Following my last post on my trip to The Queen’s Royal Lancers & Notts Yeomanry Museum, I wanted to briefly draw attention to growing evidence of the threat to the UK’s regimental collections (outside London at any rate). This has been brought to our attention in an article today which reveals council culture budgets across the nation have been reduced by a third. The article by Ammar Kalia examines a large disparity between generous funding for London and relative poverty for the regions. It makes specific reference to a council very local to me apparently “removing all four curators at its museums in light of a £320,000 cut in its arts budget.” Elsewhere, a Museum Trust director declares “we hear about smaller cities and shire counties’ museums which are teetering on the brink of closing down if another round of cuts come through.“
This year alone, it’s notable that already two potential visits to local regimental collections that I was considering to make have been stymied for an extended period due to ‘refurbishment’ – is it possible to suspect these temporary closures could even become permanent in such circumstances?
For the military history enthusiast, it’s now vitally important to continue appreciating and supporting such museums while they are still around to be enjoyed. As cuts to budgets bite, it’s sobering to consider that in some cases, my regimental museum reports may sadly become one of the few means then available to appreciate something of these wonderful collections.
This trip was actually a revisit to a museum which I’d last visited some 5 or 6 years ago, prior to this blog’s current incarnation and its series of museum reports. The Queen’s Royal Lancers & Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum is situated in Thoresby Park, deep in the picturesque Nottinghamshire countryside. Entry is completely free and its displays include the combined collections of:
The Queen’s Royal Lancers and their antecedents, namely;
5th (Royal Irish) Lancers
16th (The Queen’s) Lancers
17th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers
21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers
The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry
The South Notts Hussars
On this visit, I was particularly keen to take a closer look at displays connected to the two local yeomanry regiments; the Sherwood Rangers and the South Nottinghamshire Hussars.
Nottinghamshire’s Yeomanry Regiments:
One of the first things that I encountered on entry was a cabinet which included two ancient yeomanry tunics. The first had white facings and was dark blue in colour with tightly packed rows of silver braiding covering the front of the tunic from base to shoulder – 26 rows of loops and buttons (count ’em). The garment was described as belonging to the Worksop Independent Troop, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, c. 1820.
All that silver braiding continues elsewhere on the tunic too, with some Austrian knot detailing on the cuffs and trefoils on the back and even around the sides.
The other tunic in the cabinet dated from 1815 and belonged to the Newark Troop, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry. This coat was red with white facings, having three rows of 18 white metal buttons but without all the lace seen on the Worksop cavalry tunic above.
The shoulder scales were made of metal links, in contrast to the Worksop example’s cord braid on the shoulders.
An illustration of the 1798 uniform of this troop was available for purchase in the shop both as a postcard and notebook cover. It shows men of the Newark Troop in front of their home town’s castle ruin and the River Trent. Although the style of the coat (17 years older than the one displayed) is very different, the scarlet colour remains the same. Facings and turban appear to be a shade of orange or gold.
The above image also shows the guidon which remarkably is still in existence and appeared high up on the wall of the museum. The Royal Standard (below) was “presented on the 14th July 1795 to the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry in the name of Thomas Webb Edge and Mrs Lumley Saville. The needlework was her own. The guidon was re-presented to the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry on the 4th May 1840…[and was] always carried by the Newark Troop”.
Tucked away in an alcove elsewhere in the museum, and partially covered by another display propped up against it, appeared to be a Victorian print of a cavalryman. It reminded me of my own collection of Henry Martens series of Yeomanry illustrations, so I took a closer look.
Frustratingly, my close up photos of the title and artist/engraver didn’t come out at all, so I’m left guessing on those details now but I know it wasn’t a Martens. What I do know is that the artwork was a local production, “Printed for the compilers by Stevenson and Co., Middle Pavement in Nottingham” in 1848. This was just a few years after the Fores’ Yeomanry Costumes by Henry Martens were published. The compositional style is very reminiscent of Martens.
Interestingly, the red shako shown in the print was said to be an exact copy of that worn by the Chasseurs d’Afrique. What makes Yeomanry uniforms particularly interesting to me is this freedom that individual regiments could enjoy to mimic and reference other styles, even colourful and ‘exotic’ foreign ones such as this.
As with my Fores’ prints, this one comes with a dedication; “To Lieut. Colonel Holden, the officers, non comm’nd officers & privates of the Nottinghamshire Cavalry.” A little research informs me that the scarlet shako was adopted in 1847, just one year before the painting was published. The falling plume was black and there are yellow lines of cord on the shako depicted. The hussar uniform is blue, although it appears as a kind of light grey in the faded print. The pouch belt is black and the scabbard suggests a heavy cavalryman’s straight sword rather than a hussar’s curved sabre.
