Lancashire: Liverpool and Manchester infantry and artillery of the 1790’s

On this page are notes on the little I know of the organisational basics, dress and equipage of the volunteer and association infantry and artillery corps of Liverpool and Manchester in the 1790’s, which are generally not as well documented as those of 1803. Other Lancashire corps of this period are dealt with elsewhere, simply to avoid an unreasonably long page. (However, the Eccles Volunteers, essentially an element within Ackers’s Manchester regiment despite their distinctive identity, are listed on this page.)

For the Liverpool volunteers, accessible evidence is fragmented, and not always well referenced. The similarity of titles, both within this period and with the volunteers of 1803, is confusing and can make identification of insignia awkward. For Manchester, the fairly generous documentation of Ackers’s regiment is offset by a serious lack of information on the other two battalions. From what evidence there is here, the overall tendency was to follow the basic colours of the Lancashire militia – scarlet or red faced in dark blue – as given in more detail on my Lancashire Local Militia page.

Names 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 reports in the Lancashire press.

Click to enlarge images. (For the 1803 period, volunteers of Liverpool are dealt with on this page, and those of Manchester here.)

[Thomas Baines, History of the Commerce and Town of Liverpool, 1852. Dennis Reeves, “Military Formations in Liverpool, Part 2”, MHS Bulletin 140, May 1985. Dennis Reeves, “The Liverpool Volunteers”, MHS Bulletin 269, August 2017. Dennis Reeves, “The Liverpool Volunteers”, MHS Bulletin 272, May 2018.]

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Liverpool independent companies / 1st Battalion, Royal Liverpool Volunteers / Liverpool Independent Volunteers

Seven companies, under Capts Felix Doran, Thomas Earle, George Goring, George Dunbar, Joseph Birch, George Case, and Jonas Bold, originating in a letter of 6 March 1797 to the Mayor proposing independent companies of 70 to 100 men, armed, clothed and accoutred at their own expense. Date of earliest commissions 23 March 1797. Co-ordination and co-operation between these purely independent companies proved difficult, disputes arose over seniority, and a rotational system of command was not successful. This led eventually to their amalgamation as the First Battalion in late April 1798, initially with rotating command, later under Lt Col George Case, and Majors Earle and Birch.

Much of the detail as used by Reeve originates in the writings of Bryan Blundell, a private drummed out on 9 October 1798 for his public accusations of republicanism among the officers, an episode which only prompted further pamphleteering. (My thanks to Eamonn O’Keeffe for his leads on Blundell. The account on Eamonn’s blog, here, is well worth reading.)

Six companies were dressed in red faced blue with breeches and gaiters, but Birch’s was faced in yellow, with white gaiter-trousers. His reluctance to change to blue was imputed to disloyalty, blue being not only the Lancashire facing, but a Royal colour. Wrote Blundell:

Major BIRCH’S Company had changed their facings, and expected all the six Companies, out of compliment to them, to alter their dress, from white kerseymere breeches, white stockings, and half gaiters, to long white pantaloons, coming over the shoes as a gaiter, this alteration gave such a general dislike, that the Field-Officers thought ti not prudent to insist upon it, but begged, as a favour, that the Gentlemen would alter their dress; – some did, some did not, – which made the Battalion look still more curious; for in the same Company some had white long pantaloons, whilst others had the black half-gaiters, and this was general throughout the six Companies.

In their firelocks, though all were of the same calibre, yet some weighed ten pounds, some twelve pounds, and some fourteen pounds each musket. In their cartouch-boxes, some helf sixteen rounds, some twenty, and others had a cavity underneath, which would make them hold thirty rounds. – Some fastened with a brass clasp, other had a button and a leather strap; some were plain, others had brass ornaments in the centre of them; many of the cartouch-boxes, when tried, would not hold ball-cartridges, as the holes in the wood were too small to receive them, and, as such, the Privates were obliged (if occasion required) to put them in their waistcoat pockets, or else not take them at all.

