Tag Archives: Lancashire Militia

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.)

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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.

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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.


One weird militia cap

This blog has been grievously neglected for several months. Family stuff; my apologies.

The more you look at the uniforms of a particular regiment in this era, the more you appreciate the deviations from the greater uniformity. Where colonels were allowed licence, such as in the clothing of musicians, this is especially so. Drummers are a particular headache, and faced with the arcane and variant complexities of drummers’ lacing, one begins to doubt the detail of many artists’ reconstructions.

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Here’s an extremely weird drummer’s cap of the Royal Lancashire Militia from the notebooks of P W Reynolds in the V&A. (Many thanks to  Ben Townsend for the photo.) It’s a “Belgic”, or at least a sort of Belgic, attributed to the First Regiment of Lancs Militia around 1814, and Reynolds’s sketch is based on a previous sketch by “JCL”, whoever he or she was – Charles Lyall, maybe?

Reynolds’s assumption is that the cap was of black felt. The front is said to be 9 inches high, so about the norm, but the “pole”, which I understand to mean the cap part, though I’ve never seen that term used elsewhere, is just over 5 inches deep, so more shallow than usual – perhaps scaled down to fit a boy. The front is steeply arched – quite different to the squareish front of the standard Belgic, and so more reminiscent of the shape of the pre-1802 drummer’s fur cap. In place of the usual folding flap at rear is a drum badge, as previously used on the rear of drummers’ fur caps, measuring 2⅛ by 1½ inches and presumably in brass.

The circular plate at front is 3 inches in diameter, again presumably of brass, and Reynolds notes correctly that the elements of the design – “LANCASTER”, rose and wreath – correspond to those of the known Belgic cap plates of the regiment, which are of the standard size and shape. The peak is narrower than the norm at 1½ inches, though that is a feature seen on some officers’ and volunteer caps. JCL had noted that a “festoon” had been worn on the cap and that there was a small hole “in upper part of front”, presumably to take a tuft and cockade, but exactly where was not marked in his sketch.

The cap is said to have been seen at Hawkes’s, the military outfitters. Where is it now?  A search of the NAM inventory throws up nothing, though that’s not to be wondered at.

This cap raises all kinds of questions. Why the odd shape, and does it have any relation to drummers’ fur caps or to the tall fronted light infantry caps discussed in this post? Why the small plate when the front was tall enough to take the standard pattern? Does it actually date to circa 1814? Was it a regimental one-off? Or did other regiments adopt similarly mutant forms? And how much can we trust modern illustrations that show drummers of the period wearing the same caps and plates as everyone else?