Bronte’s Waterloo Soldiers


A young Bronte sister looks on as their Waterloo Soldiers are animated by  their imaginative minds – screen shot from BBC,  To Walk Invisible (December 2016)

One of my Christmas highlights on TV this year was the BBC drama To Walk Invisible about the Bronte Sisters and the tragic story of their brother Branwell.

The opening minute or two featured a gothic or dreamlike sequence where the four children running through a great imaginary place or palace open a box of Waterloo Soldiers and then choose some, based on  a real account of what happened when their father returned from a trip to Leeds with a box of wooden soldiers on the 5th June 1826.

This dreamlike sequence sees the children, their minds or heads imaginatively aflame, and their imaginations breathe life into or animate these wooden Napoleonic or Waterloo soldiers. Clever special FX  brings these Waterloo toy soldiers to life (using actors rather than CGI) amongst these child giants.

Each Young Bronte chooses and names a different figure from amongst the Napoleonic sailors and soldiers including a Napoleon figure, Sneaky, Waiting Boy, Gravey and Wellesley (The Duke of Wellington). A reminder that the Napoleonic wars had finished only a few years before the children’s birth.

The figures go on to becaome characters in their imaginative worlds of GlassTown, Angria and Gondal.

You can see the programme on BBC I Player  for the first few weeks of January 2017 – see the programme website.


The Waterloo Soldiers come to life …

Their shared imaginary worlds Angria and  Gondal had their origins in the Glasstown Confederacy, an earlier imaginary setting created by the Bronte children.

Glasstown was founded when 12 wooden soldiers were offered to Branwell Brontë by his father, Patrick Brontë, on 5 June 1826.The soldiers became characters in their imaginary world.

Branwell came to our door with a box of soldiers Emily & I jumped out of bed and I snat[c]hed up one & exclaimed this is the Duke of Wellington it shall be mine!!  When I said this Emily likewise took one & said it should be hers when Anne came down she took one also. Mine was the prettiest of the whole & perfect in every part Emily’s was a Grave looking fellow we called him Gravey. Anne’s was a queer little thing very much like herself. [H]e was called Waiting Boy[.] Branwell chose Bonaparte.

— Charlotte Brontë, The History of the Year   (Wikipedia source: Gondal)

This record of events by Charlotte is well and pointedly used in  dialogue  in the opening section of the BBC’s To Walk Invisible by the child actors /  the children portraying the young Bronte family. It reveals some of the rivalry and battles to come amongst the four surviving Bronte children.

The BBC screenplay / drama then skips almost 20 years later to around 1845 when the children are grown up, experiencing many difficulties in life and back together at home in their father’s parsonage in Haworth in Yorkshire (now a Bronte museum).

During December 1827 Charlotte suggested that everyone own and manage their own island, which they named after heroic leaders: Charlotte had Wellington, Branwell had Sneaky, Emily had Parry, and Anne had Ross. Each island’s capital was called Glasstown, hence the name of the Glasstown Confederacy.




Naming their soldiers, their minds aflame. (All images Copyright: BBC To Walk Invisible)

The Paracosms or Imaginary shared worlds created by the Bronte children offer interesting gaming scenarios, which I have written about in the blogpost mentioned below. It is however taking me a long time to piece my way through the rich but scatty and scanty piecemeal survivals from this “imagi-nations” in their maps, stories and characters of their  worlds.

I hope to set some of my Napoleonic / 19th century onwards games in this setting.


So what is a Paracosm?

“A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world. Paracosms are thought generally to originate in childhood and to have one or numerous creators. The creator of a paracosm has a complex and deeply felt relationship with this subjective universe, which may incorporate real-world or imaginary characters and conventions.”

The Bronte children’s world is a curious mixture of their native Yorkshire, exotic tropical West Africa (“Ashantee”) read about in books, recent historical figures like Wellington, Napoleon or xplorers like Ross and Parry

Commonly having its own geography, history, and language, it is an experience that is often developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time, months or even years, as a sophisticated reality that can last into adulthood.” (Wikipedia Entry: Paracosm)

Some interesting writers are listed in this paracosm article / Wikipedia entry – some I have never heard of or read but some more familiar ones such as Tolkein or  C.S. Lewis.


Bronte family map of Glasstown and Angria (Wikipedia source)


Sounds like lots of gamers, their blogs detailing  imaginary nations  and games systems …


The Wikipedia entry on Paracosms  also mentions Mark Hogenkamp’s 1/6th figure recreation of a fictional WW2 Belgium town in the Normandy period, after traumatic brain injury, documented in a book, art project and documentary film –


A similarly toy soldier or play restricted childhood created the inspiration Pete Shulman’s amazing clay creation and plastic kit decades long battlefields in America:

Hopefully you will find the Bronte 2 hour one off drama To Walk Invisible as interesting as its opening toy soldier minutes.


Interesting comment by Jon Meech about the Bronte worlds as early RPG Role Playing Games.

Warning – if you are a historical wargaming purist, here follows a fantasy game reference alert!

To me “Angria or Gondal Rebooted” is a chance to jazz up some scrap / spare 15mm Napoleonics of various countries and manufacturers from recent job lots.

The Bronte family  ‘tiny book’ works of their world fiction are similar to games write ups or wargames journals.

I found several interestingly titled articles on this interesting aspect of their work such as

Emily Bronte, World’s First Dungeon Mistress
Branwell Bronte’s contribution as dungeon master  and flavour text
and a Game of Thrones comparison

and extends into Jane Austen role play – with or without zombies

Lots more interesting articles along this Bronte Sisters Role Playing Game / Dungeon Mistress / Fantasy vein

Posted by Mark, Man of TIN, 4/5th January 2017