I had the somewhat unexpected pleasure back in 2017 of being able to pay a visit to the city of Chester and I made sure to pay a visit the city’s military museum which is set in the grounds of Chester Castle.
Entry costs £4.00 at time of writing (£2.00 concession) and the museum is dedicated to:
- The Cheshire Regiment (The 22nd Foot)
- The Cheshire Yeomanry and other local volunteers
- It also includes representative collections of the 3rd Carabiniers (formerly the 3rd and 6th Dragoon Guards) and the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards (formerly the 5th Dragoon Guards and 6th Inniskilling Dragoons).
I can vouch that it was a magnificent museum with some very helpful and friendly staff, many of whom were officer cadets from the local school. One of the first exhibits to capture my attention on entry was the oldest uniform in the collection, that of a Napoleonic-era officer of the local militia, hopefully just visible in the photo below through the glare on the glass case. The officer wears a black bicorn hat. A metal gorget, a sign of his rank, hangs just below his neckstock.
For those, like myself, with a particular interest in headdress, yeomanry and drum banners, the next room had some very pleasing artefacts. From the regular cavalry, there were a number of metal dragoon helmets from across the four dragoon and dragoon guards regiments, sporting different styles of plate and colours of plumes.
These helmets shown above were:
- Black plume – 1847-71 gilt brass Albert pattern helmet of the 6th DG (The Carabiniers). It has richly decorated peaks, a badge featuring a diamond cut silver star on a shield and a garter with “The Carabiniers” under a crown.
- White over red plume – post-1871 pattern helmet of the 5th DG.
- White plume – 6th DG, post-1871 pattern officer’s helmet.
- Animal Crest, facing camera – 3rd DG. An officer’s helmet with a richly ornamented and detailed front plate including the regimental name. Undated but it appears to be the 1834-43 pattern brass helmet. The crest bears a detachable lion’s head which could be replaced by a black bearskin crest instead.
- Black over red plume – 3rd DG. Labelled as being c.1834-1843, but seems clear that this officer’s helmet is more likely post 1871? Missing chinscales.
- Animal crest, side view – 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, another c.1834-1843 helmet. A scroll reads “Waterloo”, their battle honour, across the front of the helmet.
The 6th DG helmet with the white plume above can be seen below in an illustration of an 1888 Carabinier officer from “Cavalry Uniforms of the 19th Century”, a trade card set issued by Badshah Tea in 1963.
Amongst the very many interesting items nestled around the museum was this decorative Crimean War bible taken from Sevastopol by men of the 5th Dragoon Guards, a regiment which took part in the Heavy Brigade’s charge at Balaclava. Coincidentally, I modelled something very similar recently, a bible carrying Russian soldier, as part of my Crimean War Russian personalities.
Turning my attention now to the infantry, a key battle in the history of the Cheshire Regiment was the Battle of Meeanee, fought during a campaign in which Maj-Gen Napier’s army controversially captured the province of Sindh from its Amirs. This gave rise to the apochryphal claim that Napier announced his conquest in a telegram with a glib Latin declaration – “Peccavi” (i.e. ‘I have sinned / Sindh’). During the key battle, the East India Company’s Bombay army of 2,500, with included The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment, soundly defeated 30,000 Baluchis. The display related to this action was very impressive and included a really impressive diorama of the battle (below)…
…and also a couple of imposing life-sized manikins placed mid-combat!
As can be seen above, a large canvas depicting the height of the battle by artist George Jones was on display and an equally massive poster was available in the shop which I duly purchased (at less than half price) far, far more in hope than any expectation of ever being able to display it somewhere in the family home!
For me, a bonus for any regimental museum visit is the inclusion of anything relating to military bands, so it was good to see a kind of separate alcove dedicated to it, as well as drum banners framed high up on the wall in another room. Sadly, I was unable to locate the Cheshire Yeomanry’s own drum banners:
…but I believe these antique-looking ones on display below related to the 5th (Princess Charlotte’s) Dragoon Guards. If so, the scroll at the top, just below the crown, therefore reads Vestigia nulla restorsum (“we do not retreat”)!
The bands display case I mentioned further on in the museum held instruments and allowed visitors to listen to a recording of the ’22nd Regiment Slow March’, a spirited tune written for the 22nd Regiment by its first bandmaster, a Captain R. Lindsay, performed below the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Cheshire Regiment.
The Rifle Volunteers:
Following my visit to Chester in 2017, I was inspired to create some figures of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps aka The Cheshire Greys.
