Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Military uniforms in Victorian and Edwardian Derbyshire

Over the years, in the course of accumulating images for my study of Derbyshire photographers, I've come across a number of portraits of men wearing military uniforms. Such uniforms present a valuable aid in the dating of photographs, itself an important tool in the identification of the subject of a portrait, but my lack of knowledge of this topic resulted in my leaving many of the pre-Great War era images in the "too hard" basket.

My early efforts at identifying uniforms of regular Derbyshire regiments and militia units made it obvious that I first needed a better understanding of how they were made up, and therefore of their history. I was given a great deal of help in my efforts by several kind members of the Victorian Wars Forum, a group devoted the study of British Military Campaigns from 1837 to 1902.

I must point out that I don't claim to be any kind of expert, and this article should in no way be regarded as authoritative. I've merely compiled the information from a number of different sources and, while I hope I've not made too many errors, I'm happy to receive suggestions for improvement, amendment, corrections, etc.

© Brett Payne
Derbyshire's Infantry Regiments, Rifle Volunteers, Militia & Territorial Forces, 1741-1909

The chart above (GIF/PDF) is a provisional and simplified view that I've compiled to show the evolution of the various infantry regiments, rifle volunteers, militia and territorial units in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire through Victorian and Edward eras, till just before the Great War. I should perhaps also explain that I've included Nottinghamshire as the military history of two counties has been, and still is, inextricably linked, as will become clear.

Officer, 45th Regiment of Foot, 1811

The first regular infantry regiments associated with the counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the early 19th century were the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment and the 45th (1st Nottinghamshire) Regiment, formed in 1823 and 1741 respectively. Although they are hardly likely to be found in photographic portraits, by way of an introduction I've included an artistic representation of the typical uniform from the Napoleonic era above.

By the early to mid-1850s, when photographic portraiture became available to the general public, as opposed to to the wealthier classes, through the introduction of the collodion positive, there were two regular regiments of foot and three militia regiments in existence, as follows:
- 45th (1st Nottinghamshire) Regiment
- 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment
- 1st Derby Militia
- 2nd Derby Militia (Chatsworth Rifles)
- 59th Nottinghamshire Regt of Militia (Royal Sherwood Foresters)

Unfortunately I don't have any photographs of uniformed soldiers from these units, but some may be seen in the collection of the Sherwood Foresters Museum.

Unidentified Senior NCO or Instructor
6th (High Peak/Buxton) Corps, Derbyshire Rifle Volunteers
Carte de visite by William Housley of Bakewell, c.1869-1870

Starting in 1859 a series of Rifle Volunteers Corps were formed throughout the two counties, as part of a much wider Volunteer Force, "a citizen army of part-time rifle, artillery and engineer corps, created as a popular movement." The senior non-commissioned officer in the above portrait is wearing the full dress uniform of the Derbyshire Rifle Volunteers, including 1868 pattern scarlet tunics with white facings which identified them as volunteers. The Bakewell man (above) also wears a cap more correctly described as a shako, with a regimental pattern white worsted ball (pom pom) and badge consisting of a French buglehorn surrounding the number 6.

Image © & courtesy of Michael Jones
Unidentified Rifleman
5th (Derby Artisan) Corps, Derbyshire Rifle Volunteers
Carte de visite by John Roberts of Derby, c.1869-1870
Image © & courtesy of Michael Jones

The Derby rifleman has a similar tunic, accompanied by a black patent leather cross belt with a pouch at the back and silver fittings comprising regimental badge on the front, whistle and chain and a bugle horn on the pouch, typically worn by Rifle Volunteers. The silver fittings have, however, been erroneously hand coloured gold. The cuff loop is of Trefoil type and indicates an 'other rank', as the cuff adornment of officers was always more elaborate to make the superior rank abundantly clear. His trousers are a very dark grey (virtually black) 'oxford mixture' with a 1/4-inch red seam down the outside of the leg. Instead of a shako, he is wearing his 'undress' pillbox cap - the Rifle Corps were the generally the only infantry unit to wear the pillbox cap - with a simple number badge (no horn). His rifle is either the 3-band 1853 Enfield or possibly the Snider Enfield 'conversion' which was phased in from 1866.

Image © & courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library
Lt. William Bemrose (1831-1908), Capt. John F. Thirlby (1839-1928) & Lt. Henry Monkhouse (1837-1905)
5th (Derby Artisan) Corps, Derbyshire Rifle Volunteers
Cabinet card by Richard Keene of Derby, August 1874
Image © & courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library

The next two portraits, a cabinet card and a carte de visite taken in the mid-1870s, show officers in full dress uniform. They are from the 1st Administrative Battalion of the Derbyshire Rifle Volunteers, which in 1880 became the 1st Derbyshire Rifle Volunteer Corps. Bemrose, Thirlby and Monkhouse are officers of Field Rank, as marked by the elaborate cuff lacing.

