Greatcoats.... A question of designHiya folks
My Regiment recently decided that we should all furnish ourselves with Greatcoats and ideally these would be of a matching pattern (after all, it seems that just about every supplier makes theirs differently), I foolishly piped-up that not all of us could afford the thick end of a ton and that some of us would rather make our own...... Somehow I volunteered to make everyones (and I can't blame it on the brandy)
Anyway, to cut to the chase, I have the Petty Chapman pattern but it seemed to me that some of it didn't look right after looking at the contemporary pictures posted on here.
Then I found this thread
So, I'm not sure about the pocket flaps. Where they should be (or even if they should be) and if they're over a pocket, a vent or nothing at all (although I don't think thats likely, I could be wrong)
The half-belt, I thought was a later addition
The collar doesn't seem to be tall enough, from what I can remember of those images it should be closer to the hight of the Regimental coat.
People keep mentioning shoulder straps, I'm assuming they have the same place and purpose as the ones on the Regt. coat..... These are completely missing from the pattern I have (as is any suggestion where to enlarge or reduce to alter size of the finished garment.....I've since found out that Historically there were at least three recognised sizes)
So, any advice please ?
Not much use I know........
but having looked through the Clothing Board letters 1806-10, I know there was a LOT of correspondence on the subject of great coats. I didn't photograph the book nor have transcripts to hand, but if you wanted to view them yourself then The National Archives ref. No. is: WO7/34.
I have written an article on the greatcoats which was published in Soldats Napoleoniens. It will answer some of your questions, and doubtless raise a few more. PM me your email address and I will send you the text.
15 questions on the British army greatcoat answered.
When did the army introduce a greatcoat?
The first regulated issue of greatcoats to the British infantry came in the 1798. The issue was organised in an extraordinarily complicated way that will only make sense to those well versed in the intricate bureaucracy of the Georgian state. Essentially, the greatcoat was finally regulated as a result of savings made by a 1797 change in uniform that abolished the lapels. From that point it was to be considered as a necessary, that is, an item supplied by the regiment to the soldier that would become the soldier’s responsibility to replace should it be worn out before the prescribed time. After that time it would usually have become the soldier’s property, however a letter from the War Office to the Colonel of the Guards dated 23 Jan 1810 suggests:
“...that great coats are not considered at any particular period to be the property of the soldier. It has however been usual to leave appropriation of the said articles, after a service of three years if actually worn out, to the discretion of the commanding officers of regiments.”
This was probably because unlike other necessaries, the greatcoat was not to be funded by stoppages from the soldier’s pay, but initially through a combination of the colonel’s savings from the uniform change and public funds through the Secretary at War. The system was altered in 1808 to give full responsibility for funding to the Secretary at War with the result that purchase and distribution were removed from the regiments and became centralised.
What was the regulation?
A partial transcript of the collected Clothing Regulations to the date of 22nd April 1803 reads:
28 Oct 1797 23 April 1801, The N.C.Os, Drummers, Fifers and Private Men in the Guards and Regiments or Corps of Infantry serving at home or abroad (excepting those in the East Indies and in Regts. of People of Colour) are from 25 December 1802 to be constantly supplied with Great Coats. They are to be of a dark Grey Woollen Stuff Kersey wove, loose made, to come well up about the Neck, have a large Falling Cape to cover the Shoulders, and they are to reach down to (or below) the Calf of the Leg, as per Pattern Great Coat left at the Controllers Officer for Army Accounts. And as they are to be supplied from a Fund principally created by a gratuitous Bounty from the Publick, They are to last not less than three year and are to be considered as Regimental Necessaries or Appointments. And in order that a strict attention shall be given to the preservation of them and to prevent their being lost or prematurely worn out by Abuse or Neglect each individual in whose possession they ought to be at the time, shall be responsible and liable by a Stoppage from his Pay to make good the Loss or Damage that may occur by Neglect or Misconduct, during the said period of three years, which time these Great Coats ought to last with but common attention and Care. The Price of each Great Coat is 14s./6d., created by annual saving of 1s./10d. made by the present disuse of Lappels and formation of the Clothing for the Army. To which is added an Annual Donation of 3s./-- thereby forming the sum of 14s./6d. in three Years.—And as the Annual Donation on the Clothing of a Highland Regmt. Is but /10d. the Donation to these Corps in annually 4s./-- to enable them to have a similar Great Coat Fund as to other Regiments. In consideration of which these Corps are to be supplied with Great Coats similar to other Corps and are to lay aside the Plaid usually worn by them, except as Articles of Parade.”
