For this weekend, I hoped to publish an article on the various uniforms featured in the first Napoleonic battle of 2018, which was to be held at Ickworth House on the 7th April. Rather unfortunately, a spell of bad weather had flooded out the ground we were to pitch camp on and the organisers were forced to announce the event’s cancellation – undeterred, a section of the 60th Rifles desired to make the most of their weekend and instead headed westwards, to the forest of Rhydycroesau on the Welsh border.
Our previous visit to Rhydycroesau was in September 2017, just a few days before the beginning of term.
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Staffordshire Potteries. The history of the Six-Towns area; particularly the role of Stoke-on-Trent and the Wedgwood factories in the industrial revolution; is a fascinating subject, and one which all students of art history would do well to learn.
The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery houses a remarkable collection of pottery wares from all periods and all nations; holding such an eclectic range of pottery objects, I feel it would be entirely possible to visit the gallery every day, and always discover something new in the collection that you’d not encountered before.
A few weeks ago, my friend Joseph had spent a day browsing the gallery and had spied, in one of hundreds of display cabinets, a small porcelain figure of a British soldier:
The object’s accession in the display described the provenance as a ‘figure of a soldier, Loyal Foot Volunteers’, with no other details. The staff at the museum gave an estimated date of 1780s.
When Joseph told me of the figure I was at first struck by the curious choice of colouring for the uniform; blue coats were quite an anomaly for British infantry of the late-18th century; to my understanding, blue was a colour reserved for artillery and cavalry. The gaudy yellow breeches were also unlike any uniform I was familiar with, and I quickly concluded that the colour selected by the painter was merely a rough approximation, representative of the true colour which I would suppose to be buff or nankin. The inherent difficulties of colouring pottery in the 18th century therefore restricts us from declaring with any certainty what exact shade the object was intended to recreate.
When I returned home to Stoke over the Easter Break, I met up with Joseph and went to see the figure for myself. On closer inspection, I was able to confirm my suspicions that the officer was wearing a Tarleton-style headdress and half-gaiters; placing the date more realistically in the mid-1790s.
However the uncertainty surrounding the blue of his coat was still unresolved until later that day:
In the adjacent hall of the gallery, nestled among some nautical-themed tableware was a matching blue-coated figure, an officer; evidently of the same origins as the previous figure. Unlike the private soldier, the officer wears a hussar-style dolman jacket; with this detail we were able to identify the elusive ‘loyal foot volunteer’ regiment as the Birmingham Volunteers…
So on the face of it, there might appear to be little connection between costume and pottery. As creative forms, ceramics and textiles are seldom used alongside one-another on the grounds of practicality; and as evidence of material culture, the disparity between contemporary pottery design and contemporary dress is evident in the visual language of the Enlightenment. However, that is not to say pottery is any less important to the study and reconstruction of historical clothing as portraiture or original tailor’s notes.
The downsides of using ceramic figures as costume reference, as discussed, are the issues of colouration and fine details. However, as a three-dimensional form, to be viewed from all angles, pottery figures such as these can provide a far greater insight to cut and construction of historical clothing than a portrait, which might offer only a single, limited perspective.
At the conception of the British Army’s first Rifle-armed unit in Winter 1797, the new 5th Battalion of the 60th Regiment elected to model their uniform on the fashionable dress of the hussar regiments of the day; enlisted men of the Rifle battalion were issued with jackets of a familiar hussar-cut with distinctive pointed cuffs on their sleeves, and two rows of false buttons down their chest. The initial adoption of pantaloons too, opposed to the standard straight-legged trousers of the line regiments, reveals much about the
these influences are more visible in the clothing worn by officers of the Rifle corps
ITV’s Victoria is the critically acclaimed dramatisation of Queen Victoria’s early years as monarch. Starring Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria and Tom Hughes as Albert Prince Consort, the series places particular focus on the relationships between upper and lower classes in 1830s Britain, a period frought with the internal threats of working class radicalisation; and the external threats of encroaching Germanic influences.
