A visit to Wellington HQ in Waterloo!

Some miles from the Lion Mount,on the main street of Waterloo, a museum awaits tourists and visitors. But this museum is not any museum for the place, a former Mail and Inn building was used by Arthur Wellesley,Duke of Wellington, to establish his headquarters prior to the battle of Waterloo.

True to say that the battle itself took place on the grounds of Braine-L’-Alleud but, winner’s privilege, the name that would be given to posterity is the one of Waterloo for it’s from his room that the Duke of Iron wrote to England to tell about the defeat and fate of the french emperor. Also true to mention that Waterloo is much more easier to spell for foreigners than Braine-L’-Alleud. Really worth a visit if you want to plunge yourself into the feelings that must have been the ones of the Iron Duke before and after the battle!

You are invited to visit the rooms of the house as well as an recently renovated small house in the yard. With an audioguide in hand, optional but handy,you’ll be led through the building, learning on the context and the facts of that important day. The bed of the Duke where Gordon,of the 3d Foot Guards and one of Wellington’s friends and aide de Camp died is still there along with an articulated wooden leg and informations on the medical side of the story.

Different pieces of weapons, bullets,muskets, knives and plates are on display as well as copies of historical letters. Those written witnesses of history are surely my favorite pieces of the museum,along with the impressive paintings.  On another part of the museum, you can admire the beautiful pictures taken during the different reenactment that takes place often with the help of a lot of dedicated people. You can also learn about the cities all around the world that where named Waterloo  in memory of the battle. One of my favorite part was also learning of how the Mount was projected and built. Don’t assume that the lion on top is only a statue as it’s in fact the top of a column, facing France (and warning to never come back 😉 )

Wellington Museum-(c) and Courtesy- Musée Wellington
Wellington Museum-(c) and Courtesy- Musée Wellington

A temporary exhibition « Napoleon-Wellington : Shared destinies » shed the light on the common points and differences of the two men both in their military careers as well as private lives. Chronologically following the leaders

This exhibition will only last until the 31st July so be sure to plan a visit before then and bear in mind that with the commemorations coming, it will be very crowded.


(c) Musée Wellington

The Wellington museum is definitively worth a visit if you’re interested by this crucial period for european history! It’s perhaps less impressive than the brand new memorial, but a visit to both sites is very possible and encouraged with the 1815 Pass ticket which allow you to combine a visit to the battlefield (memorial+panorama+mount) and the trip to the museum. You can then do both sites and benefit from those two great places to learn about the hours leading to the battle, the position of troops and the very important consequences of the battle for Europe.


Adress :
Chaussée de Bruxelles 147
1410 Waterloo
Téléphone :+32(0)2 357 28 60

The museum is open daily with the exception of 1st January and 25th December.
The museum is closed until 13:30 on 24/12 and 31/1. From 1 October to 31 March 10.00hr to 17.00hr. From April 1 to September 30 of 9.30hr to 18.00hr.

From 1815 to 2012

Several days from now, I fell across a letter from Edward Stanley to his wife relating his visit to Waterloo Battlefield in 1816°, just one year after the famous battle took place.  This letter was so moving and so well written that it made me want to visit the site once again. I visited often in my childhood and my love for history even made me celebrate one of my teenage birthday parties there. With the good weather that we had last Thursday and a meeting cancelled, I told myself that it was a good time to go back the Waterloo battlefield.
The visitors center (and shop) is brand new, staff is young and nice and a ticket is issued which gives you access to two short-movies on the battle, the opening of the gate to the Lion

(I used to rush up there when I was a kid, now just seeing the 226 steps makes me feel tired and I must admit, I skipped the sacro-saint trek to the top ,leaving that to the day when I’ll come back with my young ones  😉 ) , wax museum and panorama.

Talking of wax museum and “panorama”, there are still there: used wax statues of Napoleon and his aides, The Prince of Orange, The Duke of Wellington and Blutcher and in that same museum you can find several items that were collected after the battle but not much. The building could do with a bit of fresh paint and new furniture but the good old “Waterloo spirit” from school days hasn’t gone off even if I can understand that the 21st century visitor could be disappointed.

I don’t know if I’m going to be clear but the point is that with a battlefield there aren’t really things to visit,and this doesn’t mean that you must not visit of course but you have to put yourself in the mood, or have read or re-read a good book about the battle,or again have a good guide to imagine how troops moved around, where the attacks were etc.
Being a weekday I was nearly on my own but so far so good it was more relaxing than visiting amongst a crowd of camera-mad Japanese 😉
Just a few remarks:
Plus point is the entrance price, 8€
Bad point is that the Battlefield Tour in a coach that takes you around the different places of the battle is only available from April the first although the website mentions it goes all year round.
There are identical explanation posters (one for the general state of Europe in the early XIX century, one for the Ligny battle, one for the, one for the day of the 18th of June on the Battlefield itself, the scales are not the same from one poster to another which isn’t a crime in itself, it’s supposed to give you a kind of “focus on” impression but didn’t work with me. The model farm in the hall of the panorama building, made to explain how troops fought against each other doesn’t have a single word of explanation which is quite sad. Of course, you can always figure out what farm it is or its story on that fateful day but still, it could do with a word or two of explanation which is shouldn’t be too much of a cost I think.
The council of Waterloo should have bought the different farms around (La Haie Sainte, Hougoumont..) just like Wellington’s pub headquarters in the center of Waterloo is now a museum What is surprising is that, now that won’t be much of a surprise when you know that the battlefield is managed by a French company, “Culturespaces”, also owning French places such as Chateau des Baux de Provence or Pont du Gard to name just a few.
I had the feeling that everything was so Napoleon-centered and the fact that there were more souvenirs of Napoleon than of Wellington did not help, especially when you know that it’s the Battle of Waterloo that was determinant in the fall of Napoleon.
It was well worth a visit but there’s much more that could be done out of and for this great historical site !

° Before and After Waterloo.Letters from Edward Stanley (sometime Bishop of Norwich) 18021814-1816,repris dans le Bulletin de la Société D’Histoire Napoléonienne, 1963 pp.26-32