And as it is proper that the strictest Economy and attention should be paid to the disposal of the Fund for supplying and keeping in repair the Great Coats and to guard against Profusion or mismanagement of the same:
“It is to be put under the special Care and Direction of the Officer Commanding the Regt or Corp (He not being under the Rank of a Field Officers) Which Account is (to) be signed upon Honor. As is more particularly specified by a special Warrant bearing Date the 22d of April 1801.
And as a similar saving by the disuse of Lappels and in the formation of Clothing arises to the Regiments or Corps of Infantry serving in the East Indies, The disposal of the same for the benefit of the Men is to be complied with by the Officer Commanding the Regiment or Corps, as specified in the said Warrant of the 22ndApril 1801. Great Coats for the Regiments of People of Colour are considered as forming part of their Regimental Clothing, and to be supplied by the Colonel (as mentioned in the said Warrant of 22d April 1801) once in two years for each Man.)”
What did they use before this issue?
Greatcoats were found in the British army before this date. These were acquired in three ways:
Firstly as a private purchase by the enlightened colonel of a regiment under the system of issued necessaries. That is, the soldiers were issued these items at regimental, battalion or company level and had the fee for them stopped from their pay. This happened at battalion level, and the enforced issue of necessaries was periodically reviewed by government to ensure the soldier was not excessively burdened by his colonel.
Secondly, the Ordnance board was issuing greatcoats to the troops under its control as early as 1795. These troops were the engineers, sappers, miners and artillery specialists, whose supply system for uniform fell outside the regular regimental system as used by the infantry and cavalry regiments.
Thirdly, following the dire state of the British army expedition to Flanders in 1793-5, greatcoats were distributed to the British army in Flanders along with other cold weather garments on a charitable basis by the British public. One can speculate that the huge fuss caused in the English press by the necessity for the public to supplement the clothing for the army, was a contributing factor in the decision to supply greatcoats. (See figure one.)
Why did the army introduce a greatcoat?
When subscriptions to the charitable fund set out in 1793 began to diminish in 1795 HRH the Duke of York who had commanded the expedition to Flanders wrote personally to the General United Society for Supplying the British Troops upon the Continent with Extra Cloathing to encourage them in their fund raising, stating that greatcoats were of primary importance over the flannel garments that were also distributed by the Society. It was at this time that the Duke became Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Forces. Although his performance as Commander of Forces in Flanders had been widely criticised at the time- and since, he was to prove a very able administrator, and his two tenures as Commander in Chief (briefly interrupted by political scandal) were considered successful and he is recognised as an army reformer who created the framework for the transformation of the British Army during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The Duke’s correspondence with the charitable society demonstrates that he was personally aware of the immense contribution to the welfare of the troops by the cold weather equipment and greatcoats, and some of his first reforms introduced greatcoats to the entire army as required by regulation. It is probable that the impetus to issue uniform greatcoats as standard equipment came primarily from the disastrous experiences of that expeditionary force to Flanders in 1794-5 under the Duke of York. Not only was the suffering of the troops upon exposure to the elements clear to those involved, but unusually, the Commander in Chief of the Army was present, and of course, he had the necessary authority to issue corrective measures to the difficulties he witnessed. In fact this was the last time a royal C-in-C would be present on campaign during the period of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, although his brother the Duke of Kent, commanded at Gibraltar, his influence was conservative rather than progressive.
How was it provided to the soldiers?
Both before and after the administrative changes of 1808 in the manner of distributing and paying for greatcoats, they were manufactured and supplied by army clothier contractors in the same way as the regular uniform items. The same contractors bid for contracts whether the purchaser was a regimental agent, or the Secretary for War. Although the familiar large contractors such as Maberly, Pearse and Hebdin & Co handled huge bulk orders of tens of thousands at a time, especially post 1808, some small clothiers were involved from the beginning in the field of regimental supply. A rare surviving handbill from such a regimental clothier exists in a mass of correspondence belonging to the Westbury volunteers. It concerns a supply of greatcoats to the colonel that were found to be deficient in make, materials and size. A new clothier, Robert Tripp, was contracted to supply the replacements in accordance with pattern items in the recognised manner.
Army and Navy Clothier, and Tailor,
AT HIS WAREHOUSE,
NO. 37 ON THE BROAD QUAY
(Opposite the Draw-Bridge)
Humbly offers himself to the Notice of the Officers in the Army and Navy, and shall be proud of the Honour of serving them with Military or Naval clothing of every Kind; and also with Arms and Accoutrements of every Sort, made of the best Materials and at Prices lower than those paid by Government, he having made such Arrangements with the difference Artificers in London, Birmingham, and other Places that he is thereby enabled to vend in Bristol the different Articles manufactured by them at the same Prices they sell at in their respective Manufactories; and having, in the Course of the late War, carried on a most extensive Concern, in supplying not only the Officers in the Regulars and in the Navy, but also almost all of the Volunteer Regiments of Cavalry and Foot in the Western and Southern Districts, with Regimentals, Arms and every Accoutrement. He now has a very large Stock of every Article of those Kinds in his Warehouse, and is thereby enabled to serve all those Necessaries for the Army or Navy with immediate Dispatch, and upon Terms as low or lower than any such Contractor with Government will do; but to such Contractors (particularly for Shoes) he will supply them with every Quantity they may have Occasion for, and also with every other Article, at the shortest Notice.