Image © & courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library
Lt. Edwin Pratt (1836-1913)
19th (Elvaston) Corps, Derbyshire Rifle Volunteers
Carte de visite by Clement Rogers of Derby, c.1874-1875
Image © & courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library

Edwin Pratt served with the 19th (Elvaston) Corps.

Image © & courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library
Major George H. Gascoyne (1842-1916)
5th (Derby Artisan) Corps, 1st Derbyshire Rifle Volunteers
Carte de visite by J.W. Price of Derby, November 1880
Image © & courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library

George Gascoyne was a major in, and later colonel and commanding officer of, the 1st Derbyshire Rifles. This portrait shows him as Commanding Officer of the 5th (Derby Artisan) Corps, shortly before its amalgamation into the 12 Companies of the 1st Volunteer Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment)
. The 1855 (modified in 1860) forage cap which he wears was replaced from the mid 1870s on, but continued to be used in parallel until as late as 1880. It has a horizontal leather peak and the "5 inside French buglehorn" badge.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Unidentified Major
1st Derbyshire Rifle Volunteer Corps
Carte de visite by J.W. Price of Derby, c. late 1870s
Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Both Gascoyne and the unidentified major in the portrait above are wearing a dark blue "frogged" Military Patrol Jacket (not worn by other ranks) of 1868, a garment that was required by an officer in addition to his full dress tunic and often worn both in the field and in barracks.

Image © & courtesy of Cynthia Maddock
Soldier identified only as "Bonzo," probably G Company (Belper)
1st Vol. Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Derbys. Regt.)

Carte de visite by Jacob Schmidt of Belper, c.1884-1888
Image © & courtesy of Cynthia Maddock

This soldier is wearing the tunic of a man in a volunteer battalion of an infantry regiment, as evidenced by the Austrian knots on his sleeves, a snake buckle belt and a glengarry cap.

Unidentified soldier, probably A Company (Chesterfield)
2nd Vol. Battalion
 The Sherwood Foresters (Derbys. Regt.)

Cabinet card by H. Brawn of Chesterfield, c. 1899-1901

This soldier's white collar and cuffs (together known as "facings") indicate that he is from an English/Welsh county regiment, while the Austrian knots on his sleeves tell us that he is a "volunteer". He is wearing a 5-button frock rather than a 7-button full dress tunic, the former being of inferior material, cut more loosely and unlined. It was intended to be used in barracks as a working uniform, and due to cost-cutting measures it was eventually the only uniform issued to volunteers. He is dressed in Review Order (helmet and bayonet) and carrying the swagger cane or stick used when out of barracks in "walking out dress". The swagger cane or stick was carried by all other ranks at that time and was part of attempts to improve the soldiers view of himself and perception of him by wider society.

The blue cloth "Home Service Helmet" was introduced as a replacement for the shako in 1878 by most British line infantry, artillery and engineers, and worn until 1902, when it was replaced as part of the khaki service dress.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
L/Cpl Thomas Charles Ison (1884-1938)
5th (Territorial Force) Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters
Real photo postcard by H.P. Hansen of Ashbourne, c. 1911-1913
Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Lance Corporal Ison is clutching a forage cap with peak, first issued in 1906, and has white facings and scarlet piped white shoulder straps on his 7-button full dress tunic, which with only minor alteration was worn until 1914 by the 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.

Both the organisational chart and the series of images are incomplete, but they will serve as an introduction to military uniforms used by Derbyshire units, and will hopefully prompt further contributions of images to fill in the gaps. I am most grateful to Victorian Wars Forum members Frogsmile, grumpy, Old Stubborn, Patrick, Isandlwana, Peter and crimea1854, who all contributed to an informative and in-depth discussion of the above images. If you are interested in further details of clothing and insignia, I suggest you browse that discussion and the many others on the forum.

Sepia Saturday 147
For other military-themed images this week visit Sepia Saturday, where I believe the regular contributers will do their best to oblige.


The Victorian Wars Forum

Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own), Wikipedia & Wikimedia Commons

Beckett, I.F.W. (1982) Riflemen form: a study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement, 1859-1908, Ogilby Trusts, 368p.

Hay, G.J. (1987) The Constitutional Force, reprint of 1908 original by Ray Westlake Military Books.

