James Boswell is best known as the biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson, but he was also 9th Laird of Auchinleck, in Scotland, with the family seat being Auchinleck House, in Ayershire, below, since it was built circa 1760. Boswell visited often and he and Dr. Johnson stayed here together in 1773 during their return from the Hebrides. As it turns out, a small group of lucky travelers will be staying here and we’ll have the entire estate to ourselves during Number One London’s 2018 Scottish Writer’s Retreat in September. Can there be a more perfect location for a writer’s retreat than the home of the author commonly said to have written the greatest biography in the English language – or the man who spent nine years working on The Dictionary of the English Language?
In light of my upcoming stay, I thought it would only be fitting for me to brush up on my Boswell/Johnson knowledge by re-reading Boswell’s Journals and Christopher Hibbert’s excellent biography, The Personal History of Samuel Johnson.
“In this magnificent work Mr Sisman describes the making of that greatest of all biographies, Boswell’s Life of Dr Johnson. To his contemporaries the task that Boswell had taken on was presumptuous indeed – to record the life of the greatest literary man of his age, while being dismissed himself as a frivolous and reprobate dilettante incapable of any serious activity. Well, the world knows that Bozzy succeeded in confounding his critics, but the tragic irony of his predicament was that he succeeded too well. While hailing the book as a masterpiece, the current and future literary establishment dismissed Boswell’s own role as little more than that of a stenographer. Macaulay’s damning essay on Boswell formed the opinion held by too many people for far too long. The true story of Boswell’s genius became well known to scholars in the 20th century; with this book, Mr. Sisman brings the story to a wider audience. It is a remarkable portrait of Boswell’s love for Johnson and the great struggles he endured to bring his hero to life in the pages of his biography. Battling drink, debauchery, depression and his own self-destructive nature, Boswell managed to pull off the one great sustained piece of effort of his life. In his book Johnson was brought to life once again, an image so convincing that it took over 150 years for people to discern the art behind the apparent ingenuousness of Boswell’s technique. Sisman does a good job of showing how the Johnson of the Life was as much a product of Boswell’s gift as the historical record (although I think readers would have benefited from a few examples of textual analysis to illustrate this). His final chapter on the gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers provides an exciting ending and his writing is clear and compelling. “Boswell’s Presumptuous Task” is nothing short of a triumph.”
The “gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers” mentioned above refers to a cache of Boswell’s private papers and journals found at Malahide Castle just outside of Dublin in the 1920’s. Boswell’s great-great-grandson, Lord Talbot de Malahide sold the papers to American collector Ralph Isham and they now form part of the collection at Yale University. Having only just visited Malahide Castle in September, I’m looking forward to reading Sisman’s book soon.
Back in May, I revisited the Battlefield at Waterloo with author and battlefield guide Ian Fletcher, accompanied by one of my favourite travel mates, Denise Costello. Ian and I were on a mission to put together a different kind of Waterloo Tour. He is experienced in battlefield tours and can bring every moment of the Battle to life in a way that is both engaging, educational and exacting – which regiments were where, who was leading the charge, why were certain geographic points chosen by the French and Allied armies, what went wrong . . . . and what went right?
On the other hand, my tours are focused more upon social history – which English families were living at Brussels during the Battle, who attended the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, how did the civilians fare before, during and after the Battle and what wide ranging impact did the Battle, and the victory, have upon life in London and England at large?
In an effort to blend these two views of Waterloo, Ian and I hit upon the idea of doing a tour that focuses on the year 1815 as a whole, instead of focusing on the Battle alone. And so the 1815 London to Waterloo Tour was born. Before the Tour heads for Belgium, our group will explore the London of 1815, including Apsley House and the many clubs, houses, streets and sites that have a connection with the campaign, including the house in St. James’s Square where Henry Percy delivered the captured French Eagles to George IV after the Allied victory. Author Louise Allen will speak to our group on the subject of her book, To The Field of Waterloo: The First Battlefield Tourists 1815 – 1816. Once in Waterloo, we will walk the key sites on the Battlefield and also visit a host of museums and related sites including the superb new Waterloo Memorial with its high-tech exhibits and 3D cinema, the famous Lion Mound and panorama, the wonderful presentation at refurbished Hougoumont and the headquarters of both Wellington and Napoleon.
Speaking of Waterloo tourists, below is an account of Dr. Samuel Butler’s visit to the Battlefield a year after the Allied victory. His vivid impressions take in all of the sites we’ll be seeing on the Tour, complete details of which can be found here.
The Forest of Soignes
From: The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler: Headmaster of Shrewsbury School
July 9th. 1816 —From Brussels through Waterloo to the field of battle, about fourteen miles, through the Forest of Soignies, almost all the way a most detestable pavi full of holes. Waterloo is a miserable village of about twenty houses; its small red brick church, designed in segments of ellipses, is about twenty-five or possibly thirty feet in diameter. Here are monumental inscriptions to the memory of many of our brave country men. In about half a mile from Waterloo we quit the Forest of Soignes, and the ground becomes an elevated plain with some moderate undulations. In about two miles more we come to a place where a bye-road crosses the principal road. Here is an elm of moderate size on the right-hand side of the road, some of whose branches have been torn off by cannon balls; this is the famous Wellington tree, where the Duke was posted during the greater part of the battle, and is somewhat nearer the left wing than the centre of the battle. Close to the cross-road opposite this runs La Haye Sainte, a broken stumpy hedge. Directly opposite this tree, on the road-side, lay the skeleton of an unburied horse, and near the tree itself I picked up a human rib. The whole field of battle is now covered with crops of wheat and rye, which grow with a rank and peculiar green over the graves of the slain and mark them readily. About one hundred and fifty yards below the Wellington tree, which itself stands on the top of Mount St. Jean, in the hollow, is the little farm of La Haye Sainte, where the dreadful slaughter of the German Legion took place; they defended the place till they had spent all their ammunition, and were then massacred to a man, but not till they had taken a bloody revenge. The house and walls, the barn doors and gates, are full of marks from cannon and musket balls. In the barn are innumerable shot holes, and the plaster is still covered with blood, and the holes which the bayonets made through their bodies into it are still to be seen.