N.B. Helmets, Caps and Feathers are manufactured at this Warehouse.
I beg Leave to send you a Card in each of my different Departments for the Army and Navy.--- I shall be happy to wait on you with my Patterns of Regimentals and other Accoutrements for your Approbation, and with an Estimate for the different Articles necessary both for Infantry and Cavalry; which have not only given Satisfaction to those Regiments quartered in this City during the late War, but to the different Volunteer Corps of Cavalry and Infantry, nearly the Whole of which I have had the honour of cloathing, &c. by the Recommendation and Approbation of Lieutenant-General ROOKE, and other Commanding Officers in the Western and Southern Districts.
I am, Sir,
With the greatest Respect,
Your obedient Servant,
Significantly for our purposes, Tripp included a sample of cloth to match pattern. (figure two and three).
What was it made of?
The greatcoat was made of “a dark grey woollen stuff, kersey wove, loose made.” Kersey was available in various weights and comprised a woollen twill fairly heavily milled with a slightly raised nap. The material used weighed 15oz per square yard, as opposed to the broadcloth of regimental coats at 16 ounces per square yard. The coats were expected to comprise of between three and three and a half yards of kersey. The greatcoat weighed five pounds showing that the coat was also composed of a reasonably substantial lining at that time. In 1811 a new material was introduced specifically for use in the challenging environment of North America. This new model consisted of a heavier fabric and possibly a different style. It has been treated in an article by Robert Henderson who describes it as single breasted, and in a book by Rene Chartrand, who concluded that it was double breasted. By 1812, the heavier fabric may have been issued in Europe as a Storekeepers Instruction of Dec 1812 requires that all orders for greatcoats for forces in Spain and Portugal are to be completed before Militia Regiments and further that the regular forces are to have the Greatcoats of Hebden’s supply made from the new pattern Kersey. The Militia regiments to get the greatcoats from Dixon's supplies (which are known to be inferior from earlier entries).
What form did it take?
The regulation stated that the greatcoats were to come well up about the neck, have a large falling cape to cover the shoulders, and to reach down to or below the calf of the leg. This form can be seen in the illustrations. Figure six by Finart shows the rear view with what appears to be a buttoned vent. Figure eight by Charles Hamilton Smith (CHS) shows a private in the background with a detail of what may be a front fastening to the cape. Figure nine, again by CHS shows another rear view but with a simple slit in place of a buttoned vent. Both of these images portray the ‘loose made’ nature of the coat, which of course had to be worn over the uniform coat, and sometimes the accoutrements as well. In fact regimental Standing Orders of the period are ambivalent on this point, with some indicating that the coat ought to cover the cartridge pouch and other accoutrements to preserve them from the weather, and others recommending that the greatcoat be worn beneath the accoutrements to facilitate access. The majority of these images show the latter arrangement. Figure ten appears in a book by the artist Ljunggren, and may be an illustration worked up by another artist from a lost Ljunggren work, or that of another artist. Figure twelve does correspond to a known Ljunggren plate, and shows officers and other ranks of the Royal Suedoise, a re-incarnation of the pre-1789 French regiment with Swedish officers that was raised for Swedish service in Northern Germany from deserters and prisoners of war. They later came to Norway in 1814, and were much commented on by the inhabitants, especially for methodically cleaning the surroundings of their quarters for dogs and cats. The greatcoat is very different from all known Swedish patterns and, archive materials in Sweden now show that they were completely equipped with British greatcoats from the supply stocks landed in the Baltic ports. Figure fourteen shows either a longer version of the greatcoat, or one of the larger sizes on a shorter man. There is evidence that the greatcoats were shortened from the earlier patterns. In June 1811, the Clothing Board issued a report titled,
for the Purpose of Reporting Upon the Equipment of the Infantry.
"It appears necessary to the Board to reduce the length of the Soldier's Great Coat, so as to reach an inch only below the Knee, in order that it may not impede his marching, as well as to keep it within a proper weight. They are also of the opinion, that the Cape should be fastened at the corners and behind, so as to prevent the men from drawing it over their Ears when on Sentry, or the wind from blowing it in their eyes in tempestuous Weather..."
What size were the greatcoats?
