East Yorkshire: volunteer and association infantry and artillery of the 1790’s

On this page are notes on the organisational basics, dress and equipage, where known to me, of the volunteer infantry and artillery, and association infantry of the East Riding of Yorkshire from 1794 to 1802. The information gathered here is pretty slight, to be honest, but more will be added as and when it comes along.

From what we know of the dress of these corps, it seems that there was no attempt, as there would be in 1803, to assimilate it to that of the Militia of the Riding (see the corresponding Local Militia page here).

For the East Riding volunteers of this era, the default starting point remains Norfolk’s concise survey of 1965, though this carries a few glitches that require attention. Norfolk does not list the Hornsea or Wansford Volunteers, and lists Howden as a volunteer corps rather than an armed association; four of the association corps he does include do not appear in the 1799 List, though this may have been simply through delays in communication or gazetting. Norfolk also assumes that the corps of this period were uniformly disbanded in 1801 after the establishment of peace, but this seems premature, 1802 being more likely. In addition, the slightly vexed history of the Hull companies before their amalgamation is not explained.

Names here of commanding officers and earliest dates of commissions are taken largely from the War Office lists of 1797 and 1799 (fifth and sixth editions) and from local press reports.

Click to enlarge images.

[R W S Norfolk, Militia, Yeomanry and Volunteer Forces of the East Riding 1689-1908, East Yorkshire Local History Society, 1965.]



Beverley Volunteers / Independent Beverley Volunteers

Capt Cruger. (Also referred to as “Colonel Cruger”.) Date of earliest commission 4 June 1794. One company.

The corps appeared uniformed and accoutred for the first time on 25 December 1794; in January 1795 the uniform was reported as scarlet faced blue, with gold epaulettes.

Colours were presented, rather tardily, on 4 June 1799.

[Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 8 June 1799. York Courant, 25 January, 1795. George Oliver, The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley …, Beverley, 1829.]


Beverley Armed Association

One company.  Listed by Norfolk as formed in 1798, but not in the 1799 List. (See the note below on a button inscribed “BVA”.)


Burlington Volunteers / Bridlington Volunteers

Listed as Burlington, the quayside area of Bridlington, though the London Gazette does include at least one entry for this corps as “Bridlington”. Major Comm John Pitts. Three companies. Date of earliest commission noted 6 May 1795.

A meeting of the East Riding and Hull Committee for Internal Defence on 30 April 1794 resolved that a company of infantry should be raised for the defence of the fort on Bridlington Quay and its neighbourhood. A further meeting on 17 May authorised two further companies, the whole to be commanded by Pitts. Apparently existed as three companies under Pitts, including an artillery company.

Norfolk gives the uniform as blue. (The use of red or scarlet on the drum discussed below might indicate red or scarlet facings.)

A side drum made by Robert Horne and inscribed “Bridlington”, has been attributed to this period of this corps, though the title might also refer to the Bridlington armed association (see below).  It has been offered and illustrated online by Tennants and by The Armoury of St James. The front and hoops appear to have been painted a scarlet shade of red. The design, largely in a golden yellow, with details and lettering in black, is a crowned red shield with the GIIIR cypher, above a ribbon inscribed in Roman capitals “BRIDLINGTON VOLUNTEERS”, the ends of which extend into decorative foliate tendrils that frame the design.

(A button is known, found in North Lincolnshire, that might conceivably be for the artillery company. It is flat, gilt, 15 mm in diameter, with the raised design of a crown over script “BVA”. On the other hand, this might be for the Burlington Volunteer Artillery of 1803, or even for the Beverley or Bridlington armed associations, if “VA” could be taken for “Volunteer Association”.)

[East Riding Archives zDDX17/1/2/9, zDDX17/1/2/16. London Gazette, 6 March 1798, issue 14096.]


Bridlington Armed Association / Bridlington Volunteers

Norfolk lists as an armed association of one company, formed in 1798, but this corps is not in the 1799 List.

