West Yorkshire: volunteer infantry of the 1790’s

In more rural areas the volunteer legislation of 1794 tended to encourage mainly the formation of yeomanry cavalry, but in the industrial centres of the West Riding of Yorkshire a good many corps of volunteer infantry were formed that year, with others added later at the time of the armed association enthusiasm.

On this page are notes on the organisational basics, dress and equipage of the infantry volunteers of this period of Barkstone Ash, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Knaresborough, Leeds, Pontefract, Ripon, Rotherham, Sheffield, Wakefield and York. (Also noted are proposed corps at Doncaster and Settle which appear to have been not formed or else not accepted.)

All were disbanded in 1802, and their successor units of 1803 are not included here. Other West Yorkshire infantry corps were formed in 1798 as associations, rather than as volunteers, and these are examined on a separate page.

To save repetition, a word might be in order here on the coloured print by J C Stadler of William[?] Hopkins’ painting of the Heath Common review of August 1796, titled “GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS …”, and published in 1798, which features five of the corps discussed below. My comments are based on a close examination, years ago, of the copy then at the Thoresby Society Library, Leeds, which is now, in slightly worse condition, at Leeds Museum. Other copies show up online from time to time. I have discussed the print more generally in this post. It presents three problems: first, Hopkins’ need to portray the entire line means that while incidental foreground figures are on a decent scale, the ranks of volunteers are tiny, and details hard to pick out.

Second, there is a degree of shorthand generalisation in the way that the various corps are shown, which may not reflect the reality; all ranks on foot wear breeches or pantaloons and half gaiters, though it is impossible to tell where pantaloons are intended; no musicians appear to wear lace; all drums have red hoops, nearly all feathers are white, and so on. Thirdly, the hand colouring varies slightly between different copies, affecting principally the drummers, some shown in white coats on the Thoresby copy, but on another dressed in red across the board. As the original painting is lost, the print provides valuable evidence, but the details must, in these respects, be approached with some caution.

Earliest dates of commissions here are based on the Volunteer Lists of 1797 and 1799, fifth and sixth editions. Sources not explained in the text are given as footnotes to each section. This page does not pretend to be anywhere near complete or comprehensive, and much material, especially archival, could still be added. Even so, it’s a long page, so please be patient! If new information arrives it will be added. Click all images to enlarge.


Barkstone (Barkston) Ash & Skyrac (Skyrack) Volunteers

Originally proposed in May 1798, to be raised within the Wapentakes of Osgoldcross & Barkston Ash. First commissions dated 25 October 1798. Possibly four companies. Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Sir Thomas Gascoigne.

A 1960 study of rank distinctions by Major Dawnay mentions the uniform of Lieutenant Thomas Shann, commissioned in 1798, which was then at the Castle Museum, York, and describes and illustrates the epaulette. There is, depressingly, no sign now of this uniform at York, though a surviving belt plate (below) may be a remnant. The epaulette is described as having a strap of gold vellum lace, with beading and crescent worked in black and gold purl. Towards each tip of the crescent is a purl and spangle label (“garter end”). The outer row is of 18 medium bullions, 2½ inches long. At the base of the strap is an eight pointed silver embroidered star with a red garter and blue centre piece inscribed “B&SV”.

If the black of the edging and crescent has any significance, it might indicate the colour of facings, which would suggest a scarlet/red uniform faced black with gold metal.

In the ‘seventies I noted on display at the Castle Museum, York, a white sword belt with a belt plate of this corps, conceivably a part of the Shann uniform. What may be the same plate is still kept at York, but if so the belt may have become separated in the meantime. The gilt plate is engraved with a decorative “V” within a garter inscribed “Barkstone Ash & Skyrac”.

[Sheffield Archives, Wentworth Woodhouse Muniments Y20. Major N P Dawnay, The Distinction of Rank of Regimental Officers 1684 to 1855, SAHR Special Publication No 7, 1960.]


Bradford Volunteers

Earliest commissions 23 March 1795. Six companies. Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Johnson Atkinson Busfeild (also, incorrectly, given as Busfield or Bashfield). Artillery company formed by May 1795.

The Busfeild miniature

From contemporary sources:

Red with buff.

The dress of the Bradford volunteers was scarlet coats turned up with buff; white breeches and leggings; black caps and “bobtails.” On their buttons they had inscribed the words “Ready and Steady.”

Attached to it were two field pieces, (four pounders) and thirty-two artillery-men.

They had also two Field pieces, one in front and the other in the rear, each drawn by two grey horses.

Notes: “black caps and ‘bobtails’” may refer to light infantry caps or helmets, worn only by the light company of the battalion. Buff facings would have required buff breeches (and waistcoats) rather than white.

Turner and Maltby reproduce in black and white a rather crude miniature of Colonel Busfeild, showing the scarlet coat with buff lapels, buttons singly spaced with buff twist buttonholes. A white belt carries an oval belt plate (see below), and the visible epaulette has a laced strap. The white shirt seems to be worn overlapping the lapel, but the rear of the collar appears to be in the darker tone of the coat rather than buff, which may be in error. No gorget is worn in this portrait.