Kelly (1881) Directory of Derbyshire.

Schick, I.T. (1978) Battledress: The Uniforms of the World's Great Armies 1700 to the present, illustrated by Wilhelm von Halen, London: Artus Books, 256p.

Wright, C.N. (1874) Directory of South Derbyshire, Derby: Bemrose & Sons.


  1. Most interesting as always Brett.

  2. Although it is highly unlikely that I will ever find ancestors with a military career in any Derbyshire unit, I have read this post with great interest. Thank you!

  3. I had never heard of swagger sticks before. I was surprised to find a Wikipedia article on them.

  4. A fine collection of images Brett and the splash of colour amongst them make me realise how many variations there were.We tend to think of soldiers always khaki in sepia portraits. This is why it's good to view examples in military museums.

  5. Thanks everybody.

    Nell - I gave a link to the web site of Sherwood Foresters Museum in Nottingham. Sadly the images of uniforms in display cases are not very good, so it's difficult to see many details. Perhaps one day I might be able to get some detailed photos of the uniforms, and use them as an aid to identification as well.

  6. Another fine introduction to the fascinating details of historic photographs. I've always been amazed at the complexity in military uniforms in this period. I sometimes think that armies were more competitive in fashion, than Parisian dress designers

    Just this morning I spotted a cdv of a Derbyshire regimental soldier on eBay:

    and a boy with a pond yacht!

    I have also bookmarked the Victorian Wars forum which looks very helpful. Thanks, Brett.

  7. Thanks Mike - I'll have a try at that excellent Derby one, although my limited budget may not get me very far.

  8. I am in awe of the chart you created, and the photos are just fun for a non-military person like me to look at with your accompanying explanations and observations. I have not given much thought to changes in uniforms, but living in a military town I've been paying attention. I remember how "shocking" the Desert Storm camouflage uniforms were. Now I'm seeing more blue/grey camo as working uniforms for our Navy.

  9. Wow! Expert or no, you certainly are very thorough.

    Re: E. Pratt's photo, It would appear that the studio shot of a man in uniform was often posed with ones hat on the table. I have one of my husband's Maternal Great-Grandfather in a very similar pose. I'll be posting it sometime soon.

    Thanks for such fascinating specimens to view!


  10. Hello Brett I think this is the first time I have visited your blog. I enjoyed reading it very much. I am a history buff. I read novels written involving historical periods. I am not reading Ken Follett's Fall of Giants about 5 different families of Russian, English, Germany, Austrian and Serbina ancestry around the WWI and of course the uniforms are all described and explained. All 5 families end up in America and of course as fate would have it they meet eventually.

  11. So interesting. Do you know if the military had special uniform designers who came up with ideas? Obviously they would borrow this and that from other uniforms, modify them and make them their own. Much of the regalia seems to be totally impractical and in some cases ridiculously impractical. Was it all to create a sense of awe in the on-looker?

  12. Swagger sticks- how cool is that- I have wondered about that. You certainly took my attention from beginning to end, what an informative post! Great photos as well!

  13. You must have had to do a lot of research to come up with such a comprehensive and interesting post. Thanks for the Victoria Wars forum link.
    I shall certainly pay more attention to uniforms in the future.

  14. Fascinating! You wouldn't perhaps consider adopting the US Civil War as well? Absolutely wonderful post as always.

  15. What a lot of wonderful information and photos you have shared with us today. Thank you!

  16. Great post! It's apparent you've spent a great deal of time researching and compiling this information. I'm always struck by the red tunics - they certainly stand out in a crowd. I wouldn't want to go into battle wearing one! Another thing I noticed in the photos is the way some of the soldiers had the chin strap right under their mouth. It looks so uncomfortable! In the photo with the three soldiers, two of the soldiers wore the strap that way yet the third soldier had the chin strap under his chin. Were they required to wear the strap a certain way?

  17. QMM - I note that the one with the strap under his chin had no beard, while the other two did have beards. No doubt it was a little difficult to wear the strap under the chin and keep your beard. I think it's worth bearing in mind that they were part-time soldiers.

  18. What an interesting post. I never really had any interest in military uniforms until this Sepia Saturday and I could rummage through my collection. Thank you for your comments on my post with the random assortment of uniforms.

  19. Pretty thorough as usual.
    I tend to favor the " dark blue "frogged" Military Patrol Jacket".
    Seems less official and more practical.

  20. Wow, my mouth just dropped open in awe! That was some research! I have to agree with Liz Stratton as I was thinking the exact same thing, if you ever want to take a gander at the US Civil War, please have at it!!


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