Category Archives: infantry

“Applicable to any emergency”: the forgotten infantry volunteers of the 1820’s

With the renewal of hostilities in 1803, the yeomanry, volunteers and armed associations of the 1790’s were revived, a little more tightly regulated. In 1808 most of the volunteers converted to local militia on the institution of that force, and in 1816 local militia and surviving volunteers alike were wound up. Or at least, that’s the standard narrative. In fact, a handful of new, postwar infantry volunteer units were raised at the end of the decade, though, like their ancestors of 1759 and 1782, they have largely escaped our attention.

In Ireland, unsettled by nationalist dissent, the volunteers had never been disbanded, and a host of loyalist corps, some founded in the 1790’s, continued to parade into the 1820’s. In Scotland and England, where economic disaster fuelled political unrest, the Peterloo events prompted a revival of the volunteer movement, but for internal policing rather than for defence against invasion. The bulk of these corps was formed in Scotland – more than twenty altogether, ranging from single companies and undersized battalions to the full regiment of Glasgow Sharpshooters. Raised in 1819 and 1820, many had faltered and disbanded by the mid twenties.

In London the Honourable Artillery Company continued its peculiarly privileged existence, but was joined in 1820 by a reformed regiment of Royal East India Volunteers, “upon the plan of the regiments maintained by the Company during the late war.” The field officers of the new formation were drawn from the Directors, company officers from officers and clerks, and the NCO’s and privates from the warehouse establishment. By Royal consent, they were to wear an updated version of “the same uniform as was fixed upon by his late Majesty” for the three earlier regiments of EIC volunteers, with Royal facings of blue, the officers’ edged with gold lace.  The regiment was expected to be “particularly valuable as a local force, applicable to any emergency in the metropolis,” but also, maybe more importantly, for “the protection of the valuable property deposited in the extensive warehouses of the Company.”

Its expenses were entirely defrayed by the EIC; by the turn of the ‘thirties these amounted to well over three thousand pounds a year, about the same as the Directors’ gratuities. With the reform of the Company’s affairs in 1834, these payments were stopped, and in March of that year the regiment was disembodied, though as a Royal favour, officers were permitted to retain their ranks and honours.

Beyond the metropolis, the other half dozen new English volunteer units were neither so prestigious nor so long lived. In Somerset, the Bath Riflemen seem to have been the first to form in 1815, surviving for at least ten years as a single company. Another company at Retford in Nottinghamshire may have been attached to the Retford Yeomanry, but was defunct by 1825. In Cheshire a similar arrangement saw a small battalion of infantry in 1819 attached to the yeomanry as the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Legion; this lasted a little longer. In Staffordshire a battalion was raised in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1819, comprising four battalion companies and one of rifles, the uniform of the former “similar to that of Soldiers of the Line”. The Newcastle Volunteers lasted until August 1823.

Something more like a cluster of volunteers was established in West Yorkshire, where the Leeds Volunteers, in a “handsome” uniform, were organised in January 1820, consisting initially of three battalion companies, one grenadier and one light infantry. In April they were joined by the neighbouring Huddersfield Independent Association, or Huddersfield Riflemen, dressed in rifle green with black facings and green epaulettes. Colours were presented to the Leeds Volunteers in July 1821, but the Leeds Light Infantry, as it was later known, was dormant by 1824. The Huddersfield companies survived a while longer.

The King’s Cheshire Volunteers fire a blank volley on the beach

Not surprisingly, very little visual evidence survives for these sparse and short lived units. The silvered officer’s button of the Leeds Volunteers (above) was drawn by Denis Darmanin in 2009 for the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society. In an exaggeratedly romantic canvas of 1824 by James Ward (go here for the full painting), an ageing Sir John Leicester exercises the Cheshire yeomanry on the sands at Liverpool; in the distance, under a suitably dramatic sky, the tiny ranks of the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Infantry, colours proudly flying, engage the passing dragoons and lancers. They are very much in the background.

