The Illustrated London News, Sept. 26th, 1863…

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.

A spare frame and a cheap picture mount does the job nicely.

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…


** Incidentally, this week it was announced in the Eastern Daily Press that Norfolk has appointed its first female Lord-Lieutenant of the county in 470 years of the role.

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…

Northampton’s Abington Park Museum: Day Trip #16

I fulfilled a long-standing intention to visit a military collection which, geographically, isn’t all that far away from me but which nonetheless I’d been unable to get to. It is a military collection housed within the Abington Park Museum in Northampton. Entry is free for visitors, entry times being restricted to afternoons on 4 days a week. It brings together collections relating to:

  • The Northamptonshire Regiment and its preceding regiments;
    • 48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot,
    • 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot,
  • The Northamptonshire Yeomanry, militia and local volunteer units.

In 1970, the Northamptonshire Regiment collection was moved to Abington Park Museum having been previously based at various barracks in and around Northampton.

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I have to now admit that in an act of total incompetence I forgot to put a memory card into my digital camera before leaving! All of which meant relying mostly upon my phone’s camera, which is far from the best device for taking decent images. Furthermore, I then later located my missing memory card in my trouser pocket on returning home. Early senility or stupidity?! Nonetheless, I managed to photograph some interesting exhibits, particularly ones relating to that great personal interest of mine – the yeomanry, which I will mostly concentrate on for the purposes of this post.

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The Northamptonshire Yeomanry

On locating the military collection in the building, I was soon greeted by the sight of the distinctive uniform of the early Northamptonshire Yeomanry which was first formed in 1794. An example of their ancient Tarleton helmet was on display, looking pretty good for its age (over 200 years old), save for the threadbare comb which had retained a few tufts of its former glory, much like the balding pate of a very old man. The turban was a bright green (to match the uniform’s jacket) with brass chains holding it in place. The words “Northampton” and “Yeomanry” appeared in brass plaques on either side of the crest.

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The jacket was green with buff facings. On the shoulders were some distinctive shoulder scales, of a type which I’d previously modelled for the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum figures a couple of years back.

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It’s a very distinctive colour (akin to the Norfolk Rangers I mentioned recently) and a pleasing design, which was of course entirely the point, it being important that the Northamptonshire Yeomanry looked impressive. A framed contemporary illustration accompanied the display, not very expertly reproduced below;

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Blurry phone camera… A print of a Northants yeomen, c.1790s.

Already in my possession prior to the visit was a book on the Northamptonshire Yeomanry; “Yeomen of England” by Ken Tout. It is a warm and lively account of the regiment told by one of its former soldiers. In it, Mr Tout recounts how “one great attraction in [yeomanry] recruitment was the colourful, even gaudy design of the uniform of a troop or a regiment, and poets were already at work writing patriotic songs.” One such early song in 1794 praises the uniform of the newly formed Brackley Troop, part of the NY;

British Yeomen, valiant Yeomen, brave Yeomen for ever
Green coats faced with black and in each hat a feather
The waistcoats are buff and their trousers are leather
With broadswords and pistols and hearts without fear
Great Jove must be pleased when these Yeomen appear

They were obviously proud of their green uniforms, although I should have thought that ‘sabres’ would have a better substitute for the word ‘broadswords’ which would have been impractical to wield on a horse! There was no sign of the feather mentioned in the lyrics but a plume was commonly used with Tarleton helmets so it may have simply gone the way of the balding fur crest.

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For the great smartness of their first green uniform, the regiment originally had to thank the affluent Earl Spencer whose influence with the King enabled him to secure the use of the King’s emblem, white horse of Hanover, one of only 4 regiments to be so honoured.

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Embroidered badge of the Northants Yeomanry with white horse emblem.

There was another uniform on display which I initially took to being an Northamptonshire Regiment infantry officer from the early half of the 19th century. I couldn’t spot an explanatory label and in my limited time in the museum I didn’t go back to confirm. However, Ken Tout’s book suggests that this uniform would have been similar to the mid-19th century Northamptonshire Yeomanry’s uniform. In 1844, the regiment escorted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Tout describes their dress;

“It was an opportunity for the yeomen to don their finery. immaculate scarlet tunics with dark blue facing. gold epaulettes and plentiful gold lace, and the riders’ heights enhanced by their bell-top shakos.”