Initial issues may have been of a single size, similar to the old watchcoats, but by 1801 three sizes were implemented. The papers of the Westbury Volunteer force who were ordering from army clothiers, Tripp, in 1804 detail the sizes as differing by two inches in length from each other. On 19 August 1812 a fourth size was introduced after the Grenadiers of the 1st Foot Guards requested creation of a new greatcoat size number four adapted for men of extraordinary stature. One greatcoat in every 31 was to be of size number four, the remaining 30 coats to be in equal proportions of sizes number one, two and three. The order details the lengths by which the new number four should be lengthened- by four inches in the body and two inches in the sleeves.
Some variation in size was exhibited by contractors’ failure to enforce pattern measurements. On 28th January 1809 an inspection of greatcoats in the store keeper General's warehouse revealed
“…some a very small degree coarser than the Patterns, but upon the whole so nearly equal that they do not appear to (be?)objectionable on that account. On measuring and comparing them with the patterns, we found they were from 4-6" or thereabouts, less, taking the measure across the shoulders and chest. On discovering this we weighed three coats of the different sizes against the three pattern ones, and found a deficiency in weight of 1lb 6oz, which, on an average, is nearly half a pound less on each coat.”
What were the buttons?
Officers’ greatcoats were required to have regimental buttons, but the regulation is silent on the matter of soldiers’ buttons for these coats. It appears likely that the private soldiers also had regimental buttons. There is a huge mass of correspondence on quality control for greatcoats available in the WO papers and in the archives of the storekeeper general and these don't mention buttons. The notes from the Trotter archive make frequent mention of the poor quality of greatcoats delivered to the SMG – variously cut shorter than the pattern, doctored for weight with 'potato dust' and inferior material used, and again no mention of buttons. It seems reasonable to surmise that the buttons were usually attached after distribution and were regimental as indicated.
Further evidence for marked rather than plain buttons comes from memoirs dealing with the misuse of greatcoat buttons to simulate coins. This is a recurrent theme in the peninsula theatre.
“A button off the greatcoat with the eye smoothed down passed current for a shilling. Westcapelle was our Headquarters, Major Gordon sent his servant one morning for a change of a guinea ; he returned in a little time, but what must have been the Major's surprise, when out of 21 shillings, 17 turned out to be soldiers' buttons. He immediately conjectured how this kind of coin came into circulation, and ordered a parade with loose greatcoats. For every large button missing he charged 1/- and for every small one 6d. Nor could they grumble, as they only had to refund the money they had received.”
“I recollect Marshall Beresford making a speech about greatcoat buttons. Such a subject may appear trifling for a general officer to speak on, but it was a discourse some of our men much needed, for they had been in the habit of tearing off the button, hammering them flat, and passing them as English coin in exchange for the good wines of Spain! The Spaniards, finding they got nothing but trumpery bits of battered lead - and the children in that country not being in the habit of playing at dumps as ours are, they complained to the Marshall. Halting the brigade one day,he gave them a speech on this fraud, and promised a handsome flogging to the first man he found who's greatcoat would not keep buttoned in windy weather.”
The nefarious practice following is from Austin of the 35th's observations in the 1813-1814 Netherlands campaign.
“Taking advantage of the confidence which the people reposed in our honesty, some of the soldiers had taken the pewter buttons off their greatcoats, and skilfully removed the shanks from them, at the same time imparting a polish to them closely resembling the worn surface of the genuine shillings. To such an extent had this fraud been practised that a shop-keeper who requested us to enter his premises, and inquired if these polished buttons were silver. had, in the course of the morning, taken nineteen of the spurious coins in exchange for the commodities he dealt in.
On our becoming aware of the fraud, we ordered the light company to fall in with their great-coats on : and it is with regret that I record the fact, but truth compels me to say, that there was not a dozen buttons remaining on the coats of the whole company.”
Were there variations for rank?
Greatcoats for sergeants were ordered in 1803 to be made with the regimental facing colour on the cuffs and collar in ‘army cloth’.
“..authorise a difference to be established between the great coats of the non-commissioned officers and privates and HRH approves as a mark of distinction that Sergts should be allowed to wear on their present uniform great coats collars and cuffs of the colour of the facing of their respective regiment with the chevrons without any other distinction on their great coats.”
In November 1811 sergeant's coats were directed to be supplied without collar or cuffs, and the sleeves made to the full length, so that the regiment's facing colour could be added at the regiment. In 1806, chevrons were permitted to be added to the right sleeve of sergeant's and corporal's greatcoats but at the expense of the corps or individual.
How were they marked?
The greatcoats were initially marked for size, numbered and dated.
‘The whole of the greatcoats are to be put up in separate bundles of the respective sizes and a mark placed on each coat to show to which size it belongs. And a mark is also to be placed on those greatcoats for Canada, on order that they may be distinguished from those intended for general service.’
