Shell jacket

Collections Assistant Zoe Utley has chosen an item from our collection which hints at the glamour of being a militiaman in mid 19th century Richmond…

“Recent visitors to the museum may have been able to sneak a peek into one of our archive stores.  That’s because we’re currently working hard on our Uniform Collection Project.

The archive lies behind a rather unassuming door, which leads to a small hoard of uniform dating back as far as the late 18th century.

As a part of the Uniform Collection Project, an inventory is currently underway of this collection and is bringing to light some of the star items the museum looks after. The inventory gives us a good  opportunity to check storage conditions and maintain records but it’s also the perfect time to have a good rummage through the items that we can’t have on permanent display.

After going through multiple pairs of rather smelly boots, coming across an object such as this shell jacket is a welcome relief.  It would have been worn by a member of the North Yorkshire Militia.

Although the museum is primarily the home of the Green Howards Regiment, we also look after a significant collection of Militia and Volunteer uniforms. Militia units were originally raised by ballot, but in 1852 service in the Militia became voluntary.

Men could enlist into the North Yorkshire Militia to take advantage of the extra pay, the excitement of an annual camp away from home and the glamour of the uniform. The Militia was a domestic force, acting as an early Territorial Army.

Richmond was the hub of the 2nd battalion and training for the North Yorkshire Militia took place here.

While training, the officers stayed, or ‘messed’ at The King’s Head Hotel. This shell jacket is most likely of the type worn just across the road from this very museum at some point between 1854-1870.

Militia uniforms were becoming more standardised, following the colours and style of the regular army more closely than previously. However, mess uniform was still often highly decorated and provided the opportunity to display a person’s status.

This particular shell jacket is one of the most highly decorated jackets in the collection.

The embroidered foliage covers the sleeves, collar, shoulders and the back of the jacket.

Black velvet has been used to decorate the cuffs and collar.

The braided decoration across the front of the jacket is known as ‘frogging’ and is created by looping braid across the body.

This type of decoration is more often found, in a much simplified version, on patrol jackets worn while on duty.

The high quality material and decoration suggests a wealthy man who wished to display his status and wealth to the other officers of the mess.

This extravagance extends even to the lining of the jacket which is also decorated with a stitched foliage motif.

Outward displays of status are mirrored throughout the mess, such as the regimental silver which was once used on a regular basis.

Such extravagance, pomp and circumstance served to highlight the same social barriers of class found in civilian society.”