Tag Archives: light company

Even more light company style, continued …

Several earlier posts here (links below) have looked at the distinctive cavalry-oriented styling of light company officers’ jackets, chiefly in the Militia. On the premise that someone out there might be as curious about this fashion as I am, here are a couple more examples, both of the North Gloucestershire Militia, and both from the Hawkes tailor’s book at the National Army Museum. (Thanks to Ben Townsend for access to these images. Click to enlarge.)

First up is a double breasted jacket (dark blue facings) with two rows of 15 buttons, embroidered motifs on collar and pointed cuffs, and unusual bastion pointed turnbacks edged in a narrow blue velvet ribbon. The drawing has been updated with a pencil scrawl: “This Jacket wrong, altered to SB 3 Rows Buttons  twist holes on each forepart.”

And sure enough, a later page shows the new single breasted pattern. This sports three rows of 18 “worked” holes, but with only 15 buttons on the outer rows, instructions being given for the top three to “die” under the wing and strap, which is not fully shown in the drawing. The pointed cuffs bear four buttons, one on the blue cuff and three above, with holes as inverted chevrons. The wings are specified as scarlet embroidered in silver, and silver embroidered bugles mark the turnbacks.

As a bonus, a pencil sketch tucked into the corner shows the accompanying waistcoat. (Such waistcoats are rarely pictured.) This is captioned: “White Quilting waistcoat trim’d Russia Braid sugar Loaf Buttons.” I assume the braid was white. The drawings shows 21 buttons (so 63 in total) , loops terminating in a crow’s foot, and three “eyes” in the braiding to the front of the collar. You can’t have too many buttons on a good waistcoat.

Previous posts on this topic show comparable jackets for the Manchester Local Militia,  the Beverley Volunteers, the Sheffield Local Militia and South Gloucestershire Militia. What appears to be a similar jacket for the 21st Foot is discussed here.

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The trouble with Cecil

Cecil C P Lawson’s five volumes of A History of the Uniforms of the British Army: it’s where I started, back as a kid in the local reference library, hunched over the vast wooden table before the high, glass fronted shelves on a summer afternoon, carefully studying each page of each volume. So I’m quite fond of the reactionary old buffer.

And yet … Nowadays, when I look at the murky, scratchy drawings of the later volumes, I’m painfully aware of the imperfections in Lawson’s work. But it’s not just the haziness of some of the specifics; sometimes there are odd, unaccountable errors of detail too.

A few previous posts on this blog have looked at the cavalry-influenced styles adopted by some light company officers of volunteers and militia. In a bid to find models for these among the regular regiments, I’ve recently been trawling period images, with near zero success. But I did come across one. In William Loftie’s album of eyewitness images appears an officer of the 21st Foot or Royal North British Fuziliers in 1801. [Left below. Click to enlarge.] Given the wings and Tarleton (as opposed to a fur cap), this must be an officer of the light company. His jacket bears two rows of closely spaced buttons, extending well towards the shoulders – a good match for that of the Berkeley Volunteers shown here, and a confirmation that such styling was not confined to the auxiliary forces.

At some point Lawson was commissioned by Anne S K Brown to copy the Loftie watercolours for her own collection, now at Brown University; some of these “copies” were reproduced and described by René Chartrand in 1993-4 in Military Illustrated. Versions also appear in Lawson’s Volume V. Now Loftie’s Fuzilier clearly has at least thirteen buttons showing in each row above his sash, but in the Brown copy Lawson has reduced these to the regulation ten, reverting the jacket to a bog standard officer’s pattern. (If this were so, the buttons would be in twos, this regiment wearing them paired on their regulation coats.)

Look closer and there are other discrepancies: Loftie shows the collar, cuffs and facings edged with a narrow white cord or feathering, but Lawson has changed this to a broad gold lace. The Tarleton has all gilt furniture, but Lawson seems to give it a silver band, and Chartrand describes it thus. Lawson also heightens the shape of the pointed cuffs and adds fringes to the wings. In Loftie the breeches are properly white, but the gloves are buff; Lawson shows buff breeches and white gloves. Why? I’ve no idea.

