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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waterloo Model Conservator