Tag Archives: coat

The joy of big lapels

While the familiar post-1799 infantry jacket didn’t allow for much in the way of variation, the immediately preceding transition period, as the long coat morphed by stages into the jacket, was far more fruitful.

Here’s [left] a rather beautiful watercolour (attributed to Henry Eldridge) of an unidentified field officer of the Leeds Volunteers in the late 1790’s, from the collection of Leeds Museum. [Click to enlarge images.] The huge, plastron-like effect of the unusual lapels, with their buttons in threes, is quite a step forward from the orthodox parallel lapels with paired buttons originally worn by the Leeds regiment. The same flamboyant coat, but now cut to allow the lapels to button over in the mode of the time, is shown [right] in the 1802 portrait of Colonel Thomas Lloyd of Leeds (once at York Castle but now in the National Army Museum). Why buttons in threes? I’ve no idea.

But the Leeds Volunteers were not the originators of the style. Here is exactly the same style of coat but faced in green, and a companion jacket, both belonging to an officer of the 1st West York Militia, probably Captain Howard of the light company. Both are now in the Wade Collection of the National Trust, together with a matching red waistcoat with buttons in threes. A portrait [below], attributed to John Downman, of a company officer of the West Yorks around 1800 or soon after shows the same coat buttoned over. But from where the West Riding Militia derived the style, or if it was ever adopted by any other unit, I do not know.

downman-wy

Though here [below] is something else not too distant – a showy style of lapel worn in the late ‘nineties by both regiments of Gloucester Militia, and described in the Pearse tailors’ books as “Broad at top slanting off at bottom”.

pearse-ng-pvt

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An East York militia uniform of 1760

Out of period for the main focus of this blog, I know, but study of the county militias in the War against France leads back naturally to their reestablishment in the late 1750’s. There can’t be too many surviving militia uniforms from that period; in fact there can’t be too many surviving uniforms of anything from that period, and the splendid 1760 outfit of Captain Thomas Plumbe of the Lancashire Militia, in the KORR Museum, is hailed as “the oldest, most complete, British army uniform in the world.” I wouldn’t know, but in that state of completeness it may well be. (Lots of photos of it here.)

YORCM_L1950_32
All the more surprising then that a comparable officer’s suit of the East Yorkshire Militia for this period – coat, waistcoat, breeches – lies uncelebrated in the vaults of York Castle Museum. (The coat and waistcoat were sketched by C C P Lawson at Leeds Museum and Art Gallery, where they were once housed, for Volume II of his mega-study, which confirms the id.) The York online catalogue, such as it is, does not identify or group these items, and associates only the waistcoat and breeches. The three accession numbers are from widely different years, and the significance of this uniform may have been lost over the decades. I hope it is now recognised, for this is a remarkable and historically important uniform.

YORCM 2010.984
The scarlet coat is lined and faced buff, with ten buttons and silver laces on each lapel, four on each pocket and cuff, and one each side of the collar. The silver buttons are blank, with a striped pattern. Waistcoat and breeches are both buff. The waistcoat has twelve silver buttons and laces at the front and three on each pocket; the breeches have a tie and four buttons at each knee.

As sketched by Lawson

As sketched by Lawson

The waistcoat lace has not, as the online note suggests, faded from gold; silver lace and buff facings were the constant distinctions of the Beverley Buffs or Yorkshire Buffs, as the regiment was soon dubbed. (In fact a 1790’s silver gorget of the regiment in the National Army Museum is inscribed simply “The Buffs”.) R W S Norfolk, in his East Riding study, asserts that the men of the regiment were issued in 1760 with red coats faced buff with white lace, a white waistcoat and red breeches, but I’m not sure of his source for this; other ranks’ militia uniforms of this period are a bit of a mystery, to say the least.