Category Archives: army clothiers

A pelisse for the Light Dragoons

HRH Prinny’s scandalously Frenchified “plastron” uniform of late 1811 for the Light Dragoons is familiar from many images, and from surviving jackets. But here, from the Royal Collection, is something less familiar – a watercolour by Denis Dighton of a private of the 12th Light Dragoons with some sort of pelisse flying from his shoulder. [Click all images to enlarge.] But what exactly is it? The depiction is rather vague: dark blue, with a few white buttons and what looks like crimson fur lining and cuffs. Dighton squeezes the shape in awkwardly between cap cords, sabre, pouch and distant horizon, which I suppose might indicate a late addition to the painting. It’s all a bit odd. At the risk of attracting a heap of correcting emails, this is the only image of a light dragoon I know that shows such a thing.

The ledger of tailor Jonathan Meyer (see also my previous post) contains entries for a number of pattern garments made for the Prince Regent in 1811. (My thanks to Meyer & Mortimer and to Ben Townsend for access to images of the pages.) For September 26 1811 an account is made for a pelisse, “pattern for Light Dragoons,” in superfine blue cloth, lapelled (i.e. double breasted) and of jacket size at 1½ yards of cloth. The body was lined with scarlet plush, the sleeves with scarlet silk, two dozen plated half ball buttons were used, the hips were fringed and necklines were attached. Side and sleeve seams, as on the more familiar jacket, were welted in scarlet cloth.

While the Dighton image shows pelisses worn by privates, Meyer’s details indicate an officer’s garment, and the Board of Clothing was charged a whopping £8 12s for it. In his commentary to the Hamilton Smith plate of an officer of the 14th Light Dragoons, Philip J Haythornthwaite notes that the December 1811 regulations authorised for Light Dragoon officers “a short surtout … to be worn likewise as a pelisse on service,” resembling the light dragoon jacket but faced with shag (a coarsely napped cloth in imitation of fur), and cites a description of officers of the 12th at Waterloo in blue cloth pelisses lined with yellow plush (finer and shorter napped).

Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library

Remarkably, we have a tailor’s drawing of just such a pelisse as Meyer describes – if not the very same one –  in William Stothard’s “Rigementals” book in the Anne S K Brown collection. (See also my previous post.) It’s captioned “Pleece to the Princes Pattron [pattern]. 1813,” though that year seems to be the date of the drawing, not of the making of the garment. Again, Stothard’s entries are invariably of officer’s clothing. Though the nine button front is shown as if intended to be buttoned across, Stothard’s drawing shows the skirts, with fringe and pleats, entirely in the light dragoon style.

The shag or plush is shown on collar, cuffs, turnbacks and lapel facings; interestingly, the false pocket is also shown lined and/or edged with it. The double lines drawn on the side and sleeve seams confirm the piping in facing colour as mentioned by Meyer, though there is no sign of this in the Dighton image. The drawing does not show any necklines.

It would seem logical for the facings of the pelisse to have been in the regimental facing colour. Though the 12th had yellow, Dighton shows the pelisse faced in crimson, as if for the 9th or 23rd; red or scarlet as in the Meyer pelisse would suggest the 8th or 16th. Whether faced in regimental colours or universally in crimson, the men’s pelisse was clearly still enough of a live option in late 1811 for Dighton to include it in his documentation of the new uniform; in the event, along with some other enthusiasms of the Prince Regent, the idea was abandoned as too expensive or too impractical, and it was never issued.


An officer’s jacket of the Madras Native Infantry

Recently I’ve found myself dipping into areas of uniform beyond the auxiliary forces, thanks to access kindly given to some great primary sources. One is a tailor’s notebook in the Anne S K Brown Military Collection at Brown University: “Rigementals” is a collection of “Memorandoms” compiled around 1813 by the tailor William Stothard, with some fascinating drawings and notes.

One puzzling item is titled “Native India Regiment” and dated 1811: an officer’s jacket with silver vellum lace in pairs and facings of gosling green – a yellowish or brownish shade, depending on who you read, produced, according to one period encyclopedia, by blue dye followed by a dose of annatto or anatta, an orange colouring. Anyway, here’s Stothard’s description of the jacket, in his characteristic, but alarming, phonetic spelling:

A Jackit, made of superfine scarlit cloth. Gosling green facing, cuffs and coller 7 hooles of twist in the lapel by 2s one in the coller with a large button, three silver vellam holes top of the lapel Pointed flap with 4 lace holes. cross flaps 4 Lace holes on the cuffs. White Casemer turnbacks & skirtlining, Lace Back & front A dimond on top the Back slit Lace to go down to the ornaments. 1811
12 yards Lace.
Lapell made to button back. 1811.