La Haye Sainte
“In a hollow near this scene of carnage lie the bodies of two thousand French Cuirassiers in one grave, and about twenty yards farther is the spot to which Bonaparte advanced to cheer the Imperial Guard for their last charge; it is scarcely possible but that he must have exposed himself greatly in so doing. The little valley between the undulation of Mount St. Jean, where the British were posted, and that of La Belle Alliance, which was occupied by the French, is not more than about a quarter of a mile across; the Duke of Wellington and Bonaparte, whose general station was on this hill, cannot have been more than that distance, or a very little more, from each other. On going to the station of Bonaparte we had a fine view of the whole field, and, though quite ignorant of military affairs, could not but see the superiority of the British position. The undulation on their side being a little more abrupt than that of the French, they were themselves protected in some measure, and their force considerably concealed, while that of the French was perfectly distinguishable. The right wing of the British was at Hougoumont [rather Goumont], a chateau of great importance and of very considerable strength. Their left wing was at the end of La Haye, about a short half-mile or less from the farm of St. Jean, which was almost of the same importance for its protection as Hougoumont for that of the right. The whole line could not extend more than a mile and a quarter. The French were posted on the opposite eminence, and here in this small space three hundred cannon, independent of all other weapons, were doing the work of death all day. Our guide, a very intelligent peasant, told us that the whole ground was literally covered with carcasses, and that about five days after the stench began to be so horrid that it was hardly possible to bury them on the left of the British, and of course on the right of the French position. At less than a mile and a half is the wood from which the Prussians made their appearance. La Belle Alliance is about half a mile or a little less from Mount St. Jean; here we turned off to see the chateau of Hougoumont, which was most important to secure the British right and French left wing, and was therefore eagerly contested; four thousand British were posted here, and withstood with only the bayonet and musketry all the attacks of an immense body of French with cannon. The French were posted in a wood, now a good deal cut down, close to the wall of the garden at Hougoumont. The British had made holes in the wall to fire through, and the French aimed at these holes. The whole wall is so battered by bullets that it looks as if thousands of pickaxes had been employed to pick the bricks. The trees are torn by cannon balls, and some not above eight inches in diameter, being half shot away on one side, still flourish.
“Passing round the garden wall to the gates, the scene of devastation is yet more striking. The front gates communicate with the chateau, a plain gentleman’s house, the back ones (which are directly opposite) with the farmer’s residence. This was occupied three times by the French, who were thrice repulsed; but the English were never driven from the chateau. The tower, or rather dovecote, of the chateau was burnt down, but a chapel near it, about twenty feet long, was preserved in the midst of the fire; the flames had caught the crucifix and had burnt one foot of the image, and then went out. This was of course considered a great miracle. From the chapel we went into the garden. Its repose and gaiety of flowers, together with the neatness of its cultivation, formed a striking contrast with the ruined mansion, the blackened, torn, and in some parts blood-stained walls, and the charred timbers about it. In a corner of this garden is the spot where Captain Crawford and eight men were killed by one cannon ball, which entered opposite them by a hole still there and went through the house and lodged in another wall; I have seen the ball in the Waterloo Museum.
The Waterloo Musuem, Wellington’s former headquarters
Going along the green alleys of the garden, quite overarched with hornbeam, we see the different holes broken by the English to fire on their enemies, and a gap on the northeast angle of the garden is the gap made by the French, who attempted to enter there, but were repulsed. Had they gained entrance the slaughter would have been dreadful, as we had four thousand men in the garden, which from its thick hedges has many strongholds, and they were greatly more numerous. The English also lined a strong hedge opposite the wood in which the French were, which they could not force, but the trees are terribly torn by cannon. The loss of Hougoumont would probably have been fatal to us. From the gap above mentioned, looking up to the line of the British on Mount St. Jean, is one small bush; here Major Howard was killed.
La Belle Alliance
“Leaving Hougoumont, we returned to La Belle Alliance, where we once more reviewed the field of battle, and found some bullets and fragments of accoutrements among the ploughed soil. The crop is not so thriving on the French side, but it was still more richly watered with blood; in fact the soil, which on the British position is rather a light sand, is here a stiffish clay. From La Belle Alliance we proceeded to Genappe, another post, passing by a burnt house called la maison du roi; here Napoleon slept on the eventful eve of the battle. Following the course of the French in their retreat, we proceeded to another post, to Quatre Bras. Here was the famous [stand ?] made by the Highlanders against the whole French Army on the 16th. It is a field a little to the left at the turning to Namur. Hence we proceeded, having Fleurus on our right, to Sombreffe, where was the severe battle of the Prussians on the 16th, and thence to Namur, where the French continued their retreat.