In the same display case as the tunics was this above helmet described as a “Notts Yeomanry Cavalry helmet c. 1837, probably manufactured for the regiment.” This regiment eventually became the Sherwood Rangers. It’s in terrific condition and appears to be made of ‘japanned’ (heavy black lacquered) leather. The horsehair plume is red and there are ventilation bars in the sides of the crest. Under the royal coat of arms gilt badge there is brass bar engraved with the title “Notts Yeomanry Cavalry”. A beautiful object!
The above 1845 shako badge displays the name of the South Notts Yeomanry Cavalry, forerunner to the South Notts Hussars. The hugely informative British Empire blog also has an image of the regiment’s shako with this sunburst design badge in place.
The uniforms shown above were unlabelled. Clearly not lancers, they look to be from the local yeomanry of the late 18th century and being navy must belong to the South Notts Hussars (the Sherwood Rangers wore a striking green hussar uniform). The five braiding loops tunic appears to be Mess Dress with a gold and red waistcoat underneath.
Incidentally, I have lying around a 54mm metal figure of the South Notts Hussars awaiting some paint, although a different order of dress, it’s five braiding loops closely matching the Simkin illustration seen above. Perhaps sometime soon might be a good time to make a start on it?
The 17th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers:
The regular lancer regiments in the museum had a varied and dramatic history. The 17th Lancers being particularly well-known for their part in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. I think that they possibly have the most recognisable cap badge in the British Army; the macabre skull and crossbones, sometimes seen with the legend “Or Glory”. Seen on their 1815 Light Dragoon shako, it reminds me much of the headgear of the famous Prussian ‘Death’s Head’ Hussars, although they would have looked at the time more like my 13th Light Dragoon figures from 2015.
Their motto ‘Death or Glory’ was a reference to General Wolfe who fell mortally wounded at Quebec, 1759. I still have a “Death or Glory Boys” coaster taken from a visit I must have made to the 17th Lancers museum as a small child when it was still based in Belvoir Castle – looking pretty good after all these years!
More headdress of the 17th was on display, including one which saw use during the famous charge itself:
There is some controversy surrounding which bugle actually sounded the Charge of the Light Brigade, but the one on display in this museum has a very strong claim. The hole smashed through the end was caused by a Cossack piercing it with a lance, attempting (and failing) to pick it up off the ground and to take away as a trophy. An astonishing object in many ways.
An audio recording of a surviving trumpeter who was present in the charge was played on loop in the museum and you can hear it online, Trumpeter Kenneth Landfried blowing on a Waterloo bugle recorded on wax cylinder in 1890:-
Below: uniforms of the 17th through the ages on display:
a replica of the attractive light blue uniform worn in the American War of Independence;
an officer’s service uniform from the Zulu War (other ranks had white crossbelts without the silver pickers and plate);
a scarlet uniform from the time of George IV, a monarch determined to see all of his cavalry regiments wear red!
The 21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers:
A neat display dedicated to the 21st Lancers concentrated mostly on their famous charge at the battle of Omdurman. This is unsurprising given their relative newness, being formed in 1858 for the East India Company and not brought within the British army until 1862. Three regiments had previously been designated the 21st Regiment.
Being dogged by its lack of battle honours and experience (“thou shalt not kill” was unkindly suggested as the regimental motto), its reckless charge at the Dervish tribesman in 1898 seemed to some to be motivated by a need to restore some honour. Notably attaching himself to this wild charge was a young Winston Churchill of the 4th Hussars.
As a reference to its Indian origins when it was part of the EIC’s Bengal cavalry, the 21st Lancers wore French Grey facings, an example of which could be seen clearly in this late 19th Century Full Dress uniform.
The 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers:
The 16th Lancers were known as ‘The Scarlet Lancers” after successfully petitioning to retain the existing scarlet coatee when in 1840 it was ordered that all the Light Cavalry should revert back to the blue uniforms. An example of their unique scarlet lancer coat can be seen below.
The 16th Lancers famous action at the Battle of Aliwal in the Anglo-Sikh Wars was given due prominence. At this action, the regiment charged a Sikh force many times its own size, dispersed their cavalry and then broke the Sikh infantry squares, taking many casualties in the process but doing much to secure outright victory.
The 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers:
Concluding this report, this magnificent copper kettle drum below was described as being ‘used by the 5th Royal Irish Lancers’. Being that it appeared in a cabinet dedicated to the 18th century, I presume that this instrument is an antique belonging to the original regiment’s guise as the 5th Dragoons.
