KSLI in the Castle: Day Trip #13 (Part 3)

It seems that my visit to the Shropshire Regimental Museum was well-timed, the museum being afforded a full-page review in “Britain at War” magazine’s recent May issue! As a coda to my reports on the museum, I wanted to pay some attention to the regulars: the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. Furthermore, I conclude with some personal thoughts on the museum and the threats it has faced to its existence both past and – regrettably – present…

DSCF4975 (2)
Band of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 1895 print by Richard Simkin

The castle contains the collection of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) which had its origins in two regiments that amalgamated following the 1881 reforms. These were the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment and the 85th King’s Light Infantry. The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry remained a distinct regiment until 1968.

Shropshire museum (12)
KLSI Officer’s Full Dress tunic, 1882-1902

There were many examples of this regiment’s past uniforms, including yet more realistic reproductions of 18th century versions on their impressive manikins. The collection included a nice example of an infantry officer’s blue patrol jacket below from the time of the 85th regiment’s service in the latter part of the 2nd Afghan War. Headgear included a blue 1860 forage cap and white and khaki Foreign Service helmets.

Shropshire museum (13)

Men of the 85th regiment would have been on the receiving end of the lengthy weapons below, ornate Afghan Jezails – long, intricately carved muskets belonging to tribesmen. To return fire, the British had the Martini-Henry (far left), a powerful breech-loading single shot rifle.

DSCF4975 (3)

The KSLI served in Egypt and the Sudan during the 1880s and I took a snap of this leather bandolier, once used by a sergeant at the Battle of Suakin, “one of the last occasions that the British soldier wore scarlet”. The group of medals below belonged to two brothers in the 1st battalion. They include the Egypt medal with “Suakin 1885” clasp and the Khedive’s Star, a campaign medal established by Egyptian Khedive Tewfik Pasha for British troops taking part in the 1882 campaign and the Mahdist Wars.

DSCF4977

The 53rd regiment guarded Napoleon during his final exile on the island of St.Helena. Napoleon referred to them as the red soldiers, a reference to the regiment’s combination of scarlet tunic and red facings. A nice little memento was on display, a lock of the great man’s hair, no doubt returned to England in the hands of an officer of the 53rd garrison!

napoleon (2).jpeg
Napoleon’s hair!

I often seem to come across examples of troop shipwrecks in my visits to regimental museums, underlining just how dangerous travelling the world’s oceans was in centuries past for British soldiers. This museum had its own maritime disaster story, told in the form of a large chapel bell, the earliest ‘war trophy’ in the collection. It came from the Ville de Paris, a captured French ship-of-the-line, taken at the Battle of the Saints in 1782. The ship was carrying men of the 85th regiment when it foundered in a hurricane alongside many others in Admiral Rodney’s fleet. The bell was recovered and is on display in the museum.

ships bell

In common with other regular infantry regiments, the Shropshire regulars served in an astonishing number of theatres around the globe: in the Sikh Wars, in India and the North West Frontier, in South Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, Hong Kong, the Iberian Peninsular, Holland, Malta and Gibraltar, the West Indies and North America, etc. In the example of the latter, the 85th fought in the American War of Independence and in the War of 1812. It captured the Colour of the 1st Harford Light Dragoons (of Maryland) captured at the Battle of Blandensburg. This remarkable object was on display in surprisingly good condition, and a postcard duly purchased from the shop.

flag.jpg
Colour of Maryland’s 1st Harford Light Dragoons

With that brief exposition on the KSLI collection, I wanted to end with some comments about the museum itself. The two previous posts on the museum’s collection  can be found below:


From terrorist bombs to endless austerity: Some final thoughts on the Shropshire Regimental Museum:

This was a first-rate regimental museum. One of the aspects of it that I appreciated the most was its emphasis on letting the exhibits and artefacts assume the central importance they deserve. The large glass cases may seem a rather traditional approach to some contemporary museum curators yet with so much information so readily available on-line, it is in museum’s exhibits where we acquire something unique; an up-close personal assessment of actual, real artefacts where even the apparently less significant can spark off a new interest or ignite the imagination.

Shropshire museum (36)
Flags of the Loyal Morfe Volunteers, an infantry unit of the Napoleonic era which had disbanded by the time of the war’s conclusion

The Shropshire museum’s display cases were full – never cluttered – with artwork, uniforms and objects. Excellently made manikins gave the visitor an opportunity to take in the sight of full uniforms. Being the sole occupant of the castle allowed the museum to appropriately fill the entire space and allowed the visitor to fully immerse themselves in the museum and understand the subject. Too often today, regimental ‘collections’ are being forced to share building space, shunted off into a side-room and left to compete for the confused attention of the more casual visitor already exposed in the same visit to radically different topics in other collections.

Shropshire museum (11)

On 25th August 1992, three IRA bombs were planted in Shrewsbury, one of which was placed at Shrewsbury Castle, where the Regimental Museum had been based since 1985. Nobody was killed, thankfully, but the fire which ripped through the museum destroyed many military treasures and it was said many of the relics involved were irreplaceable.

IRA Shropshire museum.jpg
Damage to the museum in 1992 (Photo – Shropshire Star)

It took three years to repair the damage before re-opening in 1995. Though mercifully no lives were lost, it had a considerable impact on the collection. To my dismay, it appears that as much as 60% of the collections’ earliest material was destroyed. However, like the motto of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry themselves, Aucto Splendore Resurgo (‘I rise again in greater splendour’), the Museum was resurrected to present the wonderful displays we see today. In recent years, the relentless barbarism of public spending cuts has threatened to do what terrorist bombs could not – close the Shropshire Regimental Museum for good. Thank goodness that, for now, it remains open to the public for a very modest £4 entrance fee.

Suburban Militarism urges all those with an interest in history to visit the museum and support its continued existence in our cultural and social landscape. Shropshire Regimental Museum is independent, relying greatly on public support and therefore welcomes donations, however small. You can donate online to the museum here.

silk ksli badge

 

Advertisements

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:

Shropshire museum
“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:

Shropshire museum (41)
“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…

Shropshire museum (43)

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.

Shropshire museum (24)
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.

Shropshire museum (26)
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.

Shropshire Museum (2)
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.

Shropshire museum (33)

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:

Shropshire drum volunteer
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.

Militia Shropshire.JPG
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.

Shropshire museum (31)
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.

DSCF5008 (3)
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:

DSCF4991 (2).JPG
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.

Shropshire museum (42)

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!

image
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.

Shropshire museum (35)

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.

Shropshire museum (44)
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.

book shropshire

Shropshire Regimental Museum: Day Trip #13 (Part One – The Yeomanry)

Last week, on a gloriously sunny day, I finally fulfilled a long-held desire to visit the Shropshire Regimental Museum.

