Category Archives: yeomanry

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.

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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.

thoresby-smaller
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.

thoresby-halifax-1

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 Cuirassiers of Furness

furnessApologies for my recent neglect of this blog, but here’s an uncommon button with the rose of Lancashire, inscribed “Furness Curassiers[sic]”, from a yeomanry troop that went in for a bit of post-war glamour. Neighbouring Cheshire may have boasted the Adlington Lancers among its yeomanry of the ‘twenties, but Lancashire went in for a proper piece of armour. The late R J Smith’s 1983 Ogilby Trust booklet on the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry narrates the formation of Captain Thomas Braddyll’s Furness Troop in 1819, noting that it was also known as the Furness Cuirassiers, and continues:

“There has been considerable doubt expressed as to whether the Furness Troop ever wore cuirasses, and it must be stated that no positive evidence has yet come to light, but it will be seen that available evidence tends to prove that the Troop were Cuirassiers in fact as well as in name. Major J E Willan of Silverdale wrote in the Yeomanry Record of October 1898 saying many years ago a Troop of Yeomanry raised in the Furness district wore the cuirass, and bright steel helmets with an enormous bearskin crest projecting in front … He had talked with old men who could remember seeing the Yeomanry crossing the Sands, going to and from Lancaster with their armour flashing in the sun.”

furness-yeo-pvt-colln
It’s a rather wonderful image. No attributed cuirass seems to have survived, but helmets of the Cuirassiers are known. In 1999 Bosley’s offered a complete example, which seems to have been that described in Crown Imperial of 1982 as quoted by Smith. It is of the 1812 to 1818 Heavy Dragoon pattern, with a blackened metal skull, gilt furniture and a black horsehair mane and short plume. The original front plate carries an oval plaque inscribed “Furness Yeomanry”, concealing the title of the original unit. (Smith describes the sides of the skull as decorated with metal leaves, but there is no sign of this in this photo, and this may be a reference in error to the laurel leaves ornamenting the edges of the front plate.)

Smith describes two other dilapidated examples, one now lost and one with a skull and peak of blackened leather. Evidently Captain Braddyll acquired a mixed lot of these redundant helmets on their retirement from regular service in 1818.

In 1828 the Lancashire independent troops, the Cuirassiers included, were amalgamated as the Lancashire regiment, the dress of the Furness troop was “assimilated” with that of Wigan, and the breast and backplates of the Cuirassiers flickered only in the sunlight of memory.


Providing for the Provisionals

During the Great War against France, the auxiliary forces of this nation were sanctioned by a constant flurry of legislation, often conflicting, that created or augmented militia, supplementary militia, local militia, fencibles, volunteers, armed associations, yeomanry and provisional cavalry, not to mention the army of the reserve and a proposed levée en masse. Of these the Provisional Cavalry must rank among the least successful.

Under the Provisional Cavalry Act of 1796 anyone who owned ten or more horses was required to provide one man on a horse for the county’s regiment; those owning fewer were grouped to the same purpose. Not surprisingly this measure proved less than hugely popular, and the following year an exemption was granted to any county whose yeomanry cavalry had reached three quarters of its provisional cavalry quota. Given the popularity of yeomanry service among the rural squirearchy and their farmers, and the exemption granted to volunteers from the provisional cavalry levy, in many counties the provisional cavalry was never embodied or soon disbanded.

Gladstone prov cavy plate
Yeomanry historians who mention their county’s provisional cavalry regiment sometimes suggest that its uniform is a mystery, but in fact a prescribed dress for the whole force was devised by government and adopted where required. It was cheap, cheerful and dark green, consisting of:

“Green jacket, faced with scarlet, and corded white, price 19s; green cloth pantaloons, 10s; leather cap and feather, 2s. 6d.; half-boots, 18s.”

A total of £2 9s 6d, compared with the four pounds estimated for the provisional cavalryman’s horse furniture. The records of a number of counties indicate that these patterns were adhered to at this price, though a Shropshire reference gives the pantaloons as “feathered red”, while the Staffordshire lieutenancy appears to have undercut the cost of a Tarleton “leather cap” by opting for a “round hat looped up on one side with a green feather.”
I’m not aware of any contemporary image of a provisional cavalry trooper, but Gladstone’s history of the Shropshire Yeomanry includes a much later plate purporting to show two such (above). The turban is shown as black, the feather as red over white, the facings and red turnbacks as edged in white, with a narrow white stripe (not red as recorded) to the pantaloons. How far this is accurate to any period image or to the detail of the government pattern, I’m uncertain. (The 1969 Blandford Cavalry Uniforms by the Wilkinson-Lathams includes a plate clearly based on this, but manages to introduce a number of random discrepancies.)

