A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

What a Load of Old Walls

Further to references in a couple of recent posts, I have now painted up most of my new Battleground medieval fortifications. The paint now appears to be sticking nicely - thanks for assistance with the base coat issue - I am still swithering over whether to apply a coat of matt varnish spray to finish. I prefer the appearance without, but these chaps will have to be stored away in a box, wrapped in tissue, and tough might be better than pretty - thinking about it.

Quick photo includes my existing Battleground pieces, just to fatten up the picture a bit. I decided to go for a general stone shade, which, strictly speaking, is incorrect for the Siege of Chester (Chester has good, red Bunter sandstone walls), but is fine for Newcastle and a pile of other places. Also, a big plus for this colour is that it will match well with my Vauban pieces, so I can produce hybrid fortified towns for the Peninsular War.

I still have to paint a rather natty little gatehouse (with clock) and two dirty great half star-fort castings (two halves = one complete star-fort). The star-forts may be a week or so, but I'll try to get the gatehouse done at the weekend. The gatehouse is not Battleground, by the way - I think it's JR Miniatures, but I'm not sure.

Drybrushing stonework, fortified with plenty of coffee and my new Radu Lupu recording of the Brahms Divertimenti, has been very therapeutic!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

ECW - Boldon Hill - homework

[Map with thanks to Stuart Reid]
Further to an earlier post on this subject, I am hoping to get a lot more free time at home, beginning within the next week or so, so am planning to stage the aforementioned ECW battle on 16th or 17th Feb - if it seems odd to make the planning so formal, I can only say that if I write the date in the diary now then it is probably going to take place!

The intention is to fight the Battle of Boldon Hill (also known as Hylton), which took place on 24th March 1644 a few miles west of Sunderland. My guest opponent for the evening, David, is a man from this area (he has an uncle who lives in Cleadon - see map!), which is why I chose this particular battle. Since David is new to wargaming, we'll use a very simple set of rules - probably the C&CN-derived set, but using a dice-based activation system instead of the cards.

The actual historical action was rather odd - the armies were of about the same size, and the hedged enclosures surrounding a couple of the villages made the terrain difficult for the Royalist Horse, so no fighting took place until around 5pm, by which time, in March in Northumberland, the light must have been fading fast. Combat was restricted to the Foot of both sides, though some Scots dragoons were involved, and the firefight lasted until late in the night. There were moderate losses on both sides, and the Royalists withdrew towards Durham, their cavalry protecting their retreat. The real battle, then, might be regarded as indecisive, but it was one of a series of episodes in this campaign in which the Royalists progressively lost advantage of position and initiative - the forces were probably pretty evenly matched, but the Marquis of Newcastle was repeatedly outmanoeuvred by Lord Leven.

I have assembled an OOB from a variety of sources - mostly secondary. Unusually, the Royalist side has the sketchier recorded history in this campaign. What follows is partly established fact, partly an educated guess based on who was in the area. For example, the exact nature of the force which Lumsden detached from the besieging force at Newcastle in order to reinforce Leven's field army is not known.

Boldon Hill – 24th March 1644

Army of the Solemn League & Covenant (Lord General Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven)

Horse (Maj.Gen David Leslie) – approx 1600

Lord Kirkcubright’s RoH (Lt.Col James Mercer of Aldie)
Earl of Leven’s RoH (Lt.Col James Ballantyne)
Maj-Gen David Leslie’s RoH (Lt.Col Sir John Brown)
Col. Hew Fraser’s Dragoons (Maj. John Munro)

Foot (Maj.Gen Sir James Lumsden) – approx 5200

Sir Alexander Hamilton’s RoF [Clydesdale] (Lt.Col Wm Carmichael)
Earl of Loudoun’s RoF [Glasgow] (Lt.Col Robt Home)
Earl of Lindsay’s RoF [Fife] (Lt.Col Thos Moffat)
Lord Livingston’s RoF [Stirlingshire] (Lt.Col Andrew Bruce)
Earl of Lothian’s RoF [Teviotdale] (Lt.Col Patrick Leslie)
Master of Yester’s RoF [Linlithgow & Tweeddale] (Lt.Col Wm Johnston)
Earl of Buccleuch’s RoF [Tweeddale] (Lt.Col Walter Scott)
Earl of Cassillis’ RoF [Kyle & Carrick] (Lt.Col John Kennedy)