Shrewsbury castle
Shropshire Military Museum in Shrewsbury Castle

It is picturesquely based in Shrewsbury’s castle and houses collections relating to the following:

  • The 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment
  • The 85th King’s Light Infantry
  • The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI)
  • The Shropshire Yeomanry
  • The Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery
  • The local Militia, Volunteers and Territorial units
  • The Lords Lieutenant of Shropshire collection

The extensive collection occupies virtually the entire castle, including its impressive Great Hall.

Shropshire Museum (51)
The Great Hall, Shrewsbury Regimental Museum

In the first part of my review, I’m taking a look at the displays on the local yeomanry regiments of Shropshire. My copy of the “Blandford Encyclopaedia of Cavalry Uniforms” contains three illustrations of yeomanry regiments in Shropshire by Jack Kassin-Scott, including this illustration of an 1892 mounted trooper.

In comparison, the extent of the gold braid worn by the officer becomes evident. The county of Shropshire was quick to respond to the threat of French invasion during the Revolutionary Wars and raised no less than 11 individual Yeomanry Cavalry troops in the 1790s! Starting with the Market Drayton Troop in early 1795, others localities soon followed suit including Wellington, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Pimhill, etc. By the time of the war’s cessation in 1815, only three remained in service: the Shrewsbury Yeomanry Cavalry; the South Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry; and the North Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry.

Shropshire museum (49)
Coatee of Captain Sir Baldwyn Leighton, Shrewsbury Yeomanry Cavalry, c. 1823-28

By 1828, these three regiments were reduced further into two as the South Shropshire and Shrewsbury Regiments were amalgamated into the single South Salopian Yeomanry Cavalry. In response, the North Shropshire regiment renamed itself to become the North Salopian Yeomanry Cavalry.  Eventually, these two would also merge in 1872, becoming simply the Shropshire Yeomanry. This continuity of service entitled it to be 6th in the Yeomanry order of precedence.

Around the museum were pleasing artworks depicting the local yeomanry force including the two above, both by unknown artists. The oil painting on the left is of Colonel William Cludde of the early Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry, 1795. Middle: Yeomanry Officer in Full Dress, 1910 by W.H. Taylor. To the right is a nice print depicting officers of the South Salopian Yeomanry, 1846. A coloured aquatint after Henry Martens.

Shropshire museum (17)
Gleaming Shropshire Yeomanry dragoon helmets from the late 19th – early 20th century period.

On entering the museum, I was first guided upstairs by staff to a small vestibule which housed some excellent yeomanry helmets and guidons. The regimental colours included examples of some of the ephemeral early volunteer cavalry such as the Apley Troop of the Brimstree Loyal Legion which lasted from 1799 to 1802.

bll-apley-guidon2
Guidon of the Brimstree Loyal Legion, Apley Troop, 1799. (Photo courtesy of This Reilluminated School of Mars blog)

I was delighted to see my first post-Waterloo era Royal Horse Guards helmet with its outrageous and enormous black woollen crest. It was displayed in order to demonstrate how it was the model for the North Shropshire Yeomanry’s own dragoon helmet.

Shropshire museum (19)
Window glare obscures much but no all of the astonishing Royal Horse Guards helmet (left) with a North Shropshire Yeomanry helmet (right).

A side view of the regiment’s Full-Dress “Roman pattern” helmet (1817-1846) can be seen below. This pattern helmet was used by both the North and South Shropshire Yeomanry.

Shropshire museum (45)

Also in this display was (below) a South Salopian Yeomanry Full-Dress officer’s helmet which features a black plume, something that was replaced with the red/white plume of the North Salopian Yeomanry was adopted upon amalgamation.

Shropshire museum (50)

Alongside that was a highly unusual black leather dragoon helmet used by the North Salopian Yeomanry. It too was replaced by the more usual metal helmet upon amalgamation in 1872.

Shropshire museum (18)

Proceeding on to the Great Hall, my attention was soon drawn to the sight of some extravagant shakos in a glass case:

Shropshire museum (6)
Two shakos owned by South Shropshire/Salopian officers. The glass reflection obscures the extravagant black feather plume (left)

These extravagant shakos were ‘possibly used’ by officers of the South Shropshire and South Salopian Yeomanry. No evidence existed for either regiment adopting them so I can only speculate that these no-doubt wealthy officers were trialling fancy new headgear simply because they liked them!

Shropshire museum (46)
Rear view of the shakos, gold epaulettes and forage caps (1860s).

The museum was particularly strong in its collection of old Yeomanry uniforms. Their use of manikins was also really effective, I thought, as can be seen in the fine display below of an officer of the North Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry in the mid-19th century. It’s a classic heavy dragoon style uniform and the wonderfully ornate metal helmet at his feet.

Shropshire museum (15)

A closer view of that style of helmet, alongside another example of the aforementioned unique black leather helmet was afforded in another cabinet, seen below:

Shropshire museum (14)

The above two North Shropshire 19th century dragoon helmets are amongst the finest examples I’ve seen. The black helmet dates from 1816-36 and the one on the right from 1854-72. The detailed sunburst helmet plates look dramatic against the black leather or white metal and the lion’s face appearing over the crest framed by the red plume is glorious.

Shropshire Museum (3)

Above is an example of a Shrewsbury Yeomanry officer’s helmet and coatee from the period 1817-30. The helmet has a notably different metal crest to the North Shropshire version above. I’m unsure who the metal figure is intended to depict but the sculpted face with wide open mouth appears menacing enough! The black helmet this time is metal (not leather) and appears to have been subject to japanning. It would have had a bearskin crest, now absent.

Shropshire museum (32)
Yeomanry uniforms in transition. Left and middle respectively: North and South Shropshire Yeomanry tunics. Right: the amalgamated Shropshire Yeomanry tunic, interestingly a lancer pattern featuring a red plastron. A trumpeter’s helmet is identifiable by a red plume.

The amalgamation of the North and South Salopian Yeomanry regiments in 1872 required a new uniform to be designed for it. Some compromise was needed therefore to combine elements of both regiment’s uniforms into a new version. The subsequent uniform featured a dark blue tunic with scarlet facings, red piping and gold lacing (as can be seen on the officer below). Leg wear was dark blue with a red stripe (or seemingly gold for officers). The helmet’s gilt ornamentation was inspired by the South Salopian regiment, while the red and white plume imitated that of its Northern cousin.

Shropshire museum (39)
Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry Uniform, c.1882.

