Category Archives: uniforms

Who’s this? And what’s that hat?

Here’s a characterful little portrait – almost Falstaffian – lifted from the Art UK site, but held at Scarborough Art Gallery, where it is titled as “Major Tindall” and dated to circa 1745. That’s half a century too early, I think. Nor is this an officer. And the Lieutenant Colonel Tindall who commanded the Scarborough Volunteers of 1794 and 1803 (if that’s the thinking here) would have worn black facings. So who is it?


The single breasted jacket and the queued hair without powder suggest circa 1800 or a bit later, the black belt suggests a volunteer of the 1803 generation, and the sword suggests a sergeant, despite the absence of chevrons. The buff facings might indicate the volunteers of the neighbouring East Riding of Yorkshire, from among whom the word “North” on the belt plate might designate the North Holderness Volunteers – the only volunteer corps in the North or East Riding with that word in their title. (And North Holderness is only a stone’s throw from Scarborough.) The plain lace loops might be for a sergeant or a volunteer style as discussed in this post. (The lace here appears buff rather than white, though no regulation supports that for a sergeant of a buff faced corps.)

So, a sergeant of the North Holderness – well, maybe, though I could be well off target. But the whole effect is strangely agricultural. Wouldn’t you button up your jacket for a portrait? And how many sergeants could afford to have themselves limned for posterity, and by quite a competent painter, too? And what’s with the hat? Were no dress caps available? It has the look of an old hat cut down for a forage cap, with just a flap surviving to fold up at the back. So why the lone button at one side, and the feather (and cockade?) at the other? And was a castle emblematic of the Holderness area?
Skipsea Castle (demolished)? Flamborough (virtually
demolished)? I’m not convinced.

In the unlikely event that anyone stumbling across this can shed any further light, I’d love to hear about it.

 

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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.

 


“… 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”.


New page on West Yorkshire volunteers

A quick post to cement into Google some tags for my new volunteers page, this time on 1790’s West Yorkshire. Separate to the page on association infantry of the West Riding, this covers the first two waves of infantry volunteers of Barkstone Ash, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Knaresborough, Leeds, Pontefract, Ripon, Rotherham, Sheffield, Wakefield and York, with some substantial text and over fifty images. Even so, it’s far from the last word, but may be of interest to someone.


New pages on volunteers, associations and yeomanry

Despite the attentions of collectors on the one hand and genealogists on the other, general interest in the history and appearance of Britain’s auxiliary forces of the Georgian and Napoleonic periods – militia, volunteers, yeomanry – remains low. There’s no prospect, for instance, of any Osprey titles in the area, simply because not enough would sell. And I have that from the horse’s mouth.

What to do, then, with the files I’ve accumulated over the years on the dress and equipage of the militia, volunteers and yeomanry of the period from my chosen counties – Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Cheshire, Gloucestershire? There’s still much to be done on these: many gaps remain and many sources, particularly archival, are still unexplored and likely to stay that way. But what I have so far may as well be aired and shared here in a more comprehensive form than the occasional mini post.

So here’s a small start, with more to come, bit by bit. These pages certainly don’t claim to be the final word. If anything, they serve to demonstrate how little is known, especially about the more obscure and ephemeral units. But anything is better than nothing. And corrections and additions will always be welcome!

Links here below, or up the top (drop down), or via the Pages menu at the right.

 

Shropshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

Shropshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry

Staffordshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

Staffordshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry

West Yorkshire: association infantry

West Yorkshire: independent yeomanry and association cavalry


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.


When is an Estorff’s not a Lüneburg?

(This post expanded November 2017)

Here’s another King’s German Legion uniform spin-off, and a good example of the sort of existential nightmare we have to tackle when available primary sources are few.

Among the newly raised Hanoverian units with Wallmoden’s Corps in the war in Northern Germany in 1813 was the Lüneburg Hussar regiment, also known as Estorff’s after its commander, also known, in a nod to HRH, as the Prince Regent’s. Among the von Röder paintings of Wallmoden’s forces in the Anne S K Brown collection is an officer of “Estorfsche Husaren” (below left); he wears a scarlet jacket with dark blue collar and cuffs, a scarlet pelisse, both with silver lace, grey overalls and a fur cap with a dark blue bag. The von Röder images are a bit quirky, and don’t always show quite what we might expect, but they do seem to be faithful attempts at an eyewitness record. [Click to enlarge images.]

Left to right: von Röder, Elberfeld, Vernet – a measure of agreement

Roughly compatible with this is an image dated to March 1814, from the Elberfeld Manuscript (“Darstellung … durch Elberfeld passierten Truppen”) in the Lipperheide collection at the Kunstbibliothek Berlin – or at least, from José Maria Bueno’s re-drawing of it, as I don’t have the original handy (above centre). Plus a third primary image of an Estorff, similar but with a dark blue jacket, by Antoine Charles Horace Vernet (Carle for short) from the Royal Collection (above right); the lace should be silver or white, but otherwise it’s a fit. (For a long time, this was catalogued as the King’s German Legion 3rd Hussars, which it certainly isn’t. We’ll revisit that particular confusion in a moment …) Yes, the red/blue jacket issue is a problem, but at least we have a measure of agreement between these three.