In the event, the yeomanry proved more adequate than these new infantry units to the task of policing a discontented populace. With the collapse of this postwar wavelet, the volunteer movement rather subsided; not until the early 1850’s did the rifle and drill clubs emerge that would generate the volunteer explosion of 1859.

Advertisements

A bit of glory but no death: the Warrington Bluebacks

There can’t be too many surviving blue coats from the armed associations of 1798, so it’s nice to know that the Lancashire Infantry Museum has an example, previously in Warrington Museum, worn by the Loyal Warrington Volunteers of Lancashire. Their site’s image [click to enlarge all images] doesn’t quite show the whole thing, but the skirts were full length and lined dark blue, the turnbacks held by pairs of red hearts. As the “Bluebacks”, under their Captain Commandant Edward Dakin, managed to stretch themselves to an almost regimental panoply of one battalion and two flank companies, the light company would surely have worn a jacket version; headwear was a fur crested round hat, though the grenadier company wore something more “cumbrous” – presumably a fur cap.

The terms of their acceptance at first restricted their services to the defence of the streets of Warrington alone. When, at the Lord Lieutenant’s request, the battalion was consulted on extending this to an entire five mile radius of the town, the men were assembled to do an Alamo, and a chalk line was drawn on the floor. First to cross was intrepid James Ashton of the light company, crying “Come along, lads – death or glory!” To a man, they followed him, and Ashton was for evermore known by his peers as “Old Death or Glory”. In the event, the supreme sacrifice was not demanded within the prescribed ten miles.

The anecdote is told in James Kendrick’s sketch of the volunteers in the Proceedings and Papers of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire for 1854, along with much else of a florid, rhetorical and italicised nature; Doctor Kendrick concludes with a strange diatribe against teetotalism and vegetarianism (“now so rife amongst us”), presumably exemplifying the “refinement” that then threatened to sap the vitality of the youth of England. As a medical man, Kendrick should have known his onions, and perhaps the rifle volunteer movement of five years later would prove his point.


On disbandment in 1801 the colours of the Volunteers, inscribed “Pro Rege et Patria”, were placed over the altar of the parish church, but by Kendrick’s time had “disappeared”. However, some record of them must have been preserved, for they feature, along with the drums, in the background of a fine retrospective portrait of James “Death or Glory” Ashton himself, painted in 1852 by a W Taylor, now in Warrington Museum and online at the Art UK site. An aged Ashton peers grimly out at the viewer from beneath a superimposed and mildly inaccurate reconstruction of the uniform; the colours and drums, however, have a slightly more authentic look to them.


Where are the Warwickshires?

After all the gunners and Germans, back to the auxiliaries for a quick post, just in the hope that it might spark a response from somewhere …

The evidence trails left by Georgian county militia regiments are sometimes quite generous – prints, portraits, uniforms, unit histories … Odd then, that so little seems to be left, at least in the public domain beyond the archive bundles, of the Warwickshire Militia. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford’s The Story of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (1921) has a couple of pages – the usual dates of embodiment and disembodiment, names of forgotten colonels and so forth, but it’s not much. Lawson’s History of the Uniforms of the British Army cites a single inspection report, while maps of militia encampments of the 1778 to 1783 embodiment suggest that the regiment’s green facings were of a mid shade, with a bluish tinge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here then, judging by the facings and silver lace, must be a Warwickshire officer. (Click to enlarge.) The subjects of this 1763 portrait by Arthur Devis are Francis Vincent, barrister, and his wife and daughter at Weddington Hall in Warwickshire. (The painting is now at Preston, and also viewable on the Art UK site, here.)  The composition is a little strained, and Vincent, who clearly posed separately for Devis, seems detached, even a little out of scale. The date, if accurate, would correspond with the end of the regiment’s first period of embodiment and Vincent’s return to his family. The papers in his hand and on the floor clearly tell a story, but his arrival with the good(?) news has an odd solemnity, as does the gaze of Mrs Vincent as it meets the viewer.