The Hopkins print of the review of 1796 shows four infantry companies and one of artillery. All ranks of the infantry are in scarlet or red faced with buff, with buff turnbacks, possibly with buff breeches, and with black half gaiters, though the mounted officers wear boots. The battalion (and grenadier?) companies wear coats and cocked hats with white feathers. The light company men wear jackets and Tarletons with a light coloured turban, possibly buff, the colour of the feather indeterminate. All belts are white.

Bradford grenadier(?) , battalion and light companies, drummer, field officer, light company man, artillery

The drummers and fifers are in buff faced with red. All except those of the light company wear hats with a white feather, the light company musicians wearing Tarletons. The bandsmen wear buff faced with red; all wear hats  except for the bass drummer and two others who have white headwear – either white fur caps or more probably turbans.

The artillerymen wear blue faced with red, and white breeches or pantaloons with half gaiters, black round hats apparently with a dark fur crest or feather, and a light coloured band around the base. (If following the pattern of the Royal Artillery, the band would have been yellow, with a red tuft worn at the front.)

The regimental colour is buff.

Also in Maltby are black and white photos (not entirely sharp), of a gorget and sword belt plate, both probably gilt. I do not know the current location of these. The gorget bears the pre-1801 royal arms beneath ribbons inscribed “Bradford / Volunteers”. The oval belt plate, apparently engraved, shows a crowned circular garter inscribed “Ready and Steady” (as noted above on the buttons), containing the script monogram “BV”. Though not indicated in my sketch from this, the lower edges of the garter show a line of shading overall. I have not seen a button of this corps, but the initials and motto would make one easily identifiable.


[William[?] Hopkins, “GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS …”, 1798 (coloured print by J C Stadler of Hopkins’ painting of the Heath Common review of August 1796), copy once at Thoresby Society Library, Leeds, now at Leeds Museum. John James, The History and Topography of Bradford …, London, 1841. J Horsfall Turner, Ancient Bingley. Or, Bingley its History and Scenery, Bingley, 1897. Robert Potter Berry, A History of the Formation and development of the Volunteer Infantry …, London & Huddersfield, 1903. H J M Maltby, “The Early Volunteer Movement in Bradford”, Bradford Antiquary, Vol VI, part 20, 1918.]


Doncaster Volunteers

Charles William Hatfield’s Historical Notices of Doncaster, 3rd Series, 1870, notes that on 31 May 1794 a meeting of the Wappentake of Strafforth and Tickhill was held at Doncaster Town Hall for the organisation of the Doncaster Volunteers. This corps does not appear to have been realised.


Halifax Volunteers / Halifax Gentlemen Volunteers

Said to have been “instituted” in April 1794; earliest commissions 28 May. First appearance in “full and elegant” uniform reported as 7 September. Five companies. Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Hamer. Artillery company formed by May 1795, Captain John Waterhouse.

From contemporary sources:

Red with black.

The uniform is to be scarlet with black velvet facings, and trimmed with silver lace.

… attended with two brass Field pieces, one in front, the other in the rear, each piece drawn by two grey horses.

Their uniforms consisted of long scarlet coats with black silk velvet facings, white small clothes, white stockings, and short black gaiters. The officers had the same dress, only with silver lace. The Light company wore helmets, the Grenadiers bearskins, and the Artillery Company sported round hats with a black feather across the top, a red and white feather up the side, and a gold lace girdle round them. The latter company paraded in blue uniforms.

Notes: “silver lace” refers to that of officers. These colours and lace were also those of the North Yorkshire Militia. The “black feather” recorded on the artillery hats may refer to a fur crest.

The Hopkins print of the review of 1796 shows four infantry companies and one of artillery. All ranks of the infantry are in scarlet or red faced with black, with white turnbacks, and white breeches or pantaloons with black half gaiters, though the mounted officers wear black boots. The battalion companies wear coats and cocked hats with white feathers. The grenadier company wear coats and black fur grenadier caps with a plate at the front and a white cord, though no feather is visible. The light company wear jackets and Tarletons; the details of the helmets are not visible. All belts are white.

Halifax grenadier, battalion and light companies, artillery, drummer, field officer, light company man


In the Thoresby Society copy of the print the drummers and bandsmen are in white, faced apparently with black, though in a different copy they are coloured in red. The reversed colours, being more specific, seem more likely. All except those of the light company wear hats with a white feather, the light company musicians wearing Tarletons.

The artillerymen wear blue faced with red, and white breeches or pantaloons with half gaiters, black round hats apparently with a dark fur crest or feather, and a light coloured band around the base. (For a description of the hat, see above, though the “gold” band may refer to officers only.)

No sergeants’ pikes are visible in the ranks, as they are for the other battalions portrayed. The regimental colour is a greyish colour, presumably for black.

The 250 arms provided at Birmingham when the corps was raised were judged too light and the bore too small for government cartridges. In April 1798 the corps requested new arms, the old to be given to the proposed Halifax Armed Association.

A silver gorget was sold in 2013 by Dix Noonan Webb, engraved with “G R” above the pre-1801 Royal arms and “Halifax Volunteers”, the ends decorated with stylised trophies of arms. A matching example is said to be owned by Kirklees Council, though not seen by me.

