Ensign Miniatures and the drawings of René North

Over the past few years, I’ve picked up a few 54mm metal yeomanry figures from the Napoleonic Wars which have been made by Ensign Miniatures. They have a distinctive sculpting style which didn’t fit well with my other Bob Marrion / Edward Campbell-inspired yeomanry from the late 19th/ early 20th century era. Occasionally, one would turn up at an affordable price and I would add to my collection meaning I now have three different figures.

Two of my Napoleonic yeomanry by Ensign Miniatures

A couple of years ago, I had nearly finished painting a pair of their Leicestershire Yeomanry figure but held off from completing pending a visit to my local Leicestershire Yeomanry museum in order to review any exhibits and information relating to these early uniforms. An extended period of closure ‘for refurbishment’, and also the COVID-19 virus has prevented a visit since. So. now I’ve pushed on with them and present my two Leicestershire Yeomanry officers.

The reason I had painted two was that strangely they came in an auction as a group of five identical figures. A misspelling of ‘yeomanry’ meant that I won the lot for a tiny sum. I found some spare wooden bases to use and added plaques as a finishing touch. What to do with my extra yeomen, including painted and unpainted version, I’m not so sure!

The figure came with a 1796 Pattern Light-Cavalry Sabre and nickel strips for use as sabretache slings. I’ve done my ham-fisted best with these.

The overalls were described in the painting instructions as being sky blue with either ‘scarlet bands to outer seams’ or ‘silver with central red piping’. At the time I painted these, I found some excellent colour photographs of an original uniform which showed the latter design, so I stuck with that. Sadly, this invaluable website appears to be now unavailable.

The helmet instructions were detailed and again I benefited from the example online which included a pink turban around the Tarleton. I was satisfied that my colouring seemed to hit the right note.

The faces of the two, despite being identical, I’ve somehow manage to create individual expressions which I like the look of.

The rest of the uniform consists of a scarlet jacket, sky blue collar, cuffs and turnbacks, silver shoulder scales and buttons, with a sash described as crimson. Seeing the original uniform helped enormously at the time I painted these.


René North

Further to these yeomen, I had once read somewhere that Ensign Miniatures made a large quantity of figures relating to the yeomanry. However, another random purchase (I know ‘another‘ purchase, I despair of myself, I really do…) has thrown up some interesting information on these Ensign figures.

Leicestershire Yeomanry officers by René North. In a nice coincidence, there are two of them.

My purchase was for a set of six 1960s postcards with illustrations on them of Napoleonic English yeomanry, 1800-1809 all by an artist named René North. These black and white drawings came with painting instructions written under the illustration, which I thought could maybe prove useful in any future yeomanry painting endeavours. When they came through the post, however, I immediately recognised a pattern emerging among the six regiments. The regiments included:

  1. The Warwickshire Light Horse, Private, 1801
  2. The Surrey Yeomanry, Private, 1800
  3. The West Kent Yeomanry (Sheppey)*, Officer, 1800
  4. Loyal London Cavalry, Private, 1804
  5. The Leicestershire Yeomanry*, Officers, 1808
  6. The South Bucks (Eton Troop)*, Officer, 1809

Three of the above were exactly the same Ensign Miniatures figures which I had in my possession* and very specifically the same troops for both the South Bucks and West Kent yeomanry. This seemed more than coincidence, so I delved further into it.

A little research eventually dug up a pdf copy of an old Ensign Miniatures catalogue. This catalogue showed that my yeomanry figures were part of the ‘A’ Range (summarised somewhat vaguely as “A variety of British figures at home and overseas…”) and consisted of nearly all of the six regiments specified in the René North cards. The sole exception was the “Loyal London Cavalry” which was not featured. Instead, two Scottish yeomanry regiments from the same period were also available.

Some of Ensign Miniatures’ ‘A’ Range

The catalogue cites Bob Rowe as being the designer of this series of figures. It seems clear that René North must have been a key inspiration or information source for much of Bob Rowe’s Napoleonic yeomanry designs. Who was this illustrator René North and why did he produce this monochrome set of cards? A quick glance at eBay shows a number of other “Paint-Your-Own” uniform sets covering a wide range of military topics, all black and white line drawings with full colouring information included in text.

The excellent Helion Books blogged a very informative biography of Mr North who was both the illustrator and researcher for all the cards in this series. Cost was a driving factor in issuing colourless cards, but they also encouraged the collector to colour the illustrations themselves.

“Initially the colouring information was on the actual card, but on later sets it was moved to the accompanying text sheet leaving the card purely for the illustration itself.”

My English Yeomanry series was one of the earlier releases, set #22 of a total 113 sets issued, my illustrations being dated 1961. The text on the card notably includes the sources for each illustration. The Warwickshire Yeomanry card, for example, quotes a painting which I’ve seen in their museum and which inspired my own 28mm figures which now reside there. The Leicestershire Yeomanry card cites the original uniform as the source which I had seen online.

Notably, North also produced some uncoloured cardboard soldiers, “essentially forerunners of Peter Dennis’ excellent ‘Paper Soldiers’ series published by Helion”. Described as being “modest and softly spoken with a gentle twinkle in his intelligent eyes“, one person who knew him goes on to say;

“René North’s name is rarely mentioned today…but his work is the foundation of many of the studies of British Napoleonic Uniforms and he deserves to be better remembered.”

René North passed away in 1971. Not entirely forgotten though, I can vouch that his work is still inspiring painters like myself nearly half a century after his death.

The blog post by Helion is very well worth a read for anybody interested in the topic of military uniforms and uniformology.

9 thoughts on “Ensign Miniatures and the drawings of René North

  1. I would be fascinated to obtain examples or see images of the Rene North paint your own “cardboard soldiers” pre Peter Dennis Paperboys. I wonder who might have some painted or unpainted ones? On a quick web search all I can find are his paint your own postcards.

    I have had his military uniforms colour papaerback for a long time since branch library sell off days. Such unusual figures from less well known wars.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks, John. 🙂 Yes, I think René North did put his names to a few books, although I understand his illustrations weren’t in them, strangely.

  3. Hi, just to confirm

    North’s own illustrations were used in his two Almark Uniforms books – including redrawn examples of his cards. Only the Hamlyn book used another artist.

    Oddly the cards themselves are somewhat easier to find (“easier” being a very flexible term here) than the sheets of information that accompanied them It seems many collectors didn’t keep the separate sheets.

    Stephen Ede-Borrett

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stephen.

      Many thanks for clearing this up. My copy is the Hamlyn book with a different illustrator. I might have to source a copy of an Almark book!

      I do like North’s illustrations and the range that he covered was really impressive.

      Cheers

      Marvin

      Like

      1. Ditto I loved North’s work. I did a post on the Helion blog covering his other stuff including the plates he did for Tradition and Huber. If you are interested I’m sure a search would find it. Or I can send a link?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, certainly interested. Probably me being hopeless but I’m not having any success finding the posts. Any chance you could send a link, please?

        Like

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