Tag Archives: West Yorkshire Militia

‘Every Tailour knows these things’ – plus three new Militia pages

A few posts on this site (here, here and here) have drawn upon a rich but sometimes enigmatic tailor’s note book in the Anne S K Brown Collection at Brown University, titled “Rigementals”[sic] and apparently the work of one William Stothard, circa 1813. (It has also informed many of my King’s German Legion pages.) Stothard’s background is not known, but he was certainly familiar with officers’ clothing produced by London tailors from 1811. A number of items in the book can be tied to entries in the ledger of Jonathan Meyer, and it’s possible that Stothard was at some point employed by Meyer, or perhaps apprenticed to him, or at least allowed to have a nose around and make copious “Memorandoms”.

Anne S K Brown Collection, Brown University Library

Stothard’s drawings are crisp, detailed and accurate. His written notes are vernacular to a Dickensian level, and although you can almost hear his spoken voice behind the phonetics, it makes for some tricky reading at times. In addition to the seventy or so items of uniform recorded, many ornate and complex, Stothard includes a set of “Rules” for a military tailor, which makes interesting reading, even for those (like me) who can’t even thread a needle. Here’s the opening part, transcribed directly:

Tailours Rules for the Prince Reg.nt Regulation. 1813

Coates Jackets or Pantlones. A Coate being given in to be Baisted up should be marked properly if not otherways Ardered, do. for the Imbroidereys. The linings should be Baisted in Rongside oughtward for fear of Getting dirty; All Button stays should come from the Button to the front where hooks & eyes is wanted, & turn in the front, all hooks & eyes on Coates should be put on with A strip of Brown Holland other linen, abought three or four inches long, to ceepe them to their places. Thick things should be well stayed: thin things lightly stayed. All white things given in should be cept so White. Lace given in should be cept cleen. Figurin Braide should be passed up from the little finger to the thum, and the end braide inward should be used, the braide should lay cosey on the knee, Nighther two much ought nor two much in; All broade Lace should be Waxed Before it his Cut …

And so on. But here’s my attempt at a translation:

Coats, jackets or pantaloons. A coat being given in to be basted up should be marked properly if not otherwise ordered, ditto for the embroideries. The linings should be basted in wrong side outward for fear of getting dirty.

All button stays should come from the button to the front where hooks and eyes is wanted, and turn in the front. All hooks and eyes on coats should be put in with a strip of brown Holland or other linen, about three or four inches long, to keep them to their places. Thick things should be well stayed, thin things lightly stayed.

All white things given in should be kept so, white. Lace given in should be kept clean.

Surgeon’s coat (Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library)

Figuring braid should be passed up from the little finger to the thumb, and the end braid inward should be used. The braid should lay cosy on the knee, neither too much out nor too much in. All broad lace should be waxed before it is cut. Cushions should be made on lace to turn downwards, all the points in. A First Guards dress flap should be cushions, though sometimes they are seamed, in the bottom point. Broad lace should never be seamed, only where there is one point such as the forearm of a dragoon’s lace cuff, or the frame of pantaloons of one inch or two inch laces.

To mark the figure for pantaloons [you] should find the nape of the knee, draw a line from the centre to the top. Ditto for sleeve.

All large figures should be marked with white ink and [the] pen should be good. Fancy patterns should be first drawn on paper then pricked with a pin. The pattern should be laid on where it is wanted and pinned on. The pipe clay should be finely scraped on then rubbed over with a brush. The pattern should be took off and the ink put on. That makes it plain to put on the braid. The pattern is best pricked with a pin. To make white ink dissolve one pennyworth of gum Arabic and one pennyworth of white lead. If too thick or too thin adulterate it accordingly. On stocking [it] is very bad to stick. On thin stocking it should be made [to] stick the best.

All plush linings to regimentals should run upwards and other linings downwards.

Mark 14 regular [i.e. buttons] for 10 by pairs. Mark 11 for 8 by pairs, 10 for 7.

