Category Archives: volunteers

The loyal burghers of Dudley

Today the Black Country town of Dudley is part of the West Midlands splurge, but in 1798 it was in Worcestershire. The town is still grandly overlooked by the distinctive silhouette of Dudley castle, now neighbour to Dudley Zoo. In Dudley Museum hangs a rather gorgeous oil painting by Thomas Phillips (1770-1845) showing a parade at the castle of Lord Dudley’s Dudley Loyal Association of 1798. Around the picturesque ruins, before a throng of assembled worthies and admiring townsfolk, marches the Dudley Loyal Cavalry of Captain Thomas Dudley, sandwiching the Dudley Loyal Infantry of Captain Joseph Wainwright. At centre is the Association’s band, “as fine a military Band as any in England,” according to Revd Luke Booker, author of A Description and Historical Account of Dudley Castle (1825). (Click all images to enlarge.)

Though the figures are relatively small within the painting, some useful uniform features are visible; in the usual way of things at the time, a coloured aquatint of the painting was marketed, and a copy of this on the Anne S K Brown site provides some massive enlargement, though a few details in the print are at variance with the original.

Both companies wear blue faced red, while field, staff, trumpeter and band wear the reverse. The cavalry style is an open jacket with shoulder scales or chains and a Tarleton helmet, all the metal being yellow. Benson Freeman noted that the buttons were inscribed “DLC”. A pair of guidons was shown by J Robert Williams in the ‘seventies in Vol 10 issue 4 of The Blackcountryman. At the time these were in the hands of the Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry, but they haven’t turned up in the yeomanry bit of the Mercian Regiment Museum in Worcester.

Recently a fine portrait of a cavalryman, tentatively identified as of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, has been offered online by Roy Precious Antiques. (It’s still for sale if you have £6,250 handy.) The dress does not quite match that of the Derbyshire Yeomanry of the period as chronicled by D J Knight in the MHS Bulletin, but is a good fit for the Dudley Loyal Cavalry; both buttons and belt plate are inscribed “DLC”.

As the helmet feather is all white (Phillips shows white for the men, but white tipped red for officers) and as the chain wings show a fringe rather than bullion, the subject must be an enlisted man. The back of the portrait is inscribed “Mr R Parsons 1800” in a period hand; an R Parsons is mentioned in Clark’s Curiosities of Dudley and the Black Country in the context of other names associated with the Dudley Volunteers, and this may indeed be the stolid burgher finely portrayed here.


The Grand Review on Heath Common

Since prestige confers publicity, the iconography of the great volunteer movement of 1794-1808 is very London-centric. This is true not only of the uniform prints and portraits of obscure colonels, but also of commemorative prints of reviews, among which Hyde Park predominates.

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An exception is this coloured print of a painting by a Mr Hopkins (possibly William Hopkins, miniature painter) of the Grand Review of volunteers of West Yorkshire, held on Heath Common, Wakefield, in August 1796. In November 1798, almost two years after the event, an advert in the Leeds Intelligencer announced:

“GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS of Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax, Bradford, and Huddersfield, as commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Lloyd, and reviewed by Lieutenant-General Scott. MR. HOPKINS, Miniature-Painter, No. 27, King-street, Bloomsbury-square, London, begs to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of the above-mentioned Places, and their Environs, that the PRINT of the GRAND REVIEW, from his PICTURE taken on the Spot, is now finished, and to be seen at Mr. Wright’s, Printer, and at Mr. Greenwood’s, Bookseller, Leeds; Mr. Meggitt’s and Mr. John Hurst’s, Booksellers, Wakefield; Mr. Brook’s. Huddersfield; and at Mr. Edward’s, Halifax; where Subscriptions are received.

The above Print contains several Hundred Figures, so richly coloured as to represent a Painting and the respective Corps in their full Uniforms; the Whole forming a grand and interesting Spectacle.”

The enterprising Mr Hopkins’ original painting may be lost, but a few prints survive. In 1976 I looked at the copy held by the Thoresby Society in Leeds, thickly varnished and a bit the worse for wear. Forty years on, this has been donated to Leeds Museum; despite conservation efforts, it has suffered further in the interval, but at least a nice big image is available online here.

