Tag Archives: Warrington Bluebacks

A bit of glory but no death: the Warrington Bluebacks

There can’t be too many surviving blue coats from the armed associations of 1798, so it’s nice to know that the Lancashire Infantry Museum has an example, previously in Warrington Museum, worn by the Loyal Warrington Volunteers of Lancashire. Their site’s image [click to enlarge all images] doesn’t quite show the whole thing, but the skirts were full length and lined dark blue, the turnbacks held by pairs of red hearts. As the “Bluebacks”, under their Captain Commandant Edward Dakin, managed to stretch themselves to an almost regimental panoply of one battalion and two flank companies, the light company would surely have worn a jacket version; headwear was a fur crested round hat, though the grenadier company wore something more “cumbrous” – presumably a fur cap.

The terms of their acceptance at first restricted their services to the defence of the streets of Warrington alone. When, at the Lord Lieutenant’s request, the battalion was consulted on extending this to an entire five mile radius of the town, the men were assembled to do an Alamo, and a chalk line was drawn on the floor. First to cross was intrepid James Ashton of the light company, crying “Come along, lads – death or glory!” To a man, they followed him, and Ashton was for evermore known by his peers as “Old Death or Glory”. In the event, the supreme sacrifice was not demanded within the prescribed ten miles.

The anecdote is told in James Kendrick’s sketch of the volunteers in the Proceedings and Papers of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire for 1854, along with much else of a florid, rhetorical and italicised nature; Doctor Kendrick concludes with a strange diatribe against teetotalism and vegetarianism (“now so rife amongst us”), presumably exemplifying the “refinement” that then threatened to sap the vitality of the youth of England. As a medical man, Kendrick should have known his onions, and perhaps the rifle volunteer movement of five years later would prove his point.


On disbandment in 1801 the colours of the Volunteers, inscribed “Pro Rege et Patria”, were placed over the altar of the parish church, but by Kendrick’s time had “disappeared”. However, some record of them must have been preserved, for they feature, along with the drums, in the background of a fine retrospective portrait of James “Death or Glory” Ashton himself, painted in 1852 by a W Taylor, now in Warrington Museum and online at the Art UK site. An aged Ashton peers grimly out at the viewer from beneath a superimposed and mildly inaccurate reconstruction of the uniform; the colours and drums, however, have a slightly more authentic look to them.

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