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The Development of The Rifle Volunteer Movement in Manchester

“The following article appeared in the Autumn 2008 (Vol. 86, No. 347) edition of the ‘Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research’ and is hereby reproduced with kind permission of the Journal and the author, Captain Robert Bonner”.

The military contribution made by six of the Lancashire Rifle Volunteer units raised in Manchester during 1859/60 proved to be significant both locally and nationally. Their expansion in WWI as eighteen battalions of the Manchester Regiment played a significant role in both local social and military history. Later, in WWII, they were to form five infantry battalions, one regiment of Royal Armoured Corps and one of Royal Artillery.

Unfortunately the majority of these Manchester Rifle Volunteer units took little care of their records and as a result their history is sparse. The Souvenir and History of the Battalion produced by the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, previously the 6th Lancashire (1st Manchester) Rifle Volunteer Corps, in April 1904 is comprehensive, particularly regarding the personalities of the unit.

Clement W. Cowell of the same unit wrote a detailed history of its Mounted Infantry Company between 1887 and 1908, but his narrative is restricted to the activities of that relatively short-lived part of the battalion.

Captain H. C. Evans provides the best overall picture of the Rifle Volunteers in Manchester in his March 1900 volume Records of the 4th Volunteer Battalion Manchester Regiment which fully describes the evolution of the original 3rd Manchester Rifle Volunteers from its foundation through to June 1900. Sadly, none of the other four units provided similar primary source material.

It is the intention of this article to redress some of these omissions. Fortunately local newspapers of mid-Victorian Manchester took a great amount of interest in the emerging Volunteer Corps and reported their day-to-day activities in detail. These, together with the descriptions of the development of the movement recorded in the Lancashire and Cheshire Volunteer make an important contribution to our knowledge of the enthusiasm created and maintained by the urban and artisan Volunteers of Victorian Manchester who now had the opportunity of playing their own part in the defence of the nation.

The Volunteer Tradition in Manchester

From the days when it was a provincial town, and during its growth into the Victorian industrial city of the nineteenth century, young men of Manchester responded to the call of voluntary military service at times of national crisis. Threat of invasion has been a recurring theme in British history and although protected by the sea and with the defence of the nation resting mainly in the hands of the Royal Navy, much reliance has been placed on the principle of citizen soldiers. With a regular army engaged mainly overseas, defence on land relied on those elements of the regular army based at home, supported by the Militia and occasionally the part-time Volunteer.

Manchester and its neighbouring townships were no strangers to the raising of volunteer soldiers and their mustering for war. Following the capitulation of ‘Gentleman Johnny’ Burgoyne’s army on 17 October 1777 at Saratoga there were many offers of armed and financial assistance from patriotic citizens. Manchester raised the ‘Royal Manchester Volunteers’ or 72nd Regiment of Foot who were to serve with distinction in the garrison of Gibraltar throughout the siege of 1779 - 1783.

There was much local enthusiasm both to subscribe money and to serve in this Regiment. Within four months the Regiment had been completely manned, officered, equipped and was ready for service. All of this was from local resources.

In 1793 the outbreak of yet another war with France produced a wave of similar enthusiasm, resulting in the formation of a Manchester Military Association and the raising of the Royal Manchester Volunteers or 104th Regiment of Foot.

Continued fear of invasion saw the raising of two battalions of Manchester and Salford Volunteers in February 1797. In 1798 Colonel Ackers raised a second Volunteer Regiment. Enthusiasm continued and in December there was a proposal to raise yet another body of men to be known as The (Town’s Own) Loyal Regiment of Fencible Infantry. However, this came to nothing. The general military situation which had caused so much anxiety was now improving and with the Peace of Amiens in 1802, the Manchester volunteer regiments were disbanded.

This situation was short-lived; war with France recommenced in May 1803. Manchester’s enthusiasm was rekindled and more volunteer regiments were raised with several thousand men joining the Manchester movement. The threat from France eventually disappearing, the Volunteers were no longer required and were disbanded by 1813.

The Emergence of The Rifle Volunteer Movement

Despite the alliance between Britain and France during the Crimean War of 1854-56, a renewed fear of invasion by the French caused much concern with respect to Britain’s defensive capability. This surged dramatically in April 1859 following the outbreak of war between France and Austria-Hungary, with a growing newspaper campaign supporting the establishing of volunteer military corps.

To a large extent, the national press led by The Times created much of this anxiety. Its editorial and correspondence columns intensified the campaign for the creation of Volunteer Corps and its views were widely reproduced in local papers throughout Lancashire.

It argued that the Regular Army could not be increased without a corresponding increase in taxation whereas Volunteer Corps would not only provide support for the Regular Army, but would also instil and indoctrinate the country at large with military knowledge. (1) The Government quickly realised that the creation of a Volunteer Force would not only satisfy the public advocates of the movement and reduce the clamour of the Press, but would also cost the State nothing and possibly prove to be of short-term benefit. On 12 May 1859 the War Office sanctioned the formation of Volunteer Corps.

(1) J. F. W. Beckett, Riflemen Form. A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859—1908 (Aldershot, 1982), p. 19.

Recruitment And Motivation in Manchester

Enthusiasts met at the Star Hotel on the 20th May 1859 “to consider the desirability of raising a local rifle corps”. (2) Following this a public meeting “of gentlemen favourable to the Volunteer Movement” was held in the Town Hall when it was decided that a brigade should be formed, consisting of three regiments each of six hundred men. Six thousand pounds was considered sufficient to provide clothing and accordingly a subscription was opened.

Volunteers very quickly came forward for enrolment and sixty men were sworn in on the 7th June and began to drill at the Militia Barracks under Staff Sergeants of the 6th Lancashire Militia. On the 13th August a further meeting was held and confirmation was received from the Earl of Sefton, Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, that the services of a Company of Rifle Volunteers at Manchester had been accepted, to be numbered as sixth in the County of Lancaster. Its establishment was to consist of one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign and 100 men of all ranks.

