Recruitment to the Armed Forces in Mitcham 1522-1815

Studies in Merton History 6: by E N Montague

In this study Eric Montague looks at the impact of war and the threat of invasion on Mitcham over a period of 300 years, with particular emphasis on recruitment to the militia. The text is in four chapters, covering the Tudor period, the Stuarts and the Commonwealth, the eighteenth century and, much the longest, the Napoleonic Wars. Eric has used primary sources where they exist, and the booklet includes among its many illustrations reproductions of a variety of documents.

Review in MHS Bulletin 154 (Jun 2005)



ISBN 1 903899 47 8

E. N. Montague
Further information on Merton Historical Society can be obtained from the Society’s website at
or from
Merton Library & Heritage Service, Merton Civic Centre,
London Road, Morden, Surrey. SM4 5DX

Studies in Merton History: 6

The following notes are an attempt to bring together information gleaned from specific research
and general reading over a number of years to form a reasonably coherent account of the impact
of war and the threat of invasion on the village of Mitcham between the mid-16th and the early
19th centuries. Since my interest is essentially that of a local historian, I have placed obvious
emphasis on recruitment to the militia and auxiliary forces, and the involvement of local people.

The material has been divided into four sections to facilitate the subsequent distillation of essential
elements for lecturing purposes. The fact that the sections were written at different times, and not
in chronological order, may be evident in a slight lack of coherence if the four sections are read

Information for these studies has come from various sources, both primary and secondary, as can
be seen from the bibliography. Little more appears to be readily available at the present time, but
perhaps the discovery or release of fresh primary sources in the future will enable these notes to
be expanded by a later generation of students.

E N Montague

The author gratefully acknowledges the Merton Library and Heritage Service, The National
Archives, and Surrey History Service for permission to include documents from their collections,
and Col. Wilson of the The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum, Clandon Park, Surrey, for
permission to reproduce illustrations of Surrey Militia uniforms.

Published by


© E N Montague 2005

ISBN 1 903899 47 8

£1 = 20 shillings (s) = 240 old pence (d) = 100p
1 guinea = £1 1s.

3. SHC, ‘Return of Persons inrolled as Volunteers in his Majesties Navy’ LA 5/8
4. VCH 146 states that “in 1804 the militia received the title of a Royal Regiment”. This contradicts
the evidence of documents as early an 1798, e.g. substitutes’ certificates, which are headed “Royal
Surrey Militia”.
5. VCH 147. The Royal Surrey Militia assumed blue facings to its jackets in 1804.
6. TNA, Muster Rolls – Militia (3rd Surrey) WO. 13 2107 (1798) and 2108 (1799)
7. SHC, Certificate signed by Capt. Thomas C Thompson at Battle Barracks, Sussex on 3 June 1799
8. MLSC, Notice issued by Henry Hoare, 22 February 1798
9. Bryant A, The Years of Endurance 1793–1802 (Reprint Society 1944) quoting Hannah Moore, 248
10. VCH 146, quoting The Times Friday 5 July 1799
11. 43. Geo. III c.55
12. SHC, Militia Book, Mitcham Parish LA5/8/4
13. TNA, Muster Rolls – Militia. WO. 15 20659 2069
14. VCH 147, quoting Davis, Royal West Surrey Militia 151
15. MLSC, Tom Francis’s Scrapbook – undated newspaper cutting:

The inhabitants of this Parish are requested to meet on Monday next, the first August at seven o’clock in the
evening in the Vestry Room of the Parish to consider of forming An Armed Association for the more
effectual Defence of the Country.



16. TNA, W.O. 13 4060. The last pay list covers the period to the end of December 1813.
17. 44 Geo. III c.56
18. Hassell J, Picturesque Rides and Walks I (1817) 115
19. MLSC, Ms Reminiscences of his school days in Mitcham by Lord Monson 42 – 30, published by
MHS as Local History Notes No.17: Lord Monson’s Schooldays – Reminiscences of Mitcham 1804–
1809 (2001)
20. SHC, Attestations of Reserve Men LA5/8/16-20. These make it clear that recruitment was to the
Army of Reserve.
21. SHC, LA5/8/70 1-54

22. SHC, Militia Book, Mitcham Parish LA5/8/5
23. VCH 147. Stat.48 Geo. III c.111
24. Brayley E W, History of Surrey I (1850)
25. VCH 147
26 Giuseppi M S, ‘Records Relating to Surrey Regiments’, SyAC XXVII 151
27. In the north chancel – ‘The Major’s Chancel’ – of the parish church of St Peter and St Paul
28. Bidder H P, (Editor) Old Mitcham (1923) MLSC
29. MLSC, Ms Notebook of the Revd H Randolph published by MHS as Local History Notes No.20:
Parishioners of Mitcham 1837/38 – The Revd Herbert Randolph’s Notebook (2002)
30. MHS Bulletin 129 (March 1999) 16, quoting survey of monumental inscriptions conducted by the
East Surrey Family History Society, Section 18 Monument No. 112
31. Information from Robin C S Montague, who served in the 6th/7th Volunteer Battalion of the Queen’s
Regiment in the 1970s


MHS Merton Historical Society
MLSC Merton Local Studies Centre
TNA The National Archives (formerly Public Record Office)
SHC Surrey History Centre
SRS Surrey Record Society

SyAC Surrey Archaeological Collections
VCH Victoria County History of Surrey II (1947)

1. The Tudor Period
1. Craib T, ‘Abstract of original returns of the commissioners for muster and the loan in Surrey’,
SyAC XXX (1917) 13-30
2. Lever R A, ‘Tudor Weapons in Surrey Muster Rolls’, Surrey History III No. 3 (1986/87) 141-144
3. Surrey Musters, SRS II (1914) iv-v
4. Surrey Musters, SRS X (1917) 143/4
5. Surrey Musters, SRS II (1914) v-viii
6. Surrey Musters, SRS X (1917) 209/10
7. Tumble Beacon at Banstead seems to have been nearest to Mitcham. Malden H E, in VCH I 391,
claims this, and other Surrey beacons were not lit in 1588 (see Surrey Archaeological Society
Bulletin 232 September 1988)
8. SyAC XVI (1901) 137 et seq.
2. The Stuart Kings, the Civil War and the Commonwealth
1. Bax A R, SyAC X (1891) 280-282
2. Surrey Hearth Tax 1664, SRS Nos XLI & XLII Vol. XVII (1940)
3. Broadbent U, Coulsdon, Downland Village (1976) 26
4. Mitchell A R, ‘Surrey in 1648’, SyAC LXVII (1970)
5. Milward R J, Wimbledon in the Time of the Civil War.(1976) 75,
and ‘The Civil War in North-East Surrey’, Surrey History III No. 5 195-192
6. SHC LA/8/1-2

3. The Eighteenth Century
1. VCH II (1905) 144-7

2. MLSC, Memories of our Village by Sir Cato T Worsfold, typescript dated 1932
3. “Troops and Soldiers sent to Croydon for about forty years past were quartered in Mitcham …”
(and surrounding villages), War Office letter 1784. See SyAC XXIX 140 & 151 re troops (regulars
and militia) billeted in Mitcham 1781-2
4. The Napoleonic Wars and After
A major primary source for this section is the minutes of Mitcham Vestry, kept at Surrey History

1. VCH 146

2. TNA, Muster Rolls of the Surrey Yeomanry 1803 – 1845 and Monthly Returns 1795 – 1803 WO.13
1. The Tudor Period
Sixteenth-century England had no standing army as we know it today, and the military forces of
the Tudors were raised from the towns and shires, mobilised in times of national danger or
emergency. To enable an assessment to be made of the potential strength of the forces of each
county ‘musters’ of men and armour were held from time to time. Craib produced an abstract
which shows that in Wallington hundred (which included Mitcham) the respectable total of 183
‘Ablemen’ could be mustered, comprising 69 archers, 112 billmen, and 2 gunners. The total for
the county was 2682 men “able to serve the Kynge in his Warrs”.1 The original muster lists for
Surrey comprise part of the Loseley collection of manuscripts, together with various memoranda
passing through the hands of Sir William More who, amongst many other offices held during his
long career, was commissioner for musters. The collection itself forms a most valuable source of
local material for the Surrey historian.2

The first of the muster documents to be published were the quaintly worded and eccentrically
spelled instructions issued by Lord St John, the lord lieutenant of Surrey, in May 1558.3 They are
a useful starting point for any study of the military history of Surrey in the late 16th century,
providing not only extremely fascinating reading, but also throwing an important light on the
preparations being made to bolster the unpopular government of Philip and Mary, and to provide
trained men for the war with France. Musters of able men in the hundreds and parishes were
ordered to be compiled by “noble men and gentilmen”, who were to draw a distinction between
archers, harquebusiers (musketeers) and pike men. An account had also to be rendered of all
serviceable weapons available, where they were kept, and to whom they belonged. Wisely, for
many factions in the country were restless after the suppression of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion
and the martyrdom of Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley, it was expressly ordered that no money should
be taken from persons excused service, and that no man should be asked to perform or contribute
more than he was able. The preparation of separate lists of cavalry was the special responsibility
of noblemen and members of the upper classes who were expected to raise mounted troops from
their own households and tenantry.

