New pages on Local Militia

A quick post for a new series of pages on that most neglected category of the neglected auxiliaries – the Local Militia of 1808 to 1816. Pages set up so far are for:

Derbyshire Local Militia

Gloucestershire Local Militia

Lancashire Local Militia

Shropshire Local Militia

Staffordshire Local Militia

North Yorkshire Local Militia

West Yorkshire Local Militia

An overall introduction, with much solid general information, can be found here.

Often disregarded as the boring tail end of the volunteer movement, the Local Militia regiments present their own challenges and surprises. I don’t recall ever seeing a surviving Local Militia garment that wasn’t an officer’s – hardly surprising, as this clothing was not retained by the men but handed back into storage after each training. On the other hand, the dress followed the patterns of the existing county militia, so reconstruction is perfectly feasible. Having said this, buttons, plates and some other aspects were mostly specific to individual regiments, so the field is not without variety.

These pages are very much work in progress, and some gaps will be obvious. Corrections and new information will be put in whenever possible.

 

Advertisements

“… an Uniform is very proper”: imagining the Georgian Militia

Our culture’s preoccupation with alternative histories often makes the proposal seem more fascinating than the reality. But what-could-have-been can be not just entertaining but also historically revealing. (Take, for instance, the proposed uniforms of Lieut Col John Luard, the mid-19th century military reformer, whose infantry helmets and utilitarian clothing anticipate what would be worn in 1914, but were reactions to his personal experience of what had been worn in 1814.)

Among the flurry of tracts and pamphlets of the mid 18th century arguing for a national militia in preference to a standing army, a few writers tried, in passing, to suggest what a militia man should wear. In A Proposal for a Regular and Useful Militia (Edinburgh, 1745), the anonymous pamphleteer proposed:

“As an Uniform is very proper for Troops of all Sorts, his Majesty may at the national Charge furnish the Foot with a Hat and a Frock of Blue Kersey, and the Horse with a Hat, Coat and Cloak, the Cloak of the same Colour, and the Coat of the same Cloth and Colour, to last four Years at least, to be wore always on Field Days, and on Sundays and Holydays if they please.”

If the militia of the parish was to exercise one Sunday, the same clothes might as well make a Sunday outfit for the other weeks, courtesy of the Crown. Blue was the natural choice for clothing that would emphasise civic duty and identity.

A more elaborate scheme was outlined in Samuel Martin’s A Plan for Establishing and Disciplining a National Militia in Great Britain …, (London, 1745). Martin’s militia was to be two layered: the light cavalry and infantry of a “superior militia” (men of property), and the infantry and heavy cavalry of the “subordinate militia” of the common people, the subordinate companies electing annually their officers, drawn from the superior corps. For these four classes, he proposed as follows:

I would recommend a plain scarlet dress with gilt buttons, a gold laced hat, and light boots, for the habit of the superior cavalry; for the accoutrements, such saddles as our horse-officers now use, with plain scarlet furniture; a light carbine and pistols of musquet bore …

I would recommend [for the superior infantry] only a plain blue cloath coat trim’d with gilt buttons, an hat laced with a gold lace of an inch broad, and white linen gaiters. … To admit no distinction of dress between the officers and soldiers of the militia, except the scarf or sash, seems agreeable both to oeconomy and good policy; for by that means all officers may save the needless expence of gaudy clothes, and be more secure in the day of battle, when the enemy cannot distinguish them at a distance from other men of the corps.

[The subordinate heavy cavalry] to be well mounted, arm’d, and accouter’d, as our regular horse now are, but in uniform blue, faced with red, and trim’d with white metal buttons.

I propose, that each man of the inferior infantry be cloathed in a uniform blue or green coat with white metal buttons, which may serve for a Sunday, and military dress.

… cockades of different colours may be provided for the subordinate militia, horse and foot, suitable to their ensigns, by which each regiment of the county, and each company of subordinate foot may be distinguished from others.

The well dressed militia man, from the Norfolk drawings

In places, this is not so much whimsical as far sighted, particularly on the reduction of distinctions between officers and men. Once again, blue is the dominant colour, and a Sunday best is provided for the “common people” into the bargain.

As for the reality, we know surprisingly little about the actual appearance of the new militia men of the late 1750’s; no form of regulation seems to have defined the clothing their colonels were to provide, and the allowance per private – a guinea in 1758, raised to 30 s in 1760 – was, as J R Western points out in his exhaustive political history, The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century (1965), barely enough for a coat and hat. The classic image is provided by the plates in George, Viscount Townshend and William Windham’s A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk (London, 1759). I guess that the pleasingly fluent drawings may be by Townshend, an amateur artist and cartoonist, as well as a friend of the militia cause. They show something much simpler and more economical than the dress of the regular: a single breasted coat with simple three button slash cuffs and pockets, and a hat with no lace. This unembodied private has not even yet spent his “marching guinea” on a pair of gaiters. (The coat buttoning – one at the throat, two mid chest, three at the waist – seems odd, but is shown consistently thus.)