A Letter to an officer of the 74th Regiment from the Storekeeper regarding charges for marking of greatcoats shows the dating
“...expense of marking, numbering, and dating 410 greatcoats...”
Presumably the date was to indicate the length of service so they could be replaced after the stated interval. By 1811 it appears that the greatcoats were also marked with the broad arrow to indicate government property, as a number of letters discuss the issue of the broad arrow painted on the inside back of the greatcoat coming off and spoiling the soldiers’ uniform. A final adjustment was recommended in 1815,
“General Orders, Bruxelles, 31st May 1815,
The Commander of the Forces is very desirous of relieving the Infantry soldiers of the British army from a part of the weight which they now carry; and he therefore desires that the name and number of each man, and the letter of his company, may be marked upon his greatcoat, with a view of its being taken into store, and the greatcoats may be packed in packages, each containing twenty greatcoats.”
Were they waterproofed?
In 1804 a prolonged discussion on waterproofing the greatcoats commenced, and the question of the processes worth occupied the Clothing Board for years. Despite one irate general’s reports on the impracticality of waterproofing greatcoats for troops in Ireland eventually a decision was made, ‘in consideration of the essential benefit in point of health and comfort’, for the coats to be waterproofed, ‘agreeable to Messrs. Duke & Co.'s process.’
Patented two years earlier, Messrs. Duke & Co.'s process departed from the traditional use of greasy animal ingredients, and opted for vegetable ingredients. The new process did not soil the men's clothes and accoutrements with grease and did not emit a nauseating odour like the other processes, but nonetheless complaints were made of "an acid unpleasant smell... ... when exposed to warmth, after being damp or wet."
Although the details of the process are unknown, the method of application involved the completed garment being submerged in waterproofing solution. J.M. Flindall's The Complete Family Assistant suggested one type of vegetable-based waterproofing recipe that may give some idea of what Messrs. Duke & Co's recipe consisted of:, “To render greatcoats &c. proof against sun and rain boil well together two pounds of turpentine, one pound of litharge in powder, and two or three pounds of linseed oil. When the article is brushed over with this varnish, it must be dried in the sun; after which, neither heat or water will affect it.”
The waterproofing process was never perfected to the Clothing Board’s satisfaction, and in 1811 and 1812 there were repeated attempts by contractors to improve upon the method, and despite the contractor Maberley seizing the waterproofing contract by undercutting Duke in 1811, by the following year test samples of waterproofed coats were being issued for testing once again. The storekeeper general was disparaging about the whole process, in a letter of November 1812 , he can be found complaining about the deficiency in size of greatcoats. He explained that before the waterproofing process the greatcoats in store conformed to the patterns but 'the process of waterproofing causes the cloth to shrink irregularly and materially affects the appearance of the coat as to quality.
Do any exist?
No greatcoats are known to have survived.
How was it carried? Or The Greatcoat sling uncovered.
The initial issues of greatcoats were guided by the experience of the Ordnance board, and their experience in carrying the coats gave rise to a fascinating departure that would endure throughout the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars and until 1824. The greatcoat was issued with slings, or straps, to enable it to be rolled and worn slung by a sort of harness.
Although there are illustrations showing this style of carry, they have always been considered problematic, and the references to greatcoat straps have usually been passed off as indicating attachments for joining the greatcoat when rolled to the knapsack. In fact, the clearest official description of their role comes with their abolition in 1824.
In 1824, the Board of General Officers introduced a new pattern of knapsack for the British Army. With the knapsack changes, the greatcoat slings were abolished. The slings allowed the soldier to carry the greatcoat without the knapsack. The reason for the abolition was because the new design in the shoulder straps allowed those straps to also be used as greatcoat slings. It can be inferred that it was previously impossible to dispense with the greatcoat slings because the knapsack straps could NOT be used as substitute carrying straps for the greatcoat. (I have tried to consistently use the term 'sling' here in order to reduce confusion between this item and the later greatcoat straps which merely secure the coat to the top of the knapsack. But Napoleonic-period references use both interchangeably to refer to this specific device)
Until recently it was believed that no greatcoat sling has survived intact. We know that its function was to carry the greatcoat when the knapsack was not worn; and we have evidence from the period that the sling could carry the greatcoat in at least three different ways -- horizontal across the back over both shoulders, in a longer roll slung over one shoulder, and also as a bundle 'vertically' [i.e. with the straps encircling the greatcoat around the top and bottom]. See figures A-F for clarity.
One solution fits all the images. Two short straps which surround the roll, a 'spacer' strap or two between them, and two longer straps which go around each shoulder when worn, or around the knapsack when carried. The conclusion comes from the position of the buckles on these straps in some plates -- too high to correspond to the later knapsack strap design, and some appear at different levels indicating that the straps cannot be attached at a fixed point to the shoulder straps. In knapsacks of the period shoulder straps are fixed to the bag, and no original has keepers on the top of the bag. This eliminates any 'relationship' between the straps around the bag and the shoulder straps, so the logical conclusion is that they connect to the greatcoat instead and are part of the otherwise absent greatcoat sling.
