Monthly Archives: May 2015

Light infantry caps and Staffordshire knots

starkeyAmong the military images in the Royal Collection is a rather unforgiving caricature by Robert Dighton of a light company officer around 1800, marked simply “Starkey – Staffordshire”, and identifiable as Lieutenant John Stark of the light company of the Staffordshire Militia.

There are some interesting features: Stark’s hair is queued, not in a flank company “club”, and his sword is an odd shape, something short of a well curved blade. But most importantly, what on earth is “Starkey” wearing on his head? The online image of the watercolour, shown here but no longer available at the Royal Collection site, is sharply focused but rather dark; the reproduction in Miller and Dawnay’s Military Drawings and Paintings in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen (1970) is grainier but reveals more detail. It seems to be a black cap with a peak and with a tall front piece or “flap” adorned with what looks like a strung hunting horn. At the side a tall dark green plume is held low down by a cockade and button; no version of the “shako” (1800 infantry cap) is known with a cockade in this position.

starkey detailThis looks very much like the form of light infantry cap shown by William Loftie of the 16th Foot in his watercolours of light company officers of the 31st and 34th Foot drawn from life in 1801 and 1799 respectively. (Shown below. The Loftie album is in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France – link to the right of this post.) These images show a Tarleton-type crest in white running transversely across the top of each cap, but nothing like this is evident in Dighton’s image, though the profile view inhibits our full understanding of the construction of the cap. In none of these three images is the rear of the cap visible.

The Tarleton helmet or “helmet cap” was widely worn by light companies in the pre-1800 period, but I have the feeling that a cap of the Starkey/Loftie form was more likely the approved pattern.

musicians detailAt a bit of a tangent, I’m not aware of any image showing the post-1800 cap worn by Staffordshire Militia other than the painting by Arthur William Devis, now at the National Army Museum, showing grenadiers and bandsmen at Windsor Castle in 1804. (The following year the regiment was made “Royal” and had the doubtful honour of suffering the King’s constant interference in its affairs.) Here two bandsmen wear the 1800 cap with tall feathers in yellow, the regimental facing colour. Modern interpretations of these figures, by René North for instance, show the front of the cap plain without any other ornament, but it seems to me that some sort of linear badge in white metal is suggested by the artist.

Just what this was is revealed – unexpectedly – in the details submitted for James Willson’s chart, A View of the Volunteer Army of Great Britain in the year 1806, by F.F. Boughey Fletcher, commanding officer of the Betley, Audley & Batley Volunteers of Staffordshire, whose uniform was modelled unusually closely on that of their county militia “before it was made a Royal Regiment”.

While the privates are stated to have worn the “regulation cap, plate & tuft,” sergeants are described as wearing the “regulation serjeant’s cap & feather with Staffordshire knot of white metal on front.” For the Volunteers to have copied the knot from the Militia, the latter’s battalion company sergeants must have been wearing it by 1804, which ties in nicely with the adoption of the white rose cap badge by the 1st West Yorkshire Militia, as documented in my last post. (The knot had already featured on the regiment’s buttons.) I’m not aware that an example survives, but it can’t have been too far removed from the open metal collar badges of the regular Staffordshire Regiment, as shown here.

knot
The “universal” 1800 cap plate was not necessarily as universal as we might assume, at least not where the militia was concerned; county badges were now legitimate, signifying local pride in a wartime context.


Wars and roses

Since when has the white rose been the badge of Yorkshire? From the dawn of Time? Since the Plantagenets, at least? Not so, given the useful deconstruction on the site here: the House of York had no physical correlation with Yorkshire, the Yorkshiremen of the 51st Foot wearing white roses at Minden in 1759 seems to be an unattributable myth, dear old Sir Walter Scott coined the term “Wars of the Roses” in 1829, and so on. The white rose was, like tartan, a Victorian invention, then?

In fact, this badge of local identity seems to have more to do with the consolidation of regional military pride encouraged by the development of home defence forces during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Royal approval of the use of the white rose by Yorkshire militia regiments was formally granted in 1811, but this merely consolidated existing practice.

Colours 001 adjusted

Photo by Steve Tagg, Doncaster Museum

The Museum of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at Doncaster has a number of colours of the 1st West Yorkshire Militia, which were restored in 1998 with Heritage Lottery Fund help. Among them is this particularly interesting regimental colour. The reverse of the dark green field carries a wreath typical of the post-1800 period, its discreet shamrocks complementing the St Patrick’s cross in the Union. But where the regimental title might be expected to be, at the centre of the wreath, perhaps on a small shield shape, there is now just a greyish conservator’s patch, indicating that whatever was once at the centre has been damaged or cut out. In its place (though now unattached) is a hefty padded white rose, shaded grey and edged in blue.

