Tag Archives: light infantry cap

Supplying the Supplementaries

As the Supplementary Militia legislation of 1796 created new swathes of levies to reinforce the existing battalions, counties were obliged to clothe and equip them for training, and in the beginning this was done on the cheapest possible basis.

Lord Lieutenants were authorised by government  to provide a “slight clothing”, the cost not to exceed £1 5s 9d per man. If they couldn’t be bothered to organise this from scratch, suitable outfits could be ordered from the clothiers of the existing embodied militia regiments and the accounts passed to the War Office. As the going rate for a militia private’s “suit” (coat, waistcoat and breeches only) was several shillings in excess of this allowance, it was clear that corners would have to be cut. Something on the lines of the simple outfits authorised the same year for regular recruits – a closed jacket, trousers and a round hat – might fit the budget.

Shropshire Supplementary Militia 1797

Shropshire Supplementary Militia, 1797

Two bills preserved among the Powis papers in the Shrewsbury Archives detail what Lord Clive, commander of Shropshire’s militia regiment, actually ordered from his clothier for the county’s 1,550 new levies in March 1797. The recruits were to wear “Red Cloth Round Jackets lined thro with Padua, White Cloth Waistcoats ditto, white Cloth Long Trowsers, with leather Caps & feathers.”

Conveniently, clothier Thomas Saunders priced this outfit at £1 5s 9d, the exact limit authorised. However, the archive contains a second version of this bill, Lord Clive’s private copy, which reveals that he paid Saunders a shilling less than this per suit, but then claimed the full allowance from the War Office. The great British tradition of a small rake-off for the militia colonel netted his Lordship a tidy profit of £77 10s on this transaction – about £8,500 in today’s money.

The image here is my rough attempt at a reconstruction of this outfit. I’m assuming that a “round jacket” involved no skirts, that the leather caps were the basic undress or light infantry type, and that a white feather, undyed, would have been the cheapest option.

As for accoutrements, the Ordnance supplied tan leather sets for all. While regulars were supplied with buff leather straps and slings, the allowance for the militia stretched only to the cheaper tan, but militia colonels often declined these, stumping up the extra for buff sets from their own pocket – or, more accurately, out of the profits made on their clothing accounts, as exampled  here. But the supplementary militia had to make do with tan. To relieve the “unmilitary” appearance of tan belts, colonels sometimes resorted to blacking them. When drafts of supplementary men were incorporated into the main militia regiments, they were re-clothed to match and re-accoutred with buff belts.

In the Spring of 1798 Secretary at War William Windham admitted to a Parliamentary Select Committee examining army clothing costs, that at midsummer, when the old militia regiments were due for re-clothing, a full outfit would also have to be ordered for the embodied supplementary militia. A couple of jackets devised for Lancashire Supplementary battalions in 1798 are shown in this post.

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Light infantry caps and Staffordshire knots

starkeyAmong the military images in the Royal Collection is a rather unforgiving caricature by Robert Dighton of a light company officer around 1800, marked simply “Starkey – Staffordshire”, and identifiable as Lieutenant John Stark of the light company of the Staffordshire Militia.

There are some interesting features: Stark’s hair is queued, not in a flank company “club”, and his sword is an odd shape, something short of a well curved blade. But most importantly, what on earth is “Starkey” wearing on his head? The online image of the watercolour, shown here but no longer available at the Royal Collection site, is sharply focused but rather dark; the reproduction in Miller and Dawnay’s Military Drawings and Paintings in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen (1970) is grainier but reveals more detail. It seems to be a black cap with a peak and with a tall front piece or “flap” adorned with what looks like a strung hunting horn. At the side a tall dark green plume is held low down by a cockade and button; no version of the “shako” (1800 infantry cap) is known with a cockade in this position.

starkey detailThis looks very much like the form of light infantry cap shown by William Loftie of the 16th Foot in his watercolours of light company officers of the 31st and 34th Foot drawn from life in 1801 and 1799 respectively. (Shown below. The Loftie album is in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France – link to the right of this post.) These images show a Tarleton-type crest in white running transversely across the top of each cap, but nothing like this is evident in Dighton’s image, though the profile view inhibits our full understanding of the construction of the cap. In none of these three images is the rear of the cap visible.

The Tarleton helmet or “helmet cap” was widely worn by light companies in the pre-1800 period, but I have the feeling that a cap of the Starkey/Loftie form was more likely the approved pattern.

musicians detailAt a bit of a tangent, I’m not aware of any image showing the post-1800 cap worn by Staffordshire Militia other than the painting by Arthur William Devis, now at the National Army Museum, showing grenadiers and bandsmen at Windsor Castle in 1804. (The following year the regiment was made “Royal” and had the doubtful honour of suffering the King’s constant interference in its affairs.) Here two bandsmen wear the 1800 cap with tall feathers in yellow, the regimental facing colour. Modern interpretations of these figures, by René North for instance, show the front of the cap plain without any other ornament, but it seems to me that some sort of linear badge in white metal is suggested by the artist.

Just what this was is revealed – unexpectedly – in the details submitted for James Willson’s chart, A View of the Volunteer Army of Great Britain in the year 1806, by F.F. Boughey Fletcher, commanding officer of the Betley, Audley & Batley Volunteers of Staffordshire, whose uniform was modelled unusually closely on that of their county militia “before it was made a Royal Regiment”.

While the privates are stated to have worn the “regulation cap, plate & tuft,” sergeants are described as wearing the “regulation serjeant’s cap & feather with Staffordshire knot of white metal on front.” For the Volunteers to have copied the knot from the Militia, the latter’s battalion company sergeants must have been wearing it by 1804, which ties in nicely with the adoption of the white rose cap badge by the 1st West Yorkshire Militia, as documented in my last post. (The knot had already featured on the regiment’s buttons.) I’m not aware that an example survives, but it can’t have been too far removed from the open metal collar badges of the regular Staffordshire Regiment, as shown here.

knot
The “universal” 1800 cap plate was not necessarily as universal as we might assume, at least not where the militia was concerned; county badges were now legitimate, signifying local pride in a wartime context.