Since the end of Series 1 in 2016, the resplendent costumes worn by Coleman in show, designed by Rosalind Ebbutt, have been displayed in a selection of museums across Britain, a touring exhibition of costume, accentuated by surviving artefacts of the period which might help visitors envisage the costumes in their intended context.
In previous years, my local museum displayed in seasonal rotation, an array of Edwardian-period costumes made for the show ITV show Downton Abbey, many of which were also designed by Ebbutt.
The Victoria exhibition in The Potteries Museum ran from December 2017 to April 2018 and was the final venue of the costumes’ country-wide tour.
I was fortunate enough to visit the collection of costumes in the final week before the exhibition ended. On account of this, I actually found the exhibition hall to be quite vacant of other visitors and I had full freedom in viewing the costumes undisturbed.
Perhaps the most common garment to be found in Napoleonic reenactment, the regimental suit forms the iconic image that comes to mind when one thinks of the typical British redcoat soldier. Numerous small variances can be identified in the coat: when comparing the annual clothing issues, the contract manufacturer, and of course the particular regiments and companies of the Army.
This coat was commissioned for a seasoned reenactor in the ‘2nd Queens Regiment of Foot’ Re-Enactment Group – his previous regimental coat had seen several seasons of hard service and was finally retired last Summer after the arduous recreation of the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo on the exact site of the storming, 105 years ago.
My client portrays a corporal in the Centre-Company of the 2nd Regiment during the Peninsular Wars, specifically their group aims to represent each company of the regiment exactly how they would have appeared at the time of the British army’s landing at Mondego Bay on the 1st August 1808 – the first action of the first Peninsular campaign. With these specifications I was able to examine the Clothing Regulations as laid out in the Buckmaster, Perse and Hawkes tailor’s records, along with Ben Townsend’s invaluable research on 1803 Clothing and Draft Warrants.
As standard practice, the clothing of a Corporal in this regiment is no different to the clothing of Private soldiers, with the exception of Corporal’s Stripes to denote rank – two chevrons of regimental lace, sewn to facing cloth and worn on each arm.
No mentions were found which might suggest the regiment’s sealed pattern in 1808 had changed from the sealed pattern in 1805 so I was able to draft the coat in accordance with James Kochan’s work on the 1805 issue ‘jacket’. Charles Hamilton Smith’s illustrations of the 1814 uniform regulations would suggest the 2nd Regiment had adopted the newer pattern coat shortly after the 1st Peninsular Campaign but since new clothing was issued only when a regiment returned home, it is likely that many peninsular veterans spent three or more years wearing the same uniform without replacement.
The buttons and lace of a coat is unique to each regiment; the 2nd Regiment wore pewter buttons with the number ‘2’ raised in the centre; and their regimental lace was a white tape of worsted herringbone with a thick blue line along the outer edge. Fortunately for me, the group had been able to reproduce buttons from original examples in their members’ private collections and they had provided me with sufficient quantity of the regimental lace they wished for me to use.
Coats of the Centre Companies wore horizontal ‘slash’ pockets whereas flank companies (Light Infantry and Grenadiers) wore vertical ‘false’ pockets with openings in the pleat of the coat tails. The pocket lid was a regulated pattern and did not vary in size for smaller or larger coats – this would chiefly allow contractors to store hundreds of pre-cut pocket lids efficiently. The lids are first stotted over the right-side of the coat fronting before pressing along the fold line and prick-stitching along the outside of the lid with a dark-coloured cotton.
Before the insertion of the pocket bags, four loopings of regimental lace are applied to each pocket lid, at this time it’s also convenient to sew the lace on the turnbacks before the body is assembled and the garment becomes considerably more weighty. The pocket bags are shaped as a parallelogram to follow the shape of the cutaway turnbacks, their top seam allowance is folded outwards and pressed before setting and felling around the inside of the slash pocket opening.
The most most challenging task of the entire construction is the application of buttonhole lace on the coat’s frontings. Twenty loops; formed, pressed, positioned and applied entirely by hand – all the while ensuring that both fronts remain perfectly symmetrical. This task took longer than I care to remember but I recall it took slightly longer to apply the lace than all the other stages of construction combined. The epaulets were the final pieces to assemble, I expect these would have also been made en-masse to save the contractor’s time and money.