Lord St John ended his instructions emphasising that only “the most apte and hable men bothe of
helthe habilitie and youthe” from the highest to the lowest degree should be chosen for the service
of their highnesses and the realm. The officers, including a captain, petty-captain and standard-
bearer for each 200 men, were to be selected from “the moste apteste gentilmen within the shire
that be best acquainted with the companie”.

The Surrey muster lists for 1569,4 the 11th year of Elizabeth’s reign, when an insurrection in the
north under the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland in favour of Mary, Queen of Scots,
caused alarm, show that Mitcham, with Merton and Morden, was capable at least theoretically of
fielding a small detachment of moderately well-armed men. Being the largest of the three villages,
Mitcham provided the major contribution, comprising eight men. Five of them, Luke Burde, Peter
Wooden, John Kneppe, Richard Searle and Thomas Potter, were described as “pikemen”, William
Tegge and John Gronnell as being able to use the harquebus, whilst John Mekyne was recognized
as being proficient with the bow as well as the pike. The muster of armour and weapons taken in
the same year showed that Mitcham could find four corslets, or breastplates, one coat of plate
armour, one halberd, six harquebuses, six “murryans” (or morions – light crested helmets without
visors), and four pikes. In the main, this small armoury was in the hands of the village’s principal
inhabitants, men like Thomas Smythe of Mitcham Grove, Nicholas Rutland of Colliers Wood,
Ralph Illingworth of Hall Place, Thomas Pinner, whose mansion stood to the south of the Lower
Green, Rowland Harris, and John Russell. The last-named was particularly well equipped, with a
“cote of plate”, a morion and a harquebus. Yeomen farmers like John Pyke of Biggin, and John
Hedge each had a harquebus and a morion and Henry Knepp, a member of another land-owning

family, had a breastplate in addition to a pike. The parish itself owned a single harquebus and a
morion which, according to custom, were probably kept secure in the church tower.

The Ridolfi Plot of 1571, and the continued threat of a Catholic rising aided by Spain, who wished
to see Elizabeth dethroned, emphasised the necessity of ensuring that the country remained in a
state of readiness. Thus soon after 1573 (the date is a little uncertain) instructions were issued in
Council for the organisation and training of all men to be mustered under what had become the
usual arrangements, footmen in May and horsemen in the following July.5 Companies were to be
formed on convenient geographical bases by the commissioners, so that each could be assured of
at least 50 men on assembly. Skilled archers still formed an important element in armies at this
time, and such was the importance Elizabeth’s ministers placed on encouraging proficiency in the
use of the longbow that parishes were ordered to foster archery above all other recreations, and
actually to suppress ‘unlawfull’ games.

Archery practice, from a 16th-century map of London

No new muster was to be taken of armour on this occasion, but the commissioners were required
to order the constables of each parish to see that the weapons and equipment expected of it following
the muster of 1573, were cleaned and polished, properly buckled and trimmed, and everything
held in a state of readiness. A fully equipped foot soldier of the period was required to be “furnyshed
wythe Calliners Flaskes toucheboxes Murryons swordes daggers and such other furnyture as
apperteynythe” when mustered for active service or formal training.

Training, under the supervision of the commissioners or justices of the peace, was placed in the
hands of “some skylfull gentilmen in marshall affayres”. Company training was to take place on
four days in Easter week, and four in Whitsun week, Mondays to Thursdays. A further two days
training at Michaelmas was to be attempted at battalion strength. Men under training received
fourpence per day, and to curb the temptation of local traders to profiteer, the commissioners
were empowered to fix victuallers’ prices so that the troops could be served “reasonablye of
vyctuall and lodgynge”. After training the weapons used, unless retained by their owners, were to
be kept in a suitable place under the care of an armourer who had to keep note of their ownership.

The levying of charges to meet the expenses incurred was at the discretion of the commissioners
and justices, who were to tax themselves “for example to provoke others”. They were to see that
their demands were fairly made, and did not fall on the poorer households and “specyalye the
cotagers”. Particular stress was laid on the need to ensure that bullets and powder provided at
public expense were not wasted, and an account of the money received and spent, troops trained
etc., was required to be kept by persons “chosen as well in respect of theyre honesties as of theyre

Whereas, as we have seen, enthusiasm and support for the Loyal Mitcham Volunteer Infantry
Corps had been sustained throughout the war, the strength of the three companies had declined
during the two or three years prior to the allies’ final victory at Waterloo. James Moore retained
command until the corps stood down, presumably shortly after December 1813 – the date of the
last pay and muster list preserved in the National Archives. The lists show that Moore’s little
army comprised three companies until the end, company strength averaging 35 other ranks, and
each retaining a full complement of commissioned and non-commissioned officers. A
commemorative tablet to James Moore in the parish church recalls for posterity that he was
“for many years major commandant of the local military forces”,27 and to many villagers he
remained ‘The Old Major’ for the rest of his long life.28

Of the other Mitcham men who served in various capacities during the Napoleonic Wars we know
next to nothing. Ultimately support of the widows and orphans of men who never returned rested
with the parish, although many were able to look to the family to carry them through. Only chance
references in local records give some indication of the effects which were to be felt long after the
end of hostilities, such as the curate’s note dated 1833,that an old parishioner had lost a son and was
then on hard times, or that as late as the 1830s a veteran of the Peninsular Wars was benefiting from
the generosity of the Hoare family, from whom he received a small pension.29

A moving tribute to another veteran of the Peninsular War can still be seen in the Mitcham churchyard,
to the north-east of the church in a corner of the extension of the graveyard dating to 1855. The
inscription to a headstone reads:

Sacred / to the memory of / JOHN FRENCH / of the 3rd Regt. of Footguards / who fought at / Corunna Ciudad Rodrigo
Badajoz / Salamanca and Vittoria / who died at Chelsea Hospital / 31st August 1867 / aged 80 years / England esteemed
his worth a soldier brave / whose hope on earth was peace beyond the grave / redeemed by grace his soul to Heaven will
rise / and join the faithful armies of the skies

The census return for 1851 shows that John and his wife Jane were living in a row of cottages on
Commonside East near Manor Road. By 1861 Jane was dead, and John had been accepted at Chelsea
as a pensioner.30

Unlike the infantry militia, the mounted corps of the Surrey Yeomanry had continued under the
reforms of 1808/9 as a volunteer body. After the war, being composed of men drawn from the upper
classes, they were considered to be more trustworthy and even potentially useful should civil disorder
break out. They were therefore allowed to continue in being and, after being reformed in 1830,
remained an effective force for the rest of the century. The later volunteer regiments as they existed
under various forms of organization until they were absorbed into the Territorial units of the modern
Army date only from 1859. 26 The yeomanry’s services were much employed in the South African
War, and the last unit of the Surrey Yeomanry was ‘D’ Battery of the 6th Queen’s (Surrey Yeomanry),
whose headquarters were at Stonecot Hill, Sutton. It was disbanded in April 1975 and became 11
Platoon of ‘D’ Company of the 6th/7th (Volunteer Battalion) of the Queen’s Regiment.31

Certificate/payment of expenses to wife of James Moore’s substitute in travelling to Lincoln, 1799
(Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

Militiaman, Sir Henry Weston’s Company, Surrey Militia c.1584
from a watercolour by C C Stadden,
reproduced by courtesy of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum, Clandon Park, Surrey

Some ten years later, the persecution of Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands at the hands of the
Duke de Alva led to an outbreak of war between England and Spain. Elizabeth dispatched a force
of men to the Low Countries under the earl of Leicester in 1585, and against a background of
mounting tension a further muster was held in Surrey in September. On this occasion it is a record
of lancers and horsemen that survives,6 led in the combined hundreds of Brixton and Wallington
by Sir Francis Carew of Beddington.

