Supplying the Supplementaries

As the Supplementary Militia legislation of 1796 created new swathes of levies to reinforce the existing battalions, counties were obliged to clothe and equip them for training, and in the beginning this was done on the cheapest possible basis.

Lord Lieutenants were authorised by government  to provide a “slight clothing”, the cost not to exceed £1 5s 9d per man. If they couldn’t be bothered to organise this from scratch, suitable outfits could be ordered from the clothiers of the existing embodied militia regiments and the accounts passed to the War Office. As the going rate for a militia private’s “suit” (coat, waistcoat and breeches only) was several shillings in excess of this allowance, it was clear that corners would have to be cut. Something on the lines of the simple outfits authorised the same year for regular recruits – a closed jacket, trousers and a round hat – might fit the budget.

Shropshire Supplementary Militia 1797

Shropshire Supplementary Militia, 1797

Two bills preserved among the Powis papers in the Shrewsbury Archives detail what Lord Clive, commander of Shropshire’s militia regiment, actually ordered from his clothier for the county’s 1,550 new levies in March 1797. The recruits were to wear “Red Cloth Round Jackets lined thro with Padua, White Cloth Waistcoats ditto, white Cloth Long Trowsers, with leather Caps & feathers.”

Conveniently, clothier Thomas Saunders priced this outfit at £1 5s 9d, the exact limit authorised. However, the archive contains a second version of this bill, Lord Clive’s private copy, which reveals that he paid Saunders a shilling less than this per suit, but then claimed the full allowance from the War Office. The great British tradition of a small rake-off for the militia colonel netted his Lordship a tidy profit of £77 10s on this transaction – about £8,500 in today’s money.

The image here is my rough attempt at a reconstruction of this outfit. I’m assuming that a “round jacket” involved no skirts, that the leather caps were the basic undress or light infantry type, and that a white feather, undyed, would have been the cheapest option.

As for accoutrements, the Ordnance supplied tan leather sets for all. While regulars were supplied with buff leather straps and slings, the allowance for the militia stretched only to the cheaper tan, but militia colonels often declined these, stumping up the extra for buff sets from their own pocket – or, more accurately, out of the profits made on their clothing accounts, as exampled  here. But the supplementary militia had to make do with tan. To relieve the “unmilitary” appearance of tan belts, colonels sometimes resorted to blacking them. When drafts of supplementary men were incorporated into the main militia regiments, they were re-clothed to match and re-accoutred with buff belts.

In the Spring of 1798 Secretary at War William Windham admitted to a Parliamentary Select Committee examining army clothing costs, that at midsummer, when the old militia regiments were due for re-clothing, a full outfit would also have to be ordered for the embodied supplementary militia. A couple of jackets devised for Lancashire Supplementary battalions in 1798 are shown in this post.

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