Tag Archives: Lancaster Volunteers

Sharpshooter boots and more new stuff

At the close of 1803 court reports in the British press noted the presentation to the King of:

A Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooter [National Army Museum]

Captain Barber, of the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters, or Rifle Corps … The Captain, although contrary to the etiquette of the Court, wore his cap, pantaloons, and boots, or high-laced shoes, for the inspection of his Majesty, who wished to see him in the full uniform of the corps.

A week later, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hanson, of the Manchester Rifle Regiment, was also presented to GIIIR, dressed in exactly the same way, high-laced boots included. (For the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters see this post, and for Hanson and his Manchester regiment, this page.)

As Ben Townsend has astutely observed, here is a moment in British military fashion when the volunteer movement, particularly the rifle element of 1803, found itself on the curve of the avant-garde, able to set aspirations in military style that might influence the regular service. (Ben discusses this in the first volume of his thoroughly admirable and indispensable Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion (of which a proper review will appear here soon, when the second volume appears).

6th Loyal London [Anne S K Brown collection]

But what exactly were these new “boots, or high laced shoes”, which the King wished to scrutinise? It’s surprisingly hard to say; period patterns and manuals for Georgian bootmakers seem remarkably elusive. An 1804 advert by Hickson, Boot-Maker, in the Strand, offers, among a vast range of desirable civilian and military boots in the highest style, “shooting shoes” and “backstrap lace boots for sharp shooters”. But other period sources seem to suggest that “strapped” and “laced” boots were not the same animal.

Contemporary accounts of the Cumberlands’ uniform mention “high shoes, laced in front”, while Henry Beaufoy, in Scloppetaria, his 1809 treatise on all things rifled, advocates the old fashioned low shoe and gaiter, deprecating the fashionable rifleman’s “laced half boot”:

It is not unusual with corps of government as well as volunteers, to reject the gaiter as being less neat, and adopt in its stead the small laced boot which was conceived to suit the uniform better! but surely it is a pity that neatness should be taken into consideration in preference to utility and convenience.

Not too hard, then, to imagine a half boot, or high shoe, laced up the front and tied at the top – but finding a clear image of it is another matter. The rather sleek watercolour of a Cumberland in the National Army Museum (detail left above) seems to suggest a line of lacing running in Xes up the front of the neat forward boot, but I don’t have a version with enough resolution to be sure. At top centre hangs what looks like the usual tassel, but must in fact be the ends of the lacing in some tasselled form. The Tomkins print of a rifleman of the 6th Loyal London Volunteers (detail right above) shows the tied laces hanging clearly, but doesn’t show any front lacing. Other images with dinky tasselled boots are plentiful but don’t solve the mystery.

And then, what’s a “backstrap lace boot”, and how does it differ from a strapped boot? Or a laced high shoe, for that matter? Guidance from those who know would be very welcome here!

While I have your attention, I’ll mention that since my last flagging up of new pages, I’ve added a few more:

Staffordshire Volunteer Infantry of 1803

East Yorkshire volunteer and association infantry and artillery of the 1790’s

– and the beginnings of what I hope will be a developing series on chosen county militias, from the revival of 1757 through to disembodiment at the close of the Napoleonic wars. The first being:

Staffordshire Militia 1776-1816

There’s also a very brief introductory page to the militia series here.

In the meantime, a few pages have been overhauled, with much new info on the Lancaster Volunteers of 1797 on this page, and on the Ulverston Light Infantry (Lancashire) of 1803 on this page. More to come, for sure.

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“… 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.