Although Mitcham was apparently expected to raise a troop of eight light horse, the village’s
showing of horses and ‘furniture’ was woefully deficient. Bartholomew Clerk, dean of the arches,
who had become the owner of Mitcham Grove, defaulted in producing the two horses expected of
him. Nicholas Rutland of Colliers Wood had died the previous February and his widow Dorothy
was recorded as charged with the responsibility of providing one horse in lieu of the two expected.
John Hedge, who had farmed land in north-west Mitcham and was responsible for producing one
horse, had also died shortly before the muster. Mistress Fromonds of Hall Place, another widow,
was recorded in default for not showing a horse properly equipped for service. The Fromonds
were returned the following year as recusants, and one wonders if perhaps their sympathy towards
the Catholic cause lay behind Mrs Fromond’s evident unpreparedness to support the defence of
the realm. The same explanation cannot be offered for the slackness of Sir Thomas Blancke,
alderman and a former lord mayor of London. A man of pronounced puritan opinion, he was
expected to provide two horses but, to his shame, was similarly recorded in default for not showing
two mounts ready for action.

What steps the authorities, and particularly Sir Francis Carew, took to remedy this sad state of
affairs in Mitcham is not recorded, but the situation can hardly have been left unremedied, for in
the following year the whole country was thrown into a frenzy of arming with the threat of imminent
invasion by Spain. All soldiers of the trained bands were commanded to remain in the county and
to be ready, under threat of 40 days imprisonment for default, to take up arms at an hour’s warning.
A special check was to be made of the bands and their equipment, and those responsible were
reminded of the standing orders for the maintenance of the warning beacons. To prevent the
spread of rumour, a provost marshal was appointed for the punishment of rogues, vagabonds and
“spreders of newes”. We can only assume that when the beacons eventually blazed forth with
their warning of the approaching Armada on Saturday 30 July 1588, Mitcham was not once again
found wanting in preparedness, and that its young men stood ready to defend their homeland.7

By a quirk of army procedures and the survival of a kit inspection record, we know that at least
one Mitcham man, John Fletcher, was with the militia from Wallington hundred under Captain
Gainsford of Carshalton and marched to the camp at West Tilbury as the battered Armada limped
northwards from the Straits of Dover. In all, there were some 1000 infantry from Surrey – under
Sir Thoman Manners, their colonel – plus eight lancers, 127 light horse and 200 pioneers.8 Whether
or not Fletcher was in a position to hear clearly Elizabeth’s historic speech to her army after the
review we shall never know, but he must surely have been amongst the packed ranks whose
ecstatic cheers gave her so much pleasure. Unwittingly, Fletcher achieved immortality through
being found to have lost a dagger during a weapon check after camp was struck and the men made
ready to return to their villages. Fletcher blamed the loss on a “Lt. Mr. Pavett”, an officer serving
under Captain Gainsford who, Fletcher alleged, had taken the dagger away from him. Pavett was,
in fact, the subject of complaint by a number of the men in the Wallington contingent, and if
evidence is to be believed, confiscated a small armoury during the camp, or else substituted inferior
weapons for those the men had brought with them. The reason for Pavett’s behaviour, if the
allegations were true, will remain a mystery, and the outcome of the enquiry is not recorded in the
published accounts.

Letter from a wife to Mitcham Overseers asking for assistance or for release of her husband.
(Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

Justices’ Order to Mitcham and Hedley [sic] Overseers to support the infant daughter of a serving militia man,
12 December 1807 (Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

2. The Stuart Kings, the Civil War and the Commonwealth
Amongst the 100 men listed in the muster roll of “Troops Raised in Surrey to be Employed in the
Low Country” in 1627 the name of one Mitcham man, Rowland Mathew, appears.1 According to
Bax these men were impressed against their wills, or had refused to subscribe to a loan required
by the King. They embarked at London to join the depleted regiments under Sir Charles Morgan,
who had been sent to the aid of King Christian of Denmark in defence of the Netherlands against
Spain. Support promised by France having been withdrawn, the ill-led British troops were left to
their own devices, and many died through cold or disease. What happened to Rowland Mathew is
not known, but his family evidently continued to be represented in Mitcham, for 40 years later
two cottagers, William Mathew and Richard “Mathaw” are listed in the hearth tax returns of

Although the pattern was by no means uniform, at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 support
for Charles and the Anglican Church was strongest in the shires and country districts away from
towns. The progressive, prosperous south-east was in the main Parliamentarian, and in London in
particular, opinion was strongly against the Royalist party. As a result, the Roundheads were able
to suppress the Cavaliers in the capital with little difficulty and those who could, retired to their
country estates. Surrey, Kent and Essex were similarly rapidly seized for Parliament, the Royalists
were effectively subjugated, and orders given to the inhabitants to ignore the King’s Commission
of Affray. Kingston and Croydon, the two towns in north-east Surrey, excluding Southwark, came
within the purview of a Committee of Safety meeting at Kingston at which Thomas Locke spoke
for Merton and the adjoining villages.

Initially, the Parliamentary forces were raised, as in the past, by calling out the militia. Each
parish was expected to provide and arm soldiers, and some ordinary men were undoubtedly
encouraged to enlist by the anticipation of plunder and adventure. If maimed, their prospects
were of course bleak, and widows and orphans could expect little in the form of support from a
disorganised nation and a society which even in normal times was ill-equipped to give succour to
the destitute. One of the first tasks of the Surrey militia after the outbreak of the war was to
garrison Kingston and Farnham – the former an important river crossing, and the latter strategically
well placed to keep watch on the small Royalist garrison at Basing House. In 1643 the combined
hundreds of Wallington and Brixton were required to furnish 500 dragoons for the Parliamentary
army – a considerable burden on an already heavily taxed community which could have been met
only with difficulty.

Two years later a call went out for volunteers to serve in Cromwell’s New Model Army, but the
response from Wallington is said to have been poor.3 As a result the high constables for the hundred
were required to impress 29 men between the ages of 18 and 50. For over six years troopers were
quartered throughout Surrey, much to the disquiet of the villagers and townspeople, who complained
bitterly of plundering by the men, the imposition of free billeting, the raiding of stables for horses
and the arbitrary commandeering of provisions. Feelings ran so high in Surrey that by 1648 the
county was in a state of near insurrection, and Parliament was petitioned, but little respite was

To their other burdens the people found added that of special levies to meet the cost of maintaining
the army. In 1643 Mitcham, for instance, was obliged to pay £4 per week,5 and quarterly levies
towards the maintenance of the army and navy continued throughout the Civil War and the
Commonwealth. The militia levy assessment books preserved at Surrey History Centre cover the
first five years of the Commonwealthand continue until 1680.6 Being set out in a manner similar
to that adopted by the later poor rate and land tax books, they are a valuable source of information
on house property and residents, as well as quantifying the burden of military expenditure falling
on the community for a quarter of a century. As might be expected the assessment lists contain

names familiar to the student of Mitcham history, from other sources of the mid-17th century. In
1655 the amount expected of Mitcham (to be paid in July) was £40 11s 6d. Morden at the same
time had to raise £17 15s 9d and Croydon £92 15s 9d. Demands were addressed to the high
constable for the hundred of Wallington, collected by the constable for the parish, and paid at the
Greyhound, Croydon. Five years later the quarterly levy on Mitcham had increased to £47 6s 9d
and on the others proportionately. To arrive at each householder’s contribution the usual method
of rating was followed, assessments being the actual, or an assumed rental. Thomas Smythe’s
house and land on the banks of the Wandle were assessed at £49 0s 0d, on which he paid a levy of
£1 5s 6d. In the first quarter of 1655/6. Richard Farrant (who served as an assessor with Smythe
during the Commonwealth) was assessed at £27 0s 0d for his fine house in Lower Mitcham,
paying 14s 7d for the quarter ending June 1655. The assessment list contains much else of use to
the local historian. Sir Robert Tichbourne, the regicide, is confirmed to have been renting his
Mitcham house from “Mr. Broughton” – it was soon to be purchased by Robert Cranmer. Lady
Leigh of Hall Place, Robert Cranmer at the Rectory and William Plumer of Upper Green were
each shown to be the occupiers of houses with substantial assessments, evidence which is valuable
when reconstructing the history of the properties and their occupants.