Photo by Steve Tagg, Doncaster Museum

Photo by Steve Tagg, Doncaster Museum

It seems likely to me that this rose replaced the central regimental title on the original form of the colour, requiring the regimental identity to be added in the form of the two scrolls below; these could well be done by a different hand. If so, this alteration may have taken place in 1804, for in March of that year, after some discussion of a possible new cap plate for the regiment, Adjutant Butterfield informed Colonel Earl Fitzwilliam that “I have returned the Brass Plates, and ordered the White Rose in their stead.” In November 1807, when a new draft of men from the Supplementary Militia joined the regiment, Butterfield noted: “I have ordered 300 Felt Caps and White Roses.”

walker wy detailIn George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire, the well known image of a grenadier of the 1st West Yorkshire Militia includes a battalion man in the background who clearly wears a white rose on his cap. Walker’s album of prints was published in 1814, but internal evidence suggests that many of the drawings were done several years earlier. (Officers’ buttons and belt plates of this era also carry the rose, but precise dating of these is difficult.)

So if the white rose of Yorkshire is not as ancient a symbol as we might imagine, neither is it quite as modern as some suppose.

It seems likely that this colour is one of the pair recorded in a regimental history as deposited at Pontefract in 1853 on the reorganisation of the 1st West York, but Doncaster Museum now has no record of how and when it was acquired. Nor can the Museum identify the matching King’s colour, though a Union colour of the same era inscribed simply “G III R” with a crown seems to me to be the most likely candidate. Both colours are now “shut away and … extremely difficult to access”, meaning that the designs of their obverses are currently unknown. No disrespect to Doncaster, and I’m the first to sympathise with the pressures under which museum staff are now obliged to work in the UK, but it’s a worry when museums lose track of the identity and provenance of unique  treasures in their keeping. A little basic record keeping goes a long way.


Bad tempered shooting matches (1)

Shooting competitions among the volunteers of the early 19th century were not always the convivial and gentlemanly events more typical of the rifle volunteer movement of the 1860’s. Here’s an example of one in Gloucestershire, involving two rifle companies, that got a little put of hand – not so much in the matter of the shooting, but as a consequence of the post-match celebrations. This is from Paul Hawkins Fisher’s Notes and Recollections of Stroud, Gloucestershire, of 1871:

There were, likewise, two rifle corps. One of these, the Severn Rifle Corps, consisting of three companies, numbering 180 men, was under the command of Major Samuel Wathen, of Newhouse, in this parish; and the other, called the King Stanley Riflemen, was commanded by Captain Nathaniel Peach Wathen, of Stanley House, in this county. The uniform of the former was a bottle-green jacket and pantaloons, with black velvet cuffs and collar, a black velvet stock, a helmeted cap with upright blue feather, black leather cross belts and pouch, with horn powder-flask, a short rifle, and sword; and the uniform, &c, of the latter corps very much resembled it.

"... resting their rifles on their caps": from J Jones, 'The Rifle Manual and Firing', 1804

“… resting their rifles on their caps”: from J Jones, ‘The Rifle Manual and Firing’, 1804

On the 19th of April, 1804, there was a shooting match on Broad-barrow Green between these two corps, which led to unpleasant consequences. It had been agreed that ten men of each corps should fire 30 shots at 150 yards, and 30 at 200 yards distance, and that the unsuccessful one should give the winners a dinner at the King’s Arms Inn (now the George Hotel) in Stroud. At the trial of skill, the Stanley riflemen, (all of whom, except one, fired standing) put into the target 11 shots at 150, and two at 200 yards ; and the Severn riflemen, (who lay down and fired, resting their rifles on their caps) put in 16 shots at 150, and 7 at 200 yards ; the latter being, of course, the victors. Modern riflemen may well smile at the target practice of that day.

The twenty sharp-shooters, and a few others of each corps, with their respective officers, dined at the King’s Arms, at the expense of the officers of the Stanley riflemen; the dinner passing off with great hilarity and satisfaction to all present. A somewhat incorrect report of the day’s proceedings, and especially of one of the toasts given after dinner, was written by James Burden, a private in the Severn rifle corps, and appeared in the next Gloucester Herald. This report gave such offence to the Stanley riflemen that, after several unsuccessful attempts to prevail on Burden to publish an apology for the obnoxious report, he was challenged to fight a duel with Joseph Cam, a private of that corps.

