Category Archives: militia

New pages on Local Militia

A quick post for a new series of pages on that most neglected category of the neglected auxiliaries – the Local Militia of 1808 to 1816. Pages set up so far are for:

Derbyshire Local Militia

Gloucestershire Local Militia

Lancashire Local Militia

Shropshire Local Militia

Staffordshire Local Militia

North Yorkshire Local Militia

West Yorkshire Local Militia

An overall introduction, with much solid general information, can be found here.

Often disregarded as the boring tail end of the volunteer movement, the Local Militia regiments present their own challenges and surprises. I don’t recall ever seeing a surviving Local Militia garment that wasn’t an officer’s – hardly surprising, as this clothing was not retained by the men but handed back into storage after each training. On the other hand, the dress followed the patterns of the existing county militia, so reconstruction is perfectly feasible. Having said this, buttons, plates and some other aspects were mostly specific to individual regiments, so the field is not without variety.

These pages are very much work in progress, and some gaps will be obvious. Corrections and new information will be put in whenever possible.

 

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“… an Uniform is very proper”: imagining the Georgian Militia

Our culture’s preoccupation with alternative histories often makes the proposal seem more fascinating than the reality. But what-could-have-been can be not just entertaining but also historically revealing. (Take, for instance, the proposed uniforms of Lieut Col John Luard, the mid-19th century military reformer, whose infantry helmets and utilitarian clothing anticipate what would be worn in 1914, but were reactions to his personal experience of what had been worn in 1814.)

Among the flurry of tracts and pamphlets of the mid 18th century arguing for a national militia in preference to a standing army, a few writers tried, in passing, to suggest what a militia man should wear. In A Proposal for a Regular and Useful Militia (Edinburgh, 1745), the anonymous pamphleteer proposed:

“As an Uniform is very proper for Troops of all Sorts, his Majesty may at the national Charge furnish the Foot with a Hat and a Frock of Blue Kersey, and the Horse with a Hat, Coat and Cloak, the Cloak of the same Colour, and the Coat of the same Cloth and Colour, to last four Years at least, to be wore always on Field Days, and on Sundays and Holydays if they please.”

If the militia of the parish was to exercise one Sunday, the same clothes might as well make a Sunday outfit for the other weeks, courtesy of the Crown. Blue was the natural choice for clothing that would emphasise civic duty and identity.

A more elaborate scheme was outlined in Samuel Martin’s A Plan for Establishing and Disciplining a National Militia in Great Britain …, (London, 1745). Martin’s militia was to be two layered: the light cavalry and infantry of a “superior militia” (men of property), and the infantry and heavy cavalry of the “subordinate militia” of the common people, the subordinate companies electing annually their officers, drawn from the superior corps. For these four classes, he proposed as follows:

I would recommend a plain scarlet dress with gilt buttons, a gold laced hat, and light boots, for the habit of the superior cavalry; for the accoutrements, such saddles as our horse-officers now use, with plain scarlet furniture; a light carbine and pistols of musquet bore …

I would recommend [for the superior infantry] only a plain blue cloath coat trim’d with gilt buttons, an hat laced with a gold lace of an inch broad, and white linen gaiters. … To admit no distinction of dress between the officers and soldiers of the militia, except the scarf or sash, seems agreeable both to oeconomy and good policy; for by that means all officers may save the needless expence of gaudy clothes, and be more secure in the day of battle, when the enemy cannot distinguish them at a distance from other men of the corps.

[The subordinate heavy cavalry] to be well mounted, arm’d, and accouter’d, as our regular horse now are, but in uniform blue, faced with red, and trim’d with white metal buttons.

I propose, that each man of the inferior infantry be cloathed in a uniform blue or green coat with white metal buttons, which may serve for a Sunday, and military dress.

… cockades of different colours may be provided for the subordinate militia, horse and foot, suitable to their ensigns, by which each regiment of the county, and each company of subordinate foot may be distinguished from others.

The well dressed militia man, from the Norfolk drawings

In places, this is not so much whimsical as far sighted, particularly on the reduction of distinctions between officers and men. Once again, blue is the dominant colour, and a Sunday best is provided for the “common people” into the bargain.

