The Hougoumont farm holds against the furious French attacks!                           

View point 4


The next viewpoint is the  Hougoumont farm. If you walk on dong the lane, however, you come to a track which turns off to the left, and this is also worth a visit. This track leads diagonally across the field to La Belle Alliance, and is probably in much the same condition as all the lanes were in 1815.


It crosses the ground up which the cavalry and the Garde advanced, and looking back you still see the ridge as they saw it, apparently deserted. The front-line lane, on the ridge, led down until recent years through a deep cutting to the Nivelles road, but the far end of it has been demolished by the highway. It now crosses the highway by a bridge before joining the Nivelles road, and just before the bridge a new access road to Hougoumont farm turns off it to the left. The walk from the Lion Hill to Hougoumont farm is roughly three-quarters of a mile. Alternatively, you can drive to the farm from  the Waterloo Lion Hill along the road signposted to Brainel'Alleud, crossing over the highway. Turn left at the crossroads towards Nivelles, following the sign to Goumont, then left again at the next bridge, and right to Hougoumont farm. There are plans to make a car park at Hougoumont, but in the meantime visitors are asked to park on the approach road without impeding the farm traffic.

     


Approaching the farm, you are confronted by the main entrance of the courtyard. It used to have a solid wooden gate - and on the closing of this gate, Wellington said afterwards, the success of the battle depended. The importance of the farm is shown by the valley on the right.


This valley begins near La Belle Alliance, and curves round beyond the Nivelles road to the rear of Wellington's line. It is out of sight from the ridge, and Hougoumont had not been held, a French army could have come round by the valley to outflank the position that Wellington had chosen. Napoleon's staff proposed this flanking movement at a meeting in the morning, but he insisted on a direct attack. Nevertheless, the first shots of the day were fired at Hougoumont farm, and it was under attack without respite until the evening.


As you enter the courtyard, the great barn is on your right. The main house or château was on the like it was burnt out during the battle and nothing now remains except a bit of ruined wall attached to the chapel, which is ahead of you. The door of the chapel is now locked, because there has been trouble from vandals. It is still possible to look through the grille in the door, and see the wooden figure of Christ on the Cross. The feet still show the marks of charring the flames. The present house,beyond the chapel, was the gardener's house in 1815, and the gardener was the only Belgian civilian whom to have been on the battlefield all day he stayed in the forlorn hope of protecting his garden.


To reach this large walled enclosure, which is now used for grazing, you walk round the chapel to the left. There are several plaques on the walls of Hougoumont, and in the garden a memorial to the French which was put there in 1914.


Within this quiet haunted place one can perhaps imagine more clearly than anywhere else the Dreadful violence of that Sunday afternoon. These buildings and garden were defended by detachments of the Scots Guards and Coldstream Guards, and a thick wood to the south. which has now disappeared, by a German detachment.


The Guards made loopholes  in all the walls, including the massive outer wall of the barn: the garden wall was repaired afterwards, but some of the holes were left in it and are still there. They also barricaded all the entrances except the main gate, which was kept open for supplies. When the fighting began a French infantry regiment was in the bottom of the valley, and elements of it remained there all day within about 50 yards of the loopholes in the barn - a reminder of the inaccuracy of musket fire.







Here the fighting began about 11.30 a.m., two hours before anywhere else. The French came

through the wood with appalling bloodshed, and round the outside of the garden wall. They reached the main gate and about 100 rushed into the courtyard before the colonel of the Guards thee other officers and a sergeant put their shoulders to the gate and  forced it shut.  


There was a fierce fight in the courtyard, in which only one of the 100 French survived Unhurt a smalle drummerboy  who had lost his drum. About the middle of the day the French brought up howitzers and shelled the buildings. The shells set fire to the roof of the barn which was thatched. It fell in, on top of a large number of wounded men who had sheltered there. The fire spread across the courtyard to the lower floors of the château and upwards to the roof, which also fell in with a sheet of name. During the afternoon, everyone on the battlefield saw a huge cloud of black smoke rising from Hougoumont, above the grey gunsmoke that covered the field.


Fire added a new dimension of horror to the fighting here. It was said this courtyard was as hot as an oven. Wounded men burning to death could not be saved; everyone was scorched by flying embers. The French attacked with unceasing bravery, yet they never breached the walls of the  courtyard or the garden. The wood was lost and the buildings were often surrounded,

but Hougoumont held out, and kept command of the strategic valley.


Continue tour the last stand of the Napoleon Old Guard, Wellington advances his army


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