Tag Archives: William Loftie

The trouble with Cecil

Cecil C P Lawson’s five volumes of A History of the Uniforms of the British Army: it’s where I started, back as a kid in the local reference library, hunched over the vast wooden table before the high, glass fronted shelves on a summer afternoon, carefully studying each page of each volume. So I’m quite fond of the reactionary old buffer.

And yet … Nowadays, when I look at the murky, scratchy drawings of the later volumes, I’m painfully aware of the imperfections in Lawson’s work. But it’s not just the haziness of some of the specifics; sometimes there are odd, unaccountable errors of detail too.

A few previous posts on this blog have looked at the cavalry-influenced styles adopted by some light company officers of volunteers and militia. In a bid to find models for these among the regular regiments, I’ve recently been trawling period images, with near zero success. But I did come across one. In William Loftie’s album of eyewitness images appears an officer of the 21st Foot or Royal North British Fuziliers in 1801. [Left below. Click to enlarge.] Given the wings and Tarleton (as opposed to a fur cap), this must be an officer of the light company. His jacket bears two rows of closely spaced buttons, extending well towards the shoulders – a good match for that of the Berkeley Volunteers shown here, and a confirmation that such styling was not confined to the auxiliary forces.

At some point Lawson was commissioned by Anne S K Brown to copy the Loftie watercolours for her own collection, now at Brown University; some of these “copies” were reproduced and described by René Chartrand in 1993-4 in Military Illustrated. Versions also appear in Lawson’s Volume V. Now Loftie’s Fuzilier clearly has at least thirteen buttons showing in each row above his sash, but in the Brown copy Lawson has reduced these to the regulation ten, reverting the jacket to a bog standard officer’s pattern. (If this were so, the buttons would be in twos, this regiment wearing them paired on their regulation coats.)

Look closer and there are other discrepancies: Loftie shows the collar, cuffs and facings edged with a narrow white cord or feathering, but Lawson has changed this to a broad gold lace. The Tarleton has all gilt furniture, but Lawson seems to give it a silver band, and Chartrand describes it thus. Lawson also heightens the shape of the pointed cuffs and adds fringes to the wings. In Loftie the breeches are properly white, but the gloves are buff; Lawson shows buff breeches and white gloves. Why? I’ve no idea.

Similar glitches affect other figures in the album. For example, Loftie shows the light company officer’s cap of the 38th with a green band around the base, a silver cord and tassels, and a two-part silver plate with a crown over some sort of rayed star. Lawson’s copy for Brown adds a silver band around the top edge, while his version in Volume V of A History of the Uniforms changes cord and tassels to green and omits the plate. (The confusion passes through to the Fostens’ Thin Red Line, where the same cap – “after Loftie” – has a green cord, silver bands top and bottom and a plate with no star.)

Details, details, I hear you say. There are more important things in life to get upset about, and so there are, and no doubt uniformology is not an exact science. But how inexact can we afford to be?

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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.