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The Model Career?

It’s interesting to wonder just how you arrive at your job. How much is luck or destiny. Everyone has talents of one sort or another. Mine are luckily all aligned towards art and design. I have always drawn and made things, ever since I was a small child. I think that my family background had a lot to do with it as my father and mother both relied on their artistic skills in their work. I like to think that this connection goes deeper than just who brought you up and that somehow the abilities I have are in some way genetic.

Captain William Siborne

By way of supporting this theory I would like to very briefly tell the story my great-great-great grandfather William Siborne who, in the 1830s set to work on a massive model of the battle of Waterloo. The model took 8 years to complete and measured 24 feet by 19, it included over 90,000 hand-painted lead soldiers. I have worked for over twenty years as a modelmaker and I can appreciate the huge effort that must have gone into such an undertaking.

Siborne was a career soldier in Wellington’s army but was just too young to be involved in the great battle of Waterloo. He seemed throughout his life to be always one step away from glory. He put his heart and soul into the project of building the model and as an army captain his training had included observational drawing and map making, vital skills for the realisation of such a project. He spent eight months on the battlefield of Waterloo making meticulous notes and sketches of the topography. He also required the skills of a historian, writing to officers in the allied forces present to obtain information on the positions of the troops at the crisis of the battle at 7 p.m.

I have been lucky to inherit some of his skills. I hope that I have not received them all! Siborne was not what can be described as a shrewd businessman; he undertook the work on an understanding that the War Office would fund the project. To his lasting regret, that understanding was not given in writing. His model was a catastrophic failure for him and it ended up almost consuming his entire career. It has been said that William Siborne was the last casualty of the Battle of Waterloo.

A Page from Siborne’s notes on the uniforms worn at the battle

He chose to freeze the action of the battle at 7 p.m. This choice of the time on which to base the movements of troops in the battle would prove to be this undoing. His research called into question parts of the Duke of Wellington’s famous version of events at Waterloo, namely the arrival of the Prussians on the battlefield. A smear campaign was undertaken against him and removing 40,000 of the 48,000 Prussians on the model did not placate the Duke.

The final cost of the model was a staggering £3000, which Siborne had considerable difficulty in recovering, as the exhibitor of its first public display in London cheated him of much of his share of the revenues. He was exhausted by his efforts and broken by the hostility of the Duke of Wellington, but friends in the army obtained a post for him at the Royal Military Asylum at Chelsea where he remained until his death.

The Waterloo Model. Still on public display at the National Army Museum, Chelsea, London

This cheery story of bad planning and failure has always been a part of my family folklore which has captured my imagination. I have obviously not been able to heed the lessons of my ancestor as along with my work at ARCHISTORY, I have spent the majority of my career as an architectural modelmaker. Have a look at www.modelhouses.co.uk  for details. I hope that my work continues to be rather more successful than that of the unfortunate Captain Siborne.

If you would like to visit the National Army Museum in London here is a link to thier website http://www.nam.ac.uk/exhibitions/permanent-galleries/changing-world-1784-1904/gallery-highlights/wellingtons-waterloo

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Ben Taggart Designer and founder of Archistory

Paul Murray House Historian

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