This page attempts to set out what I can find of the basic organisation, dress and equipment of the Second Regiment of West Yorkshire Militia, from its initial embodiment in 1759 to its disembodiment in 1816. The lineage of the West Riding Militia can appear complicated: the three original battalions of 1759 were reorganised four years later into two full regiments, the First and Second. In 1797 three regiments of Supplementary Militia were raised, initially numbered as the First to Third Supplementary, but promptly re-numbered as the Third to Fifth “regular” Militia; when the Third and Fourth were disembodied in 1799 the Fifth became the new Third. (The First Regiment is dealt with on this page. The Third is covered here, plus the other two short-lived Supplementary regiments. The West Yorkshire Local Militia of 1808 can be found on this page.)
The discussion does assume a basic general knowledge of British military uniform of this era. For a very brief general note on the system of clothing and equipping the militia, see the parent page here.
The page is ordered chronologically, by periods of embodiment, mostly sub-divided as necessary for officers, other ranks, drummers and colours. Published and archival sources are listed at the end, alphabetically by author’s surname; other sources are noted in the text as we go. My thanks to Denis Darmanin for permission to reproduce his excellent button drawing.
Click to enlarge images.
First embodiment 1759-62; period of disembodiment 1763-78
In 1759 three new regiments of Militia were organised in the West Riding. The First Regiment was commanded by Col Lord Downe (Henry Pleydell Dawnay, Viscount Downe), and raised in the Wapentakes of Osgoldcross, Strafforth and Tickhill, Staincross, Barkston Ash and part of Skyrack; it was actually the last to be organised, its officers being commissioned on 29 June. Colonel Sir George Savile’s Second Regiment, raised in the Wapentakes of Agbrigg and Morley, was the second organised, with commissions dated 13 February, and Col William Thornton’s Third Regiment, raised in the city and Ainsty of York, and the Wapentakes of Claro, Staincliffe and Ewcross, the earliest to complete, its commissions dated 27 January.
The first clothing and arms appear to have been delivered in July 1759, and all three regiments were finally embodied on 5 September.
All three regiments were disembodied in December 1762. In 1763 these three undersized regiments were reorganised into two stronger, ten company, regiments – the First, or Southern, Regiment under Col Sir George Savile, and the Second, Northern or “York Regiment”, under Col William Thornton, effectively making the previous Second the new First, and the previous Third the new Second. From that point, we are concerned with Thornton’s Second only. The two new regiments only assembled annually for training during the following fifteen years.
Hay gives the 1759 uniform for officers as having green facings, with silver lace, buttons and epaulettes, though I’m ignorant of the source for this, and it’s possible that it’s wrongly derived from a 1778 reference (see below).
Lawson also gives green facings, while Raikes gives the 1759 uniform thus, presumably for all three regiments:
… a long red coat, the skirts of which were lined with the colour of the facings of the regiment … the waistcoat … and the breeches were red, with white or sometime black gaiters.
Presumably this refers to other ranks; I’m not sure of the source or how generic this might be. The regimental colours (see below) do indicate that the Second was faced in green.
A glimpse of the appearance of these regiments appears in an etching by William Lindley of “A Perspective View of York Castle with part of the Court of Justice and Grand Jury House &c” (copies in York Museums and the Royal Collection), supposedly of 1759. In the right background is a body of men at drill who may well be Thornton’s Third Regiment of 1759-62, which was headquartered in York. Lindley’s interest here is architectural, and it’s not clear how closely observed these small figures may have been, but they give a fair general impression.
The men wear single breasted coats with pocket flaps, hats with cockades, and gaiters held above the knee with garters. Belts and side arms are not visible, though a dark shape on the left hip, if not meant for a pocket flap, may be a cartridge pouch shown on the wrong side. Sergeants carry halberds and wear their sash over the right shoulder. The ensign in front of the ranks also wears a single breasted coat, while the drummer appears to wear a hat rather than a cap. (The overall look is broadly compatible with Townshend’s images of the Norfolk militia of this period, as shown in this post.)