According to Reeves, Birch’s company is said to have worn gilt buttons, gold lace wings, white waistcoat, white kerseymere gaiter-trousers, the hat with a cockade, gilt button and loop, and a black feather plume. Other companies’ feathers also varied: Dunbar’s company wore white, Earle’s and Goring’s red. Belts were white, gorgets gilt. Differences remained between companies in their drill. Three companies – Bold’s, Goring’s and Birch’s, retained their own colours, while the others carried none. There was no grenadier or light company within the battalion. Moves were eventually made towards improved uniformity and the establishment of flank companies.

As the companies were not individually titled beyond their captain’s name, a measure of uniformity in buttons and belt plates seems possible. A button attributed to these companies, or to their successor battalion, is gilt, known in 17 mm diameter, with the raised design of an eight rayed star surmounted by a Liver bird, the centre, with a beaded edge, inscribed “L / I.V”.

A miniature portrait by Thomas Hazlehurst (in low resolution colour on Artnet, black and white in Reeves) shows an unidentified officer of one of these companies or of the battalion. The scarlet coat has a collar and lapels appearing black but conceivably dark blue, gilt buttons singly spaced, a small button and gold lace loop on the collar, a plain gilt epaulette and white belt with gilt plate. A gorget is not worn.

According to Blundell, “There were about eight drummers and eight fifers belonging to the battalion, and, strange to tell, they were habited in seven different uniforms.” Bound in with Blundell’s Rise, Progress and Proceedings is a coloured caricature of the eight drummers of the independent companies, mocking their diversity; it’s hard to say how accurate or fanciful this might be. Three or more of the coats or jackets have drummer’s lacing; most are red, with assorted facings, but two are blue faced yellow, perhaps intended for Birch’s company.

British Library image

Headgear is a cocked hat, and an assortment of caps including light infantry style with front plates marked “Independent” or “GR”. Some figures wear breeches or white pantaloons with short gaiters, but white gaiter-trousers and trousers are also shown – again, perhaps for Birch’s. Three drums are decorated with the Royal arms, but Birch’s two have the same design, interestingly, of sun rays illuminating a Liver bird(?), with a crossed fasces and liberty cap.

The evidence for belt plates shows some variation, though again it is not clear which examples were worn by independent companies, the battalion, or both. Reeves describes the plates as brass, or gilt for officers, and illustrates a design showing a crown over “LIV”, above the Liver bird and the motto “PRO ARIS ET FOCIS”. The Hazlehurst portrait shows a gilt oval plate, which, though on a very small scale, appears to match this.

In a notebook of Percy W Reynolds at the V&A (thanks to Ben Townsend for the image) is a drawing of another oval gilt plate, either for these companies or for the First Battalion, with the embossed design of a crown over the Liver bird crest between script “G” and “R”, above a small laurel wreath, inscribed at the edge “LIVERPOOL INDEPENDENT VOLUNTEERS” in Roman capitals.

Discussion of the dress and insignia of the independent companies is obviously applicable also to those of the battalion. In addition, Reeves shows two items inscribed “1st Liverpool”, which he attributes to Bolton’s First Battalion of 1803, but the use of the motto “Pro aris et focis”, as noted above, suggests that they might be of this earlier First. One is a Tarleton helmet badge, showing a crowned garter inscribed “PRO ARIS ET FOCIS” in Roman capitals, enclosing the “GR” cypher, above a ribbon inscribed “1ST LIVERPOOL”; since there is no evidence that the light company of the 1803 battalion wore such helmets, a less likely choice at that date, an identification to this battalion seems fair. The second item is a button, compatible in design with the helmet badge, showing a crowned garter inscribed “PRO ● ARIS ● ET ● FOCIS ●” in Roman capitals, enclosing the “GR” cypher, above “1st LIVERPOOL”.

Reeves illustrates a plate attributed to this corps; it is oval, the design showing a large Liver bird crest, the edged border inscribed in Roman capitals “ROYAL LIVERPOOL REGIMENT OF VOLUNTEERS +”. (This title could equally well apply to other corps of this and the 1803 period, of course.)