This new uniform owed something to the uniform of the Royal Horse Guards which, as we have seen, also inspired the dragoon helmet adopted soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Shropshire museum (47)
Early officer’s ornate epaulettes c.1814. Top are brass metal labels which were fitted to the side of a Tarleton helmet – “1st REGt SHROPSHIRE” and “YEO. CAVALRY”.

I’ve said it before, I’m always keen to see evidence of mounted bands and musicians and I was particularly pleased to discover both of the Shropshire Yeomanry’s drum banners, placed high up on the castle wall.

Shropshire museum (37)

The regiment’s drum banners would have surrounded the steel kettle drums carried by a drum horse. No sign of the kettle drums, unfortunately, but it was interesting to see how the banner compared to its depiction in the cigarette card set by John Player and Sons that I own.

Shropshire

Shropshire Drum banner.JPG

As you can see, in comparison with my (admittedly poor quality) photo it looks quite different, featuring a cypher instead of the three ‘loggerheads’ of the Shropshire coat of arms. Furthermore, the scroll underneath reads “Shropshire-Yeomanry-Cavalry” from left to right, and does not have the central word as being ‘Shropshire’. In the 1920s, postcard manufacturer Gale & Polden produced a large poster of Yeomanry drum banners. Their illustration of the Shropshire Yeomanry’s banner agrees with the Player’s illustration showing the loggerheads.

gale and polden drum banner (2)
Gale & Polden’s drum banner

R.G. Harris’ “Yeomanry Drum Banners and Mounted Bands” (#14 in the Ogilby Trust Yeomanry Series) informs me that the wife of the CO, Colonel Wingfield, presented these banners to the regiment on 8th May 1885. They differ slightly in size to each other. There are ‘no known pictures or photographs of the band’, sadly. Furthermore, the versions depicted in the Player’s series and the Gale & Polden poster have never been traced or verified, so may well have simply been erroneous.

shropshire yeomanry 1898
Shropshire Yeomanry riding through the streets of Shrewsbury c.1905

The aforementioned Colonel Wingfield’s name also appeared on an invitation to an event hosted by the Shropshire Yeomanry in 1886. It reports that the regimental band will be ‘in attendance’. This card was nicely illustrated with two yeomen; one in Full Dress with sword drawn and the other wearing a stable jacket, with a carbine and an Other Ranks pill box cap. This invitation I was pleased to see reproduced in the museum shop in the form of a postcard (below):

Scan0002 (2)

The Imperial Yeomanry’s experience in the Anglo-Boer War marked the Yeomanry force’s first experience of foreign warfare. Stripped of their ostentatious finery worn in the previous century, they learned some valuable lessons about modern warfare ahead of the Great War. Artefacts from their time in South Africa were many including this slouch hat:

Shropshire museum (34)

…and this photograph below of the yeomen, prior to embarkation to South Africa in 1900.

Shropshire museum (40)
13th (Shropshire) Company, 5th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry 2nd Feb 1900 at Shrewsbury Bowling Club prior to departure for the Boer War.

For the second part of my review of the Shropshire Regimental Museum, I’ll be taking a look at some of the other exhibits.

Finally, I end with two more illustrations of Shropshire’s yeomanry from my Blandford Book by Jack Cassin-Scott:

  • (left) a trooper of the Shropshire Provisional Cavalry, c.1794;
  • (right) South Salopian Yeomanry officer, c.1842.

Nothe Fort (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #12)

Folly – noun; plural noun: Follies. A costly ornamental building with no practical purpose.

Having been a member of the Victorian Military Society for more years than I’d like to admit, I’m always keen to explore any museum or collection which furthers my interest in the topic. Last year, during my summer holiday to Dorset, I visited Nothe Fort; a Victorian coastal fortification just down the coast from where I was staying.

nothe
Nothe Fort with Portland Bill visible across the bay. The fort is covered by earth; a 20th century form of protection which obscures much of the old gun ports.

Weymouth, being a seaside resort, might not be an obvious place to find a fort. This coastal fortification, built to protect Portland Harbour, was one of the so-called Palmerston’s Follies. Suburban Militarism visited and reported another of these ‘follies’ a couple of years ago at Hurst Castle, opposite the Isle of Wight.

nothe2
Nothe Fort situated at the mouth of Weymouth Harbour’s entrance.

In 1869, Napoleon III’s France began work on the construction of “La Gloire”, an Ironclad battleship. This was in part a deliberate challenge to Britain’s naval dominance, but it was also a response to the experiences of the Crimean War amongst other conflicts. The industrial revolution had changed and improved coastal artillery design improving range, accuracy and damage. As France signalled an ironclad challenge to the ‘wooden walls’ of Britain’s peerless navy, British coastal fortifications suddenly took on an importance they hadn’t had since Napoleonic times.

Nothe Fort (11)
A view of the inside of the fort at rampart level with Weymouth harbour and the south coast beyond.
nothe-fort-10.jpg
The ramparts and courtyard of Nothe Fort during my visit in 2017. The rear face of all the casemates at gun deck level are visible.

In 1860, a Royal Commission set up by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston sparked a multi-million pound coastal defence development programme. Nothe Fort was part of this response, being completed in 1872. Unusually for the time, it was built by the Royal Engineers and not by private contractors, which had gone bankrupt shortly before commencement. The fort’s walls were 13ft thick at casemate level (the level of the guns) and 50ft thick at the lower magazine level! The twelve casemates originally housed:

  • x2 64 pounder rifled muzzle loaders (RMLs).

Nothe Fort (144)

  • x4 9 inch RMLs – firing 256 pound shells up to 3 miles.

Nothe Fort (143)

  • x6 10 inch RMLs – firing 400 pound shells up to 3 miles.

Nothe Fort (142)

Built by Victorian armament giant Armstrong, these were large and powerful cannon for their time, requiring a team of 18 men to service each gun. In 1892, all the 9 inch RMLs and three of the 10 inch RMLs were replaced by an even mightier gun;

  • x7 12.5 inch RMLs – firing 818 pound shells up to 3.5 miles.

Nothe Fort (141)


Below is a summary of some of these mighty Victorian Armstrong guns, some of which were installed at Nothe Fort or displayed in model form:

Armstrong 64 Pounder Cannon:

  • x2 emplaced 1873 and 1904
  • Fired 64 pound shell a distance of 3 miles
Nothe Fort (121)
64 Pounder RML – one of a number of scratch-built models of Nothe Fort’s Victorian guns crewed by men of the RA.

On entering Nothe Fort, I was immediately confronted by one of these 64 pounder guns. Armstrong’s 64 Pounder Cannon was the first Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) gun to enter British service.

Nothe Fort (106)

It is mounted on a wooden carriage with thick rope stays. Aiming was facilitated by iron wheels which ran along an iron track in the floor. The shells can be seen bottom left in my photo above.