1 heavy gun, 2 light, 1 frame

Army of King Charles (Wm Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle)

Horse (Sir Chas Lucas) – approx 2000

Lord Mansfield’s RoH (Lt.Col Sir Francis Wortley)
Sir Richard Tempest’s RoH [Durham] (Lt.Col Sir Francis Liddell)
Sir Edward Widdrington’s RoH [Northumberland] (Lt.Col Henry Constable)
Sir William Widdrington’s RoH [Northumberland] (Lt.Col John Thornton)
Col. Francis Stuart’s RoH [Northumberland] (Maj. Nicolas Burnet)

Foot (Lord Eythin) – approx 4300

Marquis of Newcastle’s RoF (Lt.Col Sir Arthur Basset)
Col. Charles Brandling’s RoF [Northumberland] (Lt.Col Robt Brandling)
Sir Wm Lambton’s RoF [Durham] (Lt.Col Henry Lambton)
Col. John Hylton’s RoF [Durham] (Lt.Col Lynsley Wren)
Col. John Lamplugh’s RoF [Cumberland] (Maj. Christopher Dudley)
Durham Trained Band (Maj. Arthur Swindells)
Commanded Shot (Maj. Wm Wray)

3 medium guns

Monday, 1 February 2016

Reluctant Paint

Here you see me having a relaxing evening session, preparing my
15mm fortifications for painting

Hmmm. Interesting.

I took advantage of an odd free evening to make a start on my medieval wall castings, safely received from the maker last week. I've done a fair amount of this sort of thing before, and I find it an enjoyable job - especially on something like stone walls, which have relatively few colours and produce a pleasing result very quickly. The new castings, as ever, are resin, and - as ever - I've taken care to scrub them down thoroughly with very hot water and washing-up detergent, then rinsed them very carefully in clean water and left them to dry off completely. I know that some of the release agents used with resin castings are petroleum based - once, long ago, I made a resin chess set using silicone rubber moulds, and made up my own release agent by dissolving Vaseline in white spirit. So the keywords are greasy, waxy, and the response is hot water and detergent and a good scrub.

Never had problems, really. Sometimes the first coat of paint doesn't cover too well, but a second undercoat covers the gaps nicely, and then everything goes to plan. This shipment seem to have traces of something a bit more stubborn. The first coat of the old Dulux Rum Caramel #2 (household wall emulsion) has rolled back a bit to leave some white spots and streaks showing. In other words, the paint has covered about 98%, maybe more, but there are gaps.

I'm not unduly worried - I usually use two coats of the base colour, and I think the second layer of undercoat should fix it, but this is the worst experience of non-sticking paint I've had, so I stopped about 20% of the way through the shipment just to be on the safe side. If I'm not happy with progress on the second coat on the ones I've started, I'll consider some more serious cleaning and preparation of the remaining castings, but I'm a bit surprised, really, and I'd rather not have to. I don't think I've skimped on the scrubbing-up. I've read before about guys who prepare their castings in the dishwasher, but I fear that dishwasher products might deposit something undesirable on the castings anyway, and some of the battlements and fiddly bits look a bit fragile for a dishwasher - I've already had to glue a couple of parts which I de-flashed with too much enthusiasm.

Anyone got any suggestions? I have various additive things in the drawer like acrylic flow enhancer (which I think is a sort of detergent) - I emphasise that I am not unduly concerned, but this is the worst coverage problem I've had with this kind of paint in this context.

[I wonder what happened to that chess set, by the way.]

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Hooptedoodle #209 - The Saga of Lawrence's Dad

My mother appears to be recovering slowly but steadily from her recent injury and subsequent illness, which is a source of relief to the whole family, though the time I spend commuting to Edinburgh to visit her in hospital is unlikely to reduce for a few weeks yet. So the exact timing of the next step is uncertain at the moment, but the outlook is much more promising.

As part of this full-time involvement in hospitals and matters connected with convalescence and disability, we’ve been doing a lot of online research into the darker mysteries of things like nursing homes (which I hope we will not require for a while), and the delicate matter of who pays for what, in which circumstances. I would describe this field of study as necessary, rather than interesting in its own right.

