Somerset Soldiers (Day Trip #9, Part II)

Continuing my report on the Somerset Military Museum, I’d like to showcase next some of the splendid yeomanry uniforms on display. Mounted volunteers were often amongst the most attractively dressed forces in the British army, being less subject to the more practical uniform concerns brought about by foreign campaigning. Examples of Somerset Yeomanry dress on display included;

  • (Left) North Somerset Yeomanry cavalry, officer’s coatee, c.1843.
  • (Right) West Somerset Yeomanry cavalry, officer’s coatee, c.1812.

The coatee featuring a red plastron belonged to The North Somerset Yeomanry. This force was first raised in Frome in 1798, merging with The East Mendip Corps in 1804, and designated the North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry in 1814. By the 1880s, the regiment was designated as a dragoon regiment.

The West Somerset Yeomanry was first raised in June 1794 as an independent troop at Bridgwater. In 1812, they were wearing this Light Dragoon style jacket intricately laced with gold braid. Their headdress at the time would have been Tarleton helmets. By the end of the century, they would have been converted to Hussars.

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Mudford Independent Yeomanry Cavalry helmet, c 1831.

One of my very favourite items of headdress was the dragoon-style helmet worn by the Mudford Independent Yeomanry Cavalry a Taunton troop that was disbanded in 1838. Of a steel and brass construction it had a black crest and a Royal Coat of Arms on a sunburst plate. This troop of yeomanry was involved in suppressing the Reform Riot of 1831 then taking place in the town of Yeovil.

“The Mudford Troop of Yeomanry, under the command of Captain George Harbin of Newton Surmaville, assembled the following morning. The rioters were threatening to sack the town and pelted the Yeomanry with stones and other missiles. However the Yeomanry arrested two of the mob and took them to the Mermaid Inn where the magistrates were assembled. The Mermaid Inn was attacked, windows broken, and the rioters attempted to rescue those that had been arrested. Consequently the Yeomanry were instructed to fire “four in the air, and two at the rioters”. One of the rioters was wounded and the crowd dispersed although the Yeomanry had to provide constant patrols to keep the streets clear and maintain order….

Such were the occasionally unglamorous duties of Yeomanry during the 1830s. Being a volunteer force, their lack of experience might be seen to have contributed to an unfortunate incident during the riot where it was noted that;

One of the Yeomanry, a Trooper named Charles Cattle, accidentally shot himself in the leg.

The two scarlet coatees below are examples from the Mudford Troop of Yeomanry. The one on the right is a Sergeant-Major’s coat and the example on the left belonged to Captain Harbin who originally raised the troop.

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The display of Yeomanry equipment was comprehensive enough to include artefacts relating to their horses too. The museum has this 1873 painting by John Alfred Wheeler of ‘May Queen’, a very fine steed belonging to the Bath Troop of the North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry.

Painting
‘May Queen’, Bath Troop, North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry by
John Alfred Wheeler – 1873

Items of horse furniture in the above painting could be compared to some real ones on display. In the bottom photo below can be seen an example of the white throat plume.

  • (top left) An officer’s white gauntlet gloves, spurs, pouch (with George V cypher) and shoulder belt,
  • (top right) North Somerset Yeomanry sabretache
  • (bottom) Yeomanry horse tack including decorative ear and bit bosses, a brown leather bridle with white throat plume, also a ‘bit’ with curb chain.

That doughty chronicler of the late-Victorian era British army, Richard Simkin, depicted the Somerset Yeomanry regiments at the turn of the century (then combined into the ‘4th Yeomanry Brigade’) thus;

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West Somerset and North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry by Richard Simkin (1840-1926)

Simkin’s painting shows clearly the different styles of headdress adopted by the two Yeomanry regiments; the West Somerset were dressed as hussars, and the North Somerset dressed as dragoons. Both styles of headdress were also on display in the museum (see below).

  • Below Left: North Somerset Yeomanry officer’s full-dress dragoon helmet, 1851-1914. (Also visible – an officer’s pill-box forage cap 1880 -1904 can be seen behind and to the right. This style of cap can be seen in Simkin’s painting too.).
  • Below Right: West Somerset Yeomanry full-dress hussar pattern busby, c.1881-1900 (also visible – a North Somerset Yeomanry officers staff pattern forage cap 1956-67.)

And that concludes the part II of the report, leaving a measly one more to go! In the final part will be reviewed the Somerset volunteer infantry forces and also a number of drums…

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