The long war with Napoleonic France resumed on the 18th of May 1803 following the collapse of the Amiens Peace treaty. Soldiers and sailors were recalled to arms and county militia and yeomanry cavalry re-established. By June, France had begun preparations to invade England, so the British government called for volunteer infantry regiments to be raised. His Grace, the Duke of Rutland, Leicestershire’s Lord Lieutenant, was in command but companies of voluntary soldiers were to be organised at a local level.
On the 18th of August 1803 a public meeting was held in Market Harborough parish church and resolved that the town establish the’ Loyal Harborough Volunteer lnfantry, comprising two companies of infantry. Each company had a small band of drums and fifes. Volunteers had to be aged between 17 and 55 and they had to be vetted by a committee.
William French Major Esq. was appointed Captain Commandant of the First Company with William Atkins, Lieutenant and Thomas Green, Ensign. Pointz Owsley Adams Esq. was appointed Captain of the Second Company with Charles Heygate, Lieutenant and John Chater, Ensign. A full list of each Company is given in William Harrod’s, History of Market Harborough, 1808.
What we know about the Loyal Harborough Volunteer Infantry is that ‘officers and privates’ attended a theatre in the Town Hall on the 24th of September 1803 where songs were sung ‘with the warmest loyalty and patriotism’, The Companies received their Colours at a ceremony on the 13th of February 1804 and later that year, they were on ‘active duty’ in Melton Mowbray and in 1805, at Daventry. A number of soldiers of the 65th Regiment of Foot mutinied at Kettering and were marched, under guard to Market Harborough and the Loyal Harborough Volunteer infantry were ordered to escort the mutineers from here to Leicester.
Following the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the threat of invasion was minimised, but the voluntary infantry units remained until 1808 when it was decided they were no longer required.
This drummer boy’s jacket dates to the final year of the Napoleonic Wars and represents just one individual who played one role. It was normal military practice in the early 19th century to recruit boys as drummers. This was important as they learned how to use drum rhythms and beats to signal the officer’s commands to his troops during the heat of battle. They also represented a rallying point against which the troops could be organised, as well as acting as a regiment’s mascot of sorts.
There are many questions surrounding this beautifully detailed jacket. Was the jacket ever worn in battle? Was the owner related to anyone in the regiment he served, the Market Harborough Volunteers? How old was he? Many boys ran away to join the military and often lied about their age to get in. The youngest recorded was 7! It’s quite a small jacket so it seems likely that he was relatively young.
The life of a drummer boy appeared rather glamourous and exciting to those at home. This, coupled with the evidence that sometimes boys followed the brothers to serve in the same regiment, may have been an incentive to sign up.