I am reminded of a former work colleague of mine, Lawrence, who once had a lot of trouble trying to sort out adequate arrangements for his elderly father.

Years ago, Lawrence was my boss for a while – we got on unusually well, since we were both rather misfit members of a profession which is noted mainly for its druidic tendency to self-obsession, and for a deep suspicion of anything which offers even a hint of creativity or humour. Lawrence and I didn’t really fit the profile, so we got on famously (with each other – I can’t promise that we necessarily got on with the rest of the profession).

His father was a retired police officer, a widower – showing clear signs of early dementia, but determined (to the point of violence, if necessary) to retain his independence. When I first met Lawrence, his dad had recently moved in with them, since he was becoming unsafe in his own house. It was not going well. There was a series of harrowing incidents which caused Lawrence’s wife a lot of stress, and which resulted in some rather odd phone messages – here are a few that I recall:

(1) The old guy (Bob, his name was) spilt tea on the landing carpet, and set about sorting things out by lifting the carpet and putting it – complete with tacks and underfelt – in the washing machine, which destroyed both items. Interestingly, the insurance company refused to pay up for damage caused by a deranged family member.

(2) He broke the lock on the bathroom door, but rectified this by wedging the door shut, while he was in there. Since he could not remember what he had done to achieve this, they had to break open the door to rescue him.

(3) Ah yes - the episode of the Wall Clock. Old Bob took exception to a large, antique, wall-mounted clock in the hall – he claimed that its chiming kept him awake. When they protested that it had not chimed for years, he reckoned that it was the ticking which disturbed him, so they stopped winding it, and it ticked no more. Still not satisfied, Bob took it down from the wall, about 2 o’clock one morning, and threw it out of the front door, down the steps into the garden. That showed it.

(4) They started to get complaints that Bob was shouting abuse out of the upstairs window at passers-by.

At this point, Lawrence’s wife threw in the towel, and the old man went to live with Lawrence’s younger sister, who worked from home and would be better able to keep an eye on him.

It all started very promisingly. Bob took a liking to his daughter’s dog, and started getting up early, washing and shaving and polishing his shoes, and taking the dog for long walks. They could not believe the improvement in his general behaviour and his awareness, but it was too good to last. After a few days, the police arrived to tell them that Bob and the dog were at the police station, since he had been apprehended for exposing himself outside the local primary school.

Around this time I was transferred to another job, in a different part of the organisation – different building, different part of the city, and I lost touch with Lawrence, who was desperately trying to get his dad into a residential home, and was getting nothing but grief from the old guy in return.

Time passed – as it does – and some years later I bumped into Lawrence at lunchtime in one of the Company’s numerous canteens – I knew that he had had some health problems, and he didn’t look wonderful, but I was pleased to meet him and we had lunch together.

We spoke of this and that, and eventually I brought up the fact that last time I had met him he had been having a lot of trouble getting his father into a nursing home. I said that I hoped things had worked out well, and asked how his dad was doing.

“Still dead,” said Lawrence, with a huge grin.


Sunday, 24 January 2016

ECW - a Bit of Planning Ahead

Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven - commander of the Covenanter army in 1644
- getting on a bit in years, but he was the real deal - he had been a Field
Marshal in the Swedish Army in the 30 Years War
Still a desperate shortage of hobby time, but I’ve been spending some of my train and bus journeys thinking, reading and scribbling notes about a possible ECW tabletop battle to introduce my chiropractor (whom, for the sake of argument, I shall call David the Cruncher) to both the history of that war and the idea of playing games with toy soldiers. 

The Marquis of Newcastle - maybe the richest man in England? - no
soldier, but he almost singlehandedly funded and raised the troops for the
King in the North East. No match for Leven on the battlefield. I've never
understood why he was not treated better, by his monarch and by subsequent
historians. Emigrated to Germany after Marston Moor.
Since David is from that part of the country, I thought it might be rather fun to set the action in the 1644 campaign around Sunderland, when the Covenanters were busy ignoring the City of Newcastle (a subject which they took up again with fresh interest after they had helped win the Battle of Marston Moor). I have been doing a fair amount of swotting-up, since my detailed knowledge of this campaign is not great, and since it falls into that off-mainstream category of ECW history that is usually classified as “of interest only to local historical societies” (which is exactly the sort of thing I am interested in).

