Friday, 14 April 2023

Lorraine Houses Work in Progress

Hello everyone, here's another post, if not quite what I had planned. The intention was to arrange the pine trees, fir trees, coniferous wood bases and some Austro Prussian figures into nice scenes, just as folks out there in wargames-land seem to like best. But I've been very solidly locked into my project to populate the 1870 battlefield with villages, over the last couple of months now, and that's starting to bear fruit. So here's what I've been up to. There are seventeen houses for the Lorraine region built, leaving maybe four buildings to go before the paintbrushes come out: two churches, and inn and something industrial. After that there'll be some sort of village bases, a couple of detail items and perhaps some railway line. And then I'll be ready to refight a lot of the Franco-Prussian battles, from Spicheren to Rezonville.

Probably I've made this point before, but the FPW was fought over the whole of Northern France and each of the provinces had its distinctive local style of architecture. I did do some for the French Ardennes region twenty years back, but they are a bit drab and I felt I could make something better now, so had to decide between the vernaculars of the half a dozen regions remaining. There is no "generic French" look, as wargamers like to think, or certainly not before the twentieth century. This was my thinking, after discussions with gaming friends:

  • Alsace? Lovely half-timbered buildings, would serve for Germany, but b*****s to build and only two FPW battles happened there. And we've already refought one of them (Wissembourg). 
  • The Somme/ Northern Front? Tempting, because we've been playing out the adventures of the Armee du Nord, but there weren't many battles and the armies were very unevenly matched.  It was all snowy when the battles happened, and I'm not ready to build winter woods and all the rest of it.
  • North of Orleans? Same issues really, even though more battles happened there.
  • Around Paris? Same issues again.
  • Franche Comte/ Belfort? Same again, but even more so.
  • Lorraine? The most dramatic, decisive battles were fought here, with the armies "fairly" balanced. The style is a little plain, but I was inspired by the paintings of Alphonse de Neuville, and especially the Panorama of Rezonville. And I thought the rendered, pantiled houses would do at a pinch for something in Spain or Italy some day. So that was the decision.
As you will know if you have read earlier posts, my quirky approach to wargaming is that I want to do quite big battles, on a normal sized table (6' x 10' max) and with 28mm figures. So this means a very small groundscale, an inch to 100 metres in the FPW case, hence a village is only maybe 100mm square. So we can only aim to have a couple of small buildings a tree or two, a well or something and a little bit of garden wall. Now that can evoke a village very pleasingly if done right, and you can have a dozen of them on the tabletop. But the upshot is each building has to be distinctly "condensed", as I've discussed before. Some wargamers don't "get" this approach, but it would be a dull world if we all thought the same, as they say. 

Anyway, small buildings, but lots of them, historically accurate, detailed and individually varied works for me. I researched the Lorraine style quite thoroughly, then made plans, built master models for individual components, moulded them and cast what I would need. Then I set about putting things together, working to ensure each house was different to the next.

Here's the whole lot together. You're seeing the fronts of buildings, with the characteristic barn doors. The shape of each model is made from mounting card, cut out for the doors and windows, and roofed with a cast sheet of the correct "canal" pantiles. (Or you could use the Wills or Redutex pantile sheets). The dark spots you see are little alterations or corrections done with green stuff.

A real Lorraine village consisted of the houses built in a row either side of the street. The area in front of each house comprised its farm yard, with piles of wood, muck heaps and whatnot, but we won't be able to show that in practice.

The backs of the houses were quite plain. In reality there were bread ovens, pigsties and outhouses there, but I can't spare the ground area to show that. 

Typical facades. One side of the house is for living in and the other is agricultural. I made three types of door, three barn doors, three chimneys, windows with shutters open and closed, and with flat and rounded tops. A quirky local feature is the vertical posts of doors and windows being combined into one stonework column. And another is the round or oval "portholes" which ventilate a hay loft.

Houses at the end of a row could have hipped roofs as here, or semi hipped. In this situation there could be doors and windows on the end wall, which you otherwise don't have. Being one of the slightly larger houses, this one has a third, middle, door on the front, which would open onto a corridor leading to a stable or cowshed behind the barn area. 