After the Restoration the system of quarterly assessments for raising the levy needed to meet the
cost of maintaining the army continued. In the year 1661 the sum of £70,000 was demanded from
Surrey to defray the costs incurred by Charles II, the sum expected of Mitcham being £15 15s 7d
per quarter. Under the terms of the Militia Act of 1662 the lord lieutenant of the county was
empowered to recruit men to serve in the militia, of which he was, ex officio, commandant. His
powers extended to the formation of companies, troops and regiments, the commissioning of
officers and the appointment of his own deputies, and the organisation of training, transport and
supplies of all kinds. Funds were to be raised by the well-tried quarterly levy on the parishes,
based as in the past on the assessed value in rental terms. In addition, persons with incomes
exceeding £100 per annum in land or having £1200 in personal estate could be required to provide
horses, arms, and armour according to their means.

Halberts1, 2 time of Charles I
3 time of Charles II
Pikes1, 2, 3 time of James I
4 time of Charles I
5, 6, 7, time of the Commonwealth
8, 9, 10 time of Charles II
Illustrations from a Victorian history book, based on Meyrick’s Ancient Armour

Notice to Joseph Barter of Mitcham, whose name had been drawn in the ballot for militia
service, to attend at Croydon to take the oath and join the local militia, 25 March 1813
(Reproduced by courtesy of Merton Library and Heritage Service)

The first Treaty of Paris led to a gradual easing of tension and a hopeful return to normality.
The Royal Surrey Militia was mobilised again after Napoleon’s escape from Elba, but was not
required for active service. Militiamen who had transferred to the regular regiments of the line
did, however, see active service, and it was said that the distinctive royal blue jackets of the
Surrey men could be picked out amongst the ranks of the Guards at Waterloo.25

Since the disbanding of Cromwell’s New Model Army, standing citizen armies had been viewed
with disapproval in Britain, for many saw them as a potential means of suppression in the
hands of the state. After the Second Treaty of Paris in 1815 a realisation of the increasing
danger of civil disorder at home gave demobilisation a new urgency, for the authorities had
become aware of the danger inherent in an armed, organised and disaffected lower class. Mindful
of what had happened in France so very recently, they promptly disbanded the infantry regiments
of the militia and the remaining volunteers.26

The parish’s liability under Pitt’s Act was not discharged in these two operations however, for
the following autumn further demands were made on the heavily taxed community. The vestry
meeting on 30 September received a letter from the county treasurer regarding what appears to
be yet another fine to be levied on the parish under the authority of the Army of Defence Act,
together with a report from the officers that monies collected and held in anticipation of the
fine were now found to be insufficient to meet the demand shortly to be expected. When in
November they became aware of the actual amount demanded, £413 15s 2d, the vestry instructed
the churchwardens to seek the opinion of the justices of the peace for the division on what
should be done. The advice given is not recorded, but clearly it offered no prospect of a respite
for the parish, and on 24 November 24 the obviously reluctant vestry accepted the proposition
that a rate of 1s 4d in the pound be levied on the parish to raise the sum required.

Whereas in today’s monetary terms the amounts involved in these repeated fines and charges
way seem small, it should be remembered that the military rate demands were in addition to the
quarterly poor rate demanded by the overseers of the poor, the annual rate levied by the parish
surveyors of highways, occasional rates such as those levied for the maintenance of the fabric
of the parish church, and numerous annual taxes of which the land tax was the most substantial.
The amounts to be paid by householders were proportional to the size of the property they occupied.
Nevertheless, with a weekly wage in the order of ten shillings (50p) per week, and paying perhaps
one shilling and sixpence (7.5p) to two shillings (10p) per week rent, the burden of these recurring
demands bore particularly heavily on the village artisan, struggling to maintain his independence
and self-respect in the face of wartime inflation. This was raising the price of staples like bread,
flour and coal to the point at which eventually the majority of the labouring class was obliged to
seek parish relief to avoid starvation.

Immediately upon taking office as war-minister in 1807, Castlereagh introduced two fresh
measures to strengthen Britain’s land forces, the one a bill to draft militiamen into the regiments
of the line, and the other to bring the militia up to strength by giving 28 days annual training to
men aged between 18 and 30. Recruitment to the army was improving steadily and by 1808, as
Sir Arthur Wellesley embarked on a campaign in the Iberian peninsular to support the Spanish
patriots, it became evident that new measures were necessary to maintain the strength of a
purely local militia. It was indeed in recognition of the fact that once the threat of invasion
receded it would always be difficult to sustain enthusiasm for a purely volunteer infantry defence
force that the Local Militia Act of 1808 was passed.23

The new militia was to be trained and permanently established, ready to aid the regular militia
in the defence of the realm. Balloting of men between the ages of 18 and 30 was to be adopted
in the absence of sufficient volunteers coming forward. Service was for four years, and men
already serving in the volunteers and other local bodies could transfer if they wished. No
substitutes were to be allowed, and no bounties were offered. This was, of course, a departure
from the practices of the past. The new inducement adopted – an offer of financial incentives to
the men in order to retain rather than merely to attract their services – has endured into the
modern Territorial Army. Under the Act of 1808 Surrey was required to raise 3,584 men, 784 of
whom were to come from the Croydon district. According to the Victoria County History they
actually mustered 2,730 rank and file, or rather over 3,000 of all ranks. Whereas the militia was
intended primarily as a home defence force, the continuously troubled state of Ireland and the
need to control its rebellious populace repeatedly necessitated deployment there of the English
militia corps, weakening the army at home. The Second Royal Surrey Militia was drafted for
service in Ireland in 1811.24 The Surreys were further augmented under an Act of 1812, bringing
their embodied strength to 5,344 men, divided into five regiments, one of which had its
headquarters at the Mitcham Road barracks in Croydon.

3. The Eighteenth Century
The 18th century was a period of almost continuous war between Britain and the rest of the world.
There were the hostilities with Spain in 1739 (the ‘War of Jenkins’ ear’), and the war of the
Austrian Succession from 1743 to 1748. The year 1756 saw the outbreak of the Seven Years War
between Britain and France, the centres of conflict being India, where the British forces were
commanded by Clive, and North America, where the opposing forces were under the leadership
of General Wolfe and the French commander Montcalm. From 1775 until 1783 the British were
involved in the tragic conflict with the American colonists, who were fighting for their
independence, and by 1780 Britain stood alone against virtually the whole of Europe, including
Russia, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark. The Treaty of Versailles of 1783 only secured a
temporary respite, hostilities being resumed on the outbreak of war with the French Republic in

Britain’s wars abroad were fought mainly by small professional armies recruited at home and
augmented by mercenaries drawn from her allies overseas. Whereas the Militia Act of 1662
empowered the lords lieutenant of the counties to call men to arms to serve in the county militias,
these were only for internal defence. The idea of a standing army at home was viewed with
suspicion, and for the most part such a force was unnecessary.

The unsuccessful attempt at invasion made by Charles Stuart in 1744, and the rebellion of ’45,
when Scottish forces under the ‘Young Pretender’ reached as far south as Derby in October,
brought an alarmed nation to the recognition that with her numerous commitments overseas Britain
was ill-defended at home and that the militia could not be relied upon. In common with 13 other
noblemen, the lord lieutenant of Surrey, Lord Onslow, formed an association in 1745 with the
intention of raising a regiment, and called a meeting at Kingston on 9 October.1 Alarm at the
approach of the Scots was evidently widespread in Surrey at this time, and an attempt to raise a
force in Mitcham was amusingly recounted in 1932 by Sir Cato Worsfold.2

“In 1745 Mitcham was greatly alarmed by the report that the Pretender’s troops, having defeated those of King George
at Derby, were marching on to attack London, and that our village was marked for ravage en route by the wild
Highlanders. How Mitcham could be in the way of the Pretender’s victorious troops passing from Derby to London is
by no means clear, but if the geography was weak, the alarm was very genuine, and an oldtime Worsfold assembled his
fellow villagers, on the front lawn of The Hall Place, armed them with flails, scythes and bill hooks, gave them a
patriotic address and called on them to rise and fight for King and Country. Whether fear or lack of oratory was the
cause, I know not, but when my ancestor had finished his speech, not a single man responded to the call to action, until
he had supplied them with three barrels of his best October brew. Then only, when the last drop obtainable had been
consumed, did their valour assert itself, and they demanded to be led out against the savage Scots. This was the tale
told to me by an old lady 45 years ago who was then in her 90th year. Her family had been our tenants for well over 100
years, and as she had heard the tale from her mother, who had witnessed it as a young girl, so she repeated it to me. I
listened to it many a time, always with the same attention, and always thrilled at the incident which apparently impressed
itself most on the young girl, which was the very vigorous language my thrifty forbear used when he found he had to
stand so much ale to induce a proper patriotism.”