Although the short war between France and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Italy concluded in July 1859, fears of French ambitions continued to act as a stimulus to recruiting. The speed at which the 1st Company had been formed influenced further recruiting and a 2nd Company followed almost immediately. J. P. & E. Westhead & Co. (Cotton and Silk Trimmings Manufacturers) immediately raised a 3rd Company, which they undertook to equip at their own cost, at the same time appointing their own officers. (3)

The Manchester Guardian continued to make favourable comparisons with the backwoodsmen of America, mountaineers of the Tyrol in the Austrian Army, and the free Swiss. However others felt that the young men of the town were still slow in coming forward and the Manchester Guardian (4) commented that it is not in hundreds but in thousands that the contingent from a city of 400,000 must be reckoned. That same day the paper devoted a major patriotic article to the history of volunteering in Manchester. More letters of encouragement for the movement were published offering the support of the commercial and business sector of the town.

2. Grand military Bazaar booklet 2nd VB Manchester Regiment (Manchester, Apr. 1904)
3. Marcus Brown Westhead to be Captain; his cousin Walter Bousefield Westhead to be Lt and Isaac Gleave Ensign. Walter Bousefield Westhead succeeded Marcus Brown Westhead as Capt on his promotion to Major in 1861. Walter was promoted Major in 1863 and Lt-Col in 1869.
4. Manchester Guardian. 15 Nov. 1859.

The Pattern of Recruitment

There was no lack of interest during this period but this did not mean that the formation of the volunteer units went without challenge. Pamphlets were distributed by pacifists and in some areas, such as Oldham, public meetings were held on the basis that volunteering represented an attempt to kill interest in reform. (5) However public mood was against these arguments and the Volunteer movement was given wide support throughout the area.

A 4th Company was raised by the active spirits of the Manchester Cotton Exchange and members of the Athenaeum Gymnastic Club formed the 5th (1st Athenaeum) Company. Their Captain was William Romaine Callender, then Honorary Secretary of the Athenaeum and later Member of Parliament for Manchester. Headquarters of the 1st Manchester Rifle Volunteers opened in Hopwood Avenue, and its members drilled in various warehouses, in Carpenter’s Hall, the Bazaar in Bridge Street, at Salford Dye Works and at the Cavalry Barracks in Hulme.

A 6th Company quickly followed and by November 1859 enthusiasts living in the townships of Hulme, Moss Side, Combrook and Stretford formed a 7th (Old Trafford) Company of the 1st Manchesters and their recruits were sworn in at the White Horse Hotel. They commenced drill parades at the nearby Pomona Gardens and later at the Salford Infantry Barracks under the guidance of Regular Army Staff Sergeants of the 96th Regiment.

The directors of J. & N. Phillips had been amongst the first to promote the Volunteers and amongst the first to offer financial backing. Now they offered to provide an 8th Company and on the 22nd November formed a committee to make suitable arrangements. (6) On the 3rd December they made £500 available for uniforms and equipment. Two weeks later eighty volunteers were sworn in with two officers and an Ensign being elected by ballot. Enthusiasm continued and the Volunteers of this company drilled four nights a week in the firm’s warehouse and, on Saturday afternoons, in Chetham’s College Yard.

Meanwhile traders and commercial organisations were rapidly taking advantage of the opportunities presented by this wave of enthusiasm. The Albert Life Assurance & Guarantee Company of 65 King Street advertised that “Assurors in this Company who may become members of Rifle Corps will not be charged an extra premium”. Local newspapers advertised uniforms and military boots at various shops.

Recruiting for the 2nd and 3rd Regiments of the proposed Brigade proceeded satisfactorily and the 3rd rapidly formed five companies: Henry’s, Cheetham Hill, Knott Mill, Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company and Newton Heath. (7) Henry’s Company was formed by employees of A. & S. Henry with Major John Snowden Henry the first commanding officer.

On the 3rd December a meeting was held by men connected with the Manchester newspaper and publishing companies with a view to forming a Manchester Press Company. (8) Two hundred men enlisted and paraded for the first time on the 26th February 1860, another Rifle Company was formed in Prestwich. (9) In April the 3rd Manchesters paraded at Chetham’s College Yard and Major Henry announced that “Defence not Defiance” was to be their motto. (10) By the end of May 1860 the 1st Manchester Rifle Volunteers, had enrolled over 900 men with a full complement of officers including a Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon.

Table 1 shows the comparative strengths of the Manchester Corps 1860-1862. The Second Manchester Rifle Volunteers and a number of smaller units were later absorbed into other more successful battalions as shown in Table 2

5. I. F. W. Beckett (ed.), The Amateur Military Tradition (Manchester, 1991), p. 169.
6. The committee consisted of Peter Bleakley, W. B. Harrison Junior, E. Sinclair, P. Marshall and J. Taylor.
On Saturday, the 9th June 1860, R. N. Phillips invited the members and friends of No 8 (Phillips) Company to a Volunteer Fete at his home, Prestwich Park. After displays of Company and Light Infantry drill the 580 members and friends attending were entertained to refreshments.
7. Edward Ross, the company secretary of the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company was appointed Captain, Edward Lister Glover Captain of the Cheetham Hill Company and Thomas Brooks as Captain of the Knott Mill Company.
8. Manchester Faces & Places Volume 3 (Manchester 1892), p. 139.
9. Ibid., p. 142.
10. This has been the suggestion of Private (later Sergeant) J. B. Marsh of the Press Company. He became a reporter in the House of Commons and the whole Volunteer Force eventually adopted the motto.

Table 1: Manchester Rifle Volunteers (Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps) (11)

Total enrolled strengths: 1860 – 2,984. 1861 – 3,189. 1862 – 2,786.

Battalion Year Establishment Enrolled and Serving Exempt from Militia Not Exempt Date of Inspection
6th LRVC
1st Mcr
1860 1242 969 969   26-May
1861 1301 882 882   06-Jul
1862 1301 703 703   19-Jul
21st LRVC
(Wigan)
1860 206 132 96 36 R & W (12)
1861 201 135 59 76 R & W
1862 200 133 23 110 06-Sep
23rd LRVC
(Ashton)
1860 309 219 185 34 No Info
1861 400 289 256 33 R & W
1862 400 271 248 23 26-Apr
28th LRVC
2nd Mcr
1860 932 631 631   Aug-60
1861 900 678 567 111 20-Jul
1862 900 691 414 277 R & W
31st LRVC
(Oldham)
1860 100 92 67 25 R & W
1861 300 196 180 16 R & W
1862 234 226 188 38 03-May
33rd LRVC
(Ardwick)
1860 400 317 317   R & W
1861 500 390 349 41 06-Jul
1862 1100 723 573 150 R & W
40th LRVC
3rd Mcr
1860 1000 719 719   R & W
1861 1000 785 669 116 29-Jun
1862 1000 698 637 61 28-Jun

Table 2: Amalgamations of Manchester Rifle Volunteers (Lancashire Rifle Volunteers Corps)

The six Corps in the left hand column were obliged to disband and amalgamate with other units, mainly through lack of finance.

Corp Established Absorbed by Date
28th (Manchester) 21 February 1860 33rd (Ardwick) 1864
43rd (Fallowfield) 11 February 1860 6th (Manchester) 1860
46th (Swinton) 24 February 1860 6th (Manchester) 1860
55th (Leigh) 3 March 1860 21st (Wigan) 1861
67th (Worsley) 7 May 1860 21st (Wigan) 1861
78th (Manchester) 2 November 1860 33rd (Ardwick) 1862

11. Annual Inspection returns in the Lord Lieutenancy files, Lancashire Record Office Ref LN14 & 20.
12. R & W—‘Ready and Willing’ for inspection.

The Urban Volunteer

Many had assumed that the middle classes of society would play a leading role in the formation of the Volunteer Movement. This was happening in London and in rural areas where the interests of the landed gentry were closely associated with established Yeomanry and Militia regiments. Manchester, however, had few landed gentry and recruitment was largely dependent upon the support of those living in the area.

Viscount Grey de Wilton was the first Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st Manchesters. The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres commanded the Wigan Volunteers and Algernon Egerton MP, later Earl of Ellesmere, commanded the 3rd Manchesters from May 1860 until 1891. The Earl of Stamford and Warrington, a considerable landowner in Ashton-under-Lyne, strongly supported the Ashton Rifle Volunteers and was their Honorary Colonel from 1871 until his death in 1883.

All played their part in those early days and continued to do so for many years. But they were few in number and leadership came from successful professional men or employers of labour such as the paternalistic Manchester banking, merchant and manufacturing dynasties of Heywood, Pilkington and Philips. Their leadership in those formative years continued well into the twentieth century.

Membership of the different units varied considerably. Those who enlisted in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Manchester Volunteers were mainly warehousemen and clerks, living in the inner suburbs and enlisting at a headquarters conveniently near to the warehouse or office where they worked. Men who were later to enlist in the Ardwick, Oldham and Wigan Corps were more likely to be artisans or workers in local mills and factories. In all these areas there was to be a remarkable response from skilled workers demonstrating, as one prominent Volunteer, wrote, ‘even a higher public-spirit than the professional volunteers. (13)

The rules established by the newly-formed Volunteer Corps clearly indicated the character of the different units and the intended ‘class’ of the membership. Each corps had both honorary and enrolled members. Honorary members could wear the uniform of the corps, but had no military duties.

For this privilege they paid an annual subscription of between one and three guineas. Enrolled members were divided between effectives and non-effectives; the effectives being those who could comply with the modest drill requirements laid down in the Government circulars. (14) All enrolled members paid an annual subscription, usually ranging from one guinea to ten shillings and six pence. In many corps there was also an entrance fee, but in Manchester this only applied during the formation of the very first companies.

However, there was a great deal of local concern regarding the affordability of the movement to the average young man: “A great proportion of our Volunteer force now consists of young clerks, young shop men, small tradesmen, workmen and other persons of similar means, that is to say, men who work hard to earn...between £80 and £150 a year. The lowest annual expenditure of each Volunteer is £50”. (15)

Fundraising was a constant requirement. At the annual meeting of the 2nd Regiment in early February 1861 members were told that expenses had been in excess of what might be anticipated in the future. Expenses totalled £1,600 with a deficit of £350. However the accounts were passed and the deficit was made up immediately by the Lieutenant-Colonel paying £50, Majors and Captains £25 each. (16)

13. R. Q. Gray, The Labour Aristocracy in Victorian Edinburgh (Oxford, 1976), p. 102.
14. Beckett, Riflemen Form, p.41.
15. Volunteer Journal (5 Feb. 1870), p.41.
16. Ibid., p. 302.

The Artisan Volunteer

It is easy enough to understand why the middle-class was attracted to Volunteering; it is more difficult to understand why, without direct coercion from their employers, artisans and frequently underpaid and overworked clerks and labourers should volunteer. On the other hand as the Volunteer Movement developed so did the scope for recreational activities.

Opportunities for a wider and more interesting life were now becoming possible through the emergence of the Rifle Volunteer Movement in the form of balls, camps, concerts, dramatic societies and indeed the raising of regimental bands which in itself encouraged a vigorous revival of amateur music-making. (17)

In November 1859 five employees of Francis Preston, owner of the Ardwick Coachworks in Chancery Lane, and himself an officer in the 1st Manchester Rifle Volunteers, decided to form what was described as an ‘Artizan Company of Riflemen’. It was agreed that the officers were to be elected by the members, but were not to have entire control, as this would be vested in a committee consisting of three officers, two Sergeants and four Privates, after the fashion, already established, of the Glasgow and Edinburgh Rifles. (18).

There was a quick reaction to the formation and thirty-three men were attested. The Ardwick men decided that artisans from any part of Manchester should be eligible to join the Corps, provided ‘they are respectable’. To come within the meaning of this term they stipulated that ‘each man must own two suits of clothes - one suit for Sundays and one for working days’.

The committee felt that this would be a good criterion of the man’s general habits and conduct. The idea of respectability was fundamentally Victorian in its concern for style and appearance as well as personal morality. (19) It seems reasonable to infer that the Volunteer Movement with its basic values of patriotism and citizenship, together with the growing enthusiasm for healthy recreation, offered the skilled worker the ideal opportunity of achieving and maintaining this respectability.

Such was local enthusiasm that five days later an advertisement (20) announced that ‘The 1st Company of the Ardwick Volunteers is now filled and a list for the 2nd Company is opened’. A further hundred volunteers assembled at Lyon Street and enlisted. No time was wasted and on the 28th November the officers of the 1st and 2nd Companies were elected and on the 29th Mr A. Wilmot Mawson,(21) a Manchester solicitor and local landowner, agreed to promote the formation of the 3rd Company. Headquarters were established at 1 Ardwick Green, with accommodation at the local Assembly Rooms being hired for drill.

Elsewhere in neighbouring Ancoats a meeting was held to form the Ancoats Corps or ‘Working Men’s College Rifle Company. This was agreed, but it was later decided that they should ask to join the Ardwick Corps, which they did as the 4th (Ancoats) Company. (22) The services of the Ardwick Volunteers were officially accepted by the War Office in January 1860 as the 33rd Lancashire Rifle Volunteers (Ardwick). Captain Preston, resigned from the 1st Manchester Rifle Volunteers in order to command the unit. ‘because the working men of the Ardwick Corps had elected him. (23)

17. B. Rose, ‘The Volunteers of 1859’,JSAHR 37(1959), p. 106.
18. Manchester Guardian, 17 Nov. 1859.
19. G. Crossick, An Artisan Elite in Victorian Society (London, 1979).
20. Manchester Guardian, 19 Nov. 1859.
21. A. Wilmot Mawson, a resident at Allerton Mount, Ardwick Green. He was a Manchester solicitor with offices at 4 Booth Street. He later commanded the 33rd Lancashire Rifle Volunteers 1872/5.
22. 4th (Ancoats) Company: Capt Julius Kitzitoff, Lt John Hodges, Ensign Charles Schwabe.
23. Manchester Courier, 3 Dec. 1859.

Whilst all this activity was taking place within Manchester and its close environments, a similar wave of enthusiasm was affecting the nearby towns of Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham to the east of the city and in the smaller towns to the west towards Wigan. By October 1859 a movement had begun in Ashton-under-Lyne to establish a volunteer corps. About 120 young men applied to enrol (24) and it was decided to form two companies.

Support was given by The Reporter which frequently emphasised the threat of French martial activities. On the 12th November further support came in the form of a letter addressing the ‘Young men of Ashton. If you now can join the Rifle Volunteers and are not required to fight, the drilling you will have will be conducive to your health, therefore you will not only prove a benefactor to your country but to yourselves.’

Conditions of joining the 1st Company in Ashton-under-Lyne were that each member should provide his own uniform and pay one guinea annually to the funds of the corps. In December 1859 about 90 Volunteers were sworn in at the Ashton Town Hall. A meeting was then held for the purpose of electing the officers. (25) Considerable financial support was received and funds reached £1,000 with a gift of £100 from the Earl of Stamford and £50 from the local metal foundry of H. Lees & Sons. (26)

A small amount of local opposition to the formation of the Ashton Corps was made by the Mayor who, despite lack of support, tried to ban the use of Town Hall facilities for the storage and cleaning of rifles.(27) The newspaper The Reporter quickly took him to task and in their editorial chastised him as being the solitary municipal dignitary in Great Britain who had set himself in open hostility to the Volunteer Movement.

There was much support for the Ashton Volunteers and The Reporter helped to raise interest by continuing to emphasise the threat from France. Recruitment progressed and by January 1860 four companies had been formed. Prior to enlistment applicants had to provide a character reference from their employer and one from a respectable inhabitant of the town.(28) The original members of the 1st Company had paid an annual fee of one guinea, but it was agreed that members of the new companies should just pay half a guinea.

Derbyshire(29) describes the raising of the Wigan Volunteers by Nathanial Eckersley and its dependence upon artisans from the predominately industrial area, employed in the local collieries and engineering works, but recruiting their officers from local professional men. Small towns, such as Leigh, Swinton, Worsley and Farnworth, located in the country between Manchester and Wigan enthusiastically raised companies of volunteers, but were too small to remain independent and were later absorbed into the Wigan Corps as companies, whilst retaining their own local drill rooms

24. Amongst these were John Lees of Park Bridge, who later became the first commanding officer, Samuel Lees of Park Bridge, Samuel Lees and Henry Lees of Portland Place, Frank Andrew, Ely Andrew, John Nield, James Henry Garforth, Charles Chadwick, James S. Eaton, John Eaton, George Burrows, John Arthur Smith, John Ross Coulthart and Joseph M. Clementson.
25. 1st Company - Capt John Lees, Lt Thomas Mellor, Ensign James Henry Garforth. 2nd Company - Capt Ely Andrew, Lt Joseph Clementson, Ensign John Nield.
26. Volunteer Journal, 3 Dec. 1859.
27. Ashton Reporter, 14 Jan. 1860.
28 Volunteer Journal, 21 Jan. 1860, p. 278.
29. G. Derbyshire, A Wigan Military Chronicle (Wigan, 1958) (typescript in Wigan Archive Centre).

Mitchinson records the Volunteer movement in nearby Oldham in November 1859 when a circular letter and advertisement addressed to gentlemen of the town requested their attendance at the Angel Inn where discussions would be held on the means of creating a local Volunteer Rifle Corps. (30) A public meeting was later held in the Town Hall, which the Chronicle reported as overflowing.

More than one hundred men were prepared to pay the three-guinea entrance fee and one guinea annual subscription, and pay for their own uniform. Not surprisingly this sort of expense could only be borne by the middle-class patriots of Oldham and was a distinct bar to further recruiting in the town.

Nevertheless Oldham was experiencing the same sort of enthusiasm as had been seen in Manchester and a further meeting was held at the Angel Hotel on the 12th September 1860, (31) when a 2nd Company was proposed with the entrance fee reduced to 30 shillings; a third to be paid on joining and the remainder weekly. As a result 40 men were enrolled during the first week. This success encouraged the formation of a 3rd Company some three weeks later. (32) However it was not until 1863 that a 4th Company, known as the ‘Irish Company’ was raised. It only had a brief existence and within two years its members were dispersed amongst the other three companies.

It is evident that the Manchester Volunteer Movement represented an amalgam of middle and working class groups, more particularly the higher artisan ranks of the working classes. Now integrated within the hierarchical structure of military life, membership in the Volunteer Companies effectively cut across the class divisions of early and mid-nineteenth century Manchester.

Motivation And Duties; Leisure And Social Activities

Come, let our silver bugle ring
(The gift of graceful beauty)
When’er they call we’ll gaily spring
To do our soldiers’ duty (33)

In 1860 the Manchester Rifle Volunteers, together with the Manchester Volunteer Artillery, held their first major parade ‘showing the flag’ to the public. They assembled next to the Infirmary in Piccadilly and marched several miles through the southern inner suburbs, each battalion on the way home breaking off when it came to its own headquarters.

The first local review was held on the 11th August at Newton le Willows. Then on the 1st September the Lancashire Rifle Volunteers paraded at Knowsley Park, Liverpool where they were reviewed and entertained by the Earl of Derby. The Manchester Volunteers, travelled by train to Huyton, and then marched the two and a half miles to the park.

30. K. W. Mitchinson, Amateur Soldiers (Oldham, 1999), p. 4.
31. N. Worthington, Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire presided. Present were Capt George Blackburn, Lt Hamilton Greaves, Ensign William Blackburn and Surgeon Armitage of the 1st Company.
32. Officers of the 3rd Oldham Company to be Dr Armitage, John William Mellor and James Frederick Tweedale.
33. Samuel Lover, London Irish Rifles.

Nearly 12,000 Volunteers paraded, totally outnumbered by massive crowds of spectators. Special trains had been despatched from all the large towns within 50 miles of Knowsley and excursion trains came from even further. Thousands of the citizens of Liverpool and the surrounding area travelled to the parade by horse drawn carriages and on foot. At Knowsley each Volunteer Company was given its own tent and after the parade supplied, by courtesy of Lord Derby, with refreshments for sixty men and one three gallon barrel of beer. More beer, brewed at Knowsley, was available, as were supplies of lemonade and food.

Table 3: Manchester Rifle Volunteers of the 2nd Brigade in the Knowsley Review

Battalion Commanded by Officers NCOs Men Total
1st Manchester Lt-Col Viscount Grey de Wilton 30 40 600 670
33rd (Ardwick) Major Cunliffe 14 14 300 328
2nd Manchester Lt-Col Deakin 31 50 500 581
3rd Manchester Lt-Col Egerton 20 40 400 460

The correspondent of The Times was flattering in his summary of the Review and the marching of the men of the 1st Manchester Rifle Volunteers particularly impressed The Daily News. However, there was criticism (34) of the behaviour of some of the Volunteers after the parade who had no doubt over-indulged in Lord Derby’s hospitality. Some of this evidently applied to certain members of the Ashton Volunteers, who found themselves facing a Court of Inquiry some days later. (35) The court was composed of the officers and two members of each company elected by the Volunteers themselves.

The accused (36) were charged with alleged irregularity and misconduct for leaving the ranks without leave at Knowsley. All were found guilty; each was fined sixpence and given a strong warning that similar offences would not be dealt with so leniently.

The pattern of Volunteer activities hardly changed throughout the existence of the force. Company and battalion drills were always first priority and had to be completed satisfactorily before the Annual Inspection.

The continuing need to attract recruits was of constant importance. An essential element was the development of an identity associated with the Volunteer’s neighbourhood; to make them feel to be a local cog in a much larger machine. It was also important to be as comfortable as possible with each other. In its battalion orders the Ardwicks frequently included a short recruiting note that ‘Members of the battalion are invited to introduce respectable young men to join the Regiment’.

34. Letter in Lancashire and Cheshire Volunteer Journal, Vol. 2, p. 20.
35. lbid., p. 33.
36. The ten accused were John James Slater, Walker Brown, Thomas Langstaff, John Gordon, James Etchells, Thomas Moss, William Buckley, William Hurst, James Bennison and Sergeant Wright.

Shooting Competitions And The Formation of The County Rifle Association

After the initial patriotic fervour, it was primarily as a recreational pursuit that the Volunteer movement had so much appeal to the young men of Manchester, particularly as its disciplined pursuit of leisure endowed volunteering with a strongly moral purpose.John Heap.  Many of John’s sporting medals are now on display in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment

Even the activities dictated primarily by military necessity such as musketry and the frequent rifle meetings had the additional social benefit of accompanying dinners or entertainment. (37) Musketry was considered to be the next most important activity as ‘that most interesting, healthful and manly exercise which the Rifle Movement is supposed to supply, and which is calculated, perhaps more than anything else, to keep alive the enthusiasm of the Volunteers’.

County Rifle Associations began to appear in the mid-1860s with the purpose of organising rifle competitions and to finance training camps. The Manchester Volunteers had already taken the lead in this initiative and in September 1860 a five-day rifle meeting was held on the expanse of the beach at Southport, with prize money in excess of £750 plus many cups and medals. As a result of the success of the Manchester initiative, preliminary arrangements were made for the formation of a Lancashire County Rifle Association.

37. Beckett, The Amateur Military Tradition, p. 176

Leisure And Social Activities

Activities of financial necessity, such as fund raising balls, concerts, bazaars and theatrical performances all added to the entertainment available through membership of the Volunteers, as did the internal activities of the various units such as dinners, prize givings, shooting clubs, cricket and football teams.

Many Volunteers maintained an interest in their local theatres and on the 28th September the officers and members of the Manchester Volunteers gave their patronage to the opening of the new season at the Queen’s Theatre and again on the 11 November 1860 when the Shakespeare Society gave a performance. Volunteer amateur theatricals were regularly organised; officers and members of the 2nd Regiment gave a performance in the Free Trade Hall in aid of the funds of the Corps.

Women were now playing an important role in helping to create a pride in the new corps by presenting silver bugles and other artefacts of military splendour. On the 23 March 1860 Mrs Ross, wife of the Captain, presented a silver bugle to number 4 Company of the 3rd Regiment at their Store Street Headquarters. After evening drill on the 20 June 1860 the Press Company was ‘presented with an inscribed silver bugle by Mrs Mayson, wife of the company commander.

Ross Bugle now in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment Collection During the evening of the 7 August members of the Newton Heath Company of the 3rd Regiment assembled at the Mechanics Institute, Miles Platting to receive a silver bugle from Mrs Charles Ellis, wife of the Captain. The Worsley Corps, later to be absorbed into the Wigan Corps, was presented with a silver bugle by the Countess of Ellesmere on 20 October 1860. (38) In April 1861 the ladies of Oldham raised funds of £150 and presented their three companies of Volunteers with a set of colours together with a set of silver plated bugles and a pair of cymbals. (39) On 18 November 1860 the ladies of Burnage, one of the new residential districts of south Manchester, presented a silver bugle to the recently formed 6th Company of the 2nd Manchesters. All these were opportunities for the Volunteers to show their paces and for all concerned to enjoy a lavish social occasion. (40)

However increasing expense became a serious problem. Self-sufficiency had never been realistic and public subscriptions were difficult to maintain. The 2nd Manchester Rifle Volunteers hired the Free Trade Hall for an evening of amateur theatricals on the 11 November 1860 in aid of their funds. Support was also provided by their professional colleagues of the Regular Army. A Grand Ball was held in the Free Trade Hall during December in aid of the funds of the Volunteers and over 1,700 guests were reported as dancing to the band of the 10th Hussars. In April 1861 officers of the 84th Regiment gave an amateur theatrical performance in the Theatre Royal in aid of the 4th Manchester Rifle Volunteers and, according to the Volunteer Journal, played to a crowded house.

38. Volunteer Service Gazette, 10 Nov. 1860, p. 95.
39. Volunteer Journal, 14 Apr. 1861, p. 36.
40. Volunteer Service Gazette, 26 Nov. 1860, p. 19.

Permanent Headquarters

For a number of years individual units had suffered from the need for adequate headquarters and drill halls. 1st Manchesters moved their headquarters to an office at 1 Brown Street in March 1865 and moved again the following year in July to Wolstenholme Court in Market Street. They carried out their drills in Barker’s Riding School in Greenheys, but none of these arrangements were satisfactory. In order to raise funds a successful week-long bazaar was organised at the St. James’s Hall and raised almost £7,000.

The 3rd Manchester RVC, to be redesignated 16th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers in 1880, had its first headquarters at 11 Deansgate (41) and used the top storey of a large loom warehouse in Store Street for their drill purposes. Six storeys high meant a climb of 100 steps to reach it. (42) They moved to 134 Deansgate in September 1881, but this was not an ideal situation. To resolve this Lieutenant-Colonel the Earl of Ellesmere bought land in Burlington Street, Greenheys that would be suitable for a combined headquarters and drill shed.

Although a Government capitation grant had been made in 1863, this only went part way towards unit expenses. Government aid was not available for the construction and equipping of headquarters and the raising of necessary funds entailed considerable generosity and hard work. It was now necessary to raise funds to equip the new HQ. This was achieved by the holding of a five-day Grand Bazaar in November 1884. Everybody played their part, particularly wives, daughters and friends.

41. Manchester Faces & Places Vol 3 (Manchester 1892), pp. 139—42.
42. J. Kenyon, ‘Early Days of the Manchester Volunteers’, The Manchester Regiment Gazette 3/3 (July 1923), pp. 131—32.

Elsewhere the Wigan Volunteers were, by instruction of War Office letter dated the10th March 1860, designated 21st Lancashire Rifle Volunteers with Headquarters in Manchester. However, as all its constituent companies were based on the western side of Manchester with its establishment of thirteen companies located in Wigan (5), Farnworth (2), Swinton, Eccles, Leigh, Atherton, Worsley and Flixton, it was decided that a more appropriate headquarters would be in Wigan.

In preparation for the building of a permanent headquarters it was decided to raise the necessary funds by the formation of a limited liability company, with a capital of £6,000. Shares to be £1 each, to be paid in small instalments so that the Rank and File could be members.

When Henry Rocca (43) took over command of the Ardwick Corps in December 1885 the headquarters were still in the original old house at 1 Ardwick Green. One of his first priorities was the provision of a proper home for the Volunteers. (44) It was decided that the most sensible and practical course was to buy the existing building which had been their HQ for so many years and at the same time acquire the freehold of the site.

Rather than carry out the usual methods of raising funds for such a project by soliciting donations and holding fund-raising bazaars, Colonel Rocca generously provided the necessary funds at a low rate of interest. This to be repaid out of the Government capitation grants as circumstances permitted, and this arrangement was sanctioned by the War Office, allowing planning to proceed.

In Oldham the Volunteers’ headquarters had originally been in the office of George Blackburn, solicitor and founder of the Corps. Parades were held on a nearby piece of wasteland known as the Intake. (45) This was later purchased by public subscription and an armoury, drill hall and surrounding wall built at a cost of £700.

However, in case the Volunteer Movement should prove to be a passing whim, Oldham native caution decreed that the drill hall was designed to be easily converted into houses for the working classes. Later in 1884 a further £2,100 was raised by both public subscription and the officers of the battalion to enlarge the drill hall. (46) This willingness of the citizens to pay for the facilities through public subscription was a real expression of faith in the Oldham Volunteers and their future.

Fundraising for a Drill Room in Ashton-under-Lyne commenced in April 1861. The intention was to erect a drill room on the Rectory Field; a satisfactory rental was agreed, new gates erected and building was to commence as soon as possible. (47) The HQ of the Ashton Corps continued to be located in office accommodation in the town. Twenty-five years later the Ashton Volunteers had outgrown these rented premises and held a highly successful Grand Bazaar in May 1886, which raised £4,000 to acquire and build a permanent headquarters and drill hall in Old Street.