Native India Regiment

Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library

It’s interesting that this is a battalion company jacket, rather than a coat, at this period, while the paired seven button arrangement, rather than the more usual eight or ten, is abnormal. However, in a preface on “Tailours Rules,” Stothard includes a seven button arrangement in pairs, where the tailor marks out ten singly spaced buttons and then omits three: “Every tailor knows these things, etc.” Most unusual of all are the double turnbacks – reminiscent of the style of a decade previously – and the lace “diamond” at the top of the rear fly. Note that just the top three button holes each side are laced, only the triangular upper parts of the lapel facings being intended to show.

Another item drawn in the book is tied to the workshop of Jonathan Meyer in Conduit Street W1, where Stothard may conceivably have been employed for a while. A surviving ledger of 1809 is still in the keeping of Meyer & Mortimer, and sure enough, a few pages in we find a corresponding entry for a jacket for an officer of the “Native India Regt” which may well be the item noted down by Stothard. (My thanks to Meyer & Mortimer and to Ben Townsend for access to images of the ledger.) The page is half destroyed, so that the client’s name, the date of the job and the opening words of each line are missing:

… scarlet Jacket Native India Regt         1¼        38/6      2  2  –
… & materials                                                                                2 16  –
[goslin?]g green facings                              ¼ yd     37/        –    9  6
… vellum holes                                              11 y         3/10      2  2  –
buttons sent
… up[?] turnbacks                                                                       –   6  6
… rattinette                                                    2½         4/6         –   11 3
… [turn]backs                                                                               –    8  –

While Meyer specifies eleven yards of silver vellum lace, Stothard gives twelve, but otherwise what remains is an excellent match. In total, the jacket cost £8 15s 3d, equivalent to well over £600 in today’s money.

So what was the “Native India Regiment”? No formation with the name is recorded, so Meyer and Stothard must be referring to an unspecified regiment of that character. Thanks to the distinctive gosling green facings, this can only be the 9th Madras Native Infantry, whose buttons at the time were paired and whose officers wore silver lace. I know next to nothing about the dress of the armies of the Presidencies of the East India Company, so I’ve no idea how typical or how well documented elsewhere this unusual style may be.


John Phillp’s North York buttons

Georgian buttons are one thing, but designs for Georgian buttons are a tad unusual, especially if the identity of the designer is known. So here’s a leaf from the “Phillp album” housed at Birmingham Archives but now thoughtfully scanned online, at least in part. [Click all images to enlarge.]


John Phillp may have been the “natural” son of legendary Birmingham industrialist Matthew Boulton. He arrived at Boulton’s Soho mint and manufactory in 1793, in his mid ‘teens, and soon became a talented designer of metalware, medals, tokens and much else. The album is a fascinating browse (start here), containing sketches of all sorts, including the sheet of designs for officers’ buttons for the North Yorkshire Militia, presumably for the firm of Boulton & Scale. (In the online image the sheet is reversed, so I’ve re-reversed it here. Excuse a portion of the website’s “watermark” in the close-up.)

Other pages of the album include a design for a drum major’s staff head (described as a “hilt”) for the Loyal Birmingham Volunteers, and a rather solemn and sensitive image of a teenage boy that may well be a self portrait. Phillp died in his late thirties, in 1815.

John Phillp: a possible self portrait

The central of the three buttons is listed as 276 in Ripley & Darmanin’s English Infantry Militia Buttons 1757-1881 and as 165 in Ripley & Moodie’s Local Militia Buttons. I’ve not seen any evidence that the other two designs were ever manufactured. Presumably this one was the choice of Colonel Lord Dundas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the mid ‘seventies there was an officer’s jacket with buttons of this design on display at York Castle, attributed to the 5th North Yorkshire Local Militia, though Ripley & Moodie list this button for the 2nd NYLM. As the jacket itself was silent on the matter, while a different, unit specific, button is known for the 5th, who can tell? I made a sketch of the jacket at the Castle at the time, but since then it seems to have travelled on to the Green Howards Museum.


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.


Hard orders and ill cutting

During the period of the Great War with France, spanning the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, styles of military clothing changed at a highly accelerated pace, rapidly following equivalent transitions in civilian styles, the profile moving from hats, open lapelled coats and breeches to caps, closed jackets and trousers. This instability could produce real problems for officers responsible at the sharp end, in militia regiments as much as the regulars. Alterations introduced merely at the personal whim of the colonel were not always welcomed.