Hopkins’ detached perspective means that the assembled ranks appear far smaller than the less interesting foreground figures, but there’s still plenty here to round out our otherwise patchy view of this 1794 generation of volunteers. From the left of the picture stand the Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Royal Wakefield and Halifax Volunteers in that order, all in scarlet faced respectively with blue, buff, blue, blue and black. The Bradford and Halifax “battalion guns” (two brass six pounders in each case) hold the ends of the line, while the West Riding Yeomanry keep the field and chase away stray dogs and naughty boys.

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The front ranks of the Halifax Volunteers – grenadiers at left, battalion company, band and regimental colour at right

The artillery detachments are in blue with round hats, while all the drummers except the Wakefield are in white. All in are short gaiters. The grenadier company of the Halifax are in fur caps, while all the light companies (at the viewer’s right of the rear echelons), and all ranks of the Huddersfield Fusiliers wear Tarleton helmets.

Not at the event (at too much of a distance, presumably) are the Loyal Independent Sheffield Volunteers, the Doncaster Volunteers, York Volunteers and Royal Knaresborough Foresters, all likewise raised in 1794.

Mr Hopkins’ advertisement doesn’t give a price for a copy of this grand and interesting Spectacle. These can’t have been cheap, though; the hand colouring must have been one heck of a chore.

The Yeomanry scares off two boys and a dog, while the Halifax gunners look on


The joy of big lapels

While the familiar post-1799 infantry jacket didn’t allow for much in the way of variation, the immediately preceding transition period, as the long coat morphed by stages into the jacket, was far more fruitful.

Here’s [left] a rather beautiful watercolour (attributed to Henry Eldridge) of an unidentified field officer of the Leeds Volunteers in the late 1790’s, from the collection of Leeds Museum. [Click to enlarge images.] The huge, plastron-like effect of the unusual lapels, with their buttons in threes, is quite a step forward from the orthodox parallel lapels with paired buttons originally worn by the Leeds regiment. The same flamboyant coat, but now cut to allow the lapels to button over in the mode of the time, is shown [right] in the 1802 portrait of Colonel Thomas Lloyd of Leeds (once at York Castle but now in the National Army Museum). Why buttons in threes? I’ve no idea.

But the Leeds Volunteers were not the originators of the style. Here is exactly the same style of coat but faced in green, and a companion jacket, both belonging to an officer of the 1st West York Militia, probably Captain Howard of the light company. Both are now in the Wade Collection of the National Trust, together with a matching red waistcoat with buttons in threes. A portrait [below], attributed to John Downman, of a company officer of the West Yorks around 1800 or soon after shows the same coat buttoned over. But from where the West Riding Militia derived the style, or if it was ever adopted by any other unit, I do not know.

downman-wy

Though here [below] is something else not too distant – a showy style of lapel worn in the late ‘nineties by both regiments of Gloucester Militia, and described in the Pearse tailors’ books as “Broad at top slanting off at bottom”.

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School volunteer corps in the War against France

The volunteer enthusiasm of the decades each side of 1800 stimulated the formation of volunteer corps not only in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but also, more informally, in a number of schools. Details are hazy, but, for instance, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, as early as 1794, we find that:

“During the day [June 4 1794] the pupils of Mr Hodgson’s Academy paraded before the house of Alexander Turner, Esq., Mayor of Leeds, and, having learnt the military exercise, fired three excellent volleys.”

This “academy”, in Park Row, Leeds, was a school, and not a military academy as such. 

The Salopian Journal of September 28 1803 reports that:

“On Monday last the young gentlemen of the Royal Free Grammar School, who, with the approbation of Mr Butler, had formed themselves into two companies, under the appropriate title of THE ROYAL SHREWSBURY SCHOOL CORPS, had a Grand Field Day, in order to receive their Colours …”

These two companies consisted of a company of infantry, and one of “dismounted cavalry”.

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The only image I’ve yet seen is a print portraying the school volunteer corps of Albemarle House in Hounslow, Middlesex. A foxed copy is in the Anne S K Brown collection and accessible online there. Another is described by C C P Lawson in Volume V of his uniform history.

The print is not dated, but the style of dress gives an overall impression of an armed association of the 1798-1802 era. The boys wear round hats with white feathers, blue jackets or perhaps coats with red collars and cuffs, white pantaloons and white belts. Older boys, as officers or sergeants, wear blue pantaloons with long black gaiters and red sashes. Officers wear gorgets. The master standing at the left, as commanding officer, wears a coat with white turnbacks and a cocked hat. The band are in short jackets without skirts and wear mirliton style caps with red bands. The corps carries a King’s and a regimental colour, both with red fields, but no other details are visible. [Click for enlargements.]

