Dig Diary Weekend: The Past Come Back to Life

Waterloo Uncovered Archaeology Weekend

An important part of our work is to tell people about what we do. This year, for the first time, we held an Archaeology Open Weekend, aimed at the local community and those interested in finding out more about what we have uncovered on site.

A Coldstream Guard reenactor overlooking the excavation of Phil’s trench near the North Gate

Crowds of people came to visit us at Hougoumont and were rewarded with a range of interesting and exciting activities bringing the past to life. We were honoured to receive the British ambassador of Belgium, Alison Rose, and General George Norton. They, in turn, were pleased to see such a positive and interesting bond flourishing between the Belgian and the British community.

Ambassador Alison Rose talking with some of the Veterans who came out for the weekend

The Redcoats return

Hougoumont was once more filled with Redcoats in full Napoleonic Uniform as a party of Re enactors paraded for inspection. They set up camp for the weekend in the garden of the chateau, and the smoke from their camp fires added an extra feel of authenticity to the event.

The reenactors’ camp

Despite the blazing heat, the men were determined to embody the spirit of two regiments that fought in the battle -the Coldstream Guards and 33rd Foot– complete with woollen and leather uniforms, and tall felt helmets.

A reenactor guarding the tent

Parties of visitors were thrilled by demonstrations of musket firing (blanks only of course!). And for one or two younger visitors there was a chance to try on bits of army equipment and to handle a Brown Bess musket (actually, quite a few adults got in on the act too…)

A demonstration of firing the muskets

Digging in Action

The trenches were left open over the weekend, providing visitors with a taste of real-life archaeology. Some of our archaeologists, including Phil Harding,  were happy to answer questions from the audience as they carried on excavating. On the sides of the trenches there were information boards describing the progress of the dig thus far.

Phil Harding explains to visitors what is happening in the trench

Waterloo to Waterloo

This year, Waterloo Uncovered teamed up with the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans to bring a party of veterans and serving personnel out to join us for the weekend by London Cab. A fleet of the iconic Black Cabs arrived at Hougoumont in convoy.

The Waterloo to Waterloo group

On arrival , some of the taxi drivers and their military passengers were able to get stuck into the archaeology. For some, this was their first chance to do archaeology: they were thrilled to find a selection of “live” finds in the Killing Zone, including  buttons, musket balls and nails right in front of our audience.

Looking at some finds


Pop-up Museum and Finds Handling

Visitors were allowed to inspect and touch some of our 200-year old finds, right in the middle of the excavation sites. Large information panels as part of our temporary pop-up museum offered our visitors an overview of the Battle of Waterloo. Some were amazed at the actual weight of the musket balls; being able to hold a button from the battle made it easier to connect with the people that wore them on their uniforms.  The general feeling was that, unlike in a museum, being able to handle the artefacts directly makes it easier to relate to identify with the story they tell.

Katherine Bridges shows some of the finds from the previous years to two visitors from the Netherlands

Waterloo Uncovered Audio visual

In the quiet surroundings of the chapel, used to shelter the wounded during the battle, visitors could experience a recording of Reading to Remember. This is a series of moving readings of eye witness accounts of the battle, read by members of the Waterloo Uncovered team. Elsewhere, in the main tent, people could listen to recorded interviews with leading historians giving new perspectives on the battle and the men who fought in it.

Recordings from previous Reading to Remember’s were played in the chapel

The Great Game: Waterloo Replayed

Also in the main tent, one of the big draws was a War Game being played with hundreds of 28mm model soldiers fighting for possession of a scale model of the chateau. This was a preview of a world record attempt next year by the University of Glasgow to stage the biggest battle using 28mm model soldiers. Visitors could watch as the fate of Hougoumont was decided by the role of dice in an afternoon of bitter fighting.

A group of Scouts looking on as the battle for Hougoumont continues

According to Waterloo Uncovered Chief Executive Mark Evans, “Initially, it looked like the French  were going to win – then Wellington sent in reinforcements. The French managed to breach the garden walls, but Wellington’s clever use of his forces meant that he won the day.” -a case of history repeating itself?

A Coldstream Guard reenactor looking down on Hougoumont

We have uploaded a video on our YouTube channel about the Great Game, go take a look! 

Archaeology and History Tours

Our international spirit was continued  by giving tours around the site both in French and English. These were provided by the Battlefield 1815 expert history guides. For those who could not make the tour at the set times, self-guided 30 minutes tours were available at any time. The tours combined archaeology and history in a unique way – our artefacts provide the physical evidence of a story usually only encountered in books. Here, in a way, our visitors witnessed ‘history in the making’.

An arial shot of Hougoumont taken by two photographers from Traces of War, A dutch website which “tries to provide as much neutral and independent information as possible regarding places of interest that are related to the Second World War.” We were very happy that they came out to see what we have been up to this last week.

Sunday. Guided Battlefield Sponsored Walk

Sunday was an opportunity for some to relax. For others, it was a call to action to don walking boots for a sponsored guided walk of the battlefield. Veterans and serving personnel, archaeologists, taxi drivers, students and Napoleonic re enactors joined forces to walk around the battlefield to raise funds for Waterloo Uncovered.

The group listening to the guide during the battlefield tour

It is an impressive sight to see reenactors in full gear in weather of 30 degrees – while taking part in  a 4-hour hike. Staff, visitors and veterans of all ages and in all conditions took part, some brave enough to join us in a wheelchair.

Rachel Willis and one of the reenactors

While enjoying the perfect weather (especially great when you are not in a red woollen coat), we were taken to some of the important sites of the Battle of Waterloo. Our tour guide inspired us with on-the-spot historical facts, though of course, not much prompting was needed to imagine the soldiers of the past marching amongst us in the untouched landscapes of Waterloo. The walkers were rewarded at the end of their historical trek by a cold beer -courtesy of the Mont Saint Jean Brewery.

Touring the battlefield

We feel the weekend was a great success. It was the chance to engage with the local community, to tell people about the valuable work we do, to offer new insights into the emerging story of the battle for Hougoumont and to spread the message about the valuable benefits our veterans and serving personnel gain from participating in Waterloo Uncovered. We’ll do it again next year!

WU People!

Sebastiaan Loche (43) is a veteran and military advisor from Zwolle (NL). He aims to speak to as many participants as possible and try out various archaeological activities. Check out this brief, personal interview with him.