Waterloo Road, NW2

Place Name

Like nearby Apsley Way, this relatively new road was laid out over a former light industrial estate that itself was built on the Willesden Paddocks of Oxgate Fram. The name commemorates the Battle of Waterloo. On June 18, 1815, the “most famous military victory in Britain’s history” took place on a field in Belgium – at stake was the future of Europe, as British, Dutch, and Prussian allies lined up against the re-emergent might of France led by the brilliant tactician Napoleon Bonaparte, who had recently escaped from the island of Elba. Had Bonaparte won the future of the Continent and, arguably, much of the World may have been very different. Within days of returning to France, the French commander was able to muster a new army of some 72,000. He was up against an army of 68,000 under the command of the equally accomplished Duke of Wellington.  The scene was set at Waterloo, a small town in what was then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, on a damp Sunday morning. Outnumbering the allies, Bonaparte made a critical mistake, he waited until late morning to attack, so as to allow the earth to dry. This bought Marshal Blucher, rushing to the battlefield with 45,000 Prussians in support of the Anglo-Dutch armies, valuable time. But first Wellington’s armies had to repel a fierce-some French attack, holding back wave after wave of charges as cannon fire tore through the ranks. Men “were going down like ninepins”, observed the Duke. By late afternoon the toll on both sides had been horrendous, but the French continued to advance on the allied positions and, at times, it seemed as if they might overwhelm them. But by late afternoon Blucher’s troops had begun to arrive, causing Bonaparte to split his forces to deal with this second front. This was too much and the French was soundly defeated but a terrible cost on all sides. It is estimated of the 200,000 men that fought that day there were as many as 65,000 casualties. What was achieved however was peace in Europe that lasted for nearly 40 years and a period of prosperity that, for Britain at least, ushered in a time of industrial innovation and growth, expansion overseas, and maritime supremacy. For the great French commander it was the beginning of the end, his dream of being Emperor of Europe in tatters, he escaped the battlefield but was later captured and send to the South Atlantic island of St Helena where he would spend the rest of his days. The name of this great victory and the man who achieved it became very popular with patriotic developers both in the immediate aftermath and following the First World War.


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