A quick post to cement into Google some tags for my new volunteers page, this time on 1790’s West Yorkshire. Separate to the page on association infantry of the West Riding, this covers the first two waves of infantry volunteers of Barkstone Ash, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Knaresborough, Leeds, Pontefract, Ripon, Rotherham, Sheffield, Wakefield and York, with some substantial text and over fifty images. Even so, it’s far from the last word, but may be of interest to someone.
Category Archives: colours
Despite the attentions of collectors on the one hand and genealogists on the other, general interest in the history and appearance of Britain’s auxiliary forces of the Georgian and Napoleonic periods – militia, volunteers, yeomanry – remains low. There’s no prospect, for instance, of any Osprey titles in the area, simply because not enough would sell. And I have that from the horse’s mouth.
What to do, then, with the files I’ve accumulated over the years on the dress and equipage of the militia, volunteers and yeomanry of the period from my chosen counties – Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Cheshire, Gloucestershire? There’s still much to be done on these: many gaps remain and many sources, particularly archival, are still unexplored and likely to stay that way. But what I have so far may as well be aired and shared here in a more comprehensive form than the occasional mini post.
So here’s a small start, with more to come, bit by bit. These pages certainly don’t claim to be the final word. If anything, they serve to demonstrate how little is known, especially about the more obscure and ephemeral units. But anything is better than nothing. And corrections and additions will always be welcome!
Links here below, or up the top (drop down), or via the Pages menu at the right.
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.
Since when has the white rose been the badge of Yorkshire? From the dawn of Time? Since the Plantagenets, at least? Not so, given the useful deconstruction on the site here: the House of York had no physical correlation with Yorkshire, the Yorkshiremen of the 51st Foot wearing white roses at Minden in 1759 seems to be an unattributable myth, dear old Sir Walter Scott coined the term “Wars of the Roses” in 1829, and so on. The white rose was, like tartan, a Victorian invention, then?
In fact, this badge of local identity seems to have more to do with the consolidation of regional military pride encouraged by the development of home defence forces during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Royal approval of the use of the white rose by Yorkshire militia regiments was formally granted in 1811, but this merely consolidated existing practice.
The Museum of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at Doncaster has a number of colours of the 1st West Yorkshire Militia, which were restored in 1998 with Heritage Lottery Fund help. Among them is this particularly interesting regimental colour. The reverse of the dark green field carries a wreath typical of the post-1800 period, its discreet shamrocks complementing the St Patrick’s cross in the Union. But where the regimental title might be expected to be, at the centre of the wreath, perhaps on a small shield shape, there is now just a greyish conservator’s patch, indicating that whatever was once at the centre has been damaged or cut out. In its place (though now unattached) is a hefty padded white rose, shaded grey and edged in blue.
It seems likely to me that this rose replaced the central regimental title on the original form of the colour, requiring the regimental identity to be added in the form of the two scrolls below; these could well be done by a different hand. If so, this alteration may have taken place in 1804, for in March of that year, after some discussion of a possible new cap plate for the regiment, Adjutant Butterfield informed Colonel Earl Fitzwilliam that “I have returned the Brass Plates, and ordered the White Rose in their stead.” In November 1807, when a new draft of men from the Supplementary Militia joined the regiment, Butterfield noted: “I have ordered 300 Felt Caps and White Roses.”
In George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire, the well known image of a grenadier of the 1st West Yorkshire Militia includes a battalion man in the background who clearly wears a white rose on his cap. Walker’s album of prints was published in 1814, but internal evidence suggests that many of the drawings were done several years earlier. (Officers’ buttons and belt plates of this era also carry the rose, but precise dating of these is difficult.)
So if the white rose of Yorkshire is not as ancient a symbol as we might imagine, neither is it quite as modern as some suppose.
It seems likely that this colour is one of the pair recorded in a regimental history as deposited at Pontefract in 1853 on the reorganisation of the 1st West York, but Doncaster Museum now has no record of how and when it was acquired. Nor can the Museum identify the matching King’s colour, though a Union colour of the same era inscribed simply “G III R” with a crown seems to me to be the most likely candidate. Both colours are now “shut away and … extremely difficult to access”, meaning that the designs of their obverses are currently unknown. No disrespect to Doncaster, and I’m the first to sympathise with the pressures under which museum staff are now obliged to work in the UK, but it’s a worry when museums lose track of the identity and provenance of unique treasures in their keeping. A little basic record keeping goes a long way.