For some time, I’ve had my eye on acquiring one of the many Victorian newspaper illustrations of rifle volunteers from the movement’s heyday in the 1860s through to the end of the century. It was an abstract concept until Mark from Man of Tin drew my attention to such a print on display over his painting desk. It looked so good that it convinced me to do likewise.
The image I’ve chosen featured in a recent post and is taken from The Illustrated London News, September 1963. The caption reads: Review of the Norfolk Volunteers on Mousehold Heath: Lady Suffield presenting the prizes won at the Norfolk Rifle Association meeting.
I chose this one because of my interest in military volunteers from Norfolk, being a county I lived in years ago. What’s more, the illustration is a good scene of Victorian volunteer soldiery together with depictions of men and women of the local community taking a keen interest in proceedings. The dark-coated men lined up are from the local Volunteer Rifle Corps.
To either side are the mounted Norfolk Light Horse in their scarlet coats, wearing black dragoon helmets with falling white plumes, a force which I posted about earlier this year. This short-lived formation were attached to the local rifle corps. Other mounted military men in the distance appear to be officers wearing a variety of headdress and I can even make out a hussar.
The mounted man in the foreground appears to be an infantry or militia officer.
In the centre with the cocked hat could even be the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk which at the time of this event would have been Thomas Coke’s son**.
And so, the artistic militarisation of my household walls continues…
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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…
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.
My fourth, and for now last, group in my series of Victorian Rifle Volunteers I can now reveal will be the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, more famously known as “The Post Office Rifles“.
In 1860, the Civil Service Rifles (aka 21st Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps) contained a number of companies consisting exclusively of General Post Office workers. Seven years later, over 1000 of these GPO men volunteered for service as Special Constables in response to terrorist acts by the so-called Fenians (Irish Nationalists). Once the threat had subsided, these men went on to form a new separate corps, the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles), later being renumbered as the 24th. They wore dark grey uniforms with scarlet facings.
In 1882, a group of over 100 men of the GPO serving with the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers volunteered for active service in Egypt with General Wolseley’s army. The intention was that the army could make use of their postal and telegraph expertise in the course of communication duties. They were duly formed as the Army Post Office Corps (APOC) by Queen Victoria’s Royal Warrant on the 22nd July 1882.
During their service in Egypt, they became notable for being the first men of the rifle volunteer movement to see action and win a battle honour (Egypt 1882). They came under fire during the action at Kassassin, taking no casualties. This battle was a skirmish prior to the main action at Tel-el-Kebir where the Egyptian army under Col. Urabi was defeated by Wolseley. I found a contemporary poem on the skirmish at Kassassin, from which this extract below gives a sense of the hardships experienced by these volunteers.
RAINED on all day by the sun,
Beating through helmet and head,
Through to the brain.
Inactive, no water, no bread,
We had stood on the desolate plain
Till evening shades drew on amain;
And we thought that our day’s work was done,
When, lo! it had only begun.
Extract from the poem “At Kassassin” by Arthur Clark Kennedy, 1891.
After the war, their service was considered a great success, General Wolseley stating that
“The formation of a purely military postal department has been a tried for the first time in this war. It has been very successful… I have much pleasure in bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State the admirable manner in which the Post Office Corps discharged its duties in Egypt …Their services have been so valuable that I hope a similar corps may be employed on any future occasion…”
The Gordon Relief Expedition in 1885 saw the next active service of the corps and the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 being the subsequent venture. But it is the Kassassin incident during the Egyptian campaign which I intend my figures to depict.
Now I come to admit to what can only be described as something of a figure modelling gaffe! Let me explain…
So far as I can tell, the PO Rifles should be depicting wearing leather gaiters on their lower legs. I have figures a plenty I could have used for these but, inexplicably, the Perry Miniatures figures that (for some reason) I chose to begin painting wear puttees instead. Below left shows the figures with gaiters and right with puttees.