The tourqoise circle upper right marks Genappe
“At Genappe, which is a straggling village, with narrow streets, dreadful slaughter was made by the Prussians on the night of the 16th; here Bonaparte’s carriage was taken, and he narrowly escaped himself. From hence to Namur the road was strewed with dead, the Prussians having killed, it is thought, not less than twenty thousand in the pursuit. Nothing can be more detestable than the paved roads, more miserable than the villages, or more uninteresting in the natural appearance of the country than the whole course from Brussels to Namur, about forty-seven miles, the scene of all these great historical events in the present and past ages.”
I’m pleased to say that Number One London’s Country House Tour was a resounding success and that a good time was had by all! Our group was the perfect size – eight like-minded people traveling together through Derbyshire in search of houses, history and a whole lot of fun.
Of course, the Tour included stately homes, amongst them were –
Along the way, we met house stewards and curators who provided our group with private, behind-the-scenes tours –
And we were fortunate enough to be joined by author Catherine Curzon, who spoke to us about the Georgian Royals over lunch at Chatsworth House
Our group stayed in the historic Old Hall Hotel in Buxton, below . . .
which provided us with atmospheric accommodations and memorable meals
In addition to stately homes, we were also able to study examples of historic fashion and furnishings
We found photo opportunities around almost every corner
And a few of us were lucky enough to find the new Jane Austen ten pound note
I’ll be doing future posts on the individual sites we visited, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who joined me on this Tour for making it so memorable, and so much fun!
If you’d like to join me on the next Country House Tour, this one with an Upstairs, Downstairs twist, please visit Number One London’s Tour website for complete details of the April 2018 tour.
What better place to spend Waterloo Day than in London? More precisely, at Apsley House. Well before the day, I had planned to meet my old mates Dawn Wood and Andrew Clark at Apsley House, where they were slated to do a series of talks on Regency dress and Napoleonic uniforms over the two day weekend.
Upon walking through the front door of the House, I saw one of the house guides, Alex, who I’ve known for some time now. We chatted for a few minutes and then I headed up the stairs to the Striped Drawing Room.
Upon reaching the landing, I spied a bloke in full Napoleonic uniform – it was my pal, Michael Paterson, who is a part of the City of London Portsoken Volunteers re-enactment group.
“Kristine? What are you doing here?”
“Where else would you expect me to be on Waterloo Day?”
“Ah, right. Silly question.”
It would have been handy had I snapped a photo of Michael to insert here, but I didn’t. This is John Mead, also with the Portsoken, and an historical tailor who makes all of the Regiments’ uniforms. Michael was on hand to present a talk on Napoleonic soldiers, which was fabulous. He had the crowd enraptured.
Before long, Dawn found me and we caught up for a bit before it was time for her talk.
Into the Striped Drawing Room we stepped and Dawn launched into her costume presentation, enthralling the crowd with details of exactly what it took to dress a Regency lady – from the inside out. Beginning in her chemise, Dawn then described each garment she donned, giving us the history of each, detailing the materials that would have been used and the care involved in each piece.
I first met Dawn a few decades ago when she was with a re-enactment group called The Salon, now disbanded, who put on a Regency soiree for one of my tour groups at Gunnersby Park. She and I, and her husband, Andrew, have been friends ever since and they will be on hand in Bath for Number One London’s Georgian Tour, April 2018. Dawn is a modiste who recreates historic costume and dress, while Andrew is an expert on uniforms and all forms of military weapons and accouterments. Here he is in full Napoleonic kit as Captain Clark.
And here he is in mufti as Mr. Clark. Very versatile is Our Andrew.
Once the presentations were over with, I nipped off to the Waterloo Chamber, where in honour of the Waterloo Anniversary they had set a dinner table with the Prussian Dinner Service commemorating the achievements of Wellington’s life, as it would have been at one of Wellington’s annual Waterloo Banquets.
You’ll find an article on the china here. Upon entering the Chamber, who did I run into again but Alex, who asked me about Wellington’s relationship with the young Queen Victoria. As I was telling him about William IV’s fateful birthday dinner, at which the King stood up and gave spleen to the Duchess of Kent in front of all the guests at table, including Wellington, a gentleman came to stand beside us and listened to my story. Then he interjected something. Then he became a part of our conversation and we chatted about Wellington for about fifteen minutes. Then the man said, “I suppose this is the point in the conversation where I should mention that I’m Graham Wellesley, 8th Earl Cowley.”
Naturally, this pronouncement caused Alex and I to look at one another like two deer caught in the headlights. What a turn up. Oh, dear.
“You’re Henry’s grandson then,” said I. He’s actually Henry’s eight or ninth great grandson, but why split heirs.
“Yes,” replied the Earl. “Fancy your knowing that.” Alex shot me a look, but kept silent. Wise man.
“May I ask you a question?” I asked the Earl.
“Why has no one elaborated on the story of Henry and Anne and the kidnapping?”
And we were off again. The conversation lasted at least another fifteen minutes before the Earl excused himself and left Alex and I alone once more.
“I didn’t refer to Wellington as ‘Artie’ in front of the Earl, did I?”
“No. Not in front of the Earl. I don’t think,” Alex semi-reassured me. Really, I must stop doing that. Obviously, one never knows who one may run into at Apsley House. Speaking of which, upon returning once more to the Striped Drawing Room, who did I find but my mate, Loretta Chase. You can just see the top of her beautiful blonde head in the photo below.
Loretta and I had already seen each other several times in London during this trip and I’d invited her to join me at Apsley House on the day. Imagine my surprise when she told me that she’d never been to the House in all her visits to London. I had promised to take her on a Cook’s Tour. I suggested we start on the ground floor and so we sashayed our way downstairs. Where I again ran into Alex.
“Leaving?” he asked.
“No, no, just giving my friend Loretta a tour of the House.”
“Oh, right then.”
