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Greg Renault

"2 blankets, two firelocks and 4 bayonets"

I became intrigued by Wellington's GO of 25 April 1813, which requires regimental commanders to strengthen corners and selvedge edges of the men's blankets so that they may be used as sun shelters, and by Keith Raynor's article on the same subject, British Army Blanket Tents(  Wellington's GOs of 30 October, 16 November and 8 December, 1809 indicate that he strove to obtain a blanket for each soldier, and that they were to be retained by the soldier (ie, treated as necessaries).

The many period quotes in the "My Knapsack" discussion thread on this forum indicate that (contrary to the June 1811 BGO clothing report which states that blankets should be conveyed by the Commissary, not the men) individual soldiers retained and carried their blankets.

So:  each soldier on the Peninsula had a blanket (or was supposed to), and all of these blankets were to be modified to serve as emergency sun shelters.  

Serjeant John Douglas of the 1st Royal Scots, writing of his experiences in the Peninsula in 1812, described the method used for constructing a blanket tent:

Our tents were very simple, soon pitched and as easily packed up. They (that is, each tent ) consisted of 2 blankets, two firelocks and 4 bayonets. At each corner of the blanket a hole was worked similar to a buttonhole, and in the centre another. A firelock stood at each end, to serve as poles. The bayonet of these firelocks passed through the corner holes of both blankets, a ramrod secured the top, and a bayonet at each end fastened in the ground completed our house.(quoted in Raynor article)

Never having seen a reproduction of one of these puppies, I thought to give it a try.  Here’s what I came up with:

Shameless exposition follows.

I started with a surplus British hospital blanket, to which I sewed corner reinforcements.  I used wool blanket scraps left over from another project, choosing to omit the selvedge reinforcements.  Linen canvas might be another likely choice for reinforcement material.

For sewing I used: Double-threaded, unbleached cotton; backstitched; bar tacks on the corners. Use a hollow single-hole leather punch  (1/2”) to make a hole in the corner.  Handsew a grommet by working a buttonhole stitch around the hole.  I used a heavy shoemaker’s waxed linen thread (Barbour’s No.1Smilie_PDT.

The bayonet of these firelocks passed through the corner holes of both blankets

The grommet can be moved up to the bayonet shank to increase ventilation.  Small rope loops can also be added for additional air flow.

A firelock stood at each end, to serve as poles.a ramrod secured the top,

...and you have a shelter.

But Douglas also tells us "...and in the centre another."  I take this to mean an additional grommet in the centre of the long sides of the blanket.  This would allow a single blanket to make a smaller shelter that looks rather like a mid-century tente d'abri.  This should work rather well with the shorter rifle, whereas the two-blanket version works well with muskets (in the pic below I used tent poles and rope loops for an additional variation).

The single-blanket shelter is good for two men, the double-blanket one is good for four.  I've used the single-blanket version successfully at two events so far this year.  I'll be back under canvas for the fall, though.  

I have documents with slightly more detailed instructions (including the poles) that I will gladly email.  Send me a PM with your email address if you'd like them.
Paul Durrant

Surtees on 'blanket' tents;

"They had last campaign been ordered each man to have loops sewed on at the corner of his blanket; thus, when in the field, two of these were united, and spread over two stand of arms set up at the ends for poles, and being fastened down at the other corners with bayonets, they formed a sort of tent, into which perhaps four men might creep; but then they had thus two blankets to serve as a bed for the whole of the four men; consequently they would, in cold weather, be much exposed."

Surtees of the 95th
, William Surtees, Leonaur 2006, p158
Paul Durrant

"The Portuguese are still without tents, as are the French and the Spanish.... the Portuguese.. many of them (as well as our men who happen not to have tent-room) join two together, and giving up their blankets for sleeping on, make a good tent of them, which holds two very well, and only consists of their two muskets and two blankets; and now, since we have obtained so much plunder, generally a good sack or piece of carpet at the rough weather side. Orders were given before we marched from Granada, by Lord Wellington, to have all blankets looped and strengthened at the corners, for this purpose, all ready, as an excellent defence from the sun, even better than a tent, for it is cooler, and a very tolerable one from rain"

The Private journal of Judge Advocate Larpent,
FS Larpent, p.236, Spellmount 2000
Paul Durrant

"Soignes, Saturday, June 10th,1815
Under orders to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice, this arrived when we were all occupied with our blankets , converting them into tents and greatcoats, our greatcoats having been ordered to the rear ( Ostend )...."