Puttees were in use at this time by some British forces but almost certainly not by the PO Rifles. After some consideration however, I’m ploughing on with them regardless rather than abandoning them for figures with gaiters. Ultimately, I just really like these figures and poses, so Post Office Rifles with puttees it is. Who knows, maybe they did actually wear them?
And anyway; as I always say, ‘my figures – my rules‘!!!
The figures are already approaching completion so expect an update on progress soon.
The third vignette of groups of Victorian Rifle Volunteers is now completed. It took a little longer than planned thanks in no small part to the unwelcome appearance of a gastric virus which has laid me low for a few days. Feeling a little better today, I charged for the finishing line by finishing the basing and popping on the plaque. I feel pretty satisfied with these figures, although the blue shading on their puttees hasn’t really come out on the photographs as I’d hope.
At the last moment, I decided to dispose of the usual distance marker and so just have them all blazing away on a local range.
One of the things that I do like about these Perry Miniatures figures is the ability to create one’s own poses by twisting a limb or positioning some figures to suggest a narrative.
I particularly like these two figures below, depicting a sergeant and a private deep in conversation while their officer issues some instructions behind them to the group.
Likewise,although I was initially unsure whether a figure (2nd from right below) would work, but now appreciate how he appears to be gazing off down the rifle range after the target, assessing his shot.
These figures came with backpacks which I chose to retain, seeing as the group on the cover of the book “Riflemen, Form!” which inspired my choice of corps could also be seen wearing their full kit. Also, their facings are described as being buff coloured, not yellow, and so I repainted the collars. Their cuffs are shown on the colourised photograph as being black or navy blue, not buff, and I’ve retained this simply to match the photo as much as possible. Oh – and, ah, …I’ve just realised that I need to finish the shoulder straps!
So far in my Victorian Rifle Volunteers project I’ve depicted three corps:
My Victorian Rifle Volunteers Project has at least one more group to come before the end of this year. And this next group I intend to depict as being in action against a real enemy rather than shooting defenceless targets out on the rifle range! Students of Victorian military history may therefore be able to guess the rifle volunteer corps I have in mind – others will have to wait to a forthcoming post!
We are not armed to carry war To near or distant land To steep the smiling globe with gore Or prowl with hostile band. But we are trained with trust above To guard our native coast, Our Queen, our fame – our home we love, And those we love the most.
Alfred Richards, “Our Volunteers”, 1860.
As I indicated in recent post, my third subject for my Victorian Rifle Volunteer project is the 3rd City of London RVC, a small group of whom featured on the cover of a book on the topic of the Rifle Volunteers that I’d been reading; Ian Beckett’s “Riflemen, Form!” My figures are nearing completion, yet there’s still plenty to do including much of their equipment, and of course their base (being another rifle range on a wooden plinth).
One of the key instigators of the early Victorian rifle volunteer movement was a journalist, playwright and poet called Alfred Bate Richards who personally enlisted 1000 men to form the ‘Workmen’s Volunteer Brigade’.
This brigade later became formally known as the 3rd City of London Rifle Volunteer Corps, the same depicted by my figures. Its uniform was scarlet with buff yellow facings and brass buttons. In January 1862, Richards came in for some ridicule when he proposed changing his men’s original kepis and shakos headdress to a bearskin and a red plume, despite the financial difficulties experienced by his corps. Eventually, they adopted the Home Service pattern spiked helmet seen worn by these figures.
Richards was also active in raising money to send a force of volunteers, the ‘British Legion’, to assist the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi in his campaign of liberation. Many of the ‘Garibaldi Excursionists’, as the Legion was known, were members of the new Rifle Volunteer Corps, perhaps some even from his own 3rd London RVC. This attracted controversy, particularly when the politically neutral government sought to discourage moves for the 3rd London RVC to personally entertain Garibaldi on a visit.
The men were generally less well-off than some other London RVCs recruited from the professions and middle classes, although some financial support was received from the City of London and the Livery Companies.
Without its own drill hall, its parades were held variously at central London locations such as Regent’s Park, the Ditch of the Tower of London and at Gray’s Inn Square. Formal inspections and award ceremonies were held in London’s Guildhall, whilst their annual inspection was carried out at Horse Guards Parade (very prestigious!). Church parades were held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street and the corps headquarters were at various locations within the square mile of the City of London.