“Don’t they think it’s strange that you’re giving me a tour of Apsley House?” Loretta asked as we turned a corner.
“Nope. Not in the least. I suppose they’re used to it by now.” We saw the entry hall –
and the inner hall –
and the statue of Napoleon –
and the upstairs hallway –
and several other rooms before we found ourselves in the Waterloo Chamber.
Where I showed Loretta a secret feature of the room. I wish I could share it with you, but I’ve promised Loretta that she can use it as a plot device in an upcoming book, so I can’t talk about it until that’s published. (Sorry!)
At the end of the day, I left Apsley House replete after seeing old friends and making a few new ones and headed off to dinner in the company of Dawn and Andrew, who both agree with my sentiment – where else would anyone spend Waterloo Day?
Our next stop was the farmhouse at Hougoumont. Honestly, what can one say about the battle at Hougoumont in a single blog post? What can one say about Hougoumont anywhere, at any time? Again, it’s one of those places where one simply wants to be, to commune with one’s thoughts uninterrupted, to remember, to review and to ruminate on the enormity of it all. In fact, as though in unspoken alliance, Denise, Ian and I did drift away from one another, each to walk the ground in our time.
Again, I am not a battle or battlefield expert, so I turn to Wikipedia for the short version of events on the day at Hougoumont, the photos are my own:
“Wellington recorded in his despatches “at about ten o’clock [Napoleon] commenced a furious attack upon our post at Hougoumont.”
“The initial attack by Maréchal de Camp Bauduin’s 1st Brigade of the 6th Division emptied the wood and park, but was driven back by heavy British artillery fire and cost Bauduin his life. The British guns were distracted into an artillery duel with French guns and this allowed a second attack by Maréchal de Camp Baron Soye’s 2nd Brigade of the 6th Division. They managed a small breach on the south side but could not exploit it. An attack on the north side by elements of the 1st Brigade of the 6th Division was more successful.
“This attack led to one of the most famous skirmishes in the Battle of Waterloo — Sous-Lieutenant Legros, wielding an axe, managed to break through the north gate. A desperate fight ensued between the invading French soldiers and the defending Guards. In a near-miraculous attack, Macdonell, a small party of officers and Corporal James Graham fought through the melee to shut the gate, trapping Legros and about 30 other soldiers of the 1st Legere inside. All of the French who entered, apart from a young drummer boy, were killed in a desperate hand-to-hand fight.
“The British and German Garrison were running low on ammunition and a Driver of the Royal Waggon Train distinguished himself by driving an ammunition cart through the French lines to resupply the troops despite his horses receiving wounds. The French attack in the immediate vicinity of the farm was repulsed by the arrival of the 2nd Coldstream Guards and 2/3rd Foot Guards. Fighting continued around Hougoumont all afternoon with its surroundings heavily invested with French light infantry and coordinated cavalry attacks sent against the troops behind Hougoumont.
“Wellington’s army defended the house and the hollow way running north from it. In the afternoon Napoleon personally ordered the shelling of the house to cause it to burn. Seeing the flames, Wellington sent a note to the house’s commander stating that he must hold his position whatever the cost, resulting in the destruction of all but the chapel, (below).
“Du Plat’s brigade of the King’s German Legion was brought forward to defend the hollow way, which they had to do without any senior officers, who were then relieved by the 71st Foot, a Scottish light infantry regiment. Adam’s brigade, further reinforced by Hugh Halkett’s 3rd (Hanoverian) Brigade, successfully repulsed further infantry and cavalry attacks sent by Reille and maintained the occupation of Hougoumont until the end of the battle.”
Gates and field to the east of the Farmhouse, above and below.
“The Hougoumont battle has often been characterised as a diversionary attack to cause Wellington to move reserves to his threatened right flank to protect his communications, but this then escalated into an all-day battle which drew in more and more French troops but just a handful of Wellington’s, having the exact opposite effect to that intended. In fact there is a good case that both Napoleon and Wellington thought Hougoumont was a vital part of the battle. Certainly, Wellington declared afterwards that ‘the success of the battle turned upon the closing of the gates at Hougoumont.’
“Hougoumont was a part of the battlefield that Napoleon could see clearly and he continued to direct resources towards it and its surroundings all afternoon (33 battalions in all, 14,000 troops).
“Similarly, though the house never contained a large number of troops, Wellington devoted 21 battalions (12,000 troops) over the course of the afternoon to keeping the hollow way open to allow fresh troops and ammunition to be admitted to the house. He also moved several artillery batteries from his hard-pressed centre to support Hougoumont.”
Views to the south, above and below.
In the final installment of this series, I spend Waterloo Day with friends at Apsley House. Coming soon!
One of the reasons I wanted to return to Waterloo was to see the new museum and exhibits that were put in place for the celebrations of Waterloo 200. The photos above in no way do justice to the scale and scope of the exhibits. The huge hall in the top photo displays a soldier from all of the British regiments on the right, the French on the right, and goes on for quite a ways.
In addition, the 4D film of the Battle was incredible – the closest any of us will ever get to the sights and sounds of the day. As you’ll see by the photo above, the design of the theatre puts you right in the middle of the action, complete with surround sound. Denise, Ian and I were the only ones in the theatre, in fact we had the whole place to ourselves. I knew we’d be seeing a 4D film, I understood this when I put the special viewing glasses on, and I anticipated the action when I took my seat. Still, I jumped a foot when the horse seemed to come charging directly at me. I think I may have even screamed a little.