Lawson’s description suggests that small details of the colouring may have varied in different copies of the print. Despite his assertion that “records” describe this institution as a military academy, I can’t find anything to back this, and rather think that this is a school volunteer corps. At any rate, it’s a great snapshot of a vanished moment in time, and of one forgotten aspect of the great volunteer movement of the War against France.


More light company style

Some posts back – here’s a link – I dug out my vintage sketch of the multi-buttoned jacket of Captain John Brown of the Sheffield Local Militia post 1808, at one time (still??) in the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, and compared that little known item with the Royal Collection’s much more familiar Dighton painting of a light infantry officer of the South Gloucestershire Militia circa 1804. Here’s something similar, just because I like it – the light infantry style jacket of Captain John Cornock of the Berkeley Volunteers of Gloucestershire, post 1803. The zig zag wings are styled like the militia jacket, but this garment is double breasted, with two rows of buttons only, so a tad short of the full “cavalry” effect.

The jacket is on show in the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum at Gloucester Docks, where I snapped it recently – well worth a visit, with a good smattering of stuff from other Napoleonic period auxiliary units of the county. Curiously, the jacket is currently on show buttoned in reverse, while on the Museum’s website it’s been shown buttoned correctly, and with a triangle of the inside facing colour thrown open on the lapel. (At present, getting up images on the Museum’s site seems problematic, but that may just be me.)

The jacket has white cord trim throughout. The braid and fringe on the wings looks silverish now, but I’m assuming it’s gold, given the gilt buttons, which show “ByV” in intertwined script. The cuffs are split at the rear, and it’s interesting to see how the lower edges of the sloping false pockets are lined up with the turnbacks, which are in the facing colour, with a tiny loop of cord at the point. The pictures should make things clear – click to enlarge – but please excuse the reflections from the display case. A great item.

A complementary full tailed coat in orthodox style with buttons in pairs, also Cornock’s, is also held by the Museum, but is not on display. The two garments were documented way back in JSAHR Vol XXXIX.


Sadler’s chimerical Sharpshooters

As it happens, this blog takes its title from the dedication page of Loyal Volunteers, Ackermann and Rowlandson’s gigantic 1799 compendium of London armed associations. I’ve always thought one of the more interesting entries to be plate 46, which shows a member of Sadler’s Sharp Shooters – “a Light Infantry Man defending himself with [James] Sadler’s Patent Gun & long cutting Bayonet.” The figure is chic in a Tarleton and dark blue jacket and pantaloons with red trim. The “patent gun” appears rather short, but the bayonet is enormous.

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Some copies of Loyal Volunteers also contain an unnumbered and spectacular plate portraying “Sadler’s Flying Artillery” (high res image here) showing the nearest we get to Georgian tank warfare – two guns of Sadler’s own invention mounted on a light carriage drawn by two horses. In the text to the first plate this is described as “the celebrated War Chariot, in which two persons, advancing or retreating, can manage two pieces of Ordnance (three-pounders) with alacrity, and in safety, so as to do execution at the distance of two furlongs.” Options for “advancing or retreating” were enabled by setting the guns on a turret; to reverse their fire the gunners simply switched seats. As James Sadler had not got round to inventing armour plate, I’m uncertain about their “safety”, but you can’t have everything.

war chariot
The patent gun and the flying artillery were real enough, their virtues detailed by their inventor in his own Account of Various Improvements in Artillery, Fire-Arms, &c of 1798. According to Mark Davies’s biography of Sadler, both “musquet” and “moving battery”, or “curricle flying artillery”, were unveiled on June 4 1798, the King’s birthday. With the backing of Secretary at War William Windham, the latter was demonstrated successfully before royalty in 1798 and 1800, and may possibly have been shipped abroad with the army on the expedition to Holland in 1799 at the behest of the Duke of York and under the care of Sadler’s son, James junior.

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James Sadler

Equally real, perhaps even larger than life, was James Sadler himself – aeronaut, inventor, chemist, naval technologist, steam engineer, creator of “philosophical fireworks”, barracks master and confectioner. There is, not surprisingly, a good deal of information available online about this extraordinary man; much more could be said about him than I have space for here, and Google will soon find it for you.

