Relics of the Norfolk Light Horse

“The mounted Volunteers, who mustered very strongly on this occasion were conspicuous in their scarlet coats and showy helmets…” The Norfolk Chronicle, 14th March, 1863.
Caption reads: “Review of the Norfolk Volunteers on Mousehold Heath…”. The Norfolk Light Horse are mounted wearing white plumes left and right of the engraving.

During my visit to the Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry Collection at Muckleburgh in 2017, I discovered something that would have been very easy to overlook. In a case very high up on a wall, almost touching the ceiling was this:

The nearby ceiling light reflects off the glass case and from the floor the sign inside was barely visible to the (shorter than average height) visitor, but thanks to holding my camera high up to take the photo, I could confirm that it reads “Norfolk Light Horse Volunteers“. It contains a Full Dress sabretache and a pouch.

Nothing particularly remarkable here, perhaps. The reason I’m posting about this obscure object is because I’ve been lately furthering my knowledge of Victorian military volunteers by reading W.Y. Carman’s Light Horse and Mounted Rifle Volunteers 1860-1901“. This is an interesting guide to the short-lived phenomenon of Victorian mounted volunteers; not part of the yeomanry as such, but an adjunct to the wider Rifle Volunteer Movement which began in 1859. In 1862, it is thought that approximately 1218 mounted volunteers comprised up to 28 troops of both Light Horse and Mounted Rifles. By 1881, the demands, costs and complexities of maintaining these forces had seen them dwindle away, leaving only 5 units remaining totalling 530 men.

The Norfolk Light Horse, whose sabretache was up on the wall in the Muckleburgh Collection, lasted only 5 years, forming in September 1862 but disappearing well before the end of the decade (August 1867). They had their genesis in the newly formed Norfolk Mounted Rifles and, after evolving into a Light Horse formation, went on to number up to 60 men in total.


”The uniform consists of a scarlet tunic with blue facings, white cross belt, white breeches, and Napoleon boots, the head dress is a busby with blue bag ; the forage cap is blue trimmed with white. A number of the troop have daily appeared in the city during the week, on their way to drill ; they are exceedingly well mounted and certainly present a very imposing appearance… The Norfolk Chronicle, 6th April, 1861.


Initially wearing the busby described above, this troop soon adopted a dark blue / black dragoon helmet with a white plume and an unusual triangular leopardskin patch on the front. By 1863, although still wearing the red tunic, the white breeches had gone and the men are depicted wearing blue overalls with side stripes.

Contemporary prints of the Norfolk Light Horse from W.Y. Carman’s “Light Horse and Mounted Rifle Volunteers”.

The painting below dates from 1862 and depicts the local 1st City of Norwich Rifle Volunteers in their grey uniforms but also shows some men of the “Norwich Light Horse Volunteers” (as they were known locally for a while), easily noticeable in their scarlet-coloured undress uniforms. Officers Captain Gurney and Cornet Grimmer are said to be amongst them. It’s a nice scene and great impression of volunteer soldiering in the Victorian era.

Particularly interesting to me is the view in the background of a rifle range, a topic I posted on back in 2017. The backstop, the targets and the flag can all be made out and also a very high second embankment on the hillside above, no doubt to stop badly aimed rounds from ricocheting up high off the rising ground. I think it’s also just possible to see the rest of the red-coated Light Horse troop mounted on the hill in the far distant skyline.

The rifle range on Mousehold Health, Norwich. © Norfolk Museums Service.

Mousehold Heath seemed to be a popular location for activities relating to Norfolk volunteer activity, so it’s perhaps no surprise to discover pictorial evidence of a rifle range. Part of this heath still exists today, albeit surrounded by new development on the outskirts of Norwich. The area is the opposite side of the city centre to where I used to live, so I am not particularly familiar with it. I wonder if there’s evidence of the range still to be found there?

© Norfolk Museums Service.

