Hungry for History

Pupils from Wellesley House School with Napoleon

Pupils from Wellesley House School with Napoleon - Credit: Archant

2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, a vital turning point in world history and one that has been taken up enthusiastically in Kent, particularly in Broadstairs

A parent’s offer to help digitise the extensive paper records at Wellesley House prep school in Broadstairs has led to the creation of an extraordinary national collaborative history project called Hungry for History.

Victoria Neilson tells me how she has ended up its Campaign Director as we chat over coffee with headmaster Simon O’Mally in his study – watched over, slightly disconcertingly, by a giant papier-mâché head of Napoleon in the background. More of which later.

The presence of said individual is ironic, because Wellesley School has particularly strong links with Bonaparte’s opponent.

The Duke of Wellington was also known as Arthur Wellesley, and would later become Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and live in Walmer Castle.

It was while working on the digital archives that Victoria came across a letter from the eminent historian Sir Hew Strachan. She suggested asking him to speak to the school and in her letter wrote ‘to get the children hungry for history.’

This innocent phrase was to trigger off a whole series of consequences, as Victoria explains: “I began to think, we are at this unique period of time in our history where we have all these commemorations happening at once, so let’s use them to get children loving history again at a time when a lot of children aren’t taking up history as a subject.”

Most Read

Victoria adds: “I think it is really important for children to understand where they come from, what they are connected to – we learn from the mistakes and achievements of others and none of us do anything new, we repeat what has been done in the past, but it’s how you do that.

“History gives children a sense of identity and I particularly wanted to give the children in this area reasons to be really proud of it and all its many connections with history. They are never going to have another time like this to do it. So that’s how it all started and how we found our name.”

Below we show how, like Topsy, Hungry for History grew and grew, became a supporting partner of Waterloo 200 (the umbrella organisation overseeing the bicentenary commemorations) and Educational Advisor for the New Waterloo Dispatch. Part of its role is to encourage as many schools as possible to get involved in and excited by the opportunities the bicentenary brings, for example by taking part in the Waterloo Parade on 21 June and entering TIMELINE 200 (details page 50).

In Kent, there will be the chance to be on the beach at Viking Bay in Broadstairs on the morning of 20 June to watch the New Waterloo Dispatch ceremonial interpretation of the news of Waterloo arrive on our shores and be presented to The Lord Lieutenant of Kent Viscount De L’Isle.

The background to the original Dispatch is that, immediately after the battle, the Duke of Wellington wanted to get the good news of victory over Napoleon to the Prince Regent and Government as soon as possible.

The triumph by British, Prussian and Dutch troops in a battle that Wellington described as “a damn near close run thing” was a defining moment in European history.

Kent and Medway were to play a key role in the immediate aftermath of victory on 18 June 1815. Wellington’s next challenge was to get the news to London, so without today’s modern technology available to him, he wrote a dispatch and assigned Major Henry Percy of the 14th Light Dragoons to take it to London.

On 19 June, the 30-year old, Wellington’s only aide-de-camp to emerge unscathed from the battle, tucked the dispatch into a purple wallet and set off.

He rode to Ghent, Bruges and Ostend where he boarded the Royal Navy sloop HMS Peruvian. However, halfway across the Channel, the wind dropped and Percy and his naval companions, including Peruvian’s captain James White, boarded a small boat to row ashore, landing at Broadstairs.

Percy then found a horse-drawn post-chase and rode through Canterbury, Faversham, Sittingbourne and Rochester, reaching London at 10pm on 21 June.

He first went to 10 Downing Street before going on to 44 Grosvenor Square where senior politicians in the Cabinet were having supper. After bursting in with the news, Percy went to St James’s Square to present Wellington’ dispatch to the Prince Regent and Prime Minister Lord Liverpool.

The New Waterloo Dispatch is an important part of Kentish history because of its momentous journey through our county and Percy’s epic ride is the focus for many exciting events and re-enactments.

Arriving on board Royal Navy warship HMS Northumberland, which will have come from Ostend bearing the dispatch with two interpreters on board dressed as Major Percy and Commander White, a rowing boat will be lowered and the duo will row ashore carrying the New Waterloo Dispatch document, which talks about the values of Europe today. This will be presented to Lord De L’Isle, then the post-chaise will go on to Canterbury for the Lord Lieutenant’s Waterloo Service of Commemoration.

Victoria has arranged a competition with Commander Nicholas Chatwin OBE, Royal Navy (Navy Regional Command Eastern England), encouraging schools to send him a handwritten letter explaining why they would like to visit HMS Northumberland; 10 lucky winners (minimum age 12) will be taken out to the battleship on 20 June.

Write to: Commander Nicholas Chatwin OBE, Royal Navy, c/o Wellesley House School, 114 Ramsgate Road, Broadstairs CT10 2DG. Deadline for entries: 1 June.

Waterloo in 500 Words

A brief account by Gareth Glover

Date: 18 June 1815

Location: 2km from Waterloo in Belgium; 13km south of Brussels

Size of the battlefield: 4 square kilometres


French army: 72,000 men commanded by the Emperor Napoleon


Allied (British, Hanoverian, Brunswick, Nassau, Dutch-Belgian) army: 67,000 commanded by Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington.

later joined by 40,000 Prussians commanded by Field Marshall Blücher


Napoleon, Emperor of France, had conquered an empire which spanned almost the entire continent of Europe, but was defeated in 1814 and banished to the island of Elba. He escaped and marched with a small army to successfully reclaim his throne in Paris, forcing the king to flee.

