Mount Stewart and the road to Waterloo

Scotland Forever! by Lady  Butler, circa 1818.

Scotland Forever! by Lady Butler, circa 1818.

200 years ago today a battle was fought in an area no bigger than three square miles, with an outcome that was in the balance till the last minute. It resulted in nearly 100 years of peace in Europe, and has become the stuff of legend.

But the road to Waterloo begins in 1769.

On 13 April 1769, Thomas Lawrence was born in London. By 1815, he was the painter who would immortalize these two men, both born in Dublin: On 1 May, Hon Arthur Wellesley, and 48 days later, on 18 June, Robert Stewart, styled Lord Castlereagh. To complete the set, their arch enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte, was born on 15 August in Ajaccio, Corsica. 40 years on, these three would dominate the European stage

We are used to instant news, which tends to accelerate events, but in 1814, things were moving at a frightening rate. In the spring of that year, the Allies captured Paris, Napoleon abdicated and went into exile on the island of Elba, the Bourbons were restored, and the long series of wars that had convulsed Europe for over 20 years seemed to be over at last. Wellington’s reputation stood higher than any British soldier since Marlborough.

Now, with the coming of peace, he was given the last and highest promotion in the peerage and made Duke of Wellington. Almost as soon as the guns had stopped firing Lord Castlereagh offered Wellington the position of British Ambassador in Paris. Wellington accepted the offer without hesitation. However, it was August when he set out for Paris. On the way he carefully inspected the border of what is now Belgium but was then part of the Netherlands, and prepared a memo on its defence against a possible French attack. Where was this? Waterloo!

From Paris he went to Vienna to replace Castlereagh who had to hurry home to defend the Government in the House of Commons. Castlereagh younger half-brother, Baron Stewart was also there, serving as the British Ambassador to Austria. He had been Wellington’s Adjutant-General during the Peninsular War. When he left to take up work as a diplomat, he sold one of his horses to his Commander-in-chief. The stallion’s name was Copenhagen.

The Duke of Wellington on Copenhagen (1818) by Thomas Lawrence.

The Duke of Wellington on Copenhagen by Thomas Lawrence, circa 1818.

Although the social whirl of the Congress of Vienna continued the main work had already been done. Wellington was not quite the diplomat that Castlereagh was, but he acquitted himself well. His tenure might have remained a footnote in his long life if it had not been for the return of Napoleon from Elba. News of the Emperor’s escape electrified the atmosphere. At first no one knew where he was heading. Word came that he had landed in southern France, but Wellington did not give him much chance of success. However, within two weeks, Napoleon entered Paris without a single shot being fired .

It was five more days before Count Metternich of Austria received the devastating news. However, the heads of the European powers were all in Vienna and by 13 March, Napoleon had been declared an outlaw, and it was war again, declared on ONE MAN! Tzar Alexander was heard to say to Wellington, ‘Its up to you to save the world again!’ Castlereagh reported to the House of Commons and arrangements were put in place to bring back British troops from America, following the end of the War of 1814. These battalions would go straight to Europe to join the army amassing in Belgium.

The scene was set. Napoleon headed north from Paris at the head of 250,000 troops. By 16 June he was headquartered in Charleroi, and skirmishing was taking place north of the town on the Brussels’ road. Wellington, in Brussels, used the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball on 16 June as an O-Group, since most of his senior officers were there. Many of them left for battle wearing clothes more suited for dancing than war.

On 17 June, the forward lines of the two armies met at Quatre Bras, a crossroads on the main road from Charleroi, and at the village of Ligny. In each case, there was no decisive victory.

This was the first time that Napoleon had faced Wellington, and the British general had chosen his ground carefully. He placed nearly all his units behind the north facing ridge, and waited.

Sunday morning, 18 June, dawned warm and sunny. Few men on either side had escaped the ravages of the night’s downpour. By 11am, the ground was dry enough for the French guns to move into place, Wellington was heartened by the news from Blucher promising to put up 50,000 Prussian troops on the road to Waterloo by dawn.

Wellington spent much of the day anxiously training his telescope hoping to see the Prussians emerge from the woods into the open. By 4.30pm, his wish was granted. By 6.30pm, the steadily growing strength of the Prussians began to turn the tide. By 8pm, it was clear that the Allies had won. An exhausted Napoleon rode back over the French border. As darkness fell, the battlefield was a ghastly sight. Men and horses lay everywhere. There were up to 45,000 dead and wounded. As Napoleon rode towards Paris, Wellington returned to his HQ, gave Copenhagen a kindly pat, and narrowly missed being kicked! He slept briefly, and early on the 19 June, he wrote his account of the battle, which was to reach the British government two days later. The only bit of conceit that he allowed himself was to remark, ‘It was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. By God! I don’t think it would have done if I had not been there.’ He was almost certainly right.

On 21 June, Lord Castlereagh announced to the House of Commons the news of the victory.

The collection at Mount Stewart contains many objects relating to these events.

The Congress of Vienna chairs, purchased for the British Embassy in Vienna, and bookcases owned by Lord Stewart.


The desk on which the Final Act of the Congress on 9 June 1815, and the Treaty of Paris on 20 November 1815, were signed. The desk came into the possession of Lord Castlereagh.


There are portraits of the Stewart brothers by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Oil painting on canvas, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, KG, GCH, MP (1769-1822), studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (Bristol 1769 ¿ London 1830), circa 1814. A three-quarter-length portrait of Viscount Castlereagh, standing, facing the viewer, wearing a dark green coat with the ribbon and jewel of the Garter, a white waistcoat and stock, and fawn-coloured breeches. In his left hand he holds a bundle of papers, resting on a table. Behind him hangs a red drape, pulled to the right. (see also bust-length 1221350)

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, Thomas Lawrence, circa 1814.

