Followers of English football may have noted the very sad ending of a football club which could boast an impressive 146 year long history. The club in question was Cheshire’s Macclesfield Town who went by the nickname The Silkmen. What has this to do with Suburban Militarism, you may well ask? The answer lies in the club’s formation way back in 1873, something which piqued my interest. According to Wikipedia;
“The beginnings of Macclesfield Town Football Club can be traced, at least in part, to the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers who were formed in 1873 and played regularly in Macclesfield from October 1874. It was agreed at a public meeting on 21 October 1876 that the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers and the Olympic Cricket club teams be merged to form Macclesfield F.C.; initially matches alternated between association and rugby rules.“
Some research reveals that the headquarters of the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers was the Bridge Street Drill Hall, seen above. This rather impressive building opened in 1871, just two years before members of this rifle volunteer corps formed what would be the genesis of Macclesfield’s 146-year old football club.
Illustration of a Cheshire Rifle Volunteer from “Redington’s New Twelves of Rifle Volunteer Corps“, a coloured print of 12 different Rifle Volunteer figures. Published by J. Redington of London, c.1860.
With the Childers reforms, this unit become the 5th Volunteer Battalion of the local Cheshire Regiment in 1883. Later, with the formation of the Territorial Force, it became the 7th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment in 1908. At the onset of hostilities in the Great War, men of the battalion were mobilised at the Bridge Street drill hall in August 1914 prior to being sent off to Gallipoli and the Western Front.
“On the 31st December the Queen accepted the services of a Corps at Macclesfield, consisting of one Company, under Captain Samuel Pearson, late Lieutenant 1st Dragoon Guards. The uniform was grey, trimmed with black lace, and long loops for the Officers, velvet facings, and a kepi. The accoutrements were of brown leather. This Corps was numbered the 8th Cheshire.”
The book includes the lovely illustration seen above of the 5th Cheshire in 1859. The description of a grey uniform also bears a passing resemblance to another Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps – the 1st, also known as The Cheshire Greys.
I modelled a small diorama of the Cheshire Greys in their 1880s incarnation wearing Home Service Pattern helmets and firing Martini-Henry rifles. I suppose the 8th Cheshire RVC could have looked much the same at around this time.
I’ve written before of how the Victorian Rifle Volunteer movement, with it’s emphasis on locally raised units, could be as much a social as a military endeavour featuring dances, shooting competitions and other events all adding to the camaraderie and cohesion of the units. It seems that, as with the formation of Macclesfield’s football club, sport was also a key feature of the Rifle Volunteer movement. In Macclesfield’s case, the sporting legacy of these local men endured for 164 years until a High Court decision last Wednesday.
The town of Macclesfield itself is, as the New Order drummer and Silkmen fan Stephen Morris put it, “a mill town that had lost the adjective ‘thriving’ somewhere along the way”. Its high street is pockmarked by boarded-up shops. The football club, like the old Majestic cinema and the many closed pubs on the London Road walk up to the Moss Rose, appears destined to become another lost community asset.
Notably, Bridge Street drill hall, Wikipedia reports “was decommissioned and has since been converted into apartments.” The long legacy of the Rifle Volunteer movement, it seems, has sadly finally come to an end in Macclesfield.
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!
I thought my recently finished Cheshire Rifle Volunteers deserved some means of proclaiming who they are supposed to represent. The solution was both surprisingly cheap and easy to get hold of, I was pleased to discover. So here they are; my final photos of the Cheshire Greys now with an engraved plaque.
…And in the final pic, I reveal the identity of my next intended Rifle Volunteer group by plaque!
Presenting the finished group of Cheshire Rifle Volunteers! My little cohort consists of men of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps under instruction from an officer. Out on the rifle range, they are firing their Martini-Henry rifles at targets some 300 yards away. The year is 1884 and a county-wide shooting competition is but a week away. Some further rifle practice is needed if the Cheshire Grey’s best shots are to be in with a chance of winning that silver cup…
A little research revealed to me that the remains of long-forgotten Victorian volunteer rifle ranges do still exist around the UK, some being more readily visible than others. It seems that many of these rifle ranges fell out of use sometime before the Rifle Volunteers final absorption into the new Territorial Force in 1908. Perhaps a dwindling interest in the movement was to blame, but after 1908 I suspect that the Territorial Force’s closer ties to the county regiments of the regular army meant the volunteer battalions might have made use of the regular’s facilities instead.
Finding appropriate drill space and rifle ranges in the early years of the movement occasionally proved problematic and caused friction with the local population. However, during the heydey of the Rifle Volunteers, the activities of the local corps could become important social events. In 1861, for example, a county-wide rifle competition was watched by a crowd estimated to be up to 30,000!
The Rifle Volunteer movement always emphasised high standards of marksmanship. So, target practice at the rifle range – described at the time as ‘that interesting, healthful and manly exercise which the Rifle movement is supposed to supply’ – was seen as the main way of maintaining the enthusiasm and skill of the volunteers. An 1864 account of a Buckinghamshire Volunteers rifle competition suggests that the chief source of motivation wasn’t always the silverware however:
“The Volunteers were cheered in no small way by the presence of a good sprinkling of the Ladies, who with a bravery not common to the sex, boldly faced the wind and appeared to take great interest in the proceedings…”
A 2015 story in a provincial newspaper reported on the discovery of an old rifle range which had been apparently completely forgotten by the local community. Using a metal detector, a former soldier turned amateur archaeologist was first alerted to its existence when he discovered many Victorian-era bullets in the area, saying “...the oldest is the .577/450 Martini-Henry, which came into service in 1871 and is famous for being used during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.”
