Category Archives: volunteers

Another fine coat, and more Militia pages

So where has this been lurking? This wonderful coat, which to the best of my poor knowledge has never been recorded during its two centuries of existence, recently passed through Bosley’s auction. It is an officer’s, of the Leeds Volunteers, or Leeds Light Infantry, of 1820 to circa 1824, as mentioned in my post here on the little known, and rather undersized, volunteer revival of the ‘twenties. Click to enlarge.

The coat is distinctly up to date, while the yellow facings replay those of the Leeds Volunteers of 1803-08. (For whom, see this page. For the Leeds Local Militia of the intervening years, see this page.) The buttons in threes are not faithful to the 1803 uniform, which used the paired buttons of the 2nd West York Militia uniform, but they do, interestingly, recall the threes on the lapels of the Leeds Volunteers and 1st West York Militia of still earlier years (for whom, see this post and this page).

What appears here to be a pair of lapels is in fact a plastron with a scarlet underside, fully reversible. Lace, buttons, wings and turnback bugle ornaments are silver throughout. It’s a beautiful thing, and surely unique. Estimated at £2-3K, it went for four. One hopes that it might now be safe and accessible in public ownership, but one doubts it, these days.

Anyway, it’s a joy to see. What next – a uniform of the even more obscure and ritzy Royal Leamington Spa Loyal Volunteers of 1831-37? We can live in hope.

Meanwhile, two more Militia pages have been added to this site. One covers the 1st Royal Lancashire Militia, 1760-1816 – a bit of a monster page, this one, but hopefully of interest to someone. As a supplement, a second page covers the 2nd-5th Royal Lancashire Militia (previously the 1st-4th Supplementary Militia), 1797-1816 – not so lengthy, but maybe more interestingly obscure. Click these links, or use those up the top or at the right.

Some good images, plus info on drummers and rifle companies, if those are your things. With the Lancs Local Militia and Volunteers pages already up, that’s a county pretty much covered. More as and when.

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Sharpshooter boots and more new stuff

At the close of 1803 court reports in the British press noted the presentation to the King of:

A Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooter [National Army Museum]

Captain Barber, of the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters, or Rifle Corps … The Captain, although contrary to the etiquette of the Court, wore his cap, pantaloons, and boots, or high-laced shoes, for the inspection of his Majesty, who wished to see him in the full uniform of the corps.

A week later, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hanson, of the Manchester Rifle Regiment, was also presented to GIIIR, dressed in exactly the same way, high-laced boots included. (For the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters see this post, and for Hanson and his Manchester regiment, this page.)

As Ben Townsend has astutely observed, here is a moment in British military fashion when the volunteer movement, particularly the rifle element of 1803, found itself on the curve of the avant-garde, able to set aspirations in military style that might influence the regular service. (Ben discusses this in the first volume of his thoroughly admirable and indispensable Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion (of which a proper review will appear here soon, when the second volume appears).

6th Loyal London [Anne S K Brown collection]

But what exactly were these new “boots, or high laced shoes”, which the King wished to scrutinise? It’s surprisingly hard to say; period patterns and manuals for Georgian bootmakers seem remarkably elusive. An 1804 advert by Hickson, Boot-Maker, in the Strand, offers, among a vast range of desirable civilian and military boots in the highest style, “shooting shoes” and “backstrap lace boots for sharp shooters”. But other period sources seem to suggest that “strapped” and “laced” boots were not the same animal.

Contemporary accounts of the Cumberlands’ uniform mention “high shoes, laced in front”, while Henry Beaufoy, in Scloppetaria, his 1809 treatise on all things rifled, advocates the old fashioned low shoe and gaiter, deprecating the fashionable rifleman’s “laced half boot”:

It is not unusual with corps of government as well as volunteers, to reject the gaiter as being less neat, and adopt in its stead the small laced boot which was conceived to suit the uniform better! but surely it is a pity that neatness should be taken into consideration in preference to utility and convenience.

Not too hard, then, to imagine a half boot, or high shoe, laced up the front and tied at the top – but finding a clear image of it is another matter. The rather sleek watercolour of a Cumberland in the National Army Museum (detail left above) seems to suggest a line of lacing running in Xes up the front of the neat forward boot, but I don’t have a version with enough resolution to be sure. At top centre hangs what looks like the usual tassel, but must in fact be the ends of the lacing in some tasselled form. The Tomkins print of a rifleman of the 6th Loyal London Volunteers (detail right above) shows the tied laces hanging clearly, but doesn’t show any front lacing. Other images with dinky tasselled boots are plentiful but don’t solve the mystery.

And then, what’s a “backstrap lace boot”, and how does it differ from a strapped boot? Or a laced high shoe, for that matter? Guidance from those who know would be very welcome here!

While I have your attention, I’ll mention that since my last flagging up of new pages, I’ve added a few more:

Staffordshire Volunteer Infantry of 1803

East Yorkshire volunteer and association infantry and artillery of the 1790’s

– and the beginnings of what I hope will be a developing series on chosen county militias, from the revival of 1757 through to disembodiment at the close of the Napoleonic wars. The first being:

Staffordshire Militia 1776-1816

There’s also a very brief introductory page to the militia series here.