Notably, the 5th Regiment of Dragoons was disgraced after being infiltrated by Irish rebels during 1798. It was erased from the army list, with nothing existing for many years between the 4th and 6th cavalry regiments. This mark of disgrace lasted until it was reformed as lancers in 1858. An excellent example of the regiment’s pre-1798 uniform was on display; this lovely c.1745 mitre cap and c.1770 jacket of the 5th Royal Dragoons (note the links on the shoulders very similar to the Newark Troop’s example earlier).
The interesting display included a garment of their adversaries, Sudanese jibbahs, coats made of white cotton with additional patches sewn on.
With the exception of a thriving cafe, Thorseby courtyard seemed largely deserted of shops when I visited, so I wonder if the museum would do better in a much more accessible location, particularly so for those without a car. For those who are able to visit, with free entry and a rich collection of history to be found in nicely presented premises, the Queen’s Royal Lancers & Nottinghamshire Yeomanry museum is highly recommended!
What to do when the girls of my household are in London to see a musical leaving me in the capital city with a few hours to kill until they come out of the theatre? Why, visit a military museum, of course!
I decided that I’d walk down to Horse Guards Parade and take a look around the Household Cavalry Museum which is housed within the buildings there. Horse Guards was subject to some redevelopment in 1758 resulting in the Life Guard being based at the site, a tradition that continues to this day. In the 19th Century, the Duke of Wellington as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army used Horse Guards as the British Army HQ. In the 20th century it shamefully was allowed to become an enormous civil service car park, but it reclaimed its dignity and eventually reverted back to its original purpose as a parade and events ground in the 1990s.
The entrance fee is £8 which, though modest enough, is slightly more than many of the other military museums I’ve visited (many of which are free), but for London that’s positively cheap!
On entry, I soon found the display of the modern-day Full Dress uniform for which the Household Cavalry are famous worldwide. The uniforms are based on a 19th century-style heavy dragoon with polished steel cuirasses. The two regiments of the Household Cavalry have distinctively different uniforms; the scarlet tunics and white plumes of the Life Guard and the navy tunics and red plumes of the Blues and Royals. The colours of these regiments are a tradition which goes back a long way. For the Blues and Royals, their uniform harks back to the Horse Guards of the late 17th century.
Also in this contemporary display were the instruments of the mounted band. It was terrific to see the polished kettledrums and drum banners of a regiment which still uses them even today.
The Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) has a lineage that goes back to the distinctly un-royal cuirassiers in the Parliamentarian Army in the Civil War (known as ‘Haselrigge’s lobsters’). An example of this type of armour is on display.
In the early 19th century, Wellington’s Household Brigade performed a famous role in the Battle of Waterloo, comprising both regiments of the Life Guard and the Royal Horse Guards. The Royals (the 1st Dragoons who would later merge with the Blues) took part in the same general charge as part of the Union Brigade, in the process capturing a French Eagle. Helmets from this charge were on display. The images below show a Royals helmet top and a Horse Guards helmet below:
Back in 2016, I posted on a series of cigarette cards featuring British cavalry uniforms, one of which included this trooper below of the Royal Horse Guards in 1815. The same helmet but with the crest and plume in place can be seen.
A life-sized model reproduced the moment that Captain Alexander Kennedy Clark of the Royal Dragoons captured the French Eagle of the 105th Line. An original heavy dragoon helmet with horsehair plume could be viewed close up in a cabinet too. Great for comparison with my own 1st Royal Dragoon figures painted for the Nappy Cavalry Project a few years ago.
After Waterloo, the British Army enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace in which Britain and it’s forces were largely pre-eminent and unchallenged on the world stage. This allowed the army to explore more extravagant uniforms of immense grandeur, often without such indulgence ever being exposed to the proving ground of hard campaigning. With the prestigious Life Guard and the Royal Horse Guard regiments, this trend reached particularly exuberant proportions in the realm of headdress, as can be seen below in this 1832 Life Guards helmet with its outrageous bearskin plume.
The plume can be seen to be protruding slightly further forward on the helmet seen above compared to the design that it succeeded shown below.
This older 1817 design replaced the iconic, though short-lived, Waterloo helmet. The new design’s astonishing plume had its drawbacks, however, and apparently unbalanced the riders who wore it, hence the 1832 redesign. It must have nonetheless been a terrific sight in Full Dress occasions such as parades or reviews.
My aforementioned series of British cavalry uniforms on cigarette cards also pictured this helmet on a trooper of the Horse Guards in 1818.
