The Knaresborough Militia books
by Gwyneth Endersby, Record Assistant
Within the township records of the Knaresborough District Council collection are the Constables’ records (1766-1820). These are principally accounts of expenditure, and include two account books relating to the town’s militia. Dated 1807-1811 and 1810-1813 respectively, they record payments to substitute and balloted men and to men of the army reserve (DC/KNU XI 1/3/1-2).
Organised on a county (or Riding) basis, the militia was a voluntary fighting force and essentially part-time. It bolstered, but was separate from, the professional army. Parish constables were responsible for identifying eligible men aged between 18 and 50 (18-45 after 1762), and lots were drawn to fulfil the quota. Men were required to serve for five years – unless they provided a substitute or paid the £10 fine. Local owners of property or land were eligible to be appointed as officers.
The Knaresborough constables’ militia account books record names of “lotted” men, any substitutes, and the amounts paid weekly each Tuesday to the serving man.
A closer look at the figures reveals differing rates of pay at certain times of year for some men, as well as quite significant varying rates of pay. The books contain no obvious explanation for these variations, which possibly relate to individual experience or rank, or to spells of training or active duty. The Volunteer Muster books and pay lists deposited at The National Archives [ref: WO13] might perhaps shed more light on the this.
The period covered by the Knaresborough militia books is one where the threat of invasion by the French was regarded as very real. The turbulent years of the French Revolution (1793-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), saw the deployment of many militia detachments to defensive stations along the English south coast. This period also saw frequent use of militia units to help quell civil unrest outside their home counties – especially during the corn riots.
We hold a commemorative chart (1806), within the Hutton of Marske archive (ref: ZAZ), which lists the militia units of Great Britain, and their respective uniforms. Knaresborough Privates sported red jackets with yellow cuffs and yellow pantaloons. Their officers – in 1806, Captain Thomas Slingsby – wore silver lace collars.
Whilst the constables’ militia account books form part of Knaresborough’s District Council records, a county’s militia records are usually found among the working papers of the Quarter Sessions (ref: QSB). It is also worth checking private and estate collections for any militia-related records (Commissions, for example), which might lie amongst the personal papers of those who served as officers.
Included in the militia records we hold within the Quarter Sessions bundles for the North Riding, are orders for payments to the wives and children of Knaresborough men serving as substitutes in the North Riding militia. The examples below from 1795 show sums of money, transferred from the North Riding to the Overseers’ of Knaresborough, for weekly disbursement to the soldiers’ wives and their children: five shillings to William Clemetshaw’s wife Elizabeth and their three children, and three shillings and nine pence to Joseph Smith’s wife Mary and their two children.
Further information on the Militia of Great Britain can be found:
Research guide: Militia by The National Archives
Website of the National Army Museum