Highs and lows: an unusual officer’s jacket

As a National Trust member I’m generally approving, though (as they say) with reservations. I’m not sure about some of the narratives the NT spins to brand its stately homes, especially the way those narratives can sit light to the sources of the wealth and power that built the estates – slavery and land clearances for a start. But then again, the NT does have some real treasures in its custody.

On a visit to Eyam Hall in Derbyshire last summer, I stumbled across an unexpected gem: wrapped in clear plastic and lying in a drawer was the rather beautiful jacket of Captain Peter Wright of the Eyam company of the South Battalion of High Peak Volunteers. This battalion – like its Northern counterpart – was an 1805 amalgamation of disparate, far flung, rural companies raised two years earlier, so the jacket has to date to 1805-08. At first glance it looked predictable enough: scarlet with the yellow facings of Derbyshire, no lace, small gilt buttons (crown over script “HPV”), white edging and one gilt epaulette for a captain. But even without permission to move or unwrap the jacket, I could see that it was, unusually, single breasted, with no lapels. Accompanying it was a rather stagey tricorne hat which, contrary to the optimistic labelling of the exhibit, clearly had zero to do with the jacket. [Click images below for enlarged slides.]

I took some fairly useless snaps with my phone and trotted off to have a word with a member of staff. The volunteer attendant I buttonholed seemed sceptical about my revelation concerning the impostor hat, and, overall, politely indifferent. Later, I wrote to request a proper viewing, quoting my NT membership number, but never had a reply, just as I’ve never had a reply from Powis Castle about the yeomanry standards they have in storage. Well, people are busy and resources are tight, I suppose. But a bit of a low peak, all the same.

Fortunately, I find that in 2014 John Alleston documented the jacket in the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society. His pukka photos show two buttons at the rear waist, with four on each slash pocket flap, white edging on flaps and skirts, and white turnbacks without any ornaments at the points. The epaulette bears a bullion crown over script “HPV”, while the crescent, though this isn’t stated, looks to be edged with yellow cloth. (The crown on this epaulette is confusing, crowns being also the later mark of a lieutenant colonel’s two epaulettes, but here the crown is a part of a battalion distinction with the initials beneath, repeating the design of the buttons.)

Even allowing for the inclination of volunteer corps to dress their other ranks in superior grades of clothing, this doesn’t seem to be a private’s jacket, and there are no light company indications. It must surely be an undress garment, worn as an alternative to the officer’s coat? Or were the battalion’s officers universally in jackets for dress? Whatever the case, it’s a fine little item. By the way, don’t go looking for it among the nearly one million items on the National Trust Collections site; it isn’t there.

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Predecessors of Peterloo: the Manchester & Salford Light Horse

No posts for nine months here is pretty poor. Sorry to have slid off the blog wagon.

As I clamber awkwardly back on, let’s join in the applause for Mike Leigh’s acclaimed film of Peterloo. If you haven’t seen it, do so, if possible on the big screen. Be prepared for a couple of hours of wonderful period oratory, as Leigh builds the arguments on either side, moving towards his climactic, seat-gripping and astonishing reconstruction of the mass meeting at St Peter’s Fields. Here the Hussars come out of it relatively well, one officer at least urging restraint. (Though the infantry look a bit Peninsular for 1819, surely?) But the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry are played as oafish John Bulls, amateurs without discipline. Which could be a fair picture, given the number of unarmed civilians they managed to sabre. I suppose this is what happens when the focus of auxiliary forces moves from defence against invasion to the maintenance of internal “order”.

Before the yeomanry arrives: Henry Hunt (excellently played by Rory Kinnear) orates

In the film the Yeomanry wear the light dragoon outfit of the period, as shown in the well known Richard Carlile print of the massacre; since Carlile was on the platform during the mayhem, we can take that as accurate enough. These three troops were raised fresh in 1817, and were disbanded within five years. Not too much continuity then with their predecessors, the Manchester and Salford Light Horse Volunteers, raised in 1797, reformed in 1803 and apparently disbanded in 1809. This seems like a good opportunity to take a quick look at them.