Whatever force was formed in Surrey in 1745, it seems never to have taken to the field and, with
the defeat of Charles at Culloden in 1746 a sense of security gradually returned. National concern
about England’s weakness did not disappear entirely, however, and the outbreak of the Seven Years
War in 1756, with the fear of invasion, once more raised the necessity for recruitment. The need to
make better provision for home defence in particular led to the passing of another Militia Act in
1757. As before, the lords lieutenant of the counties were given the power to raise the militia, but
under the new legislation quotas for the militia regiments were to be raised by ballot (an innovation).
They were to be armed and equipped at public expense, supplied with uniforms and, above all,
drilled to a state of efficiency. The balloting system resulted in what was for most compulsory
service (unless a substitute could be found), for the exemption fee of £10 was out of the reach of
ordinary men. It did, however, allow the better-off to avoid duty and, since private bounties exceeded
those offered by the regiments of the line, it deflected recruits from the regular army.

Private Centinel (sic), 2nd Surrey Militia c.1759
from a watercolour by C C Stadden,

reproduced by courtesy of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum, Clandon Park, Surrey Commission of Lt. in 3rd Regiment of Militia, 24 June 1809 (Copyright of

Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

10 31

Form of Attestation for Reserve men, 20 January 1805 (Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

In Surrey the rumour that, when enlisted, militiamen would be sent overseas almost led to a
rebellion and for a time tension was high. The situation was eased by legislation which offered
the incentive of £3 bounty money to any volunteer prepared to sign on for a three-year term in a
line regiment. More forcible methods of obtaining recruits were also introduced, parish constables
in each parish being authorised to seek out able-bodied but idle and disorderly persons, and to
hand them over to the commissioners for selection for army service. One pound was paid to the
parish officer for each man, with additional sums for the maintenance of married men’s wives and
children whose support would otherwise fall on the parish poor rate. A result of this measure was
that the rank and file of Britain’s small regular army became comprised to a considerable extent
of ruffians, gaolbirds and unemployed – “scum of the earth” as Wellington was later to call them.

By 1758 service in the militia had become far less unpopular. The reformed Surrey Militia was
raised initially in 1759, Sir Nicholas Carew of Beddington becoming colonel-in-chief. The
established strength was 800 men in ten companies, divided into two battalions, the First (Eastern)
Battalion being raised around Kingston, Croydon, Southwark and Clapham. With a full strength
of 80 rank-and-file and three officers, the Croydon Company was the only one up to establishment.
The Second (West) Surreys were raised around Camberwell, Putney, Guildford and Godalming.
An attempt to raise a third battalion from around the Reigate area was abandoned for lack of
response, and when the regiment was eventually reformed in 1763 it was on the basis of two
battalions only. Records of the Surreys at this time appear not to have survived, and we are therefore
unable to trace the careers of Mitcham men who served.

By the 1760s the parish constable’s duties in connection with the militia had become numerous.
He had to provide men, either volunteers, persons chosen by lot (or substitutes acting on their
behalf), or men forcibly impressed, on penalty of a fine on the parish for default. From the money
allowed him from the county militia rate he had to pay maintenance to militiamen’s families,
pensions to maimed soldiers and mariners, allowances to men serving as substitutes, and relief to
soldiers travelling through the parish on their way to their homes. As we have seen, men chosen
by lot could avoid militia duty if they paid £10 for the provision of a substitute by the county. This
sum was paid to the county treasurer, and was distributed either to parish officers or the treasurer
of another county for the maintenance of the substitute’s family.

The uniform of the Surrey militia in the late 18th century was a red coat with white facings, red
waistcoat and breeches, white gaiters and a tricorne hat. Each had his hair powdered and neatly
tied back in the regulation ‘queue’ or pigtail, whilst the sergeants were distinguished by sashes.
The men were armed with muskets, bayonets and swords, and in their marches about Surrey and
the south-east of England they were quartered in public houses.3 Pay in the ranks was one shilling
a day, and the nearest the men came to the enemy was when guarding French prisoners of war.
Following the cessation of hostilities in 1762 the regiment was disbanded, but it was reformed
after the signing of the First Treaty of Paris in 1763. The Surrey militia were deployed on St
George’s Fields, Southwark, at the outbreak of the Gordon Riots in 1780. They were held back
overlong due to hesitation on the part of the authorities, to whom the use of troops to suppress
civil disobedience was still repugnant, but were eventually used in the fighting of 7 June and to
clear the mob from Blackfriars Bridge.

Officer and Private, Surrey Militia 1759–63
painting by Bryan Fosten from The Infantry Regiments of Surrey
by courtesy of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum, Clandon Park, Surrey

inducement of bounties paid by the Treasury, and the aid of the parishes in raising new recruits,
he hoped to have a trained force ready for active service by the end of the year. The volunteers he
left alone, recognising their ability to relieve the regular army of much of its home defence

The machinery for raising the extra men did not operate very quickly. It is not until 7 October
1804 that we find Mitcham vestry meeting, ” … In Order to make a Rate for the Purpose of
Raising the Number of Twenty-Eight men to serve in the Army, for the Reduction of the Militia
according to Act of Parliament … and on Order Received from the High Constable of this Hundred”.
Obviously encountering difficulty in reaching an agreement on how to settle the issue, the meeting
was adjourned, as were subsequent meetings on the 11th and 18th. At a further meeting on 26
October the parish clerk minuted that it had been called to consider “the best mode of raising the
money to pay the fine levied on the parish for the deficiency of 28 men required by Parliament”,
but it was not until 5 November that the vestrymen, meeting this time at the Buck’s Head, resolved
to make a rate of 1s 9d in the pound to raise the amount needed both to defray the expenses
incurred in attempting to recruit the men, and the inevitable fine should the parish fail to meet its

January 1805 found Mitcham still struggling to make up its contingent. On the 27th the Vestry
authorised the churchwardens to borrow £100 and to reimburse themselves for the money already
expended in raising the ‘remainder’ of the 28 men required for what the clerk, in his minute,
mistakenly decribed as the “Army of Defence”. A month later they reported to the vestry that they
had “managed to raise a total of sixteen men at a cost of £138 and upwards”, and produced forms
of attestation signed by the men for the vestry to inspect.20

Convinced that it was worth the officers continuing with their efforts, the vestry authorised the
churchwardens to borrow a further £100 “at Legal interest” and to reimburse themselves so that
they could proceed with the recruitment.

Despite the prodigious efforts made by vestries like Mitcham, Pitt’s Recruiting Act proved almost
as great a failure as Addington’s Army of Reserve Act. Recruiting proved extremely difficult
thoughout the country, and many parish authorities found it easier to pay the fines than to fulfil
their quotas. Surrey was no more successful than the rest of the counties, and at quarter sessions
on 14 March 1805 a fine was levied on the county for its failure to meet the overall quota of men
required for the army. The deficit for the whole county was 1,010 men and the fine £20 per head.
Mitcham was ordered to pay £422 11s 3d – a proportion of the total fine levied on the county of
£20,200. No adjustment seems to have been made to recognise the efforts made in recruiting, or
the successes of each parish.21

Meeting on 24 March, Mitcham vestry must therefore have been disheartened and annoyed to
find that a further rate was now needed to pay the new fine “Levied on this Parish for the Army of
Defence”. A week later, after further debate, they agreed to order a rate of 1s 2d in the pound, and
a book was opened by the officers at the Buck’s Head on 2 April. The book survives, and its
preamble makes its purpose clear:

“… an assessment or rate upon all persons that are occupiers of houses, lands and tenements … to pay a fine levied on
the parish for the deficiency of men to be raised … under an Act of Parliament dated the 23rd June 1804 … for
establishing and maintaining a Permanent Additional Force for the Defence of the Realm and to provide for augmenting
his Majesty’s Regular Forces and for the gradual Reduction of the Militia of England.”22

The names, assessments of rental values and the amounts demanded are set out in the manner
usual for the parish rate books. The rate proposed and the assessments were confirmed by two
justices of the peace on 5 April, and the parish’s officers proceeded to collect the amounts due
from householders in the usual manner.