As for the reality, we know surprisingly little about the actual appearance of the new militia men of the late 1750’s; no form of regulation seems to have defined the clothing their colonels were to provide, and the allowance per private – a guinea in 1758, raised to 30 s in 1760 – was, as J R Western points out in his exhaustive political history, The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century (1965), barely enough for a coat and hat. The classic image is provided by the plates in George, Viscount Townshend and William Windham’s A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk (London, 1759). I guess that the pleasingly fluent drawings may be by Townshend, an amateur artist and cartoonist, as well as a friend of the militia cause. They show something much simpler and more economical than the dress of the regular: a single breasted coat with simple three button slash cuffs and pockets, and a hat with no lace. This unembodied private has not even yet spent his “marching guinea” on a pair of gaiters. (The coat buttoning – one at the throat, two mid chest, three at the waist – seems odd, but is shown consistently thus.)

So much for Norfolk, but that doesn’t mean that other regiments were clothed exactly the same. Later descriptions of their initial clothing tend to be vague and unsourced, and may be unreliable, so it’s hard to know. At any rate, within the space of a re-clothing their appearance became assimilated to that of the regulars, while during long periods of wartime embodiment the militia became, in effect, a second standing army.

Such reformist enthusiasm for cheaper, simpler clothing found an echo twenty years later in a brief vogue for “light uniform” or “drill dress”, the trending thing among the county militias at Coxheath camp in 1778; the West Yorkshire regiment were reported in

a very neat white uniform, turned up with light green, which we hear was presented to them by her Majesty.

While the Duke of Devonshire awarded the Derbyshires with

a light Uniform which will be their Property when they depart, and which particularly serves them during their Encampment on Account of its Lightness.

Shortly after, in one of his semi-mystical pro-militia pamphlets (Tracts, Concerning the Ancient and Only True Legal Means of National Defence, by a Free Militia, London, 1781), the radical Whig and abolitionist Granville Sharp, among his proposals for reform of the problematic City of London militia, proposed a universal drill dress:

The Appearance, also, of the City Militia might be rendered more respectable, by the addition of drill-jackets, with some proper distinction of uniform facings, to denote the ward or district of each company.

And indeed, as I noted in this post, we find at that time the London Associators in a white drill dress faced blue, and the Newgate Street Association in white faced orange. Such a cheap, light and practical style of clothing might have made a sensible default outfit across all auxiliary forces, but it was not to be; subsequent generations of associators and volunteers found their own sartorial route, while the white jackets of the militia were put aside for fatigue wear, and became “slop dress”.


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?


Even more light company style, continued …

Several earlier posts here (links below) have looked at the distinctive cavalry-oriented styling of light company officers’ jackets, chiefly in the Militia. On the premise that someone out there might be as curious about this fashion as I am, here are a couple more examples, both of the North Gloucestershire Militia, and both from the Hawkes tailor’s book at the National Army Museum. (Thanks to Ben Townsend for access to these images. Click to enlarge.)

First up is a double breasted jacket (dark blue facings) with two rows of 15 buttons, embroidered motifs on collar and pointed cuffs, and unusual bastion pointed turnbacks edged in a narrow blue velvet ribbon. The drawing has been updated with a pencil scrawl: “This Jacket wrong, altered to SB 3 Rows Buttons  twist holes on each forepart.”

And sure enough, a later page shows the new single breasted pattern. This sports three rows of 18 “worked” holes, but with only 15 buttons on the outer rows, instructions being given for the top three to “die” under the wing and strap, which is not fully shown in the drawing. The pointed cuffs bear four buttons, one on the blue cuff and three above, with holes as inverted chevrons. The wings are specified as scarlet embroidered in silver, and silver embroidered bugles mark the turnbacks.

As a bonus, a pencil sketch tucked into the corner shows the accompanying waistcoat. (Such waistcoats are rarely pictured.) This is captioned: “White Quilting waistcoat trim’d Russia Braid sugar Loaf Buttons.” I assume the braid was white. The drawings shows 21 buttons (so 63 in total) , loops terminating in a crow’s foot, and three “eyes” in the braiding to the front of the collar. You can’t have too many buttons on a good waistcoat.

Previous posts on this topic show comparable jackets for the Manchester Local Militia,  the Beverley Volunteers, the Sheffield Local Militia and South Gloucestershire Militia. What appears to be a similar jacket for the 21st Foot is discussed here.


“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.


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.