Nothe Fort (7)

Two of them were installed in the fort specifically to protect the harbour entrance, hurling their 64 pound shells across the harbour and Weymouth Bay. They were in service from 1872 before being finally declared obsolete by 1908.

Nothe Fort (107)


Armstrong 9in Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x4 emplaced 1873 and 1892
  • Fired 256 pound shell a distance of 3 miles
Nothe Fort (120)
This model was of the larger 9 inch RML gun with crew.

Four of the casemates originally housed these 9 inch guns. One can see how much larger it was when comparing this model with the above model of the 64 pounder and crew. Unlike the 64 pounder, it is housed on an iron carriage to better cope with the increased weight and power. No replica or original of the 9 inch gun exists in the fort today, aside from this model.


Armstrong 10in Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x6 emplaced 1873 and 1912
  • Fired 400 pound shell a distance of 3 miles
Nothe Fort (118)
The model of the 10 inch RML with gun crew. One man in the foreground is wheeling the huge shell.

The 10 inch RMLs took up six of the casemates and were initially the largest guns in Nothe Fort until replaced by even larger calibre guns in the 1890s. The above model of the nine men of the Royal Artillery servicing the gun show them in shirt sleeves with pillbox hats. More men would be down in the tunnels of the magazine level supplying the crew with shells and cartridges. No replica or original existed in the museum.


Armstrong 12.5in 38 ton Rifled Muzzle Loader:

  • x7 emplaced 1892
  • Fired 848 pound shell a distance of 3.5 miles
Nothe Fort (119)
This model of the 12.5 inch gun nicely shows the men covering their ears from the deafening blast to come. The man pulling the firing cord and the officer giving the order to fire have no such luxury…

The massive 12.5 inch RML gun is a reproduction but is brilliantly impressive nonetheless, giving a real impression of the weight, size and sheer power of these monsters. The casemate which houses it had manikins dressed in period uniforms to provide a good impression of how the men of the Victorian Royal Artillery would have looked at this time.

During this period, the Royal Artillery was divided into three arms, named respectively the Royal Field Artillery (RFA); the Royal Artillery (RA); and the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). It would have been the RGA (as specialists in siege and coastal artillery) which would have manned Nothe Fort, perhaps with some assistance from the local Artillery Volunteer Corps.

Nothe Fort (114)

In 1892, all the 9 inch RMLs and three of the 10 inch RMLs were considered obsolete and replaced by these more powerful 12.5 inch guns;

Nothe Fort (110)
Life-sized manikins provide a sense of scale of these giant coastal cannon.

The manikins also helped to demonstrate something of the processes involved in serving such a large cannon. One of the manikins is pictured below wheeling the canvas-wrapped charge, packed with explosive, up to the muzzle and the massive ramrod can be just seen lying on the floor. Another man wheels over the heavy 818 pound shell. The embrasure is covered by a mantelet, a thick rope curtain, which would have been fully closed when loading the cannon and intended to protect the men from counter-battery fire, shrapnel and snipers.


The Barracks:

Men of the Royal Garrison Artillery were required to sleep and live on the gun decks. Nothe fort gave a nice impression of life in the barracks. The thin walls on the side facing the inner courtyard were quickly removed during gunnery practice and could remain so for days at a time. Consequently, their living quarters were liable to be somewhat open to the elements on one side – most unpleasant in winter time!

nothe-fort-111.jpg

The Magazine Level: down in the tunnels…

The fort was particularly informative when it came to explaining how the guns were served with the constant flow of ammunition required to keep the enemy at bay. It all happened below the gun deck deep, down the magazine level’s tunnels which circumnavigated the whole fort.

Nothe Fort (58)
Nothe Fort has extensive tunnel systems, eerie and often deserted during my visit.

The magazine level had the potential to be a source of total disaster for the fort. The very slightest of sparks could ignite the black powder stored there and destroy the fort from the inside. The risk was very real and the Royal Artillery took great precautions to prevent it from happening.

Lamps were kept in special sealed cabinets embedded in the walls to prevent the naked flames becoming ignition sources and reaching the powder. Furthermore, the small room where black powder was stored and cartridges prepared were kept strictly separate from the rest of the fort. It was accessible only via a “shifting lobby”, a changing room where men would have to divest themselves of all their usual clothing and change into white clothing containing no potential sources of sparks instead (no metal buttons, badges, etc.). Heads were covered with cloth caps and even the shoes were canvas as hobnails in the soles could create tiny sparks on the floor.

Men were not allowed to pass from one side of the lobby whilst wearing their usual uniform. Above we can see RGA uniforms in one lobby already hung up on the wall, their owners already changed and at work in the shifting lobby accessible through a side door.

Once the cartridges were prepared, they were cased for safety and passed to the corridor through a small hatch low in the wall.

Nothe Fort (89)

Thereafter the charges were transferred carefully to a winch and hauled up to the gun deck. The shells were also separately winched to the gun deck from the nearby shell store.

Nothe Fort (134)
Shells in the shell store which was situated on the opposite side of the corridor from the shifting lobby.

Shells did not need anything like the same level of precaution as the charges as they contained no explosive material.

Nothe Fort (133)
A manual 64 pounder shell hoist on the magazine deck used to transfer shells directly up to the gun deck.

The heavy 12.5 inch shells, due to their great weight, had to be lifted up to the gun deck via special mechanical winches.

Nothe Fort (140)
A mechanical winch used for the heavy 12.5 inch shells

Once the shells and cartridges were up on the gun deck, the gun crew would load them and continue to pour fire upon those enemy ships!


Nothe fort was built with what was the deadliest industrial armaments then available. It was industrial armament developments which soon brought about its demise, however. Naval technology put the balance of power once more back into the hands of the ships. Whilst even the most powerful Armstrong coastal gun could lob a shell 3.5 miles, a dreadnought battleship could hurl far more destructive shells at a much greater distance, meaning the fort could be destroyed by distant battleships with impunity.

Palmerston’s follies showcased the immense fire power of a leading industrialised nation. They projected a Great Britain both brimming with confidence and yet at the same time fearful that its international pre-eminence would be challenged. These fortifications may have proved to have been follies, but their 21st century role as museums of coastal defence makes this military history nerd very content indeed.

Now back to those French WWI 1914 infantry which are coming on apace but are likely to be delayed this week due to domestic circumstances. Updates will follow when ready…

The Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry Collection: Day Trip #11

Finding myself in Norfolk for a couple of day’s holiday, I took the opportunity to visit the Muckleburgh Collection near Weybourne. Situated right on the north Norfolk coastline, it is the site of a former military camp dedicated to training anti-aircraft personnel. This privately owned museum today houses many impressive exhibits of 20th century artillery, armoured vehicles, heavy tanks and missiles, etc.