Here, in a letter preserved at Stafford Record Office, Lieutenant Colonel Sneyd of the Staffordshire Militia writes in some exasperation to his absentee Colonel, Lord Uxbridge:

Febry 9th 1794

So you are going, I understand, to make a total alteration in the Officers Uniform. I only wish that you may shew as good a taste in your second trial, as you did in the first. For certainly no uniform ever met with more general approbation than our present one has done. Had I been with you before you had come to the resolution of altering it I should most certainly have been Council for the Uniform of the Old Stafford. As it is, I shall say nothing to you upon the subject. Only that when it is done, it should be done in such a manner as to prevent Officers ever wearing the Old Regt in any case (otherwise we shall never get uniform) and I am afraid such an order may come a little hard upon some of our Officers, who cannot afford extraordinary expense.

Uxbridge may have decided to change the lace from silver to gold, which would also have necessitated new buttons, epaulettes, gorgets and sword belt plates. In the event these were not altered until 1802, so Sneyd seems to have won the argument for the time being, despite his promise to “say nothing … upon the subject.”  I’m not sure what Uxbridge’s first “trial” may have been.

Militia officers, who did not necessarily enjoy the private incomes of some of their regular counterparts, could indeed be hit hard by this sort of thing. In 1809 the Lieutenant Colonel of the Shropshire Militia estimated the cost of a militia officer’s outfit – just clothing, sword and belt, exclusive of camp equipment etc – at 57 pounds 7 shillings, equivalent to over £3000 in today’s money.

The “Uniform of the Old Stafford” is illustrated admirably in this fine miniature by John Downman, which came up for sale a while ago on the Claudia Hill site. Identified as a Lieutenant Hall, my guess is Lieutenant R G Hand, whose black hat feathers and belt plate suggest the grenadier company. It may have been painted at Warley Camp in 1782. Downman’s later, more sugary, work usually flatters the sitter, but his portraits of this period are frank and telling; he captures perfectly here a blend of vanity and vulnerability.

Hand portrait

Alterations in the men’s clothing could also create headaches, the clothiers’ cutters not always at their best with a new and unfamiliar pattern. A few years later, in an letter undated but apparently written a little before 1800, Sneyd was obliged to complain to Uxbridge about the transition from coats to the new style jackets, or perhaps from an earlier pattern of jacket to a later, the regiment’s new clothing being “ill cut” and sent late or not at all.

Miller seems to have given you an Idea, that we did not understand that the present jackets were made upon a different plan from our former cloathing. That is by no means the case. When I said they were ill cut, I did not mean to object to the plan, which I took for granted was your orders, but that they were ill cut according to that plan. Prater however has now acknowledged that they were not executed according to his wish – which is all he can do. We will therefore make as good a job as we can with them. But I am sorry to say that I have been at last obliged to give way in regard to the old cloaths – and have consented that this Day shall be the last of their wearing them – on condition they are still kept to sleep in on Guard … We still have not recd any more of the Jackets excepting what came by [?]. It is the not receiving them in time that has so totally defeated all our plans. All the fine things for the Blacks & boys of the Band are arrived, but our Taylors are so constantly employ’d & have so much work now before them, that I cannot do any thing about the Bands Cloaths.

The guilty party here was “Prater” – William Prater of Prater & Sons, operating out of his “Military Warehouse” at Charing Cross. Prater’s may have had a quality control problem, for in 1803 the Colonel of the Shropshire Volunteers complained that “Messrs Prater have not executed my Pantaloons according to pattern,” and when his regiment was reclothed in 1806 a good proportion of Prater’s breeches were found to be too small, and many items missing from the consignment.

In the case of the Staffordshire Militia, the regimental tailors were obliged not only, as usual, to fit the new clothing to the men, but also to try to make good the poor cutting, the extra work setting back the whole schedule for re-clothing, and postponing the in-house tailoring of fancy oriental suits for the black bandsmen. (See also this post.) The reference to the old clothing being retained for use on guard duty is interesting.

It was not unusual for army clothiers to cut corners, sacrificing quality to enhance their own profit margins and those of the colonels of regular or militia regiments, who claimed the full allowance from government and pocketed the difference, a regiment still being essentially, as Fortescue pointed out, a private company in the financial sense.


“… 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.

Image8
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?