At Easter 1799 the parishioners of Liverpool resolved to donate two brass field pieces to the regiment, which were presumably, like those of the Second Regiment, presented in January 1800. Reeves states that the artillerymen of the regiment wore blue coats faced red with a distinctive belt plate. A button ascribed by Reeves to the Liverpool Artillery Volunteers (below) could be identified to the artillery of this battalion, given that its initials suggest “Liverpool Independent Artillery Volunteers”. It is flat, of yellow metal, the raised design showing a crown surrounded by “L / I A / V” in Roman capitals.

[Bryan Blundell, Four Letters for the Consideration of all Loyal Britons; and Particularly for the Attention of all Loyal Volunteers …, Liverpool, 1799. (Bryan Blundell), The Rise, Progress, and Proceedings, of a Corps of Volunteers … by a Loyal Volunteer, London, 1799.]


2nd Regiment, Royal Liverpool Volunteers

Lieut Col Comm Pudsey Dawson. Date of earliest commissions 20 June 1798. Ten (possibly later twelve?) companies, including grenadiers and light infantry. An artillery company seems to have been added by 1800.

Though the “Royal” title suggests red coats with blue facings, the distant recollections of an ex-member mention “blue coats, white breeches, gaiters and pig-tails, … pipe-clay in abundance.”

At Easter 1799 the parishioners of Liverpool resolved to donate two guns to the regiment; these “elegant brass field pieces” were presented in January 1800. They were reported to “surpass, in respect of engraving, everything of the kind we ever saw”, the local engraver being a Mr Yates. Reeves states that the artillerymen of the regiment wore blue coats faced red with a distinctive belt plate.

The regiment was disbanded on 3 May 1802, and deposited its arms at the Fort.

[Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser, 23 January 1800. Manchester Mercury, 11 May 1802. Recollections of Old Liverpool by a Nonagenarian, 1836.]


Liverpool Artillery Volunteers

Capt Comm Jacob Nelson. Date of earliest commissions 11 May 1797. Two companies.

Reeves states that the uniform was blue, faced red.

Since a corps of the same title was re-formed in 1803, identification of insignia to the right period is tricky. An oval brass belt plate donated to Liverpool Museum in 1910, as drawn by Reynolds (thanks to Ben Townsend for an image), shows a crown over “LAV” in script with the Liver bird below; the similarity to the plate in the Hazlehurst portrait (see above, under independent companies) means that it should probably be attributed to the Artillery of this period, as Reeves does.

A button either from this period or from 1803 is flat, copper or gilt, showing the Ordnance shield within “LIVERPOOL VOLTR ARTILLERY” in Roman capitals; an example is on display at Birmingham Museum. For another artillery button, initialled “LIAV”, see above under the 1st Battalion.


Manchester and Salford Volunteers / Royal Manchester and Salford Volunteers

Col James Ackers. Date of earliest commissions 25 April 1797. The corps was first promoted at a meeting on 25 March 1797, and volunteers enrolled on the 30th. A regiment of ten companies was proposed, but eight appear to have been formed. (The meeting also acknowledged of the “handsome Offer” of the inhabitants of Eccles to “join” the corps; though apparently listed officially within the regiment as a ninth company, the Eccles Volunteers seem to have enjoyed a semi-detached relationship to it, and are discussed here separately below.)

At the initial meeting of March 25 a fully fledged uniform scheme was proposed and accepted:

II. That each Volunteer be furnished with a Coat, Jacket, a Hat or Helmet Cap, Guetres and Stock, from the Subscription; except such Volunteers as have or may agree to furnish them exclusive of the Subscription.

III. That the Uniform of the Grenadier and Battalion Companies be Blue Coats, faced with Scarlet and edged with White, the Laps lined with White Shalloon, the Grenadiers to have Wings:- That the Light Infantry have Blue Jackets and Wings; and that the whole Regiment have Capes, Cuffs, and Facings of Scarlet Cloth, the Waistcoats White Cotton, and Breeches Buff Nankeen, Yellow Buckles of the same Pattern at the Knees and Shoes.