It’s a strangely compelling image. But can it be a sole survivor? Where are there other images of the Georgian Warwickshires?


Some thoughts on the King’s German Legion

My overwhelming interest, as posts here show, is in the auxiliary forces of the Georgian period, but recent discoveries have sparked a new interest in the dress of the King’s German Legion.

I’m in the process of laying out some aspects of this in a set of pages here, beginning with some thoughts on sources, then moving on to look at elements of the dress of the Legion in the light of those.

It seems to me that it’s a matter of unravelling some of the received wisdom, revisiting some primary sources and trying to take a fresh look. If and when new information comes along, the pages will be amended. And I’m always happy to be proved wrong!

So far, ten pages: on sources, the Line Battalions, the 1st and 2nd Light Battalions, the early Light Dragoons, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Hussars, the “Heavy” Dragoons and the later Light Dragoons. Artillery and Engineers to come in due course.

Links are just to your right, at the top of the side bar, under “Pages”, or use these:

page1: some sources

page 2: Line Battalions

page 3: 1st Light Battalion

page 4: 2nd Light Battalion

page 5: Light Dragoons 1803-7

page 6: 1st Hussars 1808-16

page 7: 2nd Hussars 1808-16

page 8: 3rd Hussars 1808-16

page 9: ‘Heavy’ Dragoons 1803-13

page 10: Light Dragoons 1813-16


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.


“Soldiers of the People”: the liberty caps of the Nottinghamshire Marksmen

The tightening of nationalist, loyalist and unionist opinion in response to the loss of the American colonies was, as they say, a seismic shift in the zeitgeist of Albion between the close of the American Revolution and the height of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with France. Linda Colley, in her celebrated study Britons, has documented this convincingly, if a bit wordily. We now so much take for granted the royalist hegemony of the later years of George III that it’s easy to overlook just how progressive and egalitarian Enlightenment culture had been. In the 1790’s, waving a liberty cap in public could have got you into a spot of treasonable bother. So it’s surprising to find an English militia regiment, only ten years before, proudly flaunting this emblem as a sign of patriotic and constitutional loyalty.

In 1759, perhaps swayed by popular discontent, Nottinghamshire had declined to respond to the militia ballot by raising its regiment, preferring to pay heavy fines in lieu. In 1775, the county at last resolved to raise and embody its regiment, comprising six battalion companies and two flank under Colonel Lord George Sutton. At the time it was styled as the “Nottingham Marksmen” – a possible nod to Robin Hood, and, if so, a hint at the dissenting radicalism that marked its early years. The unusual character of the regiment was set by its first Major, John Cartwright, who designed its regimental button: a cap of liberty resting on a book, with an arm holding a drawn sword, and the motto “Pro legibus et libertate”. [Click all images to enlarge.]

Cartwright in 1789, after a painting by John Hoppner

Cartwright’s family were prominent landowners in Nottinghamshire, and had been ardent royalists during the Civil War. After retirement from a creditable naval career through ill health in 1770, he was appointed Major of the Militia in 1775, and in the general absence of the Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel, had effective charge of the regiment for some years. His progressive approach to command combined rigour with the careful avoidance of unnecessary severity; he was, for instance, one of the first officers to procure a general issue of greatcoats, for the comfort of his men.

Despite Cartwright’s military enthusiasms, he was an advanced Whig in politics, authoring many political tracts and pamphlets, including The Commonwealth in Danger of 1794, which achieved a passing notoriety. In 1791, two years after he had openly celebrated the fall of the Bastille at a London hotel, his commission was withdrawn and he was dismissed. In the post-Cartwright period, the regiment’s new buttons bore prominently the monarch’s crown, and in 1813 the “Marksmen” were re-branded as the “Royal Sherwood Foresters”.