On my hurried exit from the museum, I noticed that the final room of the collection housed a wonderful display of model soldiers from the local Northants Military Modelling Club. There were lots of terrific models on display, mostly I’d say 54mm scale, of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry through the ages both mounted and dismounted. One of these looked much like the above Ken Tout description of the Victorian escort, though my blurry phone camera ran out of storage and I ran out of time before I could attempt a photo. Prior to that, I did however discover a curious object stuck randomly underneath a table – it was a section of what appear to be bathroom tiles which had carefully been removed intact. On the times, illustrations of Northants yeomen through the ages on them! I presume some individual had hand-painted them. I think they’re terrific, one of those nice eccentric discoveries that make visiting a museum so enjoyable.

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Now that’s my kind of bathroom design, (although possibly not my wife’s)! The ‘scarlet tunic’ mentioned in Tout’s book seems to be shown above (right on bottom row). Curse my blurry camera as the accompanying written descriptions which would have confirmed all aren’t readable. The green uniform seen earlier seems to be top right and the 1910-era version mounted in the middle. If we’re to assume they’re all Northamptonshire Yeomen, then it’s possible they also adopted an extravagant hussar style uniform, seen top left. If so, I assume this was approximately from some time between the 1850s up to 1873 (the year of temporary disbandment).

Tout’s excellent account also describes in detail the nature of the protective formation required by the Northamptonshire Yeomanry to guard the royal carriage from any threat. The fine and glittering sight of the scarlet-coated procession was commemorated in some spirited poetry by a local 17-year old girl, reproduced in the book:-

On Market Hill our great Yeomanry stood
To guard Queen Victoria to Weedon in the Wood
While through the High Street to Ket’ring she rides
With a thousand spectators arrayed on both sides

The Yeomanry in the Northamptonshire existed until the final troop (The Royal Kettering) was disbanded in 1873. As the Anglo-Boer War came to a conclusion, Northamptonshire, which had been without a Yeomanry regiment ever since, had a new regiment established, the Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry.

The Full Dress uniform was in the style of Dragoons and is described in “Yeomen of England” by Tout as being;

“…dark blue, with light blue facings and a white metal helmet with a light-blue and white plume. “

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The uniform fitting that description was displayed in the collection (see above). It is a 1910 Full Dress tunic and Field Service cap belonging to the then commander of the regiment, Col. H Wickham. The PAOY website has some information on the Service Dress uniform of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry:

The first [Service Dress] uniform of the new regiment was of regulation drab, or khaki, with pale blue collar, cuffs and piping up back, sleeves and down the front of the jacket. Shoulder chains with brass lettering NIY. The Regimental badge, as worn on the collar, side-cap, peaked cap etc., was the “galloping white horse”: the badge used as the centre piece of Maltese Cross on the Shakos of the 1830-45 period.

The emblem of that Hanoverian horse could be seen clearly on the two later NY uniforms were also on display including this below. It is also prominent on the collar of this corporal of the NY. This tunic dates from 1902-1908 and was displayed alongside a pillbox cap. Note the shoulder chains on blue cloth backing.

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Again, the Hanover horse appears – on the Full Dress helmet in a dramatic sunburst design…

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…and finally on the front of the Field Service cap, below:

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Most pleasing to me about this dragoon-style uniform and helmet was the attractive and unusual colour of the facings. Referred to by Tout and the PAOY website as being ‘light-blue’, this is described as being “Cornflower Blue” according to the “The Yeomanry Force at the 1911 Coronation” authors Robert J Smith and Ronald G Harris. Not only does it appear on the sleeves and collar of the tunic, but it can also be seen on both the cap and the helmet. The cap has this colour piped around the brim and also in a band around the middle. Other ranks apparently just had the band without the piping.

Two depictions of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry around the time of the coronation by R.J. Marrion and E.A. Campbell.

The helmet has a falling white over cornflower blue plume on a silver helmet, as can be seen below:

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Full Dress helmets: Other Ranks (left) and Officers (right)

On the eight-pointed star, the garter inscription surrounding the Hanoverian horse says “Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry”, which was the name of the regiment on it’s 1902 reincarnation. In 1907, it became simply known as the “Northamptonshire Yeomanry” following the Haldane reforms.