Moore’s regimental history of 1910 notes a “silver badge” (presumably a belt plate) of this corps with the motto “Ready to serve our country”, in the Bankfield Museum, Halifax. I have not seen this. An oval silver shoulder belt plate, wrongly attributed to the Huddersfield Volunteers, was sold a few years ago by Christie’s, and may or may not be the example noted by Moore. Hallmarked 1793, it is engraved with a crowned circular garter inscribed “Ready to Serve our Country”, containing the ornamental script monogram “HV”, above a rose and thistle.

An unidentified dug silver button, shown at ourpasthistory.com, is very close in design to the gilt officer’s button worn by the 1803 reformation of the corps, and may possibly be of the 1794                                                            volunteers.

[Sheffield Courant, 7 June 1794. Shrewsbury Chronicle, 3 October 1794. Sheffield Archives, Wentworth Woodhouse Muniments Y20, correspondence re Armed Associations. William[?] Hopkins, “GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS …”, 1798 (coloured print by J C Stadler of Hopkins’ painting of the Heath Common review of August 1796), copy once at Thoresby Society Library, Leeds, now at Leeds Museum. Robert Potter Berry, A History of the Formation and development of the Volunteer Infantry …, London & Huddersfield, 1903. Capt N H Moore, Records of the 3rd Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) regiment, formerly 6th West York Militia, The Halifax Militia (including Companies of Volunteer Militia …), London, 1910. T W Hanson, “The Early Volunteers and Cavalry of Halifax”, Papers, reports &c, read before the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1920.]


Huddersfield Volunteers / Royal Huddersfield Fuzileers / Fusiliers

First meeting on 28 June 1794. Earliest commissions 18 November. Originally three companies, but four by January 1797. Major, later Lieutenant Colonel, George Armytage. The “Royal” title seems to have been in use in or by 1795. Two colours presented.

Robert Potter Berry:

The uniform of the corps was the cocked hat of the period, worn across the head, coats of red cut away at the hips and faced with blue, white breeches buttoned down the length of the leg and presenting a gaiter-like appearance.

Berry gives no sources for this, which has to be questioned, at least in regard to the hat, though the description of “trouser-gaiters” seems specific. His work also includes an attractive plate of an officer by P W Reynolds, though this may be no more than a generic impression of an officer of an unlaced regiment with blue facings and yellow metal; the hat is worn with a white over red feather, the lapels and facings have dark blue twist button holes, and the gilt sword belt plate is oval. How strictly accurate this may be is unclear to me.

Huddersfield battalion and light companies, drummer, field officer, light company man

The Hopkins print of the review of 1796 indicates that by this point if not before, the battalion was uniformed to some extent in accordance with its title, as all ranks (except musicians) are shown in Tarleton helmets with light coloured turbans and feathers, including, apparently, a light company in jackets. Coats and jackets are faced with blue and all wear white breeches or pantaloons, apparently with black half gaiters rather than the full length white gaiter-trousers described by Berry, while the mounted officers wear boots. All belts are white.

Drummers and bandsmen wear white faced with blue, with cocked hats with white feathers, except for the light company musicians who seem to wear Tarletons.

Berry illustrates and describes the colours, “now” (1903) at Kirklees Hall, the King’s “in a fairly good state of preservation”, the regimental “tattered and faded”, its blue “converted to a sombre green”. I presume they are since decayed or lost. The King’s colour, the pre-1801 Union, bears the Royal arms at the centre, as also proposed for the colour of the Huddersfield Armed Association of 1798. The blue regimental colour has a central design of Britannia, with tent and lion, holding a crowned oval shield inscribed “For our King and Country” within a laurel wreath, above two white ribbons inscribed “Huddersfield / Volunteers”.

In the Gaunt collection at Birmingham Museum is a belt plate of a generic design attributed to the “Loyal Huddersfield Volunteers”, possibly an officer’s plate. As we might expect the Fusiliers to have used a design specific to that corps, and as the 1803 volunteers used silver as the officer’s metal, it is at least possible that this was used by the Association infantry of 1798, and I have also included it on their page. It is clearly a light company pattern, described by the museum as brass but possibly gilt; on the stippled matt centre is a crown, with a bugle horn applied in a white metal.

[William[?] Hopkins, “GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS …”, 1798 (coloured print by J C Stadler of Hopkins’ painting of the Heath Common review of August 1796), copy once at Thoresby Society Library, Leeds, now at Leeds Museum. Robert Potter Berry, A History of the Formation and development of the Volunteer Infantry …, London & Huddersfield, 1903.]


Knaresborough Volunteers / Royal Knaresborough Foresters

Said to have been “raised” in July 1794, earliest commissions 9 September. One company. Captain Edmund Robinson. Colours presented on 4 June 1795.

The company’s dress is noted in 1794 as “scarlet and blue”, i.e. with “Royal” facings of blue.

[York Chronicle, 30 October 1794. Ely Hargrove, The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresbrough[sic] …, Knaresbrough 1809.]