IV. That the Grenadier Company do wear Caps, Hair platted and turned up behind:- The Battalion Hats with Gold Loops, Black Cockades and Black Feathers, Hair clubbed:- The Light Infantry Helmet Caps, Black Cockades, Black Feathers, Hair platted and turned up behind; and that a Yellow Button be worn in the Centre of all the Cockades.

V. That the whole Corps shall wear half Guetres of Black Cloth, with Black Horn Buttons, Black Velveteen Stocks with White Neckings, White Stockings, and plain Shirts with Frills at the Breast.

VI. That the Officers do wear Golden Epaulets, and Golden Trimmings to their Swords.

VII. That the Uniform Button be a Gilt Button, having in the Centre the Arms of Manchester and Salford impaled on a Field of Military Atchievements[sic];
Inscription,  M. ET S.C.
Legend “Pro Aris et Focis.”

VIII. That there be a Band of Music, and that selected from the Ranks.

IX. That the Uniform Coats of the Band be Scarlet with Blue Capes, Cuffs and Facings, edged with White, the Waistcoats White Cotton, Breeches Buff Nankeen, with Yellow Regimental Buckles and Buttons, the whole to be provided out of the Fund.

X. That the Drummers and Fifers wear Scarlet Jackets, with Waistcoats the same as the Band, with Leather Breeches, round Hats, Regimental Buttons and Loops, with Feathers.

Each company was to include one drummer, with additionally two fifers to the grenadier company.

“Laps” here are the skirts. “Guetres” is half gaiters. As the light infantry “helmet caps” have cockades, it seems more likely that they would have been a form of light infantry cap, rather than a Tarleton. The light infantry jackets, judging by the phrasing, seem to have had lapels in facing colour like the coats of the other companies. It seems fair to assume that the drummers’ jackets were faced blue like the coats of bandsmen. The buff of the breeches might perhaps have appeared incongruous, and the nankeen used for breeches and cotton for waistcoats (as opposed to kerseymere) seem rather lightweight. The proposed design of button is very ornate, and I have not seen an example.

Whether the complex button design of resolution VII above was used is not clear, but a tidied up version of it does exist, and examples in two slightly different versions have been sold on eBay. My thanks here to Franck Steffen for the use of his photo. These flat gilt buttons show the traditional red shield of Manchester with three gold diagonal stripes (“bendlets”) used before the later official grant of arms, flanked by a martial trophy with laurels and a Union shield, below the motto “PRO ● ARIS ● ET ● FOCIS ●“ and “ROYAL / M ● S ● V” or “M ● S ● V ●“.

This initial blue uniform, assuming that it was actually adopted, was current for less than a year; at the presentation of colours on 14 February 1798 the regiment was reported to be “newly cloathed in a very handsome uniform”, which may have been in the scarlet faced blue later recorded. The adoption of the “Royal” title (authorised or not) may have coincided with the change to blue facings.

The later uniform is shown in a portrait of James Ackers, which exists in two versions: one was sold by Sotheby’s in 2010, attributed to Mather Brown, while the second, identified only to the “English school”, was a gift of the Ackers family in 1854 to Salford Art Gallery, and is also viewable online at the ArtUK site. (My feeling is that the latter, despite the provenance, may be a copy.) Ackers wears a scarlet coat with dark blue collar, cuffs and facings. The lapels have five pairs of buttons, with two pairs on  each cuff and one each side of the collar, all with gold lace loops. The waistcoat, with small gilt buttons, and breeches are white, the sash crimson, the sword knot gilt. The design of the gilt gorget is indistinct, but it is held by dark blue rosettes and ribbons. The epaulettes are gilt, with an indistinct motif in silver that might be a crown or star.

