Tag Archives: Powis Castle

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.

Advertisements

The tiger guns of the Shropshire Volunteers

In the 18th century it was often the practice for British regular infantry and militia regiments to keep attached a pair of light artillery pieces or battalion guns. By the end of the century the practical disadvantages of this piecemeal method of deploying artillery had become so obvious that most were sent into storage, and, shorn of their artillery, many militia regiments took to the new fashion of incorporating a couple of companies of riflemen instead. But the practice of battalion guns lived on among a few volunteer regiments, which were happy to acquire the kudos of  their own artillery detachment.

Colonel John Kynaston Powell’s regiment of Shropshire Volunteer Infantry, raised in 1803 and covering much of the North of the county, was already something of an unwieldy monster (18 large companies – two flank and 16 battalion) when in July 1805 each company was reduced to 97 men to make room for an artillery detachment of 32 privates plus NCO’s, officers and a drummer. Often, volunteer battalion guns were purchased through subscriptions by local communities, but the “great guns” of the Shropshire Volunteers were a gift – or at least a loan – from Edward, 2nd Lord Clive and 1st Earl of Powis, the eldest son of Robert Clive, “Clive of India”. And the guns had a particularly interesting history.


From 1798 to 1803, between spells as Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire and Colonel of the Shropshire Militia, Clive was Governor of Madras. 1799 saw the second, and successful, siege of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna), the fortress of Tipu Sultan, Muslim ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore and Ally of Napoleon. The storming of the city resulted in the death of Tipu and the complete defeat of his forces. Among the huge quantities of trophies captured were 927 of Tipu’s cannon, almost 400 cast in bronze, and over 200 manufactured at his royal foundry. The disposal of this wealth of ordnance was the privilege of the East India Company, and two fine examples were given to Clive, who brought them home to England and passed them to Kynaston Powell’s volunteers.

The cannon arrived as loose barrels, so in October 1805 the regiment resolved to have “proper Harness” and a pair of shafts made for each. The guns were also painted in the British manner, and the green patination of the bronze was covered by a coat of pale artillery grey. At field days and reviews in the green fields of Shropshire, Powell’s tiger head artillery detachment must have created quite an impression.


With the demise of the volunteers, the two guns were returned to the Clive seat at Powis Castle, Welshpool. They were fired to celebrate the wedding of his younger son in 1818, and again as a royal salute when Princess Victoria visited Welshpool in 1832; after that they were reduced to the purely ornamental. Today they still stand at each side of the steps to the entrance to the castle, which is now owned by the National Trust.

The cannon are of 2¾ – 3 pounder calibre. They were cast in the Mawludi year 1219 (1790-91) and sport spectacular striped tiger head muzzles, trunnions and cascabel buttons, the tiger being the chosen symbol of Tipu, “Tiger of Mysore”. On the barrel is a talismanic device based on the letters HYDR, for Hyder Ali, father of Tipu, and the mark of the Royal foundry, with the inscription “La illah ul Allah” – there is no god but Allah. An almost identical piece was sold at Christie’s recently, while other similar examples can be found at the Leeds Royal Armouries, at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and at Sandhurst.