Category Archives: uniforms

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.

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Bringing out the big guns: the Percies’ wall pieces

This rather wonderful watercolour (click all images to enlarge) turned up on eBay a while ago, offered as a scene of unidentified military training. (The seller’s “watermark” still disfigures the cropped details further below, but I’ve cleaned up the full image digitally, if a bit amateurishly. Enough to give us some idea of the original, anyway.)


The cap insignia and the pantaloons, or “gaiter-trousers”, of white duck are the give-aways. These solemn farmers in rifle outfits are the riflemen of the Percy Tenantry, that outsized and distinctly feudal legion of volunteers first commanded by Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland. (Their regimental roll, sealed in a glass tube, still sits within the foundation stone of the equally outsized and distinctly feudal memorial column erected in his Lordship’s honour in Alnwick in 1816.) Massively out-legioning the rival Cheviot Legion of Northumberland, the Tenantry by 1805 had ballooned to six troops of cavalry, a company of flying artillery and a full seventeen companies of rifles. A surprisingly large quantity of their bits and pieces still survives, providing a highlight for visitors to Alnwick Castle.

The painting is captioned at lower right in one hand “Military Exercise”, and in another “By T Rogers”. On page 435 of the first volume of Mackenzie’s Historical, Topographical and Descriptive View of the County of Northumberland … of 1825, appears a brief input on the neglect of local harbour facilities by “an obliging correspondent, Mr Thomas Rogers”. As an keen observer of the local scene, Thomas Rogers of Long Houghton, then a “straggling village” just four miles from Alnwick, may have been our mystery watercolourist.

Keen sighted readers will already have noticed the outsized firearms – each carried by two men – being walked out with their tripods. These are the famed rifled “wall pieces” – one for each of the seventeen companies – issued from the Tower in 1806. Three men from each company were detailed to “learn the Great Guns Exercise”, training for at least a week per year under Captain John Toppin of the artillery company. In his excellent “Percy’s Tenants Volunteered” (BCMH conference paper, 2009), Guy Wilson tells the story:

To be frank, Toppin didn’t think much of the guns at first. They started practising on Alnmouth sands on 19 January 1807. The first day was not a success. ‘The weather and sea being rough we could not find a single ball’. However, as they gradually got used to the guns accuracy improved, though the weather did not. Firing 135 rounds a day on one occasion they put 56 balls into the six foot … square target at 300 yards … On another day they only managed 39 but there was some excuse. According to Toppin the weather had been ‘extremely tempestuous. The snow drifted so much that often we could not see the Target’. Toppin himself was eventually convinced of their effectiveness and wrote that at 300 or 400 yards ‘the Wall Pieces would do dreadful execution’.

No opportunity came to fire them in anger, but the full seventeen wall pieces served some purpose by making a fine noise at the celebration of the King’s Jubilee at Alnwick Castle in 1809:

Immediately after divine service, the salute commenced with 7 guns from the artillery, which was followed by all the wall pieces, and a feu de joie from the cavalry drawn up under the castle, and afterwards from the riflemen on the walls and top of the castle, which was succeeded by three cheers, and then a flourish from the bugles in the flag tower. This was twice repeated, completing the royal salute of 21 guns; after which the troops and companies returned immediately to their several places of muster, where dinners were provided for them.

Pleasing to see that, as on all proper volunteer occasions, the proceedings were rounded off by a good meal.

 


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.

 


Highs and lows: an unusual officer’s jacket

As a National Trust member I’m generally approving, though (as they say) with reservations. I’m not sure about some of the narratives the NT spins to brand its stately homes, especially the way those narratives can sit light to the sources of the wealth and power that built the estates – slavery and land clearances for a start. But then again, the NT does have some real treasures in its custody.

On a visit to Eyam Hall in Derbyshire last summer, I stumbled across an unexpected gem: wrapped in clear plastic and lying in a drawer was the rather beautiful jacket of Captain Peter Wright of the Eyam company of the South Battalion of High Peak Volunteers. This battalion – like its Northern counterpart – was an 1805 amalgamation of disparate, far flung, rural companies raised two years earlier, so the jacket has to date to 1805-08. At first glance it looked predictable enough: scarlet with the yellow facings of Derbyshire, no lace, small gilt buttons (crown over script “HPV”), white edging and one gilt epaulette for a captain. But even without permission to move or unwrap the jacket, I could see that it was, unusually, single breasted, with no lapels. Accompanying it was a rather stagey tricorne hat which, contrary to the optimistic labelling of the exhibit, clearly had zero to do with the jacket. [Click images below for enlarged slides.]

I took some fairly useless snaps with my phone and trotted off to have a word with a member of staff. The volunteer attendant I buttonholed seemed sceptical about my revelation concerning the impostor hat, and, overall, politely indifferent. Later, I wrote to request a proper viewing, quoting my NT membership number, but never had a reply, just as I’ve never had a reply from Powis Castle about the yeomanry standards they have in storage. Well, people are busy and resources are tight, I suppose. But a bit of a low peak, all the same.

