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.


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).


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

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.


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.


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.

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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Siborne’s Waterloo model: Reuniting soldiers with their swords

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s large-scale Waterloo model is underway at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in advance of the bicentenary of the battle. The model is in fairly good overall condition considering its age (about 170 years), but it has understandably suffered damage over the years.

Some of the soldiers’ weapons have been bent, detached or, in some cases, lost completely. While conserving a section of the model I came across a row of cavalry who had lost their swords. This seemed a shame, as it detracted from the visual message that the soldiers were in the heat of a hard-fought battle. I wanted it to be obvious that they were in the midst of a battle, particularly as they were on the front line.


Sadly, their swords were nowhere to be found on the surface of the model, so I decided to make the soldiers new weapons. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis revealed that cavalry swords on the model are made of silver, so I decided to use a different metal for my replica swords to avoid confusion regarding which swords are originals and which ones are replacements.

I started by polishing a thin sheet of copper with fine wire wool and cleaning it with acetone.


I then cut it into 1mm x 15mm strips to match the size of the real swords, and snipped the tips to form points.Fig_3


The swords were then coated with a clear adhesive to lend them strength and to protect the surface.


After the adhesive had dried the next step was to paint the replica swords with acrylic paints so that they would blend in better with the figures on the model – shiny copper would stand out too much.


Next I attached the replica swords to the cavalry figures with a tiny drop of cellulose nitrate adhesive and allowed it to dry. The end result is shown below.





The goal of this treatment was to restore the weapons to the soldiers, thereby maintaining the drama and overall visual effect of the scene. I wanted the swords to look similar enough to the originals that at first glance they look original and the eye passes over them, but upon closer inspection it is obvious that they are replacement parts. I used different materials than the original swords on the model deliberately, so if they are examined in the future it should be clear that my swords are replacement parts.

The restoration of the swords was not necessary for the conservation of the model (as opposed to treating corroded figures, stabilising cracks, and so forth); it was a choice that was made for aesthetic and conceptual reasons. That is to say, I felt that restoring the swords not only looked better, but the presence of the swords in the hands of cavalry helped to tell the story of the battle depicted on the model.

Conservation of the model is ongoing. Through April 2015, weekday visitors to the Royal Armouries can meet the me, the Conservator, discuss the conservation programme and watch conservation of the model taking place. Capacity is limited, so for more information on how to take part please ring the Royal Armouries on 0113 220 1999 or email enquiries@armouries.org.uk.

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator

Conservation Live! at the Royal Armouries: Siborne’s Waterloo Model

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s remarkable model of the battlefield of Waterloo is now underway at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

Conservation Live! of the miniature soldiers of Waterloo.

Conservation Live! of the miniature soldiers of Waterloo.

The model, which was completed in 1843, shows – in marvellous detail – the battlefield as it was at around 1:30pm on 18 June 1815. It is more than five metres long and two metres wide, and it comes apart into ten sections. The battlefield is populated by more than 3,000 finely modelled and painted lead figures including soldiers, horses and artillery.


Section of the model before conservation.

The model has been on display at the Royal Armouries since 1996. Now, in advance of the bicentenary of the battle, it is being dismantled and conserved piece by piece as part of a Conservation Live! programme.

Cleaning the thousands of models on the battlefield is a slow and careful process.

Cleaning the thousands of models on the battlefield is a slow and careful process.

British soldiers in miniature - look closely and you can see their individual faces!

British soldiers in miniature – look closely and you can see their individual faces!

A Waterloo soldier supports his wounded companion.

A Waterloo soldier supports his wounded companion.

The detail on each figure has to be seen to be believed.

The detail on each figure has to be seen to be believed.

Conservator Cymbeline Storey working on the model.

Conservator Cymbeline Storey working on the model.

From March until May 1st 2015 museum visitors can meet the Conservator, discuss the conservation programme and watch conservation of the model taking place. At 11:00 and 2:00 visitors can attend talks with the Conservator, which is ticketed due to limited access, or simply drop in between 2:30-3:30pm. For more information on how to take part please ring the Royal Armouries on 0113 220 1999 or email enquiries@armouries.org.uk. Alternatively, keep your eye out for further blog posts over the next few months as conservation work progresses

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator


Collections up Close June

On 18 June 1815 the opposing forces of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, joined by the Prussian Army met at Waterloo. The battle began just after 11am and the conflict continued throughout the afternoon. Both sides suffered heavily.