Officer and Private, 2nd Royal Surrey Militia 1805
painting by Bryan Fosten from The Infantry Regiments of Surrey
by courtesy of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum, Clandon Park, Surrey

4. The Napoleonic Wars and After
As the situation in France deteriorated following the Revolution and the increasingly belligerent
attitude adopted by the leaders of the new republic made it obvious that war would soon become
unavoidable, concern in England mounted. The British regiments of the line only amounted to
some 15,000 troops – a totally inadequate force in the face of France’s half million under arms –
and old fears of the threat of invasion re-awakened. The militia was re-embodied on 1 December
1792, and the whole country stirred in a belated flurry of mobilisation and drilling. The following
year, when it had an effective strength of 601 rank-and-file out of an establishment of 840 men,
the Surrey militia found itself deployed with others as an anti-invasion force along the South
Coast, camping at Brighton after a period on watch on the cliffs at Dover.1

In 1794 an Act was passed to encourage the formation of a corps of volunteer cavalry. The response
was immediate, and the Surrey Yeomanry was founded by Lord Leslie of Dorking on 9 May 1794.
Six troops – a sizeable force – received their standards from Lady Leslie at a parade on Epsom
Downs.2 The voluntary element was strong, and contributions to raise funds for providing arms
for public defence were made throughout the kingdom, subscriptions in Surrey alone raising
£14,274. Depots for stores were founded throughout the county, and barracks were established
for cavalry in Mitcham Road, Croydon.1 Coming as they did from the upper classes, the gentlemen
of the yeomanry were expected as much to provide a reliable force to be called upon in case of
possible civil disorder as to strengthen the defences against invasion. They were not expected to
serve overseas.

Although an inland parish, Mitcham responded loyally in April to a call from the government to
recruit volunteers for the navy, having resolved the previous month to share with Morden the
obligation to meet the quota, and agreeing that the bounty should be £25 per man. The money was
to be found by a subscription, and not by levying a rate. Here again, one sees demonstrated the
essential amateurishness of the authorities’ approach at this stage in the war, and the reliance
placed on voluntary effort by a free enterprise society. Much as the nation abhorred compulsion,
it would find itself obliged to resort to it increasingly in the years to come.

The defection of her allies, and the alliance between France and Spain, found Britain in 1796
virtually alone in her stand against the French republic and its rising star Napoleon Bonaparte.
With the invasion of Ireland imminent, detailed plans were drawn up for the defence of southern
England, and Parliament voted to double the militia and to raise a new force of cavalry by
compulsion, one mounted man, fully armed, to be found by the owner or owners of every ten
horses. It was also decided to add 15,000 men to the fleet by imposing further compulsory quotas
on the parishes.

Mitcham again responded to the call, and on 4 December the vestry met “to take into consideration
the most speedy and effectual means for raising the number of six men to serve in his Majesty’s
Army and Navy according to Act of Parliament, and an order from his Majesty’s Justices of the
Peace”. No immediate decision was reached, but meeting at the King’s Head on the 15th the
vestry resolved that a rate of sixpence in each pound’s rental should be levied to raise money for
the bounties which were proving necessary to induce men to come forward. The rate book survives,
showing the assessments for the various houses and lands in Mitcham, the total levy being expected
to raise £214 4s 0d, although with bounties at £25 only £150 was needed. A month later, meeting
at the White Hart, the vestry minuted that the men raised for service (two so far were in receipt of
the parish bounty) were to be conveyed to ‘Union Hall’ and thence to the Isle of Wight. Eventually
six men were recruited, two being carpenters, one a waterman and another a lighterman, a fifth a
blacksmith and the sixth a labourer. All had skills welcomed in the fleet.3 The parishes subsequently
fell out over the question of payment. Morden, finding only one man out of the six, inexplicably
refused to pay him more than one third of the promised bounty, and left a complaining Mitcham
to make it up when he was delivered on board the tender.

Officer Surrey Militia 1795, Private, 2nd Surrey Militia (1st Supplementary Battalion),1797
painting by Bryan Fosten from The Infantry Regiments of Surrey
by courtesy of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum, Clandon Park, Surrey

The Army of Reserve Act was passed on 6 July, and on 20 July Mitcham vestry met to discuss the
problem of raising yet another quota of men, this time to serve in the new reserve battalions. In
particular they were concerned once again at having to meet the cost of finding substitutes for
“Housekeepers or inmates” drawn in the ballot who were unable to afford the fine to avoid service
and whose families would in all probability become a charge on the parish if the father was ‘took
for a soldier’. Since experience had shown that the cost of the bounty frequently fell on the parish,
the vestry prudently resolved on this occasion to authorise the taking out of insurance policies to
meet the possible expense.

Growing hatred of Napoleon was matched by a resolve to defend Britain to the last man should he
attempt to invade. That summer thousands responded to the call to arms, and village greens and
town squares echoed to the commands of drill-sergeants as the volunteers strove to emulate the
Guards in the precision of their movements. Uniforms were to be seen everywhere, but weapons
and ammunition were in desperately short supply. As autumn approached excitement reached
fever pitch. Professional army units were deployed along the south and east coasts, and beacons
prepared. Plans and counter-plans issued from the government for laying waste to the countryside
of the south-east should the French land. Field works were dug alongside the roads leading to
London, and the defensive potential of the Surrey hills to provide sites for strategically placed
batteries was earnestly debated. The role of the volunteers was seen principally as a guerrilla
force to harry the invaders from the rear, leaving direct confrontation to the regular army. Towards
the end of the summer of 1803 the volunteers were under orders to march at one hour’s notice. A
day of general fasting was proclaimed on 19 October and Mitcham parish church, like others
throughout the land, was packed to capacity in an act of national prayer and worship.

As one reads accounts of the volunteers sharing with the regiments of the line night watches in
dew-drenched fields, or taking part in manoeuvres across muddy ditches and open heathland, the
parallel with 1940 becomes quite extraordinarily close. As Hitler was to find, the hazards of a
Channel crossing, and the strength of the British navy proved too great a deterrent, and the invasion
never materialised, although false alarms and, indeed, Napoleon’s preparations, persisted into
1804. Gradually Britain relaxed, but the volunteers, like the home guard of World War II, did not
stand down until shortly before the end of hostilities.

Surrounded on all sides by such activity, it is hardly surprising to find schools, particularly those
catering for the upper classes from whom the majority of Britain’s officers were recruited, including
some form of military training in their curriculum. At Mitcham, James Dempster’s boarding school
at Baron House achieved a reputation as a classical academy preparing young men for service in
the army or navy, as well as for entry into the two universities.18 Lord Monson, who attended the
Revd Richard Roberts’ preparatory boarding academy at Glebelands between 1803 and 1809
recalled his first, somewhat inadequate, introduction to the martial arts with evident amusement.
It had been arranged by Roberts that a sergeant living in the village should drill the boys:

“This Sergeant (name now forgotten) … came twice a week. I did not very long learn under him. My Mother very justly
thought it was a waste of money. In fact the only advantage was the exercise and Roberts I think had the same opinion.
Our proficiency in anything really military was absurdly little. It was all down to our wooden muskets make-believe The
boys themselves felt so, ridiculed the old Sergeant and had no heart in the matter. The only thing we used to enjoy
was to be divided into two bodies and charge bayonets – before our muskets crossed he used to call halt which neither
side obeyed and we used to carry on a l’outrance until the weaker party was rolling on the gravel and the stronger on
the top of them. The Sergeant kept a Turner’s shop in the village and his usefulness was certainly more apparent in
supplying us with hoops.”19

Despite the Government’s hope, the Army of Reserve Act proved a failure, raising only 34,500
men, of whom fewer than 8,000 took the bounty and joined the front-line battalions. It was left to
Pitt, returning from retirement to form a new government, to introduce a new Recruiting Act in
June 1804 to make good the shortcomings of his predecessors’ legislation. Pitt’s measure reduced
the embodied militia by one third, transferring some 22,000 men to the army of reserve. With the

Constable’s Lists of Volunteers [above] and Unfit [below], 24 August 1803
(Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

Churchwardens’ and Overseers’ List of Naval Volunteers 1795 (Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

26 15

Orders to Mitcham to pay bounties to men serving in the Militia 1 December 1810 [above]
and 24 September 1803 [below]
(Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

Half-trained, albeit enthusiastic, volunteer units and a citizen militia were, of course, no substitutes
for a professional army, and in the summer of 1803 the Government bowed to Opposition pressure
and introduced a measure17 for establishing and maintaining a permanent additional force for the
defence of the realm, creating an Army of Reserve of 50,000 men. They also were to be raised by
compulsory ballot of all fit males, this time aged between 18 and 40, and were to serve in the United
Kingdom in depot or second battalions of the regiments of the line. Some, it was hoped, would be
persuaded to accept the bounty, and transfer to the front-line battalions, either during, or at the end
of, their obligatory five years’ service. Still holding strongly to the principle of personal freedom,
Parliament allowed that, as in the case of the militia ballot, men drawn as reservists could evade
personal service by providing substitutes or paying a fine.

