Monday 25 April 2022

The Donald Featherstone Memorial Weekend 2022

Well I'm just back from the yearly Featherstone Memorial weekend organised by Mark Freeth of Wargames Holiday Centre fame. I've attended once before but as a post covid crisis pick me up I booked myself a place. This year was a pike and shot weekend which made me even more keen to attend.
The weekend consisted of a series of games leading up to Sundays mega game utilising all the players in one battle. These weekends are a perfect way to meet some great people, push around some lovely figures and talk toy soldiers and general rubbish, usually from me. There were a minimum of two commands allotted to each player of varying size. I chose the Spanish-Papal side and decided I wanted to be the Pope with all the attendant splendour and interesting troop types. I also wanted some gendarmes well actually I wanted all the gendarmes which would have been incredibly selfish so I opted for only one large command in the first two battles.    
The enemy, French,Venetian and Florentines were encouraged to fight a defensive battle based around redoubts and hills.As Pope I was officially the C in C but after a short discussion, it invariably degenerates into a free for all with only a loose interpretation of the plan taking place.The first two games were no different in that respect, but to be honest as long as everyone is enjoying themselves who cares.
Given the number of players, 14, and the number of units, lots Mark had opted for the use of Pike and Shotte rules which was a wise choice as they give a good, fast game thats easy to pick up if you arent aut-fait with the rules. On my main blog I will give a more in depth account of the weekend but I can honestly say it was highly enjoyable and I would recommend one to any wargamer who wants to command large amounts of troops.
One of the highlights was that Mark asked me to do a 'talk' about Peter Gilder and his impact on wargaming. I have attached the notes from the talk. My intention was to keep it light, a bit informative and basically a bit funny. Hopefully it worked. To fit with the point of this blog I took some images of troops used on the weekend that were from the original Wargames Holiday Centre days.  

    Looking around this table tonight shows how much one person can affect our lives. We are here to celebrate the life of Donald Featherstone and his role in making wargaming the hobby it is today.

But of course, there were other wonderful characters who helped create the hobby that we all know and love, Charles Grant, Brigadier Peter Young, Charlie Wesencraft, Jack Scruby, et al.

However, there is one man who sadly many younger wargamers know little if anything about the late PETER GILDER.

So, what do we know of the man? 

PETER WILCOX GILDER was born on the 12th October 1930, his birth was registered in Luton.

He obtained an RAF apprenticeship when 15 years old and was posted to their training camp at Halton in 1945.

Peter was clearly a good student because he qualified to be sent to RAF Cranwell to train as a pilot. He flew single seater jets and was also involved in some small way in the Berlin Airlifts, probably selling nylons to the ladies or some such. 

After leaving the RAF he became an inspector for BAE Systems at Brough near Hull.

I will let the great man Donald Featherstone reveal how Gilder became involved in wargaming;

DF; How and when did you first become involved in wargaming?

PG; I have always been involved in sport of some kind which took up a good deal of my time in 1962 when I was getting on a bit I broke my leg cycle racing and had been in plaster 16 weeks.

At my age that more or less finished me for the season and I found that I had so much time on my hands that I had to do something with. It was at this time you had written an article in the SHE women’s magazine which my wife used to get. It mentioned your newly published book WARGAMES and something sort of clicked.

Never one to let the grass grow under his feet Peter Gilder advertised in the Military Modelling looking for wargamers in the Hull area. The advertisement was a huge success and amongst the attendees were people who in time became wargaming household names such as Keith Rotherham, Barry Manchester, Mike Sharp, John Braithwaite and Bill Lamming and later Phil Robinson and Harry Harrison.

In true Gilder style, Peter badgered Lamming into creating smaller scale soldiers, the first being a one-piece French hussar in mirliton, probably the first figure of the later Lamming Miniatures figure range. I suspect Peter may have studied how Bill Lamming sculpted his figures, but that is pure conjecture.

Peter Gilder had moved into Hull and lived in a small flat above a fish and chip shop, which was rather appropriate as he was now employed as a salesman for the Alberken Pie Heating Company.

It was during this period that veteran wargamer John Tilson was introduced to Gilder by Bill Lamming. Both men were members of the British Model Soldier Society and shared an interest in Britain’s. John remembered that Peter was a very generous soul who was keen to encourage would be wargamers. A typical Gilder trait.

 John was subsequently invited to a small flat above the fish shop in Hull where he saw a table laid out with painted toy soldiers and well sculpted terrain. He would return to the flat frequently to wargame with Peter. Strangely he remembered never winning a game against the great man, shades of Brigadier Young I think.

Somehow Gilder convinced the owners of Alberken to diversify into casting and selling toy soldiers created by him. Now bearing in mind that Gilder was still learning how to create toy soldiers one has to wonder at his confidence.   

The initial Alberken range stretched to about 50 figures which were sold in beautiful red boxes, ready painted by Gilder. They were a huge success.