43. Henry Lewis Rocca. Born Hamburg, Germany 1831 came to England in 1851. Settled in Manchester and in 1857 became a naturalised British subject. Later became a principal of a firm of merchants and shippers. Joined the Ardwick Corps in the summer of 1866 and, although offered a commission, insisted on drilling in the ranks until he became proficient. He was promoted to Lt on the 19th November 1866. Capt on the 3 November 1869, Major on the 10 January 1877 and Lt-Col on the 10 January 1885. He was one of the first recipients of the first issue of the Volunteer Officers’ decoration. He died 27 Dec. 1916.
44. Lt-Col Aspland, Majors Hopkins and Brown. Capt Galloway subsequently joined the committee.
45. Oldham Evening Chronicle, 21 Dec 1998.
46. Mitchinson, Amateur Soldiers, p. 5.
47. Lancashire and Cheshire Volunteer, Vol. 2, Apr. 1861, pp. 64, 68.

Annual Camp

The officers, wives and children of the 5th Volunteer Battalion at annual camp, Blackpool, 1899 (MRP1/E/11). Camps, which in most parts of the country began to be held from about 1864/65, were primarily of a military nature, but also took on the appearance of major social events. (48) The 16th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers had, as early as June 1861, endeavoured to hold a local camp on Kersal Moor, despite many local objections.

According to The Volunteer Journal ‘many supporters of the volunteer movement entertained an idea that the removal of so many young men from their families would induce an amount of license that the necessarily imperfect discipline of a volunteer camp would be insufficient to countenance’. Nevertheless the majority felt that it would be a success to be followed by other official camps. Unfortunately, for the enthusiasts, during the following week the War Department said that there had been so many requests for tents that they had to refuse. The scheme for that year was therefore abandoned.

For many of the young men of Manchester the camps that followed presented an opportunity of not only indulging in their military hobby, but of enjoying a holiday, usually by the seaside, which under different circumstances they would not have been able to afford. The 6th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers held their first camp in 1874, camping at Lytham. Other places such as Blackpool, Aldershot, Scarborough, Salisbury Plain were the scene of following Whitsuntide camps. Although there was never a ‘wakes week’ as such in Manchester, Whitsun served as the town’s annual holiday. (49) It was therefore a most suitable time for annual camp, causing the least inconvenience to employers and employees alike.

The 4th, 7th and 22nd Lancashire Rifle Volunteers based in the industrial towns were fortunate in that all the mills closed at the same time during their local two- week Wakes and annual camp was therefore arranged to coincide. This was fine for the unmarried Volunteer, but for the married family men it was a difficult decision to be prepared to spend their entire precious two weeks annual holiday at camp with their comrades, rather than at home with their family.

However the evolution of annual camp provided Volunteers with the opportunity of realistic training in military affairs and the benefit of fresh air and exercise away from the atmosphere of the city. Such was the popularity of these camps that wives and families would visit for the day, usually on the middle Sunday of the camp. A real ‘day out’ to see the Volunteers.

48. Beckett, Riflemen Form, p. 115.
49. A. Kidd. Manchester (Keele, 1993), p. 132.

Cycling: The New Pastime

By the late 1880s some of the Manchester battalions had raised either a company or section of cyclists. Cycling was emerging as a keen organised amateur recreation. The YMCA had formed the earliest clubs in the area and the pursuit of cycling was considered ‘manly’ and ‘healthy’. The cycling craze had taken off after the invention of the safety bike and the growth of mass production brought ownership within the reach of working men and women. (50) It was hoped that the use of the bicycle would not only persuade the growing number of enthusiastic cyclists to enlist in the Volunteer Force, but also help to compensate for the lack of mobile cavalry support.

50. Ibid., p. 33.

Table 4: Occupation of the Total Strength of the Wigan Corps in 1884

A. Industrial Groups as percentage of total B. Other Occupations as Percentage of Total
1. Printing 1.70% 1. Food and Drink 3.40%
2. Building 43.00% 2. Education 0.90%
3. Engineering and Metal 25.00% 3. Managerial 1.70%
4. Clothing 3.30% 4. Clerks 12.00%
5. Transport 3.00% 5. Other Manufacturing 6.00%

Specific Numbers of Individuals in Each Category

A. Industrial Groups B. Other Occupations
1. Printing 1. Food and Drink
Printer 2 Baker 3
Bookbinder 1 Barman 1
Compositor 1 Innkeeper 1
2. Building Butcher 1
Mason 4 Bottler 3
Joiner 25 2. Education
Slater and Plasterer 2 Schoolmaster 1
Labourer 62 Librarian 1
Plumber 6 3. Managerial
Brick Setter 12 Foreman 3
3. Engineering and Metal Manager 2
Engineer (mining) 11 4. Clerks
Colliery Worker 26 Clerks 33
Blacksmith 3 Salesman 3
Brass Manufacture 6 5. Other Manufacturing
Tin Worker 3 Furniture 5
Iron Manufacture 4 Boat Builder 1
Patternmaker 1 Coachbuilder 2
Foundry Worker 15 Brushmaker 1
Fitter 6 Cleaner 9
4. Clothing
Shoemaker/Clogger 3
Draper 2
Other Clothing 5
5. Transport
Carrier/Carter 5
Telegraphist 1
Engine Cleaner 2

 

Extracted From 1884 Muster Roll. Wigan Local Studies Library

Beckett (51) describes ‘the Volunteers and Regulars...became rather carried away in their enthusiasm for the bicycle, “a machine capable of great possibilities in the future of actual warfare”. The cyclist could perform all the functions of cavalry in rapid movement, reconnaissance and carrying messages; could act as “saboteur” behind enemy lines and had the additional advantage over the cavalryman of not requiring forage and of being able to take his machine into the firing line. Indeed there seemed no limit to the potential of the bicycle’.

