Category Archives: head-gear

‘Fashioning Regulation’ plus Shropshire Militia riflemen

It’s nice to be proved right occasionally. In December I predicted that the only thing better than Volume 1 of Ben Townsend’s Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion, his in-depth study of British uniforms of 1800-1815, would be Volume 2. And so it is, with no insult intended to the first. A good hundred pages longer, this time the coverage is deepened, but the high standard maintained and exceeded. The transcribed documents of the yearly ‘Regulation’ chapters are even more fully and thoughtfully contextualised, while the alternating essay-type chapters are symmetrically packed with supporting documents. This is a real encyclopaedia of its
subject.

The central focus this time is the Prince Regent’s regulation of 1812, which, for better or worse, comprehensively Europeanised the appearance of his army. Every conceivable piece of evidence on this aspect has been included, and it’s fascinating, for instance, to see the Carlton House descriptions of pattern caps and helmets set against what was finally chosen.

Other discussions include undress clothing (highly useful), officers’ greatcoats and ‘long’ pelisses (ground breaking), the minefield of confusing legwear (excuse the mixed metaphor) and the revelatory evidence of the many prints of British soldiers produced during the Occupation of Paris – previously dismissed as fanciful satires but now opened up as a major new source on what was really worn.

Brilliant stuff, and available now from Helion Books. No doubt it will be discounted in due course – Helion’s books seemingly always are – but is it worth the lengthy wait? I didn’t think so, and I’m pleased I didn’t. I shall be referring to this book for years to come.

A final note – a page is now uploaded here with a fairly tight case study of the rifle companies of the Shropshire Militia, from their formation in 1810. Click here to find it, or try the usual links round the edge. The rest of the Shropshire regiment may follow at some point, but it’s a major task, as much of the evidence – all of it in the case of the rifles – is archival, and putting it together involves juggling an awful lot of snippets from correspondence, bills, invoices, returns etc. And not many pictures.

The Shropshire rifle companies are interesting. Hosting riflemen within an existing regiment may have influenced some aspects of dress, particularly that of the buglers. Or the ‘Bugle Blowers’ as Sergeant Jones the regimental tailor liked to call them …


A mystery volunteer

Here’s an unusual miniature, courtesy of its owner, Guido Smoglian, who is looking to identify the corps in question.

The musket, bayonet, and brush and picker indicate a private, while the uniform has to be that of a volunteer of the 1803 generation. The double breasted jacket might suggest an officer’s, but is a style known for a minority of volunteer corps. As for what looks something like an epaulette on the right shoulder, I admit I’m puzzled, unless what’s intended is a shoulder strap with a gold lace edge and fringe – again, a known volunteer affectation.

The use of a waist belt, with a lion’s head clasp, is unusual. We have a fine view of the 1800 cap, with what may be a generic plate with a crowned garter and cypher, but with bespoke initials – “LWV” in script – in the lower panel. The buttons show the same lettering.

The only traceable corps with exactly these initials is the Lackenheath (Lakenheath) and Wangford Volunteers, who did indeed have blue facings. But of course the “L” may well be for “Loyal”, which opens up the field to include Whitehaven, Withington, Warrington and Wigan, all with blue facings but omitting other W’s with silver lace or unknown facing colours. No button of this design or close seems to be known with a viable identification.

My hunch is for Warrington or Wigan, given that Philips’ First Manchester Battalion of “Fourth Class” volunteers wore a jacket of this cut. But it is entirely a hunch!

Can anyone help us with this identification?


A Very Modern War – plus Staffordshire Yeomanry

It’s generally recognised that the Great War against France of 1793-1815 was a truly globalised affair, involving conflict from Canada to the Cape, from Buenos Ayres to Batavia, from Sweden to Seringapatam. A World War, in fact.

But it was also, in many aspects, and despite later rival claims, the first truly modern war – as these period snippets might help to illustrate:

Meanwhile, just one new page on this site to tag here – on the Staffordshire Yeomanry of 1794 to 1826. It’s a bit of a monster, given that visual evidence is short, archival evidence is lengthy, and I’ve tried to overhaul the whole topic in some detail. Goodness knows who’ll want to trawl through, but anyway it’s there, as a point of reference.


