Category Archives: yeomanry

‘Can we not fight without dying in tinsel?’ Plus new pages

Hostile reaction to the “muffeteer” styling of the newly converted Hussar regiments of the British army is knowingly and entertainingly discussed within Ben Townsend’s chapter on “The Rise, Wobble and Triumph of the Hussar Craze” in his excellent Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion, Vol 1, published earlier this year by Helion. (Incidentally, if you’re into British uniforms of 1800-15 and you haven’t bought this book, do so. Right now. The only thing better will be Volume 2.)

This bizarre episode in military couture has much to offer researchers in historical gender studies, appearing to some as an outburst of “effeminacy”, and “foreign” to boot. But there are other interesting strands, too. Here’s a prolonged rant – or at least some selected passages – that I happened across while trawling the papers, by “AN OFFICER … and a decided enemy to extravagance”, submitted to the Editor of the Tyne Mercury, Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette for 28 January 1806:

Good God! are our Colonels, and even some of our Generals, fit for nothing but to be master taylors? Instead of studying military tactics, languages, or the geography of their country, they are inventing the pattern of a cuff or a pantaloon, or admiring (like a woman), their head-dress in the glass, at the same time ruining the fortunes, expectations, credit, and character of their inferior officers …

On [a light dragoon] officer joining now, he must provide himself, (can it be believed?) with no less than four different head dresses; namely, the real useful, but at present discarded and unfashionable helmet; a most expensive hussar cap; an immense cocked hat; and a fine superbly laced foraging or watering cap … how truly ridiculous it is to see our modern light dragoons strutting about with immense heavy dragoon cocked hats, like sparrows without tails …


… I will next proceed to the jacket, pelisses, and pantaloons. Look at an officer in them. Why, his fortune is on his back, or they are not paid for – one or the other. He is nothing but lace before and behind, up to the elbows and down to the knees … Then to be completely an hussar, an officer must have gold lace and embroidered cartouch belts and boxes, sabre or sabel tashes, and belts, expensive hussar sashes, two or three swords and sword knots, a pair of spurs for every pair of boots, shabrackes and rich horse accoutrements; and some regiments (can it be credited!) have their regimental pipes and tobacco pouches, and even the very whiffing of their tobacco is regulated by the movement of the commanding officer when they are on the parade, according to whichever flank he moves to; the same as eyes right, eyes left, it is, whiff right, whiff left …

… an officer now on joining one of those regiments, must have a ready money fortune of 3 or 400 guineas at least, to enable him to equip himself, or he will know the consequence in a short time … An officer of the old school would never comprehend, and would be astonished at the recapitulation of the jawbreaking names of our new fashioned foreign frippery. Can we not fight without dying in tinsel?

Let us resume our helmets like English dragoons. Let us cast off our foppery. Let us be armed for war, not for parade and show … Let us banish effeminacy far away … Then we shall not be ruined in our fortunes and our character … and we shall cast away all our superfluous articles, or make a present of them to the theatres. What else are they fit for?

The Hussar pipe craze is well documented, but was there anything behind the allegation of “whiffing” by numbers on parade? As for the charge of extravagance, Ben tabulates in his book numerous prices extrapolated from the Meyer tailor’s ledger that easily substantiate this: an officer of the 7th Hussars obliged to part with £57 in 1810 for just a jacket, pelisse, waistcoat, pantaloons and overalls, let alone all the rest of his necessary kit, would have to fork out £4,522 in today’s money, according to the Bank of England’s handy online inflation calculator. Nor were the auxiliaries immune to foppish posing, as suggested by the rather nice etching above by Colonel Thomas, Lord Grantham, of the court dress of the Yorkshire Hussars.

Speaking of Yorkshire, there are two more new pages on this site; they cover the North Yorkshire Militia of 1759-1820 (quite extensively), and (a bit more unevenly) Lancashire yeomanry and association cavalry of 1797-1828. The North York page touches, among other things, on the vexed issue of the regiment’s legendary (or urban legendary?) green clad “riflemen” of 1795. Were they or weren’t they? It’s a niche topic, but there’s no niche so tiny that no-one takes an interest.


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 …

 


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.


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.)


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.