The Ordnance returns of May 1759 for Savile’s Second and Thornton’s Third include for the rank and file:
Short Musquets, with Bayonets, Scabbards, Wood Rammers and tanned Leather slings
Cartouch Boxes with Belts and Frogs
Small Hangers, with Brass Hilts, Scabbards, and tanned Leather Waist-Belts
For the sergeants:
Large Hangers with Brass Hilts, Scabbards, and tanned leather Waist-Belts
And for the drummers:
Drums compleat, with the Arms of ___
Small Hangers, with Brass Hilts, Scabbards, and Waist-Belts, the same as the Drum Carriages
The painted arms are left blank here, but might conceivably be as for the regimental colours (see below). The drummers’ waist belts, judging by the phrasing, may possibly have been of buff leather.
A silvered button is known which appears to be for an officer of this regiment from 1763, when titled as the “Northern”. (Thanks to Bob Mullins for permission to show this.) It is flat, with a circle of punched bars enclosing the inscription, possibly engraved, of “WR / NM” in serifed capitals. For an other ranks’ button which may or may not relate to this period, see under the next embodiment.
The 1759 regimental colour of the Second was a green sheet with a Union canton and the arms of the Lord Lieutenant, the Marquis of Rockingham. The arms are shown here, from a different source; a “short” version might have been the quartered shield and coronet, with the crest, a white griffin on a blue and white wreath, and additional elements might have included the supporters, the motto, and perhaps a helmet. The King’s colour, a Union flag, may have been plain, without inscription.
Second embodiment 1778-83
The Second, like the First, was re-embodied in March 1778, during the American War, and disembodied in 1783. Colonel Thornton died in 1769 and the command passed to Col Stanhope Harvey. During this period the West Riding’s militia precedence numbers were – 1778-79: 4. 1779-80: 1. 1780-81: 27. 1781-82: 26. 1782-83: 28.
The regiment was at the Coxheath encampment of 1778, and during the Gordon Riots emergency of 1780, it was camped in London at Montagu House in Bloomsbury, London – the site of the first location of the British Museum – and then at Blackheath. In 1782 it was encamped at Harwich. A plan of the Coxheath camp, and plans by Paterson of the London, Blackheath and Harwich camps all colour the facings as mid to light green, as confirmed by other sources. The Osborn militia book of 1780 (Carman, 1958) shows buttons set in pairs, confirmed in other sources, but also gives yellow facings. Since other sources firmly indicate yellow from 1799 only, this has to be a mis-colouring for light green.
Several views are known of the Montagu House camp, by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm and Paul Sandby, and these provide some useful visual evidence, as analysed below.
Parkyn cites a Militia List of 1778 as giving green facings and silver lace for officers. Two pen and watercolour drawings by S H Grimm of views of the regiment at Montagu House in June 1780 are in the Royal Collection (RCIN 916601-02, Miller & Dawnay 193-94, plates 137-38); these include small figures of officers. The full drawings are online here and here. (A third view by Grimm is held by the British Museum, and is online here, but the figures are too distant to show any detail.)
Officers are shown in scarlet coats with collar, cuffs, lapels and, unusually, turnbacks in a bright light green. Hat lace and epaulettes are silver, but gorgets are gilt. Waistcoats and breeches are white, sashes crimson and the boots have brown tops, though one figure wears stockings and shoes. Officers of the grenadier company, marching past the colours, wear coats and hats (though their men wear fur caps and jackets) and carry half pikes. The green turnbacks have at least to be queried, given that Sandby (see below) shows men of the regiment at the same date in coats with white turnbacks; on the other hand, Grimm was an eye witness, and these are not random “staffage” figures. A related engraving after Sandby by James Fittler (Anne S K Brown collection), though inaccurate in some respects, shows the officers’ silver laced hats with black feather plumes. Judging by the men’s buttons (below) those of officers would also have been in pairs.
The Osborn book shows the men’s buttons in pairs with white loops. (Some other aspects of the Osborn images are generic and require confirmation.) Images of the Montagu House camp of 1780 by Grimm and Sandby provide other details. Copies of a coloured print by Paul Sandby can be found in the Royal Collection, on the Society of the Cincinnati site and in the Anne S K Brown Collection; two figures at the right represent men of the regiment. The man holding the box is identified as a corporal, and his wings indicate the grenadier company. The coats have buttons and laces in pairs, and full length skirts with white turnbacks. Off-white breeches (perhaps leather) are worn with short gaiters, and the hats have full black plumes. The facing colour here is a bluish shade, but that may be the whim of the colourist.
