Category Archives: armed associations

The loyal burghers of Dudley

Today the Black Country town of Dudley is part of the West Midlands splurge, but in 1798 it was in Worcestershire. The town is still grandly overlooked by the distinctive silhouette of Dudley castle, now neighbour to Dudley Zoo. In Dudley Museum hangs a rather gorgeous oil painting by Thomas Phillips (1770-1845) showing a parade at the castle of Lord Dudley’s Dudley Loyal Association of 1798. Around the picturesque ruins, before a throng of assembled worthies and admiring townsfolk, marches the Dudley Loyal Cavalry of Captain Thomas Dudley, sandwiching the Dudley Loyal Infantry of Captain Joseph Wainwright. At centre is the Association’s band, “as fine a military Band as any in England,” according to Revd Luke Booker, author of A Description and Historical Account of Dudley Castle (1825). (Click all images to enlarge.)

Though the figures are relatively small within the painting, some useful uniform features are visible; in the usual way of things at the time, a coloured aquatint of the painting was marketed, and a copy of this on the Anne S K Brown site provides some massive enlargement, though a few details in the print are at variance with the original.

Both companies wear blue faced red, while field, staff, trumpeter and band wear the reverse. The cavalry style is an open jacket with shoulder scales or chains and a Tarleton helmet, all the metal being yellow. Benson Freeman noted that the buttons were inscribed “DLC”. A pair of guidons was shown by J Robert Williams in the ‘seventies in Vol 10 issue 4 of The Blackcountryman. At the time these were in the hands of the Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry, but they haven’t turned up in the yeomanry bit of the Mercian Regiment Museum in Worcester.

Recently a fine portrait of a cavalryman, tentatively identified as of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, has been offered online by Roy Precious Antiques. (It’s still for sale if you have £6,250 handy.) The dress does not quite match that of the Derbyshire Yeomanry of the period as chronicled by D J Knight in the MHS Bulletin, but is a good fit for the Dudley Loyal Cavalry; both buttons and belt plate are inscribed “DLC”.

As the helmet feather is all white (Phillips shows white for the men, but white tipped red for officers) and as the chain wings show a fringe rather than bullion, the subject must be an enlisted man. The back of the portrait is inscribed “Mr R Parsons 1800” in a period hand; an R Parsons is mentioned in Clark’s Curiosities of Dudley and the Black Country in the context of other names associated with the Dudley Volunteers, and this may indeed be the stolid burgher finely portrayed here.

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School volunteer corps in the War against France

The volunteer enthusiasm of the decades each side of 1800 stimulated the formation of volunteer corps not only in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but also, more informally, in a number of schools. Details are hazy, but, for instance, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, as early as 1794, we find that:

“During the day [June 4 1794] the pupils of Mr Hodgson’s Academy paraded before the house of Alexander Turner, Esq., Mayor of Leeds, and, having learnt the military exercise, fired three excellent volleys.”

This “academy”, in Park Row, Leeds, was a school, and not a military academy as such. 

The Salopian Journal of September 28 1803 reports that:

“On Monday last the young gentlemen of the Royal Free Grammar School, who, with the approbation of Mr Butler, had formed themselves into two companies, under the appropriate title of THE ROYAL SHREWSBURY SCHOOL CORPS, had a Grand Field Day, in order to receive their Colours …”

These two companies consisted of a company of infantry, and one of “dismounted cavalry”.

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The only image I’ve yet seen is a print portraying the school volunteer corps of Albemarle House in Hounslow, Middlesex. A foxed copy is in the Anne S K Brown collection and accessible online there. Another is described by C C P Lawson in Volume V of his uniform history.

The print is not dated, but the style of dress gives an overall impression of an armed association of the 1798-1802 era. The boys wear round hats with white feathers, blue jackets or perhaps coats with red collars and cuffs, white pantaloons and white belts. Older boys, as officers or sergeants, wear blue pantaloons with long black gaiters and red sashes. Officers wear gorgets. The master standing at the left, as commanding officer, wears a coat with white turnbacks and a cocked hat. The band are in short jackets without skirts and wear mirliton style caps with red bands. The corps carries a King’s and a regimental colour, both with red fields, but no other details are visible. [Click for enlargements.]

