On this day … 20 April 1797

The corporation gave £50 to the newly-formed Royal Preston Volunteers, a volunteer local militia under the command of Nicholas Grimshaw. Later that year, a rival group, under the command of John Watson, representing the Earl of Derby, was established.

Recruitment to each group would have been on political grounds, since the Royals were Tory and the Loyals were Whigs. The corporation itself was Tory, so it is unlikely it subscribed anything to the Loyals.

Lest it be thought that the two corps were unlikely to be involved in conflict, it should be remembered that it was just such a volunteer militia force that was among those responsible for the killing and wounding of the demonstrators at Peterloo just over twenty years later.. The government feared not just Napoleon, but also internal unrest.

The arrest of Henry Hunt, a future Preston MP, by Manchester members of a similar volunteer corp to the two Preston ones, at what came to be known as Peterloo. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peterloo_massacre_dreadful_scene_at_Manchester.jpg

The reason for the formation of the two volunteer regiments was this fear of an imminent invasion by Napoleon, as the corporation records show:

… that the inhabitants of the town and neighbour hood of Preston having entered into an association and subscription, with the approbation of the King, for raising a volunteer corps of infantry, for the internal defence of the town of Preston and the neighbourhood for five miles circumjacent, and to extend their services to the north- west military district, in case of actual invasion or imminent danger thereof, it is agreed and ordered that the sum of £50 be subscribed by Mr. Mayor on account of this Corporation towards defraying the expence of the said corps.

The following year the corporation gave a further 25 guineas to the Royals. Shortly after, a third company of volunteers, a Rifle Corps, was formed under the command of a Mr Ogle.

An invitation card from the Royals contained the following:

The Lieutenant-Colonel and other officers request the favour of Volunteer Thomas Thompson’s Company at Dinner on Monday, May the 3rd, at the Town Hall, at two o’clock. The corps will be upon Parade with clean arms and flinted, in full Uniform and well-powdered Hair, at Eleven o’clock. Preston, April 16th, 1802.

In 1808, the Royals and the Rifle Corps merged with the local militia force, the Amounderness Local Militia, and Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Grimshaw assumed command of the combined force, which numbered a thousand men.

These volunteers used to meet on Sundays to clean their muskets and other equipment before parading on the Market Place for drill in the afternoon. In summer they were marched down to the marsh for practice exercises.

Lengthier exercises involved them going under canvas on Fulwood Moor, as the Preston historian Charles Hardwick noted:

These troops were encamped upon ground in the rear of the present barrack, at Fulwood, hence the names of ‘camp ground,’ and ‘camp field,’ which the locality bears to the present day. Last year, 1856, several bullets were found on the ‘Freehold Land Estate’ in the immediate neighbourhood. They most probably had been deposited during the musket practice of this body of men.

The local militia was stood down in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.



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