In the meantime, a few pages have been overhauled, with much new info on the Lancaster Volunteers of 1797 on this page, and on the Ulverston Light Infantry (Lancashire) of 1803 on this page. More to come, for sure.


More new pages, revisions, and thanks

Since my last post to flag up new pages in the volunteer and militia series, I’ve added a few more:

Cheshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

Lancashire: Liverpool and Manchester infantry and artillery of the 1790’s

Lancashire: volunteer and association infantry and artillery of the 1790’s

Lancashire: other volunteer infantry and artillery of 1803

East Yorkshire Yeomanry 1794-1802

North Yorkshire Yeomanry 1794-1802

There’s not necessarily a lot of visual information in some parts of these, but maybe they’ll be useful to someone somewhere, and they can be filled out more as time goes on.

Speaking of which, hundreds of period newspaper references have been fed into some existing pages, helping to firm up names, dates and some organisational details, as well as adding the occasional uniform or flag description.

Finally, sincere thanks to those who’ve so generously shared items and leads – James Kochan for a fabulous Warwickshire Yeomanry image, Eamonn O’Keeffe with the Masham, Yarm and Preston Volunteers and the Amounderness Local Militia, Kevin Lazio Pearce with new buttons and Ben Townsend for this and that and just about everything. A great joy and much appreciated.

And there will be more pages …

 


The Reverend Ware’s experimental Machine

In the froth of public excitement over the new volunteer corps of 1803, the novelty of riflemen bubbled large, with small units sometimes attracting disproportionate attention. The Yorkshire press provided a willing outlet for news of the doings of the Stockton Forest Riflemen of the North Riding, commanded, clothed and equipped by an enthusiastic clergyman (evidently with time and money on his hands), the formidable Reverend John Ware. (Further details of the corps on this page.) Risking hyperbole, the Leeds Intelligencer of 30 January 1804 found Captain Ware’s little company to be –

Perhaps … one of the best appointed corps in the kingdom … all active, spirited young men, ready to follow their commander into any danger.

At their inspection that month, their firing prone from cover attracted the particular attention of the Intelligencer’s correspondent, as the corps

… went through their various skirmishings with great accuracy and precision. The novelty of the scene was heightened by a party retiring, being concealed behind the ridge of a
land, commenced[sic] an independent firing as
they lay on the ground, turning on their backs
to load, and firing on their bellies.

At April’s inspection, the York Herald declared itself much impressed by the riflemen’s ambush of the inspecting officer, Lieutenant Colonel Skelly, –

on whose arrival at the ground the corps, being previously concealed among the bushes, commenced an independent firing, when nothing but the report had any tendency to show from whence the shots proceeded.

Two months later, Reverend Ware was able to keep his corps in the public gaze by undertaking a daring logistical trial. The Herald of 9 June announced:

We understand that an experiment will be made by a party of Captain Ware’s Rifle Corps, to ascertain the degree of expedition with which they could travel in case of emergency. They are to start on Wednesday next the 13th inst. from York at six o’clock in the morning to proceed to Hull, when they are to halt two hours, and return again to York, where it is supposed they will arrive about six o’clock the same evening. The excursion will be attended by several military gentlemen.

A rather posher Machine in use by the London & Westminster Light Horse Volunteers, in Thomas Rowlandson’s print ‘Expedition, or Military Fly’

At this point, volunteer corps were expected to supply themselves with vehicles, if only adapted farm waggons, in which their baggage or men might be swiftly moved in the event of mobilisation. Whatever the “Machine” was exactly on which Ware’s men embarked – a converted cart or carriage of some kind? – it was one of a number of similar contrivances tested and applauded nation wide at the time. The Herald of 16 June gave an account of the high speed trial:

On Wednesday morning at six o’clock, a Machine, built in this city for the purpose, started from the Tavern with 22 men fully armed and accoutred, &c. who, with the Machine, weighed 383 stone, or 2 ton 63 stone … The Machine was drawn by four horses, on which were two postilions.

They arrived at Hull within four hours, notwithstanding the traces of the horses broke twice, which caused a considerable delay; besides a further delay of waiting for the post-horses at Market-Weighton, owing to a mistake in the orders.

At Hull the exhausted riflemen paused for a couple of hours “for the purpose of taking refreshment, calling upon Gen McKenzie, &c.,” before returning to York at approximately the same speed, “notwithstanding a delay of 20 minutes by the accident of firing an axletree.” The 81 mile round journey (subtracting recovery time in Hull) was accomplished in eight and a quarter hours. The York Herald sounded a triumphant note:

We believe the above is the shortest time in which such a number of men have been conveyed so great a distance, and reflects much credit on Capt. Ware’s patriotic exertions; as it fully demonstrates in how short a period a number of men may be conveyed to any part of the kingdom, by having similar Machines in readiness at different places.

In an era when a respectable day’s infantry march might be reckoned at 15 miles, this demonstration of ten miles an hour by a horse-drawn personnel carrier over doubtful roads must indeed have seemed impressive, though it’s maybe as well that such “Machines” were never put to the test en masse in the event of invasion.


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.