Help save Wellington’s Battle of Waterloo stronghold

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For those of you who love history and wish to preserve historic sites for the enjoyment of future generations, please read the follow article from the latest issue of the Society of Antiquaries of London’s electronic newsletter Salon, issue 304, 9 September 2013.

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“As the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo approaches, the Daily Telegraph recently published an article concerning the work of our Fellow Martin Drury as joint Chairman (with his Belgian counterpart, Count Georges Jacobs) of Project Hougoumont. This project leapt to prominence earlier this year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced that the UK Government would donate £1 million towards the £3.2m needed to restore this key Battle of Waterloo site by 2015. A further £1 million has been promised by the Walloon regional government, and £600,000 has been secured in private donations so far, leaving £600,000 still to be raised.

 

Joe Shute, the journalist who wrote the Telegraph report, describes Hougoumont Farm as ‘largely unchanged from when, on 18 June 1815, it was the centre of action throughout the Battle of Waterloo. Of the tens of thousands who died that day, 6,500 men were killed, or suffered terrible injuries, at Hougoumont. The Duke of Wellington, joint commander of the Allied army who took on the French alongside Field Marshal Blücher’s Prussians, regarded the farm on the right wing of his position as the anchor that secured his line. The French launched ceaseless attacks, pounding its walls with artillery and eventually burning down a château that occupied the centre of the farmstead. At one point, Napoleon’s troops surged inside after a burly French lieutenant called Legros smashed through the main gate with an axe. But still the 4,000 defenders held strong. “No troops but the British could have held Hougoumont,” declared a triumphant Wellington following the battle, “and only the best of them at that.”’

 

Despite being one of Britain’s most important battle sites, and one that, according to the Iron Duke, ‘turned the outcome of Waterloo’, Hougoumont has become derelict. Restoration plans include turning the dilapidated Great Barn into an educational centre. The empty chapel will be a place of remembrance and the gardener’s house an apartment available for rent to those wanting to study the site.

 

Where a flimsy metal barrier is currently placed across the entrance to keep out thieves and vandals, a replica of the North Gate, which played such an important role in keeping the French out, is being funded by the family of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Wyndham of the Coldstream Guards, one of the soldiers who helped force the gates shut during bloody hand-to-hand fighting. Appropriately, the replica is being made in the estate yard at Petworth House in Sussex, home of our Fellow Lord Egremont, now head of the Wyndham family.

 

The restoration work is informed by three sepia-wash drawings made a few days after the battle by the Prince Regent’s military painter, Captain Denis Dighton, and by sketches made by Turner on a visit in 1817. Despite, or perhaps because of, the years of neglect, it is remarkable how little the farm’s appearance has changed. Drury says preserving this haunting atmosphere is key to the project, about which there is much more, including videos and photo galleries, on the Project Hougoumont website.”

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