The difference between the two examples of helmets relating to the officers and ranks seems remarkably slight. The plumes have been tied back to better reveal helmet details.

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Below: the “Cornflower Blue” is evident on the collars and cuffs as well as the plumes:

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Below: close up on the arrow pickers and chain on the officers pouch belt. Note the horse motif appears on the buttons as well.

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The most complete collection of NY uniforms came unexpectedly towards the end of the collection. I’ve mentioned in the final room was a sizeable collection of mostly 54mm scale models of the regiment in a wide variety of guises. Close up pictures weren’t really possible but I managed to take a couple of a figure I recognised as already being in my collection, ready to paint. I suppose it highly likely that I’ll try and reproduce the 1910 NY Full Dress using my own figure to match the one below!

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Apologies for blurry image – see earlier comments!

The Militia:

I was surprised to learn recently that I have a personal connection with the Northamptonshire Militia going back to a relative who served sometime around the 1770s. This chap had the memorable surname Aldwincle (no, I don’t share this unusual surname) and he would have likely been compelled to serve in the force by ballot. This means of selection was not unsurprisingly often deeply unpopular with the mostly reluctant working class men who served in the Militia’s ranks, and so it may have been with Great, Great, Great Great Grandad Aldwincle.

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Thomas Rowlandson’s “Review of the Northamptonshire Militia at Brackley”, 1807. From Wikimedia Commons.

It was particularly pleasing to see some items relating to the same period and regiment in which my ancestor served. The drum below was presented to the Northamptonshire Militia by Lord Viscount Althorp on the 1st September 1779. So, I feel a sense of connection as it is entirely feasible that my relative would have known and indeed heard this drum. He would also have quite probably having been in attendance during its presentation to the regiment on that day.

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Northamptonshire Militia Drum dating from 1779.

Another, larger, militia drum was also on display. This bass drum was presented to the regiment while it was on service in Dublin in 1854, probably taking on duties that other regular infantry would have been doing were they not off serving in the Crimean War. It’s a beautiful object, richly decorated and emblazoned with not only the name of the regiment but also of the name of the drum’s benefactor, the regiment’s own Lt-Colonel Lord Burghley.

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With rich colonels such as Lord Burghley, one might expect militia officers to display some ostentation and these 1855 shoulder epaulettes provide some evidence of that. There’s a hunting horn symbol in the wreath, a sign of light infantry.

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The Volunteer Corps:

The Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers were represented by a grey uniform of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. The name dates it from being after the 1881 Childers Reforms which merged the existing 48th and 58th line regiments into a single Northamptonshire Regiment, also attaching the local volunteer corps and militia as additional battalions.

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With its grey uniform and red piping, and Home Service Pattern helmet, it looks much like the Cheshire Greys Rifle Volunteers that I modelled in 28mm scale last year.

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Finally, it was interesting to see displayed a cymbal which had been presented in 1876 to the band of the 2nd Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers, demonstrating that military bands could be as much a feature of the Rifle Volunteers as any other force in the British Army.

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A Cymbal from the Rifle Volunteers

And very briefly, The Regulars!
Finally, although my greatest interest these days is on the volunteers, a very brief  word on the Regulars. The Northamptonshire Regiment was formed out of the amalgamation of two pre-existing line regiments, the 48th and 58th regiments. It served in a number of theatres including New Zealand, a number of exhibits from which were displayed. There were some interesting watercolours and artworks around the walls, although the artists themselves seemed to be largely unknown.

Some uniforms of a type similar to those depicted above could be found around the museum.

They were lots of very interesting items on display, but some of my favourites included some extravagant 1832 epaulettes from an officer of the 58th Foot and a Pickelhaube and bugle, trophies from the Great War, Pickelhaube war booty always being a popular choice for many British regiments it seems.

Footnote:

Being a collection housed as a part of a wider museum, the Northamptonshire Regimental Collection inevitably suffers from the lack of focus that that entails. To enter into the collection, for example, I walked past a room inexplicably containing a large painting and am Egyptian sarcophagus! When compared to some other more dedicated military museums, the Northants collection felt a little lost and unloved.

