Leeds nostalgia: 200th anniversary of Battle of Waterloo at Royal Armouries

Photo by British Library/Robana/REX (3614837a)  The Battle of Waterloo, June 18th 1815.
Photo by British Library/Robana/REX (3614837a) The Battle of Waterloo, June 18th 1815.
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This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, a decisive victory for the English over Napoleon’s forces.

The battle, fought on Sunday, June 18, 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, ended the series of wars that had torn Europe apart since the French Revolution of the early 1790s. It also saw the end of the French Empire and Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest commanders in history.

To mark that anniversary, a huge scale model of the battle is being painstakingly restored at the Royal Armouries, Leeds.

Captain William Siborne’s remarkable model of the battlefield was completed in 1843 and shows – in marvellous detail – the battlefield as it was at around 1:30pm on June 18, 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.

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 the museum’s Conservation Live! programme.

The model was highly controversial in its day because Captain Siborne went to great lengths not only to contact soldiers from the British side but those from the opposing side, using their testimonies to recreate the model.

Until May 1, 2015 museum visitors can meet the conservator, Cymbeline Storey, discuss the conservation programme and watch conservation of the model taking place. At 11am and 2pm visitors can attend talks with the conservator, which is ticketed due to limited access, or simply drop in between 2:30pm-3:30pm.

Once complete, the modern will form part of the Armouries’ Waterloo 1815: The Art of Battle exhibition, which will run from May 22-August 23. There will also be a special exhibition of art and weapons.

Highlights of the exhibition are the rarely exhibited monumental ‘cartoon’ (12mx3m) by Daniel Maclise, which is on loan from the Royal Academy of Arts, and the magnificent painting ‘Scotland Forever!’ by Lady Elizabeth Butler from Leeds City of Art Gallery. Weapons and objects from the battlefield will be displayed alongside the artworks in a new interpretation of the events.

The exhibition will be followed by a permanent display of the Armouries’ Waterloo collection from Autumn onwards.

On June 18, there will be a talk by Annette Wickham, curator of works on Paper at Royal Academy of Arts The exhibition, which will also be supported by a joint publication between Royal Armouries and Royal Academy of Arts - Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon by Annette Wickham and Mark Murray Flutter.

As part of the commemorations there will also be a study day (Saturday June 13, prices: adults £30, concessions £25) to explore the significance of the battle both today and at the time, examine the arms and armour used at the battle, look at how weapons were depicted in contemporary art and re-examine the recently conserved Siborne model. For more information the Armouries on 013 220 1999 or email enquiries@armouries.org.uk, or check the blogpost: twitter.com/Royal_Armouries/status/579989201762037760