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The Bermondsey Volunteers of 1798.

[Newspaper cutting, source unknown, 1867]

To the Editor. Sir,—As the period is approaching when the peaceful inhabitants of Bermondsey will be aroused from their slumbers by the bugle sounding at the corners of their streets, and will find on inquiry that it is only their Regiment of Rifles collecting to add their quota to the Easter Monday Review, and they will doubtless feel a pleasure in the knowledge that in case of siege they can depend not only on their time-honoured leather, but also on their Volunteers.

Thinking perhaps the following notes respecting the Old Bermondsey Volunteers might not be out of place at the present time, I have gathered the following:—

On reference to the daily papers of December, 1792; at a meeting held in Bermondsey, the following resolutions were unanimously entered into :— "Being duly sensible of the blessings We and our fellow subjects enjoy under our inestimable Constitution, consisting of Kings, Lords and Commons whose mild and impartial laws equally favour and protect the Poor and Rich, the Servant and the Master, and animated by a steady and affectionate loyalty to our Sovereign, and thinking it our duty to assist in preventing to the utmost of our power the bad effects of mischievous publications as well as those meetings which have a tendency to produce Anarchy and Confusion. It is resolved that we will become an Association, and that we will to the utmost of our power support the present constitution, which secures to us the enjoyment of our rights and liberties, and that we will exert our vigilance and activity in discovering and bringing to justice all persons engaged in illegal associations or conspiracies tending to disturb the public peace and excite disaffection against the lawful government of this country."

"Resolved that we will hold ourselves in readiness to aid and assist the civil Magistrates in the suppression of all tumults and riots whatever."

"Resolved that a subscription be now entered into for defraying thenecessary expences of this Association."

The following gentlemen were then appointed a committee to carry out the above resolutions:-

Wm. Richardson, Esq. Messrs. Thomas Carter. Rev. Thos. Hambly (rector) John Gaitskell.

,, Hy. Cox Mason (lecturer). Thomas Hollands. John Browning, Esq. Josh. Gutteridge. John Rolls, Esq. John Buxton, sen.

Stephen Wright, Esq. Thomas Oliver. Hy. Sharp, Esq, Samuel Beddome. Messrs. Chas. Vowell. John Gopsall.

Thomas Goodsall. William Surflen. I. Undershell. John Hough. Thomas Gaitskell. William Bates. John Collins Josh. Smith. William Powell. John Sargeant. Charles Collins. John Lewis. John Varnham. John Butler. John Day. William Perkins. Samuel Uppom. Thomas Love. James Newsome. Henry Whittle.

John Scott. John Wilshire. John Peters. William Warne.

Robert Rich. Jeremiah Riley. John Davis. Charles Pettitt.

Thomas Walker. James Robson. James Warne. Thomas L. Letchmere.

Benjamin Phillips.

From this meeting the Bermondsey Volunteers took their rise

The Army, Navy and Volunteer list of 1801 gives us two Corps of Volunteers in Bermondsey with the following officers:—

The Bermondsey Volunteers.

Major Commandant Thomas Gaitskell commission dating 16 April, 1798.

Captain Simon Field 16 April, 1798.

First Lieutenants Hayter Reed 16 April, 1798.

" Henry Gaitskell 17 April, 1798.

Second Lieutenants Bowles Jordan 18 April, 1798.

" John Brandon ditto.

Chaplain: Rev. Henry Cox Mason 7 Feb., 1799.

Surgeon Samuel Henry Sterry 7 Feb., 1799.

Agent M'Croasdaile, Silver-street, Golden-square.

The Bermondsey Infantry Association.

Captain Robert Rich 30 May, 1798.

First Lieutenant James Riley 30 May, 1798.

Second Lieutenant Matthew Boyd 10 Oct., 1800.

The following was the engagement entered into by these Volunteers:—

"We, the undersigned, do agree to form ourselves into a Military Association under the name of the Loyal Bermondsey Volunteers, as soon as commissions can he procured for officers (to be chosen from among ourselves for that purpose), by whom only we are to be commanded, unless in ease of actual invasion, Rebellion or Riot, when it is in the power of His Majesty to place the Corps under the command of any superior or commanding officer of any other Corps, to whom it may be attached to do duty in this parish or in the adjoining parishes of Rotherhithe, Newington, the Borough of Southwark and its liberties, and in no case to march further; that we will furnish ourselves with an uniform, dress, arms, and accoutrements and serve without pay or emolument, and that we will abide by all such articles as a majority shall hereafter adopt, provided they do not alter this original engagement."

In 1794, on receipt of the Duke of Portland's letter, with reference to the Riots then prevailing, to the Magistrates of Union Hall, we find Thomas Gaitskell, Esq., Captain of the Bermondsey Volunteers, offering that the gentlemen who composed that Corps should assist the Civil Magistrates in any manner that should be thought consistent with the military situation.

June 4, 1799. The Volunteer Corps of the Metropolis and its vicinity assembled in Hyde-park on this occasion, and were reviewed by the King, who expressed the highest approbation of their appearance and conduct.

June 21, 1799. The Volunteer Corps of the Metropolis and its vicinity inspected by His Majesty at their several alarm posts. The King proceeded from Buckingham House over Westminster-bridge to the Asylum where the Surrey Corps were drawn up to receive him. Having passed these with the usual salute, he entered the City by way of Blackfriars-bridge. The number reviewed at St. George's-fields was 1596.

February, 1800. Several Magistrates having convicted members of Volunteer Corps in the penalty for wearing powder without a license, the Lord Mayor obtained from the Stamp Office opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General on the subject, and also the opinion of the Recorder and Common Seargeant thereon, by which it appeared that all persons not serving in the Volunteer Corps, under the provisions of the Act of the 34 Geo. III, were liable to the penalty. By a decision of the Lord Mayor the Loyal Hackney Volunteers are exempted from the hair powder duty, but his Lordship was of opinion that this exemption extended only to a few Corps.