For the dress of officers, we have, naturally, a little more evidence, though details here must have been shaped by the preferences of the wearer and his tailor.


A fine officer’s helmet of the Lancashire Provisional Cavalry in the National Army Museum (shown here) has a red turban, but has no surviving plume. It flaunts the county distinction of the Prince of Wales’s feathers, as do the Cheshire officers’ helmets (likewise with red turbans and plumes not visible) shown in portraits at Tabley House of Sir John Leicester (above, allegedly by Reynolds) and Ralph Leycester (below), dressed in differing silver braided  versions of the uniform. (A high res image of a mezzotint of the Leicester portrait that may help to clarify details can be found here.)


In the Welch and Stalker tailor’s book at the Victoria and Albert are patterns for officers of the Dorset and North Devon regiments. The drawing for the former can be seen here on Ben Townsend’s site. A distinct regimental variation “as made for Coll. Williams & the Earl of Strafford”, this jacket of “S[uper] fine Boteille Green Cloth” is edged and trimmed in silver cord, with plated chain epaulets.

There will be other examples that I’m not aware of, but the few shown here should be enough to dispel any misconception that the Provisional Cavalry was either non-uniformed or heterogeneous, no matter how misconceived it may have been as a military initiative.


“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.

spider 2


The Birmingham volunteer prints of Edward Rudge

“The exultation of the Volunteers in their plumes and trappings is, after a century’s interval, positively humiliating to contemplate,” snorted John William Fortescue, historian of the British Army in 1909, in his The County Lieutenancies and the Army, 1803-1814. “Every one of the London corps, whether by its own act or by the enterprise of some print-seller, obtained commemoration at the hands of some limner of fashion-plates, and has been visible in the windows of print-shops ever since.” (Extending his denunciation to the innumerable flattering portrayals of volunteer and yeomanry officers, he excused himself by adding: “I speak as a collector … of engraved portraits of distinguished officers of the Army. To such a collector the portraits of the illustrious obscure … are little short of a curse.”)

London limners may have led the pack, but the great provincial cities were not far behind. To make the point, here are three fine Birmingham prints, all drawn and published by Edward Rudge of that city. (Click to enlarge .) Two show the battalion and flank companies of the Birmingham Loyal Association of 1797, and both were engraved by Samuel William Fores, better known as a publisher of Gillray and others. In April 1799 the Association appeared for the first time “completely regimented” with a grenadier and a light company; “… handsome and military … much admired …,” said the local papers. In September Rudge’s print appeared to memorialise the whole handsome effect. The difference in height between the men of the companies is emphasised in his visualisation. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a copy of this print, and reproductions were published for the Matthew Boulton exhibition of 2009.

Rudge print BLA
A more animated and fluent version, again by Rudge and Fores, appeared in March of the following year, no doubt to satisfy continuing popular clamour. A rather noble house and a small lake appear in the immediate background, with a windmill in the distance on the extreme right, but I can’t say that I’m able to identify the location. This second print is reproduced in Hart’s 1906 history of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Space precludes any analysis of the uniforms here, but it may be worth mentioning that a fine grenadier private’s coat, with waistcoat, breeches and accoutrements, and a light infantry Tarleton are on display at the Royal Warwickshire (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) Regimental Museum in Warwick.

Hart BLA plate
The third Rudge print dates from April 1801 and was engraved by a C Williams rather than by Fores. This fine piece of aquatinting is dedicated to the Warwickshire Yeomanry Cavalry, raised in 1794, and shows what seems to be the second uniform of the regiment, with a skirted “Austrian” jacket. The print is reproduced in Adderley’s very scarce regimental history, but a good high res version is available at the Anne S K Brown Collection. In his Ogilby Trust pamphlet on the regiment, the late R J Smith lamented that variant colourings of this print obscure the history of the uniform, but it seems clear to me that a French grey jacket with green facings and yellow braid is shown. On the Anne S K Brown copy (alone?) a white over red feather has been added to the helmet.

rudge print in brown colln
It’s not easy to get a handle on Edward Rudge, and to date I’ve not come across any other prints, military or otherwise, published by him. He was clearly not the Warwickshire landscape painter of the same name born in 1790 – was that his son? Our Rudge is described as a “stationer and painter” in bankruptcy announcements of the late 1790’s; it seems that there was less profit in limning the illustrious obscure than Fortescue imagined …


‘Cavilling about trifles’: anarchy in the Yeomanry

“That there are persons so wofully ignorant, or so wilfully blind, as to seek an exchange from the ascertained and established blessing of clearly defined and limited monarchy, for the wild and visionary speculations of republican anarchy, the added experience of every hour but too clearly proves, but who shall assert that they will not hide their guilty heads, and sink into their original obscurity, when they see the respectable and independent Yeomanry of the kingdom stepping forth, with undaunted courage, in defence of their beloved Sovereign and of that Constitution, which the test of time has proved to be without an equal, and which has secured to their ancestors and to themselves every enjoyment rational and moderate mind can wish for?”