The Light Horse began life as three troops, but in 1798 increased to six under Lieutenant Colonel Comm John Ford. Manchester Library has two copies, for 1797 and 1798, of their Regulating Code of Laws, providing many invaluable details of dress and equipment:

Every Volunteer at his own expence to furnish himself with the following cloathing, arms & accoutrements, all made to pattern: a regimental bridle and saddle, with cloak-pad, and straps; a cartouch box, containing four rounds, fixed on the outside of each holster; a sabre, a buff leather sword knot whited, a black spanish leather waist belt, a pistol, a regimental blue coat-cloak, with white collar and lining; a dress uniform … and an undress … ; each Commissioned Officer to procure a crimson silk sash.

The Dress Uniform is a blue hussar Jacket, with silver lace, white collar and cuffs; white quilted waistcoat, white leather breeches, long black topped boots, plated spurs with horizontal rowels, black velvet stock, with a narrow white turn-over; frilled shirt, hair well powdered, short sides, queue tied close to the head; silk rosette, white wash leather gloves, and helmet with long white feather.

The Undress is a plain blue jacket, corresponding, with the exception of lace; pantaloons of blue cloth with white seams, lined with blue cloth, and half boots …

Further details follow for farriers, trumpeters and “Serjeants in Pay”. For off duty wear, “such gentlemen as chuse it” could wear a blue undress coat with black velvet facings and regimental buttons, which on this coat were to be flat and gilt, with the raised letters “L.H.V.” By 1798 silver chain wings had been added to the dress jacket, and scale wings to the undress.

A fine pastel portrait of Robert Keymer, the colonel by 1800, was made by John Russell in that year and presented to his family by the regiment; the Lancashire folder of the late R J Smith included a photo of this, with detailed notes made by Leslie Barlow when the portrait passed through Christie’s. Keymer’s dark blue dress jacket, of an “Austrian” length, is edged with 3/8″ silver lace and looped with silver cord of about 1/8″. The white collar and cuffs are edged with silver lace and cord on a blue ground. The surprisingly broad black leather waist belt fastens with  a simple white metal buckle, and no sash, pouch or pouch belt are visible. The Tarleton helmet here has a red over white plume, a dark crimson turban and silvered fittings. The visible part of the ribbon reads “M&S LIGHT …”

According to Willson’s 1806 chart and Aston’s 1804 Manchester Guide, the 1803 formation of the Light Horse, now just two troops under Major Shakespear Philips, switched to scarlet jackets faced dark blue, with blue pantaloons or white breeches and silver metal. “The gentlemen are mounted in general upon capital horses,” noted Aston. “Their arms are sabres and pistols. They serve without pay and were individually at the expense of their own appointments.”

Despite such enthusiasm, within a few years these remaining two troops had disbanded, and Manchester had to manage without its yeomanry, until post-war discontent prompted a darker chapter.


Who’s this? And what’s that hat?

Here’s a characterful little portrait – almost Falstaffian – lifted from the Art UK site, but held at Scarborough Art Gallery, where it is titled as “Major Tindall” and dated to circa 1745. That’s half a century too early, I think. Nor is this an officer. And the Lieutenant Colonel Tindall who commanded the Scarborough Volunteers of 1794 and 1803 (if that’s the thinking here) would have worn black facings. So who is it?


The single breasted jacket and the queued hair without powder suggest circa 1800 or a bit later, the black belt suggests a volunteer of the 1803 generation, and the sword suggests a sergeant, despite the absence of chevrons. The buff facings might indicate the volunteers of the neighbouring East Riding of Yorkshire, from among whom the word “North” on the belt plate might designate the North Holderness Volunteers – the only volunteer corps in the North or East Riding with that word in their title. (And North Holderness is only a stone’s throw from Scarborough.) The plain lace loops might be for a sergeant or a volunteer style as discussed in this post. (The lace here appears buff rather than white, though no regulation supports that for a sergeant of a buff faced corps.)

So, a sergeant of the North Holderness – well, maybe, though I could be well off target. But the whole effect is strangely agricultural. Wouldn’t you button up your jacket for a portrait? And how many sergeants could afford to have themselves limned for posterity, and by quite a competent painter, too? And what’s with the hat? Were no dress caps available? It has the look of an old hat cut down for a forage cap, with just a flap surviving to fold up at the back. So why the lone button at one side, and the feather (and cockade?) at the other? And was a castle emblematic of the Holderness area?
Skipsea Castle (demolished)? Flamborough (virtually
demolished)? I’m not convinced.

In the unlikely event that anyone stumbling across this can shed any further light, I’d love to hear about it.

 


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.

 


“… 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