Category Archives: local militia

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.

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Still more light company style

Tracking back to previous posts (here and here) on the topic of cavalry styled jackets worn by light infantry officers of militia regiments, here’s a rather remarkable jacket (currently for sale online) that confirms the trend, and with a whole lot of braiding as an extra delight. This is for an officer of the light company of Col John Silvester’s 1st Manchester Local Militia of 1808-16. The three rows of 17 buttons are braided and looped with scarlet twist, the top rows ending over the shoulder in whorls. The dark blue collar also has self coloured braid edging and loops. Though the overall cut is orthodox, these details very much give an impression of cavalry or rifles. [Click to enlarge.]

As they accumulate, these examples prompt the question of what exactly the militia was imitating here. Is it possible that officers of some light infantry regiments and companies of the line wore similar jackets? There are the famous red or grey pelisses of the 43rd of course, but the Napier portrait shows a pelisse worn with the regulation jacket. It seems unlikely that militia regiments would have had the temerity to initiate this styling, but at the moment I can’t spot any model among the regulars that they might have been following.

 


Roses by another name

For those of us accustomed to think of English county roses as the preserve of Yorkshire and Lancashire (see this post), it may come as a surprise to find that the rose has also long been a symbol of Hampshire, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire. Reasonable enough then to attribute mistakenly to Yorks or Lancs items such as the Frederick Buck miniatures of officers of the Derbyshire Militia, with their silver rectangular belt plates mounted with a crowned rose.

bonhams 2003

And here, just because I like the look of them lined up together, are a few, mostly earlier, Derbyshire militia plates, mostly from auction pages. Those without inscription are apt to be misidentified, though the rose on a shield seems to be a distinctive Derbyshire sign. (Click thumbnails for enlarged slides.)

The first two, clearly by the same hand, seem to be punched rather than engraved with a burin. Was the very regular zig zag of the shield outline made with some sort of tool like a mezzotint rocker? Officers’ stuff was so labour intensive …


Styling the light company

One day in the mid ‘seventies I wandered into what was then known as the Mappin Museum (now Weston Park) in Sheffield, biro and sketchbook in hand, and asked if they had any items of volunteer uniform. A curator was only too happy to pull all kinds of stuff out of storage and leave a scruffy hippy alone to examine and draw it; I don’t think that would happen today.

Sheff Local Mil LI jacketMy big find of the afternoon was the jacket of Captain John Brown of the light company of the Sheffield Local Militia (1808-16). I already appreciated the tendency for light company officers of the time to adopt a degree of cavalry styling, but wasn’t prepared for this rather dandyish single breasted jacket with three rows of half ball buttons.

Each row of 14 half inch plain gilt buttons was singly spaced. The scarlet jacket had very dark green (virtually black) collar and cuffs with the same buttons (in pairs on the cuffs) with dark green or black twist buttonholes. The very elongated sloping pockets carried two pairs of the buttons, with two more pairs at the rear waist and in the pleats. The white turnbacks were decorated with black bugle horns trimmed in silver on a black or dark green ground. The scarlet wings were trimmed with gilt wire, gilt fringe and a similar horn, and held by a small gilt regimental button (S/LM within a circle within a crown and rayed star).

The jacket had been given in 1940 by a Miss E M Brownell. Along with it came a fine crimson and gold barrel sash, which I had time to look at, and a sleeved waistcoat, which I didn’t but should have. According to the accession card, the waistcoat had a white back and sleeves, but a front of red and white horizontally striped cloth [!] closed by six silver plated buttons with a light infantry horn in relief. I write all this in the past tense because I have no idea whether these items are still at Sheffield. I hope they are, but for what it’s worth the Sheffield Museums online collections search doesn’t throw them up. My sketch is shown above (click to enlarge); I didn’t carry a camera in those days.

dightonThe closest thing I’ve seen to Captain Brown’s outfit is in a characterful watercolour by Robert Dighton of an officer of the light company of the South Gloucestershire Militia, c 1804, in the Royal Collection. However, the South Glosters as a whole regiment had opted for a light infantry look during this era. A note in a Pearse design book indicates that in 1799 the men’s new single breasted jackets were given three rows of buttons, like light dragoons, and though these were reduced a few years later to a single row, their jacket fronts remained crammed with buttons and laces in “a bad imitation of light cavalry”, in the words of one disapproving inspector. (The effect is shown in two watercolours of 1805 now at the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.) In the Militia List of 1813 the regiment appeared officially, if rather after the event, as light infantry and was authorised to be clothed and equipped as such. So Dighton’s showy officer is less of a light company anomaly than a regimental trend. Which makes Captain Brown’s jacket all the more noteworthy.