Alfred Richards recruited his friend, Major General Beatson of the Bengal Army, to be the 3rd London RVC’s honorary colonel for a period. Being a corps made up of generally less wealthy men than many other London corps, it was in need of a patron with money and Richards eventually persuaded a baronet to become its corps commandant and replacement Honorary Colonel, with Richards acting in the capacity as major and second in command.
Having a poet as their founder it was appropriate that their motto was a quote from the Roman poet Virgil; “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Work conquers everything). Another poet who was a vocal supporter of the Rifle Volunteer movement was the poet laureate, Lord Tennyson. He wrote to Richards congratulating him on having been a key instigator of the movement and added, “I hope you will not rest from your labours until it is the law of the land that every man-child born in it shall be trained to the use of arms.’ Quite a surprising aim, perhaps, for men of the ‘pen’ to be striving for widespread use of the ‘sword’!
Next update will hopefully include the based figures themselves, though with a couple of other projects on the go it may take a couple of weeks to finally get there. Oh well, “Labor Omnia Vincit”, to quote Virgil!
Just a quick update on my painting exploits here at Suburban Militarism. The past couple of months has seen my latest project (Victorian rifle volunteers) take shape with mini dioramas of the Cheshire Greys and the Robin Hood Rifles. I can announce that the third instalment has finally begun.
These figures arms and heads have been glued and the whole thing primed. Indeed, the first lick of paint has been applied and, after the grey Cheshires and green Notts rifle volunteers, you will notice they are being painted scarlet – a more familiar colour for a British soldier at this time. The majority of Rifle Volunteer Corps initially had red tunics and later the government stipulated that any change of colour to existing RVC uniforms had to be red.
Another thing that is slightly different about these figures are the puttees around the calves rather than the leather leggings worn by my previous two corps. Essentially, my idea is to recreate the men depicted in a colourised photograph on the front of “Riflemen, Form!”, a book studying the Victorian rifle volunteer movement which I read recently.
The group in the 1896 photograph of the 3rd London Rifle Volunteer Corps (11th Volunteer Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps), posing nonchalantly with a Gatling Gun. They are wearing red tunics with yellow facings, white leather equipment, spiked Home Service helmets, and white trousers with dark blue puttees.
To enable me to replicate this dress, I’ve purchased some loose sprues of Perry Miniatures Afghanistan War British Infantry figures which feature the puttees seen in the photograph. This set, however, doesn’t come with the home service helmets so I’ve used those which came with Perry’s Zulu War kit.
I’ll be back with more pics once I’ve progressed this group a little further!
By second group of rifle volunteers, the Robin Hood Rifles, have now been given the plinth and plaque treatment. The final result is pleasing enough, but I’ve struggled a little to get the rifleman’s green uniform to my satisfaction. My first attempt looked fine enough but the highlights were too bold and made the uniform look far lighter in shade than it would have been. The next attempt is the one you see now. The highlights are more subtle but the shade of green isn’t quite to my satisfaction, although I maintain it looks closer to the original versions seen in the museum than appears in these photos.
After some deliberation, I’ve reproduced another rifle range scene, given that this is the only location where these volunteer riflemen might be conceivably discharging their Martini-Henrys!
I chose some different figures from the Perry Miniatures sprue and /or glued them in different poses to further differentiate them from the Cheshire Greys. This has allowed me to depict a sergeant making a suggestion to his officer, gesturing to men in the firing line.
The officer, meanwhile, is using his field glasses to observe the hits (or misses) on the targets some 300 yards away.
There are two other Rifle Volunteer Corps that it’s my intention to represent. However, they will require slightly different figures to the ones I’ve been using hitherto from the Zulu War British Infantry box (although the figures are indeed still from Perry Miniatures). I’m not certain whether I shall launch into one of these straight away or take a breather from rifle volunteers and tackle some other figures. I shall reveal my intentions in the next post! Till next time,