Tag Archives: Staffordshire Militia

Friends reunited

It’s a pleasure to recollate related but scattered images. Not in the annoying Pinterest mash-up sense of “together”, where items are ripped from context, and links and references lost, but in a way that makes a greater sense of the components.

A few posts back I was impressed by a small painting by John Downman of a lieutenant of the Staffordshire Militia, named as “Hall” but possibly R G Hand. Since then, three more similar have swum into view, one unidentified plus a pair named as Lieutenant William Handley and his wife Jane, Mrs H being splendidly cross-dressed in lady-of-the-regiment style. Both Hand and Handley are given in Wylly’s history of the regiment as present at disembodiment in 1783, but Handley’s name is not listed at re-embodiment ten years later. Despite Hand’s lack of hat tape, various features suggest the earlier of the two periods for these miniatures. As Mrs Handley’s clobber is hardly everyday wear, I’d imagine that Downman set up his easel at Warley Camp, where the Staffordshires were quartered in the summer of 1782. Curious that one of the early belt plates is in shield form, rather than the crowned grenades(?) of the others. Click to enlarge:

Downman must have had other sitters at the time, from this and other regiments, though I’ve only noticed one or two possibles in much online browsing of miniatures. As I said before, his later output was largely hack work, but these are fresh, observant and honest, a pleasure to contemplate.

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Hard orders and ill cutting

During the period of the Great War with France, spanning the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, styles of military clothing changed at a highly accelerated pace, rapidly following equivalent transitions in civilian styles, the profile moving from hats, open lapelled coats and breeches to caps, closed jackets and trousers. This instability could produce real problems for officers responsible at the sharp end, in militia regiments as much as the regulars. Alterations introduced merely at the personal whim of the colonel were not always welcomed.

Here, in a letter preserved at Stafford Record Office, Lieutenant Colonel Sneyd of the Staffordshire Militia writes in some exasperation to his absentee Colonel, Lord Uxbridge:

Febry 9th 1794

So you are going, I understand, to make a total alteration in the Officers Uniform. I only wish that you may shew as good a taste in your second trial, as you did in the first. For certainly no uniform ever met with more general approbation than our present one has done. Had I been with you before you had come to the resolution of altering it I should most certainly have been Council for the Uniform of the Old Stafford. As it is, I shall say nothing to you upon the subject. Only that when it is done, it should be done in such a manner as to prevent Officers ever wearing the Old Regt in any case (otherwise we shall never get uniform) and I am afraid such an order may come a little hard upon some of our Officers, who cannot afford extraordinary expense.

Uxbridge may have decided to change the lace from silver to gold, which would also have necessitated new buttons, epaulettes, gorgets and sword belt plates. In the event these were not altered until 1802, so Sneyd seems to have won the argument for the time being, despite his promise to “say nothing … upon the subject.”  I’m not sure what Uxbridge’s first “trial” may have been.

Militia officers, who did not necessarily enjoy the private incomes of some of their regular counterparts, could indeed be hit hard by this sort of thing. In 1809 the Lieutenant Colonel of the Shropshire Militia estimated the cost of a militia officer’s outfit – just clothing, sword and belt, exclusive of camp equipment etc – at 57 pounds 7 shillings, equivalent to over £3000 in today’s money.

The “Uniform of the Old Stafford” is illustrated admirably in this fine miniature by John Downman, which came up for sale a while ago on the Claudia Hill site. Identified as a Lieutenant Hall, my guess is Lieutenant R G Hand, whose black hat feathers and belt plate suggest the grenadier company. It may have been painted at Warley Camp in 1782. Downman’s later, more sugary, work usually flatters the sitter, but his portraits of this period are frank and telling; he captures perfectly here a blend of vanity and vulnerability.

Hand portrait

Alterations in the men’s clothing could also create headaches, the clothiers’ cutters not always at their best with a new and unfamiliar pattern. A few years later, in an letter undated but apparently written a little before 1800, Sneyd was obliged to complain to Uxbridge about the transition from coats to the new style jackets, or perhaps from an earlier pattern of jacket to a later, the regiment’s new clothing being “ill cut” and sent late or not at all.

Miller seems to have given you an Idea, that we did not understand that the present jackets were made upon a different plan from our former cloathing. That is by no means the case. When I said they were ill cut, I did not mean to object to the plan, which I took for granted was your orders, but that they were ill cut according to that plan. Prater however has now acknowledged that they were not executed according to his wish – which is all he can do. We will therefore make as good a job as we can with them. But I am sorry to say that I have been at last obliged to give way in regard to the old cloaths – and have consented that this Day shall be the last of their wearing them – on condition they are still kept to sleep in on Guard … We still have not recd any more of the Jackets excepting what came by [?]. It is the not receiving them in time that has so totally defeated all our plans. All the fine things for the Blacks & boys of the Band are arrived, but our Taylors are so constantly employ’d & have so much work now before them, that I cannot do any thing about the Bands Cloaths.

