At the close of 1803 court reports in the British press noted the presentation to the King of:
Captain Barber, of the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters, or Rifle Corps … The Captain, although contrary to the etiquette of the Court, wore his cap, pantaloons, and boots, or high-laced shoes, for the inspection of his Majesty, who wished to see him in the full uniform of the corps.
A week later, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hanson, of the Manchester Rifle Regiment, was also presented to GIIIR, dressed in exactly the same way, high-laced boots included. (For the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters see this post, and for Hanson and his Manchester regiment, this page.)
As Ben Townsend has astutely observed, here is a moment in British military fashion when the volunteer movement, particularly the rifle element of 1803, found itself on the curve of the avant-garde, able to set aspirations in military style that might influence the regular service. (Ben discusses this in the first volume of his thoroughly admirable and indispensable Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion (of which a proper review will appear here soon, when the second volume appears).But what exactly were these new “boots, or high laced shoes”, which the King wished to scrutinise? It’s surprisingly hard to say; period patterns and manuals for Georgian bootmakers seem remarkably elusive. An 1804 advert by Hickson, Boot-Maker, in the Strand, offers, among a vast range of desirable civilian and military boots in the highest style, “shooting shoes” and “backstrap lace boots for sharp shooters”. But other period sources seem to suggest that “strapped” and “laced” boots were not the same animal.
Contemporary accounts of the Cumberlands’ uniform mention “high shoes, laced in front”, while Henry Beaufoy, in Scloppetaria, his 1809 treatise on all things rifled, advocates the old fashioned low shoe and gaiter, deprecating the fashionable rifleman’s “laced half boot”:
It is not unusual with corps of government as well as volunteers, to reject the gaiter as being less neat, and adopt in its stead the small laced boot which was conceived to suit the uniform better! but surely it is a pity that neatness should be taken into consideration in preference to utility and convenience.
Not too hard, then, to imagine a half boot, or high shoe, laced up the front and tied at the top – but finding a clear image of it is another matter. The rather sleek watercolour of a Cumberland in the National Army Museum (detail left above) seems to suggest a line of lacing running in Xes up the front of the neat forward boot, but I don’t have a version with enough resolution to be sure. At top centre hangs what looks like the usual tassel, but must in fact be the ends of the lacing in some tasselled form. The Tomkins print of a rifleman of the 6th Loyal London Volunteers (detail right above) shows the tied laces hanging clearly, but doesn’t show any front lacing. Other images with dinky tasselled boots are plentiful but don’t solve the mystery.
And then, what’s a “backstrap lace boot”, and how does it differ from a strapped boot? Or a laced high shoe, for that matter? Guidance from those who know would be very welcome here!
While I have your attention, I’ll mention that since my last flagging up of new pages, I’ve added a few more:
– and the beginnings of what I hope will be a developing series on chosen county militias, from the revival of 1757 through to disembodiment at the close of the Napoleonic wars. The first being:
There’s also a very brief introductory page to the militia series here.
In the meantime, a few pages have been overhauled, with much new info on the Lancaster Volunteers of 1797 on this page, and on the Ulverston Light Infantry (Lancashire) of 1803 on this page. More to come, for sure.