Another version of this style of bear-crested ‘Romanesque’ headdress was this version worn by the 1st Dragoons, ‘the Royals’. There are notable differences, however. The helmet has been ‘Japanned’ in a black lacquer and has ornate gold-coloured leaf designs featuring on both the sides of the helmet and on the chin scales.
It’s an imposing piece of headgear, though another piece I discovered was arguably even more so. It was a headdress which I had been hoping to see up close for a long time. Described by the museum as a ‘bearskin cap’, this particular specimen was worn by a captain of the Life Guards at the coronation of the Prince Regent in 1821 and reflected the obsession that the would-be King George IV had with Napoleon’s recently defunct Imperial Guard.
The grenadier badge is a direct reference to Napoleon’s grenadiers. The ‘comb-over’ plume is made of swan feathers. Once again, another of those cigarette cards depicts this headdress. In fact, it reproduced the exact same coronation headdress on display in the museum, describing the illustration as “an officer of the Life Guards in the full dress uniform worn at the Coronation of George IV”. Notably, the artist has wrongly envisaged a direct copy of the French version with a shorter swan plume, a front plate and other Imperial Guard details, different to the original shown in the museum.
It would hardly be the Household Cavalry museum without plenty of cuirasses on display. Below is the cuirass worn at the same coronation as the bearskin cap. It’s quite a curious shape, quite elongated, which I suspect may have made being mounted for long periods uncomfortable.
The difference in cuirass shape can be clearly seen when compared to the version below;
For ceremonial occasions, cuirasses could be incredibly ornate. The black lacquered cuirass in the photo below was worn exclusively for the state visit of the Russian Tsar in 1814, no doubt deliberately resembling the Russian cuirassiers’ own black versions. It was interesting for me to discover that cuirasses were therefore being worn by the Life Guard, albeit briefly, pre-dating Waterloo. I’d always assumed that the regiment’s encounter with the French cuirassiers had been the instigator of a relationship between the cuirass and the Household Cavalry.
There was a particularly nice display relating to Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby of the Royal Horse Guards. To the Victorian public, Burnaby was a famously heroic character; the epitome of the recklessly brave Victorian adventurer. Being a member of the Victorian Military Society, he was already familiar to me and I have encountered a number of accounts of the man and his life. Burnaby was larger than life in every sense; being 6ft 4in tall, immensely strong and 20 stone. In the Victorian era such vital statistics was particularly impressive. As sense of the man’s still considerable stature could be gleaned from standing near his uniform, cuirass and boots.
Feats of his astonishing physical strength and endurance was subject to many anecdotes. Most of all, his adventurous and impetuous spirit guided him through many solo adventures across Central Asia, Spain, the Balkans and Russia at a time when being in the Royal Horse Guards meant limited exposure to direct military action.
Finally, desperate to see some combat, Burnaby took an unofficial appointment in the 1884 Sudan campaign. He subsequently died in desperate hand-to-hand fighting at the Battle of Abu Klea. One wonders whether his ceremonial cuirass would have proved of real value in such fighting? The boots displayed above were the same ones he was wearing when he was killed in the act of recklessly engaging the famously fierce Sudanese Hadendoa warriors virtually single-handed. The knife and it’s scabbard seen above are Sudanese weapons found on the field of battle where he lay. The book is a copy of “A Ride to Khiva”, Burnaby’s own popular account of his astonishingly daring trip to the distant silk road city which was then a newly acquired part of the Tsar’s empire.
Nearing the exit, I saw a poignant exhibit from aftermath of the IRA bombing of the Blues and Royals near Hyde Park in 1982. Four soldiers and seven of their horses died in the atrocity. The ornate dragoon helmet on display has been grotesquely damaged and deformed by the blast, a sobering reminder of just how far removed the smartness and beauty of traditional British army ceremonial uniforms are from being appropriate military equipment in the modern era. With the story of the wounded horse Sefton, it was also a reminder of how much appalling suffering cavalry horses must have endured through the ages.
To conclude with, a few more images of uniforms through the ages included in which is Lord Uxbridge’s artificial leg! Uxbridge was Wellington’s 2nd in command at Waterloo and in command of the Allied cavalry (he even recklessly joined the charge of the Heavy Brigade).
Recently, I also encountered another exhibit relating to a member of Wellington’s senior staff when I saw Lt-General Picton’s top hat displayed in the National Army Museum. Just as Picton’s hat reminded me of a famous scene in Dino De Laurentiis’ superb film “Waterloo”, so this leg also made me recall another scene from it; when Uxbridge (played by Terence Alexander) tragically loses his leg to a stray cannonball at the very conclusion of the battle:
Uxbridge: My God sir, I’ve lost my leg.