Certificate of Recruitment to 56th Regiment, 10 August 1805 (Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

16 25

Pay-List and Return, First Company Mitcham Volunteers (Reproduced by kind permission of The National Archives)

In 1797 the Surrey militia, by now rejoicing in the epithet ‘Royal’,4 was again re-organised, this
time to form two regiments, each of 840 men.1 Their uniform at this time is said to have been a
black shako hat, red cutaway coat with facings of black and white trimmed with gold according to
the battalion, black breeches with red stripe and black boots.5 Mitcham, in the eastern sub-division
of the county, recruited for the first regiment. The new regiment, ‘the First Supplementary’ or the
second Royal Surreys, was raised successfully but when, in January 1798, a third regiment was
ordered, it was found impossible to recruit sufficient men and the attempt was abandoned after a
couple of years,6 and the third Surreys disbanded. Reasons for the failure are not absolutely clear,
but the exemption from the annual ballot which was enjoyed by serving volunteers and others
must have been a contributing factor. Like many of his fellows, having been drawn to serve in the
Royal Surreys, James Moore, farmer and physic gardener of Mitcham, elected not to serve, finding
a substitute in a Thomas Ward. Moore was finally discharged from his obligation at a court of
lieutenancy at Croydon in June 1799.7 He did not, as we shall see later, evade national service
entirely, for he commanded the local volunteers with distinction from 1803 until 1813.

Although attempts to form a third regiment of the Royal Surreys were a failure, patriotic fervour
was still sweeping the country, and on all sides preparations continued to be made for defence.
Bonaparte was known to be amassing a great invasion force on the French and Belgian coasts, but
the professional forces in Britain remained pitifully small. Typically it was left to private enterprise
to fill the gap. On 22 February 1798, at a public meeting in Mitcham chaired by Henry Hoare the
London banker, it had been agreed to launch a special appeal for contributions towards national
defence. Such was the support that the impressive sum of £301 18s 6d was subscribed before the

24 17

Certificate of Substitute for James Moore,3 June 1799. (Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

Two certificates of swearing and enrolment of Militia substitutes, 28 March 1801 and 24 April 1790.
(Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

meeting broke up, and arrangements were made for further donations to be received by the landlords
of the King’s Head and the Buck’s Head, until 5 March.8 When the books closed, sums received
were to be paid to Mr Hoare who, appropriately enough, was acting as treasurer. Mitcham vestry
met on 29 April to “fix on a plan to defend this parish from the enemy” and, predictably, the first
step was to appoint a committee to consider the proposition. Henry Hoare was among the committee
members, and the chair was taken by William Pollard of Park Place. Within four days plans had
been made for the formation of an ‘Armed Association’ and rules drawn up. The association was
to consist of householders and other inhabitants of the parish prepared to serve, divided into two
corps, one cavalry and the other infantry. They were expected where possible to be armed and
accoutred at their own expense, whilst those unable to learn the use of arms were to provide

In Surrey volunteers for the various county units increased steadily over the next few years, the
mounted yeomanry, recruited largely from farmers’ sons and members of the gentry, having
grown to 788 and the infantry to 7,433 by 1806. Trafalgar had shown that, at least at sea, Britain
was invincible, and the enthusiasm displayed at the recurrent volunteer reviews was only surpassed
by the units’ pride of bearing, even the smallest villages mustering impressive forces in splendid
uniforms. None of their spectators doubted the units’ potential, or their resolve to defend their
native land to the last man. Although ultimately many were to serve as professionals in the
regiments of the line, it is perhaps as well for the proud memory of the volunteers that they were
never pitted against the battle-hardened veterans of France under the rigours of a continental

Surviving muster lists indicate that the Loyal Mitcham Volunteer Infantry flourished from 1803
at least until the end of 1813.16 Returns of the volunteer forces raised in the United Kingdom,
printed in December 1803 by order of the House of Commons, show the establishment of the
Mitcham corps to have been three companies of 60 men each, and that the actual strength was
one field officer, three captains, six subalterns, nine sergeants, nine corporals and six drummers,
giving a total of 168 effective rank-and-file. The date of the Government’s formal acceptance of
the unit’s offer of service, 21 August 1803, qualified the corps for ‘August Allowances’, that is
the men were entitled to receive pay for 20 days annual training. Units so paid were required to
agree “to march to any part of Great Britain for the defence thereof, in case of actual invasion or
the appearance of any enemy in force upon the coast and for the suppression of such rebellion or
insurrection arising or existing at the time of such invasion”. Whereas these terms of service
were those stipulated by the Defence Acts under which the volunteer corps were enrolled, the
Mitcham corps agreed to serve with neither pay nor allowances for clothing or ‘contingencies’.
Such an arrangement was not uncommon in Surrey, where ten other volunteer units were quite
unsupported by government funds. It is evident from subsequent pay lists and returns for the
Mitcham volunteers that NCOs and other ranks were in fact receiving the stipulated 20 days
training each year and that they were paid one pound each. The source of funds is not clear, but
one assumes the money was raised by voluntary subscriptions. Presumably by preserving financial
independence those in command of the corps were able to secure a measure of control over the
possible deployment of the men.

The major commandant of the Loyal Mitcham Volunteer Infantry was James Moore, foremost
among the growers of medicinal herbs in the country and owner of a large farm and distillery in
Mitcham. William Fenning of Baron House, son of the proprietor of the Ravensbury calico printing
works, was captain of the first company, with Robert Wasley as his lieutenant. Robert Wasley,
described on his tombstone as “Drilling Master 50 years” died on 1 June 1842 aged 82, and lies
buried in Mitcham churchyard with his wife Mary and daughter Sarah. The second company was
led by Captain John Rivers and the third by Captain Isaac Hellier, partners in the Phipps Bridge
firm of Howard, Hellier and Company which was also engaged in calico printing. In later years
one of the three sergeants in each company was to become the company drill sergeant, and the
establishment seems to have been increased from two to three drummers per company.

The NCOs and privates received one shilling a day whilst engaged on corps exercises, but John
Hall, the corps sergeant major, received a yearly salary of £33 19s 0d and was engaged full time.
Towards the end of the war the three company drill-sergeants were also on full-time engagement,
receiving ls 6d per day. The first of the pay lists and returns for the Mitcham volunteers, for the
period ending 24 December 1803, shows each of the men to have been on exercise for a total of
20 days since the corps’ formation that eventful summer. Enthusiasm and support for the corps
was sustained throughout the war, although understandably the strength of the three companies
tended to decline as the threat of invasion diminished and the struggle became more and more
concentrated on the Continent.

each. James Moore’s bills for the expenses incurred (he was serving as parish overseer of the poor
that year) show that he had to agree to pay as much as 26 guineas to three of the men, and 25
guineas each to another three. None was prepared to serve for a bounty of less than 15 guineas,
although the current official inducement offered for a volunteer in the county was only eight
guineas.12 The normal method of payment was half the bounty on enlistment, with the balance
being paid on receipt of certification from the regiment after completion of one month’s satisfactory
service. Should a parishioner be possessed of an estate in land, goods or merchandise valued at
more than £500, responsibility for payment of the bounty due to his substitute rested with him. In
the case of the less well-to-do, Parliament had made provision for payment of the bounty out of
the poor rate. Moore’s accounts imply that all those drawn from Mitcham in 1803 owned less than
the stipulated amount.