Napoleon had returned to France and resumed the throne as Emperor. However, his aims to dominate Europe were impeded by Allied armies advancing on several fronts. Napoleon had planned to advance into Belgium and separate Wellington’s army from the Prussians and then destroy them both. However, after a long day of battle, Napoleon’s army was defeated, and the battlefield was strewn with 40,000 dead and wounded men.

Wellington's sword

Wellington's sword

The White Tower at the Tower of London is home to the Duke of Wellington’s uniform coat, telescope and sword. The Duke was Constable of the Tower from 1826–1852. The coat is finely made with blue fabric with scarlet facings and has epaulettes of gold thread decorated with crossed batons under a crown in silver. The gilt buttons bear an image of the White Tower in silver. His telescope has a brass plate attached which reads, ‘TELESCOPE BY BERGE OF LONDON USED BY THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON AT THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, PRESENTED BY THE DUKE TO SIR ROBERT PEEL’.

Napoleon's Sword

Napoleon's Sword

Also in the Royal Armouries collection is a sword presented to Napoleon I by his friend Alexandre Des Mazis. Des Mazis was a contemporary of Napoleon at the École Militaire and was his close friend. They later served together as officers in the Regiment de la Fère at Valance in 1796. The sword is on display in the War Gallery in Leeds, near a large model of the battlefield made in 1842–43.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Waterloo: A Family's Story

On 18 June 1815 at the battle of Waterloo, the Allied armies under Lords Wellington and Blücher defeated the French, bringing to an end the Napoleonic Wars which had raged for over 15 years. Amongst the Royal Armouries’ archives is a collection of papers relating to the military careers of three brothers; William, Henry and Charles Dawson, which comprises extracts from official publications and from the letters they sent home. The archive was put together by their father, Pudsey Dawson, and their younger brother Pudsey Junior.

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

William Dawson joined the Royal Navy and served with distinction, on one occasion taking command when his captain was killed and capturing a French frigate. He rose to the rank of Captain and the command of his own ship, but died from fever in Madras in 1811, aged 29. Henry and Charles were officers in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment, serving during the campaign in Portugal and Spain. Both were wounded in the terrible siege of Badajos, and Henry was killed in 1812 during the retreat from Burgos, aged 24. Charles survived the Peninsular campaign to fight at Waterloo, where he was again severely wounded.

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

The archive includes four maps relating to the Waterloo campaign, showing the countryside of the surrounding area and the troop dispositions on the day. The 52nd fought on the right of the line, close to the famous Chateau Hougoumont, and took part in the repulse of the Imperial Guard which finally broke the French army. Although Charles had survived the war he died aged 25 in 1817. This remarkable collection acts as a sad memorial of a father to his sons, and gives us an insight into some of the personal stories of the Napoleonic Wars.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

A Model Battle

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is home to a model of part of the battle of Waterloo; the model was made by Captain William Siborne in 1842–43. Siborne had not been at the battle but on hearing that the site was to be altered he decided to make a model of the site exactly as it was on 18 June 1815 at 2pm.

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

The model of the battlefield is 18 ft 4 in. by 7 ft 5 in and made up of ten sections. The model is made to a scale of 15 feet to 1 inch and the figures are to a scale of 6 feet to 1 inch in order that they might remain identifiable. The farm buildings are also this scale to avoid incongruity.

The model shows the area around the Brussels-Wavre crossroads, including the farm of La Haye Sainte, which was a critical position during the battle. The farmhouse was key to the centre of Wellington’s position. It was held by an Allied German garrison who fought bravely. When they ran out of ammunition they went on fighting with rifle butts and throwing stones, but eventually the French captured this important position. The Duke of Wellington and his staff are shown in the model to the North-West of La Haye Sainte.

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

The model was first exhibited in London in 1844 but we do not know for certain where the Royal Armouries model moved then until 1868 when it was shown in Germany. Further exhibitions on the continent were then abandoned due to representations from the French Government.

The model returned to Dublin in possession of a Mr Evans, who seems to have put up the money for it and to have foreclosed. It was later rediscovered in the possession of a Mr Barrington in a storehouse near Dublin in 1907. Mrs Barrington-Malone inherited the property, and transferred the model to the Staff College, Camberley.

In 1925 it was taken into charge of the Tower Armouries, and moved to the Tower of London in 1935, where it was restored by a Mr Cawood. The model was displayed in the Small Arms Room of the White Tower until 1949. Then it was cleaned again, possibly by Russell Robinson, and stored until 1962 when it was moved to Dover Castle. It was returned in 1982, and finally put back on display in Leeds in 1996.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher