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Volunteer Buttons

November 26, 2012

Metal detectorists find volunteer buttons pretty frequently but when Frank Taylor, who had found them, was telling me how interesting they were, I was not very convinced. Unlike some other finds, like lead tokens and crotal bells, with which I could immediately relate, I thought these buttons were pretty boring.

We had descriptions for the buttons given by Dixon Pickup who is a button expert

Shropshire Volunteer Buttons

East Shropshire Volunteer Regimental Buttons

Morfe Loyal Volunteers

When hostilities broke out again in 1803 this part of the county immediately raised a unit of battalion strength, at its zenith 672 effectives plus officers; taking its name from the old territorial division, the Morfe Volunteers. The button is 16.5mm, convex with a finely raised design but bearing no back mark. There is a mint example in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery collection. The Commanding Officer was Lieut-Colonel Commandant Edward Gatacre (Junior), the Major was William Yelverton Davenport, there were 7 Captains (including another Gatacre and a Whitmore), 9 Lieutenants 7 Ensigns and a Quarter- Master William Skelding. This battalion were deemed ‘efficient’ in 1808 when the Local Militia Act was introduced, and thus remained an independent corps.
Morfe and Royal Oak Volunteers
Alongside the Morfe LVs was a unit of Company strength , the Royal Oak Volunteers. With the officers’ commission dates the same as those for Morfe (22nd August 1803), the unit was 108 strong. The officers were Captain George Baylis, Lieutenants Chappel Woodhouse & John Meeson, Ensign Richard Ward. There will be a button for this corps, presumably the crown over ‘ROV’ or similar. However the one illustrated is that of the post amalgamation unit, the Morfe and Royal Oak Volunteers.’ This took place at some time in 1806 or early 1807 as the War Office list 31st March 1807 shows the new title. By this time Thomas Whitmore has succeeded to the command as Lieut- Colonel Commandant, W.Y. Davenport (William Yelverton Davenport) is the Lieutenant-Colonel and Farmer Taylor is the Major. These changes are dated 18th November 1805. The button is in silver plate, 16mm, convex and without a back mark. The design is raised and shows the crown over M & RO over V. The corps was stood down in 1814/15.

Brimstree Loyal Legion
This an officer’s plated specimen of the Brimstree Loyal Legion. It is convex and measures 15.5mm, the simple back mark is ‘PLATED’. The design of the crown over ‘BLL’ is incised. This unit was raised on the 20 June 1798, and although the intention must have been for for an infantry and cavalry unit, the listed officers bear infantry ranks only. In the 1799, 1800 and 1801 War Office list of Volunteers, Militia and Yeomanry it was shown incorrectly as ‘Brenstree’. The officers were the same throughout the short period, Major Commandant Robert Slaney, Captain M. A. Slaney, Lieutenant W. Yonge, Ensign S. Bennet. As with the vast majority of volunteer infantry and Associations the corps was disbanded in 1801 upon the signing of the Peace of Amiens.

Volunteers were subject to certain rules imposed by government and there were pros and cons of joining. The command of the Volunteers was in the hands of the local gentry who inevitably recruited their family and friends to the cause. Volunteers were exempt from being called up into the army and they were paid for their services. For each day of 100 days training the volunteer received army pay and an exemption from army service for five years. By 1804 the volunteer regiments were swollen to bursting point and the army didn’t have a big enough pool to recruit from. In addition, industry was affected badly because the amount of time dedicated to training meant that craftsmen and small tradesmen were struggling to carry on their trade.  So we need to bear these facts in mind when we read that the Royal Oak and Bridgnorth Volunteers volunteered their services to the government and agreed to find their own clothing. ‘Their commander Colonel Whitmore has, at his own expense, generously provided each man with a jacket and cap. This well-disciplined and fine regiment consists of nearly 700 men.’ Reading between the lines, did the men of the Royal Oak and Bridgnorth Volunteers say that unless they have uniforms provided they wouldn’t join – perhaps. 700 men is a huge number of men who would probably never do more than put on a good show in training. It must have caused a huge resentment between the volunteers and conscripts but the volunteers probably had almost as little choice as the army recruits. If the Lord of the manor said ‘would you like to join,’ you probably did, if you knew what was good for you.

From a local history point of view, volunteers buttons are interesting because they highlight an aspect of life which was probably a feature for a long time. It took me a while to realise how interesting they are but I got there in the end.

The next post will feature an odd find which may also have a connection with the Napoleonic Wars.

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3 Comments
  1. supernova permalink

    Very interesting Jane, I’ll look forward to your post, cheerio for now, SN

  2. Steve Tamplin permalink

    Very interesting article about a sadly neglected subject. Just a few bits of additional info if your interested. The Brimstree Loyal Legion was formed in Shifnal in the Spring of 1798. It consisted of the 1st (Shifnal) and 2nd (Apley) Troops of cavalry (numbering 114 men in total) and the Shifnal Company of Volunteer Infantry (70). This corps served for the internal defence of Hundred of Brimstree until disbanded with the Peace of Amiens in 1802, and was commanded by Robert Slaney of Shifnal (1798-99) and Thomas Netherton Parker of Hatton Grange (1799-1802). I have a full history and roll corps of this corps.

    The Morfe and Royal Oak Battalion was an infantry volunteer corps who served from 1802 until 1813 and numbered over 800 men. It recruited around the districts of Bridgnorth, Apley, Worfield, Boscabel, Albrighton, Cosford and Shifnal.

    I am currently researching a history of the various Shropshire volunteer / yeomanry corps and have full histories of these two corps if anyone is interested. Please contact me on 01952 401258 and I’ll be delighted to share whatever information is of interest. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Rick Hudson permalink

    I have two crossbelt plates , one to the Morfe Loyal Volunteers and another to the Morfe & Royal Oak Volunteers . Both found together with a George 111 pattern gorget and a Shropshire Rifles Volunteer Officers Belt Buckle circa 1865 a few years back in a locked box . One the back of the latter crossbelt plate is the leather backing with name in ink Chesterton the date 3rd Oct 18?? .
    I’d be very interested if anyone has any further information regarding these items . Please contact me on 01953 789356
    Thanks Rick

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