The white sword belt has an oval gilt plate. Within a central oval, surrounded by rays, is a crowned “GR” cypher in silver; above is inscribed, apparently, “PRO REGE ET PATRIA”, and beneath, “MANCHESTER & SALFORD / VOLUNTEERS”, all in Roman capitals. (Other belt plates of different designs may have been used by Ackers’s regiment of 1803, and are shown on this page.)

In the background of the paintings are sketched two ranks of the grenadier company firing a volley, a little more convincingly detailed in the Sotheby’s version. They wear scarlet coats with blue facings, black fur grenadier caps, white waistcoats and breeches and long black gaiters. Any plate or trim on the caps is not clearly shown.

A flat gilt button, 20 mm in diameter, is known, which has been attributed to this corps. The raised design shows a crown over a rose between “R M / V”, presumably for Royal Manchester Volunteers, though since Ackers’s 1803 regiment (see this page) used the title “Royal”, this button could equally well be from that period, and its identity is not certain.

The initial meeting of 25 April 1797 resolved that “two Colours be provided for the Infantry … the one a Royal Standard, the other Manchester and Salford Volunteers.” The colours were presented on 14 February 1798 by Mrs Hartley, who had prepared and embroidered them. Unusually, the King’s colour was not the prescribed Union flag, but had a blue field, and the regimental colour a red field, presumably in accord with the original facings. The extremely complex “emblematic” designs were described, fulsomely if not entirely coherently, in the Manchester papers:

The BLUE – The centre compartment consists of an emblematical device, fancifully composed. The medallion is formed with the letters G R embroidered with gold, and incircled by the Oak and Palm, joined with the Rose and Thistle to compleat the wreath, which is supported on one side by the British Arms and Naval and Military Flags; on the other by the Lion threatening destruction to all Invasion, near which appears the Anchor, cast on a rock, emblematic of the support we derive from our wooden walls, which are here very properly entitled Britannia. Above the medallion is seen the Crown, surrounded by rays of glory, and underneath a ribbon, with the motto “Pro Rege et Patria“. This compartment is richly ornamented with branches of Oak and Palm, aided by a Crown of Laurel, &c.

The RED – The Genius of Trade and Commerce, represented by a beautiful female seated on a rock, with the Caduceus in one hand, and the other supporting a Shield, bearing the Manchester Arms; above which are Military Trophies, ornamented with Laurel, emblematic of Honor[sic] and Victory. A Wreath of Oak intersected by the Roses of York and Lancaster, forms an appropriate finish, and gives support to a ribbon, with the motto, MANCHESTER and SALFORD VOLUNTEERS.

These colours are shown vaguely in the backgrounds to the Ackers portraits, perhaps in better detail in the Sotheby’s version (above). The blue colour has a pre-1801 Union canton, and the central “compartment” bearing the design is rectangular and a lighter blue, the elements of the heraldic-looking design appearing largely gold. On the red colour (apparently with no canton) the female allegorical figure can be seen at the left, and the Manchester arms at the centre; again, these appear to be the traditional red shield with three gold diagonal stripes (“bendlets”) used before the later official grant of arms.

The corps was disembodied on 10 May 1802 and the colours placed in the Collegiate Church (now Manchester Cathedral). They were presented once more to Ackers’s regiment of volunteers of 1803.

[Manchester Mercury, 28 March 1797, 13, 20 February 1798, 18 May 1802. Lancaster Gazette, 22 May 1802.]


Eccles Volunteers / Royal Eccles Volunteers / Eccles Volunteer Association

Capt[?] John Phillips (Philips) jnr. Lieut Brooke (John Brookes?). A single company – a board recorded by Earwaker that was displayed after 1802 with the company’s colour, records 52 names enrolled.

The initial meeting of Ackers’s regiment (above) on 25 March 1797 noted the offer of inhabitants of Eccles to “join” the corps, apparently as a distinct company. The Eccles company dated its “incorporation” with the regiment as from 10 April 1797; it maintained a separate identity but was considered as “attached” to the Royal Manchester “whenever it may be necessary to suppress a disturbance or repel a foreign enemy”. Official lists appear to subsume it within the regiment.