This is at variance with the numerous small figures in Grimm. It may be that he shows a form of second dress, and Sandby the full dress, or that Sandby’s figures are generic and inaccurate. In the Grimm drawings, jackets with facings and turnbacks in light green are universally shown, worn with breeches and short gaiters.
Battalion company men wear hats, apparently with white lace, grenadiers fur caps with brass or light coloured plates and apparently a red tuft, bag or tassel at the right, while the light infantry cap appears to be black with a white edge to the front and a dark feather at the right. For what it’s worth, the grenadiers in jackets may be borne out by the figure in a print of 1810 of a supporter in the coat of arms of Lieut Col Thomas Thornton, who resigned in 1795, showing a fur grenadier cap, apparently without a plume, a jacket with lapels, and breeches or pantaloons with short gaiters.
A report in the London Chronicle of 18th July 1778 from Coxheath camp, at which this regiment was present, describes a Summer or undress uniform:
The West Yorkshire regiment of militia is a most elegant and well-disciplined corps. They have a very neat white uniform, turned up with light green, which we hear was presented to them by her Majesty.
By 1780, judging by the Grimm images, undress wear was now a white single breasted jacket with red collar and cuffs. Forage caps sometimes appear white, but are also shown with a light green top and a white band or turn-up.
A pewter other ranks’ button that might belong to this embodiment, or even to the previous, is shown by Ripley and Darmanin (319); a beaded border encloses “Y / W ● R / 2” in Roman capitals. Another pewter button found at the site of Coxheath camp is inscribed “YORK” in raised Roman capitals, within what have been described as six rose petals (Ripley & Darmanin 285). Dixon Pickup states that this is not complete, the damaged outer edges having been reduced. The surviving diameter is 22 mm.
York Museums have a powder horn marked for this regiment (CA 1963), which must predate 1784, when light infantry powder horns were ordered to be discontinued. There is no online photo of it, but the museum’s description reads:
Bone powder horn with brass attachments. The piece has common, or “fast”, top. There is no evidence of a cutter or thumb piece. Below the collar is a carrying loop. The base is brass with another carrying loop set into the center. The carrying sling is attached and knotted in places, intentionally. On the base there is an engraved decoration of the Royal Crown surmounting the G.R. with YORK 2nd REGT underneath.
The small figures leading the march past of grenadiers in one of the Grimm images may be the drummers and fifers or a small band – I honestly can’t say from the images available online. They wear fur caps, white jackets and breeches, and short gaiters. The jackets may have red collars, cuffs and turnbacks, as worn by a figure elsewhere who could represent a drummer or bandsman. Lawson’s analysis of Grimm includes a note of drummers in fur caps on parade but hats in camp, white jackets faced red with darts on the sleeves, the lace apparently with a red stripe, but I’m unable myself to make all this out in the online versions.
Hay records no issue of new colours until 1795. If so, the colours in use would have been those of 1759. Grimm’s drawing of a march past shows the King’s colour as a plain Union flag; the regimental colour is shown in the same light green as the facings, and has a Union canton and an indistinct central device. Three camp colours are visible, their ground in the same green; they hang in folds but have inscriptions in white, apparently in three lines, the upper two beginning “W …” and “Y …”, presumably for “WEST YORK”. They also appear to have spearheads, and possibly cords and tassels.
Third embodiment 1793-1802
The regiment was re-embodied in early 1793. Harvey was succeeded to the colonelcy on 7 February 1795 by the Rt Hon John C D Burton, Viscount Downe. The regiment was disembodied in April 1802. During this period the West Riding’s militia precedence number was 39.
The Supplementary Militia raised in West Yorkshire in 1797 under the legislation of the previous year were mostly formed into three new regiments, as mentioned in the introduction above; in addition the two existing regiments were each augmented with two hundred plus men from this levy.
According to Hay, the green facings were changed to yellow in 1799, and the silver lace and metal to gold.
Hay quotes “Standing Uniforms for the Officers of grenadiers and battalion by Order of Colonel Lord Viscount Downe …”, which must date from between 1795, the year of Downe’s commission, and 1799, when the silver lace was changed:
A Cock’d Hat with a Silver Band and Rosette at the Corner, and a Small Button and Silver loop, and Cockade without lace round the edge.