Leeds Volunteers / Leeds Gentlemen Volunteers

Meeting to raise volunteers 17 April 1794, earliest commissions 26 May. First appearance “accompanied by an excellent band of music” on 4 June. Originally four companies – two battalion, one grenadier, one light; later possibly five companies. Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Thomas Lloyd. Colours presented 29 August 1794.

From Hargrave, unsourced:

The uniform was then decided on – to be blue faced with scarlet; cape and cuffs of the latter colour, a mottoed button, and white waistcoat and breeches. But this arrangement was altered to scarlet, faced with blue, on further consideration.

The Hopkins print of the review of 1796 allows us to expand this picture a little. The battalion companies wear coats and cocked hats with a white feather, the grenadier company the same but with a white feather tipped in red. The light company wear Tarletons with a light coloured turban and feather. All turnbacks, breeches or pantaloons and belts are white, and black half gaiters are worn except by the mounted officers in boots.

Leeds grenadier, battalion and light companies, drummer, field officer, light company man, drummer

Drummers are all in white faced with blue with white turnbacks, and cocked hats possibly with white feathers, except for the light company in Tarletons. The band are similarly dressed and wear cocked hats (including the bass drummer), though two members wear either white fur caps or more probably turbans.

Men of the battalion appear, in a stylised and foreshortened rank, in the background of the Lloyd portrait (see below) presented in 1802. They appear still to be wearing black hats with white feathers, but now with red coats or jackets closed to the waist, and long black gaiters.

Several sources give a more detailed picture of officers’ dress. Two distinct styles of coat are in evidence. What may be the earlier type is represented by two coats, at Leeds Museum and the National Army Museum, the latter attributed to Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd “circa 1795”. The facings of the Leeds coat appear a relatively brighter blue, those of the NAM coat more blackish. There is a narrow white edge to the lower collar, outsides of lapels, tops of cuffs and the side and lower edges of the scarlet pocket flaps. Buttons are in pairs, four pairs to the lapel in each case, with dark blue twist button holes. The Leeds coat has a large button and hole on the side of each collar, but the NAM coat does not. Both coats have small buttons at the side of the collar and a small scarlet strap by the shoulder seam, to take epaulettes. The white turnbacks have a fine dark blue edging, and their points are joined by double hearts in gold thread on a dark blue ground.

The Leeds coat is accompanied by a white waistcoat with small buttons and breeches with four buttons at each knee. The NAM coat was displayed with a gilt gorget (though without ribbons) engraved with the city arms, and with a red silk sash.

The buttons are flat, gilt, showing the hanging fleece over “LV” in script.

What is apparently a later style is represented by two images: the portrait of Lloyd by John Russell, once at York Castle Museum but now at the National Army Museum, was presented by ex-volunteers in July 1802, and is online at the Art UK site. A fine watercolour portrait at Leeds Museum is attributed to Henry Eldridge; the subject is unidentified, but if not a flank company officer may well be Major George Beaumont. In both images the lapels are fashionably enlarged, with a broad “strap” extending to the shoulder when buttoned open. The buttons are now grouped in threes (as an indication of rank?), with three groups down each lapel and a fourth along the shoulder by the epaulette strap, to which the lapel “strap” is buttoned. The Lloyd portrait shows a further three on the side of the collar. The lapels have dark blue twist buttonholes, running across the full width. The cuffs likewise have three buttons and holes, and the white edging is evident to the facings as on the earlier coats. On the Lloyd portrait the cuffs appear unusually deep, and the turnbacks are again edged in dark blue, though now with a narrow white light.

From the Lloyd portrait

From the Leeds watercolour

In both portraits the epaulettes are gilt, and a cocked hat is worn, with a substantial white feather, cockade and gold strap and button. Lloyd wears a gilt gorget, crimson sash, white leather breeches and black boots with spurs. In the Leeds portrait the coat is worn with plain dark blue pantaloons and black Hessian boots; no gorget or sash is worn, but the sabre is held by slings from a broad white shoulder belt, which bears an oval gilt plate. This has an oval silver line or bead within a broad gilt border, framing, on a gilt ground, a silver device that is unclear, but might conceivably be the city arms.

(This unusual style of coat relates to similar items worn by the 1st West Yorkshire Militia, as also discussed in this post. A monochrome lithographic print after the Lloyd portrait was made by Richard Lane; it is listed by the National Portrait Gallery, though not shown online, and is reproduced in Hargrave from a copy then at the Thoresby Society. It is not an accurate version and the coat buttons are shown wrongly spaced.)

The battalion’s colours are described by Hargrave, from newspaper reports of the presentation: the King’s colour was the Union; the regimental colour was “gratuitously embroidered by ‘the ingenious Miss Craig … being universally allowed to contain some of the finest embroidery ever seen in this country.’ It bore the motto, ‘Pro Rege et Lege.’ ” These colours appear, on a very small scale, in the background of the Lloyd portrait of 1802; little is visible of the King’s, but the regimental is arranged to display the city’s arms in the centre of the blue field, with supporters and crest, though possibly without any helm. The motto, a part of the city arms, would be on the ribbon beneath. These arms comprised a shield with three silver stars on a black chief above a gold fleece on a blue field. The crest and supporters were owls, in natural colours, the former on a wreath, or torse, of blue and yellow or gold, the latter wearing small coronets. The motto, as noted above, was “Pro Rege et Lege”. The colours are shown with spear heads and cords that appear gold.