Wellington: My God sir, so you have!
On exiting, I took a final snap of a statue situated right outside the museum door. The statue commemorates a former colonel of the Horse Guards, the esteemed Victorian Commander-in-Chief, Sir Garnet Wolseley. He is sitting astride his mount and looking out across Horse Guards Parade. Another colossus of Victorian generalship, Lord Roberts, is just yards away, mounted upon his own plinth.
Glancing at my watch, I decided I still had plenty of time before meeting my wife and daughter. So I walked off down to the excellent Guards Toy Soldier Centre which is outside The Guards Museum and just off Birdcage Walk…
Finding myself on a rare trip to London with my wife, I somehow persuaded her that a short detour to the nearby National Army Museum might be in order and she graciously agreed. The National Army Museum is situated right next the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and entry to the museum is entirely free. It was founded in 1960 “for the purpose of collecting, preserving and exhibiting objects and records relating to the Land Forces of the British Crown”.
I think I must have last visited when I was about 14 years old for a seminar organised by the Victorian Military Society; so, ah, that’s a few decades ago now. It has changed beyond recognition since being reopened recently after a 3-year, £24 million redevelopment. A press release had this to say about the redesign:
Following an extensive review of the existing National Army Museum brand, the museum set out to transform perceptions of a dark and austere military museum to a modern, bright, engaging and relevant space fit for the 21st century.
As someone with a long-standing interest in military history, I must confess that I’m never happier than in a “dark and austere military museum”! Hearing of its transformation therefore into a “relevant space” concerned me a little. Would it be relevant to me? The press release continued:
Working with creative agencies … the new National Army Museum brand is reflected in the physical museum, its website and has influenced designers across the project in every aspect, from permanent gallery displays and public spaces, to interior design and signage.
We strive to talk about our subject in ways that are at once insightful, sharing, conversational, stimulating and above all real and relevant. We want to inspire conversations, not just questions and answers, and support genuine and meaningful encounters with our story for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The new brand encapsulates this position.’
OK. I got to admit that I don’t really go in for all this ‘branding’ speak. A “genuine and meaningful encounter” for me is what happens when I see a military exhibit. What’s “relevant” probably depends more on the individual visitor and is difficult for a curator to anticipate. As for what’s “real” – there’s surely nothing more real than an historical artefact; interactive screens, vinyl wall displays and branding designs are ultimately mere simulacrum. So, though I appreciated the desire for the NAM to engage with as wide a portion of the general public as possible, I was visiting with some concerns as to how engaging I personally would find it.
The new National Army Museum is split over its floors into separate galleries respectively titled “Soldier”, “Battle”, “Army”, “Society” and “Insight”. It sounded all a little bit vague to me and, pressed for time, didn’t assist me to identify where I might quickly find topics that I’m most interested in. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s an imaginative attempt to introduce the topic to the more general visitor who might not have such preferences.
Inside, the museum certainly looks impressive. It’s open and inviting, strikingly fresh, modern and clean.
Perhaps it’s a trifle too clean? There are lots of open space which, I couldn’t help but feel could have been used to display more exhibits! Thankfully, there are still plenty of exhibits to be found for a military history nerd like me to enjoy. So, I’m going to review some of the best.
The “Soldier Gallery” contained about a dozen uniforms worn by manikins in glass cases. The arrangement was seemingly random although, with such a wide subject, perhaps such indiscriminate juxtapositions are as good an approach as any. I’d have liked to have seen more of them, nonetheless! Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin robes were on display as were the below examples of the superbly ornate 10th (Prince of Wales Own) Light Dragoons (Hussars) and the very smart 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (also known as Skinner’s Horse), a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army.
I was particularly pleased to see an example of the striking First Aid Nursing Yeomanry uniform on display. Having discussed Serbian women’s involvement in WWI and having taken part in FEMbruary earlier this year, female involvement in warfare is a topic that has cropped up a number of times on Suburban Militarism.
The pouch on the rear of the uniform states “FAYC”, referring to them being yeomanry cavalry, i.e. they were expected to ride horses. Any hard riding would have been severely hampered by the presence of that long navy skirt. No doubt many in the FAYC would have rather worn far more practical riding breeches. The very fine scarlet uniform closely resembles the kind of smart Full Dress uniform in use by some of the male yeomanry of the time. For Service Dress, the men were already moving on to the more practical khaki – displayed alongside was the excellent Anglo-Boer War-era Imperial Yeomanry uniform. The style and colour of the FAYC uniform was a sign that women were not at all expected to get involved in the front line of battle. My post on the Female Soldiers of Serbia gives some indication of how this restrictive expectation was thwarted by many brave women in reality.