The regiment’s Standing Orders and Instructions of 1778, though credited to Sutton on the title page, have the distinctive stamp of Cartwright’s authorship:

The great end of arming a Militia, is to defend the Nation against foreign attacks, without exposing it at the same Time to that danger to Liberty, which is justly to be apprehended from all other Military Establishments. A Militia Man is therefore, the most honourable of all Soldiers …

… What a difference! To misbehave and to be treated like a base Slave, tormented by the stings of remorse, shame, and fear: Or, to act as becomes the Defender of his country’s Liberty, and to enjoy the grand privilege of Freedom, that of living without fear of any Man.

It was with a Design to impress continually these ideas upon our Minds, that the Device and Motto, which are worn upon the Button, and borne in the Colours of the Regiment, were chosen. – The Book is an emblem of Law; and the Cap, of Liberty: so that the Device represents Liberty supported by Law, and defended by the Arms of the Militia. – The Motto in English would run thus; – “For our Laws and Liberties.” – Such a Standard no Englishman can quit but with his Life. Of a similar nature is the design which adorns the Clasps of the Officers Sword belts.

In a letter of 1775 Cartwright had written:

The militia by its institution is not intended to spread the dominion or to vindicate in war the honour of the crown, but it is to preserve our laws and liberties, and therein to secure the existence of the state. It is in allusion to this specific duty that I thought the sword held up in a posture of defence over the book, and the cap, the proper emblems of law and liberty, a suitable device.

Captain George Nevile of the grenadier company, c 1775

A sermon on The Duty and Character of a National Soldier, preached to the regiment in January 1779 on the delivery of its new colours, and published the same year, elaborates these radical Whig principles of a free militia as opposed to a standing army. The author and preacher is not credited in the published pamphlet, but the sentiments, which approach republicanism, sound very much like Cartwright:

From you is expected all the discipline, all the courage of a British Soldier, without the jealousy that awaits a standing army. You are the Soldiers of the People, more than of the Crown …

… I confess that Obedience is the sovereign duty of a soldier; but obedience to whom – first, to his God, then to his Country; next to the Laws, and last of all to his King.

In 1820 Cartwright went on trial in Warwick for his part the previous year in the “seditious” election by a large pro-reform rally in Birmingham of Sir Charles Wolseley as the city’s “legislatorial representative” or alternative MP, and was fined £100. He died in 1824, and in 1826 his Life and Correspondence was published in two volumes by his niece, Frances Dorothy Cartwright.

Lawson’s 1872 Historical Record of the Royal Sherwood Foresters states that the first colours of the regiment carried the arms of the Lord Lieutenant and those of the county; this may well have been so, but in January 1779, as already noted, the regiment was certainly presented with a pair of colours that bore Cartwright’s regimental “device”, featuring the cap of liberty.

Cartwright’s button design also included the legend “Mil. Com. Nott.”, a Latinisation of “Militia of the County of Nottingham”. The same title appears on the cap plate worn by Captain George Nevile of the Grenadier company in a fine portrait circa 1775, and also, with “Militia” in full, on the gorget of the same period. The rectangular belt plate shown in the Nevile portrait appears to show a standing figure, perhaps allegorical of Liberty. (I’m unaware of the current whereabouts of this portrait, but it’s reproduced in an article on “The 45th: 1st Nottinghamshire Regiment. The ‘Sherwood Foresters.’ Their Honours and Medals” in the British Numismatic Journal for 1913. The author is one Frank Burton, who owned both portrait and gorget.)

Inevitably, Cartwright was sympathetic to the cause of American independence. It’s hardly surprising that radical Whig notions of a free militia as the guarantee of a nation’s liberty should have fed through to those who framed that nation’s constitution. It’s only a pity that their ideals should have been subjected to such distortion in our own times.

(For a slightly later reincarnation of Robin Hood in  Nottinghamshire military circles, see this post.)


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.