Monthly Archives: February 2016

‘A nearer resemblance to our Brethren in Ireland’

I know this has been flagged up elsewhere, but I can’t help posting about this wonderful print recently acquired for the Anne S K Brown Military Collection, which portrays:

“An exact representation of the whole of the PROCESSION of ALDERMAN KIRKMAN’s FUNERAL, taken as it passed thro’ the City to St. Michael Bassishaw Church, – together with the Procession on Foot to the Church, – the Funeral Exercise with all the Motions which the Association Companies went thro’, correctly drawn; – the Uniform Dresses of the Captains of the Horse, Infantry and Light-Infantry and the Drill-Dress of the LONDON ASSOCIATION and of the other City Associations which attended upon this Solemn Occasion.”

Kirkman
Titles were certainly comprehensive in 1780, and quite rightly too. Italics were also italics, and capitals capitals. And the City of London was an inhabited community, not a heap of desolate skyscrapers.  Kirkman had been prominent with the volunteers during the recent Gordon Riots, and the useful background provided here, on the Anne S K Brown blog, suggests that the display of military force may have had a deeper purpose than mere pomp and circumstance. (Click the image above for some eye watering enlargement.)

Kirkman detail
The hundreds of tiny marching figures, fluently and economically drawn by one T Bonnor, include the infantry, light infantry and light horse of the Loyal London Association (in scarlet, faced black velvet, silver officer’s lace, drill dress white faced blue);  the Bishops Gate Street Association (blue faced buff); the Castle Baynard Ward Association (colours not given); the Newgate Street Association (white faced orange), and the Cheap Ward Association (Kirkman’s own, red faced green). Orange facings must surely have had a political-religious significance at this time? This is the “6 Pence plain” version of the print; the “1,S. Colour’d” version must have been splendid, but labour intensive for the poor underpaid hand colourer.

The volunteers of 1779 to 1782 were the precursors of the mass movements of 1794, 1798 and 1803, but have received relatively little study. The London Association is also shown in Francis Wheatley’s painting of the riot in Broad Street, which I can only find online in print form. Wheatley also portrayed Henry Grattan and a number of scenes of Irish volunteers, which points up an interesting connection. The correspondence of Thomas Taylor of the Liverpool Military Association of 1782 (among the Memoirs & Proceedings for 1900 of the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society) contains these significant comments:

“I have been sorry to hear some reflections lately thrown out by some Townsmen of yours and those friends to the Association, that the Officers in your Companies [the Manchester  Military Association] have gone to expence in their dress, and have made a shew and parade by no means consistent with the true spirit of the institution, and I heard the names of several Gentlemen mentioned who had left the Corps on that account. I wish these insinuations may have been wrong or exaggerated, for I shall always wish to hear you shall proceed on right principles.

[We] shall go to no further Expense this winter as we have resolved that the present Jacketts are sufficient uniforms till the Spring … It is necessary for us to be economical, we have no fund to recur to to furnish the extraordinaries but I do not think us the less respectable on this account. It gives us a nearer resemblance to our Brethren in Ireland, whose Conduct I wish us to imitate in all respects.

(My italics.) Talk of “true spirit” and “right principles” shared, in Taylor’s view, with the Irish volunteers implies a strong Whiggism that finds its visual expression in an economy of dress that keeps distinctions of rank to the necessary minimum. (This argument would surface again in the more polarised atmosphere of twenty years later – see this post.) Alignments between the English and Irish volunteers of this era could well deserve further attention.


An East York militia uniform of 1760

Out of period for the main focus of this blog, I know, but study of the county militias in the War against France leads back naturally to their reestablishment in the late 1750’s. There can’t be too many surviving militia uniforms from that period; in fact there can’t be too many surviving uniforms of anything from that period, and the splendid 1760 outfit of Captain Thomas Plumbe of the Lancashire Militia, in the KORR Museum, is hailed as “the oldest, most complete, British army uniform in the world.” I wouldn’t know, but in that state of completeness it may well be. (Lots of photos of it here.)

YORCM_L1950_32
All the more surprising then that a comparable officer’s suit of the East Yorkshire Militia for this period – coat, waistcoat, breeches – lies uncelebrated in the vaults of York Castle Museum. (The coat and waistcoat were sketched by C C P Lawson at Leeds Museum and Art Gallery, where they were once housed, for Volume II of his mega-study, which confirms the id.) The York online catalogue, such as it is, does not identify or group these items, and associates only the waistcoat and breeches. The three accession numbers are from widely different years, and the significance of this uniform may have been lost over the decades. I hope it is now recognised, for this is a remarkable and historically important uniform.

YORCM 2010.984
The scarlet coat is lined and faced buff, with ten buttons and silver laces on each lapel, four on each pocket and cuff, and one each side of the collar. The silver buttons are blank, with a striped pattern. Waistcoat and breeches are both buff. The waistcoat has twelve silver buttons and laces at the front and three on each pocket; the breeches have a tie and four buttons at each knee.

As sketched by Lawson

As sketched by Lawson

The waistcoat lace has not, as the online note suggests, faded from gold; silver lace and buff facings were the constant distinctions of the Beverley Buffs or Yorkshire Buffs, as the regiment was soon dubbed. (In fact a 1790’s silver gorget of the regiment in the National Army Museum is inscribed simply “The Buffs”.) R W S Norfolk, in his East Riding study, asserts that the men of the regiment were issued in 1760 with red coats faced buff with white lace, a white waistcoat and red breeches, but I’m not sure of his source for this; other ranks’ militia uniforms of this period are a bit of a mystery, to say the least.