Lawson’s description suggests that small details of the colouring may have varied in different copies of the print. Despite his assertion that “records” describe this institution as a military academy, I can’t find anything to back this, and rather think that this is a school volunteer corps. At any rate, it’s a great snapshot of a vanished moment in time, and of one forgotten aspect of the great volunteer movement of the War against France.


Sadler’s chimerical Sharpshooters

As it happens, this blog takes its title from the dedication page of Loyal Volunteers, Ackermann and Rowlandson’s gigantic 1799 compendium of London armed associations. I’ve always thought one of the more interesting entries to be plate 46, which shows a member of Sadler’s Sharp Shooters – “a Light Infantry Man defending himself with [James] Sadler’s Patent Gun & long cutting Bayonet.” The figure is chic in a Tarleton and dark blue jacket and pantaloons with red trim. The “patent gun” appears rather short, but the bayonet is enormous.

sadlers
Some copies of Loyal Volunteers also contain an unnumbered and spectacular plate portraying “Sadler’s Flying Artillery” (high res image here) showing the nearest we get to Georgian tank warfare – two guns of Sadler’s own invention mounted on a light carriage drawn by two horses. In the text to the first plate this is described as “the celebrated War Chariot, in which two persons, advancing or retreating, can manage two pieces of Ordnance (three-pounders) with alacrity, and in safety, so as to do execution at the distance of two furlongs.” Options for “advancing or retreating” were enabled by setting the guns on a turret; to reverse their fire the gunners simply switched seats. As James Sadler had not got round to inventing armour plate, I’m uncertain about their “safety”, but you can’t have everything.

war chariot
The patent gun and the flying artillery were real enough, their virtues detailed by their inventor in his own Account of Various Improvements in Artillery, Fire-Arms, &c of 1798. According to Mark Davies’s biography of Sadler, both “musquet” and “moving battery”, or “curricle flying artillery”, were unveiled on June 4 1798, the King’s birthday. With the backing of Secretary at War William Windham, the latter was demonstrated successfully before royalty in 1798 and 1800, and may possibly have been shipped abroad with the army on the expedition to Holland in 1799 at the behest of the Duke of York and under the care of Sadler’s son, James junior.

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James Sadler

Equally real, perhaps even larger than life, was James Sadler himself – aeronaut, inventor, chemist, naval technologist, steam engineer, creator of “philosophical fireworks”, barracks master and confectioner. There is, not surprisingly, a good deal of information available online about this extraordinary man; much more could be said about him than I have space for here, and Google will soon find it for you.

But if the guns and their inventor were real, how actual were the Sharp Shooters? I have to own up to some big doubts. Rowlandson’s fine plate is dated September 1798, but its accompanying text of August 1799 admits tartly that the corps was, even one year on, “but inconsiderable in number” and “in so imperfect a state as not to admit of illustration satisfactory to the Public.” However, it was “intended to extend them to a degree of respectability,” after which they would hopefully “join with the Westminster Associations”. A tad dysfunctional, then!

The text lists no officers (included with every other plate), not even the “ingenious Machinist” himself, but blags quaintly that the corps “is shortly to be officered by the Honourable the Board of Ordnance.” I can find no officers for the Sharp Shooters in the Gazette, members of the Board of Ordnance or not, and according to Mark Davies both the patent rifles and the war chariot were used in 1798 by the Pimlico Volunteers, with whom Sadler had some sort of connection.

sadlers medal 2There exists, however, a medal for the Sharp Shooters, for “Best Shot at Ball Practice,” awarded to a Corporal William Staples, which was sold a few years back at a prestigious auction house. However, the figure on the medal is dressed in a round hat with a tall feather, while the award is dated September 30 1802 – a time at which the corps might be expected to have stood down, like every other volunteer unit, following the Treaty of Amiens earlier that year, rather than hold a shooting match. I’m no expert on volunteer medals, but I have read that some are known fakes, and it must be simple enough to engrave something feasible on a silver blank. In Irwin’s War Medals and Decorations of 1910 this actual medal is said to be then in the collection of a Colonel Gaskell, so if it’s a fake, it’s a vintage fake.

