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Museum Researches

Some time back (make that years) I requested help researching my local village Napoleonic volunteer rifle regiment. At the time I was having difficulties obtaining assistance from the York Castle Museum who have subsequently stopped dealing with research enquiries until sometime in 2014.

During last summer I contacted the museum basically to ask where I would be in the queue when they eventually restarted dealing with enquiries again. The result has been that I have recently been in correspondence with a curator who has been dealing with and cataloguing the military collection and I’m hopeful that I will soon get an invite to see the relevant part of their collection.

My question is that I am new to this type of research so could you give advice and guidance on what to look for and ask about. I assume I will be allowed to take photos so must remember to take shots from a number of angles including the backs of things like button etc. – do I need to take a small ruler to show scale?

I’ve asked about a number of the Volunteer Regiments in my area but so far they have not said what they have in this connection, hopefully they will still have the items that Richard Warren saw there in the past. They have also mentioned that they have what they refer to as “the Grimes Jacket” which they say is a lovely example of jackets of the period which is reported to have come from Thornton-le-Dale.
John Waller

Don't assume that you will be able to take photos. Do ask beforehand. I visited the NAM outpost at Sandhurst and was specifically told 'no photos'. The curator never left the room so I could not even get off a sneaky snap with my phone. Do take a tape measure and ruler. Grid paper is useful for scale sketching. Pens may not be allowed so take pencils and a sharpener. Take lots of measurement and notes. Note details attached to any artefact - attribution, provenance, date, history, reference number etc. etc. If you are not thorough you will regret it later. Finally, enjoy. I find it a great thrill and privilege to handle original artefacts. My favourite moment was getting my paws on a letter written by Prince Rupert of the Rhine during some English Civil War research.
Ben Townsend

All sound advice from John. I would re-iterate to take plenty of sharpened pencils as sometimes pencil sharpeners are not allowed or provided. Grid paper is a must, and ruler\tapemeasures.

You might consider also some white cotton gloves for handling stuff with. Most places will provide them, but if you take your own, it indicates a familiarity with protocol that may engender trust. And with trust, many doors can open Smilie_PDT

After 5 years of trying I’ve eventually been able to get into the vaults of the York Castle Museum. It was to say the least a little disappointing.

I believe there have been many changes of staff in the past five years but I don’t think they have a specific military curator. The people I saw had done the cataloguing of the military collection and appeared to know what they had. I had asked to see anything they had on a number of Volunteer units from this area that would help me understand how our riflemen would have been equipped, but all I managed to see were three examples of jackets from the period. It appears that the small artefacts and bits of uniform that Richard had seen in the past were part of a collection that had been on loan at the time and were returned to the owner in the 1970/80s when they were taken from display. They said they have a collection of uniforms but there was nothing known to be from any rifle regiment in the first half of the C19 and no green coloured uniforms. Two of the jackets were from volunteer units and were shown as being good examples of the period. They were quite surprised when I showed them the coat tail pockets – shows how reading a quality Forum can educate you. The other is known as the Grimes Jacket and was worn by Pvt Matthew Grimes. He served in the 20th & 84th Foot in India and the Peninsular and on St Helena. I have read that the insignia on the jacket is however from the 87th Foot. Whatever the source Grimes wore this jacket for most of his life until his death in 1875 aged 96. The coat tails have been cut off, the collar appears to be a replacement and all the buttons have been replaced by ones with the French eagle on which he is said to have acquired at Waterloo.

They did have a medal issued by the Leeds Vols to the Best Shot on 2 May 1811, but because of the work they are doing in preparation for their WWI displays over the next few years they could only show a photo of it. They do have an infantry rifle, I’ve handled and photographed it in the past on an event day, and as it was the main armament of our men I was a little surprised I didn’t have an opportunity to see it again.

It was a long wait to confirm something I already expected, and part of me wishes that instead of the months of correspondence 5 years ago before they admitted the collection wasn’t catalogue they had just said ‘sorry we don’t have anything’, but then again, how many can say they’ve held the jacket of an Englishman who shook hands with the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Just been searching through some old books and booklets that belonged to my father-in-law and discovered a 24 page A5 size booklet entitled 'The Military Collections - A guide to the Arms, Armour and Militaria in the Castle Museum, York' Its dated 1953. Let me know if you are interested in me copying it for you.

Iain, Thank you for the offer - I've sent you a PM

Hello Jak,

Not sure what to make of that jacket - my first impression is that its a Victorian shell jacket. The 87th had green facings until they changed to blue in 1828 becoming the Royal Irish Fusiliers hence the grenade on the collar.
As a shell jacket it would not have had tails anyway.

If it was originally a Napoleonic British Infantry undress jacket I would have thought it would be white/natural wool.

As to the buttons the number 87 and the eagle implies its a regimental 87th button which would commemorate the taking of the Eagle at Barossa by Sjt Masterson.
My impression is that if it belonged to Grimes he wore it during his latter service and hung onto it when he left - but you say he was in the 20th and 84th?

I can't find the 20th, 84th or 87th listed for Waterloo.

Is there a story about where he shook hands with Napoleon??

All I know about Matthew Grimes came from this link

which I found a few days before my visit. The museum was not aware of this information.

Dr Kirk, whose collection started the Castle Museum, was given the jacket in the 1930s from a source in Thornton le Dale where Grimes had lived. They have very little info about it and appear to have assumed that because of the Eagles on the buttons that they were of French origin – can you confirm that they are English so that I can update them.

The jacket does appear to have had a longer back at some time and been cut down to the shell style, the bottom hem and cutting is a lot cruder than the rest of the stitching. The collar also appears to be a replacement.

Perhaps it was one of his jackets to which he added the buttons and collar as it wore out, or as suggested in the link, it came from another serviceman. If the buttons are foxing museums now, perhaps they did rural yokels back then into thinking they were a French souvenir.
Ben Townsend

Its possible that these are mess buttons from a soldier serving as a servant. I cant open the image to see closely.

Since replying last evening I then came across mention of the 20th guarding Napoleon on St Helena and subsequently providing 12 Grenadiers for the funeral party - so its quite possible Grimes could indeed have shaken hands with the Emperor.

That link about Grimes has lots of interesting detail if a little jumbled.

If he was 1st Batt 84th they did serve in India 1799 - 1819 - returning then to Ireland where the 20th had been since 1814 - which then went to St Helena in 1819 (English and Welsh Infantry Regiments  Ray Westlake)

The 84th had a 2nd Batt which did fight in the Penninsula.

Re the buttons - suggest you contact the Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum Armagh and attach that image :
Ben Townsend

Just managed to open te pic. The buttons are incredibly crude, and definitely not pukka regimental buttons. I will look at the button files next week when Im at my study. Hopefully find something. Also have to look for 30th buttons and plates for someone, so if anyone has any gen on those, please post.
Ben Townsend

The 87th were awarded the right to wear the Eagle after capturing that of the 8th French regiment at Barrosa. This was authorised 11th April 1811.

Apparently a great deal of work was done on the buttons of the 87th by General Sir Gerald Templer, erstwhile Colonel. I expect this is in the museum.

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