Our next stop was the museum at Wellington’s Headquarters, the house Wellington returned to directly after the Battle and where he discovered his ADC Alexander Gordon laying mortally wounded. Gordon remains a touchstone of the personal losses attached to Waterloo, but there were many others who died or were horribly wounded that day, whom Wellington knew on a personal level. Waterloo cost Britain the best of its Army and exacted a toll on Wellington that will never be fully known.
“The following is an account by John Robert Hume who was visiting the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo –
“I came back from the field of Waterloo with Sir Alexander Gordon, whose leg I was obliged to amputate on the field late in the evening. He died rather unexpectedly in my arms about half-past three in the morning on the 19th. I was hesitating about disturbing the Duke, when Sir Charles Brooke-Vere came. He wished to take his orders about the movement of the troops. I went upstairs and tapped gently at the door, when he told me to come in. He had as usual taken off his clothes but had not washed himself.
“As I entered, he sat up in bed, his face covered in the dust and sweat of the previous day, and extended his hand to me, which I took and held in mine, whilst I told him of Gordon’s death, and of such of the casualties as had come to my knowledge. He was much affected. I felt tears dropping fast upon my hand and looking towards him, saw them chasing one another in furrows over his dusty cheeks. He brushed them suddenly away with his left hand, and said to me in a voice tremulous with emotion, “Well, thank God, I don’t know what it is to lose a battle; but certainly nothing can be more painful than to gain one with the loss of so many of one’s friends.”
On the wall of the bedroom in which Gordon died is a typed transcript of the letter Wellington wrote to Lord Aberdeen the day after his brother’s death –
My Dear Lord,
You will readily give me credit to the existence of extreme grief with which I announce to you the death of your gallant brother, in consequence of a wound received in our great battle of yesterday.
He had served me most zealously and usefully for many years, and on many trying occasions; but he had never rendered himself more useful and had never distinguished himself more, than in our late actions.
He received the wound which occasioned his death when rallying one of the Brunswick battalions which was shaking a little; and he had lived long enough to be informed by myself of the glorious result of our actions, to which he had so much contributed by his active zealous assistance.
I cannot express to you the regret and sorrow with which I look round me, and contemplate the loss with which I have sustained, particularly in your brother. The glory resulting from such actions, so dearly bought, is no consolation to me, and I cannot suggest it as any to you and his friends; but I hope that it may be expected that this last one has been so decisive, as that no doubt remains that our exertions and our individual losses will be rewarded by the early attainment of our just object. It is then the glory of the actions in which our friends and relations have fallen will be some consolation for their loss.
— Believe me &c Wellington, Bruxelles, 19th June, 1815,
P.S. Your brother has a black horse given to him I believe by Lord Ashburgham which I will keep till I hear from you what shall be done with it.
In Part 3, we’ll continue on to the farmhouse at Hougoumont.
A few weeks ago, I was in London with my traveling mate, Denise Costello. We rented a flat in the King’s Road and settled in for a nice, long stay, our agenda pretty much wide open. Oh, we had things on our wish list, but they were arranged more as a list of suggestions than an actual itinerary. Except for Waterloo. I felt the need to revisit the Battlefield as it had been seven years since my last visit. I asked Denise if she’d be up for a jaunt to the Continent and it turns out she was. She’s pretty much up for anything, which is why she’s one of my “go to” travel companions.
Another of my favourite travel pals is Ian Fletcher, author of Galloping at Everything, in addition to other titles about Waterloo and the Peninsula and Napoleonic Wars. He’s also one of the UK’s most well respected battlefield guides. It took a lot of convincing, but Ian eventually agreed to take us to Waterloo and show us the highlights. To give you an idea of just how difficult it was for me to convince him to accompany us, I share with you the conversation we had:
Me: Will you take us to Waterloo for three nights in June?
So Denise and I tatted up and were enclosed in a car with Ian, inside of a metal container, being transported beneath the Channel by speeding train before we knew what hit us.
Upon arrival in Calais, we headed south to Brussels and motored through towards Waterloo, chattering all the while about the Battle, the generals and Wellington. As one does.
The Lion’s Mound gets me every time. I’m aware that Wellington, upon seeing it for the first time, was said to have remarked, “They’ve ruined my battlefield.”
I do get it, but for me, the first sight of the Mound when I arrive at Waterloo fills my head with all the things I associate with the Battle: Freddy Pakenham, the Scots Greys, Lady Capel, Creevey, the Duchess of Richmond, amber waves of grain, Alexander Gordon, Henry Paget, Waterloo teeth, Copenhagen, the state of the field after the Battle, etc., etc. Images, words, people swirl inside my head and I’m overwhelmed to be standing on this ground.
As we crossed over the road to the portion of the Battlefield that had been Wellington’s left flank, Ian described the events that unfolded on the day in 1815, ultimately leading the the cavalry charge of the Royal Scots Greys. As Ian isn’t to hand as I write this, I’ll use Wikipedia to describe those events:
“The Scots Greys, which had been reduced in size because of the end of the Peninsular War, were expanded. This time, there would be 10 troops of cavalry, a total of 946 officers and men, the largest the regiment had ever been until that time. Six of the ten troops were sent to the continent, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel James Inglis Hamilton, to join the army forming under the command of the Duke of Wellington. The Scots Greys, upon arrival in Ghent, were brigaded under the command of Major-General Ponsonby in the Union Brigade, with Royal Dragoons and the Inniskillings Dragoons.
“The Scots Greys, with the rest of the Union Brigade, missed the Battle of Quatre Bras despite a long day of hard riding. As the French fell back, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade arrived at the end of their 50-mile ride.