Diary of Lt William Thain, 33rd Foot.

(With thanks John White, 33rd)
Paul Durrant

Capt Carl Jacobi,
Luneburg Field Battalion, 1st Hanoverian Brigade
footnote ~
"The men had to give up their overcoats several weeks ago, and every man had recieved a woollen blanket that was strapped to the top of the knapsack. The blankets were provided with eyelets so that five men, each, could set up a tent supported by rifles and held down by bayonets stuck into the ground. The blankets turned out to be very useful although they were quite heavy when wet; their use for building tents soon proved to be impractical."

The Waterloo Archives Vol II
Ed Gareth Glover

(With thanks John White, 33rd)
Paul Durrant


Courtesy of the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection
Paul Durrant

Gronow, a Guards officer,  recollected following in 1815 campaign concerning a fellow officer bivouaked on the eve of Waterloo,

"He had made himself a sort of gypsy-tent, with the aid of some blankets, a sergeant's halberdand a couple of muskets.'

Captain Gronow - His Reminiscences of Regency and Victorian Life 1810-60
Ed Christopher Hibbert p134. Kyle Cathie Ltd, 1991

(With thanks John White, 33rd)
Paul Durrant


"We had no tents, every man carried a blanket in his knapsack the watchcoat outside: to each blanket were sewn six loops, three on each side, so that when we pitched our camp or bivouacked three rifles were placed upright with the swords fixed on the muzzle on which we placed the loops on one side of two blankets, the other loops were fixed by tentpegs to the ground, so that two blankets formed a tent or covering, open at each end, while the other four blankets were supposed to cover the six men."

(From an unpublished memoir of a soldier of the light division).
Greg Renault

These period quotes are great, and the bivouac illustration is delightful.  Taken together, they indicate some variation in how blankets were used as shelters--sometimes grommets in corners, sometimes loops sewn directly to the blanket; two or three to a side.  The bivouac shelter looks especially sturdy, with arms piles supporting some kind of ridge pole (halberd?)--although I notice that the arms appear to be piled with bayonets fixed!

Myself, I prefer the grommets for flexibility.  The blankets can be easily tied to each other, joined and overlapped ovr whatever you use as a tent pole, or tied to some external support.  

I add loops as follows:  Tie an overhand knot in a 2" length of 1/4" rope; this will give you a loop about 8" long.

Pass it through the grommet from the inside; the knot will hold it in place.


Well done Greg - a nice piece of reconstruction and the button hole stitching is superb!  

Here is Private Matthew Clay 3rd Guards  on the night before Waterloo:

"The storm continued with dreadful violence and we thinking of remaining here for the night were ordered to pitch our blankets, these having been prepared for such purpose with six buttonholes with loops of strong cord and linen with bits of duck at each corner and at each side of the centre. The company having been previously told off in fours cast lots to see which of the four should unpack knapsacks and pitch their blankets, myself being one of the unlucky two, we set our muskets perpendicular at each end of the blankets passing the nob of the ramrod through the two buttonholes at the corresponding corner of each blanket then slipping the top of the cord round the muzzle of each musket, keep them upright at the side, stretched the blankets and peg down each cord at the opposite end, and while the two men first at one end and then the other end together and peg down the lower corners and then the middle edge of the blankets, the upper edge being made close, we all four crept underneath with the remnants of our equipment.
The violence of the storm continued and our covering very soon became soaked in wet... "

 A quick question for you, seeing as how it is relevant to both of us: have you seen any evidence that these were used in North America?  I have seen evidence of using tents, both old and new styles; billeting, often in outbuildings; building huts; and temporary lean-tos, but never blanket tents in Canada.  