But if the guns and their inventor were real, how actual were the Sharp Shooters? I have to own up to some big doubts. Rowlandson’s fine plate is dated September 1798, but its accompanying text of August 1799 admits tartly that the corps was, even one year on, “but inconsiderable in number” and “in so imperfect a state as not to admit of illustration satisfactory to the Public.” However, it was “intended to extend them to a degree of respectability,” after which they would hopefully “join with the Westminster Associations”. A tad dysfunctional, then!

The text lists no officers (included with every other plate), not even the “ingenious Machinist” himself, but blags quaintly that the corps “is shortly to be officered by the Honourable the Board of Ordnance.” I can find no officers for the Sharp Shooters in the Gazette, members of the Board of Ordnance or not, and according to Mark Davies both the patent rifles and the war chariot were used in 1798 by the Pimlico Volunteers, with whom Sadler had some sort of connection.

sadlers medal 2There exists, however, a medal for the Sharp Shooters, for “Best Shot at Ball Practice,” awarded to a Corporal William Staples, which was sold a few years back at a prestigious auction house. However, the figure on the medal is dressed in a round hat with a tall feather, while the award is dated September 30 1802 – a time at which the corps might be expected to have stood down, like every other volunteer unit, following the Treaty of Amiens earlier that year, rather than hold a shooting match. I’m no expert on volunteer medals, but I have read that some are known fakes, and it must be simple enough to engrave something feasible on a silver blank. In Irwin’s War Medals and Decorations of 1910 this actual medal is said to be then in the collection of a Colonel Gaskell, so if it’s a fake, it’s a vintage fake.

If genuine, it may be the single surviving piece of evidence to confirm the existence of Sadler’s corps as a functioning military outfit outside the pages of Rowlandson’s Loyal Volunteers. Or were the chimerical Sharp Shooters merely a good intention? Or an ingenious PR fiction created to publicise their director’s inventions?


“Ingenuity of contrivance”: the spider helmets of the Norfolk Rangers

In his 1991 Ogilby Trust booklet on the Yeomanry of Norfolk, the late R J Smith picked up on a curious account of the Norfolk Rangers of 1782, as published by Charles Tomkins in his The British Volunteer: or, a general history of the formation and establishment of the Volunteer and associated corps, enrolled for protection and defence of Great Britain, embellished with portraits and plates of tactics &c of 1799. Wrote Tomkins:

The singularity of their uniform, and the high state of their discipline, were equally objects of public attention … Their hats which were round, had a peg at the top fitted securely to the centre of the crown, and from which proceeded different chains as far as the neck, chest and shoulders, these chains appeared like radii from a centre, and, exclusive of the ingenuity of contrivance, were well constructed for warding off the stroke of a sabre from the head and neck.

Smith rightly notes this as “confusing”. No image of the Rangers in their first uniform has survived; a portrait of Sir Martin Browne Ffolkes (available here for £5400) shows not the 1782 officer’s uniform, as Smith assumed, but that of the revived Rangers, post 1794. The infantry component of 1782 was described as wearing “genteel” uniforms of green with light infantry caps; this and the “legionary”combination of foot and cavalry suggests an inspiration from the Queen’s Rangers or British Legion of the American War. But what of the oddball cavalry helmet?

Ffolkes in the Rangers' later outfit

Ffolkes in the Rangers’ later outfit

At first read, this might be taken for some sort of light dragoon helmet with chains around the skull, but what about “as far as the neck, chest and shoulders”? Given that Tomkins’s work included a portrait print of the Marquis Townshend, original captain of the Rangers, his write-up may well have had Townshend’s blessing, so the description is unlikely to be completely garbled. Putting aside the question of chains – how well would loose chains resist a blow? – the form is surely that of a 17th century “spider” helmet, with folding guards. Did Townshend have something made along these lines, or did he have a job lot of originals lying in the cellar? The family’s civil war involvement lay only three generations back, and the Marquis was evidently fond of armour, for he had himself immortalised by Joshua Reynolds dressed in a three quarter suit of the stuff.

spider 1
It seems unlikely in the extreme that a few score Norfolk yeomen farmers would have cantered about the landscape wearing such helmets in the Age of Enlightenment, but perhaps it’s not impossible. Though by 1794, when the corps reformed, the spider helmets were not revived with them, and the Rangers adopted Tarletons, like everybody else.

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