“On the morning of 18 June 1815, the Scots Greys found themselves in the third line of Wellington’s army, on the left flank. As the fights around La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont developed, Wellington’s cavalry commander, the Earl of Uxbridge, held the cavalry back. However, with the French infantry advancing and threatening to break the British centre. Uxbridge ordered the Household Brigade and the Union Brigades to attack the French infantry of D’Erlon’s Corps. The Scots Greys were initially ordered to remain in reserve as the other two brigades attacked.
“As the rest of the British heavy cavalry advanced against the French infantry, just after 1:30 pm, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton witnessed Pack’s brigade beginning to crumble, and the 92nd Highlanders falling back in disorder. On his initiative, Hamilton ordered his regiment forward at the walk. Because the ground was broken and uneven, thanks to the mud, crops, and the men of 92nd, the Scots Greys remained at the walk until they had passed through the Gordons. The arrival of the Scots Greys helped to rally the Gordons, who turned to attack the French. Even without attacking at a full gallop, the weight of the Scots Greys charge proved to be irresistible for the French column pressing Pack’s Brigade. As Captain Duthilt, who was present with de Marcognet’s 3rd Division, wrote of the Scots Greys charge:
“Just as I was pushing one of our men back into the ranks I saw him fall at my feet from a sabre slash. I turned round instantly – to see English cavalry forcing their way into our midst and hacking us to pieces. Just as it is difficult, if not impossible, for the best cavalry to break into infantry who are formed into squares and who defend themselves with coolness and daring, so it is true that once the ranks have been penetrated, then resistance is useless and nothing remains for the cavalry to do but to slaughter at almost no risk to themselves. This what happened, in vain our poor fellows stood up and stretched out their arms; they could not reach far enough to bayonet these cavalrymen mounted on powerful horses, and the few shots fired in chaotic melee were just as fatal to our own men as to the English. And so we found ourselves defenceless against a relentless enemy who, in the intoxication of battle, sabred even our drummers and fifers without mercy.
“A lieutenant of the 92nd Highlanders who was present would later write, “the Scots Greys actually walked over this column.”
“As the Scots Greys waded through the French column, Sergeant Charles Ewart found himself within sight of the eagle of 45e Régiment de Ligne (45th Regiment of the Line). With a chance to capture the eagle, Ewart fought his way towards it, later recounting:
“One made a thrust at my groin – I parried it off and … cut him through the head. one of their Lancers threw his lance at me but missed … by my throwing it off with my sword … I cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next, I was attacked by a foot soldier, who, after firing at me charged me with his bayonet, but … I parried it and cut him down through the head.
“With the eagle captured, Sergeant Ewart was ordered to take the trophy off, denying the French troops a chance to recapture their battle standard. In recognition of his feat, he was promoted from sergeant to ensign.
“Having defeated the column and captured one of its battle standards, the Scots Greys were now disorganised. Neither Ponsonby nor Hamilton were able to effectively bring their troopers back under control. Rather than being able to reorganise, the Scots Greys continued their advance gaining speed, eventually galloping, and now aimed at Durutte’s division of infantry. Unlike the disordered column that had been engaged in attacking Pack’s brigade, some of Durutte’s men had time to form square to receive the cavalry charge. The volley of musket fire scythed through the Scots Greys’ ragged line as they swept over and round the French infantry, unable to break them. Colonel Hamilton was last seen during the charge, leading a party of Scots Greys, towards the French artillery. However, in turning to receive the Scots Greys’ charge, Durutte’s infantry exposed themselves to the 1st Royal Dragoons. The Royal Dragoons slashed through them, capturing or routing much of the column.
“Having taken casualties, and still trying to reorder themselves, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade found themselves before the main French lines. Their horses were blown, and they were still in disorder without any idea of what their next collective objective was. Some attacked nearby gun batteries of the Grande Battery, dispersing or sabring the gunners. Disorganized and milling about the bottom of the valley between Hougoumont and La Belle Alliance, the Scots Greys and the rest of the British heavy cavalry were taken by surprise by the counter-charge of Milhaud‘s cuirassiers, joined by lancers from Baron Jaquinot’s 1st Cavalry Division.
“As Ponsonby tried to rally his men against the French cuirassers, he was attacked by Jaquinot’s lancers and captured. A nearby party of Scots Greys saw the capture and attempted to rescue their brigade commander. However, the French soldier who had captured Ponsonby executed him and then used his lance to kill three of the Scots Greys who had attempted the rescue. By the time Ponsonby died, the momentum had entirely returned in favour of the French. Milhaud’s and Jaquinot’s cavalrymen drove the Union Brigade from the valley. The French artillery added to the Scots Greys’ misery.
“The remnants of the Scots Greys retreated to the British lines, harried by French cavalry. They eventually reformed on the left, supporting the rest of the line as best they could with carbine fire. In all, the Scots Greys suffered 104 dead and 97 wounded and 228 of the 416 horses. When they were finally reformed, the Scots Greys could only field two weakened squadrons, rather than the three complete ones with which they had begun the day.
“Following the victory of Waterloo, the Scots Greys pursued the defeated French Army until Napoleon’s surrender and final abdication. The Scots Greys would remain on the continent until 1816 as part of the army of occupation under the terms of the peace treaty.
Poppies can be seen growing everywhere upon the field of Waterloo.
Denise and Ian took a trip up to the top of the Lion’s Mound, while I stayed behind and walked the base. I’d already seen the view from the top during the 2010 Waterloo re-enactment. I was one of hundreds who perched atop the Mound to view the action, except that it had been bucketing down with rain when I was there.
