Brief History of Volunteering in Derbyshire 1798-1816

This picture shows some of our members enjoying a cheering glass or two at the Old Talbot Hotel where the Corps was first raised in October 1803.It is hoped to commemorate the raising this year with our autumn muster and feast somewhere in the Belper area. Special thanks should be given to the landlord who opened the building especially for this part of our formal mustering in. The social side of the Corps is very important to all members and will be a feature of this happy association. In this aim we exactly mirror our illustrious forbears of 1803 who enjoyed their Volunteering and never spurned the opportunity for raising a glass to our gracious King!

It has been assumed by some historians that as a landlocked county Derbyshire took little active role in the preparations to resist French invasion during the Wars against Revolutionary France and later Napoleon. It has also been commented that the Strutt and Arkwright families maintained their Corps and Regiments as private armies to defend their mills and other property against mill wreckers, machine breakers and other sections of the population who were less than loyal to the crown.

It is certainly true the in 1779 Sir Richard Arkwright armed a number of his workers at Cromford and had a cannon loaded with grapeshot to cover the entrance to his mill yard. It is also true that Belper boasts one of the few surviving loopholed mills in the country and that after one disastrous fire Mesers Strutt lost no more of their property. These facts ignore a far more basic truth. The people of Derbyshire flocked to the colours in their thousands to resist the foreign invader. Three regiments of Volunteers were formed in 1798 in Derby Wirksworth and Asbourne.59 Volunteer Corps were formed in 1803 with a total strength of 6,594 and on the disbandment of those Corps Five Regiments of Volunteer Militia were formed at Derby, Belper, Chatsworth, Scarsdale, and Wirksworth.

The Volunteers examining some of the original loopholes used in the construction of the Mill during the late Eighteenth Century. Belper possesses one of the only surviving loopholed mills in the country. These loopholes for musketry had a double purpose. They would have helped to defend the mills complex against French troops but were a much more potent and visible threat to Luddites and other mill wreckers. Strutt's men had muskets and were trained in their use!

These regiments continued to serve voluntarily as well as pursuing their normal occupations until Napoleon Bonaparte was safely tucked away on St Helena and some of them even beyond that. Mention should be made of the Volunteer Yeomanry who also served during this period and continued in some cases into the Early Victorian period. Other than Sir Richards’s famous mill yard cannon no mention has yet been found of Volunteer Artillery but doubtless it was pressed into service when needed.

It should also be noted that Derbyshire was the last English county to be invaded by a foreign power. The forces of Charles Edward Stuart had invaded the county in 1745 and the fateful decision to retreat to Scotland was taken at Exeter House Derby. Alas the 'Derby Blues' a local Volunteer regiment raised by the Duke of Devonshire were about as good at retreating as Bonnie Prince Charlie. They retreated to Nottingham before his forces arrived and thus became a local laughing stock!

Whether the drummer boys of that ill fated corps served in the volunteers as elderly men is not yet known but it is our belief that had the French invaded they would have found the Derbyshire Volunteers not so eager to retire.


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