Upon this, Burden moved the Court of King’s Bench for a rule to show cause why a criminal information should not be filed against Captain N P Wathen, Joseph Cam, and Lieutenant Henry Perry, for a conspiracy to provoke him to fight a duel, in breach of the peace, &c.

A rule was granted, and on June the 16th, 1804, it was argued by Garrow and Wigley, on the part of the defendants, and by Erskine on the part of the prosecutor, – before Ellenborough, C J, and Le Blanc and Lawrence, J J – and was made absolute. A criminal prosecution was accordingly filed against Wathen, Cam and Perry, which was set down for hearing at the Spring Assizes for Gloucestershire, in 1805. A verdict of acquittal was entered by consent, the matter having been left to the arbitration of Milles and Dauncey, two leading barristers of the Oxford Circuit, – these gentlemen made their award during the same assizes; in which they certified their opinion – “That the publication in the Gloucester Herald was not intended to convey any imputation or reflection upon the whole or upon any member of the King Stanley riflemen, and that the consequences which followed such publication arose entirely from misapprehension”; concluding with – “We are therefore of opinion, under such circumstances, that further explanation is unnecessary.” Thus a foolish affair was terminated; though at the cost to the defendants of nearly five hundred pounds.


The tiger guns of the Shropshire Volunteers

In the 18th century it was often the practice for British regular infantry and militia regiments to keep attached a pair of light artillery pieces or battalion guns. By the end of the century the practical disadvantages of this piecemeal method of deploying artillery had become so obvious that most were sent into storage, and, shorn of their artillery, many militia regiments took to the new fashion of incorporating a couple of companies of riflemen instead. But the practice of battalion guns lived on among a few volunteer regiments, which were happy to acquire the kudos of  their own artillery detachment.

Colonel John Kynaston Powell’s regiment of Shropshire Volunteer Infantry, raised in 1803 and covering much of the North of the county, was already something of an unwieldy monster (18 large companies – two flank and 16 battalion) when in July 1805 each company was reduced to 97 men to make room for an artillery detachment of 32 privates plus NCO’s, officers and a drummer. Often, volunteer battalion guns were purchased through subscriptions by local communities, but the “great guns” of the Shropshire Volunteers were a gift – or at least a loan – from Edward, 2nd Lord Clive and 1st Earl of Powis, the eldest son of Robert Clive, “Clive of India”. And the guns had a particularly interesting history.


From 1798 to 1803, between spells as Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire and Colonel of the Shropshire Militia, Clive was Governor of Madras. 1799 saw the second, and successful, siege of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna), the fortress of Tipu Sultan, Muslim ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore and Ally of Napoleon. The storming of the city resulted in the death of Tipu and the complete defeat of his forces. Among the huge quantities of trophies captured were 927 of Tipu’s cannon, almost 400 cast in bronze, and over 200 manufactured at his royal foundry. The disposal of this wealth of ordnance was the privilege of the East India Company, and two fine examples were given to Clive, who brought them home to England and passed them to Kynaston Powell’s volunteers.

The cannon arrived as loose barrels, so in October 1805 the regiment resolved to have “proper Harness” and a pair of shafts made for each. The guns were also painted in the British manner, and the green patination of the bronze was covered by a coat of pale artillery grey. At field days and reviews in the green fields of Shropshire, Powell’s tiger head artillery detachment must have created quite an impression.


With the demise of the volunteers, the two guns were returned to the Clive seat at Powis Castle, Welshpool. They were fired to celebrate the wedding of his younger son in 1818, and again as a royal salute when Princess Victoria visited Welshpool in 1832; after that they were reduced to the purely ornamental. Today they still stand at each side of the steps to the entrance to the castle, which is now owned by the National Trust.

The cannon are of 2¾ – 3 pounder calibre. They were cast in the Mawludi year 1219 (1790-91) and sport spectacular striped tiger head muzzles, trunnions and cascabel buttons, the tiger being the chosen symbol of Tipu, “Tiger of Mysore”. On the barrel is a talismanic device based on the letters HYDR, for Hyder Ali, father of Tipu, and the mark of the Royal foundry, with the inscription “La illah ul Allah” – there is no god but Allah. An almost identical piece was sold at Christie’s recently, while other similar examples can be found at the Leeds Royal Armouries, at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and at Sandhurst.