During March 1888 there was correspondence between the War Office and Lord Ellesmere of the 16th LRVC concerning Cycling Sections. The 16th had already formed a Cyclist Section, wearing knee breeches and stockings instead of trousers and shoes instead of boots. The War Office wished each section to be provided with a standard machine. Ellesmere replied that unless the government provided the machines, or gave an extra capitation grant to cover their purchase, it was impossible to do otherwise than let the owners ride their own machines.

He also urged that a specific uniform should be authorised as the tunic was too tight for cycling and its colour too conspicuous. Also that the officer should not wear a sword and the NCOs and privates should be armed with revolvers as well as rifles and bayonets. Whatever the outcome, during the next five years both the Ashton-under-Lyne and the Stretford Road Volunteers each raised a company of approximately forty cyclists and at their annual camp in Blackpool in 1895 the Ardwick Corps had a cyclist section consisting of one officer and eleven Volunteers.

51. Beckett, Riflemen Form, p. 201.

Manchester Tactical Society

The military education of officers had been an area in which the Volunteers were left largely to their own devices and from the early beginnings their training had been in the hands of the Adjutant, himself an ex-Regular Army officer, and his permanent staff. From time to time officers were temporarily attached to Regular Army or Militia Battalions, but for the majority of young officers there was no systematic instruction in tactics or other duties, apart from the experience they picked up at camp or from studying training manuals.

In February 1881 Captain Henry Spenser Wilkinson (52) of the Ardwick Battalion and six fellow officers established the Manchester Tactical Society ‘to apply their drill and other training to the actual problems of war by way of discussions, tactical exercises, tactical excursions and war games. (53) As the result of Manchester’s lead, tactical examinations were introduced for all Volunteer officers; war games became popular and other areas followed in forming their own Tactical Societies.

52 Capt Henry Spenser Wilkinson (1853—1937). Journalist with the Manchester Guardian 1882—92 and the Morning Post 1895—1914. Author of The Brain of an Army (Westminster, 1890) and Citizen Soldier (London, 1883). First Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford, 1909—1923.

53. Beckett, Rifleman Form, p.191

By 1899 there was little doubt that British society was much more militaristic than it had been 40 years earlier at the formation of the Volunteer Movement. To some extent the existence of the Volunteers contributed to a greater sense of national security than during the 1840s or 1850s. Popular literature such as William Le Queux’s novel, The Great War in England in 1897, published in July 1894, and going to eight editions by December that year, contributed to the public’s imagination, particularly with its vivid description of the gallant role of the Lancashire Volunteers in incidents such as the ‘Gallant stand by cyclists in Parr(s) Wood’ and the ‘Great battle on the Mersey’. However it was in its contribution to the process of social integration that the Volunteer Movement was so successful. -

All battalions of the Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps became Volunteer Battalions of their County Line Regiments between 1888 and 1890. Accordingly the Manchester Battalions became the 1st to 6th Volunteer Battalions of the Manchester Regiment. In 1908 all were redesignated as battalions of the Territorial Force.

Their numbering now commenced at number five allowing for the existing numbering of the two Line Battalions and the two Militia Battalions of the Regiment

The Boer War was to demonstrate the importance of the Voluntary principle in support of the Regular Army. Four Service Companies were raised by the Manchester Volunteer Battalions to serve with the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Manchester Regiment whilst many others served in the Imperial Yeomanry, Medical Corps and other units. However, this was just an indication of its potential which, under its new designation as the Territorial Force, was fully demonstrated in its swift response to the call to active service at the outbreak of war in 1914.

When the six battalions of civilian soldiers from Manchester went to all-out war in Gallipoli, they fought with considerable professional competence against a well disciplined enemy in a static situation which their training had not prepared them for. However, despite the pressures and the problems of adjusting to a total military life, they vindicated all their pre-war critics. Gallipoli decimated the young men of the Territorial Battalions, the flower of Manchester’s professional and business community. Those who survived went on to consolidate their high reputation and spirit of service in the reformed and enlarged battalions which continued, carrying their names to the battlefields of France and Flanders.

The next generation of these part-time soldiers, now the Territorial Army, served with distinction throughout the world in all theatres of war during WWII, only to be disbanded in 1946.

Twelve months later they were reconstituted once again. The Manchester contribution was reduced to just two of the original units of 1859—one of almost constant change. Subsequent Governmental economies and regimental amalgamations have now (2008) reduced the strength of the Volunteer Infantry in Manchester to just a single company based in the Ardwick Green Headquarters.

The rebirth of the Volunteer Movement in Manchester in 1859—60 and its continued development into and throughout the 20th Century was highly successful. It united men of widely differing social groups in a common social experience and was of considerable benefit to society in promoting comradeship, self-discipline and improved health. It’s most important contribution must surely have been the introduction of military affairs to a section of society that had previously taken little interest in the army or in national defence.

It will be unfortunate if further strength reductions in the 21st Century compel the Volunteer Movement to distance itself from the community that it has served so well.

Table 5: Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps of Manchester Amalgamations and Title Changes

1859
Original Title
1860/63
Amalgamated Into
1888
Re-titled as Manchester Regiment Volunteer Battalions
1908
Retitled as Manchester Regiment Territorial Force Battalions
21st Wigan
46th Swinton
55th Leigh
67th Worsley
91st Flixton
4th LRVC 1st VB 5th TF (Wigan)
1st Manchester
43rd Fallowfield
6th LRVC 2nd VB 6th TF (Hulme)
23rd Ashton 7th LRVC 3rd VB 9th TF (Ashton)
3rd Manchester
(40th LRVC)
16th LRVC 4th VB 7th TF (Greenheys)
33rd Ardwick
2nd Manchester
4th Manchester
70th Droylsden
20th LRVC
28th LRVC
78th LRVC
5th VB 8th TF (Ardwick)
31st Oldham 22nd LRVC 6th VB 10th TF (Oldham)

The final numbering of the Territorial Force Battalions in 1908 commenced at number five, allowing for the two Regular Army and two Militia Battalions already existing in the Manchester Regiment.