Similar glitches affect other figures in the album. For example, Loftie shows the light company officer’s cap of the 38th with a green band around the base, a silver cord and tassels, and a two-part silver plate with a crown over some sort of rayed star. Lawson’s copy for Brown adds a silver band around the top edge, while his version in Volume V of A History of the Uniforms changes cord and tassels to green and omits the plate. (The confusion passes through to the Fostens’ Thin Red Line, where the same cap – “after Loftie” – has a green cord, silver bands top and bottom and a plate with no star.)

Details, details, I hear you say. There are more important things in life to get upset about, and so there are, and no doubt uniformology is not an exact science. But how inexact can we afford to be?


Still more light company style

Tracking back to previous posts (here and here) on the topic of cavalry styled jackets worn by light infantry officers of militia regiments, here’s a rather remarkable jacket (currently for sale online) that confirms the trend, and with a whole lot of braiding as an extra delight. This is for an officer of the light company of Col John Silvester’s 1st Manchester Local Militia of 1808-16. The three rows of 17 buttons are braided and looped with scarlet twist, the top rows ending over the shoulder in whorls. The dark blue collar also has self coloured braid edging and loops. Though the overall cut is orthodox, these details very much give an impression of cavalry or rifles. [Click to enlarge.]

As they accumulate, these examples prompt the question of what exactly the militia was imitating here. Is it possible that officers of some light infantry regiments and companies of the line wore similar jackets? There are the famous red or grey pelisses of the 43rd of course, but the Napier portrait shows a pelisse worn with the regulation jacket. It seems unlikely that militia regiments would have had the temerity to initiate this styling, but at the moment I can’t spot any model among the regulars that they might have been following.

 


Styling the light company

One day in the mid ‘seventies I wandered into what was then known as the Mappin Museum (now Weston Park) in Sheffield, biro and sketchbook in hand, and asked if they had any items of volunteer uniform. A curator was only too happy to pull all kinds of stuff out of storage and leave a scruffy hippy alone to examine and draw it; I don’t think that would happen today.

Sheff Local Mil LI jacketMy big find of the afternoon was the jacket of Captain John Brown of the light company of the Sheffield Local Militia (1808-16). I already appreciated the tendency for light company officers of the time to adopt a degree of cavalry styling, but wasn’t prepared for this rather dandyish single breasted jacket with three rows of half ball buttons.

Each row of 14 half inch plain gilt buttons was singly spaced. The scarlet jacket had very dark green (virtually black) collar and cuffs with the same buttons (in pairs on the cuffs) with dark green or black twist buttonholes. The very elongated sloping pockets carried two pairs of the buttons, with two more pairs at the rear waist and in the pleats. The white turnbacks were decorated with black bugle horns trimmed in silver on a black or dark green ground. The scarlet wings were trimmed with gilt wire, gilt fringe and a similar horn, and held by a small gilt regimental button (S/LM within a circle within a crown and rayed star).

The jacket had been given in 1940 by a Miss E M Brownell. Along with it came a fine crimson and gold barrel sash, which I had time to look at, and a sleeved waistcoat, which I didn’t but should have. According to the accession card, the waistcoat had a white back and sleeves, but a front of red and white horizontally striped cloth [!] closed by six silver plated buttons with a light infantry horn in relief. I write all this in the past tense because I have no idea whether these items are still at Sheffield. I hope they are, but for what it’s worth the Sheffield Museums online collections search doesn’t throw them up. My sketch is shown above (click to enlarge); I didn’t carry a camera in those days.

dightonThe closest thing I’ve seen to Captain Brown’s outfit is in a characterful watercolour by Robert Dighton of an officer of the light company of the South Gloucestershire Militia, c 1804, in the Royal Collection. However, the South Glosters as a whole regiment had opted for a light infantry look during this era. A note in a Pearse design book indicates that in 1799 the men’s new single breasted jackets were given three rows of buttons, like light dragoons, and though these were reduced a few years later to a single row, their jacket fronts remained crammed with buttons and laces in “a bad imitation of light cavalry”, in the words of one disapproving inspector. (The effect is shown in two watercolours of 1805 now at the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.) In the Militia List of 1813 the regiment appeared officially, if rather after the event, as light infantry and was authorised to be clothed and equipped as such. So Dighton’s showy officer is less of a light company anomaly than a regimental trend. Which makes Captain Brown’s jacket all the more noteworthy.