The first regiment of the Royal Surrey Militia, based at Kingston under the command of Colonel
Lord Grantley, was stationed at Ashford, Kent, in 1803, many of the men being billeted on local
inns in accordance with time-honoured custom. Each of the eight companies comprising some 40
privates was led by a captain, lieutenant and ensign, four sergeants, four corporals and three
drummers. The second Surreys were at Guildford, their headquarters, mostly in barracks created
from the old house of the Dominican Friars. Pay for privates at this time was £1 10s 0d per month
plus beer money. The differential between the commissioned and non-commissioned ranks was
marked, the sergeants receiving £2 6s 10d, the lieutenant £8 16s 0d and the captain £14 11s 11d
per month.13

The cost of maintaining many serving militiamen’s dependants fell on the parish, and Mitcham
overseers were repeatedly called upon to find money not only for their own parishioners’ families,
but also for those of substitutes who often had a settlement in other parts of the kingdom. The
demands were made either by the substitutes’ parishes or, presumably in the case of Mitcham
families living near the army camps, the county. The burden was not inconsiderable, and in January
1803, faced with having to meet the expenses incurred in the relief of militiamen’s wives and
children by the county treasurer, Mitcham vestry exercised typical caution, giving instructions
that before accepting liability there must first be a search in the muster rolls of the regiments to
which the men belonged in order to verify that they were actually serving when the monies paid
were disbursed. When the vestry was informed on 27 October 1803 of another order made by the
quarter sessions on application by the treasurer for a further payment of £117 11s 1d to reimburse
him for monies similarly expended, the members reacted by resolving to take legal opinion on the
parish’s liability, as well as the correctness of the amount demanded.

Still alarmed at Britain’s weakness, and with a future levy en masse in mind should the need arise,
the government introduced a Defence Bill by which those volunteering for home defence before
16 June 1803 were exempt from compulsory service. Patriotic feelings were already at fever
pitch, and volunteer units of all kinds were being formed in their hundreds. The lord lieutenant of
Surrey called a meeting at Epsom on 8 July, and the county was divided for military purposes into
three zones, Mitcham being in the north-eastern sub-divison. Seven divisional lieutenants were
appointed, with the Duke of Cambridge in supreme command. An official return shows that over
8,000 men volunteered in Surrey alone, the great majority electing to serve in the various infantry
corps.14 In the country as a whole over 340,000 came forward.

Once more, Mitcham was thrown into a ferment of preparation, and after preliminary discussions
the parishioners were summoned by notices posted around the village on 30 July to attend a
meeting in the vestry rooms on the evening of 1 August “To consider further of forming An
Armed Association for the more effectual Defence of the Country”.15 The outcome was the
formation of the Loyal Mitcham Volunteer Infantry Corps under the command of James Moore, a
deputy lieutenant of the county, lord of the manor of Biggin and Tamworth and one of the principal
landowners in the parish.

Notice of Meeting at Mitcham, 22 Feb 1798 (Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

themselves with ten-foot-long pikes or constables’ staves. It was stressed that these arrangements
“were for the sole purpose of protecting their own property and for the Peace and Tranquility of
the Parish on the occasion of invasion, insurrection, Civil Commotions or other course of
Extraordinary Emergency”. Drilling and weapon training was to be in the hands of a drill sergeant
if one could be found. It was further proposed that “Ladies and Gentlemen and other respectable
inhabitants of the said Parish” were to be asked to contribute to the aid of the association. The
very real danger of invasion undoubtedly provided the main motivation, but the awful example
across the Channel of the power of the common people in revolt was not lost on those in positions
of wealth and authority.

Henry Hoare threw himself into the preparations with characteristic enthusiasm, and was soon
deeply committed, both at Mitcham and the City. Hannah Moore, visiting the Hoare family at
Mitcham Grove that spring, remarked in her diary for 7 May:

“I did not enjoy much of poor Mr. Hoare’s company, so occupied was he in arming and exercising. He rises at half-past
four at Mitcham, trots off to town to be ready to meet at six the Fleet Street Corps, performing their evolutions in the area
of Bridewell, the only place where they can find sufficient space; then comes back to a late dinner, and as soon as it is
over, goes to his committees, after which he has a sergeant to drill himself and his three sons on the lawn till after dark.”9

Whereas it transpired that mercifully Britain was to be spared invasion, the threat remained for
several years, and volunteer regiments of cavalry and infantry continued to multiply in Surrey and
elsewhere. On 4 June 1799, his 62nd birthday, King George III took the salute at a review of
10,000 London volunteers and militia at a parade in Hyde Park, and was highly delighted by their
immaculate bearing and the military precision they displayed. A month later, at a muster on
4 July, the king reviewed Surrey’s own force of 676 cavalry and 1,958 infantry on Wimbledon
Common. By far the largest single contingent was Lord Leslie’s Surrey Yeomanry, 253 strong,
impressively uniformed and mounted. Manoeuvres by the infantry, concluding with the discharge
of three volleys of musket fire, were followed by a performance of their sword exercise by the
gentlemen of the yeomanry.10 The monarch was reported in The Times the following day as having
expressed himself much impressed with the appearance of the men – a sentiment no doubt proudly
echoed by the crowds that had assembled to witness the spectacle.

Rules for the Yeomen Cavalry, 15 May 1798 (Copyright of Surrey History Service, reproduced by permission)

Many of the militiamen paraded before the king that summer were either drafted into the regular
army under the provisions of an Act of 12 July, or induced by the prevailing mood of patriotism to
take the £10 bounty offered and to volunteer for overseas service. How many Surrey men served
under Abercrombie in his ill-fated campaign in the Dutch Netherlands that autumn we shall
probably never know. One imagines that many of those fortunate enough to survive, like their
comrades in arms, returned from Den Helder peninsula embittered by the inept leadership of their
officers and resentful of the inadequate preparation and support given to the expedition by an
amateurish government.

A succession of harsh winters and disastrous summers, in which crops failed to ripen and harvests
rotted in the fields, resulted in food shortages and high prices. Inevitably, given the economic
structure of 18th-century England, the burden fell mainly on the poor, and the labouring classes
were obliged increasingly to seek relief from the parish to supplement their wages. The wives and
children of militiamen, whether drawn by ballot or provided as substitutes, were deprived of the
support of the breadwinner of the family and often found themselves in a serious plight. Forced
by hunger and cold to forego cherished independence and self-respect, many had no option but to
apply for parish dole along with the paupers. Thus on 9 February 1800, whilst the country
impatiently waited for the government to take advantage of the command of the sea regained by
Nelson and the British fleet, and to adopt a more decisive military policy against Napoleon,
Mitcham vestry grappled with the human problems of war, resolving that the families of Burriss
and King, who were serving in the London militia, should be allowed the same weekly allowance
as other families on poor relief.

The successes of Nelson at Copenhagen and Abercrombie in Egypt culminated in the peace of
Amiens in 1802 – “a truce of exhaustion”. Although Bonaparte was to use the months that followed
to consolidate his grip on Europe and to prepare for a resumption of the war the British, hoping
that peace might endure, gradually relaxed and began to demobilise their forces. The regular
army was halved. 40,000 sailors were discharged, and the volunteers disbanded. As the country
rejoiced only a few realised that Britain had merely won a brief respite in the struggle against
republican France and the tyranny of Napoleon. Among them were those members of Parliament
who supported the Defence of the Realm Act by which lords lieutenant of the counties, as a
preliminary to conscription, were required to submit returns of all men aged between 15 and 60
liable for militia service.11 The usual exemptions were granted to the incapacitated, those already
serving in the volunteers, ministers of religion, Quakers etc. Balloting for 51,000 men was
authorised, each to be liable for a five-year term of service. Names were to be drawn by lot as was
customary, but none was to be compelled to serve outside Britain. Embodiment of this additional
draft of militia was envisaged as taking place “on apprehension of invasion”.

On 10 March 1803, when relations with France were clearly deteriorating rapidly, and Napoleon’s
preparations for the invasion of Britain could not be ignored, the militia was called out by royal
proclamation. The illusion of peace finally ended in May when even the weak and peace-loving
government of Addington came to the realisation that nothing in fact would appease Napoleon
except the eventual destruction of Britain. The fleet was ordered to sea, and with the danger of
invasion now very great a further 25,000 militia were embodied. The country was plunged once
more into a frenzy of mobilisation and preparation for defence.

As always, the balloting resulted in a rush to find substitutes – usually from amongst the very men
to whom the regular army traditionally looked for recruits. Such was the demand that the price of
militia substitutes on the ‘open market’ reached £30 per head – far in excess of the official bounty
offered by the army recruiting sergeants – and created a problem for the parish authorities who
more often than not had to find the sum required. The names of 12 local men were drawn to meet
Mitcham’s militia quota in 1803, but none actually had to serve, substitutes being procured for