The cuffs were also stotted onto the raw-edge of the sleeve and folded back to create the facings. With the epaulets, I experimented here with a strip of worsted flat braid from Wyedean to recreate the Centre Company ‘tufts’. The result was not perfect but it was an idea we liked so Steven later made a jacket using four layers of braid instead of two and formed into a more compliant tuft shape with the aid the blunt side of a seam-ripper.
Finally the standing collar was attached according to the tried-&-tested method of fixing the collar lining from the back-seam to front and the collar facing from front to back with a prick stitch. The coat’s Serge lining was essentially cut to the same pattern as the body and felled around the inside of the coat.
While this was not the first regimental coat I had made, I regard it as the first reconstruction work I have completed using all my own research. Previous projects I had done, particularly with the 5/60th, were admittedly aided by research which had been collected and pored over long before I picked up the torch, however I endeavored to delve into our library of Regulation books personally for this project, and I am incredibly proud with the result.
The purpose of the visit was to view tailoring ledgers dating from the Napoleonic Wars which had been recently uncovered during archival work in the building. We were hopeful that Meyer’s military connections might turn up some famous names in the wartime ledgers, lending important evidence for officers’ fashions throughout the period.
The Second World War caused the loss of countless extant documents, uniforms and accoutrements of the Napoleonic period much to the vexation of researchers and historians. We were especially fortunate to handle these ledgers as they had only narrowly avoided destruction during the firebombing of London in WWII, the smoke staining and heat damage still evident on the cover and pages.
Steven and Ben worked through two large ledgers with dated records spanning from 1809-1827 while I documented the pages of the ledger’s accompanying ‘roughbook’: a small notepad for tailors to quickly record clients’ places of residence with a brief description of what clothing they’ve ordered and where the tailor was working when the order was lodged. The roughbook kept at Meyer & Mortimer was an exceptional artifact of the Napoleonic wars as it tracks their tailor’s journey from England to occupied France in 1814; his entanglement in the campaign of 1815; the eve of Waterloo; and the aftermath of Napoleon’s second abdication through 1816 and 1817.
Back in January of this year, I was kindly invited to the Royal Green Jackets Museum in Winchester to handle a coat in their collection that bore particular interest to the 60th Rifles reenactment group –
The coat in question is archived under the simple name of ’60th Regiment Officer’s Coat’, but the true nature of the garment is not nearly so conformist.
To the cherished few who find themselves with time on their hands to worry about such trivial matters as ‘who owned a coat 200 years ago?’, many theories are circulating:
One of the most prevalent theories is that this coat is belonged to a well-to-do regimental surgeon. Being such a rarity in the army, professional surgeons were sometimes exempt from the stringent ‘Cloathing Regulations’. Silver braid, as seen here, seems to be a popular embellishment among surgeons. Furthermore, the crossing braid on the coat tails evokes the appearance of Court Dress uniform but with the absence of white turnbacks, this style differs to contemporary depictions of the officially regulated Court Dress uniform for Officers of the Rifle companies; suggesting an unofficially-commissioned uniform coat, styled chiefly on customer’s preference.
Another theory is that the coat itself was made prior to the conception of the 60th Rifles in 1797, as something of a missing link between the 5/60th and their precursors, the similarly green-jacketed and scarlet-faced Hompesch Hussars. The official 60th regiment buttons could have been swapped-in after the new battalion was raised. Conversely, the coat could have been made up for a militia or volunteer regiment and likewise had the buttons swapped-in. As evidence to contest these theories, the hussar-style triple row of buttons are ‘pegged’ into the coat (a fashionable method of making non-functional buttons sit flush with the cloth) and there is no sign that the lining of the coat was cut or opened to feed the row of button rings onto a retaining lace. Speaking from experience, it is next-to-impossible to peg buttons with the lining sewn in and I fail to see the practical merits of attempting to swap-in the buttons without first removing the lining.
