Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Bermondsey Volunteers

Neither Greenwich nor Industrial  - but this article is interesting and from the South Met. Gas Co's house magazine Co-partnership Journal in November 1908

One industrial link - the Col.Bevington mentioned is of course a member of the Bermondsey (and Erith) leather business. Is he the same Bevington whose statue stands in Tooley Street.


The events following upon the French Revolution led the British Parliament to pass an Act for the enrolment of Volunteers under the official title of 'Armed Associations.' A small but persistent minority in the House of Commons strongly resisted the measure, but Mr. Pitt’s Bill was carried amidst an outburst of popular enthusiasm, and in 1794 -one month after Lord Howe's naval victory over the French-the enrolment of Volunteers began. Bermondsey was the first parish south of the Thames to respond to the Proclamation. As early as 1793' a meeting took place in Bermondsey for the purpose of memorialising the Government to adopt these measures.     .

Two companies of seventy men each were enrolled under Major-Commandant Gaitskill, and received the title of The Bermondsey Volunteers.'

A further Proclamation was made in 1798, and this led to the formation of many other corps in the Metropolis and the provincial towns. First among the new enrolments was the Second Bermondsey Corps, known as 'The Bermondsey Loyal Volunteers,' under Captain Thomas Rich. This was followed by the formation of a company in Rotherhithe under Captain John Grice, and by similar companies in Newington, St. George's, Christ Church, and St. Saviour's, Southwark, and also by a company in St. John, Horselydown. Some of these, by the terms of enrolment, were to serve only in their own and the adjoining parishes, but the First Bermondsey Corps volunteered to be associated with the Militia to go to any part of the southern counties, and, if called upon, to garrison towns on the south coast.

The uniform of the Volunteers in the Metropolis was almost the same in every district, and only varied in the colour of the facings. This consisted of a coat cut away to show the waistcoat, the officer always wearing a frilled shirt and hair powder, and a helmet covered or partially covered with bearskin, and surmounted by a plume. The men were armed with a firelock, and a bayonet which screwed over the muzzle of the gun.

The colours carried by each of the corps were the gift of the ladies of the neighbourhood. One of the colours bears the tender suggestion, 'We Guard Those we Love,' whilst another, equally loyal but more prosaic, has ' Our King, Laws, and Trade.' These colours, six in all, were deposited in the Churches of St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey, and St. Mary, Rotherhithe, on the disbanding of the old Volunteers. In 1877 they were presented to Colonel Bevington and placed by him in the Drill Hall. They are fine specimens of embroidery, though now worn and faded. The 'Place of Arms,' as the headquarters used to be called, was for the First Corps, in the old Artillery Hall of Horselydown, which they shared with the company in that parish. The Second Corps had 'Jamaica House,' in Cherry Garden Street, pulled down about forty years ago.   The inspection ground for the corps of the locality was the' Spa Road Gardens,' -then a fashionable place of resort. The modern Volunteer movement, which was inaugurated in 1859, led to the enrolment of a corps in Bermondsey and another in Rotherhithe. The Rotherhithe Corps (23rd Surrey) was enrolled in 1861.

These two corps were amalgamated in 1863 under the title of the 4th Surrey Administrative Battalion, which was altered to the 6th Surrey Rifle Volunteers in 1881. This designation was changed to the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, the' Queen's' Royal West Surrey Regiment, in 1883, the uniform originally dark green with scarlet facings, ill conformity with the uniform of the 'Queen's' Royal West Surrey Regiment.

.The present commodious Drill Hall was built in 1876 from the design of Major Gale, architect; and erected at the expense of the late Colonel Bevington, who spared no means to make the battalion efficient. The spirit shown by the Volunteers of 1802 caused Charles Yorke, Secretary of War, to exclaim: If our martial spirit be once extinguished our wealth is vain and our commerce fruitless. For my own part I wish to see the spirit of valour flourish among our countrymen. I wish that every one of them should, as in the days of our ancestors, have his helmet and his sword suspended over his chimney ready to be put on, and his horse prepared to bear him against the first enemy that shall dare to invade his native land. .

 May these patriotic words be laid to heart by the young men whom Mr. Haldane invites to enter' the ranks of the Territorial Army.

 Mr. H.L.Phillips (Old Mortality) has kindly sent a newspaper cutting

 dated May 8, '1801, which reads as' follows :-

The Bermondsey Volunteers, commanded by Major Gaitskill, on Tuesday last had their first grand field day; for the summer, and were received at the Parade at the Spa, by Lord Onslow, Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Surrey. Notwithstanding the winter recess, the corps performed the various evolutions and firings with such accuracy and exactness, as was highly honourable to themselves and gratifying to the commanding officer, and which produced the most flattering commendations from his lordship. ' ,.

A numerous assemblage of spectators were admitted by tickets, to whom the gardens afforded the most delightful promenade, highly enlivened by the splendour 9Hhe day, and the beauty of the evening, and which greatly added to the gaiety of 'the scene. After the 'field exercise the corps, with Lord Onslow, the High Sheriff and a number of visitors partook of an excellent dinner given by the honorary members, for whose liberality and politeness the corps is much indebted.

This short account of a Volunteer 'field day' a century ago is interesting to compare with the reports of this year's Territorial Army manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain.-EDITOR.]


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