Chris McKay
Greg Renault


I have no evidence of these being used in North America.  After all, they are primarily intended to serve as temporary sun shelters--a need more pressing in the Peninsula than Canada.  However, I strongly suspect that units transferred to North America from Europe would have had blankets modified in this way.  As we see from a couple of the above quotes, the blankets--and the practice of constructing shelters from them--made it to Waterloo.  Plausible that the same could have happened in North America.  Something to look for, in any case.
John Waller

Interesting stuff guys. This snippet from the Trotter archive may be of interest ref blankets.

Out of 1000 pairs of (eight ¼) blankets each blanket to measure when furnished 84” long by 66” wide and to weigh when perfectly dry and free from oil or filth of any kind 8lbs and 6oz per pair. The warp and wool alike and not spun to hard and thready. The knap well raised on both sides, the colour clear and good and the wool itself good and sweet to be delivered as above free of every other expense at [blank] per pair

This would then seem to be the spec for a 'pattern' blanket. However later notes mention inferior blankets being sent into service out of necessity.
Paul Durrant

John, Do you have any dates for that Trotter ref?
Greg Renault

Blankets:  According to Robert Henderson the standard size of the Barracks Department blanket was 6 ft. by 7.5 ft. (  This is also the size of the hospital blankets I used for my reconstruction.

Another blanket tent reference:

“Castramentation” entry in Aide-Memoir to the Military Sciences, Vol. I (London: John Weale, 1853), p. 221.

During the latter part of the Peninsular War, the general issue of tents to the Portuguese troops was discontinued; instead of these their blankets were edged with cord, looped at the corners; and with a squad of four men, these blankets could be thus secured to their muskets, crossed, so as to form a small ridge tent.

Just a little aside comment re Private Clay - his blanket is initially inside his knapsack - not rolled on top of it and the morning of Waterloo he puts in much effort to pack the sodden blanket again back inside the knapsack...
it seems there was a general order prior to the battle requiring Greatcoats be sent into storage - so why did not Clay simply roll the blanket and secure it to the top of his knapsack?
I do wonder about the interpretation that blankets were carried atop the knapsack - it does not appear sensible to me to carry bedding where it can get wet and yet a blanket takes up a lot of room inside the pack - especially looking at dimensions of blankets given above.
Anyway......  a bit off thread but at least it concerns blankets!
John Waller

Paul Durrant wrote:
John, Do you have any dates for that Trotter ref?

Date uncertain but other documents in the same letter book are from 1803
Paul Durrant

Eddie wrote:
Just a little aside comment re Private Clay - his blanket is initially inside his knapsack - not rolled on top...

Private Wheeler of the 51st Dec 1812
"Our blankets were so wet that each morning before we could put them into our knapsacks they were obliged to be wrung."

The letters of Private Wheeler, ed BH Liddell Hart, p.102. Windrush 1993

Rifle Man Thomas Knight, in barracks at Hythe 1811.
"The order was that all knapsacks should be filled with the men's kit, and hung up on pegs"

p.20 The Remininscences of Thomas Knight of the 95th, Leonaur, 2007

British Foot Guards in Marching Order 1815 Oil Sketch by G. Jones RA (NAM)


The exact configuration of a blanket and how many soldiers sheltered in it may have varied from unit to unit comparing some of the accounts.

Another reference from 1815~
Lt Henry Dehnel, 3rd Line Battalion KGL

"Apart from going through the various forms of deployment, some training was undertaken in building little tents, with the soldiers' woollen blankets, some pegs, and two muskets, which were to house six men.But as far as I can remember, very little use was made of this kind of covering in the ensuring campaign, and only whenever the regular tents were not available, something that occurred on occassion during the first days of marching in France."
The Waterloo Archive: Vol V
Ed Gareth Glover
Paul Durrant

Bivouac at Painshill Park, May 2014.

2 blankets and 3 rifles. Blankets pegged down.
6 men and 4 blankets inside.

Greg Renault

Bravo!  How was the 3rd rifle employed?
Paul Durrant

One at both ends and one in the middle. But we were a mess of 6 so the extra 3 rifles came inside (I hope!). We tried pile arms - 3 rifles each at each end - but it didn't really work.

