Sunday, 20 October 2013

Toy Soldiers at Wallington

Over the summer I visited the National Trust's Wallington property in the North East of England. It's a great day out in its own right with adventure playgrounds, climbing trees, the inevitable scone-heavy cafe and the chance of spotting a red squirrel (we didn't).
But unbeknownst to me there was a bonus inside the actual house.
In a large cabinet in what was once the children's nursery was a huge collection of late 19th century toy soldiers.
Apparently these had belonged to the three Trevelyan brothers Charles, Robert and George, who had played with them extensively in the 1880s. Also in the cabinet were some kreigspiel rule sets which the brothers used to plan their moves and campaigns before resolving battles with their toy soldiers. According to the notes the two elder boys used George in the role of "fate". Rather than deciding combat outcomes by the roll of a dice "fate" had to decide the results and casualties. This was clearly a system open to some abuse and George was  "persuaded" and "enticed" to favour one or other of his elder siblings (those of you with children are invited to imagine how well that worked).
That aside, I think this sounds an excellent system and think it should form the basis of 9th ed. Warhammer - it would certainly cut down the number of rules arguments some players seem to suffer from.
I think what I found interesting was that this pre-dated HG Wells and Little Wars by some 30 years - I suppose I always knew wargaming wasn't an original idea of Wells', but it was fascinating to have it confirmed that boys were playing with toy soldiers (at least in wealthy houses) for a long time before any rules were written down.

The miniatures themselves were an interesting and eclectic selection. Some were flats, some of them more full figured. They were apparently bought pre-painted, though many bore the signs of wear and tear of years of campaigning. There seemed to be a wide selection of 19th century troops, from Napoleonics (including some rather splendid kilt wearing redcoats), via ACW (both rebels and bluecoats) and the Crimea and on into contemporary bersaglieri and picklehaube wearing Prussians. Evidently the boys were bought units of whatever was available on trips to London and then formed them into broadly British (led by Wellington) and French (led by Napoleon) with allies such as Blucher (leading some of the aforementioned Franco-Prussian war troops) slotted in where appropriate.

Unfortunately the lighting wasn't great and I struggled to get decent pictures through the glass. But here are what I did manage to grab (apologies for the poor quality).

 A "flat" Napoleon at the head of his flat Old Guard

 I believe one of these is Wellington

Blucher, as he's facing toward the right, is part of the "British" forces

 Busby wearing (not flat) redcoats

 The Old Guard in more detail

 Kilt weraing redcoats, though they appear to have changed sides

Bersaglieri, I think

 Lifeguards (?) lead the British advance

 View from one end of the cabinet

And another view along

As I said, Wallington is a great day out if you're up in the North East and well worth a visit. And if you can pretend to be as surprised as I genuinely was when you spend the 45 minutes gawking at toy soldiers then your respective wargames widows will probably never suspect you had an ulterior motive for visiting.


  1. That's a great collection - and good pictures considering the conditions. Thanks for posting these.

    I have a vague recollection that George Macaulay Trevelyan mentions wargaming as a boy in his memoirs but I haven't read them for over 35 years. Must try to find them again and check!



  2. Thanks for showing these.
    We nearly went to Wallington a few weeks ago, if I'd known about the soldiers we would have gone. Next year we'll go as it's not far from home.