Every tailor knows these things, etc. William Stothard.

Some of this may be of real interest to anyone involved in the re-creation of period uniform or costume. Next time you mark out an Austrian knot on your pantaloons you’ll know exactly how to set about it. I like the bit about spacing buttons in pairs; for eight, mark out eleven and miss out every third button. It works! As every tailor knows …

On a more familiar note, there are three more Militia pages now up and running here, for the First and Second West York from 1759 to 1816, and for the Third from 1797, plus two even shorter-lived “Supplementary” regiments. White roses in plenty.

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“… an Uniform is very proper”: imagining the Georgian Militia

Our culture’s preoccupation with alternative histories often makes the proposal seem more fascinating than the reality. But what-could-have-been can be not just entertaining but also historically revealing. (Take, for instance, the proposed uniforms of Lieut Col John Luard, the mid-19th century military reformer, whose infantry helmets and utilitarian clothing anticipate what would be worn in 1914, but were reactions to his personal experience of what had been worn in 1814.)

Among the flurry of tracts and pamphlets of the mid 18th century arguing for a national militia in preference to a standing army, a few writers tried, in passing, to suggest what a militia man should wear. In A Proposal for a Regular and Useful Militia (Edinburgh, 1745), the anonymous pamphleteer proposed:

“As an Uniform is very proper for Troops of all Sorts, his Majesty may at the national Charge furnish the Foot with a Hat and a Frock of Blue Kersey, and the Horse with a Hat, Coat and Cloak, the Cloak of the same Colour, and the Coat of the same Cloth and Colour, to last four Years at least, to be wore always on Field Days, and on Sundays and Holydays if they please.”

If the militia of the parish was to exercise one Sunday, the same clothes might as well make a Sunday outfit for the other weeks, courtesy of the Crown. Blue was the natural choice for clothing that would emphasise civic duty and identity.

A more elaborate scheme was outlined in Samuel Martin’s A Plan for Establishing and Disciplining a National Militia in Great Britain …, (London, 1745). Martin’s militia was to be two layered: the light cavalry and infantry of a “superior militia” (men of property), and the infantry and heavy cavalry of the “subordinate militia” of the common people, the subordinate companies electing annually their officers, drawn from the superior corps. For these four classes, he proposed as follows:

I would recommend a plain scarlet dress with gilt buttons, a gold laced hat, and light boots, for the habit of the superior cavalry; for the accoutrements, such saddles as our horse-officers now use, with plain scarlet furniture; a light carbine and pistols of musquet bore …

I would recommend [for the superior infantry] only a plain blue cloath coat trim’d with gilt buttons, an hat laced with a gold lace of an inch broad, and white linen gaiters. … To admit no distinction of dress between the officers and soldiers of the militia, except the scarf or sash, seems agreeable both to oeconomy and good policy; for by that means all officers may save the needless expence of gaudy clothes, and be more secure in the day of battle, when the enemy cannot distinguish them at a distance from other men of the corps.

[The subordinate heavy cavalry] to be well mounted, arm’d, and accouter’d, as our regular horse now are, but in uniform blue, faced with red, and trim’d with white metal buttons.

I propose, that each man of the inferior infantry be cloathed in a uniform blue or green coat with white metal buttons, which may serve for a Sunday, and military dress.

… cockades of different colours may be provided for the subordinate militia, horse and foot, suitable to their ensigns, by which each regiment of the county, and each company of subordinate foot may be distinguished from others.

The well dressed militia man, from the Norfolk drawings

In places, this is not so much whimsical as far sighted, particularly on the reduction of distinctions between officers and men. Once again, blue is the dominant colour, and a Sunday best is provided for the “common people” into the bargain.

