For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Leicestershire Yeomanry collection
The Leicestershire Yeomanry collection is based in a museum at Loughborough’s Carillon. The Carillon is an imposing war memorial built during the early 1920s in the wake of the carnage of the First World War. On the outside of the tower are listed the names of the fallen, whilst inside is housed a military museum and a carillon. A Carillon is an instrument consisting of over 24 bells (played with the fists!) usually housed in some kind of bell tower. These are a particularly common feature in the Flanders region of Belgium where in the First World War much of the British army had fought and died, including many local men in the Leicestershire regiments.
The bodies of many of these locals who’d been killed during the war remained buried, or missing, over in Flanders far beyond the reach of many relatives. Loughborough’s Carillon building was an admirable memorial attempt to at least bring the sounds of Flanders to the townsfolk of Loughborough; a clever connection made to another land where local men had been lost, never to return. It is within this local landmark tower that the Leicestershire Yeomanry collection is housed.
It’s been longer than I care to remember since I visited the Carillon and I really can’t believe that it’s taken me so long to revisit. The floor which features the Leicestershire Yeomanry collection is accessible up a tight spiral staircase which ultimately can lead visitors right up into the belfry itself in the very top of the tower. The Yeomanry room is small but effective and features lots of artefacts of interest.
Raised in 1794 at the Three Crowns Inn in Leicester by Sir William Skeffington, the regiment was a response to the threat of invasion by revolutionary France. At the time of this emergency, the Yeomanry would have worn the Tarleton helmet common to regular cavalry of the time, and one example was on display.
The Yeomanry went through a number of headgear changes which is explained in detail on the excellent Prince Albert’s Own Yeomanry website, before settling for a while on the 1873 busby.
The Yeomanry were formally named “Prince Albert’s Own” Leicestershire Yeomanry Cavalry (PAOLYC) in 1844, in honour of Queen Victoria’s consort. As a home service force, the regiment was mobilised to enforce public order on a number of occasions. Tackling civil disturbance was never glamorous work – the most notorious example being the Manchester Yeomanry’s debacle at the Peterloo Massacre. Until their contribution to the Boer War effort, public feelings about yeomanry forces could be mixed. However, not being exposed to the same harsh realities of overseas warfare as regular cavalry meant that yeomanry regiments were able to be more decorative and colourful in their uniforms right up into the 20th century.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the PAOLYC were dressed a dark blue uniform of hussars with the aforementioned busby for headgear. Models and photographs of this uniform were on display.
Being intended strictly for home service, yeomanry forces across the country gave volunteers to the newly formed “Imperial Yeomanry” for service in the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the century, the PAOLYC itself submitting two companies.
There was much more to see in the museum on the ground and second floors, comprehensively covering the first and second world wars. Requiring some effort, the top floors gave access to the carillon and its bells for which the great composer Edward Elgar wrote “Memorial Chimes” as the inaugural piece of music. Finally, at the very top (for those without a ridiculous fear of heights like the author), a balcony offered great views over the entire county.
Note: A comprehensive and informative website dedicated to the Leicestershire Yeomanry can be found here and, as with the Carillon Museum itself, is well worth a visit. See also Arnhem Jim blog for a little more info on Richard Simkin’s Yeomanry prints, an example of which is at the top of this post and also in my own possession.