In it’s brief existence, the Norfolk Light Horse played a colourful part in a number of local events and occasions. The Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry describes something of the unit’s brief existence, including the review on Mousehold Heath seen in the newspaper illustration at the top of this post and reported enthusiastically by the local paper. Examples of their appearances at local events include;

  • 1861 – (As the ‘Norwich Mounted Rifle Volunteers’), a volunteer review at Holkham Park.
  • 1862 – A volunteer fete at Crown Point.
  • 1863 – A ‘grand military parade’ in Norwich in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales.
  • 1863 – Annual volunteer review at Mousehold Heath.
  • 1864 – A volunteer review at Gunton Park, notably with the “band of the 1st Norwich Light Horse” in attendance.
  • 1866 – Escort duty for the Prince of Princess of Wales visiting Norwich – particularly prestigious for the NLHV as the King’s Dragoon Guards were reduced to merely lining the streets!

The Chronicle’s reports on such occasions could be warmly evocative:


‘The 1st Norwich Light Horse, commanded by Capt Hay Gurney, marched with the Lancers from the Cavalry Barracks… As soon as the cavalry had reached Tombland, the other troops fell in and the entire body moved off amid the cheers of the spectators, who by this time were numerous… Every window was filled with lookers on, for the most part ladies, whose bright smiles and cheerful faces, betokened the delight they took in the spectacle.” The Norfolk Chronicle, 14th March, 1863.


Returning to the sabretache and pouch I’d seen in the Muckleburgh collection, I wonder whether W.Y. Carman had access to these original objects when he published the book in 1991. In the passage on the Norfolk Light Horse, he writes;

“A Full Dress sabretache is known. It measured 10 and a half inches high and 9 and a quarter inches at the base. The ground was bright blue or ultramarine with silver lace around the sides and base showing a red outer edge. The regulation crown was set over a ‘VR’ cypher and a three-part scroll. The latter was of red cloth and had silver letters and edging, reading ‘Norfolk / Light / Horse’. W.Y. Carman

A drawing of the sabretache reproduced in W.Y. Carman’s book, presumably the author’s own work. There are notable differences (the shape, the dimensions reported, the crown appears larger and filled with a cream colour in reality, etc.) but is otherwise broadly similar. From W.Y. Carman,”Light Horse and Mounted Rifle Volunteers”.

Smith and Harris’ “The Yeomanry Cavalry of Norfolk”, gives the dimensions as below, distinctly different to Carman’s measurements, and are surprised by the sabretache being the “smallest on record” with a pouch for holding papers, maps, etc as broad as the sabretache. This is perhaps explained by the sabretache being of such small dimensions whilst the need for a pouch large enough to provide utility still remained.

“The sabretache is of particular interest as it is the smallest specimen on record, the width of no more than 7 inches at the top and 8 inches at the bottom, overall depth 9 inches…strangely the pouch is almost as broad as the sabretache.” Smith and Harris.

The clear differences in dimensions, not to say other minor differences in the size and shape of the crown, cypher and other details, make me wonder if they really aren’t two completely different sabretaches. I feel the shape of Carman’s ‘tache further confirms this suspicion.

Carman also describes the pouch:

At the same time a Full Dress pouch was seen, the flap being black velvet edged with silver lace and the embroidered crown with a crimson lining was over N L H V in silver letters. The precise date of these items is not known. Another pouch had an ultramarine flap.” W.Y. Carman

“NLHV”; another drawing, this time of the Full Dress pouch and clearly the same as that held in the Muckleburgh case. The crown is noticeably larger on the Muckleburgh example than in the watercolour. From W.Y. Carman,”Light Horse and Mounted Rifle Volunteers”.

Military artist Bob Marrion probably got a first-hand look at the Muckleburgh sabretache (even though his illustration was published around the same time as Carman’s work) as his sabretache on the cover of Vol.12 of the Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force book seems to match the one in the collection very closely.

Detail of the cover of Vol.12: The Yeomanry Cavalry of Norfolk. Illustration by R.J. Marrion.

So, the items I saw in the Muckleburgh Collection in 2017 are either;

  • different to the ones written about by W.Y. Carman
  • or the pouch and sabretache which he reports as ‘last seen in 1958’ are one and the same with the Muckleburgh Collection’s and must have somehow resurfaced to find their way there.

Either way, it’s a shame that these relics, some of the few remaining items relating to the existence of this short-lived local mounted force, should be positioned so discreetly in the collection. Over 150 years ago, that humble sabretache would have once been a small part of the grand reviews and colourful parades which brought pleasure to many across the county.