The company’s assumption by May 1798 of the title “Royal” (see below) suggests that by this point, like its parent regiment, it wore red or scarlet, faced blue.

On 3 May 1798 the Eccles Volunteers, according to the Manchester paper,  assembled at Trafford House to receive the gift of a single “elegant colour of her own working” from Miss Trafford. This was of silk, with a brass spear head (open, with an interior cross), and the design was described as showing –

… a medallion of the King encircled with oak leaves, the Crown suspended, and surrounded by Trophies of War with the motto pro Aris et Focis, and The Royal Eccles Volunteers. The reverse is a figure of Britannia proffering[?] the Olive Branch, supported by the Lion; a ship, called the Invincible; and, Britannia, may for ever reign triumphant.

In acknowledgement of the gift, the company assembled annually to fire three volleys in Miss Trafford’s honour. On disbandment on 3 May 1802 the colour was deposited in Eccles Church. However, according to Earwaker, “Time played havoc with it, and staff and colour … fell to pieces.” By the 1870’s the only surviving element was the spearhead.

[Manchester Mercury, 8 May 1798, 11 May 1802. “The Eccles Volunteers of 1797” in J P Earwaker, Local Gleanings Relating to Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol 1, 1875-6.]


1st Battalion, Manchester and Salford Volunteers

Lieut Col Comm T Butterworth Bayley. Date of earliest commissions 27 June 1798. Eight companies.

On 24 April 1798 a “numerous meeting of gentlemen” resolved to form “an Independent Corps” for the defence of the city within a ten mile radius, to supply their own uniforms and serve without pay, their arms to be furnished by government. This initiative appears to have expanded, as a meeting of June[?] 1798 resolved to raise two additional battalions of volunteers in Manchester, “one of which is to march and meet the Enemy  in case of invasion, and the other will remain for local defence”. In the event, both seem to have been accepted on the same terms, and to have operated in tandem. A joint subscription was opened. On 10 July 1798 it was reported that the two battalions were nearing completion and would “shortly have their uniform, arms, &c.”

This hope was clearly optimistic, as the two battalions did not parade in uniform until early March 1799. Their uniforms were reported to be “remarkably neat and handsome”. The First Battalion was not inspected until 25 April 1799, when it was described as embodied for a “very short time” and “had not practised firing more than three times before that day”.

Its colours were presented on 4 June 1799.

[Manchester Mercury, 1 May, 10 July, 24 July, 7 August 1798, 5 March, 30 April, 11 June 1799.]


2nd Battalion, Manchester and Salford Volunteers

Lieut Col Comm John Silvester. Date of earliest commissions 27 June 1798. Eight companies. The early formation of this battalion is outlined above, in the entry for the First Battalion.

Completion and organisation of this battalion were apparently as slow as that of the First, the two parading together in uniform for the first time in early March 1799, their uniforms described as “remarkably neat and handsome”. It was inspected on 25 April 1799, when, like the First Battalion, it was reported as “embodied for a very short time, and had only … practised firing three times.”

[Manchester Mercury, 1 May, 10 July, 24 July, 7 August 1798, 5 March, 30 April 1799.]


“Natives of North Britain”

In April 1798 a report appeared in the Manchester press of a “numerous” meeting on the 18th of “the Natives of North Britain residing in Manchester”, proposing to form a volunteer corps of an unspecified number of companies, “to serve free of every Expence to Government, except Arms, Accoutrements, and Ammunition”. The meeting was chaired by a John Paterson, with a William Frazer as secretary. The proposed terms of service were limited to within a ten mile radius of the city. Neither name appears among the officers of the two battalions (above) subsequently raised in 1798, and there is no evidence that this corps was completed or accepted. It is possible that the initiative was inspired by the formation in London of the Highland Volunteers (later Loyal North Britons) in 1797.

[Manchester Mercury, 24 April 1798.]

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