Tag Archives: Lancashire

Providing for the Provisionals

During the Great War against France, the auxiliary forces of this nation were sanctioned by a constant flurry of legislation, often conflicting, that created or augmented militia, supplementary militia, local militia, fencibles, volunteers, armed associations, yeomanry and provisional cavalry, not to mention the army of the reserve and a proposed levée en masse. Of these the Provisional Cavalry must rank among the least successful.

Under the Provisional Cavalry Act of 1796 anyone who owned ten or more horses was required to provide one man on a horse for the county’s regiment; those owning fewer were grouped to the same purpose. Not surprisingly this measure proved less than hugely popular, and the following year an exemption was granted to any county whose yeomanry cavalry had reached three quarters of its provisional cavalry quota. Given the popularity of yeomanry service among the rural squirearchy and their farmers, and the exemption granted to volunteers from the provisional cavalry levy, in many counties the provisional cavalry was never embodied or soon disbanded.

Gladstone prov cavy plate
Yeomanry historians who mention their county’s provisional cavalry regiment sometimes suggest that its uniform is a mystery, but in fact a prescribed dress for the whole force was devised by government and adopted where required. It was cheap, cheerful and dark green, consisting of:

“Green jacket, faced with scarlet, and corded white, price 19s; green cloth pantaloons, 10s; leather cap and feather, 2s. 6d.; half-boots, 18s.”

A total of £2 9s 6d, compared with the four pounds estimated for the provisional cavalryman’s horse furniture. The records of a number of counties indicate that these patterns were adhered to at this price, though a Shropshire reference gives the pantaloons as “feathered red”, while the Staffordshire lieutenancy appears to have undercut the cost of a Tarleton “leather cap” by opting for a “round hat looped up on one side with a green feather.”
I’m not aware of any contemporary image of a provisional cavalry trooper, but Gladstone’s history of the Shropshire Yeomanry includes a much later plate purporting to show two such (above). The turban is shown as black, the feather as red over white, the facings and red turnbacks as edged in white, with a narrow white stripe (not red as recorded) to the pantaloons. How far this is accurate to any period image or to the detail of the government pattern, I’m uncertain. (The 1969 Blandford Cavalry Uniforms by the Wilkinson-Lathams includes a plate clearly based on this, but manages to introduce a number of random discrepancies.)

For the dress of officers, we have, naturally, a little more evidence, though details here must have been shaped by the preferences of the wearer and his tailor.


A fine officer’s helmet of the Lancashire Provisional Cavalry in the National Army Museum (shown here) has a red turban, but has no surviving plume. It flaunts the county distinction of the Prince of Wales’s feathers, as do the Cheshire officers’ helmets (likewise with red turbans and plumes not visible) shown in portraits at Tabley House of Sir John Leicester (above, allegedly by Reynolds) and Ralph Leycester (below), dressed in differing silver braided  versions of the uniform. (A high res image of a mezzotint of the Leicester portrait that may help to clarify details can be found here.)


In the Welch and Stalker tailor’s book at the Victoria and Albert are patterns for officers of the Dorset and North Devon regiments. The drawing for the former can be seen here on Ben Townsend’s site. A distinct regimental variation “as made for Coll. Williams & the Earl of Strafford”, this jacket of “S[uper] fine Boteille Green Cloth” is edged and trimmed in silver cord, with plated chain epaulets.

There will be other examples that I’m not aware of, but the few shown here should be enough to dispel any misconception that the Provisional Cavalry was either non-uniformed or heterogeneous, no matter how misconceived it may have been as a military initiative.


“… a White Lace both for NCOs and the Privates”

Continuing with the theme of deviations, it’s easy to assume that if an infantry regiment of this era was not granted a distinctive coloured lace, then its coats or jackets would bear none, so that it would be by default an “unlaced” regiment. But it wasn’t necessarily so.

2nd & 4th Battalions, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

2nd & 4th Battalions, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

3 lancs supp m

3rd Battalion, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

When Supplementary Militia battalions were created in the late 1790s they did not share the lace pattern of their parent county regiment. Drawings in one of the Pearse tailor books show that the lapelled and tailed coats of the 1st Lancashire Supplementary Battalion (subsequently the 2nd Regiment) were unlaced, but that the 2nd and 4th Supplementaries (later 3rd and 5th Regiments) had the singly spaced buttons on their “New Fashion” jackets laced with plain white braid in “bastion” loops. The 3rd Supplementary (later 4th Regiment) also wore jackets with white pointed loops to their buttons, set in threes. The jacket patterns are interesting in that they show the early transitional style with proper skirts with double turnbacks.

As these battalions were expanded and renumbered as regiments they borrowed the proper coloured lace of the 1st Lancashire Militia. But the option of white lace loops remained on the pattern books, and found a new lease of life when offered to the volunteer movement.

When the Shropshire Volunteers (an unwieldy 18 company regiment) were due for new clothing at the start of 1806, it was felt that their unadorned red jackets of 1803 had looked a little plain, so the Committee opted for “Jacket No 2” of those now offered by its clothier. Colonel John Kynaston Powell noted that this had “a White Lace, and consequently a White Button, both for Non-Commission Officers (Staff Sergeants excepted) and the Privates.” This would provide “a sufficient Smartness,” and despite the extra cost of the lace would still be within the government’s allowance. (The unusual artillery pieces of the Shropshire Volunteers are discussed in my post here.)

Leek Volunteers

Leek Volunteers

This was not the only volunteer unit to opt for this style, and such jackets survive. In the Staffordshire Regiment Museum is a fine jacket of the Loyal Leek Volunteers with buttons in five pairs and laced in plain white. In addition the jacket edges, turnbacks, collar, shoulder straps, cuffs and pockets are all edged with the same white braid. The loops show a decent “window” of red, and the buttons here are of yellow metal.

Lancaster Volunteers

Lancaster Volunteers

Lancaster City Museum has held for many years a jacket of the Lancaster Volunteers, sketched by P W Reynolds and photographed for Volume 2 of Bryan Fosten’s Osprey Wellington’s Infantry. This also has white lace and paired white buttons, but in four pairs and with pointed lace. Here only the collar, straps and turnbacks are edged. (It’s instructive to compare Reynolds’s version with the photo; given the ambiguous spacing on the jacket front he can be forgiven for having seen the buttons as single – but what about the cuffs and pockets?)

The Lancaster Volunteers sketched as drawn by Reynolds. Photo by Ben Townsend

The Lancaster Volunteers sketched as drawn by Reynolds. Photo by Ben Townsend

These are just three examples, but there may well be others. The touch of showiness provided by plain white lacing would be calculated to appeal to a committee or commanding officer considering a re-clothing, and the splash of braid across the jacket would have given the volunteers something of the look of regulars.


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.

Image8
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?