Monday 25 September 2017

The Soldier Museum, Houghton Hall, Norfolk

The 6th Marquess of Cholmondeley, with his Waterloo diorama. [1]

On Sunday 2nd September, Sam, Simon and I - the males of our branch of the Palmer clan - visited the superb Soldier Museum, at Houghton Hall, in Norfolk.

The collection was assembled by the Lord Hugh, 6th Marquess of Cholmondeley, who served in the Army during WWII. Accordng to one of the guides, he did possibly work on some of the figures in the collection himself. But, by and large - and it is a pretty large collection [2] - the figures and dioramas are commissioned.

19th Century French colonial doings in North Africa.

Endearingly malproportioned; real old fashioned toy-soldiers...

... of the gloss painted 54mm (or thereabouts) variety...

... these are Austrians, depicted in several picturesque scenarios.

The numerous exhibits cover around about 300 years of military history, with an accent on the 19th Century, and especially the Napoleonic Wars. There are all sorts of models and scales, from flat zinfiguren to proto Action-Man figures. The rather attractive diorama below looks like it features 25mm figures, and depicts an action of the Franco Prussian War, by a windmill.

Several exhibits depict parades. Below we see British Empire troops in North Africa. And below that part of a very large Prussian parade, on a less site specific green baize setting. And thirdly, another Colonial scene, showing camels, mules, and natives, all helping transport dismantled British artillery.

One of the oldest scenes depicted is the battle of Culloden, with the British redcoat regulars pouring disciplined fire into those kilted berserkers, of the Highland clans.

'Och ae, I'll nae lay doon ma Claymoo-er, tull I'm kilt!'

The two pictures below show a very handsomely realised model depicting the Charge of the Light Brigade. The charging cavalry are fabulous, as are the greatcoated Russians, defending their artillery.

Another theme that's about as strong as the Napoleonic thread, is the Colonial one. I took loads of pictures, but haven't included so many of the models from the Colonial Wars, as they're not so much to my interest.

This diorama makes clever use of different scale figures to enhance the depth effect.

Somewhere in Zulu-land.

Somewhere in India?

There's markedly less modern stuff: below are two pics of an early WWI battle, notable for the mix of brightly uniformed Frogs fighting more dourly coloured Krauts. And somewhere further down, below a few more Colonial-era doings, is just one photo of the lone WWII scene. Apparently this latter desert warfare model features the 6th Marquess in  person, in miniature!

My dad was impressed with the collection, and commented on the detailed painting of the Scots' kilts! So here are some for you to judge. And following those 'Amazons', some more colonial scenes, including Sikh horse/baggage holders, and the colourfully attired followers of the Mahdi.

Always shoot the bagpiper first.

Hold your horses.

At Mahdi Gras the desert blooms red.

The only WWII scene depicts North African combat.

There are many Napoleonic exhibits, ranging from large battle scene to larger individual figures, and including two fine China equestrian figures of Wellington and Bonaparte, and numerous other single figures and groups showing both personalities and uniforms of that most colourful of martial epochs. I haven't included pictures of the larger single figures, as most of my snaps of such subjects came out pretty poorly.

Scots Greys get in among the French...

Wellington and Staff at Waterloo.

One of numerous colourful French scenes, in a slightly larger scale.

Sam took this 'pano', at the centre of which is the Waterloo diorama.

If you've read the earlier entries on my blog, going back some while now, you might know that I have a thing for Waterloo dioramas that goes back to Childhood. So, in honour/celebration of that, I've included a number of photos of that particular diorama. 

It's nowhere near as large as some (e.g. both the large and small Siborne models, or the one at The Royal Green Jackets Museum). But, just as with the real battle, only much more so, a large amount of action is compressed into a small space, making for a richly populated and highly exciting diorama.

The view south, from Wellington's northern end.

The perennially popular Scots Greys, inc. Ewart grabbing the Eagle.

The ol' grognards prepare to sally forth. [3]

French cavalry and artillery advance en masse.

At the sharp end the French horse charge...

... and finally reach the British squares.

Wellington sits his horse, and surveys the battle from a handy (if possibly fictitious) knoll.

His French counterparts do likewise, albeit on foot (piles playing up?).

As well as the dioramas, and single figures, etc, there are also prints, paintings, weapons, drums, and all sorts of other military history memorabilia. I took pictures of some of this stuff. But I'll confine myself here to this rather nice painting of a French Napoleonic hussar, and - as I'm a drummer myself - a few rather handsome drums.

Is this guy a trooper of the 7th Hussars? Oil painting by Paul Grolleron.

Simon, Sam and I aslo walked around some of the grounds, chiefly the walled gardens. They are terrific. I include just two pics below. The box hedge topiary is elegance itself, and the mock Greco-Roman temple is bizarrely rustic, being made from coarse wood decorated with antlers!

Despite my being a graduate of an art and art history degree from Goldsmiths, London home to many a conceptual artist, I was totally uninterested in the Richard Long landscape art exhibits. I saw one, whilst passing through the walled gardens, and it just reminded me how so much modern art seems to have lost its way, disappearing up its own fundament.

But Houghton Hall as a whole, the gardens, the Soldier Museum, and so on, is great. I can certainly see myself returning here, with Teresa, and taking a look around the house as well, which we didn't do on this occasion.  


[1] He died in 1990, aged 70.

[2] I think the collection contains circa 20,000+ figures. The promo bumpf boasts that it's the biggest such collection in Europe. 

[2] Is that the ghost of Poniatowski looking on, at left? There's certainly a figure in a couple of my pics that looks very like Poniatowski, the Polish aristo' (only lately made a Marshal), who had in fact died during the disastrous retreat after Leipzig, drowning whilst attempting to ford the river Elster, in 1813.

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