These colours were deposited, apparently in 1801; I assume they have not survived. (The regimental colour wrongly attributed to this corps at the National Army Museum is discussed on the West Yorkshire association infantry page, and must be re-identified to the Leeds Armed Association of 1798.)

In Hargrave is a black and white photo of a drum marked “● Leeds ● Volunteers”, then in the keeping of Leeds Rifles, without any accompanying description; I do not know if or where it may have survived. As the painted design does not resemble that of the surviving bass drum of the 1803 volunteers, it could be of this corps. The hoops are decorated in diagonal bands which, judging  by the tonal values, may be in the sequence red / white / red / dark blue, though this is pure guesswork. The title of the corps, in serifed capitals, is on a light coloured oval ribbon surrounding the royal cypher, at the centre of an eight rayed star. Edging, lettering and cypher could be in yellow or gold, and are edged in black at right and below. The star is on a painted ground which could be of almost any colour, surrounded by a laurel wreath, of which the full details are hard to discern.

[York Chronicle 4 September 1794. Emily Hargrave, “The Early Leeds Volunteers”,                                                                         Publications of the Thoresby Society, Vol XXVIII, Miscellanea.]


Pontefract Volunteers

Earliest commissions 24 August 1797. Originally two companies, by 1799 five. Major, later Lieut Col Commandant Teesdale Cockell.

From Cockell’s Instructions for the battalion, 1799:

You remember how unwilling in the first stage of the business, you were to be clothed as you now are. You wanted the same fancy dress that most volunteers have adopted. I was obstinate, and the consequence is, that your regimentals are the admiration of all that see you. You are clothed exactly like the sergeants of the 37th regiment, and whenever you are seen by strangers they always suppose you to be troops of the line.

… there is not to be found in any other regiment so many strapping grenadiers …

Our motto is for our King and Constitution

Notes: facings for the 37th were yellow, the buttons in pairs. (As it happens, the same facings and spacing were used by the 2nd West Yorkshire Militia from 1799, and adopted by many of the Riding’s volunteer corps of 1803.) Presumably a jacket was worn, in one of the evolving patterns introduced between 1796 and 1799. The reference to sergeants indicates a jacket in NCOs’ quality scarlet, with white lace loops. Before 1800 cocked hats would have been worn. The reference to a grenadier company indicates the existence also of a light company, these two presumably part of the augmentation of 1799. The motto may conceivably have appeared on the colours or belt plates.

Examples survive of a flat silvered button, 22 mm in diameter, which may well be from this period. Inscribed “Pontefract / Volunteers” it shows a crown above Pontefract Castle, the main element of the arms of the town.

[Lieut Col Teesdale Cockell, Instructions for the Pontefract Battalion of Volunteers …, Pontefract, 1799]


Ripon Volunteers / Ripon Loyal Volunteers

First meeting June 21 1794. Earliest commissions 13 September. One company. Captain John Dalton.

The British Military Buttons site records a gilt button, 24mm in diameter, which may be of this period. It is inscribed “Ripon  / Volunteers”, surrounding the arms of the city, showing a hunting horn, above sprigs of palm and laurel.

[Ely Hargrove, The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresbrough[sic] …, Knaresbrough 1809. William Harrison, Ripon Millenary, a Record of the Festival …, Ripon 1892.]


Rotherham Volunteers

Served as volunteers, though apparently first proposed as an armed association in April 1798, 260 strong, to be linked to a troop of association cavalry (but see this page). Earliest commissions dated 19 June 1798 in London Gazette. Initially three, later five companies. Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Joshua Walker. Pair of colours presented 20 December 1798.

“… wore a semi-civic uniform of double breasted blue coat, buff waistcoat and blue pantaloons.”

Lieut Col Walker (possibly) from the Holden painting

This is a distant recollection, and it could be that the waistcoat was white rather than buff; it it was indeed buff, the facings should have been buff also.

Alternative evidence may be provided by the painting by Richard Holden in Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham, of the review and sham fight of yeomanry and volunteers at Brinsworth Common, near Rotherham, in 1799 (online in colour here). According to historian John Guest, the foreground figures include both Colonel Athorpe of the Sheffield Volunteers (see below) and Joshua Walker, who can only have been present as the Rotherham Commandant.  If so – and Holden’s facial likenesses can be approximate – these must be the two officers identically dressed in blue faced scarlet, with gold metal, white turnbacks, belts, waistcoats and breeches, and hats with white over red feathers. This suggests that the Rotherham corps, like Sheffield’s, wore blue faced red.

Within the ranks of distant Sheffield grenadiers in Holden’s painting is a section of figures in blue with white belts and black grenadier caps, the legs painted over in dark blue, as per the blue pantaloons recalled by Guest. These may be the Rotherham grenadier company, combined for the occasion. This is all rather speculative, but can be taken into account in the absence of anything stronger.

[Sheffield Archives, Wentworth Woodhouse Muniments Y20. Sheffield Library, Cuttings Vol 4, SQ. John Guest, Historic Notices of Rotherham, Worksop, 1879.]