Styling the light company

One day in the mid ‘seventies I wandered into what was then known as the Mappin Museum (now Weston Park) in Sheffield, biro and sketchbook in hand, and asked if they had any items of volunteer uniform. A curator was only too happy to pull all kinds of stuff out of storage and leave a scruffy hippy alone to examine and draw it; I don’t think that would happen today.

Sheff Local Mil LI jacketMy big find of the afternoon was the jacket of Captain John Brown of the light company of the Sheffield Local Militia (1808-16). I already appreciated the tendency for light company officers of the time to adopt a degree of cavalry styling, but wasn’t prepared for this rather dandyish single breasted jacket with three rows of half ball buttons.

Each row of 14 half inch plain gilt buttons was singly spaced. The scarlet jacket had very dark green (virtually black) collar and cuffs with the same buttons (in pairs on the cuffs) with dark green or black twist buttonholes. The very elongated sloping pockets carried two pairs of the buttons, with two more pairs at the rear waist and in the pleats. The white turnbacks were decorated with black bugle horns trimmed in silver on a black or dark green ground. The scarlet wings were trimmed with gilt wire, gilt fringe and a similar horn, and held by a small gilt regimental button (S/LM within a circle within a crown and rayed star).

The jacket had been given in 1940 by a Miss E M Brownell. Along with it came a fine crimson and gold barrel sash, which I had time to look at, and a sleeved waistcoat, which I didn’t but should have. According to the accession card, the waistcoat had a white back and sleeves, but a front of red and white horizontally striped cloth [!] closed by six silver plated buttons with a light infantry horn in relief. I write all this in the past tense because I have no idea whether these items are still at Sheffield. I hope they are, but for what it’s worth the Sheffield Museums online collections search doesn’t throw them up. My sketch is shown above (click to enlarge); I didn’t carry a camera in those days.

dightonThe closest thing I’ve seen to Captain Brown’s outfit is in a characterful watercolour by Robert Dighton of an officer of the light company of the South Gloucestershire Militia, c 1804, in the Royal Collection. However, the South Glosters as a whole regiment had opted for a light infantry look during this era. A note in a Pearse design book indicates that in 1799 the men’s new single breasted jackets were given three rows of buttons, like light dragoons, and though these were reduced a few years later to a single row, their jacket fronts remained crammed with buttons and laces in “a bad imitation of light cavalry”, in the words of one disapproving inspector. (The effect is shown in two watercolours of 1805 now at the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.) In the Militia List of 1813 the regiment appeared officially, if rather after the event, as light infantry and was authorised to be clothed and equipped as such. So Dighton’s showy officer is less of a light company anomaly than a regimental trend. Which makes Captain Brown’s jacket all the more noteworthy.


A Tarleton of the Leeds Volunteer Cavalry

And as an antidote to my last post, here’s the real thing. This splendid Tarleton of the Leeds Volunteer Cavalry, raised in 1797 and disbanded in 1811, survives in the collection of York Castle Museum, along with a guidon and two jackets of the same troop – or rather, two troops by 1803. There’s an image of this helmet on the York Museums Trust site, but it’s blurry beyond usefulness, so here are two better, courtesy of the Trust.

YORCM_TM1216-1YORCM_TM1216-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an old issue of the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research this helmet is credited to Leeds City Museum, but if it was ever there, it’s not been for many years. The feather plume and the chains are missing, but the crest and leopardskin turban are in good shape. The left label reads “LEEDS” and the right “VOLR. CAVALRY”. Most interesting feature to me is the large plate  that incorporates both badge – crown, garter and cypher – and the unit’s motto, with negative areas simply painted black; this explains the “floating” appearance of the motto. (The bits of string that now hold this in place look a tad retrospective.)

walker tarletonInterestingly, exactly the same badge and motto, but in white metal, appear on the Tarleton worn at the time by the West Riding Yeomanry, as clearly shown in a fine portrait at Rotherham of Henry Walker of the Southern Regiment at some point post-1803. I’ve excerpted Walker’s Tarleton at the left, but the whole image can be seen here, on the BBC Your Paintings site. The motto had been adopted by the Yeomanry in 1795, and their helmets were supplied by Hawkes of London, so that the Leeds helmet may be by the same maker.

 

 

 

 


Steampunk Tarletons

“Repro” Tarleton helmets, at optimistic prices, seen recently on eBay. Er, nice. As parodies go, these are less than knowing. Is this becoming the predominant mode in which we relate to past material culture? We really are becoming the Dancers at the End of Time

tarleton 1tarleton 2