‘Can we not fight without dying in tinsel?’ Plus new pages

Hostile reaction to the “muffeteer” styling of the newly converted Hussar regiments of the British army is knowingly and entertainingly discussed within Ben Townsend’s chapter on “The Rise, Wobble and Triumph of the Hussar Craze” in his excellent Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion, Vol 1, published earlier this year by Helion. (Incidentally, if you’re into British uniforms of 1800-15 and you haven’t bought this book, do so. Right now. The only thing better will be Volume 2.)

This bizarre episode in military couture has much to offer researchers in historical gender studies, appearing to some as an outburst of “effeminacy”, and “foreign” to boot. But there are other interesting strands, too. Here’s a prolonged rant – or at least some selected passages – that I happened across while trawling the papers, by “AN OFFICER … and a decided enemy to extravagance”, submitted to the Editor of the Tyne Mercury, Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette for 28 January 1806:

Good God! are our Colonels, and even some of our Generals, fit for nothing but to be master taylors? Instead of studying military tactics, languages, or the geography of their country, they are inventing the pattern of a cuff or a pantaloon, or admiring (like a woman), their head-dress in the glass, at the same time ruining the fortunes, expectations, credit, and character of their inferior officers …

On [a light dragoon] officer joining now, he must provide himself, (can it be believed?) with no less than four different head dresses; namely, the real useful, but at present discarded and unfashionable helmet; a most expensive hussar cap; an immense cocked hat; and a fine superbly laced foraging or watering cap … how truly ridiculous it is to see our modern light dragoons strutting about with immense heavy dragoon cocked hats, like sparrows without tails …


… I will next proceed to the jacket, pelisses, and pantaloons. Look at an officer in them. Why, his fortune is on his back, or they are not paid for – one or the other. He is nothing but lace before and behind, up to the elbows and down to the knees … Then to be completely an hussar, an officer must have gold lace and embroidered cartouch belts and boxes, sabre or sabel tashes, and belts, expensive hussar sashes, two or three swords and sword knots, a pair of spurs for every pair of boots, shabrackes and rich horse accoutrements; and some regiments (can it be credited!) have their regimental pipes and tobacco pouches, and even the very whiffing of their tobacco is regulated by the movement of the commanding officer when they are on the parade, according to whichever flank he moves to; the same as eyes right, eyes left, it is, whiff right, whiff left …

… an officer now on joining one of those regiments, must have a ready money fortune of 3 or 400 guineas at least, to enable him to equip himself, or he will know the consequence in a short time … An officer of the old school would never comprehend, and would be astonished at the recapitulation of the jawbreaking names of our new fashioned foreign frippery. Can we not fight without dying in tinsel?

Let us resume our helmets like English dragoons. Let us cast off our foppery. Let us be armed for war, not for parade and show … Let us banish effeminacy far away … Then we shall not be ruined in our fortunes and our character … and we shall cast away all our superfluous articles, or make a present of them to the theatres. What else are they fit for?

The Hussar pipe craze is well documented, but was there anything behind the allegation of “whiffing” by numbers on parade? As for the charge of extravagance, Ben tabulates in his book numerous prices extrapolated from the Meyer tailor’s ledger that easily substantiate this: an officer of the 7th Hussars obliged to part with £57 in 1810 for just a jacket, pelisse, waistcoat, pantaloons and overalls, let alone all the rest of his necessary kit, would have to fork out £4,522 in today’s money, according to the Bank of England’s handy online inflation calculator. Nor were the auxiliaries immune to foppish posing, as suggested by the rather nice etching above by Colonel Thomas, Lord Grantham, of the court dress of the Yorkshire Hussars.

Speaking of Yorkshire, there are two more new pages on this site; they cover the North Yorkshire Militia of 1759-1820 (quite extensively), and (a bit more unevenly) Lancashire yeomanry and association cavalry of 1797-1828. The North York page touches, among other things, on the vexed issue of the regiment’s legendary (or urban legendary?) green clad “riflemen” of 1795. Were they or weren’t they? It’s a niche topic, but there’s no niche so tiny that no-one takes an interest.


Truth, beauty and Percy Reynolds. Plus more Militia!