My Rifle Volunteer project owed a lot to my visit to the Cheshire Military Museum. Relevant exhibits included informational displays, grey cloth universal helmets, a sergeant’s tunic and an officer’s tunic. Other rifle volunteer corps (often wearing different colours) from across the same county also were represented in a great collection.
I’d like to mention a fascinating information board written by a Lance Corporal Hannan which related to the local Railway Volunteer Corps. The area was a crucial part of the 19th Century railway industry and it’s locomotive works provided many boilermen, steelmen, clerks and engineers to the newly developing Rifle Volunteer movement in 1859. Consequently, the 2nd Cheshire Royal Engineers (Railway) Volunteer Corps was born, suffering it seems at the time only from a surfeit of quality engineers applying! They served in the Anglo-Boer War, the British army making use of their great skills, but lost a number of men to disease and in action. They disbanded in 1912.
The Cheshire Yeomanry:
The painting below was displayed high up on a wall showing an officer of the Cheshire Yeomanry of the 1830s. The regiment appears to be wearing a dark blue hussar dolman with red facings and a pelisse lined with black fur. Grey overalls with a red stripe can be seen astride a black sheepskin / blue shabraque.
On his head is a black shako with a prominent white Maltese cross and plume. W.Y. Carman’s ‘Yeomanry Headdress’ tells me; “The Stockport Troop became hussars in 1823 but continued to wear the broad-topped shako with a white metal Maltese Cross plate in front and a long white plume rising from a red base.”
So, I guess from that description that this picture depicts the Stockport Troop. Lined up in the distance on the far right can be seen the rest of the regiment. In the distance to the left can be just made out a trumpeter on a skewbald grey with what appears to be a white sheepskin, red shako and red shabraque.
Also secreted high up on the wall was this guidon of the King’s Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry (K.C.Y.C.). The regiment’s origins go back to 1797 and after various name changes became known as The Earl of Chester’s Yeomanry in 1849. The guidon above doesn’t incorporate the Prince’s feathers so I suppose must pre-date the adoption of this association.
Other later artefacts however did include the three feathers, including sabretaches, pouch belts and a wonderful officer’s black Albert shako with black feather plume. The Maltese cross badge seen in the painting above has now been replaced by the Prince of Wales feathers with “an elaborate floral wreath with Victorian crown on top. Silver oak leaves encircling the top and the officer’s peak stitched with silver wire. A drooping cocktail plume was worn in front.” (Carman)
In the early part of the 19th century, the Cheshire Yeomanry was often called out to deal with industrial unrest in the manufacturing towns of the area. Alongside regular troops, and the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, the Cheshire Yeomanry were directly involved in the most infamous incident in yeomanry history; the Peterloo Massacre. It was an incident which any yeomanry regiment would probably prefer to be distanced from and sees its bicentennial in August this year. The Manchester and Salford Yeomanry – more directly implicated in the shameful action – disbanded five years later, but the Cheshire Yeomanry endured.
The regiment’s uniforms in the museum appeared to be consistently a dark blue light dragoon or hussar pattern with red facings and by the end of the century hussar dress had been adopted with busbies. This headdress developed in an atypical manner according to the Uniformology website which says this:
There was little change until the late 1880s when an unusual pattern of hussar busby was adopted. This was modelled on the German version taken into use after the Franco-Prussian War. It was shorter than the British pattern with a white small bag on the right (the opposite side to the standard German one).
The busbies could be found around the museum, the difference in height can be seen below (notwithstanding the glass reflection) between the later trooper’s busby being taller with a white bag and the surprisingly squat officer’s version with feather plume. A clearer image of that officer’s busby can be seen taken from Carman’s Yeomanry Headdresses book.
The Cheshire Yeomanry was also represented in that previously mentioned display dedicated to regimental bands. I noticed a yeomanry marching bass drum, a trumpet banner and a bandsman’s uniform, but sadly no kettledrums or their banners.
Finally, some images of the now long gone bandsmen themselves, including this photo of the Cheshire Yeomanry’s band…
…and a nice painting of a Cheshire ‘volunteers band’ marching past the Greyhound pub in Altrincham followed, it seems, by a whole troop of well-drilled marching schoolgirls!
Chester was a very nice town to visit, and not just for the Cheshire Military Museum. There was much more to see in the museum which I’ve not even remotely touched upon. It was a really worthwhile visit with plenty of unusual and interesting exhibits, even for those who are not eccentric military history nerds!