Oil painting on canvas, Charles William Vane, Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854) (after Sir Thomas Lawrence), attributed to Edmond Brock (1880¿1952), circa 1924/25. A half-length portrait, turned to the right, of Charles William Vane, Baron Stewart, wearing the military uniform of a General Officer of the Hussars. A saber in its scabbard is held over his right shoulder, and his left hand rests on the sash around his waist. He wears the Talavera ribbon and medal that he was awarded for his military activity as Adjutant-General under Wellesley at the Battle of Talavera in 1809.

Charles William Vane, Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (after Sir Thomas Lawrence), attributed to Edmond Brock, circa 1924/25.











Finally, 18 June was Lord Castlereagh’s 46th birthday.

Win Linton


Desks, computers and paper!

As with every job in 21st Century, we on the house team have lots of paperwork to complete.

Michael and Matthew, the conservation assistants (c/a’s for short) get off fairly lightly – their paperwork mostly involves filling out records, the regular spot checks and readings for instance.

It is Andrea, the House Steward (HS for short), and I, Assistant House Steward (AHS) who have the joy of the bulk of the paperwork! Andrea’s most absorbing paperwork job is ‘The Guide Rota’, she also looks after the house volunteers (both conservation and guiding) and the pre-booked groups, making orders and various other jobs with plenty of forms to fill out!

My biggest regular paperwork job involves visitor figures, both daily record sheets for the guides to fill in and the monthly ‘counting’ sheets that are input from the daily forms. The monthly sheets are on Excel and can be (for a non techie like me!) very complicated, as we need to record everything each day. We also need annual totals for each scheduled individual time (such as the number of people who went on the 12noon tours through the season), the total for each week (not easy when the week is over two months!), the numbers on pre-booked groups, how many did free-flow, how many didn’t make it onto a scheduled house tour (happily not too many!) etc. This all is very time consuming as everything has to be added up individually and accurately.

Over the past number of months, I have also been preparing ‘Condition Reports’ on the computer, taking useful details such as inventory numbers, descriptions, measurements and photos from our computerised inventory system (called CMS) and copying them onto the paperless forms on the computer. I am doing this for each showroom and area and it means that we can update our records as we carry out detailed cleaning this season in the Hague conservation studio. Later, as everything returns to normal, we can fill out these records wherever the item in question ‘lives’ – either a showroom or a store.

There are also regular checks to be carried out and recorded – either weekly, monthly or quarterly, you’ve guessed it – more paperwork!

For the start of this season, guide info packs had to be produced, including details of the exhibition now in place – provided by Louise, our House & Collections Manager (HCM) – and the highlights of the collection currently stored in the Central Hall. A simple list of two sides of pages became a detailed list of nineteen. Safe to say that the photocopier did overtime as I had over 1500 copies to make!

With the amount of paper and computer work to be done, it is a pleasant surprise to occasionally get out of the office and into the house!


Conserving the collection

A bit more about Conservators and their work this time.

We on the house team are trained in general preventative conservation, which means we are able to deal with the day to day needs of our historic house and its collection.

Sometimes we have need of the skills and/or advice of a Conservator – this is a person who specialises in a particular medium – ceramics and glass perhaps or photographs or historic lighting or many others….They have detailed knowledge of their chosen subject and will be called on in an emergency – perhaps some item has been knocked over and broken or there has been a leak…

Recently mould appeared on a print in one of the bathrooms. This is strange as a) the area is not especially damp and b) all the other pictures (even hanging beside it) were not affected. I took down all the prints & pictures in the room, put the other (unaffected) ones into another room for safety and carefully packed away the affected print into a box. I also cleaned away the mould that was left behind on the wall – inhaling mould is not good for one, so wearing disposable gloves and a mask are advisable while dealing with all this. However there was also mould on the mount of the print under the glass and this needed an expert’s attention. We were fortunate that Graeme, one of the National Trust’s paper advisors, was visiting shortly afterwards and he has taken the print away to deal with in his work studio at home.

Many of our experts come over from England, but we in Northern Ireland are fortunate in having several local conservators who do great work for us. Fergus (furniture), Kathy (textiles), Christine (gilt work) and Jane (paintings) have all been working away at Mount Stewart during 2013 – often witnessed by our visitors and guides – and they should be doing much more sterling work in our new conservation studio. This is the first such facility for the National Trust in Northern Ireland and is situated in ‘Hague’, one of the bedrooms. We hope that our visitors will be able to see them working their magic during the 2014 season and beyond… might even get to see the house team in action too!

During the week of 17 February we were swamped with visitors! There were a few conservators among them – the two James’ (one does silver, the other does paint – the type on walls), Trevor (stone), Terry (chandeliers); also Sally, the National Trust magazine editor (the current issue features Mount Stewart), Anne, the Health and Safety Officer (checking out our new visitor route), not to mention Fergus and Rebecca (a trainee furniture conservator gaining work experience with us) and all the more usual house and project teams and their fabulous volunteers – good job the house is large (though the staff room does get rather crowded at break and lunchtimes!)

One of our more unusual recent visiting conservators was Nigel who specialises in Natural History. He was here to work on the giant Irish Deer antlers.

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These were seen and marvelled at by visitors last season, while they were temporarily living in the Entrance Hall. They are now back in their usual home – secured high on a wall in the Saloon – having been repaired and strengthened. After the project is complete the Saloon will be open to the public at certain times, so visitors will have the chance to see these incredible antlers – though they don’t seem so huge when so high up!