Browsing back numbers of the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (JSAHR), I found some musings by that peerless compiler and illustrator, Perceval W Reynolds – a sort of uniformological stock take, blandly titled “Our present knowledge of past British uniform dress”. This was in 1927, back in the days when the JSAHR was crammed with historical uniform stuff, and not the highfalutin academic publication it is today. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.)

As a reminder, here’s a couple of Percy Reynolds’ fine watercolours (photos courtesy of Ben Townsend). I’ve never come across an image of PWR himself, so it’s hard to imagine the man, though I have the impression of a scrupulous and shrewdly intelligent mind, more inclined to the technical than to the philosophical. But rounding off his survey of the various sources of information available to the uniform researcher, Reynolds doesn’t hesitate to address the philosophical elephant in the room: why do we even bother? What’s the point of it all?

‘Finally, it may be asked, of what use is the more exact knowledge of the former costumes, when acquired? Of course the main purpose is to elucidate the truth for its own sake, because one is interested in what the bygone soldiers looked like, as well as in how they were trained, and what they achieved.’

There we are. Truth for truth’s sake, end of. I don’t suppose Reynolds was much aware of Freud, and this was decades before before the real advent of semiotics, so he was hardly able to flag up any deeper meanings that could justify his life’s work. Perhaps he looked into the abyss of pointlessness and recoiled, for he goes on, a bit hastily, to chuck in a couple of subsidiary reasons that don’t really cut it: one, knowledge of historical changes may shed light on current developments, and two, identification of a uniform can help to identify portraits where the sitter’s name has been lost to time. Both valid enough in their way, but mere nuts to crack an ontological sledgehammer, I think.

The real force of Reynolds’ comments is in his implication that the truth about anything, no matter how seemingly arcane or insignificant, must have an absolute value. And because of this, much of his discussion of material items, images or documents as evidence is necessarily given over to their weaknesses, to the many ways in which they can betray or distort the historical truth. In this respect, secondary sources are certainly not to be trusted:

‘Everyone who investigates a subject of this kind, also finds that a small portion of what comes before him has to be rejected as mere invention or fabrication, and that a rather large portion is confused or mistaken. He has, in fact, involuntarily to compile a sort of footnote to that “History of Human Error” which a character in one of Bulwer Lytton’s novels was supposed to be writing. In briefly surveying the several classes set out, it is needful therefore to note the traps and uncertainties peculiar to each of them.’

He’s right. Only last night I made the mistake of downloading to my Kindle an e-book on AWI British and Loyalist uniforms that turned out to be no more than an indiscriminate collage from secondary sources, without a single primary reference or period image. That was two quid I won’t get back. I ought to know better.

So, in the spirit of Perceval R, here are five more pages on my chosen Militia regiments:

Cheshire Militia 1759-1816

Gloucestershire: Royal North Gloucestershire Militia (2nd or Gloucestershire Fuzileers) 1760-1814

Gloucestershire: Royal South Gloucestershire Militia (1st) 1759-1816

Warwickshire Militia 1759-1814

East Yorkshire Militia 1760-1816

One or two of these are a bit on the thin side, others far more comprehensive. None are in any sense definitive or complete, whatever that might mean. But as information accumulates on these neglected regiments, it begins to cohere on the page, and with that gathering coherence lost truths from our past are reassembled. Which makes, as John Keats suggested, for a kind of beauty.


‘Every Tailour knows these things’ – plus three new Militia pages

A few posts on this site (here, here and here) have drawn upon a rich but sometimes enigmatic tailor’s note book in the Anne S K Brown Collection at Brown University, titled “Rigementals”[sic] and apparently the work of one William Stothard, circa 1813. (It has also informed many of my King’s German Legion pages.) Stothard’s background is not known, but he was certainly familiar with officers’ clothing produced by London tailors from 1811. A number of items in the book can be tied to entries in the ledger of Jonathan Meyer, and it’s possible that Stothard was at some point employed by Meyer, or perhaps apprenticed to him, or at least allowed to have a nose around and make copious “Memorandoms”.