The Royal carriages, escorted by a detachment of the Norwich Light Horse, appeared in sight. The autumnal tints of the trees, the bright uniforms of the Volunteers, the genial sunshine, and the hill and dale of the road, these with the long train of carriages contributed to form a delightful picture…” The Norfolk Chronicle, 3rd November, 1866.


Postscript! – Also high up on the same wall as the Norfolk Light Horse sabretache was another but from a different yeomanry regiment which has also thrown up something of interest. More on that in another post…

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Maxims and Buddhists (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #6 – Part 2)

Continuing my report on my trip to the Royal Norfolk Regimental museum, where I was happily touring the regimental galleries whilst my wife and young daughter were hitting the local Norwich shops…

The 1903/04 Younghusband expedition to Tibet has often been described as the last of Queen Victoria’s ‘little wars’. Although Her Majesty had passed away a few years before the adventure, it certainly bore all the hallmarks of a typical Victorian colonial army venture. A key feature of such wars, I’ve always felt, was the clash of cultures. The Zulus, Maoris, Sikhs, Egyptians and Chinese had cultures utterly distinct from the British, and indeed from each other. Globalisation and the modern world would steadily erode these differences but significant ‘first contact’ moments with these disparate peoples were often of a military nature.

The Tibet expedition yielded a clash with a people utterly different to the British, and quite distinct even from other nations of the region. The stark nature of these differences was brought into sharp focus with the use of modern western weaponry, in particular the Maxim machine gun. It was a struggle to manage at times in the extreme cold but was nonetheless devastatingly effective against Tibetan swords.

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This particular maxim was used by Lt Hadow and his 17-strong detachment of Norfolks on the expedition and he boasted of it being able to fire 450 rounds a minute. The devastating effect upon the matchlock-armed Tibetans, even as they were retiring, seems to have elicited moral discomfort from some British troops. “I got so sick of the slaughter that I ceased fire, though the general’s order was to make as big a bag as possible”, wrote Hadow later. “I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away.” Reaction in Britain to the massacre at Chumik Shenko had been one of “shock [and] growing disquiet”. Magazines such as Punch expressed critical views of the situation where “half-armed men” were being wiped out “with the irresistible weapons of science.” The First World War was only a decade away.

Displayed alongside the Maxim, with some poignancy, are the Buddhist religious artefacts and artworks taken during the venture. Having been rather isolated from the outside world, the contrast between 20th century mechanised warfare and an ancient religious tradition is starkly contrasted in this display.

Against this industrial military power, the Tibetans were still using flint and tinder pouches for their stone-ball firing muskets, and wielded long swords.

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Stone musket balls with a wooden scabbard behind

Looting and the collection of exotic artefacts was common practise and not just in the British army of the time. It’s a contentious topic for sure, but I’m grateful that as a consequence I am at least able to see these wonderful and well-preserved objects close up. As a buddhist myself, (yes, a buddhist with an interest in military history – I’m a complicated guy), it’s a particular pleasure. Lt Hadow’s granddaughter, Celia Hadow, transported one looted statue of the Buddha back to Tibet to return to the 14th Dalai Lama himself and BBC Radio 4 made a programme about it called ‘The Return of the Buddha’ in 2004.

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Tibetan artefacts on display above included a brass statue of the Buddha, two clay teacher statues, a bone prayer trumpet used by Lamas, a prayer wheel, a wooden printing block, and a golden chorten (a model of a religious monument) taken at the battle of Gyantse.

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A fine Bhutanese dagger in the collection was a diplomatic gift to Lt Hadow from the ruler of Bhutan, Tongsa Penlop, who accompanied the Younghusband Mission.

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At a different part of the castle was a gallery entitled  ‘Treasure, Trade and the Exotic’, which I discovered included one more looted exhibit; a ceremonial bone apron.

Norfolk Regt (6)

Although the British invasion caused destruction and harm to Tibet, arguably this seems to pale in comparison to what the country has suffered, and continues to suffer since then.