The memoirs of the period contain multiple accounts of the use of the greatcoat sling. It was employed often, though not exclusively, in situations requiring enhanced mobility, for example, amphibious operations or storming parties. See figures five and thirteen illustrating storming actions.
April 1794 in the Low Countries,
“Here some of our battalions were furnished with straps for the purpose of carrying our greatcoats, flung across the shoulders, neatly rolled up. This, in all sorts of weather, was part of our equipment.”
‘Outfit issued to the Lower Canadian Select Embodied Militia:--For each Man: 1 pair military shoes, shoe and cloth brushes, knapsack with straps, neck stock, flannel shirt, stockings, greatcoat slings, pricker and brush, turnscrew, worm, knife and fork, spoon, razor. In addition, moccasins were issued to the 4th Battalion.’
Amphibious landing at Walcheren in 1809,
“We had left our knapsacks on board; having only our haversacks, canteen and rolled coats with us.”
There was a similar order for the 1808 landing at Mondego Bay in Portugal for Wellesley's first Peninsular campaign.
Wellington's orders on-board ship before the landing at Mondego bay June 1808,
"The haversacks and canteens now in the regimental stores are to be given out to the men. Tin camp kettles are to be issued from the QM-General's stores to the regiments.. The men are to land, each with one pair of shoes, besides those on them, combs, razor, and a brush, which are to be packed up in their greatcoats. The knapsacks to be left in the transports and the baggage of the Officers, excepting such light articles as are necessary for them. A careful sergeant to be left in the headquarter ship of each regiment, and a careful private man in each of the other ships, in charge of the baggage... The men will land with three days bread and two days meat cooked... Each soldier will have three good flints.”
Upon occasion the blanket was substituted for the greatcoat but carried in the same way, for instance, during the 1808 retreat to Corunna,
"Our colonel had orders for us to throw away our knapsacks, but keep either the greatcoat, or blanket, which we chose. We did not mind parting with our kits, our orders must be obeyed, so we left them at the roadside.”
This can be seen in figure four, where a pale blanket, rather than grey greatcoat is carried.
What did the sling look like?
Prior to the author’s discovery of an extant set of slings there were only known several individual straps in collections that are of late 18th or early 19th century construction and do not correspond in dimensions to known later strap-work or have any other known function. There are long and short buckled straps that may form part of a set of slings in the collection of the Green Howards Museum, and the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers Museum.
However, while examining a collection of artefacts that included a named volunteer ‘s equipment and accoutrements well provenanced to 1803-14, the author discovered what appears to be the only existing set of Georgian greatcoat slings. The associated knapsack is to the Royal Bristol Volunteers, and is an envelope type.
The Loyal Bristol Volunteers 1803-14 were a corps of infantry volunteers, ten companies strong, raised in Bristol in 1797 at the time of the Napoleonic threats of invasion. They were disbanded with scant courtesy at the Peace of Amiens in 1802. However, on war breaking out again the following year, the bulk of the corps appears to have rallied once more to the Colours under the command of their old C.O. Lieut. Col Evan Baillie- to become the Royal Bristol Volunteer Infantry.
Displayed in the museum of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Gloucester may be seen coats of the Bristol Volunteers (private, yellow facings) and the Royal Bristol Volunteers (officer, blue facings), commemorative medals which were issued to all ranks in 1814, and both gilt and silver gorgets of the later corps. There is also a copy of the following routine order, dated 23rd August, 1804:
“...as the Regiment may possibly be shortly called upon to render their Services for the defence of their Native Land, the Commanding Officer strongly recommends the absolute necessity there is of being provided with certain necessary articles of comfort, viz.
1 Knapsack- 1 Haversack-Canteen-1 Shirt-1 Pair Shoes- 1 Pair Worsted stockings- Combs- 3 Brushes- Blackball-Soap, and Pipe clay-Great Coat- 3 Day’s bread, 4,1/2lb
These Articles he hopes the Gentlemen will bring with them on Monday next to the Parade, properly packed.
In addition to the above, every Individual will provide himself with a Blanket which in case of marching, will be carried in the light cart- Each Gentleman will likewise provide himself with a pair of Flannel Drawers and a Flannel Waistcoat.”
The association between the newly discovered pack and straps is strong, the owner having signed both items along with his other accoutrements. Figure 15.
As the ends of the straps were rolled, I have estimated the dimensions of the sling. Figure 11.
Main strap ¾" wide by 2mm thick. Visible length approx. 42" + rolled end approx. 8". (total 50"),
Buckled end with keepers + loose keeper on strap 3/8" wide.
