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.
Finally, I end with two more illustrations of Shropshire’s yeomanry from my Blandford Book by Jack Cassin-Scott:
- (left) a trooper of the Shropshire Provisional Cavalry, c.1794;
- (right) South Salopian Yeomanry officer, c.1842.