Without the rifle in middle, the blankets sagged quite a bit. We had holes cut into the blankets, sewn and re-inforced so that they would overlap on top but there was still a gap at times.

It was very 'snug'...
Paul Durrant

The 3rd rifle...
Painshill Park June 2014
Ben Townsend

Adam's Brigade Orders Waterloo campaign, (brigade contained 2/95th and 3/95th)

'Villers St. Amand, 20th April 1815.

BO No. 1. - The Commanding Officers of Regiments will direct the blankets to be fitted with loops of strong tape at each corner, and in the middle of each edge of the blanket.  This will be found very useful if the men are required to lie out.'

p. 208, The Oxfordshire Light Infantry Chronicle 1905.

Letter from Adam to Clinton, commander of 2nd Division in which Adam's brigade was placed,

Leuze, 21st May,

The blankets of this brigade were prepared about three weeks ago to be used as tents. the manner in which they are fitted differs very little from that pointed out in division orders and they appear to me to answer the purpose pretty well. Shall I permit them to continue as at present or have them altered? the men have already been put to some small expense by the first arrangement.

p.50 The Correspondence of Sir Henry Clinton in the Waterloo Campaign, vol ii
edited by Gareth Glover, Ken Trotman, 2015

Re a 2nd Division drill session performed on May 26th, 1815 near Quevaucamps.

"After exercise the troops encamped under the blankets and in the afternoon marched back to their quarters."

Vol 2 of the Clinton Correspondence edited by G Glover

Leeke in his History of Lord Seaton's Regiment [52nd] recollected the drill and the "formation of an encampment with blanket tents , which appeared a most troublesome affair, and did not meet with much favour on the part of our officers or men."

Understandable, to me it appears they're just doing it as a drill (why camp a few hours on a afternoon?), so all the hassle of unpacking/unrolling your immaculate pack, fiddling about, and then taking it all down again to go home to billets/quarters. Classic army ;)
Paul Durrant

I understand it was initially done in the peninsula for daytime protection from the sun.
Steve 60th

Hi Chaps,

Myself and another member of the 5/60th had a go at making a blanket tent and here it is.

Going to try this out at some of our upcoming events - Spetchley included Smilie_PDT

Ben Townsend

Now that is just begging for a trip to La Boissiere Ecole!
Steve 60th

Tempting isn't it!! ;)

We are trialing it out at a local event on July 11th, and all being well shall be using it at Spetchley in August - spoke to Frank M and hoping we can camp and work with you chaps for the weekend at Spetchley?
Steve 60th

Got the blanket tent out at our last event and stayed in it authentically overnight (only two of us in there instead of four though).

Added luxury of straw too! Smilie_PDT

Hagman's roadie

5th60thRifles wrote:
Got the blanket tent out at our last event and stayed in it authentically overnight (only two of us in there instead of four though).

Added luxury of straw too! Smilie_PDT

Which one of you skinned the poor sheep?
Steve 60th

Not sure - but we had a cracking hotpot plus we were kept warm! Smilie_PDT

Reading this and with LBE coming up I just remembered I have only got grey blankets. Any idea where to find something suitable apart from checking into the local hospital with an empty suitcase. There is a danger if I mentioned what I do as a hobby they might lock me up in a padded room anyway. I found a couple on fleabay, but one has a strip through the centre and the others in the states.
Paul Durrant

5th60thRifles wrote:

What did you do with the middle of the tent to join them up? (I take it it's two seperate blankets?)
Steve 60th

Paul - I got inventive and raided my sewing kit to sew the two blankets together.
I discovered my blanket was slightly larger (by 4 inches in length or so) than the other lads, which caused the larger blanket to sag a little.
John Waller

I got five white woolen blankets for £20 at the Detling show a few years ago. Check out granny's attic or secondhand shops and army surplus stores.
Steve 60th

Just put two more button holes in the blanket - one either side of the centre
(as per Private Clay's description at Waterloo). Can tie the middle together now with cord - job done!
Shall be bringing a couple of blanket tents to Spetchley.

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