There was a nice display case (above) of some exhibits which, unfortunately, were not labelled for identification. The interactive screens nearby may well have been able to tell me more but a lack of time moved me on and so I was left to speculate what the peculiar white japanned dragoon helmet was (some yeomanry musician’s helmet?), or the age and regiment of the light-blue sergeant’s coatee of some light cavalry.
I was pleased to see some of the colourful and unusual dress from British empire forces from overseas. A uniform of a West Indian regiment was treat to see, it’s style modelled on the renowned Zouaves of the French army, apparently on the instruction of Queen Victoria herself. A fascinating account of the history of the West India Regiments from its iniquitous slavery beginnings through to 1927, “Slaves in Red Coats“, can be found on the NAM website. Further exploring British army uniforms across the globe was the above West African Frontier Force uniform. Like the West Indian version, this Lance Corporal of the Nigeria Regiment also sports a Zouave-style jacket and red fez but without the white turban wound about it.
Waterloo, Wellington and Napoleon loomed large in the displays in the Battle Gallery. It was a great experience to stand so close to exhibits such as Wellington’s cloak and General Picton’s top hat from the battle.
Looking at that top hat, I was reminded of the scene in the epic film “Waterloo” by Dino De Laurentiis where Lt-General Picton is shot and killed leading his troops forward in a scene brilliantly portrayed by Jack Hawkins. The sight of a gentlemanly top hat and umbrella in the midst of a brutal battle was memorably incongruous. In the film, a gruff Hawkins cries to his men “On! you drunken rascals, you whore’s melts, you thieves, you blackguards!” But his tirade is halted as the top hat is suddenly scarred by shot, the only sign that Picton himself has been hit also. The hat is last seen tumbling to the ground alongside it’s owner on the Belgian hillside, swallowed up and lost in the ongoing battle. Picton was described by Wellington as being a “a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived”, but respected his great ability to command. His last words were reputedly a far less coarse “Charge! Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah!” as he lead his troops to counter-attack the French.
An impressive cuirass and helmet of a French Carabinier was displayed as was the skeleton of Napoleon’s famous grey horse “Marengo”, which he rode throughout many a campaign. The Arab mount was visibly a rather small horse, judging by the skeleton. It suffered 8 wounds in battle but survived to a grand old age of 38. Captured at Waterloo, it ended its days living a deservedly quieter life in England. Astonishing to think of the dramatic events, places and people that the now sightless Arabian stallion must have once seen.
I encounted a magnificent diorama of Waterloo that I’d heard about previously. It was first developed by Captain Siborne over a decade after the battle happened making use of his own obsessively meticulous research. Financial issues as well as the immense work involved delayed its completion until 1838. Incorporating, in its original form, over 70,000 tin soldiers (5mm scale) it demonstrated an immensely detailed recreation of the landscape. Siborne reputedly fell foul of the Duke of Wellington, who apparently voiced disapproval for a perceived incorrect excessive bias towards the role that the Prussians had taken, though this is disputed amongst historians.
Finally, I visited the Soldier Gallery which presented a wall resplendent with all manner of exotic military headdress!
Again, it was a somewhat random approach to take but ultimately looked impressive. Up on this wall, I discovered my very first example of a British hussar’s Mirliton, which was very pleasing to see. This headdress was something which I’d modelled for the first time earlier this year when painting my Swedish Morner Hussars.
Amongst other new discoveries was the Light Company helmet pictured below from the time of the American Revolutionary War. Note the face on the crest, the red horsehair and turban. The appearance of the figure of Britannia on the front plate identifies this as being the 9th Regiment of Foot, later the Norfolk Regiment (see Rule Britannia! My report on the Norfolk Regiment Collection from 2016).
More examples of headdress below including some very spectacular Dragoon helmet crests sandwiching a grenadier’s mitre cap.
Exhibits shown below are of the Napoleonic British Dragoon Guards and an 1834 Lancer’s Czapka of the 17th Regiment, notable for its skull and crossbones cap badge indicating ‘Death or Glory’. Both tremendously ostentatious and decorative objects.
My wife and I then underwent instruction by a virtual Drill Sergeant, which involved standing on a specific area and having a video of sergeant bellow instructions at us. He offered “helpful” advice and “considered” assessments of our relative performance. I’m pleased to say that he was slightly less annoyed by my performance than by hers!