Fortunately, I find that in 2014 John Alleston documented the jacket in the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society. His pukka photos show two buttons at the rear waist, with four on each slash pocket flap, white edging on flaps and skirts, and white turnbacks without any ornaments at the points. The epaulette bears a bullion crown over script “HPV”, while the crescent, though this isn’t stated, looks to be edged with yellow cloth. (The crown on this epaulette is confusing, crowns being also the later mark of a lieutenant colonel’s two epaulettes, but here the crown is a part of a battalion distinction with the initials beneath, repeating the design of the buttons.)

Even allowing for the inclination of volunteer corps to dress their other ranks in superior grades of clothing, this doesn’t seem to be a private’s jacket, and there are no light company indications. It must surely be an undress garment, worn as an alternative to the officer’s coat? Or were the battalion’s officers universally in jackets for dress? Whatever the case, it’s a fine little item. By the way, don’t go looking for it among the nearly one million items on the National Trust Collections site; it isn’t there.


Predecessors of Peterloo: the Manchester & Salford Light Horse

No posts for nine months here is pretty poor. Sorry to have slid off the blog wagon.

As I clamber awkwardly back on, let’s join in the applause for Mike Leigh’s acclaimed film of Peterloo. If you haven’t seen it, do so, if possible on the big screen. Be prepared for a couple of hours of wonderful period oratory, as Leigh builds the arguments on either side, moving towards his climactic, seat-gripping and astonishing reconstruction of the mass meeting at St Peter’s Fields. Here the Hussars come out of it relatively well, one officer at least urging restraint. (Though the infantry look a bit Peninsular for 1819, surely?) But the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry are played as oafish John Bulls, amateurs without discipline. Which could be a fair picture, given the number of unarmed civilians they managed to sabre. I suppose this is what happens when the focus of auxiliary forces moves from defence against invasion to the maintenance of internal “order”.

Before the yeomanry arrives: Henry Hunt (excellently played by Rory Kinnear) orates

In the film the Yeomanry wear the light dragoon outfit of the period, as shown in the well known Richard Carlile print of the massacre; since Carlile was on the platform during the mayhem, we can take that as accurate enough. These three troops were raised fresh in 1817, and were disbanded within five years. Not too much continuity then with their predecessors, the Manchester and Salford Light Horse Volunteers, raised in 1797, reformed in 1803 and apparently disbanded in 1809. This seems like a good opportunity to take a quick look at them.

The Light Horse began life as three troops, but in 1798 increased to six under Lieutenant Colonel Comm John Ford. Manchester Library has two copies, for 1797 and 1798, of their Regulating Code of Laws, providing many invaluable details of dress and equipment:

Every Volunteer at his own expence to furnish himself with the following cloathing, arms & accoutrements, all made to pattern: a regimental bridle and saddle, with cloak-pad, and straps; a cartouch box, containing four rounds, fixed on the outside of each holster; a sabre, a buff leather sword knot whited, a black spanish leather waist belt, a pistol, a regimental blue coat-cloak, with white collar and lining; a dress uniform … and an undress … ; each Commissioned Officer to procure a crimson silk sash.

The Dress Uniform is a blue hussar Jacket, with silver lace, white collar and cuffs; white quilted waistcoat, white leather breeches, long black topped boots, plated spurs with horizontal rowels, black velvet stock, with a narrow white turn-over; frilled shirt, hair well powdered, short sides, queue tied close to the head; silk rosette, white wash leather gloves, and helmet with long white feather.

The Undress is a plain blue jacket, corresponding, with the exception of lace; pantaloons of blue cloth with white seams, lined with blue cloth, and half boots …

Further details follow for farriers, trumpeters and “Serjeants in Pay”. For off duty wear, “such gentlemen as chuse it” could wear a blue undress coat with black velvet facings and regimental buttons, which on this coat were to be flat and gilt, with the raised letters “L.H.V.” By 1798 silver chain wings had been added to the dress jacket, and scale wings to the undress.

A fine pastel portrait of Robert Keymer, the colonel by 1800, was made by John Russell in that year and presented to his family by the regiment; the Lancashire folder of the late R J Smith included a photo of this, with detailed notes made by Leslie Barlow when the portrait passed through Christie’s. Keymer’s dark blue dress jacket, of an “Austrian” length, is edged with 3/8″ silver lace and looped with silver cord of about 1/8″. The white collar and cuffs are edged with silver lace and cord on a blue ground. The surprisingly broad black leather waist belt fastens with  a simple white metal buckle, and no sash, pouch or pouch belt are visible. The Tarleton helmet here has a red over white plume, a dark crimson turban and silvered fittings. The visible part of the ribbon reads “M&S LIGHT …”

According to Willson’s 1806 chart and Aston’s 1804 Manchester Guide, the 1803 formation of the Light Horse, now just two troops under Major Shakespear Philips, switched to scarlet jackets faced dark blue, with blue pantaloons or white breeches and silver metal. “The gentlemen are mounted in general upon capital horses,” noted Aston. “Their arms are sabres and pistols. They serve without pay and were individually at the expense of their own appointments.”

Despite such enthusiasm, within a few years these remaining two troops had disbanded, and Manchester had to manage without its yeomanry, until post-war discontent prompted a darker chapter.