Category Archives: tailors

‘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.


A dress coat of the Grimston Hussars

Here’s a rather beautiful item I can’t resist posting, which bobbed up unexpectedly during some recent routine browsing. It was lot 56 in the vast and remarkable historic fashion collection of California collector Helen Larson, sold a year ago by Charles A Whitaker Auctions of Philadelphia, and was, I think, the single military item in the collection, most – or all? – of which seems to have been bought by the FIDM Museum of Los Angeles. Described simply as an anonymous “red wool military coat”, it is in fact an example of that rather overlooked garment, a light cavalry officer’s dress coat, and the buff facings and lining, the silver and buff braid, and the crown and “GY” buttons tie it incontrovertibly to the Grimston Yeomanry of East Yorkshire, the 1803 revival of the earlier East Riding Yeomanry detailed on this page. [Click to enlarge all images.]

When the light dragoon field uniform was radically replaced by a jacket and shell in 1784, the officer’s dress coat remained as prescribed in 1768, though now in dark blue. This oddity was ironed out in 1788, when a new dress coat was introduced; a fine drawing of an 11th Light Dragoons example of 1798, in the Welch and Stalker pattern book at the V&A, shows the new style to have been a version of the 1784 jacket, but with longer skirts and full double turnbacks edged with two rows of braid. (For the texts of the 1784 and 1788 orders, see Hew Strachan’s indispensable British Military Uniforms, pages 112 and 115.) This was certainly an update, but meanwhile the officer’s jacket had moved on to the 1796 closed “hussar” style, leaving the coat still a step behind the fashion curve. Two other drawings in Welch and Stalker, both for yeomanry dress coats of 1801 and 1803, show that the final version of the coat used the richly laced and buttoned jacket style front, but keeping the full skirts, with those curious three branched pendant ornaments introduced on the 1784 jacket.

And that’s what we have here. A skirt ornament (a silver star between script “GY”) has gone, and the scarlet is patched here and there, but it’s still a breathtaking item: the heavy silver braid, interwoven with buff, is particularly impressive, and on the cuffs and turnbacks the double edging is laid onto a scarlet “galloon” to show a scarlet light, which is real quality. It’s the only surviving garment I know of for the 1803 Grimston Yeomanry, or “Grimston Hussars” as they also liked to be known. (It could even be the very coat referred to by William Vaughan, tailor to Captain Thomas Grimston, when he enquired if the new “scarlet regimental frock” should “be made Hussar fashion, same as the last.” ) Is it the sole surviving light cavalry dress coat of its type?

Offhand, I’m really not sure how long these coats lasted in the regular light cavalry; for a start, they seem to have been abandoned by regiments converting to Hussar status. I have a vague recollection of an order prescribing them to be worn with cocked hats, breeches and shoes for “court” occasions – or was that for riflemen? Same thing, I guess. Feel free to set me right.


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.

 


King’s German Legion revisions

My KGL cavalry pages have seen some fairly extensive revision, correction and expansion lately – particularly those for the Hussar regiments and the Light Dragoons of 1813, which, though I say it myself, are now looking fairly comprehensive. Or as comprehensive as the evidence allows. If more information arrives, it will be added. The menu for these pages is in the sidebar to your right, or up the top and drop down.

As pages here in WordPress Land are not tagged, this post is just a way to throw some tags and images at Google, hopefully to allow searchers to discover the pages in question. Otherwise, please ignore this and carry on …


New jackets for the artillery

(This post revamped and extended August 30.)

My revisionist trawl through the dress of the King’s German Legion (ten pages so far, artillery and engineers still to come – menu to your right) has thrown up some small surprises along the way; the more you think you know, the less you really do.

What jackets, for example, did artillery officers adopt with the great uniform shift of 1811-12? All the secondary sources seem to show something with an extended lapel and bags of heavy gold embroidery, often including a loop diagonally at the top, as here in what I think must be a photo from an old JSAHR.

Interesting then that three period tailor’s books show instead for “Foot Artillery” officers a blue jacket with a pointed “strap” lapel, with scarlet facings, turnbacks included, and gold Russia braid loops terminating in crow’s feet. Versions here [below] are from Stothard’s “Rigementals” (Anne S K Brown), a copy of the Hawkes pattern book, and the Buckmaster “Old Regulation” book (the last two at the National Army Museum, with thanks to Ben Townsend for sharing images). There are slight variations: Hawkes shows eight loops in the length of the lapel but the others nine, the scrappy Buckmaster sketch loses the outer two crow’s feet over the buttons at the rear hip, while Stothard alone shows both rear and side seams, and so on. But the broad extent of agreement is impressive. [Click images for slides / enlargements.]

The relative economy of the braid means that this has to be an undress jacket, and it was indeed worn, as shown by this detail from an Occupation print (Le Bon Genre 83) – ten loops down the lapel, but otherwise a perfect match. Two other period images of what may be a variant version of this jacket are attributable to the KGL, and will be discussed on their forthcoming Artillery page.

Le Bon Genre

If this was the undress, what of the dress version? Of the three tailor’s sources, Hawkes alone appends this note: “The Dress Jacket richly Emb[roidere]d with Gold.” And indeed, I find in the Meyer ledger [see KGL pages and posts passim] that a lieutenant of a foot battery of the King’s German Legion ordered in 1814 “An embd Regtl jacket”.  “Embroidered” here has to mean hand embroidered gold loops, doesn’t it? An expensive option, which set our lieutenant back almost £20 – a cool £1280 in today’s money, according to one online historical inflation calculator.

Hamilton Smith

On a related tack, what’s this [above] that Charles Hamilton Smith shows in his 1812-ish chart for the Horse Artillery? Red lapels with braid loops – “unaccountably” according to the commentary by Philip Haythornthwaite, who rightly denies that such a thing was ever worn. Though the crow’s feet, or eyes or whatever, seem to be at the wrong edge of the lapel, this image has to be related to our foot artillery officers’ jackets above, even though it shows what Smith thought the other ranks were supposed to wear. Could it be that a proposed Horse Artillery pattern crept in, only to be dropped by the Clothing Board after Smith’s chart had gone to press?

So it seems, for William Stothard’s notebook also contains, without commentary, this fascinating drawing [below] of a new pattern jacket for officers of the “Horse Artilleory”[sic], in full 1811 light dragoon style, complete with rear pleats and fringe, and a strap lapel with braid loops as per the foot artillery. It becomes obvious that the light dragoon lapel (one button in the top strap, then a gap, then the rest) is the missing style link that explains the form of our foot artillery jacket lapels, both braided and laced.

Stothard’s “Horse Artilleory” jacket (Anne S K Brown Collection, Brown University Library)

So what became of the “”Horse Artilleory” jacket? In the event and by whatever rationale, this slightly left-field idea of the Prince Regent’s was quietly kicked into the long grass, and the RHA kept a proud grip on their existing multi-looped dolmans, as retained even today by the King’s Troop.

As a postscript, here’s a related puzzle – a detail from a watercolour by Denis Dighton in the Royal Collection, dated 1813, showing gunners of the Royal Artillery in lapelled jackets modelled on those of their officers, complete with a diagonal loop of lace at the top. (The lace in this image has a goldish cast but can only be intended for yellow, surely? The shape of the loops – square ended, pointed or perhaps even bastion – is not really clear. The inverted lace triangle on the rear skirts is an odd touch, too.) Such jackets were never worn, so why does Dighton show them? As a record of a proposed pattern for the other ranks that never saw the light of day?