Francis Perceval Eliot

Francis Perceval Eliot

So asserted, a little breathlessly, Major Francis Perceval Eliot of the Staffordshire Yeomanry in his Letters on the subject of the arm’d Yeomanry of 1794, the year of the regiment’s raising. But his own stout yeomanry had not, in truth, proved themselves entirely “respectable”, with some “wild and visionary speculations of republican anarchy” surfacing at the very heart of the regimental committee, particularly in regard to that eternal stimulus to controversy among volunteer soldiers – uniform. Disaffection among the auxiliary military during the wars against France is the stuff of countless theses, but the role of clothing in this has perhaps not been recognised.

In his British Military Uniforms of 1948, the fashion historian James Laver identifies three scales of definition that apply to all costume: Seduction, Utility and Hierarchy. A faction within the Staffordshire committee would have pushed the latter to its lowest extreme by eliminating all visible marks of rank, and bitter disputes over officers’ distinctions took on a clear political dimension. In October 1794 Captain William Tennant of the Walsall troop wrote to Eliot:

“Those men who are capable of cavilling about trifles, when so great a stake is pending, are not, cannot be judged hearty in the cause they have undertaken to support; they who can disapprove the distinction due to the King’s Commission, would not scruple to wrest the sceptre from that monarch ‘who is the breath of our nostrils’ & demolish that constitution which our ancestors formed with their wisdom & maintained with their blood.”

Eliot's Staffordshire Yeoman, from his 'Letters'

Eliot’s Staffordshire Yeoman, from his ‘Letters’

An impending resolution to exclude officers entirely from the committee was clear evidence of republicanism and levelling. Tennant tried to finish on a more practical note, but his emotions got the better of him:

“The spurs, spur leathers, field epaulets, stirrups and stirrup leathers, girths & surcingles will, I hope, reach you in the course of the ensuing week; & in a little more than a fortnight, your proportion of Pistols will also wait on you. That G-d may send their contents into the heart of every democrat existing is the sincerest wish of, Dear Sir, Yr’s Truly, Wm. Tennant.”

When matters came to a head the following month, Eliot wrote to his Colonel, Lord Sutherland, to resign his majority (a step later rescinded):

“I am well convinc’d that those who would wish to degrade and vilify the bearers of his Majesty’s commission, want nothing but the power to attack the throne itself. I have said before my Lord that it is not the form of an epaulette or the gilding of an ornament to the helmet, which gives me a moment’s concern, it is not the particular question, it is the general principle which I resist – so far from it that I should be very glad to have the common field helmet to save my better one for the evening …”

“Democratic” resolutions would eliminate the authority of the Colonel, and oblige officers to take orders from the ranks. Why, he himself had even been called a “martinet”!

“I even said that I thought Officers ought to be distinguish’d in the whole of their dress, & that tho’ I was perfectly contented to wear the same uniform as the private gentlemen I was well convinc’d that those who objected to whatever distinction the Officers chose among themselves to put on did not mean to serve their Country … they [his troop] ask’d me if it was not Shaw the Schoolmaster who was at the bottom of it & that they were well aware of his character as a known enemy to the King & Constitution …

The Serpent is no longer contented with creeping in the grass, but is beginning to rear his crest & dart his venom abroad – we were told that the giving up the first question of the superfine cloth would suffice & that nothing further would be ask’d – to this succeeded the bridles then the epaulettes – the sashes were next attacked & now the helmets – & vires acquirit eundo [It gathers strength as it goes].”

“Superfine” cloth was a usual distinction of officers. In the event, officers’ sashes probably survived, and epaulettes of some sort are itemised in the regimental accounts of the following year. Unfortunately, I can find nothing more on Shaw the Schoolmaster and his levelling agenda, but his influence cannot have lasted long.

A pleasingly naive image of a Staffordshire Yeoman, drawn by Eliot himself, forms the frontispiece to his Letters, as shown above. As there is no indication of rank, the engraving appears to show a private. Webster’s 1870 regimental history has a plate derived directly from this, but captioned “An Officer in Review Order 1794”. Quite why this image, 75 years later, should have come to be seen as an officer is not at all clear, but given the controversies of 1794 it’s a nice irony. Shaw the Schoolmaster would certainly have approved.