Sadly, I then had to rush off before I had a chance to experience either the Society or Insight galleries. All in all, I had an enjoyable visit and discovered some great objects. I’m not sure the ‘theme’ approach quite works for me and some of the efforts gone to engage a wider audience were sometimes just not relevant or of interest to me as a visitor with an established interest in the topic. That said, I do fully understand and accept the drive for a national museum with free entry to engage the widest possible audience and not just the history nerds like myself.
The NAM’s efforts to make its exhibits available online via it’s website – or by appointment to its storage facility – and to also reach out with create ‘extra-curricular’ evening talks, events and displays are to be commended (viz. a recent cultural evening of food, music and performances to launch a display on Romania’s WWI involvement).
The very well refurbished National Army Museum in particular had very helpful and friendly staff. With free entry and lots to see, it can only be recommended to those with any degree of interest in military history.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
The museum had a number of objects relating to this formation including this 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Last week, on a gloriously sunny day, I finally fulfilled a long-held desire to visit the Shropshire Regimental Museum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Proceeding on to the Great Hall, my attention was soon drawn to the sight of some extravagant shakos in a glass case:
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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:
…and this photograph below of the yeomen, prior to embarkation to South Africa in 1900.
For the second part of my review of the Shropshire Regimental Museum, I’ll be taking a look at some of the other exhibits.
Rear view of officer’s uniform, Shropshire Yeomanry, 1882.
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.
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.
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.
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).
x4 9 inch RMLs – firing 256 pound shells up to 3 miles.
x6 10 inch RMLs – firing 400 pound shells up to 3 miles.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Armstrong 9in Rifled Muzzle Loader:
x4 emplaced 1873 and 1892
Fired 256 pound shell a distance of 3 miles
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
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
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.
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;
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Shells did not need anything like the same level of precaution as the charges as they contained no explosive material.
The heavy 12.5 inch shells, due to their great weight, had to be lifted up to the gun deck via special mechanical winches.
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…
A brief visit to Calke Abbey and gardens in Derbyshire today offered up some pleasant surprises relating to military history. Calke Abbey is billed by the National Trust as “the unstately home”, being left in the somewhat run-down state that it was found in when transferred to the charity. The house was owned by the Harpur family for nearly 300 years until it was passed to the Trust in 1985 in lieu of millions of pounds of death duties.
Consequently, a tour of the house reveals a delightfully cluttered and eccentric collection of hidden treasures gathered over past centuries, scattered across its gloomy rooms with peeling paintwork. It was in amongst all this that a number of military items came to my attention.
In one room was a huge collection of rocks, fossils, ancient artefacts and other ephemera. In amongst all these cabinets I spied some Crimean War medals presumably taken from a Russian soldier, and also a button from the Russian 22nd line infantry regiment. Also in this room were a couple of brass buckles from the early incarnation of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, a regiment I’d seen displayed in a visit to Derby last year.
I suspect that the local yeomanry had been officered by the Baronet whose family seat was at Calke Abbey. Command of the yeomanry regiments at the time of the Napoleonic wars were often given to the aristocracy. Indeed, the wonderful old library contains a number of tomes relating to the operation of yeomanry forces, all but confirming the commanding of the regiment by the Harpur family heirs. The online catalogue includes:
Instructions for the use of yeomanry and volunteer corps of cavalry. (1803)
By His Majesty’s command. Just published, Rules and regulations for the sword exercise of the cavalry. (1796)
List of the officers of the several regiments and corps of fencible cavalry and infantry of the officers of the militia; of the corps and troops of gentlemen and yeomanry; and of the corps and companies of volunteer infantry. With an index. (1796)
An elucidation of several parts of His Majesty’s regulations for the formations and movements of cavalry. (1808)
An elucidation of several parts of His Majesty’s regulations for the formations and movements of cavalry. (1824)
A manual for volunteer corps of cavalry. (1808)
Upstairs in the sprawling mansion, I located part of the uniform of the Derbyshire Yeomanry Cavalry, a jacket I believe from the late 19th century;
Made from blue wool cloth with scarlet trimmings by Stokes and Co of Derby, the gilt metal buttons are cast with the Derbyshire Yeomanry crest. The remaining red-striped dark blue trousers and black boots were due to be also displayed sometime later this year. I suspect that the uniform is similar to this one, a heavy dragoon-style, depicted in my wonderful yeomanry regiments book with plates by Richard Simkin;
Displayed alongside the uniform was this fascinating artefact; a musical score of marches written for the Derbyshire Yeomanry by famous composer Joseph Haydn, no less, for Sir Henry Harpur the Baronet and his “Volunteer Cavalry of Derbyshire embodied in the year 1794”. The very pleasant piece of baroque classical music is on youtube.
