Citizen Soldiers of Salop: Day Trip #13 (Part 2 – Volunteers and Militia)

Continuing my report on the Shropshire Regimental Museum, in this second part I’ll be now looking at the local Rifle Volunteers, the Shropshire Volunteer Artillery and the Shropshire Militia.

Most of the artefacts relating to these local military units of Shropshire were based in the imposing Great Hall of the castle.


The Rifle Volunteers:

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“The Rifle Contest, Wimbledon, 1864”. Lithograph after A. Hunt.

One of the most pleasing finds was the above print of a Rifle Volunteer competition in the 1860s. Regular visitors to Suburban Militarism may recall that last year I embarked on a project to model four separate Victorian Rifle Volunteer Corps (the Cheshire Greys, the Robin Hood Rifles, the 3rd London Rifle Volunteers and the Post Office Rifles). During this time, one of the things I researched was what a volunteer rifle range might look like. The above print (click here for a larger image) of Wimbledon Common illustrates many of the features I was speculating about at the time, including:

  • The rifle butts – seen in the distance with markers, backstops and a flag flying to indicate direction and warn of the range being in use. The men engaged in shooting appear to screened off, presumably to limit accusations of being distracted!
  • A vibrant social scene where differently uniformed corps would intermingle (note the different kepis, forage caps, kilts and at least one busby). The competition is well attended with many ladies and children being eagerly entertained by the rifle volunteers.
  • A nice vignette of a successful rifleman being carried aloft by jubilant comrades after his marksmanship has won his corps glory.

For those taking part in such competitions, success could earn the eternal gratitude of one’s officer and comrades, not to say acquire a little local celebrity. So it was for Sergeant Roberts of the 12th (Wem) Rifle Volunteer Corps whose performance at said Wimbledon Common earned him the epithet “The Champion Shot of England”! It also engendered this effusive ‘illuminated address’ by his grateful Captain and colleagues:

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“This is indeed a proud day for your comrades in the Corps…”

A little further on in the museum, I found an example of what might lie in store for those riflemen who did not pay sufficient “strict attention to drill and rifle practice” with as much diligence as Sgt. Roberts – namely, a wooden spoon! This was “probably a booby prize for the worst shot” in the 2nd Shropshire Rifle Volunteers…

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Another of the museum’s fine manikin displays portrayed two local volunteer troops of the Victorian era; specifically men from the two Volunteer Battalions of the Shropshire Regiment. The 2nd Volunteer Battalion wore a grey uniform with black crossbelts and facings. His marksman’s badge of crossed rifles can be seen above his left cuff. His weapon is a Snider-Enfield.

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Colour Sergeant, 2nd Volunteer Batt. KSLI, c.1890.

The 1st Volunteer Battalion was represented by its preceding formation, the 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps. The uniform dates from the 1880s, around the time of the Childers Reforms which first linked the Rifle Volunteer Corps more closely with the county infantry regiments. The 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps wore scarlet tunics and white facings, therefore looking much like the regulars.

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Officer, 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1880s

It was great to see county volunteer forces so carefully and skilfully depicted in this display by the Shropshire Regimental Museum. Rifle Volunteers may not have seen any active service prior to the Anglo-Boer War, but they were a significant part of the military and social history of Shropshire.

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Two shakos belonging to Rifle Volunteers from the 1860s.

In the display below of the local Administrative Battalions, the ‘drab’ dress of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion was complemented by dark green braid and black facings and crossbelts. The 1860s shako features a hunting horn badge with the number 48 (being the order of precedence for the Shropshire Rifle Volunteers). Post-1880, both Volunteer Battalions have adopted the dark green Full-Dress helmets. The other ranks uniform to the left is awash with medals, proficiency stars, etc.

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Like the yeomanry, bandsmen would have been a part of self-respective Rifle Volunteer Corps. I spotted this large drum belonging to the second corps below:

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Drum of the Second Shropshire Rifle Volunteers

The Shropshire Militia:

The national Militia force expanded during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars but, by the time of their conclusion, a single regiment of Shropshire Militia existed. The established system of maintaining the Militia by local ballot was unpopular, poorly enforced and numbers were in decline.