Buckles, white metal.
Roll (small) straps: 5/8" wide. Keepers at buckle end (+ loose keeper).
Sewn to main strap (10" separation between both sets)
16" + rolled ends approx. 7-8" (total approx. 24")
Holes approx. ½" apart.
Some period standing orders make reference to a method of carrying the greatcoat with sling or straps. These make more sense with reference to the sling found- which can be worn in various ways. But how often were they used? To take on set of standing orders as an example, the Green Book or regimental standing orders of The Rifle Corps in 1801, is particularly vocal concerning the use and carriage of the greatcoat, here termed a watch coat.
“All Sentries are to have their watch-coats folded in the neatest manner on their backs.”
“Whenever a Non-commissioned Officer, Bugler, or private Rifleman goes on any duty with arms for 24 hours, he is to have his trowsers wrapt in his watch-coat, which he is to put on after sunset, and wear ‘til the sun rises. In a Rifle Corps, the watch-coat is to be worn over all accoutrements, contrary to the usual custom, in order to preserve arms and ammunition more effectually from the effect of the weather.”
“The necessaries which a Rifleman is to furnished with, and kept complete in, at the close of every muster, are as follows: His regimental suit, watch-coat and straps...”
“The regiment will wear watch-coats on evening parades; this regards the Rank and File, and Buglers; they are to be slung under the pouch-belt.”
A conclusion then to a historical mystery, proving that if you discover a tangle of brown leather spaghetti in a museum store-room, do not dismiss it out of hand, but examine it closely!
1. The National Archives (TNA) WO4/209 p. 146
2. TNA WO3/33 p519
3. TNA WO4/206 p231 onwards.
4. TNA WO26/39 p.182 paragraph 54 onwards.
5, British Military Uniforms 1768-96, Hew Strachan p.295
6. Article by Catherine Lucas, Journal of the Society for Army Historical 7.Research (JASHR), VOL LV. No. 221, Spring 1977 p.2
8. Ibid. p.7
9. Article by WY Carman JSAHR, VOL XIX, p.221, 1940
10. Personal conversation with Sean Phillips, textile historian. http://www.historicaltextiles.com/
11. Library and Archives of Canada (LAC) MG13, WO62/44 pp.47-48 Storekeeper’s instructions. Through quoted from an article by Robert Henderson available online at The Discriminating General website. http://www.militaryheritage.com/
12. Inventory of military baggage manuscript (M.1995.16.63). National War Museum, Scotland (formerly the Scottish United Services Museum)
Article by Robert Henderson available online at The Discriminating General website. http://www.militaryheritage.com/
13. Pp.155-158, A Scarlet Coat, Uniforms, Flags and Equipment of the British in the War of 1812, Rene Chartrand, Service Publications, 2011
14. TNA WO62/44 p.662
15. Personal communication from Ola Johnsgaard Moen.
16. TNA W07/56 pp.93-104
17. TNA WO3/34 p.12
18. Bristol Records Office. Papers of the Westbury volunteers.
19. TNA WO7/35 Page 174
20. TNA WO7/35 13 175
21. TNA WO 7/54 pp107-108
22. P.55 Douglas's tale of the Peninsula and Waterloo 1808 -1815. John Douglas, London 1997.
23. p.79 The Recollections of Benjamin Harris, ed. Hathaway, Shinglepicker, 1995
24. " Old Stick-leg " ;: Extracts from the diaries of Major Thomas Austin, G.Bles – 1926
25. TNA WO26/40 Page 132
26. TNA WO 4/213,pp. 229-230
27. TNA WO 123/134, p. 558
28. TNA WO7/54 p.11
29. TNA WO4/213 Page 222
30. The general orders of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington in Portugal. Arthur Wellesley Wellington (Duke of), John Gurwood.
31. TNA WO3/152, p.421
32. TNA WO 123/134, p. 371
33. TNA WO 7/56, p. 287
34. TNA WO7/56 pp. 285-299
35. Article by Robert Henderson available online at The Discriminating General website. http://www.militaryheritage.com/
36. TNA WO3/203, 220
37. TNA WO62/44 pp62
38. British Military Uniforms 1768-96, Hew Strachan p.295
39. p.90 Corporal Brown's Campaigns in the Low Countries, recollections of a Coldstream Guard etc, Robert Brown, Leonaur, 2008
40 (L.C. Legislative Journals.)L. Homfray Irving, , Officers of the British Forces in Canada During the War of 1812 (Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Military Insititute, no date)
41. p.20 The vicissitudes of a soldier's life; or, a series of occurences from 1806 to 1815, John Green, General Books 2010
Through quoted (from Gurwood?) in p.32, Talavera, Wellington's early Peninsular Victories, Peter Edwards, Crowood 2005
42. P.13 Where Duty calls me, The Experiences of William Green in the Napoleonic Wars., ed J and D Teague, Synjon 1975
43. JSAHR, p.93 Vol. XXXVII No.150 June 1959
44. Regimental standing orders of The Rifle Corps in 1801, Colonel Stewart. Article VII, Duty of sentries
45. Ibid Article 10
46. Ibid Article 10
47. Ibid Article 10
Super work Ben, as ever!