When a combination of all the major nations of Europe threatened to overwhelm him, he decided to strike first, to destroy part of this combination before it could form up. The armies under Wellington and Blücher were already encamped near the French border.

Napoleon invaded Belgium in a surprise attack and defeated the Prussians at Ligny on 16 June, while part of Wellington’s forces fought a holding action at Quatre Bras. The Prussians retreated but remained operational. Napoleon mistakenly assumed they were fleeing to Germany.

Wellington withdrew his amy to a chosen position and offered battle, knowing that the Prussians were marching to join him and that together they outnumbered the French.

Object of the battle:

Napoleon wanted to destroy Wellington’s army and capture Brussels.


The armies faced each other across a shallow valley on two low parallel ridges. Wellington’s army was protected by three large farms, Papelotte, La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont, which had been turned into minor fortresses.

Time the battle commenced: 11.20 a.m.

Time the battle ended: 8.30 p.m.


Approx. 44,000 men and 10,000 horses killed or wounded.


1. The French army proved incapable of reforming and Paris fell.

2. Napoleon abdicated and France surrendered. He died in exile on St Helena.

3. King Louis XVIII returned to the throne.

4. The terrible slaughter cemented the Era of Congress (started in 1814) in an attempt to avoid another pan-European war. It worked for exactly 100 years, until 1914.


Hungry for History

Hungry for History is a national schools commemorative campaign designed to instil a love of history in children and to encourage the sharing of ideas and the forging of stronger links between schools.

The campaign takes its inspiration from the major anniversaries of the First World War, the Second World War and the Battle of Waterloo among others.

With the emphasis on commemoration and reflection at this unique time, it aims to bring history alive, inspire the young generation of today to leave their own legacy and encourage a renewed appetite for the subject.

The founder of Hungry for History is Wellesley House School in Broadstairs, the town that sees the start of the New Waterloo Dispatch ceremonial interpretation in June 2015.


Waterloo 200

Waterloo 200 is an umbrella organisation approved and supported by Government to oversee the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Granted charitable status in 2009, it is planning and co-coordinating the main events and pursuing an educational programme that is also seeking to create a living legacy.


New Waterloo Dispatch

The New Waterloo Dispatch is a ceremonial interpretation of the news of Waterloo reaching various European cities. It comprises a new Dispatch for 2015, to be presented to senior members of the Royal Family, European VIPs and other public dignitaries during many ceremonies involving a horse-drawn post chaise along the routes used by the official messengers to deliver the historic dispatches from the Waterloo battlefield to Brussels, London and Berlin.

Significant occasions are being organised in Belgium, Germany and UK including services at St Paul’s and Canterbury Cathedrals plus key events in London and Kent, to commemorate this historic occasion.

In Kent the organisers are looking for local schools to get involved, in particular with the Waterloo Parade from Horse Guards Parade down the Mall on Sunday 21 June (see:

The parade will be a spectacular culmination of the international Waterloo commemorations, including seven European visiting bands, British military bands including the Royal Marines, Waterloo Band of the Rifles and Wellington College CCF Corps of Drums, 150 cadets from the three services, and many schoolchildren.

Hungry for History is looking for 50-plus schools to create 200 large heads of Napoleonic characters that can be carried in the parade. These could be the Commanders and Leaders, soldiers from many European armies - or even horses.

Schools can alternatively choose to dress up in Regency & Napoleonic costume, create and wear military headgear and wave the colours of the countries and regiments involved in the Napoleonic Wars.

The Hungry for History website has more information on the New Waterloo Dispatch and the Waterloo Parade, plus includes information on how to make the Napoleonic heads and a suggested list of characters and other creative ways that schools can get involved.


Waterloo 200, in partnership with Hungry for History, is seeking to challenge schoolchildren from across the UK to determine their 100 defining moments in history of the last 200 years (1815-2015).

Categories: History, Nature, Art, Sport and Science/Technology

Age groups: 7-10, 11-13, 14-16, 17-18

Competition closes: 8 July 2015

Individuals, teams or schools can enter as many ‘moments’ as they wish. The winning ‘moments’ will be announced during the Michaelmas Term in 2015 and entered into a national Hall of Fame. Each ‘moment’ will also be produced as a certificate, signed by the judges and presented to each winning school.

A distinguished judging panel will decide on the winning 100 Defining Moments with 20 ‘defining moments’ chosen from all of the five categories with equal representation from each age group.

The judging panel includes Sir Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, contemporary historian, commentator and political author; Mike Diaper OBE, Executive Director, Community Sport, Sport England; Dr Sabine Clark, President of the British Science Association’s History of Science Section; Kent-based Professor Ian Swingland, Founder of The Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology; Alex Hirtzel, artist and art historian and Christina Nash of Radiator Arts.

Dan Snow, historian, writer and presenter and a Timeline 200 judge said, “I’d like to see our history through the eyes of a child and to hear their views on our defining moments. Children tend to have no preconceived ideas. They are very perceptive and can make some amazing observations without sugar coating because they have no reason to.”

For more information on how to enter the competition please visit or email:

Comments powered by Disqus