But it also contains the largest collection of exhibits from the Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry and, eschewing much of the modern military hardware on display, it was this collection that (unsurprisingly) attracted Suburban Militarism for a brief visit.

Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (48)
Yeomanry guidons mounted up on the wall. Left is a fairly ancient guidon of the Yarmouth Troop of Yeomanry.

In preparation for the visit, I referred to two books in my possession; Volume 12 of the “Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force” series on the Norfolk Yeomanry, and the excellently written 2012 book “The Loyal Suffolk Hussars” by Margaret Thomas and Nick Sign.

Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (2)
“The Loyal Suffolk Hussars at the Centenary Review, Angel Hill, Bury St. Edmunds, 1893.” A large canvas already familiar to me as featuring on the dust jacket to a book I’d been reading.

The gallery was a wealth of information and exhibits. It was unfortunate, however, that many of them were grouped behind a large glass partition in a separate area. The lighting was good however and one had to admire at a slightly greater distance than this military history nerd would have liked.

suffolk-and-norfolk-yeomanry-31.jpg
Exhibits (behind glass partition) relating to the Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (and other local volunteer units)

The Norfolk Yeomanry had an intermittent history, coming in and out of existence a number of times since its establishment. Forming and reforming thereafter in various guises until finally disbanding in 1867. It was not until after the Boer War in 1902 that the Norfolk Yeomanry was again re-raised as the King’s Own Royal Regiment. This was thanks in no small part to the keen interest and patronage of His Majesty King Edward the VII, the regiment’s own honorary colonel.

Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (10)
Loyal Suffolk Hussars officer’s shabraque with Field Service caps of the Norfolk (yellow) and Suffolk Militia Artillery.

Such influence enabled it to resist the encroachment of khaki and also saw it involved in a number of prestigious royal escort duties. This re-raised KORR had a unique and attractive full dress uniform which included this glorious black-japanned helmet with a warm yellow falling plume, an ordinary ranks helmet that I found on display. Within the partitioned area, I later spied an officer’s version of this helmet with a central star inside the laurel wreath. To the left of the photo below can just be seen some yellow cord aiguilettes, possibly used by a bandsmen of A Troop.

Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (53)

The distinctive yellow facings could be seen on displayed mess jackets and also on an unusual lancer-style coat with this stark yellow plastron with Full Dress pouch (left). This unusual Levee Order tunic featured laced facings was worn between 1903-1914. The mess jacket on the right partially conceals an intricately ornamented cream mess vest underneath.

The Norfolk Yeomanry for a short time (1901-1904) switched to this Colonial Pattern helmet with a brass spike. Ordinary ranks had a plain drab pagri wrapped around the helmet, while officers were distinguished by a blue version as seen in the helmet I discovered below.

Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (23)

Unlike their northern brethren, the Suffolk Yeomanry managed to more or less maintain a constant presence since its inception, in part relying on recruiting additional troops from neighbouring counties whose yeomanry had disbanded, such as Norfolk. By 1855, the title of “The Loyal Suffolk Yeomanry” was in use, with the adopted uniform being of a rifle green hussar style uniform to match (see below). This later became navy blue with red facings, a colour which would also appear on their caps.

DSCF3574 (2)
Suffolk Yeomanry jacket (officer)

Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (19)

Examples of their busbies (red bags and white plumes) were displayed, together with officer’s epaulettes and undress headgear such as the red coloured pillbox and field service caps. The yellow cap seen below with the GviiR cypher is of the Norfolk Yeomanry.

Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (30)

Some of the most interesting helmets on display were the behind glass partition. These included a Tarleton in fine condition from the green-coated Norfolk Rangers (c.1789), a helmet of the Swaffam Troop missing its crest and badge (c.1798), an officer’s imposing bicorne hat, and three fine Suffolk Yeomanry Cavalry helmets from around 1815 (centre left photo).

Always a pleasure to discover interesting artworks and images on the walls of a collection, aside from the large canvas already mentioned, some others that caught my eye included these below.

  • Left: An oil painting of the Suffolk Artillery Brigade Militia parading with their artillery pieces just visible lined up in the background.
  • Right: A fine watercolour of the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Norfolk Yeomanry) in camp around the turn of the last century.

Also, these interesting images of:

  • Norfolk Volunteer Artillery mounted on a limber, photographed on Mousehold heath, 1895.
  • A very old pencil sketch of the ‘favourite charger of Major Edgar’ (Colonel of the Suffolk Yeomanry), found in a local market.

A number of accoutrements caught my eye including a fine brass pouch belt buckle of Norfolk’s Clackclose Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry (1796). Some of the exhibit labels confused me though; the labels for the Norfolk Yeomanry and the 3rd Norfolk Rifle Volunteer Corps belt buckles below appear to have been mixed up!

A visit to a yeomanry collection is incomplete without seeing some ornate sabretaches and this collection had plenty to view. The red Loyal Suffolk Hussars sabretache developed to include a reference to being the Duke of York’s Own. Other examples included the Suffolk Borderers (bottom left) and the Norfolk Light Horse (centre bottom) which were a mounted corps developed out of the Rifle Volunteer movement in 1860 and which lasted until 1867.

Finally, a particular interest of mine of late is the colourful and decorative yeomanry bands and it was pleasing to see the Norfolk Yeomanry’s own represented in the form of yellow cord aiguilettes, two drum banners and a pair of gilt embossed kettledrums. Note the portrait of an Norfolk Yeomanry officer wearing that Levee Order dress uniform mentioned earlier (left).

On a very final note, your reporter was delighted to find in the collection a whole separate room of model soldiers, more on this perhaps in another post…

Riflemen, Form!

Form, Form, Riflemen Form
Ready, be ready to meet the storm!
Riflemen, Riflemen, Riflemen form!

“Riflemen, Form!” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


The next figures that I’ll be tackling here at Suburban Militarism are some more from the very wonderful 28mm manufacturer, Perry Miniatures. It’s a return to plastics at this scale, which is something I haven’t attempted since my Warwickshire Yeomanry figures. I’m also hoping to paint yet more volunteer troops, this time using Perry’s Zulu War British Infantry.

perry zulu 2

Often in visits to military museums I’ll come across examples of Rifle Volunteer tunics or helmets and I thought it about time I explored a little more about this Victorian phenomenon. Hence, my current reading material, the highly informative Riflemen Form: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859-1908  by I. F. W. Beckett. Rifle Volunteer Corps were first established in 1859, partially as a response to the occasional public ‘invasion panics’ such as the concern over the threat posed by Napoleon III’s France. Such paranoia was stoked by ‘future war’ invasion novels such as “The Battle of Dorking”, which was even subtitled “Reminiscences of a Volunteer”.