As for the reality, we know surprisingly little about the actual appearance of the new militia men of the late 1750’s; no form of regulation seems to have defined the clothing their colonels were to provide, and the allowance per private – a guinea in 1758, raised to 30 s in 1760 – was, as J R Western points out in his exhaustive political history, The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century (1965), barely enough for a coat and hat. The classic image is provided by the plates in George, Viscount Townshend and William Windham’s A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk (London, 1759). I guess that the pleasingly fluent drawings may be by Townshend, an amateur artist and cartoonist, as well as a friend of the militia cause. They show something much simpler and more economical than the dress of the regular: a single breasted coat with simple three button slash cuffs and pockets, and a hat with no lace. This unembodied private has not even yet spent his “marching guinea” on a pair of gaiters. (The coat buttoning – one at the throat, two mid chest, three at the waist – seems odd, but is shown consistently thus.)

So much for Norfolk, but that doesn’t mean that other regiments were clothed exactly the same. Later descriptions of their initial clothing tend to be vague and unsourced, and may be unreliable, so it’s hard to know. At any rate, within the space of a re-clothing their appearance became assimilated to that of the regulars, while during long periods of wartime embodiment the militia became, in effect, a second standing army.

Such reformist enthusiasm for cheaper, simpler clothing found an echo twenty years later in a brief vogue for “light uniform” or “drill dress”, the trending thing among the county militias at Coxheath camp in 1778; the West Yorkshire regiment were reported in

a very neat white uniform, turned up with light green, which we hear was presented to them by her Majesty.

While the Duke of Devonshire awarded the Derbyshires with

a light Uniform which will be their Property when they depart, and which particularly serves them during their Encampment on Account of its Lightness.

Shortly after, in one of his semi-mystical pro-militia pamphlets (Tracts, Concerning the Ancient and Only True Legal Means of National Defence, by a Free Militia, London, 1781), the radical Whig and abolitionist Granville Sharp, among his proposals for reform of the problematic City of London militia, proposed a universal drill dress:

The Appearance, also, of the City Militia might be rendered more respectable, by the addition of drill-jackets, with some proper distinction of uniform facings, to denote the ward or district of each company.

And indeed, as I noted in this post, we find at that time the London Associators in a white drill dress faced blue, and the Newgate Street Association in white faced orange. Such a cheap, light and practical style of clothing might have made a sensible default outfit across all auxiliary forces, but it was not to be; subsequent generations of associators and volunteers found their own sartorial route, while the white jackets of the militia were put aside for fatigue wear, and became “slop dress”.


The joy of big lapels

While the familiar post-1799 infantry jacket didn’t allow for much in the way of variation, the immediately preceding transition period, as the long coat morphed by stages into the jacket, was far more fruitful.

Here’s [left] a rather beautiful watercolour (attributed to Henry Eldridge) of an unidentified field officer of the Leeds Volunteers in the late 1790’s, from the collection of Leeds Museum. [Click to enlarge images.] The huge, plastron-like effect of the unusual lapels, with their buttons in threes, is quite a step forward from the orthodox parallel lapels with paired buttons originally worn by the Leeds regiment. The same flamboyant coat, but now cut to allow the lapels to button over in the mode of the time, is shown [right] in the 1802 portrait of Colonel Thomas Lloyd of Leeds (once at York Castle but now in the National Army Museum). Why buttons in threes? I’ve no idea.

But the Leeds Volunteers were not the originators of the style. Here is exactly the same style of coat but faced in green, and a companion jacket, both belonging to an officer of the 1st West York Militia, probably Captain Howard of the light company. Both are now in the Wade Collection of the National Trust, together with a matching red waistcoat with buttons in threes. A portrait [below], attributed to John Downman, of a company officer of the West Yorks around 1800 or soon after shows the same coat buttoned over. But from where the West Riding Militia derived the style, or if it was ever adopted by any other unit, I do not know.

downman-wy

Though here [below] is something else not too distant – a showy style of lapel worn in the late ‘nineties by both regiments of Gloucester Militia, and described in the Pearse tailors’ books as “Broad at top slanting off at bottom”.

pearse-ng-pvt