Afterwards, we headed out to the other sites in the area connected to the Battle.
On a recent visit to London, I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum with my friend and travel companion, Denise Costello. In particular, we wanted to see “Tippoo’s Tiger,” made for Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in South India (1782-1799) and later captured by Wellington’s army.
From the V&A:
The almost life-size wooden semi-automaton consists of a tiger mauling a prostrate figure in European clothes. An organ is concealed inside the tiger’s body, and when a handle at the side is turned, the organ can be played and the man’s arm simultaneously lifts up and down. Intermittent noises are supposed to imitate the wails of the dying man.
The tiger was discovered by the British in the palace at Tipu Sultan’s capital after the Siege of Seringapatam in 1799. The invading army stormed through a breach in the ramparts and, in the ensuing chaos, Tipu and a great many of his soldiers, generals and the citizens of the town were killed. The victorious troops then rampaged through the city, looting valuables from the palace and from private houses, until Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) gave an order for hanging and flogging which quickly restored order. The contents of the royal treasury were then valued and divided between the British army over the next weeks according to the conventional practice of the period. Some time later, the tiger was discovered in the music room of the palace and was shipped to London, where it arrived in 1800. It was sent to East India House, the headquarters of the East India Company which housed a library and new museum, and soon became one of the most popular exhibits. The Indian Museum, as it became known, moved several times before parts of the collection, including Tipu’s tiger, were transferred to the South Kensington Museum, later renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Of course, once we’d seen the Tiger, Denise and I visited the other galleries and these are just a few of the items in the items I found of particular interest –
From the V&A:
The sedan chair was a popular form of non-wheeled transport in Europe until the 19th century. It was fitted with a seat for one person, and was carried by two or four chairmen (depending on the occupant’s weight), who lifted it using two long poles that slotted into brackets on the side of the chair, attached to leather straps that hung round the chairmen’s necks. Sedans were particularly useful for travelling through cities with narrow streets. This sedan chair was probably made in Piedmont / Savoy in Italy. Several similar chairs of about the same date survive in Italy, France and the UK, including one at Westminster Abbey which was bought in Rome in the early 19th century.
The exterior of the sedan chair is covered with black leather. There are three windows, one in the door and one on either side. Brass round-headed studs are arranged in decorative patterns around the windows and follow the outline of each side of the chair, at the same time forming a girdle round the chair about half way up . . . . The front window is made to drop downwards, into the body of the door on a strap punched with several holes that can be hooked onto a tack attached to the inside of the chair door just below the window.The window strap is stamped and gilded and may be an early 19th century replacement. The side windows slide back, and the glass in these two windows is protected by two thin metal horizontal wires (possibly 19th century). The door itself is designed to be completely removeable and can simply be lifted off its hinges.
At each side of the chair near the base are two iron brackets (known as pole lugs), back and front, to accommodate carrying poles (the poles are modern). The rear two of these may not be original. The roof, the shape of a shallow umbrella, has eight radiating struts, which are also decorated with brass studs arranged in rosettes. The four corners of the roof are upturned into a scroll formed of laminated leather, the back right-hand one of which is bent over. Immediately below them are carved wooden female masks, painted. Behind each corner scroll, on the roof, is a brass finial, triangular in section. The central finial is a replacement, of carved wood, made by the Museum in 1968. The whole roof is surrounded by large brass studs, and below is a carved wooden cornice, with gadrooning and scrollwork. On three of the four sides of the chair, just below the roof, is a small iron loop: originally large tassels would have hung from these, but they do not survive.
The interior is, except for the floor, lined with pale olive green (perhaps once saffron yellow) stamped woollen velvet on a linen warp, with a floral design with a very large repeat. The seat has 22 inch width, the standard width for a handloom. There are two small padded arm rests. These and the base of the padded seat, below the windows, and at the base of the roof are trimmed with pale olive-green fringing, of cord with floss tassels, and braiding 1.6 inches wide, in linen woven with a diamond pattern. Originally there would have been a valance hanging from the seat down to the floor, hiding the area under the seat which was often used for storage or for a heater. The stuffing of the seat is probably horsehair. Under the seat the walls appear to be relined at the back and sides.The velvet on the underside of the roof is held in place by nailed tapes and the pattern is not symmetrically placed. The wooden floor has a leather mat, nailed in position with brass-headed nails in a decorative pattern of symmetrical scrolls. This is much worn and the leather outer covering of the sedan chair is torn in places on the door.
Externally, the back of the chair curves inwards at the base to allow space for the rear carrier to walk. This shape is characteristic of sedan chairs made in Piedmont / Savoy. The carved decoration and shape of the roof is reminiscent of French carriages dating from the early 18th century. The style of the carving seems to be that of the 1720s, but is of a style that continued to be used for the decoration of sedan chairs for several decades.
From the V&A:
Elephant table clock, the case and movement signed by different craftsmen. The case proclaims it was ‘made by Caffieri’, while the movement is signed by Jerome Martinot (1671-1724), the enamelled dial has been signed on the back by Antoine-Nicola Martinière and a spring in the movement has the signature of ‘Magny’ (perhaps Alexis Magny). The number of signatures reflects how such clocks were assembled by ‘marchands merciers’ (or ‘luxury goods merchants’) in Paris who commissioned works of art which combined contrasting luxury materials including bronze, horn, porcelain and ormolu. Such elaborate clocks often included an organ in the base, although this does not survive for the V&A example. Other mid-eighteenth-century clocks incorporate elephants in ormolu (gilded bronze) or Meissen porcelain, or lions in Chinese porcelain. Only three clocks cast entirely in bronze like this one have survived, and it has been argued that the V&A clock is the earliest example. Although the surface chasing on the V&A’s example is not of the highest quality, this may be explained by the later regilding which covers the original chased surface. When it entered the Museum in 1882, the clock stood on a later ebony base with gilded bronze mounts and the dial, despite Martinière’s eighteenth-century signature, may well have been re-enamelled in the nineteenth century.