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


“Applicable to any emergency”: the forgotten infantry volunteers of the 1820’s

With the renewal of hostilities in 1803, the yeomanry, volunteers and armed associations of the 1790’s were revived, a little more tightly regulated. In 1808 most of the volunteers converted to local militia on the institution of that force, and in 1816 local militia and surviving volunteers alike were wound up. Or at least, that’s the standard narrative. In fact, a handful of new, postwar infantry volunteer units were raised at the end of the decade, though, like their ancestors of 1759 and 1782, they have largely escaped our attention.

In Ireland, unsettled by nationalist dissent, the volunteers had never been disbanded, and a host of loyalist corps, some founded in the 1790’s, continued to parade into the 1820’s. In Scotland and England, where economic disaster fuelled political unrest, the Peterloo events prompted a revival of the volunteer movement, but for internal policing rather than for defence against invasion. The bulk of these corps was formed in Scotland – more than twenty altogether, ranging from single companies and undersized battalions to the full regiment of Glasgow Sharpshooters. Raised in 1819 and 1820, many had faltered and disbanded by the mid twenties.

In London the Honourable Artillery Company continued its peculiarly privileged existence, but was joined in 1820 by a reformed regiment of Royal East India Volunteers, “upon the plan of the regiments maintained by the Company during the late war.” The field officers of the new formation were drawn from the Directors, company officers from officers and clerks, and the NCO’s and privates from the warehouse establishment. By Royal consent, they were to wear an updated version of “the same uniform as was fixed upon by his late Majesty” for the three earlier regiments of EIC volunteers, with Royal facings of blue, the officers’ edged with gold lace.  The regiment was expected to be “particularly valuable as a local force, applicable to any emergency in the metropolis,” but also, maybe more importantly, for “the protection of the valuable property deposited in the extensive warehouses of the Company.”

Its expenses were entirely defrayed by the EIC; by the turn of the ‘thirties these amounted to well over three thousand pounds a year, about the same as the Directors’ gratuities. With the reform of the Company’s affairs in 1834, these payments were stopped, and in March of that year the regiment was disembodied, though as a Royal favour, officers were permitted to retain their ranks and honours.

Beyond the metropolis, the other half dozen new English volunteer units were neither so prestigious nor so long lived. In Somerset, the Bath Riflemen seem to have been the first to form in 1815, surviving for at least ten years as a single company. Another company at Retford in Nottinghamshire may have been attached to the Retford Yeomanry, but was defunct by 1825. In Cheshire a similar arrangement saw a small battalion of infantry in 1819 attached to the yeomanry as the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Legion; this lasted a little longer. In Staffordshire a battalion was raised in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1819, comprising four battalion companies and one of rifles, the uniform of the former “similar to that of Soldiers of the Line”. The Newcastle Volunteers lasted until August 1823.

Something more like a cluster of volunteers was established in West Yorkshire, where the Leeds Volunteers, in a “handsome” uniform, were organised in January 1820, consisting initially of three battalion companies, one grenadier and one light infantry. In April they were joined by the neighbouring Huddersfield Independent Association, or Huddersfield Riflemen, dressed in rifle green with black facings and green epaulettes. Colours were presented to the Leeds Volunteers in July 1821, but the Leeds Light Infantry, as it was later known, was dormant by 1824. The Huddersfield companies survived a while longer.

The King’s Cheshire Volunteers fire a blank volley on the beach

Not surprisingly, very little visual evidence survives for these sparse and short lived units. The silvered officer’s button of the Leeds Volunteers (above) was drawn by Denis Darmanin in 2009 for the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society. In an exaggeratedly romantic canvas of 1824 by James Ward (go here for the full painting), an ageing Sir John Leicester exercises the Cheshire yeomanry on the sands at Liverpool; in the distance, under a suitably dramatic sky, the tiny ranks of the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Infantry, colours proudly flying, engage the passing dragoons and lancers. They are very much in the background.

In the event, the yeomanry proved more adequate than these new infantry units to the task of policing a discontented populace. With the collapse of this postwar wavelet, the volunteer movement rather subsided; not until the early 1850’s did the rifle and drill clubs emerge that would generate the volunteer explosion of 1859.