Order of Dress: An overview of Rifle Officers’ uniform, 1797 -1820

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

The Victoria Costume Exhibition

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.


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Study & Reconstruction: Regimental Coat (2nd ‘Queens Own’ Centre Coy.) c.1808

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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.

27657908_1840661856006048_6729478208926906902_nThis 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.

Click here to visit the 2nd Queen’s Re-Enactment website