Additionally, the growth in support for a rifle volunteer movement was a recognition of the small size of the British regular army relative to its European rivals. Furthermore, most of the British army was often overseas garrisoning the empire and not in a position to immediately counter any invasion. There was a so-called ‘Blue Water’ school of thought which placed faith in the peerless Royal Navy to prevent any invasion. However, the movement eventually managed to elicit parliamentary support for its establishment in 1859, though the government was careful to avoid any significant cost to the exchequer, the emphasis firmly being on the ‘voluntary’ aspect of the corps!

ta-7.jpg

The Zulu War British infantry set produced by Perry Miniatures,  in addition to the “Foreign Service” pattern helmets used on campaign, also come supplied with ‘Home Service’ pattern helmets. The main difference between these helmets being the Home Service helmets having regimental plate appearing on the front and also the retention of the spike on top. I thought this useful addition could provide the means to create some reasonable examples of men found in some of the Victorian Rifle Volunteer Corps, many of which sported Home Service pattern helmets such as the Volunteer helmets below.

Cheshire RVC (14)
Helmet of the 1st Cheshire rifle volunteers, c.1878. Uniform was grey with scarlet facings.
Cheshire RVC (9)
Helmet of the 2nd (Earl of Chester’s) Cheshire RVC. Uniform was scarlet with buff facings.
Cheshire RVC (17)
Helmet of the 3rd Cheshire Volunteer’s Battalion. Uniform was scarlet with white facings. A ‘Cheshire Greys’ field service cap is right.

Being a mass movement of volunteers, there were a plethora of local Rifle Volunteer Corps (R.V.C.s) established all around Britain. The county of Lanarkshire alone, for example, raised up to 107 separate corps; Lancashire raised 91; Middlesex raised 50 and Cheshire 36. The latter is significant because a recent visit to the Cheshire Military Museum has inspired my decision to paint rifle volunteers. My first batch of figures will depict a rifle volunteer uniform I saw there; namely the 1st Cheshire R.V.C. also known as the ‘Cheshire Greys’.

cheshire museum (29)
Tunic of the 1st Cheshire R.V.C.

British Rifle Volunteer Corps wore a range of uniforms which reflected the somewhat disparate and localised nature of their formation. The majority wore scarlet tunics, similar to the regular infantry at the time. Also very popular, however, were grey or dark green uniforms, a reflection of their broadly intended role as light infantry marksmen and also a practical recognition of the challenges facing the British army as it approached the 20th century. My chosen 1st Cheshire R.V.C. adopted a uniform of grey with red facings. Interestingly, Beckett’s “Riflemen, Form” informs me that;

“…in March 1883, a War Office Colour Committee recommended the grey uniform of the 3rd Devon Rifle Volunteers… as the pattern for the new service dress, but in the event, Indian Khaki was preferred.”

So it seems that the late-Victorian British army came surprisingly close to looking much like the grey-uniformed rifle volunteers that I’m endeavouring to create!

A couple of examples of the 1st Cheshire R.V.C. grey Home Service pattern helmets were on display in the Cheshire Military Museum, as was the officer’s tunic (left pic below). Perry Miniatures’ officer figures from the Zulu War set should allow me to mimic the braiding on this to some degree.

I’ve chosen six figures and an officer for my first group of volunteer rifles and have a vague idea of grouping them into some kind of basic diorama. I’m no diorama creator, so I use the phrase advisedly! The figures come with separate arms and heads which require gluing onto the bodies, offering opportunities for varied poses. I’m not the best at model assembly either, I admit, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll post updates on my progress…

 

Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum: Day Trip #10

“For our homes and for our hearths” – Staffordshire Yeomanry motto

I finally made a trip out to a military museum that I’d been intending to visit for some time. The Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum is housed in the Ancient High House in Stafford and I had made plans for a visit last year. Unfortunately, problems with my train meant that I abandoned the attempt. I am glad that I’ve finally completed the trip as the collection was certainly well worth a visit.

Simkin Yeomanry staffordshire (2)
Staffordshire Yeomanry Cavalry by Richard Simkin, c.1890.

A little regimental history:

The Staffordshire Yeomanry were formed on the 4th July 1794 to counter the threat of invasion posed by revolutionary France. Known as The Staffordshire Regiment of Gentlemen and Yeomanry, they initially wore a red coat with yellow facings, a white waistcoat, white leather breeches and a Tarleton helmet. In 1808 they changed to a blue hussar style jacket, thereby adopting a colour which they would retain into the 20th century.

It was soon called out to assist the authorities put down a riot. Indeed, the keeping of domestic order became an all-too-regular occupation right up to the 1860s. It is said that they were called out to maintain civic order on more occasions than any other yeomanry regiment! The Staffordshire Yeomanry variously consisted of up to 12 troops based in towns across the county such as Lichfield, Stafford, Wolverhampton and Uttoxeter, numbering at its peak anything up to just under 1000 men in total.

qorr music
Sheet music of Staffordshire Yeomanry ‘cavalry quadrilles’

In 1838, in honour of their work in maintaining order, the new Queen bestowed upon them the title “Royal” and thenceforth the regiment became known as the “Queen’s Own Royal Regiment”. At the end of the century, they supplied men for service with the Imperial Yeomanry serving in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, securing the regiment’s first battle honour in the process, and went on to fight with great distinction in the two World Wars.

The exhibits:

Suburban Militarism (mostly) concerns itself with military history prior to the 20th century, so I’ll review some exhibits from that era. That said, the regiment’s 20th century guidon below was a fine example.

Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum (3)
The regiment’s guidon, displaying battle honours and the iconic ‘Staffordshire knot’ in the centre

Just prior to entering the collection which was housed on the top floor of the ancient building, I was delighted to notice a number of terrific artworks on the regiment. Much of these were by some of my favourite military artists. There were some very fine paintings of the Staffordshire Yeomanry by both Richard Simkin and Orlando Norie, none of which I’d seen anywhere before.

Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum (25)
Watercolours of the Staffordshire Yeomanry by Orlando Norie (Top) and Richard Simkin (Bottom).

Both artists painted the regiment appearing in force, as well as also small studies of individual yeoman as a demonstration of evolving uniforms through the ages. A photograph on display was attributed to Richard Simkin, apparently being used by him as a basis for painting a yeoman in a uniform formerly worn decades earlier.

Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum (2)
The Queen’s Own Royal Regiment of Staffordshire Yeomanry by Richard Simkin

There was also up on the wall a painting of which I was familiar. It is unclear who the artist is (although I’d heard a previous suggestion of it being Norie), but learnt through my visit that it might well be by Henry Martens, whose artworks I’d last seen in the Anglo-Sikh Wars exhibition earlier this year.