“… a White Lace both for NCOs and the Privates”

Continuing with the theme of deviations, it’s easy to assume that if an infantry regiment of this era was not granted a distinctive coloured lace, then its coats or jackets would bear none, so that it would be by default an “unlaced” regiment. But it wasn’t necessarily so.

2nd & 4th Battalions, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

2nd & 4th Battalions, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

3 lancs supp m

3rd Battalion, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

When Supplementary Militia battalions were created in the late 1790s they did not share the lace pattern of their parent county regiment. Drawings in one of the Pearse tailor books show that the lapelled and tailed coats of the 1st Lancashire Supplementary Battalion (subsequently the 2nd Regiment) were unlaced, but that the 2nd and 4th Supplementaries (later 3rd and 5th Regiments) had the singly spaced buttons on their “New Fashion” jackets laced with plain white braid in “bastion” loops. The 3rd Supplementary (later 4th Regiment) also wore jackets with white pointed loops to their buttons, set in threes. The jacket patterns are interesting in that they show the early transitional style with proper skirts with double turnbacks.

As these battalions were expanded and renumbered as regiments they borrowed the proper coloured lace of the 1st Lancashire Militia. But the option of white lace loops remained on the pattern books, and found a new lease of life when offered to the volunteer movement.

When the Shropshire Volunteers (an unwieldy 18 company regiment) were due for new clothing at the start of 1806, it was felt that their unadorned red jackets of 1803 had looked a little plain, so the Committee opted for “Jacket No 2” of those now offered by its clothier. Colonel John Kynaston Powell noted that this had “a White Lace, and consequently a White Button, both for Non-Commission Officers (Staff Sergeants excepted) and the Privates.” This would provide “a sufficient Smartness,” and despite the extra cost of the lace would still be within the government’s allowance. (The unusual artillery pieces of the Shropshire Volunteers are discussed in my post here.)

Leek Volunteers

Leek Volunteers

This was not the only volunteer unit to opt for this style, and such jackets survive. In the Staffordshire Regiment Museum is a fine jacket of the Loyal Leek Volunteers with buttons in five pairs and laced in plain white. In addition the jacket edges, turnbacks, collar, shoulder straps, cuffs and pockets are all edged with the same white braid. The loops show a decent “window” of red, and the buttons here are of yellow metal.

Lancaster Volunteers

Lancaster Volunteers

Lancaster City Museum has held for many years a jacket of the Lancaster Volunteers, sketched by P W Reynolds and photographed for Volume 2 of Bryan Fosten’s Osprey Wellington’s Infantry. This also has white lace and paired white buttons, but in four pairs and with pointed lace. Here only the collar, straps and turnbacks are edged. (It’s instructive to compare Reynolds’s version with the photo; given the ambiguous spacing on the jacket front he can be forgiven for having seen the buttons as single – but what about the cuffs and pockets?)

The Lancaster Volunteers sketched as drawn by Reynolds. Photo by Ben Townsend

The Lancaster Volunteers sketched as drawn by Reynolds. Photo by Ben Townsend

These are just three examples, but there may well be others. The touch of showiness provided by plain white lacing would be calculated to appeal to a committee or commanding officer considering a re-clothing, and the splash of braid across the jacket would have given the volunteers something of the look of regulars.


One weird militia cap

This blog has been grievously neglected for several months. Family stuff; my apologies.

The more you look at the uniforms of a particular regiment in this era, the more you appreciate the deviations from the greater uniformity. Where colonels were allowed licence, such as in the clothing of musicians, this is especially so. Drummers are a particular headache, and faced with the arcane and variant complexities of drummers’ lacing, one begins to doubt the detail of many artists’ reconstructions.

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Here’s an extremely weird drummer’s cap of the Royal Lancashire Militia from the notebooks of P W Reynolds in the V&A. (Many thanks to  Ben Townsend for the photo.) It’s a “Belgic”, or at least a sort of Belgic, attributed to the First Regiment of Lancs Militia around 1814, and Reynolds’s sketch is based on a previous sketch by “JCL”, whoever he or she was – Charles Lyall, maybe?

Reynolds’s assumption is that the cap was of black felt. The front is said to be 9 inches high, so about the norm, but the “pole”, which I understand to mean the cap part, though I’ve never seen that term used elsewhere, is just over 5 inches deep, so more shallow than usual – perhaps scaled down to fit a boy. The front is steeply arched – quite different to the squareish front of the standard Belgic, and so more reminiscent of the shape of the pre-1802 drummer’s fur cap. In place of the usual folding flap at rear is a drum badge, as previously used on the rear of drummers’ fur caps, measuring 2⅛ by 1½ inches and presumably in brass.

The circular plate at front is 3 inches in diameter, again presumably of brass, and Reynolds notes correctly that the elements of the design – “LANCASTER”, rose and wreath – correspond to those of the known Belgic cap plates of the regiment, which are of the standard size and shape. The peak is narrower than the norm at 1½ inches, though that is a feature seen on some officers’ and volunteer caps. JCL had noted that a “festoon” had been worn on the cap and that there was a small hole “in upper part of front”, presumably to take a tuft and cockade, but exactly where was not marked in his sketch.

The cap is said to have been seen at Hawkes’s, the military outfitters. Where is it now?  A search of the NAM inventory throws up nothing, though that’s not to be wondered at.

This cap raises all kinds of questions. Why the odd shape, and does it have any relation to drummers’ fur caps or to the tall fronted light infantry caps discussed in this post? Why the small plate when the front was tall enough to take the standard pattern? Does it actually date to circa 1814? Was it a regimental one-off? Or did other regiments adopt similarly mutant forms? And how much can we trust modern illustrations that show drummers of the period wearing the same caps and plates as everyone else?