East Riding Museums have a framed copy of Rules and Constitution of the Bridlington Armed Association (Thomas Harland, Chairman), 23 May 1798. I have not seen this.

(See the note above on a button inscribed “BVA”.)


Cave Armed Association

Norfolk lists this corps as an armed association of one company, formed in 1798, though it is not in the 1799 List. I have not been able to trace any other reference.


Dickering Volunteers / Filey Bay Volunteers / Hunmanby Volunteers

Listed as “Dickering”. Major Comm Humphrey Osbaldeston. Date of earliest commission 8 October 1794. A meeting of the East Riding and Hull Committee for Internal Defence on 17 May 1794 approved the formation of a company at Hunmanby under the command of Capt, later Major Osbaldeston. This subsequently expanded to three companies.

The local press of March 1797 noted that the corps was currently recruiting “in all the villages around York, with astonishing success”. In July it was reported as over 300 strong.

By or before July 1797 the corps included an artillery company with field pieces.

[Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 18 March, 31 July 1797. East Riding Archives zDDX17/1/2/16.]


Driffield Armed Association / Driffield Volunteers 

Capt Henry Grimston. Norfolk lists this corps as an armed association of one company, formed in 1798; it does not appear in the 1799 List, but the London Gazette includes at least one promotion under the title of “Driffield Volunteers”.

A button has been attributed to this corps, which is flat, gilt, with the design in relief of a crown over “GDV” in script, for “Great Driffield Volunteers”. I can’t say if this attribution is correct.

[London Gazette, 8 March 1800, issue 15237.]


Hornsea Volunteers

Capt Digby Legard. Date of earliest commission 1 July 1794. One company. A meeting of the East Riding and Hull Committee for Internal Defence on 23 May 1794 resolved that a company should be raised immediately under Legard’s command. This corps is not listed by Norfolk, who states that it was not actually formed, which seems to be in error, as it appears in the 1797 and 1799 Lists.

[East Riding Archives zDDX17/1/2/22.]


Howden Volunteer Association / Howden Volunteers

Capt Comm John Scholfield. Two companies. The acceptance of the corps’s offer of service was reported in July 1798. Norfolk lists this corps as volunteers, but the 1799 List includes it as an armed association.

[Leeds Intelligencer, 23 July 1798.]


Hull Independent Volunteers / Hull Royal Volunteer Companies / Hull and Cottingham Volunteers / Royal Hull Volunteers

The earliest formation in Hull was, as at Liverpool, a group of separate companies, with no overall commander. A meeting on 22 May 1794 resolved that three companies of infantry and one of artillery (see below) should be raised in and around the town. The date of the earliest commissions appears to be 21 June 1794. The three initial companies were the Hull Independent Volunteers, Capt John Wray; the Dock Company Volunteers, Capt Joseph Outram, and a company under Capt Osbourne. A fourth infantry company was formed at Cottingham in late 1794 under Capt George Knowsley, and a fifth added in 1797.

Wray’s company of Independent Volunteers were “independent” in the sense of serving without pay, and apparently standing many of their own costs; at a meeting on 16 August 1794, recognising that demands by volunteer corps nationally meant that government would be unable to furnish “much more than a third” of the arms they required, the company resolved to provide their own arms “and every other necessary at their own expence”. “Independence” meant affluence, which meant social prestige; by March 1795, though only a single company,  the Independents had a band capable, with the assistance of a few extra musicians, of giving a prestigious concert and ball at the Exchange. As the other two companies served with pay, friction was perhaps inevitable; in October 1794 the local paper reported an awkward situation involving Captains Wray and Osbourne that resulted in some of Wray’s “gentlemen” declining to drill with Osbourne’s company.

The local press reported in late August 1794 that “a pair of elegant colours are now preparing by some ladies in this town, which are meant to be presented to the Hull Independents”. However, a scathing and highly rhetorical letter in early December complained that “Such a design, if it was ever in contemplation, seems now to be entirely abandoned”. No reason was given, though maybe this was connected with the situation mentioned above involving Captains Wray and Osbourne. Virtually a year later, Sir Samuel Standidge, Mayor of Hull and Warden of Trinity House, was obliged to step in and offer to provide a pair of colours for the company. However, events overtook this proposal, as explained below.