So much for Norfolk, but that doesn’t mean that other regiments were clothed exactly the same. Later descriptions of their initial clothing tend to be vague and unsourced, and may be unreliable, so it’s hard to know. At any rate, within the space of a re-clothing their appearance became assimilated to that of the regulars, while during long periods of wartime embodiment the militia became, in effect, a second standing army.

Such reformist enthusiasm for cheaper, simpler clothing found an echo twenty years later in a brief vogue for “light uniform” or “drill dress”, the trending thing among the county militias at Coxheath camp in 1778; the West Yorkshire regiment were reported in

a very neat white uniform, turned up with light green, which we hear was presented to them by her Majesty.

While the Duke of Devonshire awarded the Derbyshires with

a light Uniform which will be their Property when they depart, and which particularly serves them during their Encampment on Account of its Lightness.

Shortly after, in one of his semi-mystical pro-militia pamphlets (Tracts, Concerning the Ancient and Only True Legal Means of National Defence, by a Free Militia, London, 1781), the radical Whig and abolitionist Granville Sharp, among his proposals for reform of the problematic City of London militia, proposed a universal drill dress:

The Appearance, also, of the City Militia might be rendered more respectable, by the addition of drill-jackets, with some proper distinction of uniform facings, to denote the ward or district of each company.

And indeed, as I noted in this post, we find at that time the London Associators in a white drill dress faced blue, and the Newgate Street Association in white faced orange. Such a cheap, light and practical style of clothing might have made a sensible default outfit across all auxiliary forces, but it was not to be; subsequent generations of associators and volunteers found their own sartorial route, while the white jackets of the militia were put aside for fatigue wear, and became “slop dress”.


New page on West Yorkshire volunteers

A quick post to cement into Google some tags for my new volunteers page, this time on 1790’s West Yorkshire. Separate to the page on association infantry of the West Riding, this covers the first two waves of infantry volunteers of Barkstone Ash, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Knaresborough, Leeds, Pontefract, Ripon, Rotherham, Sheffield, Wakefield and York, with some substantial text and over fifty images. Even so, it’s far from the last word, but may be of interest to someone.


New pages on volunteers, associations and yeomanry

Despite the attentions of collectors on the one hand and genealogists on the other, general interest in the history and appearance of Britain’s auxiliary forces of the Georgian and Napoleonic periods – militia, volunteers, yeomanry – remains low. There’s no prospect, for instance, of any Osprey titles in the area, simply because not enough would sell. And I have that from the horse’s mouth.

What to do, then, with the files I’ve accumulated over the years on the dress and equipage of the militia, volunteers and yeomanry of the period from my chosen counties – Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Cheshire, Gloucestershire? There’s still much to be done on these: many gaps remain and many sources, particularly archival, are still unexplored and likely to stay that way. But what I have so far may as well be aired and shared here in a more comprehensive form than the occasional mini post.

So here’s a small start, with more to come, bit by bit. These pages certainly don’t claim to be the final word. If anything, they serve to demonstrate how little is known, especially about the more obscure and ephemeral units. But anything is better than nothing. And corrections and additions will always be welcome!

Links here below, or up the top (drop down), or via the Pages menu at the right.

 

Shropshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

Shropshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry

Staffordshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

Staffordshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry

West Yorkshire: association infantry

West Yorkshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry


Disciplined intoxication

What a pleasure it was to me the other day, when the battalion was so nobly treated by the EARL of MEXBOROUGH, to see you in that state of jovial intoxication, like all brothers, without quarrel or uproar. That was a proof of real discipline; but I would not wish you often to be put to such a trial, for your cloathing on such occasions is sure to carry marks of your conviviality.

Teesdale Cockell, Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant, Instructions for the Pontefract Battalion of Volunteers …, Pontefract, 1799.

Detail from the Paris Occupation print ‘L’Empire des Usages ou Chaque pays chaque Mode.’

Happy Christmas! And here’s to an end to war, and to all preparation for war …


“Applicable to any emergency”: the forgotten infantry volunteers of the 1820’s

With the renewal of hostilities in 1803, the yeomanry, volunteers and armed associations of the 1790’s were revived, a little more tightly regulated. In 1808 most of the volunteers converted to local militia on the institution of that force, and in 1816 local militia and surviving volunteers alike were wound up. Or at least, that’s the standard narrative. In fact, a handful of new, postwar infantry volunteer units were raised at the end of the decade, though, like their ancestors of 1759 and 1782, they have largely escaped our attention.