If genuine, it may be the single surviving piece of evidence to confirm the existence of Sadler’s corps as a functioning military outfit outside the pages of Rowlandson’s Loyal Volunteers. Or were the chimerical Sharp Shooters merely a good intention? Or an ingenious PR fiction created to publicise their director’s inventions?


‘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.


The Birmingham volunteer prints of Edward Rudge

“The exultation of the Volunteers in their plumes and trappings is, after a century’s interval, positively humiliating to contemplate,” snorted John William Fortescue, historian of the British Army in 1909, in his The County Lieutenancies and the Army, 1803-1814. “Every one of the London corps, whether by its own act or by the enterprise of some print-seller, obtained commemoration at the hands of some limner of fashion-plates, and has been visible in the windows of print-shops ever since.” (Extending his denunciation to the innumerable flattering portrayals of volunteer and yeomanry officers, he excused himself by adding: “I speak as a collector … of engraved portraits of distinguished officers of the Army. To such a collector the portraits of the illustrious obscure … are little short of a curse.”)

London limners may have led the pack, but the great provincial cities were not far behind. To make the point, here are three fine Birmingham prints, all drawn and published by Edward Rudge of that city. (Click to enlarge .) Two show the battalion and flank companies of the Birmingham Loyal Association of 1797, and both were engraved by Samuel William Fores, better known as a publisher of Gillray and others. In April 1799 the Association appeared for the first time “completely regimented” with a grenadier and a light company; “… handsome and military … much admired …,” said the local papers. In September Rudge’s print appeared to memorialise the whole handsome effect. The difference in height between the men of the companies is emphasised in his visualisation. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a copy of this print, and reproductions were published for the Matthew Boulton exhibition of 2009.

Rudge print BLA
A more animated and fluent version, again by Rudge and Fores, appeared in March of the following year, no doubt to satisfy continuing popular clamour. A rather noble house and a small lake appear in the immediate background, with a windmill in the distance on the extreme right, but I can’t say that I’m able to identify the location. This second print is reproduced in Hart’s 1906 history of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Space precludes any analysis of the uniforms here, but it may be worth mentioning that a fine grenadier private’s coat, with waistcoat, breeches and accoutrements, and a light infantry Tarleton are on display at the Royal Warwickshire (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) Regimental Museum in Warwick.

Hart BLA plate
The third Rudge print dates from April 1801 and was engraved by a C Williams rather than by Fores. This fine piece of aquatinting is dedicated to the Warwickshire Yeomanry Cavalry, raised in 1794, and shows what seems to be the second uniform of the regiment, with a skirted “Austrian” jacket. The print is reproduced in Adderley’s very scarce regimental history, but a good high res version is available at the Anne S K Brown Collection. In his Ogilby Trust pamphlet on the regiment, the late R J Smith lamented that variant colourings of this print obscure the history of the uniform, but it seems clear to me that a French grey jacket with green facings and yellow braid is shown. On the Anne S K Brown copy (alone?) a white over red feather has been added to the helmet.

rudge print in brown colln
It’s not easy to get a handle on Edward Rudge, and to date I’ve not come across any other prints, military or otherwise, published by him. He was clearly not the Warwickshire landscape painter of the same name born in 1790 – was that his son? Our Rudge is described as a “stationer and painter” in bankruptcy announcements of the late 1790’s; it seems that there was less profit in limning the illustrious obscure than Fortescue imagined …


Two mystery musicians

A pair of striking portraits of two young musicians, probably brothers, in reversed colour uniforms of the late 1790’s – buff single breasted jackets or coats faced blue, and buff waistcoats and breeches. I’m told that these were acquired in York, and brief inscriptions on the backs indicate “bandsman from York”. The younger musician holds a fife, while the elder is shown with cymbals and some kind of bearskin cap, apparently with a white feather.

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But the York attribution does present a problem: no York volunteers wore uniforms faced in buff. The only Yorkshiremen with buff facings known to me are the East Yorkshire Militia (“Beverley Buffs”), or the Halifax Volunteers of 1794, both in red, while another source suggests that Halifax musicians wore buff faced red, not blue. A foreign unit such as The York Rangers? It’s a mystery.

At any rate, these are still advertised for sale by Artware Fine Art of London at four and a half grand each, if you’re interested …