I read about the storming of the Lawe Top fort in South Shields, which the Scots had to capture in order to protect their supply ships (which were sailing from Leith to Sunderland, and were being intercepted and forced into the Tyne). That seemed to score highly for relevance, but it was a small action, and would be a fiddly, awkward game for a newbie.

Now I am growing increasingly focused on the battle which took place (or, more accurately, didn’t quite take place) on the Boldon Hills, just West of Sunderland, in March 1644. Reasonably sized armies faced each other, but the weather was poor, and the ground may have been a bit rough, or maybe the armies were too closely matched for either side to risk an attack – whatever the reason, there was an exchange of artillery and a bit of a skirmish, but in the evening the Scots withdrew to Sunderland and the Royalists headed towards Durham. During this withdrawal, the Marquis of Newcastle received news of the Royalist defeat at Selby, and set off to York – a move which led him eventually to disaster at Marston Moor.

In my thirst for understanding of the local area, I visited
the website of West Boldon Community Council. Since I was
thinking vaguely of a possible visit, I checked Forthcoming
Events - it says there are no forthcoming events, so that's official then
The (non-)Battle of Boldon is also known as Hylton, or Hilton – my source is primarily Stuart Reid’s wonderful All the King’s Armies, but I have also picked up some scraps in my various Montrose books, and I have just started on Rosie Serdiville’s and John Sadler’s The Great Siege of Newcastle 1644, which also looks quite good. [And then of course there are also Stuart Reid’s invaluable books on the Scottish Regiments of the ECW and on the Royalist officers and regiments – once again, I have to offer humble thanks for Stuart’s research and his writings – this particular wargamer would be greatly disadvantaged without all that hard work!]

St Nicholas' Church, West Boldon, which in parts dates back to 1212
Not so rural nowadays - a view of Sunderland, including the football
stadium, from the top of the Boldon Hills - mostly, I included this photo
to upset Clive
I have a pretty convincing looking OOB shaping up, and I even have a map. For a wild moment I thought of driving down to Boldon to look at the place, but my track record for that sort of thing is not good – I usually find the battlefield is underneath a modern sewage farm or similar, and even if it is not I am unusually bad at interpreting the ground. I believe that the village of West Boldon contains a church, St Nicholas, which was around at the time, so I have no doubt that will appear somewhere on the table.

Hmmm – seems promising. I am sure you will hear more of this.

Not relevant at all, but in the course of my ECW studies I came across this photo
of Cromwell's Stone, from the site of the Leaguer of Lathom House (which
was in Lancashire, of course, and Cromwell never set foot within miles
of the place as far as I know) - local tradition has it that the holes
were used to cast cannonballs, but to me this is clear evidence that the
rules in use for the ECW in those parts used very large six-sided dice

Monday, 18 January 2016

Scottish Castles - Andrew Spratt

Tantallon under repair after one of the periodic unpleasantnesses - this
time in 1529, repairs commissioned by King James V.
Artwork by Andrew Spratt.
I've recently been attempting to give my chiropractor (no, really) an overview of the history of Tantallon Castle, which happens to be next door to where I live, and the history has been a bit violent (nothing to do with me - mostly before my time, in fact).

In the course of some background reading, I came across a useful and attractive resource - the work of Andrew Spratt. Mr Spratt is a graphic artist who works for Historic Scotland, and he is Custodian of Dirleton Castle (which is also near here). He has produced a fascinating series of paintings of reconstructions of Scottish Castles, and also some Scottish battle scenes, which may be found from the link above.

Knights at Bannockburn  - Andrew Spratt
His work is all copyright, so please treat with due respect - anyone interested in medieval warfare, or Scottish history, or castles and fortifications should have a look.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Hooptedoodle #208 - Collecting, and the Schlumpfs

A line of 1920s GP Bugattis in the original Schlumpf building
Still no time for hobbies here, so again I’ve fallen back on the Hooptedoodle Theme to keep my blogging eye sharp. This morning my lady wife and I were pondering the general topic of collections, including the delicate grey area where enthusiasm crosses over into obsession and (whisper it) monomania.