The guilty party here was “Prater” – William Prater of Prater & Sons, operating out of his “Military Warehouse” at Charing Cross. Prater’s may have had a quality control problem, for in 1803 the Colonel of the Shropshire Volunteers complained that “Messrs Prater have not executed my Pantaloons according to pattern,” and when his regiment was reclothed in 1806 a good proportion of Prater’s breeches were found to be too small, and many items missing from the consignment.

In the case of the Staffordshire Militia, the regimental tailors were obliged not only, as usual, to fit the new clothing to the men, but also to try to make good the poor cutting, the extra work setting back the whole schedule for re-clothing, and postponing the in-house tailoring of fancy oriental suits for the black bandsmen. (See also this post.) The reference to the old clothing being retained for use on guard duty is interesting.

It was not unusual for army clothiers to cut corners, sacrificing quality to enhance their own profit margins and those of the colonels of regular or militia regiments, who claimed the full allowance from government and pocketed the difference, a regiment still being essentially, as Fortescue pointed out, a private company in the financial sense.


‘In their best Turbans’: black musicians in the Militia and Volunteers

The presence of black musicians in the British Army of the later 18th and early 19th centuries is well documented. The craze for “Turkish” or “Janissary” music brought percussion instruments into regimental bands – bass drum or kettledrum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, crescent or “Jingling Johnnie” – and black percussionists to play them, perhaps chosen for perceived exotic value as well as for percussive ability. Though band uniforms were already extravagant products of regimental vanity, these musicians were even further distinguished by their fantastical and pseudo-oriental costumes, often involving ornamented turbans and Turkish-style “shells”.

This rather interesting thesis outline notes that 41 line regiments of foot are known to have employed black musicians (the actual number was perhaps much higher), but observes that their novelty and visibility rather eclipsed the honourable record of ordinary black soldiers who served in the ranks, who were often overlooked in contemporary accounts and imagery.

Cymbalist, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection

Cymbalist, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection

Tambourine player, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection

Tambourine player, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less widely recognised, perhaps, are the black musicians who served as frequently with the Militia, so here are a few examples. The watercolours by Captain Sir William Young of the Buckinghamshire Militia of 1793 include a “cymbalist” and a “tamborin”. (The originals, in the British Museum collection, are not available online, but copies are in the Anne S K Brown collection.)

A regimental order of June 1797 of the Staffordshire Militia required “Grenadiers, Light Infantry & Drummers [to parade] in their respective dress caps. Musick in jackets. The Blacks in their best Turbans.”

Service in a regimental band must have been an attractive option for those fallen on hard times. In November 1807 Adjutant Butterfield of the 1st West Yorkshire Militia wrote to his Colonel that “Major Dearden has this moment directed me to express his wish to have a Black, taken from the Prison here, as a Tamboreen in the Band to complete our number.”

That number might be as many as five percussionists. Among the clothing supplied to the Shropshire Militia for 1811 were five “Cymbol &c dress Jackets, Shells, Pantaloons and Waistcoats”; in 1813 the same five musicians were supplied with “Fancy Caps” with “Ornaments” and “long feathers”.

ng shell pearse

“Music jacket & Shell” for the North Gloucestershire Militia, 1796, from the Pearse tailor’s books, Canadian War Museum collection

A 1796 tailor’s drawing for the North Gloucestershire Militia gives some idea of the construction of such garments. One element of the many curious and fossilised features of military musicians’ dress of the era was a fringe around the elbow or wrist, and the drawing shows a scarlet long sleeved “waistcoat” (or jacket) worn under an open white “jacket” (or shell) with short, elbow length sleeves to which this fringe was attached.

The Bishop Blaize procession from Walker's 'Costume of Yorkshire'

The Bishop Blaize procession from Walker’s ‘Costume of Yorkshire’

There is some evidence that showier or better heeled volunteer regiments may also have employed black musicians. The print of John Hopkins’ painting of the 1796 “Grand Review of the Gentleman Volunteers” at Wakefield seems to indicate white turbaned percussionists among the bands of the Bradford, Leeds and Royal Wakefield Volunteers. A plate from Walker’s Costume of Yorkshire (1814) shows the Bishop Blaise procession in Bradford, held in 1804 and 1811. If the original sketch was made in 1804 the military in the procession would be the Bradford Volunteers. (If in 1811, their successors in the Morley Local Militia.) Prominent in the relatively small band are a black bass drummer and cymbal player, in red sleeveless shells over yellow jackets, yellow pantaloons, red fezzes and white turbans.

The movements of the cymbal player suggest that, in contrast to the formal composure of the brass and wind players, free expression was the norm. Period accounts of regular infantry bands mention black players’ “contortions and evolutions” – “throwing up a bass drum-stick into the air after the beat, and catching it with the other hand in time for the next, shaking the ‘Jingling Johnnie’ under their arms, over their heads, and even under their legs, and clashing the cymbals at every point they could reach.”


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.