The Coats have a stand up collar.
The facings to be Three Inches and Three Quarters at the top and three at the bottom.
The facings to come as low down as the Bottom of the Waistcoat, with Ten Buttons put on Two by Two, and one small Button on the Collars.
Cuffs Three Inches and a Quarter broad.
White Waistcoats and Breeches.
Battalion Officers, their hair always clubbed with a Rosette.
This helpfully confirms that buttons were still set in pairs at this time. The hats now have no lace edging, as per regulations.
We can say confidently that green facings with buttons in pairs were worn until 1799, and after that yellow facings, though whether the button spacing changed to single with the change of facing colour, I can’t say. A letter by Downe of March 1800 (Sheffield City Archives) confirms that “we have yellow facings”.
Lawson, in his Volume III, working supposedly from an inspection report, states that in July 1795 two companies of “Light armed marksmen” were to be added to the regiment, “armed [with] fuzees and dressed in green with black buttons”. However, I can see no mention of this elsewhere, and I’m suspicious that this is a confusion with the two companies of exactly the same description added to the North York Militia at exactly the same time, as documented in Turton’s history of that regiment. This was an initiative of the yeomanry subscribers of the North Riding, so unlikely to be duplicated elsewhere so precisely.
Hay states that new colours, the regimental with a green ground, were issued in 1795, and that with the change of facings to yellow in 1799, another new pair was issued that year, the regimental with a yellow ground. (Though this change would only have required a new regimental colour, surely?)
Fourth embodiment 1803-16
The disembodied period from 1802 was brief; with the renewal of hostilities in early 1803, the regiment, still ten companies, was re-embodied under Col Lord Downe. In July the Supplementary men were re-embodied and divided among the three West Yorkshire regiments, augmenting each to twelve companies. In July 1805 the twelve companies were reduced to ten.
A General Order to disembody the Militia was issued in June 1814, but the Second was not actually disembodied and so was still in service when the Militia was re-embodied the following year. It was finally disembodied in 1816. During this period the West Riding’s militia precedence number was 32.
At some point between 1799 and 1812, which I can’t currently place, the spacing of buttons changed to single.
The Green Howards Museum holds a group of items of Capt John Francis Carr, commissioned on 24 December 1810. (The Museum website wrongly dates these to “c 1806”.) The group comprises a jacket, battalion company officer’s epaulette, waistcoat, shoulder belt, belt plate and stock, and a miniature portrait. The jacket, by definition, must date from 1812 or thereabouts at the earliest. Useful photos (including a 360 degree rotation of the jacket) can be found on the museum’s website.
The scarlet jacket has a collar, lapels and cuffs in a lemon yellow. The lapels each have eight buttons, singly spaced, but they close at the front with eight hooks and eyes. There are four buttons on each cuff and on each oblique, pointed pocket flap, two buttons at the rear waist and one at the lower end of each pleat. The lapel and cuff buttons have yellow twist holes, those on the lapels diminishing sharply in length towards the waist; the pocket flap buttons have scarlet twist holes.
The top and front of the collar, the lapels, the tops of the cuffs, the bottom front jacket edges, pocket flaps and rear vent and pleats are all narrowly piped in white; the white cloth turnbacks are set on yellow cloth, which shows as a narrow yellow edging. The turnback ornaments are silver wire roses set on yellow cloth. The gold check lace epaulette has a crescent of gold wire and yellow cord, with a heavy bullion fringe. The miniature shows the top part of the jacket, with epaulette.
The waistcoat, with a collar and two front pockets, has a white cloth front and linen(?) back with two ties. It closes with small sized gilt buttons and the lower edge is cut straight.
The buttons on the Carr items are of a pattern seen quite often – gilt (also sometimes silvered), convex, with the raised design of a crown above a rose above “YORK” in Roman capitals (Ripley & Darmanin 286). The coat size buttons, as on the Carr jacket, are about 20 mm in diameter, while the small (waistcoat) size is given as 10 mm on the museum website, which may be a bit approximate.
Parkyn describes the officers’ gilt cap plate of 1812 as in the universal crowned shield design; below the Royal cypher is a white rose in silver, and under the rose a silver scroll inscribed “2nd West York”.