I had been comforting myself recently, in the absence of any wargaming time, by having the occasional quick review of my troops – in The Cupboard and also in The Boxes. I enjoy them – I am pleased that I have them, they represent the fruits of a lengthy interest in military history and its supporting toys, and they mean a great deal to me, though – as we have discussed – their financial worth is miniscule, and in truth there are very few people who would cross the street to see them.

That’s all fine – that is probably what hobby collections amount to. The Contesse and I spoke of a theme which features in much crime fiction: the potential theft of (for example) the Mona Lisa. There are a number of good yarns around this – the fiendishly cunning plan to achieve the theft is obviously a key element in the story, but I always get distracted by just why someone would wish to steal it. What could he do with it? Where could he keep it? Whom could he tell about it, or show it to? What pleasure could he possibly gain from it? What would it be worth, in fact? Would this be a collection too far?

Maybe the answers to all of these are obvious and intuitive – I don’t know – for myself, I even get to worrying about how the thief could insure it…

I know of a man in the USA who has one of George Harrison's guitars - it is priceless - he keeps it in a bank vault. He rarely sees it. It may appreciate in value, but why does it have a value, anyway? What good is it? Is he simply depriving others of the chance of owning it? Hmmm.

This is all idle daydreaming, but I have always been fascinated, in particular, by the tale of the Schlumpf brothers – you may well be familiar with it, but it is remarkable in many ways. The Schlumpfs were Swiss by birth, they owned a textile manufacturing firm in Mulhouse, in Alsace, and they were extremely successful. Their story is told well and entertainingly in The Schlumpf Obsession, by Denis Jenkinson (a book which I once owned – the subject of obsessive book collecting is a completely separate theme, of course). In brief, the firm eventually went bust during the 1970s, and the brothers disappeared, owing money to everyone in sight – especially their own workers. There was a mysterious locked building on the factory site, and when it was opened it was found to contain the most astounding collection of veteran and vintage automobiles – mostly restored and in perfect working order.

Fritz Schlumpf with his personal Bugatti Type 41 Royale "Coupe Napoleon"
The lists are staggering – they had an unbelievable collection of Bugattis, but they also had classic vehicles from all the great marques. As a random, and unlikely, example…

In 1956 the Bugatti firm had one last go at re-entering Grand Prix racing – they commissioned a very advanced design for a rear-engined car, the Type 251, and were bullied (by the French government and the Automobile Club de France) into entering it for the French GP of that year, long before it was properly tested and sorted. The car was entered to be driven by Trintignant, ran very slowly and eventually retired with carburation problems. It was never seen again – it was scrapped when the Bugatti organisation was wound up.

Well, in fact it wasn’t – it was in the Schlumpf collection all the time, as was an additional, spare car which the team had built as a back-up.

The mysterious Type 251 of 1956 - not dead at all - you can go and tap on the
bodywork if you want - well, maybe best not to...
The locked garage was fitted out in sumptuous luxury – the cars were laid out in grand style, in a gravelled showroom setting, with super-expensive custom-built Belgian cast-iron lamps to show them off – the building also featured at least two restaurants. The Schlumpfs used to entertain ladies from time to time, apparently. Well, you know what they say about ladies and expensive cars. [What do they say, anyway? – I haven’t the faintest idea…]

It is an ambition of mine to visit the collection at some time, but I’ve never managed it. It was taken over by a workers’ co-operative and ultimately sold, and now forms part of the augmented and rehoused Cité de l’Automobile attraction in Mulhouse – I am less sure of the recent history. If anyone has visited it, I’d be delighted to hear about it.

So there you have it – the Schlumpf Collection – discuss. Were they truly happy with their priceless secret hoard of motoring exotica? Was it worth the investment, and the eventual, disastrous loss? Were they really so desperate to gain female companionship?

[In passing, I should add that it never occurred to me that ladies might be interested in my Napoleonic armies, so my conscience is completely clear on this count. I quite like the idea of a couple of restaurants in the games room, mind you.]