These original Gilder figures were approximately 22m tall, static in pose, lacking in detail and rather flat. These original figures bore a very strong resemblance to the newly released range by Marcus Hinton. Peter was later threatened with copyright law by Hinton which thankfully came to nothing

In 1965, one of the owners of Alberken was tragically killed in a road accident and the sole remaining owner decided to sell up.

The buyer was NEVILLE DICKENSON from Southampton who had become interested in wargaming after knocking on the door of Donald Featherstone’s home in order to buy a copy of his book WARGAMES.

Dickenson wanted to expand the Alberken range and initially asked Peter Gilder to continue as a designer. Advertisements were circulated in the Wargamers Digest announcing the new partnership and their intention to produce well sculpted and painted wargaming figures, apparently orders began to pile up…..


Dickenson changed the name of the company to Miniature Figurines and employed the talents of Dick Higgs, and the rest was wargaming history as we say.

 As for Gilder?

In 1965 Peter created his first representation of the field of Waterloo for Featherstone’s Military Festival in London. He not only supplied the terrain but also the 2000 painted figures and the rules for the re-enactment.

The French won the day, naturally. Peter was always a Boney supporter.

His fame as a creator of beautiful wargaming terrain coupled to thousands of figures was born.

It was clear that Peter had the gift of the gab, hence his time as a pie machine salesman and wargaming went mainstream courtesy of the wonderful television series, CALLAN.

For the youngsters in the room, Callan was an anti-hero, a killer and a man with the good taste to be a wargamer.

But why is it that wargamers were always portrayed as killers and nasty types?

In 1967, Armchair Theatre aired the pilot of a series called  A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER, where Callan, the antihero talks his way into the house of a foreign spy who has a table covered with toy soldiers [Peter’s] marching across a rudimentary terrain.

 Naturally Callan uses his wargaming knowledge to charm his victim, which he duly shot dead,…. no saving throw for that poor bugger

In the later very successful series the battles displayed contained beautifully painted soldiers moving across a basic terrain. Wargaming had arrived into the public consciousness.   

By 1974 Peter, his figures and terrain were a key part of the first Callan film. Two battles were portrayed, Talavera and Gettysburg, both were typical Gilder in their presentation. Sculptured terrain and beautifully painted figures, this at a time when I was fighting across a piece of tatty chipboard with chalk roads, hills and rivers using the Airfix Foreign Legion as French Napoleonic’s.

For a fevered teenager, all my birthdays had come at once as I sat in the cinema to watch educated men and spies to boot play wargames while watched by the beautiful and sophisticated [ she drank Cinzano] Catherine Schell admiring the tactical skills of Callan and wondering what he looked like in his nylon y fronts.

Other successes followed for Peter, as his terrain and figures were shown in various wargaming and military history books including Grant’s Napoleonic Wargames and Chandler’s Art of Warfare. In this book, another version of Gilder’s now famous Waterloo terrain was shown.

 I know of four versions that he created and then sold or gave away, each a masterpiece in their own right.

Apparently for one Waterloo display in Paris, Peter ‘borrowed’ a lovingly painted Brunswick Corps from one of the Hull members. It was never returned, and when asked about its whereabouts years later Peter admitted he had inadvertently sold it with the Waterloo terrain to some French collector.

In 1970 Peter framed the term In the Grand Manner, originally a series of articles by him for the wargame’s magazine Miniature Warfare. The articles were typical of Gilder and showed wargamers how to make wonderful terrain like him, well that was the theory anyway.

 My attempts using papier mache, poster paint and privet looked like regurgitated cat sick.

The early 1970’s was another important time for wargaming as Peter and Frank Hinchliffe who wanted to dip his toes in the wargaming phenomena created Hinchliffe Figures.

By 1972 the company produced a beautiful catalogue which included articles by Peter on how to paint the figures. Not only quickly but well.

This at a time when all wargamers were happy to slap a bright pink, usually a Humbrol oil-based affair on the hands and head of their figures and stand back and admire them.

But not Peter, who was talking of washes of Humbrol leather over a white undercoat. Try it, even now the effect is amazing.

 And then there were his horses.

Those famous beautifully painted horses, for which he suggested the following;

Time to now look at the problem of horses, although of course this isn’t really a problem at all and it is far easier to achieve a well painted horse than to paint a first-class figure.  Using Humbrol RUST, cover the whole horse, remembering the previous notes regarding cleaning and undercoating. When it is well covered and before it is dry take your brush, clean it, dip it in the thinners and carefully remove from the highlights of the horse.

1978 was an important year for wargamers, well certainly those that could watch Tyne Tees Television. The legendary BATTLEGROUND series was series of six programmes presented by Edward Woodward [aka Callan] of wargamers refighting famous battles from history.What some wargamers might not know but it was Charlie Wesencraft who was the instigator of the series.