Anne S K Brown Collection, Brown University Library

Stothard’s drawings are crisp, detailed and accurate. His written notes are vernacular to a Dickensian level, and although you can almost hear his spoken voice behind the phonetics, it makes for some tricky reading at times. In addition to the seventy or so items of uniform recorded, many ornate and complex, Stothard includes a set of “Rules” for a military tailor, which makes interesting reading, even for those (like me) who can’t even thread a needle. Here’s the opening part, transcribed directly:

Tailours Rules for the Prince Reg.nt Regulation. 1813

Coates Jackets or Pantlones. A Coate being given in to be Baisted up should be marked properly if not otherways Ardered, do. for the Imbroidereys. The linings should be Baisted in Rongside oughtward for fear of Getting dirty; All Button stays should come from the Button to the front where hooks & eyes is wanted, & turn in the front, all hooks & eyes on Coates should be put on with A strip of Brown Holland other linen, abought three or four inches long, to ceepe them to their places. Thick things should be well stayed: thin things lightly stayed. All white things given in should be cept so White. Lace given in should be cept cleen. Figurin Braide should be passed up from the little finger to the thum, and the end braide inward should be used, the braide should lay cosey on the knee, Nighther two much ought nor two much in; All broade Lace should be Waxed Before it his Cut …

And so on. But here’s my attempt at a translation:

Coats, jackets or pantaloons. A coat being given in to be basted up should be marked properly if not otherwise ordered, ditto for the embroideries. The linings should be basted in wrong side outward for fear of getting dirty.

All button stays should come from the button to the front where hooks and eyes is wanted, and turn in the front. All hooks and eyes on coats should be put in with a strip of brown Holland or other linen, about three or four inches long, to keep them to their places. Thick things should be well stayed, thin things lightly stayed.

All white things given in should be kept so, white. Lace given in should be kept clean.

Surgeon’s coat (Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library)

Figuring braid should be passed up from the little finger to the thumb, and the end braid inward should be used. The braid should lay cosy on the knee, neither too much out nor too much in. All broad lace should be waxed before it is cut. Cushions should be made on lace to turn downwards, all the points in. A First Guards dress flap should be cushions, though sometimes they are seamed, in the bottom point. Broad lace should never be seamed, only where there is one point such as the forearm of a dragoon’s lace cuff, or the frame of pantaloons of one inch or two inch laces.

To mark the figure for pantaloons [you] should find the nape of the knee, draw a line from the centre to the top. Ditto for sleeve.

All large figures should be marked with white ink and [the] pen should be good. Fancy patterns should be first drawn on paper then pricked with a pin. The pattern should be laid on where it is wanted and pinned on. The pipe clay should be finely scraped on then rubbed over with a brush. The pattern should be took off and the ink put on. That makes it plain to put on the braid. The pattern is best pricked with a pin. To make white ink dissolve one pennyworth of gum Arabic and one pennyworth of white lead. If too thick or too thin adulterate it accordingly. On stocking [it] is very bad to stick. On thin stocking it should be made [to] stick the best.

All plush linings to regimentals should run upwards and other linings downwards.

Mark 14 regular [i.e. buttons] for 10 by pairs. Mark 11 for 8 by pairs, 10 for 7.

Every tailor knows these things, etc. William Stothard.

Some of this may be of real interest to anyone involved in the re-creation of period uniform or costume. Next time you mark out an Austrian knot on your pantaloons you’ll know exactly how to set about it. I like the bit about spacing buttons in pairs; for eight, mark out eleven and miss out every third button. It works! As every tailor knows …

On a more familiar note, there are three more Militia pages now up and running here, for the First and Second West York from 1759 to 1816, and for the Third from 1797, plus two even shorter-lived “Supplementary” regiments. White roses in plenty.


Still more new pages …

Another plug with tags, for three more new pages here. Normal posts will be resumed as soon as possible.

Two pages on more volunteers of 1803 – infantry volunteers of Cheshire and infantry and artillery of North Yorkshire.

And a first page – a pilot, really – in what may become a short series on the principal yeomanry corps of my chosen counties from the 1790’s to the 1820’s, beginning with the regiment of Warwickshire Yeomanry. (Smaller, independent cavalry units may be found within the general volunteer pages.)