Charles Hamilton Smith’s militia chart of 1815 (see below) confirms the single spacing seen on Carr’s garments, but gives the officer’s lace and metal as silver. If this is not an error, it may be a late change; silvered buttons of the pattern shown above would have been worn by senior NCO’s, and after 1831 by officers, but might conceivably have been introduced at an earlier date.
The Carr shoulder belt is of whitened leather. The rectangular gilt belt plate, with clipped corners, has a heavily embossed design repeating that of the buttons – a large crown above a silver rose above “YORK” in Roman capitals.
Hampshire Museums have the sketchbook of Captain John Durrant (Durant) of the regiment, commissioned lieutenant in March 1799; this contains numerous drawings and watercolours of locations at and near postings, done between 1802 and 1813, but apparently mostly in 1808. They are of considerable historical interest, but for our purposes some include small “staffage” figures of officers and men of the Second.
In one undated image, perhaps from 1812-13, two officers wear jackets faced yellow with gilt epaulettes, with breeches and boots or long gaiters; one clearly wears a Belgic cap with a gilt plate. In another, dated 1812, a small figure perhaps intended for an officer wears a cap and jacket with grey trousers.
The Hamilton Smith chart of 1815 shows the buttons spaced singly, with pointed loops. It’s not clear to me when this arrangement was adopted. The lace apparently has a central red stripe, though Lawson gives this as black.
The Durrant sketchbook shows a number of images, mostly dated 1808-09, of men in jackets with yellow facings, cylindrical caps, breeches and long gaiters. Nearly all are rear views but in one case a white dot is visible on the cap front, suggesting a white rose cap plate, as also worn by the First West York Militia from 1804 (see this page). A grenadier private wears a white tuft on his cylindrical cap and yellow shoulder straps and wings, while another figure has a pale greyish greatcoat roll slung diagonally across the back, held by two straps.
Some glimpses of undress or fatigue wear are also provided: a few figures wear white sleeved waistcoats, or possibly jackets, with white linen trousers and small rounded forage caps; some of these caps are of an indeterminate colour, but one or two appear to be red. In two cases the white trousers are worn with the red jacket.
The Durrant images provide a broad but indistinct picture of the dress of other ranks for this period; virtually all the detail remains to be discovered.
One tiny figure of a drummer appears in a Durrant watercolour of 1809; he wears a yellow jacket, white linen undress trousers and a red fatigue cap, and the front of the drum appears yellow, but no details are visible.
According to Hay, new colours were presented in 1812, a King’s and a regimental with a yellow field. This pair is said to have been sent to Becca Hall, near Leeds, the residence of Colonel Markham, in September 1836.
* * *
W Y Baldry, “Order of Precedence of Militia Regiments”, JSAHR Vol 15, No 57, Spring 1936.
W Y Carman, “Militia Uniforms, 1780”, JSAHR Vol 36, No 147, September 1958.
A W Haarmann, “West Yorkshire Militia, 1778”, JSAHR Vol LIV No 220, Winter 1976.
Col George Jackson Hay, The Records of the Third Battalion Prince of Wales’ Own West Yorkshire Regiment, late Second West York Light Infantry Militia, or ‘York Regiment’, 1897.
Cecil C P Lawson, A History of the Uniforms of the British Army, Vol II, London, 1941; Vol III, London, 1961.
A E Haswell Miller & N P Dawnay, Military Drawings and Paintings in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Phaidon, 2 vols, 1970.
H G Parkyn, “English Militia Regiments, 1757-1935: their Badges and Buttons”, JSAHR Vol 15, No 60, Winter 1936.
Capt Daniel Paterson, “Maps of encampments in England and Great Britain, 1778-82, c 1784-91”, Royal Collection RCIN 734032.
Dixon Pickup, “Excavated Buttons of Some Interest”, MHS Bulletin 228, May 2007.
Capt G A Raikes, Historical Records of the First Regiment of Militia; or, Third West York Light Infantry, London, 1876.
Howard Ripley & Denis Darmanin, English Infantry Militia Buttons 1757-1881, Military Historical Society, 2010.
Howard Ripley & Denis Darmanin, Scottish Welsh & Channel Islands Infantry Militia Buttons 1757-1881 (Addendum), published by Howard Ripley, 2013.
Sheffield City Archives, Wentworth Woodhouse Muniments Y32.