In These Times

On 31 October I attended an enthusiastic and stimulating talk by Jenny Uglow about her new book: In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793 – 1815.

This fascinating account of the lives of people in Britain during nearly twenty years of  warfare has been gathered from their surviving diaries and letters and arranged as Jenny Uglow does so well into an entertaining highly readable narrative full of interesting details about daily life, individuals and their families around the country.

For Birmingham, she has made use of the letters of the Galton family, particularly those of Samuel Galton and his wife Lucy and their children in MS 3101 (see our online catalogue for details)

Birmingham’s archives are rich in correspondence for this period, for example, in the Papers of James Watt & family (MS 3219); the Russell Family’s papers and diaries (MS 3450); the Hutton papers (MS 3597); and, of course, in the Papers of Matthew Boulton and family (MS 3782).

Two sections of the catalogue of that collection which are very relative to the Napoleonic Wars are MS 3782/18 and MS 3782/19, and are briefly described here.

Records of the 1st Battalion, Loyal Birmingham Volunteers [MS 3782/18/1]

Records of the 1st Battalion, Loyal Birmingham Volunteers [MS 3782/18/1]

MS 3782/18.  Records concerning the founding, organisation and activities of the 1st Battalion, Loyal Birmingham Volunteers, 1794 – 1805, in which Matthew Robinson Boulton was an officer. All his papers relating to the Battalion were kept in a large red box referred to as the ‘Birmingham Volunteers’ box, with the following list of contents fixed inside the lid:

‘Tactics; Orders; Correspondence and regimental Communication; Interior Economy of the Battallion; Government Regulations relative to the Volunteer Corps.; Establishment and organisation of the Birmingham and other Volunteer Corps.’

Bundles of papers relating to all of these headings exist. While the battalion itself was founded in 1803, Boulton collected various papers relating to the formation of previous battalions for reference.

Establishment and Organisation of the Birmingham and other Volunteer Corps [MS 3782/18/6]

Establishment and Organisation of the Birmingham and other Volunteer Corps [MS 3782/18/6]

(To zoom in on the image above, please follow this link)

MS 3782/19. Records of the Committee at Verdun for the Relief of British Prisoners in France. 1803 – 1813. These consist of a Letter Book, 1808 – 1809 (MS 3782/19/1) and an Account book,  1809-1813 (MS 3782/19/2).

This Committee was established about 1803 at the depot for prisoners of war at Verdun to direct the distribution of charitable aid to prisoners either in depots or on their march to them, the money for such ‘charitable succours’ being contributed by prisoners’ families and friends or collected by public subscription in Britain.

After they had been captured, prisoners – from army, navy or merchant vessels, were marched to those towns where depots had been created to accommodate them.  By the beginning of 1808 there were six of these close to the north-eastern border of France—Valenciennes, Arras, Givet, Verdun, Sarrelibre, and Bitche; and in 1809 three more were added, at Mount Dauphin, Briançon, and Cambrai.  On their arrival at a depot, most of the captives would be confined in the fortress, or citadel, under the charge of the French commandant.  Those of higher social status, however, were usually kept as prisoners on parole and permitted to stay in the town or even to travel about the country.  This class included men of the army and navy of the rank of lieutenant or above, and ministers of the Church of England , who were probably military chaplains.

Fundraising  for the support of prisoners, who included women and children, was undertaken by the Patriotic Society, the Lloyd’s Coffee House Society, the Louis Charity and other organisations. The letters mostly concern distribution of monies and many are about care of the sick.

A letter of 29 February 1808 from Lieutenant Stewart in Arras says the Committee was ‘desirous of increasing the salary of Mr Crighton (the medical gentleman who attends the Sick in the Citadel) who receives from the Fund only one livre per diem. Such allowance to a person who has the arduous task superintending the health of 3000 Prisoners we conceive not to be at all adequate’. (Nice understatement there).

There is also a list of eighteen Swedish prisoners under the Committee’s care. (22 February 1808).

The Account Book is titled ‘Account with Sir Thomas Lavie for the Young Gentlemen of His Majesty’s late ship Blanche (Y. G. B. account).’  The ‘young gentlemen’ were Messrs. Lyall, Gregg, Secretar, Gordon, Street, Hoy, and Williams, who were presumably captured at the time the H.M.S. Blanche was sunk, and taken as prisoners to Verdun.  The book contains various accounts connected with expenditure on their behalf for board, lodgings, clothes, provisions, tuition, and so on.

Researchers welcome!

Fiona Tait


3 responses to “In These Times

  1. coincidence, just finished a novel by EVThompson entitles Cast no Shadows,.all about the French and American prisoners in Dartmoor.It was gruesome, during the Napolianic Wars, .

  2. Would you by any chance have come across anything pertaining to the Warwickshire Fencible Cavalry approx. 1799-1807 I have an ancestors (ggggrandfather) request to go to NSW he said he served with them I have know other information on him before this, he has proved hard to find, its been 30 yrs this year and still no further

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