More new pages: Gloucestershire, Liverpool and Warwickshire volunteers

Another plug, with tags, for more new volunteer pages on this site –

A new 1790’s page for Gloucestershire

Three new 1803 pages for  – Gloucestershire (excepting Bristol), Liverpool and Warwickshire

The 1790’s Gloucestershire page includes Bristol volunteers, but the 1803 Gloucestershire page doesn’t, purely for reasons of space. (A Bristol 1803 page could appear somewhere down the line.) The 1803 Warwickshire page includes Birmingham. Volunteer infantry, infantry associations, rifles and some artillery corps are covered here, but yeomanry and association cavalry are not.

Stretches of these pages are a bit thin in places, mainly where info on small and obscure one or two company corps, based in a village and officered by the local squirearchy, has been lost to time. But the city entries tend to make up for that, and I hope the pages will be a useful resource. If I can add to them, I will.

Links also appear in the usual places – up above and in the right hand margin.


New pages: Local Militia, volunteers of 1803

A quick post to flag up (and put down some tags for) a few new uniform pages added to my series for auxiliary forces:

For the Local Militia, pages on East Yorkshire and Worcestershire. And the start of a new set on the volunteers of 1803, beginning with Manchester and West Yorkshire, with a brief introductory page here.

Not the last word on their subjects, by any means, but they’re a start. And with more areas to come, as time allows. Meanwhile, existing pages have had small updates from time to time. As usual, links to pages from Home are either by the tabs up the top, or the Page listing at the right. Sample slide show below.

 


Who’s this? And what’s that hat?

Postscript – Man in Hat identified!

Many thanks to Ralph C Spears, whose comment down below deserves pride of place up top here. Ralph writes:

I am pretty sure that the sergeant in the painting in “Who’s this? And what’s that hat?” is a member of the Northumberland Militia c 1803. See an image of the plate in JSAHR Vol 66 (1988) Page 97. The castle shown on the belt plate is Alnwick. The facings of the Northumberland Militia was light buff.

And so indeed it proves, and here’s the plate in question. “NORTH” is actually “NORTHD” for Northumberland. And here’s an officer’s plate for comparison, courtesy of Paul Bantick.

The character of the hat is still a curiosity. While the black belt suggests that the Colonel accepted the tan leather accoutrements supplied by the Ordnance to Militia, rather than replacing them with whitened buff, as many did. And I still wonder why a sergeant would have had such a professional portrait done. Is he a figure of significance?

Anyway, here’s the original post …

*          *          *

Here’s a characterful little portrait – almost Falstaffian – lifted from the Art UK site, but held at Scarborough Art Gallery, where it is titled as “Major Tindall” and dated to circa 1745. That’s half a century too early, I think. Nor is this an officer. And the Lieutenant Colonel Tindall who commanded the Scarborough Volunteers of 1794 and 1803 (if that’s the thinking here) would have worn black facings. So who is it?


The single breasted jacket and the queued hair without powder suggest circa 1800 or a bit later, the black belt suggests a volunteer of the 1803 generation, and the sword suggests a sergeant, despite the absence of chevrons. The buff facings might indicate the volunteers of the neighbouring East Riding of Yorkshire, from among whom the word “North” on the belt plate might designate the North Holderness Volunteers – the only volunteer corps in the North or East Riding with that word in their title. (And North Holderness is only a stone’s throw from Scarborough.) The plain lace loops might be for a sergeant or a volunteer style as discussed in this post. (The lace here appears buff rather than white, though no regulation supports that for a sergeant of a buff faced corps.)

So, a sergeant of the North Holderness – well, maybe, though I could be well off target. But the whole effect is strangely agricultural. Wouldn’t you button up your jacket for a portrait? And how many sergeants could afford to have themselves limned for posterity, and by quite a competent painter, too? And what’s with the hat? Were no dress caps available? It has the look of an old hat cut down for a forage cap, with just a flap surviving to fold up at the back. So why the lone button at one side, and the feather (and cockade?) at the other? And was a castle emblematic of the Holderness area?
Skipsea Castle (demolished)? Flamborough (virtually
demolished)? I’m not convinced.

In the unlikely event that anyone stumbling across this can shed any further light, I’d love to hear about it.