Settle Volunteers

“… a meeting to consider the position of affairs was held at Settle, on August 21st, 1794. A company of Volunteers was at once formed …”

I have found no further mention of this company.

[H Speight, The Craven and North-West Yorkshire Highlands, London 1892.]


Loyal Independent Sheffield Volunteers

Earliest commissions dated 24 May 1794. First public appearance 12 June.  Six companies. Major, later Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, Robert Athorpe Athorpe, Colonel Lord Effingham. An artillery company later added. Earliest artillery commissions 15 March 1798. Captain Benjamin Goodison (sometimes Goodinson). Colours presented 18 August 1794.

From Rules and Regulations … (probably 1794):


THAT the Corps shall be formed into Six Companies, viz. – One Grenadier, One Light Infantry, and Four Battalion Companies, consisting of One Major Commandant, Five Captains, One Captain Lieutenant, Seven Lieutenants, Four Ensigns, One Adjutant, One Serjeant Major, Eighteen Serjeants, Eighteen Corporals, One Drum Major, Six Drummers, Four Fifers, and 282 Privates.


That the Uniform Coat shall be Blue Cloth, with Cape, Cuffs and Facings of Scarlet Cloth. Wings and Shoulder Straps, ornamented with Gold Lace and Fringe, the Waistcoat and Breeches to be white Cassimere, the Buttons to be Gilt, and the Letters S.V. stamped on them.


That the Grenadier Company wear Cocked Hats with Gilt S.V. Buttons and Loops, Black Cockades and Scarlet Feathers with white Tops, Hair Plaited and turned up behind with a Comb.


That the Four Battalion Companies, wear the same Kind of Hats, Cockades, Buttons and Loops, but without any Feathers, and to have their hair clubbed.


That the Light Infantry Company wear Jackets, with the same Cape, Cuffs, Facings &c. and Helmets with Scarlet Fillets and Yellow Metal Mountings, White Feathers with Scarlet Tops, and Black Fur laid over the Crowns, and to have their Hair also clubbed.


That a Band of Music consisting of Twelve Performers be attached to this Corps.


That the Uniform Coats for the said Band be Scarlet Cloth, with Blue Capes, Cuffs and Facings, Wings and Shoulder Straps ornamented with Silver Lace and Fringe, Waistcoats and Breeches of White Cassimere, Plated S.V. Buttons, Cocked Hats edged with White Eckle Feathers, Black Cockades, with Plated S.V. Buttons and Loops, Scarlet feathers with white Tops – the Hair to be clubbed.


That the Fifers wear the same Kind of Coat, Waistcoat and Breeches as the Band, but to have Cocked hats with Green Cockades, Plated S.V. Buttons and Loops, and Yellow Feathers.


That the Drummers wear Scarlet jackets, with the same Facings and Ornaments as the Fifers, White Cassimere Waistcoats and Leather Breeches, Round Hats, with a Black Feather over the Crown, turned up on the left side, with a plated S.V. Button and Loop, Green Cockades and Yellow Feathers.


That the whole Corps wear half Gaiters of Black Cloth, Black Velvet Stocks with White Neckings, plain Yellow knee Buckles, plain white Cotton or Thread stockings, and plain Shirts with Frills at the Breast.

Notes:  this degree of prescription is unusual, particularly for the band. Note that all ranks wear gilt or plated buttons and gold or silver lace. The phrasing of para II (“Wings and Shoulder Straps”) seems to indicate that wings were worn by both battalion and flank companies, the only distinctions being in the headwear and the light company jackets.

A brief description of a portrait of Philip Unwin – not listed among officers – confirms the general picture: blue faced red with red “shoulder straps” and a hat with a “red plume”, perhaps the scarlet tipped white initially allotted to the grenadier company. (This portrait was owned by a Mrs W Bennett in 1925; I have not seen it and do not know if it survives.) By 1799 (see below) grenadier caps seem to have been in use.

In the portrait of Colonel Athorpe of 1797 (see below), the small figures in the distant rank continue to wear half gaiters. In the painting by Richard Holden in Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham, of the review and sham fight of yeomanry and volunteers at Brinsworth Common, near Rotherham, in 1799 (online in colour here), the distant ranks of grenadiers wear blue coats, white belts and breeches or pantaloons with half gaiters, and black grenadier caps with feathers that may be white or possibly white over red.

Hair was ordered in 1799 to be clubbed close in battalion companies, but both flank companies now to have theirs plaited. In June 1795 the band first included cymbals and tambourine, and eventually comprised 16 musicians.

From the Athorpe print

A portrait in oils of Colonel Athorpe by E Needham was commissioned in 1797 by the Cutlers’ Company, and a mezzotint made of it by John Raphael Smith and published by Robert Ramsay in 1798; coloured versions exist. (A monochrome print is in the British Museum Collections online, while a coloured print was sold in 2009 by Bosley’s.) The painting of Athorpe now kept by Sheffield Museums is a copy made in 1840 by John C Bembridge, and is less accurate in its detail. The original must be presumed lost. The coloured print shows the blue coat faced scarlet with gilt metal, the lapel buttons singly spaced. There are two small buttons at the back of the cuff, but no other buttons on cuff or collar. The gorget ribbons and rosettes are blue (but see the Shemeld portrait below) and tied to the top lapel button, the sword belt white, the sash red. The turnbacks are coloured scarlet, which may be an error. No hat is shown.

