Capt Danby’s belt plate

August’s object of the month is chosen by Museum Curator and Director, Lynda Powell.  It’s an oval shoulder belt plate, decorated with a rose and a crown and was worn by Captain W Danby of the Masham Independent Company of North York Volunteers.

“Richmond is currently celebrating its Georgian heritage with a festival of talks, guided walks and special displays. The Green Howards museum is contributing to the festival with a new special exhibition ‘Riotous Assembly’ which explores the role the militia played in maintaining law and order in Georgian times.

It is a fantastic opportunity to display some of our very early militia uniforms which have been in store for a number of years.

Captain William Danby of Swinton Park and Captain Hutton of Clifton Castle commanded the 120 men of the Masham Volunteers from 1795-1805.

Volunteer units were raised all over the country as the threat of invasion from Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops seemed frighteningly possible.

These late 18th century ‘Home Guard’ units consisted of groups of the ‘better off’ inhabitants of towns and villages, supported by their local gentry, who pledged to defend the local towns and villages when Napoleon and his armies crossed The Channel.

In 1804, the Masham Volunteers were called up for permanent duty in Richmond and the inns around the market square echoed with the song of the Mashamshire Volunteers:

We Volunteers of Masham, our clothing is of red,

And if we meet the Frenchmen we’ll make them us to dread;

Our clothing is of red, my boys, and turned up with black*,

But if we meet those French boys we’ll make their bones to crack.

A year later, on the 15th March 1805, it seemed that they were about to meet those ‘French boys’. Masham woke to the ringing of bells and the call, ‘To arms – to arms’.

News spread like wildfire that the beacons had been lit – signalling that the French had invaded. Soon men were under arms, in marching order and tramping to pre-determined battle positions on the coast.

It was not until the Masham Volunteers reached Thirsk that they discovered that the beacons had been lit by mistake. It had been a false alarm.

The signing of a peace treaty with France in 1802 led to the disbandment of the Masham volunteers. Captain Danby agreed that the muskets he had bought with his own money could be sold.  The money raised was used to support Masham’s Free School.

*The uniforms of volunteers in the North Riding were scarlet with black velvet facings and silver lace.

Entry to Riotous Assembly is included in your museum admission.