Petty Chapman pattern. Urgh.
Half belt across back... double-urgh!
Starting at the beginning. Here are two views of a sample of cloth for greatcoats sent out by a Georgian military outfitter touting for custom to volunteer units.
I may have this totally wrong, but ...
"Do any exist? No greatcoats are known to have survived. "
On a visit to the Guards Museum in Birdcage Walk I noticed what claims to be an enlisted man's greatcoat worn by Wellington in his casual moments. It's the right look and colour, but as it's hung in a crumple at the back of the display it's hard to see anything much of it. It's at the left in this photo I just found online:
There has to be a better image somewhere. I'm quite happy to be shot down on this one, but could this be a survivor?
BTW, fantastic work, Ben.
The Guards Museum believe this to be the greatcoat of a KGL cavalry orderly to Wellington. The only person I know to have examined it out of the case says that it is the Crimean era greatcoat. So I suppose the jury is out. I haven't seen it any more closely than you I'm afraid!
Ah. Sorry, I clearly wasn't paying attention ... Cavalry it probably is then.
But I did just remember this, which is interesting, from the Bradford papers, Shropshire archives:
An “answer relative to the Facings of the Great Coats” from the Store Keeper General:
Store Keeper General’s Office, London 22nd January 1810
“In reply to your Note of the 20th Instant relative to the Great Coats issued to the Shropshire Militia, I have the honour to acquaint you that the whole of the Serjeants Great Coats received from the Contractors are faced with blue, and the same are issued to [short word torn out – “all”?] Regiments.” (Signed "Barker".)
I guess this implies that the Shropshire Militia were expecting their usual green collars and cuffs on their sergeants' coats, but on this occasion at least this regimental distinction was suspended and a general issue made of sergeants' coats faced with blue. If so, there should be corroboration elsewhere, but I've not come across any. As this is a bit less than two years before sergeants' coats were issued plain and regiments left to add their own facings, I suppose it makes sense as an interim measure.
A bit late in the day I've noticed that the (alleged) Wellington great coat is on the Waterloo 200 site, down from its peg, with clear enlargeable front and rear views. Here -
So - what is it??
As it was (allegedly) borrowed from the KGL, I'm wondering if there's any connection with Mike Chappell's unsourced assertion, in his Osprey KGL Vol 2, that KGL greatcoats lacked capes. Not that his illustration of a KGL infantry greatcoat resembles this, being conventionally single breasted with 5 buttons, and a rather light shade of grey.
After a conversation with Sean Phillips, of Kochan Phillips historical textiles fame, I can reveal that James Kochan handled the Guards' Museum greatcoat and tentatively dated it as 1850s. Apparently it has a cotton stowaway hood in the collar. So, whatever it might be, its appears unlikely to be an OR issue for our period, so for those purposes, I'm inclined to discount it.
Some of the more recently rediscovered images of greatcoats, first, 'A Bivouac of British Infantry in the Netherlands ' by Jan A Langendijk,
George Scharfe, 1825, the greatcoats are longer than expected.
This one from Sean Phillips, who found the print for sale.
I should also point out that Sean will supply pattern drafts of the key sizes of greatcoat to anyone buying his reproduction kersey. It ain't cheap, but it is as close as you will get to the original textile. And having the pattern drafts will save you a lot of time.
Thanks for all that.
Thought I might throw this in.
Turton’s history of the North York Militia mentions a note by the Adjutant on a return of December 1808 remarking that greatcoats of the two rifle companies, now to be issued by government, should be green. Which suggests that this had been the previous practice when the rifle companies’ greatcoats were supplied by the regimental clothier. Several sources describe these companies as dressed like the 95th.
I have been working my way through WO7.54, the letter book of the army inspectors, 1808-14, and have come across some useful snippets. The inspectors' correspondence is chiefly on the subject of greatcoats, and throws some sidelights on sizing.
As regular readers will know the greatcoats were issued in three sizes, with a fourth (largest) size introduced at the request of the Guards regiments in late period. The papers reveal that size no.2, even when cut narrow across the chest, was sufficient for, 'a stout man of 5'10".
The stated length of great coat no. 3, in 1813 (they were shortened about 1806), was 47" from nape to neck. That's pretty long. On a man of 6' it still falls below the knee.