Notes on the dress of the Militia

This series of larger, more complex pages attempts to chronicle what’s known to me of the organisational basics, dress and equipage of selected county militia regiments from the 1757 revival through to their disembodiment at the close of the Napoleonic wars. In the scheme of things, they will be amended and expanded whenever possible. So far, pages up and running are:

Lancashire: 1st Royal Lancashire Militia 1760-1816

Lancashire: 2nd-5th Royal Lancashire Militia (1st-4th Supplementary Militia) 1797-1816

Staffordshire Militia 1776-1816

West Yorkshire: 1st West Yorkshire Militia 1759-1816

West Yorkshire: 2nd West Yorkshire Militia 1759-1816

West Yorkshire: 3rd, 4th & 5th West Yorkshire Militia 1797-1814

A very brief general note on the system of clothing and equipping the militia may be helpful here. For the organisational background to the Militia, I’d recommend J R Western’s The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century (1965) – skip the first 200 pages (largely a political history); after that it’s still dense and dull, but enormously useful. In the meantime, it may be helpful to note here that government, in the form of the Ordnance, supplied arms, accoutrements, drums and colours. Clothing was largely the responsibility of the colonel, purchased usually from the large clothiers – Dolan, Pearce, Prater etc – against an allowance per man from government, out of which the colonel usually managed to contrive a personal profit, which might, or might not, be spent on regimental extras such as the band. Once the raw clothing had been received, much fitting and alteration was required at a regimental level. In the earlier part of our period, re-clothing of militia regiments was due every midsummer, but in 1801 this was moved to Christmas. During periods of disembodiment, the permanent sergeants and drummers were at first clothed annually, and from 1786 every two years, but the privates only once during their period of disembodied service.

Though regimental deviations and variations were in the nature of things, by the 1770’s militia clothing conformed largely to army regulations; the Osborn militia book of 1780 (Carman, 1958) shows the regiments orthodoxly clothed, almost all with their buttons and lacing double spaced. However, quality control of clothing was haphazard and could hardly be enforced by occasional inspecting generals; by 1803 patterns of clothing could be inspected and sealed by a Board of General Officers, and from 1809 were subject to precisely the same oversight as those of the regulars.

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