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Militia cap badges, 1870 forage cap and a “tobacco jar” presented to the 54th Shropshire Regiment Militia. Presumably, the officers had exclusive use of this…

In 1852, service in the Militia became voluntary – closer to the TA of today. The attraction of experiencing army life and wearing the smart uniform must have been attractive to many. Particularly so, as the uniform was very similar to the regulars of the time.

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Militia officer’s 1855-68 pattern tunic and 1869-78 pattern shako. Facings are green.

In 1881, as part of sweeping reforms, the Shropshire Militia came under the newly established King’s Shropshire Light Infantry regiment and was designated the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, K.S.L.I. At the same time, control of the Militia was taken from the Lord Lieutenant and appointments and training came under the War Office instead.


The Shropshire Artillery Volunteer Corps

To support the large number of  Rifle Volunteer Corps being established in 1860, the importance of mounted infantry and artillery formations to support them was recognised. This wasn’t always easy to achieve as horses and cannons are more complex and expensive formations to maintain. Nevertheless, in Shropshire, the 9th (Shrewsbury) Rifle Volunteer Corps was converted to the Shropshire Artillery Volunteers in July 1860. Initially, there were a formation of ‘heavy artillery’ and performed exercises at Long Mynd, an area of heath and moor in the Shropshire Hills. The site of the battery and magazine is still apparently identifiable even today.

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The Shropshire Artillery Volunteers with their 32 pounder guns at Long Mynd. In the foreground, civilians (men, women and a child) have come to watch proceedings.

The museum had a number of objects relating to this formation including this Full-Dress pouch:

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Richly embroidered 1st SAV Officer’s Full Dress pouch

The Full-Dress uniform of a sergeant of the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery could be seen in its entirety (below). The Shropshire RHA was formed in 1908 as a consequence of the formation of the new Territorial Force. They were one of only six volunteer corps to be designated as being prestigious Horse Artillery.

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Below is a portrait held in the museum of the first commander of the Shropshire Artillery Volunteers, Colonel William Field, wearing a fur busby with white plume. In the distant background can be just about seen some gun limbers and horses. The town of Shrewsbury is in the distance. His fine grey charger also featured in the museum. Following its demise, the beloved animal had its hoof converted into an inkwell, now in display!

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1864 portrait of Col. Field of the 1st Shropshire Administrative Brigade, Volunteer Artillery beside his favourite grey charger.

To encourage proficiency, prizes were awarded to provide an incentive, a common enough concept for volunteer forces. For the SAV, the winning battery each year would take the ”Skill at Arms’ trophy shown below. An image of an artillery team in action can be seen embossed on the front.

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The Full-Dress headgear of the 1st Shropshire Artillery Volunteers in the 19th century was this shako. Note the metal ball instead of a spike at the top the helmet, and also the artillery piece appearing under the Royal Coat of Arms.

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1st Shropshire Artillery Volunteers shako

Complimenting last year’s purchase of the book “Riflemen, Form!” on the Victorian Rifle Volunteer movement, I bought a copy of “A History of the Shropshire Artillery Volunteer Corps”, a newly published and detailed account by Derek Harrison, available in the museum shop online. Perfect bed-time reading for me there!

A (thankfully) short, final post on this exhaustive report to come, in which I include some personal thoughts about the museum.

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5 thoughts on “Citizen Soldiers of Salop: Day Trip #13 (Part 2 – Volunteers and Militia)

  1. I checked and saw reasonably priced copies of the 1864 ILN print on offer on eBay using search terms Rifle Contest Wimbledon. Other interesting Rifle volunteer prints turn up as well and there is more in the National Army Museum collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I’ll take a look. That’s really useful. I was looking for some good illustrations of rifle ranges and competitions but for some reason drew a blank!

      Like

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