In Ireland, unsettled by nationalist dissent, the volunteers had never been disbanded, and a host of loyalist corps, some founded in the 1790’s, continued to parade into the 1820’s. In Scotland and England, where economic disaster fuelled political unrest, the Peterloo events prompted a revival of the volunteer movement, but for internal policing rather than for defence against invasion. The bulk of these corps was formed in Scotland – more than twenty altogether, ranging from single companies and undersized battalions to the full regiment of Glasgow Sharpshooters. Raised in 1819 and 1820, many had faltered and disbanded by the mid twenties.

In London the Honourable Artillery Company continued its peculiarly privileged existence, but was joined in 1820 by a reformed regiment of Royal East India Volunteers, “upon the plan of the regiments maintained by the Company during the late war.” The field officers of the new formation were drawn from the Directors, company officers from officers and clerks, and the NCO’s and privates from the warehouse establishment. By Royal consent, they were to wear an updated version of “the same uniform as was fixed upon by his late Majesty” for the three earlier regiments of EIC volunteers, with Royal facings of blue, the officers’ edged with gold lace.  The regiment was expected to be “particularly valuable as a local force, applicable to any emergency in the metropolis,” but also, maybe more importantly, for “the protection of the valuable property deposited in the extensive warehouses of the Company.”

Its expenses were entirely defrayed by the EIC; by the turn of the ‘thirties these amounted to well over three thousand pounds a year, about the same as the Directors’ gratuities. With the reform of the Company’s affairs in 1834, these payments were stopped, and in March of that year the regiment was disembodied, though as a Royal favour, officers were permitted to retain their ranks and honours.

Beyond the metropolis, the other half dozen new English volunteer units were neither so prestigious nor so long lived. In Somerset, the Bath Riflemen seem to have been the first to form in 1815, surviving for at least ten years as a single company. Another company at Retford in Nottinghamshire may have been attached to the Retford Yeomanry, but was defunct by 1825. In Cheshire a similar arrangement saw a small battalion of infantry in 1819 attached to the yeomanry as the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Legion; this lasted a little longer. In Staffordshire a battalion was raised in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1819, comprising four battalion companies and one of rifles, the uniform of the former “similar to that of Soldiers of the Line”. The Newcastle Volunteers lasted until August 1823.

Something more like a cluster of volunteers was established in West Yorkshire, where the Leeds Volunteers, in a “handsome” uniform, were organised in January 1820, consisting initially of three battalion companies, one grenadier and one light infantry. In April they were joined by the neighbouring Huddersfield Independent Association, or Huddersfield Riflemen, dressed in rifle green with black facings and green epaulettes. Colours were presented to the Leeds Volunteers in July 1821, but the Leeds Light Infantry, as it was later known, was dormant by 1824. The Huddersfield companies survived a while longer.

The King’s Cheshire Volunteers fire a blank volley on the beach

Not surprisingly, very little visual evidence survives for these sparse and short lived units. The silvered officer’s button of the Leeds Volunteers (above) was drawn by Denis Darmanin in 2009 for the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society. In an exaggeratedly romantic canvas of 1824 by James Ward (go here for the full painting), an ageing Sir John Leicester exercises the Cheshire yeomanry on the sands at Liverpool; in the distance, under a suitably dramatic sky, the tiny ranks of the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Infantry, colours proudly flying, engage the passing dragoons and lancers. They are very much in the background.

In the event, the yeomanry proved more adequate than these new infantry units to the task of policing a discontented populace. With the collapse of this postwar wavelet, the volunteer movement rather subsided; not until the early 1850’s did the rifle and drill clubs emerge that would generate the volunteer explosion of 1859.


An unremembered loss

As it’s Remembrance Sunday, here’s an image from the Anne S K Brown collection that rather startled me while browsing. This unsigned watercolour is attributed to Robert Dighton junior, and certainly has the look of his style. The collection’s cataloguer has tagged it as a staff officer in undress uniform circa 1805, which may or may not be right; at any rate, we no longer know who he was.

Dighton junior is better known for the light cavalry officers whose dandyism he details with almost homoerotic enthusiasm, but here the elegant white pantaloons terminate in an artificial leg whose inelegant form insults its living partner. Military images of the period avoid showing dismemberment; the dead and dying tend to fall gracefully and unbloodied, often in classical positions. Dighton’s matter-of-fact portrait is unusual. One wonders how an officer missing half a leg managed to continue in service, unless in an invalid battalion, but the alternative, I suppose, would have been the misery of half-pay.

It would be better if the world had found a way to enjoy the dandyism and avoid the dismemberment, but so far it hasn’t, and that’s a fact. In the final analysis, there’s nothing good about war.