The drum of chased gilded bronze, scroll design, surmounted by the seated figure of a draped monkey holding up a parasol with his right hand and a horn in his left; the drum rests on the back of a bronze elephant standing on a base of gilded bronze rockwork. The quality of the chasing is very high; the central plant on the base has been cast as a separate feature. The slightly reddish patina of the elephant is characteristic of 18th century work. A rectangular ebony stand with gilded bronze mounts that accompanied the clock when it entered the collection is probably a later additon.
From the V&A:
After the death of the 1st Duke of Wellington in 1852, the government announced that a competition was to be held for the design for a monument to commemorate him. This was Alfred Stevens’s competitive sketch model, and was among those exhibited at Westminster Hall, London, in 1857. one of the most important sculptors in Britain in the 19th century, and executed a wide variety of work, including designs for silver and maiolica, firedogs and chimney-pieces, as well as sculpture. Although Stevens’s model came fifth in the competition, which was won by William Calder Marshall (1813-1894), it was actually judged more suitable to the monument’s setting, which was to be St Paul’s Cathedral, and he was therefore awarded the commission. The monument, which was not unveiled until 1912, 37 years after the artist’s death, was completed by his pupil Hugh Stannus (1840-1908). Stevens had made some changes to the design, and the finished monument therefore differs in some respects from this model, but the general composition remained. The model is made from plaster and wax, with metal armatures; in form it echoes Italian Renaissance monuments.
Imagine my surprise when I turned a corner to find this, my favourite painting, Landseer’s “The Old Shepard’s Chief Mourner.”
From the V&A website: Artist Edwwin Landseer’s choice of subject illustrates the Victorian obsession with the trappings of death, combined here with his speciality, the accurate and almost anthropomorphic representation of dogs and other animals. Its mixture of pathos and realism appealed to all sections of society, and the critic Ruskin praised the fine technique and the subtle choice of details. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 and proved a great success, particularly as an engraving after this picture was published and sold widely in the following year.
Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873) was a child prodigy, exhibiting some drawings at the Royal Academy when he was only 13. From an early age he was a frequent visitor to the menagerie in Exeter Change in the Strand, London, where he drew lions, monkeys and other animals. Animals remained the main subjects of his art. Queen Victoria collected his paintings, as did John Sheepshanks. The two biggest collections of his work are in the Royal Collection and here in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Our next stop was Knebworth House, a Gothic fantasy straight out of a Hammer Studios horror movie. In fact, there was a movie being filmed there during our visit, the grounds covered in booms and trailers, lights and cables. Unfortunately, a confidentiality agreement had been signed and so we weren’t allowed to know which film. Quite a few movies have been shot here over the years, including The Canterville Ghost, Jane Eyre, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The King’s Speech.
Knebworth House is one of England’s most colourful stately homes. It is remarkable for having been in the same family – the Lyttons – for more than 500 years and for its romantic exterior complete with turrets, domes and gargoyles, which conceals a red brick house dating from Tudor times. Its roots lie with Sir Robert Lytton, a friend of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond.
Lytton fought with Tudor at Bosworth in 1485, when the Tudor dynasty was formed and Henry seized the throne as Henry VII. As his patron efforts were successful, so Lytton prospered. In 1490 he bought the medieval fortified house at Knebworth and over the rest of his life he transformed the castle into a large and comfortable residence, suitable for a man in high standing at court.
The Tudor version of Knebworth was made of brick – then an expensive and fashionable material – and featured large mullioned windows. The mansion stayed essentially unchanged for the next 3 centuries, but by the time Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton took control in 1810 the old house was in dire condition.
Lady Elizabeth started the transformation of Knebworth into a Gothick fantasy castle. But her son, Edward Bulwer Lytton, distracted her attention from the house. He married against her wishes, so Elizabeth cancelled his allowance. In order to make ends meet and maintain his lifestyle as a society dandy, the young Edward turned his hand to writing novels and plays.
Other notable family members included Constance Lytton, the Suffragette and her father, Robert Lytton, the Viceroy of India who proclaimed Queen Victoria Empress of India at the Great Delhi Durbar of 1877. There is a Jacobean minstrels gallery hovering above the hall, where Charles Dickens liked to hold amateur theatricals when he visited. Of the other ebullient, eccentric rooms, perhaps the most interesting is the study, left as it was when Edward Bulwer-Lytton used it as his writing den. One of the more peculiar objects in the room is a large crystal ball, into which the writer would stare for hours at a time, waiting for inspiration to strike. The House has also been visited by Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and many more.
Click here to watch a video of our walk to Knebworth House and to meet our guide, Edward Lytton Cobbold.
When I left you in the last post, our group had made our way to the Audley End Kitchen Garden for a tour with the gardener. The Kitchen Garden offers over 120 varieties of apples, 40 types of pears, 60 kinds of tomatoes plus many more fruits and vegetables. It also has an Orchard House where peaches and figs are grown in pots, in the same way that they were in Victorian times.
Instead of my going on about our tour, I’ll let you experience it for yourself. Click here for Part One (5:57) of our tour. You’ll find the link to Part Two below.
Click here for Part Two (6:54) of the garden tour.