Col Athorpe (possibly) from the Holden painting

In the Holden painting of the Brinsworth Common review of 1799, the foreground figures, according to historian John Guest, include both Colonel Athorpe of the Sheffield Volunteers and Joshua Walker of the Rotherham corps. These must be the two officers identically dressed in blue faced scarlet, with gold metal, white turnbacks, belts, waistcoats and breeches, and hats with white over red feathers. (Holden’s portraiture makes it hard to say which man is which.) In the earlier Regulations above, the white over red feather is the distinction of the grenadier company, but by this date it was presumably also worn by battalion companies and field officers.

The Shemeld portrait

In 2013 the Clevedon Salerooms sold a portrait of Captain James Shemeld, described as captain of the artillery company (but see below), which once hung in the officers’ mess at Endcliffe Hall, Sheffield. (Dates of commissions strongly suggest that Shemeld was not captain of the artillery, a confusion perhaps created by the colours of the coat. Here he wears two epaulettes, indicating either captaincy of a flank company or a later promotion to Major. The 1795 dating of the painting may be in error.) Shemeld’s uniform matches that of Athorpe, though the gorget ribbons and rosettes, fastened to the top lapel button, are red, a difference to the Athorpe print. The device on his epaulette strap is not clear, but that on the belt plate appears compatible with known examples (see below).

Bland includes a drawing of a gorget which matches an example seen in the ‘seventies at the Mappin Museum, Sheffield; this was of brass gilt, engraved with a crowned garter inscribed “Loyal Independent Sheffield Volunteers” enclosing the arms of the Cutlers’ Company – three pairs of crossed swords on a shield of rococo form. Another example then in the Mappin was similar but inscribed only “Loyal Sheffield Volunteers”, with a crown of more angular form, and with a ribbon and rosette that was then a greyish green, but might originally have been blue. A gorget identical to this, which might or might not be the actual same item, was at one time shown on the website of Peter Taylor, militaria dealer of Barnsley. The shorter inscription could be taken to indicate a different formation, but the prefix “Loyal” appears to have been dropped by 1803, and one would expect the generic ciphered gorget to be in wear by then. This second pattern should therefore, I think, also be attributed to the 1794 corps.

Also in the Mappin at that time were two identical sword belt plates of brass gilt, inscribed, as for the first pattern of gorget, “Loyal Independent Sheffield Volunteers”, but with the design in relief and with a longer tongue at the foot of the garter. One of these was on a whitened buff leather belt with a frog for the sword. This belt plate design is shown identically as an oval plaque at the centre of a trophy of arms on a silver gilt cup presented by the regiment to Athorpe in 1799, sold at Christie’s in 2016.

The colours, presented in August 1794, were described as the Union flag for the King’s and on the regimental the arms of the town. On disbandment these were deposited in the parish church (now cathedral) but have long since “disappeared”.

An artillery company was formed within the battalion, and is dated by later local historians to 1795. However, the “Loyal Sheffield (Artillery)” does not appear in the fifth volunteer list of 1797; it is listed in the sixth edition of 1799, the commissions of its officers all dated 15 March 1798. Presumably its uniform was modelled in some way on that of the Royal Artillery, whose blue faced scarlet, in any case, matched the coats of the existing corps. In the Mappin Museum, Sheffield, in the ‘seventies, were four unattributed buttons of the period, flat and gilt, with the sunken design of the Ordnance shield, three cannon and balls, as worn by the Royal Artillery. It is conceivable that these buttons were worn by the Sheffield artillery company, although there is no evidence for this.

Whatever the date of the company’s formation, its two brass six pounders were purchased at Woolwich, the costs donated by Mrs Thomas Walker, of the Walker gun-founders of Rotherham. In 1803 they were passed to the reformed Sheffield Volunteers, in 1808 to their successors, the Sheffield Local Militia, and in 1821 in perpetuity to the Trustees of the Estate of the town. The “town guns” are now at the Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield.

[Rules and Regulations for the corps of Loyal Independent Sheffield Volunteers, n.d., in Sheffield Archives, Misc Papers 1063M. York Courant [date?], 1794. William White, History, Guide and Description of the Borough of Sheffield …, 1833. F W Hardwick, History of the Volunteer Movement, 1900, in Sheffield Archives, Local Pamphlets, Vol 74. Bernard H Hoole, Sheffield Portraiture, 1925. F Bland, Talks about Sheffield, No 20, Feb 1928. Sheffield Archives, Cuttings, Vols 4, 25, 43.]


Royal Wakefield Volunteers

Meeting to organise volunteers on 19 May 1794. Earliest commissions 31 May. Originally three companies, one battalion, one grenadier, one light infantry, later four companies. Major Commandant John Tottenham, Lieutenant Colonel Commandant W Rooke Serjeantson.

