Shropshire: volunteer and association infantry of the 1790’s

No volunteer units were formed in Shropshire with the legislation of 1794, other than the county yeomanry and a single independent cavalry troop. All Shropshire infantry volunteers raised in the 1790’s originated at the time of the armed association movement of 1798. (A mention in the Shropshire volume of the Victoria County Histories of the formation of the “Wellington Fencibles” in 1795 seems to be unsupported by any primary source.)

On this page are notes on the organisational basics, dress and equipage, where known to me, of the volunteer infantry of the Brimstree Loyal Legion (Shifnal) and Wellington, and the armed association infantry of Hales Owen, Ludlow, Oswestry, Shrewsbury and Wenlock, all in alphabetical order. Oddly, though evidence can be found for at least the temporary existence of the first four named associations, none of the four seem to appear in official records, and may ultimately not have been accepted for service, leaving only the Wenlock battalion.  All would have been disbanded in 1802, and their successor units of 1803 are not included here. Some of these associations also appear to have included troops of cavalry, which are examined on a separate page.

A good deal of material on the Shropshire volunteers of 1803 appears in Vol IV of Parfitt’s History of the Corps of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (1970), but very little on their predecessors of 1798.  Earliest dates of commissions, as best known to me, are taken from the War Office list of 1799 (sixth edition) or from the London Gazette. Information on their dress and equipment is particularly sparse, often limited to brief descriptions or unproven references.  In too many cases I have been unable to find even that much. If new information arrives it will be added. Click all images to enlarge.

 

Brimstree Loyal Legion

Earliest commissions in the London Gazette of 19 June 1798. Though the infantry served as volunteers, they were linked within the legion to a yeomanry troop (Shifnal) and an association troop of cavalry (Apley). Enrolled (as infantry and the Shifnal troop) by May 1798. One company. Major Commandant Robert Slaney, Major Commandant Thomas Netherton Parker, Captain Moreton Ogliosley [Oglesby?] Slaney. Band of ten musicians: 2 drums, fife, 3 clarinets, horn, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine. Legion disbanded in 1802.

UNIFORM
… AND every volunteer serving in the infantry, is to provide himself with a blue coat with red collar and cuffs, yellow buttons with the cypher, B.L.L. with a crown at the top, white waistcoat, white cloth pantaloons, with black gaiters rising above the ancle, edged with red, black stock or handkerchief and round hat with red feather.

THE officers to be distinguished by red and white feathers.

ARMS & ACCOUTREMENTS.
… for the infantry, of a musquet with bayonet, cross belts of white leather and cartouch box.

Note: “coat” here implies full length skirts, but quite possibly without lapels, as worn by some other armed associations. The syntax is ambiguous regarding pantaloons and gaiters; red edging to the gaiters would be highly unusual, and it seems more likely that the “edging” is a seam stripe to the pantaloons.

Reference in June 1799 to purchase of drummers’ trousers. Reference in August 1800 to all ranks wearing “military coat” and pantaloons. References in 1800 to distinctive clothing of musicians.

At the V&A is a Caughley jug inscribed to the Legion. The transferred design [right] includes small infantry figures, apparently in round hats with feathers, pantaloons and short gaiters. This is a generic image (the same pattern is used for a jug inscribed for the Wenlock Loyal Volunteers – see below), but it does seem related to the actual dress of the Legion’s infantry.

At the Castle Museum, Shrewsbury, is a brass infantry button, slightly convex, with a recessed crown over script “BLL”. The design is the same as the silvered Legion cavalry button shown here.

A Coalport china vase, made for Major Parker in 1799, is kept at the Castle Museum, Shrewsbury. The design includes the regimental colour. This has a gilt open spearhead with a crimson and gold mixed cord and tassel. The field is bright red, with a pre-1800 Union canton. At the centre is “BLL” in gold script on a mid-blue ground, edged in gold below a gold crown, all surrounded by a wreath of mixed thistles, oak[?] leaves and roses with a bluish tint, tied by ribbons in a shade of buff or gold. The colour has no fringe.

Reference in August 1800 to four scarlet silk camp colours, painted with script “BLL”.

[Shrewsbury Chronicle May 25 1798. Shropshire Archives, Leighton / Sweeney 1060/186-8: Regulating Code of Laws, for the Brimstree Loyal Legion, passed at a general meeting of the Corps, May the 4th, 1798. 1060/214: BLL Committee Minute Book. Various other papers in 1060. S P Tamplin, “The Brimstree Loyal Legion”, at www.loyalvolunteers.org.]

 

Hales Owen Loyal Volunteer Association / Hales Owen Volunteer Infantry

Proposed in May 1798. Apparently in existence by 1799. Linked to the cavalry of the Association, which seems not to have survived and was finally raised as an independent troop of yeomanry in 1803. I can find no official mention of the infantry, which may have undergone a similar fate.

[Aris’s Birmingham Gazette May 28 1798. Swinney’s Birmingham Chronicle, June 4 1799.]

 

Loyal Ludlow Association

Probably associated with the Ludlow Cavalry formed in 1798. However, I am unable to find any official reference to this corps.

Anon, A Description of the Town of Ludlow …, 1812:

Here also was a corps designated “Old Buffs”, consisting of married men, commanded by a bachelor, who, though not very remarkable for their activity, were justly considered loyal and jolly … Being too heavy for general service, the corps dissolved in the fourth[sic] year of the present century.

A button offered on eBay, flat, 16mm in diameter, bearing a crown over script “LLA”, is noted as found in Shropshire, and may be for this association.