Dormer windows were rare in this region of France, but seen occasionally. The pencil arrow on the barn door was a reminder to myself to fix a hole that appeared in the casting. 

Squeezed between the larger farmhouses were dwellings with no provision for farming. This one is "up-market", with dressed quoins (corner stones), nicer details and an alcove above the door containing a statuette of the virgin Mary. Lorraine was as devoutly catholic as most of rural France. The Duchy suffered terribly in the Thirty Years War, and if you know the series of engravings "The Miseries of War" by Jacques Callot, it is actually Lorraine he depicts, and you will recognise the same style of building as in 1870. 


  1. Fine, fine work as always John. I think you made the right choice on focusing on the campaign in and around Lorraine; that's what I'd certainly do. Like many other gamers I've moved towards a smaller footprint for built up areas, hence using 6mm buildings for my 10mm figures. The reduced 'Z' height is barely noticeable when put on a base. I certainly look forward to seeing how these progress. Keep up the excellent work:).

  2. Fantastic--I do enjoy your "condensed" approach even if it's not how I might do it, it does look very effective. These buildings all look great and I do love the approach to doing something specific and doing it well rather than going for a generic style.
    It also makes me a bit sad that local, vernacular architecture seems to be disappearing in favour of generic concrete and glass boxes worldwide but that's another story I guess.
    Well done!

  3. Wow that is an impressive number of excellent buildings John, amazing productivity!

  4. John these are super impressive , you have really captured the essence of the buildings in Lorraine . These are very inspirational, the fine details around the doors and windows are incredible.

  5. Beautiful work John. That shot of the buildings in the street brings back vivid memories of my drive through Gravelotte, Rezonville and Mars La Tour. I too like smaller villages, usually three buildings. I know you said you were doing some churches, and if you are looking for inspiration, have a look at St Clement’s in Vionville (you can get a good view of it on Google Street view)…it is a simple yet interesting structure with a nice spire.

  6. Thanks, everyone. Your comments are much appreciated as ever.

    Mark, you are dead right about the church of Vionville, which I gave a lot of thought to basing one church model on. It's a relatively interesting spire, amongst Lorraine's pedestrian range of shapes. And the church has the distinction of still existing basically as in 1870, where those of St Privat, Mars la Tour and Rezonville were all rebuilt at some stage. In the end my two choices were St Privat and the church from a nearby place called Bremenil.

    The St P one is iconic and there exists one grainy photo and one rough sketch that were taken before demolition following the battle, so just enough to reconstruct it. I've now made this model and it's come out very pleasingly, at least after an initial try had to be disassembled and reconstructed. I picked the church of Bremenil because it's just a very nice structure. It's not untypical of the area, but has an attractive curved spire shape. Vionville was a close third!

  7. Excellent and evocative. I am totally onboard with buildings that have a small footprint. The rules we use for Napoleonic gaming (Shako) uses small units and "villages" have to be squeezed onto 150mm square bases, often just one module for a village. Instead of having one 'in scale' building I prefer too have a church and 2-3 other buildings on the base to give a sense of a village. The buildings are ridiculous in terms of their ground scale but I love the look of the table with those little villages each with a spire and many roofs. Unfortunately I do use them generically and so are probably not representative of any one region - probably representative of no region - but they give a nice effect I think, even if they are rather simple; certainly not anything near the quality presented here. But I made them and to me that is important. Thanks again for the inspiration. And John, I have not forgotten about your rules; I just finished marking the last papers for the term and will send comments.

  8. Lovely work on your village and nice to be so regionally specific, I'm using a 300mm built up base now for generic southern Germany out of Faller church and broken/ discarded toys but it will be fun!
    Best Iain caveadsum1471

  9. Oh heck, are there two anonymouses? I am too easily confused without that! But thanks for your comments, one and all.

    150mm square village units? Eeh luxury, as they say in Yorkshire! But yes, the condensed approach will give you something that looks like a village. We have to make compromises as soon as we go beyond a 1:1 skirmish game. The issue is which ones. It seems to be a thing amongst many wargamers that they accept 20 or 30 figures as a battalion of 700 men, but struggle with a house that isn't full scale size.