SYC pic (2)
Officers of the Staffordshire Yeomanry Cavalry, c.1853

Of a number of great portraits depicting yeoman within the museum, two particularly caught my attention. John Stratford (below) served with the 14th Light Dragoons in the Anglo-Sikh Wars, Persia and in the Indian Mutiny, prior to joining the Staffordshire Yeomanry as a sergeant instructor. This remarkable veteran eventually died in 1932 at the ripe old age of 102!

C., M. H. ; Sergeant Major John Stafford (1829-1932)
John Stratford in his Staffordshire Yeomanry uniform. He can be seen wearing his Indian General Service, Indian Mutiny, Punjab and (I believe) Army Long Service & Good Conduct medals.

Below, taken from the back of my purchased book, is an oil painting of Trooper David Riley, sometime builder and joiner turned farmer, wearing his uniform of 1852. He holds an Albert Pattern dragoon helmet with a black plume. The painting is notable for depicting a humble trooper rather than a more senior rank.

QORRSYC book back cover
David Riley portrait taken from the book on The Staffordshire Yeomanry by David German and Chris Coogan.

The Staffordshire Yeomanry of the middle of the 19th century had one of the smartest uniforms of any yeomanry regiment, in my humble opinion. The beautiful Albert Pattern helmet with its striking black japanning and ornate silver plate was adopted in 1850. It originally had a black plume surmounted with an acorn decoration but this was changed in 1859 to a white plume with a rosette top. This headdress changeover for all ranks apparently took up to a decade. One sergeant of the Himley Troop observed how he felt the black plume “…somehow or other puts one in mind of a funeral…“; an attitude which may explain the eventual changeover to white!

I always enjoying seeing artefacts connected with regimental musicians and bands, so it was good to see the kettledrum banner with its prominent Staffordshire knot under the crown. The silver trumpets on either side in the display were presented to the regiment in 1845, having been funded by public subscription.

Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum (16)
QORR Staffordshire Yeomanry drum banner and silver trumpets.
Staffs Yeomanry
Cigarette card by Players

The regiment eventually became hussars and adopted a busby with a red bag and white horsehair plume. Notice the difference between the officer’s busby (left & centre), with a brighter, more extravagant white plume and silver cord, and contrast with the Other Rank’s plainer plume with white cord on the right hand photograph.

Uniforms on display demonstrated developments in the tunic and also provided some examples of late 19th / early 20th century mess dress. ‘Pill box’ forage caps had beautiful silver banding and intricate scrolls on the top, which increased in intricacy for the senior ranks. Note the all-red field service cap nestling by the sleeve in the photo top-right. This replaced the pill box style for a time. A long plume holder can also be seen just visible to the right rear of the cabinet in top left photo.

And finally, below can be seen some of the accoutrements that took my attention. The officer’s black pouchbelt is adorned with ‘prickers’ for spiking enemy guns, and the trooper’s white pouchbelt and pouch is just below it. The very fine epaulettes on display had gilt Staffordshire knots. One pair of these provided an example of how the officers stored them to maintain good condition (a metal case).

Having enjoyed free entry to the museum, I thought it only correct to make a special donation to the Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum and also I purchased a book on the regiment on sale in the shop. The museum comes highly recommended for a visit by Suburban Militarism.

Militia, Volunteers and Kettledrums (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #9 Part 3)

To your (no doubt) relief, this is my final instalment on my visit to the Somerset Military Museum. In the first two posts, I showcased exhibits relating to the regular infantry (Somersetshire Light Infantry) and also to the mounted volunteer forces of the county (North Somerset and West Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry). In this third post, I’m taking a look at the county’s Rifle Volunteers and Militia, and also focusing on that mainstay of any military band – drums!

Firstly, below is a tunic featuring a cross-belt from the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Somersetshire Light Infantry from the period 1881-1902. This was a period when Britain’s Rifle Volunteers were first reorganised to be formally attached to their associated county’s line infantry regiments.

Somerset (10)
Major’s tunic, 2nd Somersetshire LI. c.1881-1902

Rifle volunteers were a creation with origins going back to 1859, at a time when Britain was alarmed by the growing threat of Napoleon III’s France. These Rifle Volunteer regiments commonly adopted muted uniform colours such as dark green or grey, in the fashion of other rifle specialists (such as Britain’s own Rifle Brigade or King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Following the Childers Reforms of 1881, these Rifle Volunteers became formally attached to line regiments as numbered volunteer battalions. Hence the original Somerset Rifle Volunteer Corps (formed in 1859) became the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Somersetshire Light Infantry in 1881. They retained their distinctive grey uniform for some years to come, it seems. It has been said of the reforms that many in the regular army were pleased when such ‘amateurs’ didn’t readily adopt scarlet, confirming them as being distinct from the ‘proper’ professionals!

Somerset (8)

  • Above: Officer’s coatee, North Somerset Local Militia Light Company c.1808-16.

The genesis of the formation of the militia was Anglo-Saxon and it existed in various forms throughout the centuries. In response to the Napoleonic emergency, seven Somerset local militia regiments were raised early in the 19th century from pre-existing volunteer units, eventually culminating in the establishment of the 1st Somerset Militia. Militia were generally dressed in a manner similar to other regular infantry line regiments.

Somerset Militia
The Prince Albert’s (Somersetshire Light Infantry) c.1908 by Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927)

In 1908, the Haldane Reforms saw existing reserve forces, such as the militia and yeomanry, reorganised once more. The yeomanry and rifle volunteers became part of the new “Territorial Force”, whilst the militia were formed into the “Special Reserve”. Great military artist Richard Caton Woodville, himself a member of the Berkshire Yeomanry, was commissioned in 1908 to produce a series of portraits depicting this new Territorial Force, including his painting of the above Somersetshire Light Infantry battalion.

Lots of splendid examples of volunteer and militia headdress were on show in the museum, including some examples below:

  • Below Left – Volunteer Battalion, Somersetshire Light Infantry officer’s forage cap c.1883-1901
  • Below Right – 2nd Administrative Battalion, Somerset Rifle Volunteers, Home Service pattern helmet, c. 1876-1901.

Somerset (27)

Also below;

  • Below Left – 3rd Administrative Battalion, Somerset Rifle Volunteers, Pill-box forage cap, c.1860-80
  • Below Right – 13th (Frome) Rifle Volunteer Corps, Shako, c. 1860-70. Note the green colours.

Somerset (32)

And there were also some militia headdress demonstrating various changing styles of shako worn throughout the 19th Century;

Somerset (26)
Various headdress of the Somersetshire Militia.