At the time of writing, the Northamptonshire County Council has been in the news recently for being the first (of many?) to go effectively bankrupt. In such circumstances, with public services being pared down to a statutory minimum, culture and the arts could suffer greatly in favour of more immediately essential services. The fate of the Regimental Collection of Northampton in such circumstances remains to be seen.

Citizen Soldiers of Salop: Day Trip #13 (Part 2 – Volunteers and Militia)

Continuing my report on the Shropshire Regimental Museum, in this second part I’ll be now looking at the local Rifle Volunteers, the Shropshire Volunteer Artillery and the Shropshire Militia.

Most of the artefacts relating to these local military units of Shropshire were based in the imposing Great Hall of the castle.


The Rifle Volunteers:

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“The Rifle Contest, Wimbledon, 1864”. Lithograph after A. Hunt.

One of the most pleasing finds was the above print of a Rifle Volunteer competition in the 1860s. Regular visitors to Suburban Militarism may recall that last year I embarked on a project to model four separate Victorian Rifle Volunteer Corps (the Cheshire Greys, the Robin Hood Rifles, the 3rd London Rifle Volunteers and the Post Office Rifles). During this time, one of the things I researched was what a volunteer rifle range might look like. The above print (click here for a larger image) of Wimbledon Common illustrates many of the features I was speculating about at the time, including:

  • 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:

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“This is indeed a proud day for your comrades in the Corps…”

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…

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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.

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Colour Sergeant, 2nd Volunteer Batt. KSLI, c.1890.

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.

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Officer, 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1880s

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.

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Two shakos belonging to Rifle Volunteers from the 1860s.

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.

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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:

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Drum of the Second Shropshire Rifle Volunteers


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.

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Militia cap badges, 1870 forage cap and a “tobacco jar” presented to the 54th Shropshire Regiment Militia. Presumably, the officers had exclusive use of this…

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.

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Militia officer’s 1855-68 pattern tunic and 1869-78 pattern shako. Facings are green.

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.

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The Shropshire Artillery Volunteers with their 32 pounder guns at Long Mynd. In the foreground, civilians (men, women and a child) have come to watch proceedings.

The museum had a number of objects relating to this formation including this Full-Dress pouch:

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Richly embroidered 1st SAV Officer’s 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.

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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!

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1864 portrait of Col. Field of the 1st Shropshire Administrative Brigade, Volunteer Artillery beside his favourite grey charger.

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.

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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.

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1st Shropshire Artillery Volunteers shako

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.

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The Post Office Rifles in Egypt

The fourth and final group of Victorian Rifle Volunteers is now completed. The group are depicted in the hot sands of Kassassin, Egypt in 1882. It was here that the Post Office Rifles (known officially as the Army Post Office Corps or APOC) came under fire from Colonel Urabi’s Egyptian army (see my previous post on this). I know that they took no casualties and am assuming for the purposes of this project that they actually returned fire.

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In my little diorama, the men of the Post Office Rifles have formed a firing line, variously loading, firing or assessing their shots under the instruction of an officer.

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I’ve added a few arid looking plants to the sand and rocks. Given the hot and dusty conditions, I’ve dry-brushed some of the desert onto their puttees and trousers to make them look suitably campaign-weary.

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Ah, those puttees… As mentioned in a previous post, I rashly began painting them with Indian army style puttees rather than selecting figures with leather gaiters, which is what they would have worn. Never mind, putting puttees aside, I still think it gives a nice impression of these men taking part in the 1882 Egyptian campaign.

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I took some time playing around with the white foreign service pattern helmets. Too much shading and the white helmet looks unnatural; too little shading and it looks too bright. After some last-minute tinkering, I think they look satisfactory.

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Artist’s impression of the PO Rifles in Egypt.

That’s all from my Victorian Rifle Volunteers project; for the foreseeable future at least. Next up on the Suburban Militarism “To Do” list are a number of possible figures. The ongoing Napoleonic Cavalry Project has been in hiatus since July and I’m about ready to tackle another regiment.

But creeping quickly up on us all, of course, is Christmas and with that in mind I’ve some more figures under way for what has been something of a seasonal tradition at Suburban Militarism – Christmas Soldiers! More about this soon.