared for embarkation and spent his time watching the boats come in.

“During the time we were waiting for the order to fall in, we saw a few hospital ships come in dock, then the question how long should we be out before we should stop one, as it is called. About 4:30 we got the welcome order fall in, then we marched on the boat, the name I have forgotten, it was some Irish name, & was an old cargo boat, & was fitted up for cattle, we all marched on, & three hundred horses were taken on. At 5:30 the boat steamed out, but, unlike the pictures of a ‘departure of a troopship’, all was quiet, no cheering and goodbyes. No one was on the dock, only workmen, & a few soldiers, & many looked longingly at old England’s shores as we went slowly down the channel”

Private Holden Diary Entry

Newsreel films of the departures of troop ships from Britain and Overseas were common during the early years of the war and presumably it is one such film that Private Holden refers to within his diary. Examples of such films can be viewed in the British Pathé online Archive, including this film of Russian Relief troops departing from London.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/look-out-trotsky-departure-of-russian-relief-force/query/troop+ship

Many of the ships used to carry British and colonial troops during the war had been requisitioned and were fitted up as best they could be for the process of carrying large numbers of men and horses across the sea. Horses were often winched onto the ships and confined in small quarters for the voyage, with many dying from disease and injury.

Even the short journey across the channel was dangerous for both man and beast, with submarines targeting the troop ships. Only a month after Private Holden’s voyage, in June 1915 the SS Armenian was torpedoed off the British coastline and 1,400 mules and horses were left to perish while the remaining men abandoned ship.

Conditions on the troop ship were cramped and most of the soldiers took the welcome chance to sleep while they could but Private Holden stayed on deck watching the sunset.

 Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia


Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

I smile often when I think of the crowd, & picking your way over them was a very difficult task, for with the swaying of the boat, & the different positions of the men, you had a hard task, & more than one man had a rude awakening, through someone falling on the top of him.”

Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

Passing Le Havre signalled the completion of the channel crossing and the ship turned to sail down the river towards Rouen.

“We passed several villages on the river side, some of the people seemed to be just getting out of bed, but the noise made on the boat, was enough to awake the dead, & before we reach Rouen, half the chaps could not shout, the people cheered us all the way down, but when nearing Rouen, we had to cease shouting, to give the sailors a chance to hear the orders given from the bridge.”

 

Conservation Live! Siborne’s Waterloo model: Treating a corroded figure

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s large-scale Waterloo model is nearing completion ahead of the upcoming exhibition Waterloo 1815: The Art of Battle, opening at the Royal Armouries on 22 May 2015.

While most of the lead/tin figures on the model were in excellent condition, it was evident that some had corroded in the past. A small number were actively corroding – a few quite severely. One such figure was a soldier lying in the road. Voluminous, powdery corrosion products could be seen encompassing the figure. At this point it was not clear how much of the figure had survived.

1

The first step was to remove the corrosion products mechanically and assess the level of loss.

2

Fortunately, the figure was in better condition than expected. Much of the paint had flaked off, the top surface of the body had corroded away and the left foot had been lost completely, but the surviving metal was fairly solid and the figure as a whole was still recognisable.

3

As much corrosion as possible was cleared away and the surface was cleaned with alcohol.

4

The next step was to consolidate the affected areas by applying a dilute acrylic adhesive in a solvent mixture. This accomplished two things: it lent the figure strength by filling any porous gaps in the metal and it sealed and protected the surface.

5

Following consolidation I made a replacement foot for the figure using Milliput epoxy putty. When freshly mixed it was the consistency of modelling clay, but within a few hours it set into a hard, durable fill.

6

After the Milliput had set the final step was to touch in the paint. The colour is slightly different than the original – this is intentional so that my touch-up will not be confused with original paint in the future.

7

The final result is below. My goal in this treatment was to preserve as much of the original figure as possible, stabilise it and make some cosmetic improvements so that the damage was not readily visible. While the figure is not exactly as it was before it corroded, it is still clearly identifiable and now in a stable condition.

8

The newly conserved Siborne model will be a key element of our Art of Battle exhibition, which opens 22nd May.

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator

Marking 70 years since VE Day – The Big Guns of WWII: 25 pounder self-propelled gun

To mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, our Portsmouth site Fort Nelson will be firing the impressive 25 pounder self-propelled gun at 1pm and 3pm today. Also known as the Sexton, the gun was developed to support rapidly advancing forces in later stages of World War Two. The gun will be fired at at 1pm and 3pm today.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The Royal Artillery experimented with a number of designs in their attempted to improve the mobility of artillery. Self-propelled guns on tracked mountings gave much better cross-country mobility. The ‘Flanders Mud’ of the First World War made it difficult and sometimes impossible to move heavy guns. Early tanks showed the way forward, leading to the gradual introduction of self-propelled guns [SPGs]. The towed 25 pr gun, examples of which can be seen on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery and the Artillery Hall, required a towing vehicle and limber and had limited off-road ability.

Early prototypes included the ‘Bishop’, combining a mounted 25 pounder quick firing gun to chassis of a Valentine tank. The Royal Artillery also used the American M7 self-propelled 105 mm which was known as the ‘Priest’, as its gun mounting resembled a pulpit. However, the British needed a self-propelled gun which incorporated the 25 pounder.

The answer, which came to be known as the Sexton, was created by adapting a Canadian Kangaroo chassis, based on the M3 American tank, to carry a 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured at the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, over 2150 Sextons were produced between 1943 and 1945.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

This example on display at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson is painted in the colours of the 90th City of London Yeomanry, which landed in Normandy on D–Day, 6 June 1944. On the final run into the beaches they fired their guns from the landing craft in support of the troops already ashore. This example was transferred to Portugal after the Second World War and reimported in the 1980s and  has been restored to running order

See the mighty 25 pounder self-propelled gun fired at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday 8th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Firings take place on the Parade at 1 pm and 3 pm.