Finally, concluding the report of the Somerset Military museum, I’d like to showcase some war drums! My photographs below exhibit some of their fine drums on display which included (clockwise from left);

  • Firstly, a drum formerly used on campaign by the 1st Battalion Somerset LI in the 1st Anglo-Afghan War, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and in South Africa! It’s condition can be compared with the more pristine East Somerset militia’s drum. The 1st battalion’s drum can perhaps, given its astonishing history, be readily forgiven for being a little more faded and worn.
  • An East Somerset Local Militia drum, c.1808. Inscribed with the name of the regiment and a George III cypher.
  • A West Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum, c.1854. A beautiful object, its worn and fading paintwork tells of how it was presented to the WSYC by the Hon. Col. Portman.
  • A North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum, c.1889. Bearing the crest of this yeomanry regiment, it would have been one of a pair carried over the sides of a strong horse.

Regarding that North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum in the photo above (bottom right), my copy of Barlow and Smith’s “The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force” series on the North Somerset Yeomanry reveals an 1889 photograph of a kettledrummer with his  two instruments atop a large grey drum horse.

Somerset yeomanry kettle drum (3)
North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrums and drum horse, c.1889.

Kettledrums were often carried with a regimental banner placed over them. However, in the photograph no drum banners are shown and the authors can find no evidence that they were ever carried by the regiment, though certainly it seems that the West Somerset Yeomanry did, as can be seen shown in the cigarette card below issued by Players.

Banner west somerset yeomanry (2)

Another photograph in the book shows the North Somerset Yeomanry Regimental Band posed together with their instruments, including the two kettledrums, and dated 1908. Presumably, the kettledrum in the museum is one of these depicted here. The band would have been dressed similarly to the rest of the regiment; blue forage cap with white band, blue serge coats, white collars and blue overalls with double white stripes.

Somerset yeomanry kettle drum2 (2)
The kettledrums on display with the North Somerset Yeomanry Regimental Band, c.1908,

And with all that history now ‘drummed’ into you, I’ll sign off until next time!

Marvin.

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.

Somerset (20)
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.

Somerset (30)

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;

Somerset yeomanry2 (3)
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…

Somerset Military Museum (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #9)

Happily, while on my way back home from holiday I managed to detour and visit the Somerset Military Museum in Taunton. The gallery is a part of the wider Museum of Somerset and contains a collection which covers the following regiments:

· The Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s)
· The Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry
· The West Somerset Yeomanry
· The North Somerset Yeomanry
· The Somerset Militia, Rifle Volunteers and Territorials
· The Light Infantry and its successor regiment, The Rifles

You will note the above mention of militia, rifles, volunteer and yeomanry, which is something of a particular interest of mine and I wasn’t to be disappointed. I was particularly impressed by the museum’s emphasis on letting the exhibits take centre stage and the whole gallery was very well stocked with uniforms – so I was a particularly happy boy!

Painting of the Sortie from Jellalbad by Daniel Cunliffe
The Sortie from Jellalabad, a painting by Daniel Cunliffe (1801-1871)

Near the entrance to the gallery is the above painting by Daniel Cunliffe which depicts the Siege of Jellalabad, First Afghan War (1838-1842). In it, the 13th Light Infantry are depicted capturing sheep and cattle as part of a successful sortie from Jellalabad in which they were besieged. I was already familiar with some other paintings by Cunliffe, so was pleased to see this one. Another painting that would have been wonderful to view but was unfortunately absent on the day (I think away on loan) was Lady Butler’s “Remnant’s of an Army”. This was the great artist’s iconic depiction of William Brydon arriving at the gates of Jellalabad as the last survivor from the 1842 retreat from Kabul.

The city of Jellalabad in Afghanistan played an important part in the history of the 13th Regiment, the name eventually featuring on their cap badge in recognition of their valour in the conflict. The museum displayed a marvellous uniform worn by Captain George Talbot (below left) of the 13th Light Infantry which he would have been seen wearing on parade in Jellalabad. Also displayed (below right) was a fearsome Afghan dagger taken at the fall of Ghuznee in 1839 and a fabric skullcap worn by the 13th’s Captain George Mein during his captivity.

Taken captive by Afghan leader Mohammad Akbar Khan during the retreat from Kabul, Captain Mein was held for 9 months alongside other British survivors (men, women and children) which included Lady Florentia Sale, the incredibly brave and defiant wife of the regiment’s colonel, Sir Robert. Quite a bit of history seen by that little cloth cap! Large portraits of General and Lady Sale were on display, depicted by the artist George Clint (1770-1854).

The 13th Regiment fought all over the world including the Crimea, Burma, India and South Africa (latterly in both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars). During the Zulu campaign, Major Knox-Leet of the 13th won a Victoria Cross during the disastrous battle of Hlobane and the following day his regiment fought hand to hand with Zulus in the desperate battle of Khambula. The regiment’s band led the British army advance (in square formation) at the concluding battle of Ulundi . The museum had artefacts from the Zulu campaign on display including a Martini-Henry rifle, some Zulu weaponry (see below) and King Cetshwayo kaMpande’s pipe!

Somerset (14)
Heavy Zulu iwisa (knobkerries) with a isihlangu (ox-hide shield) taken during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.
Somerset (22)
Bust of Lt John Chard of Rorke’s Drift fame. He was not of the 13th Regiment, being a Royal Engineer, but was a local Somerset man.

Anglo-Boer War exhibits included a Boer carving, a century old chocolate box given to troops (with the chocolate still in it) and this helmet below belonging to Corporal Mabey wounded at the battle of Tugela Heights in 1900. Note the hunting horn symbol on his rather campaign-weary pith helmet; an iconic symbol of light infantry troops.

Somerset (13)

As I’ve mentioned, the museum was particularly blessed with uniforms such as this sergeant’s from the late 19th / early 20th century. Surrounding it were khaki uniforms and examples of NCOs and officer’s mess uniforms.

Somerset (7)

On the right in the photo below can be seen an officer’s sword and scabbard which was carried during the 1st Anglo-Burma War (1824-26), 1st Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) and the Crimean War of 1854, possibly even present during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Few soldier’s swords can claim to have been quite so well-travelled! The sword with the white handle belonged to Lt-General Snow, a former colonel of the regiment.

Somerset (3)

You may spy in the above photograph a 1930s Gramophone record which featured the Somerset Light Infantry’s suitably jaunty regimental march called “Prince Albert’s”, performed on record by their band. I believe this march featured in the 1968 film “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

Coming up in Part 2 of this post; drums, headdresses and lots of colourful volunteer uniforms abound…