Lowenstein Chasseurs c.1797
Hompesch Chasseur c.1797
Were I to have a horse in this race figuratively, I’d place a horse in this race literally, and suggest the coat was made as a ladies’ riding habit for an officer’s wife of sweetheart. At a glance, it’s much too small for the averaged size man of today – even allowing for the smaller sizes of people in past centuries, this would be a tight fit on most every man of military age. The measurement across the chest was taken at approximately 33″ and the distance between the collarbone and waistline implies the intended wearer could not have been that much taller than 5 feet. Therefore, I am lead to believe the coat was a woman’s jacket, ordered by an officer of the 60th (Rifles), a detail that accounts for the use of official military buttons which would have been unobtainable to civilians. With the assumption that this coat was constructed quite early in the 5/60th’s operation, the sloping turnbacks would have been rather unfashionable for officer’s day-wear but highly fashionable for morning coats and riding jackets.
A most notable example of this practice is in the much publicised portrait of Lady Worsley who became a driving force for military fashions in women’s dress with her riding habits, adapted from the uniform of her husband; Colonel of the Hampshire Militia; Sir Richard Worsley.
I was informed by the curator, Rob Yuill, that prior to its donation to the RGJ Museum the coat had lived many years displayed in a glass cabinet at the old Peninsular Barracks – likely in an officer’s Mess or private office. Interestingly, you can see from the discolouration of the Bottle Green Superfine cloth, exactly how the coat was displayed in its former home, with sleeves crossed over each other across the chest. Admittedly, the ageing of the cloth is evident under scrutiny, however for the colours of the dyestuff to be as vivid as they are after two centuries is impressive, the bold scarlet facings and feathering especially showed no outward signs of fading when the outer cloth is compared to its internal facings.
While it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever learn the true purpose of the coat, as an artefact of Georgian tailoring, it is invaluable. Handling the coat in person felt profoundly intimate; it went beyond the experience of seeing museum exhibits behind their glass panes and enabled a higher level of understanding and appreciation of the anonymous craftsman’s skills.
My thanks go to Steven Davies for inviting me on his research trip, and Rob Yuill for the rich knowledge he shared.
Last January I accepted my first ever commission, to assist Steven in reconstructing three full uniforms for performers (The Percy Tenantry Rifle Volunteers) at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland. My work; to make three pairs of tailored regimental trousers; was especially valuable for the professional experience it provided. For both Steven and myself, it was a substantial step into the industry which gave insights to formal communication with customers, working cooperatively to meet deadlines, and harnessing the venue’s publicity to further promote our work.
No sooner had we delivered the uniforms to Alnwick, we were approached again to provide them with several more uniforms for their rapidly expanding cast of Volunteer Infantry reenactors, as well as uniforms for a newly founded Cavalry unit and Artillery unit based at the castle.
We quickly decided that the scale of this order would warrant a trip to Alnwick to consult the performers, discuss their requirements and take measurements in person. But having also heard tales of the castle’s extensive archives, and having received a tip-off from our contact that a tailcoat of late-Regency provenance had been unexpectedly discovered just one week previous, we resolved to combine the trip with a private exploration of the castle collections and archives.
George Walker (1781-1856) was born in Seacroft; near Leeds; the son of a successful businessman, he was educated in York as an artist and bookseller. The majority of his artworks depicted rural landscapes and local people, Walker’s work is particularly valuable to the study of historical costume as he placed particular focus on the occupational clothing of tradesmen and women in the regency period. In the hard times of old England, Very few extant artefacts of working-class dress survive today so Walker’s paintings stand out as some of the best documented evidence of labourer’s dress of the period.
Costume of Yorkshire, printed in 1814, is an invaluable resource for those studying working class dress and society of the early 19th century. Walker’s collection of prints is an insight to the textile-centered industry of the period.
The Cloth Dressers
At the close of the 18th century, Britain’s woollen cloth industry was in it’s heyday Colloquially known as ‘croppers’, the cloth dressers were men employed in England’s booming wool industry,