There was so much of interest to see in this small but effective collection that I simply include a gallery below of some more objects which I thought particularly noteworthy:

A visit to the castle shop yielded an excellent book on The Royal Norfolk Regiment by Tim Carew, which I’ve been eagerly devouring ever since. From this history, it seems the regiment was subject to numerous disasters and bouts of being virtually wiped out! Disease (mostly), storms at sea, extreme privations, or incompetent generalship were sometimes to blame, but never was it as a consequence of the bravery or competence of its soldiers. Britannia must have been proud of her sons.

That visit has whetted my appetite for another museum venture. I’m having to travel farther afield to find new collections but they’re often worth the effort when I do. In the meantime, now my holiday is over I will be soon back once more to the modelling.

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Reading material!

 

Rule Britannia! (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #6 – Part 1)

I’ve just returned from a wonderful holiday by the sea. Aside from beachcombing, I did occasionally head inland and one such trip visited Norwich, a city which was once my home for year back in 1998/99 whilst I was studying at the UEA (University of East Anglia).

It was terrific to return to the’fine city’ of Norwich once again, a city I always loved to live in, but one of my aims with this visit was to see the Royal Norfolk Regiment collection. This is currently housed in the walls of the castle, along with a number of other collections covering such diverse themes as Roman and Anglo-Saxon finds, Victorian taxidermy and other exotic collections. Consequently, the regimental museum suffers a little from a lack of space and also has to compete for the attention of visitors faced with a plethora of other distractions.

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The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

Nevertheless, I always enjoy a regimental museum and the Norfolk Regiment version certainly did not disappoint! The Norfolk Regiment has a long, proud and occasionally tragic history. Becoming the 9th Regiment of Foot in 1751, it later was dubbed the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot. Raised by James II in 1685, it served in Europe’s 7 Years War, the yellow fever ridden West Indies, troublesome Ireland, revolutionary America, enjoyed some recuperation in Japan, and found very great renown for its actions during the Peninsular War. In the Victorian era, it fought in the diseased trenches of the Crimea and in all of the ferocious Sikh and Afghan wars, settling into Indian service before being renamed simply The Norfolk Regiment in 1881.

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Royal Norfolk Regimental Drum

In 1799 the King approved the Regiment’s use of Britannia as its symbol and her depiction was much in evidence in the museum. Britannia’s image was portrayed in many versions on cap badges, crossbelt buckles, waist belt buckles, snuff boxes, pouches and buttons. The image of Britannia gave rise to the nickname ‘ Holy Boys ‘ awarded to the Regiment when Spanish soldiers mistook the figure of Britannia on the soldiers’ badges for the Virgin Mary.

Poor old Britannia even took a direct hit from a bullet as evidenced by this brass crossbelt buckle which (presumably) may have at least saved the life of its wearer during the desperate 2-day battle of Ferozeshah during the 1st Anglo-Sikh War, 1845.

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Other metalwork on display included this pair of wonderful Afghan army helmets, captured during the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War. The design is similar to the brass dragoon helmet then popular with the British cavalry. This pair appears to have been made in Afghanistan, showing less-than-sophisticated workmanship they were manufactured in a somewhat asymmetrical manner!

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Asymmetrical Afghan infantry helmets.

Space limitations no doubt limited the number of uniforms on display, nonetheless there was a fine example of an officers coatee worn by Ensign Duncan Pirie who sadly died of fever in India in 1839. The red sash around the waist meanwhile belonged to a Lt Douglas in the Crimean War (1854-56). It is ominously blood stained and holed by a bullet.

The excellent computer archive on the regiment’s timeline demonstrated many wonderful paintings and watercolours of the regiment, including some work on the regiment by the wonderful Richard Simkin and this watercolour below by Henry Martens, showing a detachment of the 9th Foot entering the Fortress of Allahabad after the First Sikh War in 1845-6. A shame that none were available in the shop for this fan of military art.

Watercolour by Henry Martens, showing a detachment of the 9th

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Watercolour believed to depict soldiers of the 9th in India but could in fact depict a scene in Egypt! An example of the curatorial problems encountered by museums.

Finally, also catching my eye was this protective armour plating used during bayonet fencing. There was also displayed a large helmet with an enourmous face guard used for the same purpose. From my photo there can also be seen a splended Bell shako with dark green plume. Britannia taking pride of place as always on the badge!

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Part two of this museum report (featuring some wonderful Tibetan buddhist exhibits) to follow shortly….