The grouping of companies and captains remained the same through 1795, though by the end of the year they were using the joint title of the “Hull Royal Volunteer Companies”. By early 1796 the companies had amalgamated and adopted a battalion structure, under Major, later Lieut Col Christopher Machell.  Subsequently the battalion comprised five, then seven companies.

Since clothing for the initial non-“independent” companies was funded by a town-wide subscription, it may have been of a common pattern. Norfolk gives the uniform as blue with red facings, a round hat with black feathers, and nankeen breeches with black gaiters. (Despite this, the later “Royal” tag might suggest red with blue facings.) A meeting on 22 November 1794 of the subscribers to the Hull fund noted that this was now exhausted, but that “the whole are now completely cloathed, and Arms and Accoutrements provided for the greatest part of them …”

Hull Museum has a brass other ranks’ belt plate (damaged by fire in 1943) attributed to the battalion of this period. The incised design shows a crowned garter inscribed “ROYAL HULL VOLUNTEERS” in Roman capitals enclosing the arms of Hull (three crowns), above a ribbon with the motto “PRO ARIS ET FOCIS” in smaller capitals.

Since the formation of the battalion in early 1796 rendered inappropriate Sir Samuel Standidge’s intention to provide colours for Wray’s company alone, Standidge presented the full battalion on 17 February 1796 with “a handsome set of silk colours”. Ian Sumner notes that these (or perhaps just the regimental?) bore the arms of Hull, three gold crowns on a blue shield.

[Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 16, 30 August, 6 December 1794, 21 March, 29 August, 28 November, 16 December 1795, 20 February, 30 April, 24 September 1796. East Riding Archives zDDX17/1/2/22. John Tickell, The History of the Town and County of Kingston upon Hull …, 1798. Ian Sumner, British Colours & Standards 1747-1881 (2), Osprey, 2001.]


Hull Artillery Volunteers  / Hull Trinity House Artillery Volunteers

Capt Benjamin Metcalfe (Metcalf). Date of earliest commissions 21 June 1794. One company, formed from employees of Trinity House.

Norfolk gives the uniform as blue faced red. In late September 1796 Metcalfe announced that the company was to be re-clothed.

A mention of the company firing volleys indicates that they were also armed as infantry.


Kingston upon Hull Armed Association

Capts William Watson Bolton, Robert Copeland Pease, Simon Horner. Three companies, with no overall commander given in the 1799 List. Date of earliest commissions 21 June 1798.

A meeting of 13 February 1798 adopted Rules that included:

4. We agree that each of us shall, at his own expence, provide himself with a Uniform, consisting of a double breasted dark blue Coat with a black collar and yellow Buttons, with the cypher H.A.A, a white Waistcoat, a pair of blue Pantaloons, a pair of half Boots or black Gaiters, and a round hat with a black Feather, a brown barrelled Musket and side Arms of such lengths as may hereafter be determined, and a black Belt, with other proper Accoutrements.

A note to this advises that “the greatest part of the uniform is such as may be worn at any time”. The broad details of the dress are confirmed by a newspaper report of late March on the Association that strikes the same notes of economy and utility:

From an accurate estimate, the expence (exclusive of coat, waistcoat, and pantaloons, which are necessary articles of dress) will most probably not exceed four guineas …

[Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 31 March 1798. An Account of the Proceedings Respecting the Armed Association of the Inhabitants of the Town and Neighbourhood of Kingston upon Hull, Hull, 1798. ]


Patrington Volunteers

Capt William Raines. Date of earliest commission 1 July 1794. One company.


Wansford Volunteers

Capt John Boyes. Date of earliest commission 27 June 1798. One company. Norfolk does not mention this company, but it is included in the 1799 List as a volunteer corps.

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