Added Nov 2107:

Since posting these three sources, I’ve come across a number of 20th century images by Winand Aerts, based on  primary sources, that confirm this picture, showing the blue cap bag, blue jacket and red or scarlet pelisse, with reversed colours for a trumpeter. One image, in an album at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, is a copy of a period sketch by J B Rubens  in the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels; the hussar wears overalls strapped, cuffed and patched. It’s a fair copy of the original (not reproducible here), though Aerts reduces the number of front loops for no reason other, I suppose, than carelessness. The remaining six are from Aerts’s album of Hanoverians at Paris; these are based on Rubens (supposedly), the Elberfeld Manuscript, a portrait of a veteran, and the recollections of an unnamed officer. Aerts’s work is not invariably watertight, and the second figure here, allegedly based on Rubens, shows inexplicable differences to the cap, collar, cuffs, sash and overalls. It’s also noticeable that one of his Elberfeld figures shows obvious differences (plume, pelisse trim) to the equivalent figure as re-drawn (above) by Bueno, though both have directly copied the same source. These are the sort of annoyances that plague research mediated by secondary sources …

So far, so good. Now let’s see what a more celebrated eyewitness source makes of the same regiment. Here (below left) is the Suhr brothers’ quite different take on the Estorffs (an officer, judging by the sash) – all dark blue with yellow facings and silver lace, including a light between the overall stripes; most surprising perhaps is the cap, maybe an unrolling mirliton type or, perhaps more likely, just peakless with cords. (I’ve borrowed this image from the very useful Napoleon Online site, from the copy at the Kunstbibliothek Berlin.) This startling difference requires modern commentators to posit two quite separate Estorff uniform styles – the “early” uniform as in Suhr and the “later” uniform as in von Röder, Elberfeld and Vernet. Or, as Achard and Bueno suggest in their edition of Suhr: “Possibly, we have here one of the first uniforms of the regiment, which had to wear garments and equipment from various regiments, before the regulation uniform was created.” Well, yes, possibly. And then again, possibly not.

Suhr’s “Estorff” plus Hamilton Smith’s 3rd Hussar equals Neumann’s “Estorff”

Move on a century or so, and we have a plate on the Estorff/Lüneburg Hussars (above right) from the watercolours by Friedrich Neumann known as “Landwehr und Freiwillige Truppen”, also in the Lipperheide collection at Berlin. (Borrowed from Napoleon Online again.) Apparently a private, but broadly similar, despite the grey overalls and the very different headgear and horse furniture. In fact the pose of the figure, and even the background foliage and fencing, seem so similar to Suhr that the derivation is obvious. But wait a minute – haven’t we seen this figure somewhere else? Those overalls, the sheepskin with the yellow scalloped edge, other smaller details – yes, it’s Charles Hamilton Smith’s 3rd Hussar of the King’s German Legion (above centre)! Neumann has borrowed it directly, but curiously, has replaced Suhr’s peakless cap and Hamilton Smith’s dragoon cap with the peaked fur cap associated with the 2nd and 3rd KGL Hussars. What’s going on?

The Elberfeld 3rd Hussar, via Bueno

Though Neumann’s work is sometimes mentioned today with reverence, something has clearly gone adrift here. As a possible solution to the puzzle, I’d suggest that both Suhr’s and Neumann’s figures in fact portray, with more or less accuracy, the 3rd Hussars, who after all were brigaded with the Estorffs/Lüneburgs at the time; either Suhr’s original identification was mistaken, or else at some point along the centuries both attributions have slipped. In support of this, we can point to another figure in the Elberfeld book, labelled as a “Hanoverian hussar”, which, despite some obvious discrepancies of detail, is a close relative to Suhr’s image. Since Elberfeld already contains an identified Estorff Hussar, as seen above, this one can only be intended as the 3rd Hussars. (Again, the version here is that re-drawn by Bueno.) The date of the original sketch, January 1816, would have been a month before the Third was disbanded.

So, I think both blue “Estorffs” – Suhr and Neumann – should be properly understood as records of the 3rd Hussars of the KGL, like their Elberfeld cousin; and on that basis the trio will be added in due course to my page on that regiment, though Neumann’s version, as a much later synthesis from conflicting sources, has to be considered the most artificial and the least valuable of the three.

Incidentally, isn’t Bueno’s drawing admirably stylish? So economically crisp, so fluent and animated; I’ve always liked it, and have always envied his prolific energy. But in this game the devil is in the detail, and such economy of style by its nature tends to eclipse detail …