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Harrogate Story 





In the Days of Nelson and Wellington 

Peter Dalby, serving as "Constable of Bilton-with-Harrogate" for the year 1786, made the customary charge of 2s. for "Takeing the Militia Men's names to Knaresbro." This duty had then been a matter of routine for some thirty years; in fact, ever since Prime Minister Pitt, during a war that took most of the army abroad, had called up civilians for the defence of the realm. 

From time to time, for hundreds of years before Pitt, a citizen force, also called Militia, had been called together to deal with some national crisis. In Edward I's time, for example, when he had had some not unimportant disputes with the Scots - particularly about the Stone of Scone - and as recently as 1745, when the Rising had been made on behalf of Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

But Pitt's new Militia was a much more organised force and better trained. It resembled more our modern Territorials, and in one respect went even beyond these, for service in it was, nominally at least, obligatory. Some of its regulations were retained from the ancient Militia. As in the time of Edward I, "all the male inhabitants between the ages of 15 and 60" were liable for service; and the names that Dalby handed in at Knaresborough were of the men in Harrogate within the same age-limits. 

Society, however, had become much more complicated since the Middle Ages, and it was no longer advisable for every man to be called upon to train to arms. All had to have their names recorded, but the list of exemptions from service was quite a formidable one. 

The Constable himself, being a Peace Officer, could not be spared for training, and past. and serving members of any of the Forces naturally did not need it. Others employed on essential work - munitions-workers, "Seamen, and Seafaring Men and Watermen on the Thames - had to remain at their posts. The training of professional men and artisans should not be interrupted, so included in the list of the exempt were "Articled Clerks and Apprentices," clergymen and - with certain safeguards then thought necessary - other ministers of religion and teachers. The exemption of "Persons infirm or under the size of 5 feet 4 inches" was obviously dictated by common-sense, but that of "Poor Men with more than One Child born in Wedlock," by a need for economy - in family allowances. At the head of the exempted list stood, by prescriptive right, "Peers of the Realm."

But when all these groups were taken out, the men remaining were still far too many to be adequately trained. Therefore a ballot was taken (it was, in fact, a mere choice of names at random), and only what were called the balloted or allotted men had to serve. 

Constable Dalby's report was made in a time of peace. For three years before, in 1783, England had ended her war with the United States of America (whose independence she acknowledged), with her old European rival. France, and with various others, for which a "Prayse" had been said in St. John's Chapel by its "Curate," the Rev. Robert Mitton. To do service in the Militia in these circumstances involved no great hardship. It would only be for thirty days, and at a place not very distant, perhaps at Forest Lane Head, at that time often used for field-training. 

But even when a man had been duly allotted, he had still means of avoiding service if his business affairs - or his temperament - made him wish to do so. He could pay a fine instead. As he would have to pay it again, however, every five years if he were balloted, he would probably prefer - and most did - to appoint a Substitute. This would put him - but not, strangely enough, the Substitute - on the list of exempted persons for the future. The cost, though not trifling, was a final one. On his Substitute's enlistment, he would have to pay what was "adjudged half the Current Price of a Volunteer" (in 1793, it was 6), and 2s. a week for the support of the man's wife, with 1s or 1s 6d for each child, during the time of training. 

However, if the allotted man was poor, he might escape even these payments. In 1793, when Samuel Rayner, labourer, of Bilton-with-Harrogate, chose a Substitute (a Leeds man), two local JP's, Thomas Turner Slingsby and John Watson of Bilton Park, ordered the Overseers to pay the 6, giving the quite plausible reason that Rayner was "not possessed of an Estate in Lands, Goods, or Money to the clear value of Five Hundred Pounds." They said that payment should be made from a "Rate made for Volunteers" or failing that from the Poor Rate. There is no record of a Volunteer or Militia Rate, but a subscription of 2s each was twice collected from the richer or more generous townsfolk to meet some exceptional expenditure on the Militia. 

The Peace declared in 1783 lasted only ten years. In 1789, the people of France revolted against their rulers; a little later, they set up their democratic government, and later still they started fighting neighbouring countries in order to make them also free. By this time, 1793, the English, preferring to keep their own sort of freedom and having inherited a certain unfriendliness towards the French, found themselves again at war. This war was destined to last, with only a short break, until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 - a period of over twenty years. 

When war came in 1793 the Militia-men were called up. This meant that family allowances for them over long periods were debited to the Poor Rate. These allowances had to be paid also for the Substitutes that Rayner, and others like him, had appointed. As a consequence, the township would tend to encourage its "allotted" men to do their service in person: apparently only one substitute was appointed in the latter part of the war. This fact may not have been entirely due to an increase of patriotic feeling, which was noticeable here, as it was in the rest of the country. 

The national part that Harrogate played in the war was probably as a place of relaxation and recuperation for war-weary soldiers, and possibly for over-worked civilians. Certainly there seems to have been no lessening of social activities. Balls were still held at the hotels, including the Granby; the theatre opposite this hotel was well patronised; there was a race-course on the Stray south of the Church, and a band played regularly on the "Green" to the north of it. The townsfolk were far from neglecting their own township affairs. The ambitiously planned Workhouse was built in 1810, and began to receive paupers from other places. The enlargement of St. John's Chapel was undertaken between 1810 and 1812: in the latter year, Nicholas Carter, whose son was eventually to become the first Mayor, submitted an estimate. For the rest, the normal routine of life in the large and growing village does not appear to have been much disturbed. 

