Tag Archives: York Castle Museum

An East York militia uniform of 1760

Out of period for the main focus of this blog, I know, but study of the county militias in the War against France leads back naturally to their reestablishment in the late 1750’s. There can’t be too many surviving militia uniforms from that period; in fact there can’t be too many surviving uniforms of anything from that period, and the splendid 1760 outfit of Captain Thomas Plumbe of the Lancashire Militia, in the KORR Museum, is hailed as “the oldest, most complete, British army uniform in the world.” I wouldn’t know, but in that state of completeness it may well be. (Lots of photos of it here.)

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All the more surprising then that a comparable officer’s suit of the East Yorkshire Militia for this period – coat, waistcoat, breeches – lies uncelebrated in the vaults of York Castle Museum. (The coat and waistcoat were sketched by C C P Lawson at Leeds Museum and Art Gallery, where they were once housed, for Volume II of his mega-study, which confirms the id.) The York online catalogue, such as it is, does not identify or group these items, and associates only the waistcoat and breeches. The three accession numbers are from widely different years, and the significance of this uniform may have been lost over the decades. I hope it is now recognised, for this is a remarkable and historically important uniform.

YORCM 2010.984
The scarlet coat is lined and faced buff, with ten buttons and silver laces on each lapel, four on each pocket and cuff, and one each side of the collar. The silver buttons are blank, with a striped pattern. Waistcoat and breeches are both buff. The waistcoat has twelve silver buttons and laces at the front and three on each pocket; the breeches have a tie and four buttons at each knee.

As sketched by Lawson

As sketched by Lawson

The waistcoat lace has not, as the online note suggests, faded from gold; silver lace and buff facings were the constant distinctions of the Beverley Buffs or Yorkshire Buffs, as the regiment was soon dubbed. (In fact a 1790’s silver gorget of the regiment in the National Army Museum is inscribed simply “The Buffs”.) R W S Norfolk, in his East Riding study, asserts that the men of the regiment were issued in 1760 with red coats faced buff with white lace, a white waistcoat and red breeches, but I’m not sure of his source for this; other ranks’ militia uniforms of this period are a bit of a mystery, to say the least.

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A Tarleton of the Leeds Volunteer Cavalry

And as an antidote to my last post, here’s the real thing. This splendid Tarleton of the Leeds Volunteer Cavalry, raised in 1797 and disbanded in 1811, survives in the collection of York Castle Museum, along with a guidon and two jackets of the same troop – or rather, two troops by 1803. There’s an image of this helmet on the York Museums Trust site, but it’s blurry beyond usefulness, so here are two better, courtesy of the Trust.

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In an old issue of the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research this helmet is credited to Leeds City Museum, but if it was ever there, it’s not been for many years. The feather plume and the chains are missing, but the crest and leopardskin turban are in good shape. The left label reads “LEEDS” and the right “VOLR. CAVALRY”. Most interesting feature to me is the large plate  that incorporates both badge – crown, garter and cypher – and the unit’s motto, with negative areas simply painted black; this explains the “floating” appearance of the motto. (The bits of string that now hold this in place look a tad retrospective.)

walker tarletonInterestingly, exactly the same badge and motto, but in white metal, appear on the Tarleton worn at the time by the West Riding Yeomanry, as clearly shown in a fine portrait at Rotherham of Henry Walker of the Southern Regiment at some point post-1803. I’ve excerpted Walker’s Tarleton at the left, but the whole image can be seen here, on the BBC Your Paintings site. The motto had been adopted by the Yeomanry in 1795, and their helmets were supplied by Hawkes of London, so that the Leeds helmet may be by the same maker.