He located an 1880 edition of a map of the area and discovered the rifle range was clearly marked upon it. The locator of the range, Mr Beddard, goes on to describe how the range is depicted on this old map:
“It was marked ‘volunteers’, with the firing positions running from the Dudley direction for 850 yards, spaced out every 50 yards up to the target area. Some have marked firing trenches, some have raised firing positions.”
For my own models, I’ve simply included a distance marking post with my group, demonstrating that they are firing at a range of 300 yards from the targets. Not sure what form these posts would have taken, so I’ve simply used my imagination here!
A 2012 archaeological survey report by Herefordshire Council of a Rifle Volunteers’ firing range on Bromyard Downs provides a further insight into the nature of a Victorian Rifle Volunteer’s rifle range:
“The Bromyard range was, like most Volunteer ranges, extremely simple, though some were even more basic in the facilities they offered. Simplest of all was the range on Coppet Hill, Goodrich, with a single lane ending at a target in a small excavation marked as an old quarry, with no intermediate firing points indicated and no flagstaffs. At Aston Ingham near Newent, too, a single target was accommodated in a small delve cut into the rising ground”
Others, it seems, could be more elaborate. Some would feature shelters for the riflemen acting as markers and observers. These took the form of emplacements behind the butts or as brick huts placed to the side of the range. Shooting platforms or trenches were sometimes provided, although I imagine that for many ranges firing positions would consist simply of open grassland with distance marker posts – as in my little diorama. In the Bromyard Downs report, it goes on to describe the target end of the range:
At the butts end, the map shows the targets (plural) as a solid square structure projecting forward from a short straight line. Immediately behind the targets was a backstop shown as an earthwork mound 11 yards long with its west end curving forwards. As well as a backstop, this may have acted as a mantlet, protecting the Volunteers on marking duty. Behind that… was a second embankment on the hillside above, no doubt to stop high rounds from ricocheting off the rising ground; the map bears the legend ‘Butts’ between the two embankments. There was also a flagstaff a few yards to the east, which would have given formal warning that firing was taking place and would have aided the shooters by indicating wind strength and direction at the target.
Stop giggling at the back! There is nothing amusing about being ‘at the butt’s end’. In the example of the Bromyard range, it seems possible that the targets consisted of a marked iron plate, a notion supported by a number of severely flattened spent bullets.
Next, I might put a label on the wooden plinth indicating what the figures represent…
Well, as the painting of these Perry Miniatures figures have been far from anything like a pain in the ‘butt’, be warned that I’ll be continuing this little Volunteer Rifle Corps project with my next small batch of riflemen representing another corps, some of which have already been glued together. More details to follow!
The volunteer defenders
Of Britain’s isle are we
To heaven sworn to hold it
From all invaders free
Poem by Lt.-Col Buck, 16th Kent Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1876
My painting of the 1st Cheshire Rifle Volunteer Corps figures is now all but complete! A couple of last minute touches and varnish needed only. They’ve been a real pleasure to paint and these Perry Miniatures figures are sculpted to their usual very high standard.
Painting these riflemen, as so often in conversions, was an exercise in making decisions wherever the information was sketchy, or where the figures were missing some necessary detail. According to the Cheshire Military Museum’s own guide, the Cheshire Volunteers “after the 1870s… adopted a grey uniform rather than red.” Yet by 1881, scarlet was the only change in uniform colour permitted for volunteers in the Childers reforms of that year, so I presume the changeover to grey uniforms for all Cheshire rifle volunteers must have occurred only just in time.
I’ve gone for a Vallejo Neutral Grey base colour for the uniform which seemed a reasonable match for the rifle volunteer uniform I saw on display in the Cheshire Military Museum.
The scrolling on the sleeves are a little different, but I’ve just gone with the sculpting. I’ve also gone with the assumption that they would have been issued with accoutrements similar to the regulars, wearing black expense pouches and belts as befitted riflemen but retaining a white haversack in the manner of this illustration of a similarly uniformed member of the 14th Middlesex (Inns of Court) R.V.C.
I wasn’t at all certain whether my Cheshire Grey’s trousers would have had a stripe down the sides, in the usual military fashion of the day, and if so – what colour. Ultimately, I went for a red stripe in order to add a little extra colour to all that greyness.
The weapon of these Perry Zulu War British Infantry figures is a Martini-Henry rifle, a breech-loading single shot firing .450 inch bullets with an effective range of up to 400 yards. It seems that in 1879, coincidentally the year of the Anglo-Zulu War in which the weapon acquired some fame, the Rifle Volunteers did indeed begin to be issued with the Martini-Henry rifle as a replacement to the Enfield they’d previously been using. The issuing of this firearm to all the Rifle Volunteers would take up to six years to complete, but it appears that my own Cheshire Greys have got their hands on them, at any rate!
My intention now is to place them in some kind of diorama. As I’ve said before, I’ve little experience at creating any kind of ‘dio’, but I can just about manage a bit of grass, so that’s what it might be. The idea is to show them in a group practising their shooting, possibly at the local rifle butts, or perhaps engaged in some organised national marksmanship competition against other volunteer corps.
A rifle competition might be particularly appropriate as on display in the museum was a shooting prize (a tankard) from one such competition. All the competitors used Enfield rifles and teams of 20 men from each Rifle Volunteer battalion throughout Great Britain took part. So it seems that these Cheshire Greys might have some genuine marksmen in their ranks!
More to follow once I’ve got to work on the basing…
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.
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!
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.
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’.
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…