And that wasn’t all. In a child’s playroom, of all places, I found another piece of exotic weaponry. Behind some marbles and beside a cot was a shield. To me, it was an unmistakable design which was commonly seen during the Victorian army’s campaigns in the Sudan during the 1880s and 1890s. I asked the helpful assistant in the room who admitted that she wasn’t sure about the object, but on checking the catalogue found that it was only listed as being a “Round primitive shield made of thick, light-coloured animal hide. Possibly elephant hide.” Furthermore, the assistant showed me some spears in the same room which may have been associated with the shield. To me, they looked more like assegais than the examples of the broad bladed spears I’ve seen from the Sudan. But if that shield wasn’t from the Sudan campaign, I’ll eat my hat! I do wonder how this war booty may have ended up in an aristocratic child’s playroom in Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.
So, some interesting nuggets of militaria made for a pleasant surprise. Suburban Militarism has taken a particular interest in Yeomanry Cavalry regiments of late, so to find some items related to the Derbyshire Yeomanry was a real boon. I’ve not been idle on the painting front, however. Evidence of my modelling activities to come soon.
…Continuing my previous post on my visit to the Worcestershire Regiment and the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry museum, I thought I might showcase some of the many examples of headdress on display.
To begin at the very start, one of the very oldest exhibits in the museum was this Tarleton helmet of the early Worcestershire Yeomanry. The Tarleton was a light dragoon helmet popular with the British army at the turn of the 18th/19th century. It’s certainly a grand design with its thick bearskin crest, polished black leather, and leopard-skin turban held in place by brass chains (the pattern has faded in the photo). The same helmet was worn by other yeomanry regiments with small differences in design and colour of turbans.
Following on from the bell shako in the 1830s (see previous post), the Worcestershire Yeomanry later adopted a Heavy Dragoon-style helmet with a white and red plume. The crest incorporates gaps on the side for ventilation, essential on a hot day.
A change to the uniform of hussars brought with it the busby headdress with a red bag and, for the officers, this dramatic, tall red plume.
As the Worcestershire Yeomanry prepared to send its sons off to the Anglo-Boer War, they were each presented by Lady Dudley with a replica Pear Blossom to wear in their khaki slouch hats. One of these touching presentations was on display with its brief dedication still attached (“…to wear on entering Pretoria”). This tradition continued when they served in First World War Palestine, the yeomanry wore a stitched version of the pear blossom became their badge in their Wolesley pith helmet (see below).
Finally, moving beyond the period of history usually covered by Suburban Militarism, there was also the helmet below worn by the yeomanry in their final days as a horse mounted regiment. This thick cork hat was known as the Topee and was employed in hot or tropical climates and I was delighted to find one on display.
I mentioned the wonderful Worcestershire Rifle Volunteers uniform and headdress in the previous post, but there was also two other helmets on display in the same case. On the left is the rifle volunteers undress cap with a bugle-horn badge (a symbol universally used by light infantry troops); and on the right is a French-style shako with a green ball plume.
Contrast with this version of the shako worn by the militia, an 1861 pattern;
A few remaining items of headdress that took my interest. The hat on the top left is an unusual cap called a Brodrick. It was based on a German design (possibly Landwehr?) and used for a brief period between 1904-1908. Next to it is the khaki service pith helmet used by the Worcestershire Regiment during the Boer War, is much more familiar. It’s dull and dusty colouring was essential to avoid being a victim of Boer sniper fire out on the veldt. It contrasts nicely with the more formal version with spike in the bottom photo.
A Brodrick cap, used 1904-08.
A classic Boer War-era style pith helmet of the Worcestershire Regiment.
Full dress helmet and service helmet with khaki uniform behind.
And finally, there was a significant display on the action of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry at Huj in Palestine. Having just announced that my figures are now on display at the Warwickshire Yeomanry museum, it’s perhaps appropriate to finish on this topic. Aside from fascinating artefacts such as the Wolseley helmet already depicted, there was a moving story of a yeomanry officer who later became a vicar. On Remembrance Day 1946, Jack Parsons (who won a Military Cross as a Lieutenant in the charge at Huj) performed a sermon in his new calling as a vicar. In he service, he used the bible as his inspiration in pledging to take his old yeomanry sword and a Turkish one and together remake them as a ploughshare. The new ploughshare was used to sow and grow wheat for communion. Now, that’s what I call ‘up-cycling’. The remade plough was on display together with the remaining two sword hilts; a nice coda to the Huj story, I thought.
Swords into ploughshares. The Turkish star and crescent visible on one hilt.
A shell case from the battlefield at Huj.
Well, that’s enough history and museum talk. Back to the modelling soon…