June 4, 1800. His Majesty's birthday celebrated with much splendor and festivity. The whole of the Volunteer Associations, of the Metropolis and its environs, amounting to upwards of 12,000, were in the morning reviewed by the King in Hyde Park. The line was formed in three columns, and a grand review took place. The sight was truly grand and highly grateful. The people, notwithstanding the unfavourable weather, assembled to the amount of 15,000.

About the middle of 1800 the north-west wing of the King's Bench Prison was discovered to be on fire. At the first intimation of the accident the St. George's, Bermondsey, St. Saviour's Lambeth, Christchurch, and Newington Volunteers with a party of Surrey Cavalry, attended and prevented the populace from using violence.

In The Lady's Magazine of June, 1800, is the following notice:—

"At St. Mary, Magdalen Bermondsey, by the Rev. Henry Cox Mason, Chaplain to the Corps, Simon Field, Captain of the Bermondsey Volunteers, to Miss Cooper, only daughter of Thos. Cooper, Esq., Leatherhead, Surrey," and in The Magazine for August appears the following lines, emanating perhaps from the pen of some Bermondsey poet of the period:—

"Lines to S***n F ** d, Esq., Captain of the B—d—y Volunteer Corps, on his marriage with Miss C * * r, of Leatherhead."

Accept, dear Sir, the poet's lay,
The subject is your Wedding-day,
My Muse her humble tribute brings,
Of Hymen's sacred rites she sings;
Hail happy day when Hymen's bands
Secured your hearts and joined your hands,
A day as welcome sure to you
As any day you ever knew.

When kind Miss C., with circumspection,
Gave up herself to your direction,
Her fortune, hand, and heart resign'd
To Captain F—d, with willing mind;
Left Leatherhead, she liked so well,
With you in Bermondsey to dwell.
Now will you give me leave, dear friend,
To wish you joy that ne'er shall end,
But be coeval with your life.

May you each other more revere,
Be happier each revolving year,
Your children love, your God adore,
And both be blest for evermore.

J. H. Prince.

The newspapers of May 8, 1801, record that "The Bermondsey Volunteers commanded by Major Gaitskell on Thursday last had their first grand field day for the summer and were reviewed at the Parade Spa Gardens, Bermondsey, 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 splendor of the day and 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. The charms of beauty, however, proved too powerful for the fascinations of the jolly god and Mars quickly left the jovial board to join his mistress in the promenade to which the beauty of the evening, with the performance of the military band, proved an additional pleasure."

No doubt, a stranger visiting the Church of St. Mary, Magdalen, may have been struck with four flags ornamenting a monument at the south side of the Chancel, and have been led to suppose that the ashes of some intrepid follower of Marlborough or Blake rested beneath, but the monument is to a "peacefull shipwright of Rotherhithe, one Justice Castell;" the flags are those of the two companies of Volunteers. The following is their description:—

The first flag is embroidered upon black silk, having at the left corner a small Union; in the centre, on a circle of red silk, the Royal cypher in gold, surrounded with a garder of azure, with the leg "Bermondsey Regiment Volunteers," and surmounted by a regal crown, with a band of yellow placed over with the inscription "Gift of the Ladies," the whole enwreathed with rose, thistle, and shamrock.

The second flag consists of the Union, having in the centre a circle parted, dexter azure, sinister gules with a lion or passant holding an Abbot's Mitre surrounded with a band of white, with eight Old English B's, the initial of the parish; this further surrounded with a garter of azure leg "Bermondsey Regiment Volunteers," surrounded with a regal crown, and enwreathed with rose, thistle and shamrock, and a similar inscription to the first flag.

The third flag is of red silk, embroidered, at the top a regal crown with Royal cypher on each side of it; in the centre on a circle of sea green the initial letters L. B. V. (Loyal Bermondsey Volunteers), this surrounded by garter of the same colour, with leg `For the defence of our King and Country,' enwreathed with oak and laurel leaves.

The fourth flag is a simple Union.

These flags were formerly placed two over against the Chancel, and two over the transept of the Church, but were removed to their present position about 1845, when the Church was redecorated, &c. Akerman, in his admirable series of London Costumes, published 1798, has preserved to us in No. 50, the uniform of a Bermondsey Volunteer, drawn by Rowlandson. He represents him in the position of front rank, kneeling, make ready, with short scarlet coat, black and white facings, knee breeches and gaiters, gold epaulettes, &c., black helmet edged with black fur, with white and red feather, powdered hair. In No. 68 he gives us a Loyal Bermondsey Volunteer in the position of the present arms, short scarlet coat, white and black facings, white knee breeches and gaiters, black helmet, but with feather entirely red, gold epaulettes, different pattern from No. 50, short boots, powdered hair. The Bermondsey Armoury or practising ground, was situated in Bermondsey-square, and £l,200 seems to have been expended to make the building available.

The remains of Commandant Gaitskell rest under the Chancel of the Old Church, a monument being erected to his memory. An engraved portrait of the Commandant is still extant, as is one of the Rev. Henry Cox Mason, Chaplain to the Corps and Rector of Bermondsey. Their contemporary (Captain Rich) is likewise buried under the Old Church; a black marble tablet on one of the pillars records "That the Captain had attained the happy independence which enabled him to stand foremost in the days of danger as the protector of his Church and King, having been honoured with the command of the Loyal Bermondsey Volunteers." He died in 1829. Fearing I have already trespassed too much on your valuable space I will now conclude. H. L.P.
Bermondsey-street, 23rd March, 1867.