 

                                      Oswestry Volunteers

Despite the slim references below, I am unable to find any official confirmation of the formation of this corps, though I assume that it was intended as an armed association.

Shrewsbury Chronicle Jan 19 1798: “We hear that … a Corps of Volunteer Infantry is immediately to be raised for the defence of that town [Oswestry].”

At the Castle Museum, Shrewsbury, is a circular medal inscribed “Oswestry Volunteers /Reward of Merit” and showing the town’s arms, dated 14 September 1802.

 

Shrewsbury Military Association / Associated Corps of Shrewsbury Volunteers

The organisation of this corps was evidently problematic. Meetings of 21 March and 5 April 1797 organised enrolments, but it was later announced that, for reasons that are not clear, the offer of service, presumably as volunteers, had not been transmitted. A new initiative was made on 11 May 1798, proposing two companies of infantry and one troop of cavalry, apparently as an armed association. The local paper reported that “The enrollment of our corps of Infantry goes on with great spirit, and it is expected will very soon be completed.” However, the cavalry were enrolled separately as yeomanry, and the progress of the infantry is not clear. I am unable to find any official confirmation of its acceptance and survival.

Proposal of meetings of 1797:

That the Arms and Cloathing of this Corps shall be as little expensive as possible (each member of this Association being intended to provide his own) at the same time it is expected that they shall be strictly Uniform.

That the Dress of this Corps of Volunteers shall consist of a Scarlet Jacket, with Black Velvet Facing and Yellow Buttons stamped with the Shrewsbury Arms, and the letters (SV) underneath, denoting “Shrewsbury Volunteers”, with Kerseymere Waistcoat and Breeches with Buttons the same as the Coat, Black Cloth Buskins, a Round Hat with a Black Feather, and a Black leather Stock.

That the Expense of Uniform, Musquet and Accoutrements for each Volunteer, shall not exceed the Sum of £.5.5s.

Notes: “Facing” may or may not imply lapels to the jacket, as well as collar and cuffs. “Kerseymere” here implies white waistcoat and breeches. “Buskins” meaning gaiters; whether long or short is not clear.

Despite the uncertainty regarding its survival, a button dug near Shrewsbury may be for this corps. It is flat, gilt, and shows a crown over script “SLA”. (Thanks to Kevin Pearce for permission to use his image.)

[Shrewsbury Chronicle March 24, April 7 & 14 1797, May 18, June 1 1798. Thomas Auden, Shrewsbury, a Historical and Topographical Account of the Town, 1905.]

 

Wellington Volunteers

Earliest commissions 9 May 1798. Three companies. Major Commandant Thomas Eyton, Captain William Jones, Captain Thomas Kinnersley or Kynnersley. Colours presented in October 1798. Band.

[Shrewsbury Chronicle, 19 October 1798.]

 

Wenlock Volunteer Association / Wenlock Loyal Volunteers

Earliest commissions dated 5 January 1799. First organised at meeting of 28 May 1798. First muster in September 1798. Three companies or “divisions” (Wenlock, Broseley, Madeley). Major Commandant George Forester. Captains Richard Collins, Thomas Turner, George Goodwin. Colours presented in 1801.

No description as such of the 1798 uniform seems to have survived, but proposals made at an officers’ meeting of the reformed corps in September 1803 indicate that from 1798 both officers and other ranks wore scarlet or red jackets faced yellow with buttons in pairs, after the pattern of the 2nd Shropshire Militia, and pantaloons, with short gaiters for the men. All ranks wore hats, which, since worn with the jacket, would have been round hats.

A Caughley jug inscribed for the corps is kept at the Coalport Museum, Ironbridge. The transferred design includes small infantry figures [right], apparently in round hats with feathers, pantaloons and short gaiters. This is a generic image (the same pattern is used for a jug inscribed for the Brimstree Loyal Legion), but it may be related to the actual dress of the corps.

 

A Coalport jug inscribed for this corps, at the Castle Museum, Shrewsbury, is decorated with a generic trophy of arms which includes a round hat with fur crest, with a red over white plume. A Coalport punchbowl and jugs, made for Major Forester, are kept at the Coalport Museum, Ironbridge; the designs of generic trophies include fur crested round hats, one with a white plume, others with a white over red plume and black cockade, which could refer to other ranks’ and officers’ hats, respectively.

References in 1798 to “the undress” and to pantaloons.

The officers’ metal colour was silver. Surviving buttons (metal detecting sites, eBay) are silvered, flat, with a crown over script “WLV”, one noted as 17mm in diameter. The buttons of the 1798 period can be distinguished from those of the 1803 formation, which include a strong linear border well inside the perimeter.

A silvered gorget was sold at Woolley & Wallis in 2012, hallmarked Birmingham 1798, with the design of a crowned royal cipher, the sides engraved with ornamented script “WLV”.


An enamelled oval medal of 1799 was sold at Spink in 2012, wrongly attributed to the Worcester Volunteers. The obverse shows a crowned script “WLV” within a wreath tied with ribbon, which may conceivably give an indication of the shoulder belt plate design. A reproduction of an unidentified 20th century watercolour of an officer and men of the 1798 corps is in store at the Coalport Museum; the image consists almost entirely of incorrect features, but it does show an oval silver officer’s belt plate that may be of a similar design and might be based on an unknown original.

[Shrewsbury Chronicle Sept 21 1798. Rules for the Government of the Wenlock loyal Volunteers, Madeley (1798). Various items in Shropshire Archives, Private Papers, 1224/22/96 and 98-107.]

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