Walker’s history of Wakefield provides this unsourced description: scarlet coat (jacket for the light company) with blue cape, cuffs and lapels, gilt buttons with “RWV” beneath a crown, white cassimere waistcoat and breeches, narrow ribbed white cotton stockings, black cloth half gaiters, black velvet stocks, plain shirts with frills at the breast, knee buckles. The grenadiers in cocked hats with black cockades and white feathers, their hair plaited and turned up behind with a comb. A volunteer button in the centre of all cockades.

Wakefield grenadier, battalion and light companies, drummer, field officer, light company man

The Hopkins print of the review of 1796 is consistent with this. It shows all ranks in scarlet or red faced with blue, with white turnbacks, and white breeches or pantaloons with black half gaiters, though the mounted officers wear black boots. The battalion and grenadier companies wear coats and cocked hats with white feathers. The light company wears jackets and Tarletons with a light coloured turban and a feather of indeterminate colour. All belts are white.

The bandsmen wear red faced with blue and hats possibly with white feathers. The bass drummer wears what is either a light coloured fur cap or more probably a white turban. The battalion and grenadier drummers wear blue faced red, and hats with white feathers, the light company drummers the same with a Tarleton. The regimental colour has a blue field.

In 1797 a subscription was opened to re-uniform the corps.

A dug button is shown at the UK Detector Finds Database site. It bears a crown above script “RWV”, is flat and gilded, and 16mm and 18.5mm in diameter. On this basis, the officers’ metal colour was gold. (This pattern, dug near Wakefield, is also shown by Pickup and Darmanin in an MHS Bulletin, where it is ascribed to the 1803 formation.)

[William[?] Hopkins, “GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS …”, 1798 (coloured print by J C Stadler of Hopkins’ painting of the Heath Common review of August 1796), copy once at Thoresby Society Library, Leeds, now at Leeds Museum. J W Walker, Wakefield, its History and People, Vol II, 1939. Dixon Pickup, “Excavated Buttons – a Further selection”, MHS Bulletin 248, May 2012.]


York Volunteers

Earliest commissions 31 July 1794. Apparently four companies, including grenadier and light companies. Major Commandant, later Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Thomas Norcliffe Dalton. Colours presented 22 December 1794.

The Dalton pastel

A pastel portrait by John Raphael Smith of Lieutenant Colonel Dalton dates to the later period of this corps, and shows  a scarlet coat with dark blue collar and lapels narrowly edged in white, gold epaulette and buttons, the latter possibly in pairs.

The Baines pastel

The Dalton portrait makes an interesting comparison with another pastel portrait, that of Major Hewley John Baines (or Baynes, Captain in 1794, Major in 1796 and Lieutenant Colonel of the 1803 reformed corps). This fine portrait is by John Russel; it was in a group of associated items, part of the Baines family estate, sold at a Lincolnshire auction in early 2018, and was later offered by Boris Wilnitsky Fine Arts. It is one half of a pair, of Baines and his wife; the latter is dated 1804, but this shows Baines as Major of the 1794 formation, the 1803 unit having yellow facings. The buttoned over lapels suggest the later end of the period.

The dark blue facings, which seem to show a velvet sheen, are lighter than in the Dalton image, without white edging but with twist button holes. The collar bears a small gilt button, with large buttons, again possibly in pairs, on the front. Epaulettes are gilt.

The sword belt is white. Russel’s sketchy rendering of the belt plate is hardly reliable, but it shows an oval gilt plate, perhaps surmounted by a crown, with some sort of central escutcheon – not really too similar to the actual plate in the same Baines group, which might belong to the 1794 formation, the 1803 formation or conceivably both. The oval engraved gilt plate shows the arms of the city, a cross bearing five lions, beneath a decorative bow and swag, above crossed sprays of palm and laurel, between the inscription “York / Volunteers” – the same design as on the buttons shown below.

The gorget among the Baines items, hallmarked at York for 1793-4, was later offered by Peter Cameron Silver and shown on their web page. It is of gilt silver, engraved with the Royal arms below “GR”, with script “Y” and “V” in the points.

Three patterns of button can be identified with this corps. The first, offered on eBay, is gilt, flat, and shows a crown above, as on the Baines gorget, script “YV”; a number of this pattern have been dug up near York, so this may represent an early pattern of the corps. (Thanks to Kevin Pearce for passing on the image.) A second, that appears be of this period (examples at Hull Museum, on eBay and at one time at York Castle Museum) is flat, gilt, with one size 22mm in diameter, and shows the same design as the Baines belt plate. The third, of which a dozen loose examples were in the Baines group, has since been offered on eBay. It is a gilt brass half ball with a recessed crown over “York / Volunteers”; as this is essentially the same design as that of the more typical convex buttons worn in 1803 and after, it may perhaps belong to that later period. At any rate, it can only have been used on some sort of light company or officer’s fatigue jacket. (A single breasted jacket in the Baines group can be firmly identified to 1803 or later.)

[Rev. Cæsar Caine, The Martial Annals of the City of York, 1893.  The Sun (London) , 29 December 1794. Neil Jeffares, “Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800” at pastellists.com.  Website of Boris Wilnitsky Fine Arts.]


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