The Constables, who were busy men already, found things quite otherwise. Their accounts show that Militia business greatly increased the time they had to give to the township, as is clear from the following items: 

1798  -  Richard Blackburn: "going round the township to take an account of all the Male Inhabitants"; it took nine days.1804. Thomas Body: he collected a "subscription for the Militia" that brought in 17 8s., and paid out to the Militia 28 14s. The deficit was charged to the Poor Rate.

1805  -  William Clayton: "livering out the Militia Papers & writing them." The Justices' Clerks usually wrote them, of course at a fee.

1807  -  John Dobson: "going to Rigton to serve a somans on John Watkin when he was alotted."

1815  -  William Malthouse: "going and Sending to Different Places to find where all our Militia Men residence was at that time."

1817  -  John Dearlove's bill for a Militia-man's enlistment: "To Bounty for Militia Man, 9 19s. 6d.; Liquor at Knaresborough at hiring, 6s. 6d.; Examination, ls.; Constables bill, 1 ls. 4d.; Liquor at J. Waite's on the 27th, 5s. 8d.; Self attending hiring man, 2s." 

Joseph Waite was then landlord of the Black Swan and the liquor was probably for the meeting at which a subscription was arranged. Dearlove reports later that he collected 2s. from each of 83 subscribers, so 3 10s would come out of the Poor Rate. 

After 1803, when Napoleon, now Emperor, re-started the war, there was a tightening-up of the Militia regulations. In 1804, the Chief Constable of the West Riding ordered the local Constable to produce within a month, under heavy penalties, a list of township men between 18 and 45, omitting only those who could legally claim exemption, or who were physically unfit to serve in the Militia, but the township had also to give a sworn certificate in each case of unfitness. 

About this time was formed a new Army of Reserve, somewhere between Militia and Regular Army. Harrogate and Killinghall, in September, 1804, were ordered to provide two men for this Reserve. There would appear to have been a little dilatoriness in carrying out the order, for in the following February these hamlets were jointly fined 40 for "Deficiencies or Vacancies in the Militia and Army of Reserve." 

Things were going badly in the war at this time in spite of the naval victory of Trafalgar, and there was great need for men for service abroad. An act was passed in 1807 allowing Militia-men to enlist in the Army. Three of these from Harrogate joined Regiments of Foot: Thomas Sugden, in 1807, the 77th; William Berry, in 1809, the 43rd; and John Hind, in the same year, the 95th. Previously, in 1798, a townsman had joined the Army direct. The Constable of that year took William Woodhead to Doncaster where the Commanding Officer certified him, after due medical examination, as "fit to serve his Majesty." Unfortunately, a record was not kept of all the local men who served in this war. and such as are mentioned have been identified by some chance detail in the township papers. One more name can be added: John Baston, belonging the 2nd West York Militia," who was quartered at Hartlepool in 1804. 

Besides seeing that the township provided its quota of Militia-men, the Constable had also to secure billets for Militia Companies that did their training from time to time in the neighbourhood. There were, in addition, companies of soldiers who came for short periods, possibly on manoeuvres. On these occasions, the Constable seems to have worked with the Constable of Pannal. When the Craven Volunteers came in 1805, Thomas Body, after carefully checking the fact with Knaresborough that he had a right to billet these people as if they were soldiers, went to Pannal to "fetch cunstabl" to billet them. This group stayed some time, for the Constable of the following year had to see to the transport of the Craven Legion Baggage. The Pannal Constable was brought in again in 1813, when the Halifax Local Militia and the York Local Militia both asked for billeting.

By that time the business seems to have been regularised. Just as written or printed passes were given to passengers (that is, paupers or more reputable travellers) to assist them on their Tourney, so the official mind of the period evolved "billits," that is, chits for lodgings. Hargrove Son printed 1,000 of these for Harrogate and 600 for Pannal in 1813; and Langdale, 300, in 1825. The numbers may be some indication of the extent of the billeting. 

The cost of the accommodation is not usually shown, probably because met by the military unit, but in 1807 the Constable records: "Paid Mr. Blackburn for a Boaks (hay-loft) for Biliting Soulgers Inn &c., 6d." Presumably if there had been no "&c," the charge would have been even less. But, had the costs been given, it would be most difficult to estimate their equivalent in money to-day. It is certain, however, that Constable Blackburn was not being flippant when he wrote, "Relievd two sailors - with 6d." This would probably provide them both with a night's lodging. 

When, at last, the news of Waterloo came, all Harrogate rejoiced, no doubt, along with the rest of the country. A few years later, the victory was recorded - appropriately, in this place of inns - by the changing of the old Robin Hood into the Wellington. But most thankful of all would be the Constable and the men who knew that their names were on the list of his possible successors in office. Peace promised them some lightening of duties connected with Militia-men and "soulgers."





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