Charlie remembered the historic times;

I was asked by North Tyneside Council to do a series of six historical wargames for them. [Imagine that nowadays] On the first night, two ladies from the local television company turned up and asked me about wargaming in general. Much later I received a telephone call out of the blue asking if I could write a series of six scripts of battles fought by famous military personalities, originally, I wanted to portray Cannae and Hannibal but the producer said very few people would know who he was. In the end I got John

Braithwaite to help me prepare the battles. It was decided to record a pilot battle. The producer was a vicar’s daughter who swore like a trooper, I was


 A young wargamer called Peter Gilder was supposed to do the first battle, but the nerves got the better of him, he had an anxiety attack and fainted. Poor Peter ended up being taken to hospital. So, me and John staged the pilot game. The producer wanted us to throw a six to hit a gun, but neither John or I could, and that vicar’s daughter started to turn the air blue,

so, in the end we cheated a bit. The worst thing was when she insisted on having smoke blow across the battlefield, hiding all the beautiful figures.

Of course, Peter recovered from his nerves and played an integral part in the six programmes.

Who can forget his appearance against John Braithwaite in their refight of Waterloo. Gilder’s sledging was merciless and it was then I realised that not everything that was needed to win a wargame was contained in the set of rules. Against Paddy Griffiths, his tactics didn’t work, and Dr Griffiths had the measure of Peter. But what beautiful games that have stood the test of time.

As an aside, in the first programme featuring the Battle of Edgehill fought between Duncan Macfarlane’s gorgeous Royalists and John Tilson’s carefully painted Parliamentarians, the said Parliamentarians were stolen from the boot of John’s car a week later and never seen again.

Like war, sometimes fate plays a part in the differences between success and abject failure.

 The year 1983 was a seminal year for wargaming and was when Gilder, the late Duncan Macfarlane and a shady chap called Stan Gee were having a boozy lunch in a salubrious pub in London that the future of modern wargaming was assured .

 Duncan described Stan Gee as a spiv like figure with mannerisms similar to George Cole who owned a loss-making car magazine of limited circulation.

Gilder was bemoaning the fact that there was no decent wargaming magazines since the closure of the Battle magazine, whilst Gee was mourning his ownership of a loss-making car magazine and Duncan well he was simply enjoying his beer until Gilder allegedly said to him;

‘ you know about publishing Duncan, don’t you?

Duncan had been a librarian at the Leo Schultz School in Hull and knew one end of a book from another.

So,  Duncan’s encyclopaedic knowledge of publishing, Gee’s business acumen and Peter Gilder’s beautiful figures, wargaming was not only saved but flourished.    Miniature Wargames was born.

A professionally produced wargames magazine crammed full of wonderful articles and best of all beautifully produced colour photographs of Gilder’s figures. I defy any wargamer who lived through that time not to have been inspired by the figures of Peter Gilder.

It was only much later that I discovered that Peter Gilder wasn’t the sole creator of his wonderful and colourful armies, and why would he when he was surrounded by some of the most talented figure painters ever known.

Doug Mason, the man who created the wonderful Zastrow Cuirassiers and many, many others.

Mark Allen, Dave Thomas, Phil Robinson, Mark Moon the late great Ian Smith, all were taught by Peter who was keen for them to share his tips and knowledge and in return they gladly painted for him. Gilder would pay for these units with Hinchliffe castings.

I was lucky enough to meet and befriend one such painter, the great Tony Runkee who explained how he had met Gilder at the Hull club and how they had quickly become friends.

After the first meeting Peter and I would meet at the club, and after a couple of meetings Peter me around his house to show me some of the figures he’d been working on. This was before Milliput, he made his figure from a wire 

armature and solder. I remember watching him making one Napoleonic soldier in a greatcoat and he built the coat, which was loose and open using a piece of wire and solder, for its time it looked great.

So how can you tell an original painted figure by Peter from one of his many disciples? And there’s the rub. I know that Peter in an effort to get cavalry on the table as quickly as possible would sometimes not paint the underside of the horse, leaving it as bare metal or undercoat, but apart from that, I don’t think anyone can be sure.

So finally, [ thank God] Peter Gilder’s Wargames Holiday Centre. The original mecca for wargamers of a certain age and still the hall of dreams for many.

I’ll allow Tony Runkee describe what happened when Peter bought an old doctors surgery;

Peter bought a place at Thornton le Dale, and I helped him set it up his wargames room, doing the electric wiring and the like. Peter and I then started making the terrain boards. We didn’t have the pink insulation board materiel then, so Peter and I would cut up big sheets of fibre board and carve them to make the hills.

That’s when I was introduced to the rubberised hair method of making trees and hedges. A lot of the buildings were originally made of solid blocks of wood with roofs and windows added. I brought Peter a load of rubber gaskets from the Leyland A68 engines which he used as hedges that were fixed to the boards. The centre was a great place.





  1. A great weekend and lovely speech about Peter. I can say with honour that I have commanded troops under the command of Pope Roddis the first 😁