The Twickenham Museum
People : Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen

The Twickenham Volunteers
A short-lived 19th century “Dad’s Army”
1803

Twickenham Volunteers formed in case of invasion or insurrection

In August 1803, Alexander Hatfield of Twickenham wrote a letter to the Marquis of Titchfield, 3rd Duke of Portland and Lord Lieutenant of the County of Middlesex, in which he announced:

"The Parish of Twickenham having formed themselves into a Corps of the Hundred Men - chosen by Ballot - are desirous of offering their Services to Government as a Volunteer Association, to serve in Great Britain in case of Invasion or Insurrection and if approved by His Majesty they request to be furnished with Arms and Accoutrements as soon as Government can provide them. The officers to be proposed to Command are Alexr Hatfield, Capt, John Perryn, 1st Lieut, Thos Amyand, 2nd Lieut, [blank] Ensign"

The setting up of volunteer corps to defend the nation had been allowed since 1758. An Act of 1782 distinguished them from the compulsory militia and they became unofficial from then on, being controlled by the Lord Lieutenant of each county. They were raised in times of crisis and then disbanded.

The threat of invasion during the Napoleonic Wars in the 1790s resulted in many new volunteer companies, but most were disbanded in 1802 after the Peace of Amiens. However, Napoleon’s declaration of war in May 1803 resulted in the re-formation of many of these companies. It is not known whether the Twickenham Volunteers existed before this date.

At the beginning of September 1803, Hatfield again wrote to the Marquis acknowledging the receipt of a letter from the latter which had evidently contained "His Majesty’s acceptance of the Services of the Volunteer Corps of the Parish of Twickenham". He states that enrolment amounts to more the 90 men and requests an Order for Arms. He also proposes one Mr. William Kent to be Ensign, the fourth officer.

The first mention of their activities appeared in the Morning Post in the following October: "The Twickenham Volunteers appeared in their full uniform, for the first time, on Sunday last; and being an excellent body of men, made a very fine appearance. They marched from the parade to Church, where a sermon was preached on the occasion by Dr. CAMBRIDGE."

Difficulties in recruiting and keeping men

The Volunteers were united in a battalion with the Brentford, Ealing, and Isleworth Corps in February next year. At that time, Hatfield wrote to the Marquis that "we are gradually reducing in our numbers, in some degree occasioned by Families removing to Town at this season whose servants compose a Principal Part of our strength, who have left their places vacant. I see no prospect of adding to our numbers by any fresh recruits – 77 Rank & File & 2 of those sick."

Shortly after this, in March 1804, Hatfield must have been asked to move the Volunteers on to "Permanent Pay & Duty" (presumably becoming something like an official militia). He responded: "the Principal Part that comprise the above Corps are Shopkeepers – most of them are married with numerous Families – to whom it would be exceedingly injurious to be absent from their occupations." The quotation attributed to Napoleon that “England is a nation of shopkeepers” was perhaps not wide of the mark.

In April 1804, the Times reported that all the West London Volunteer Corps, including the Twickenham Volunteers, were to be reviewed the following day on Wimbledon Common under Colonel Drinkwater's command. It was reported on the next day that, unfortunately, Col. Drinkwater was unable to attend the review and the brigades were dismissed, except for the Kensington Volunteers who: "marched by themselves to Wimbledon and after being regaled with bread, cheese and porter, repaired to the Common; but, owing to the unfavourable state of the weather, returned, after firing four rounds each, and performing a small part of the usual manoeuvres practised on a field-day."

Officers resign

By August 1804, the Volunteers were in a state of decline. In a letter to the Marquis, Capt. Hatfield resigned, claiming "an indifferent state of health" and having been deprived of the services of Lieutenants Amyand and Perryn by their resignations. He was still in post in October, however, when he wrote to the Marquis reporting that the Volunteers had declined to perform "Ten days Additional Exercises." He notes that he has been unable to find a successor.

This situation is made clearer in a letter from George Owen Cambridge to the Marquis in November of that year in which he repeats that the state of Capt. Hatfield's health is the reason for his resignation. He also adds that "the same cause has already deprived us of Lieutenants Perryn and Amyand." Ensign Kent seems to have declined an offer to take command, as did numerous other gentlemen. He concludes that the Corps should be disbanded at the end of the year unless suitable officers had been found.

It is not clear whether the Volunteers were disbanded or re-formed, but reports of military activities in the Morning Chronicle in October 1805 suggest that they had been merged with the Isleworth Volunteers, under a common command.

The Hatfield memorial in north aisle of St Mary's Church

Biographical notes

Alexander Hatfield was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in either 1755 or 1756. Little is known of his ancestry, though one source claims he was "a lineal descendant of Adam de Hatfield, of Hatfield, and of Glossopdale, co. Derby, A.D. 1327". He married Mary Perryn on 14th June 1788. She was the daughter of Sir Richard Perryn, a baron of the Exchequer. They had four children. The Perryn family lived at Perryn House at the junction of Whitton Road and London Road. When Sir Richard died in 1803, Alexander and Mary occupied the house. Alexander died on 4th February 1832 and Mary on 13th December 1834, and the property was later purchased by Thomas Twining II. Both Alexander and Mary are buried in St Mary's Church where there is a memorial to the couple in the north aisle.

John Perryn was the third son of Sir Richard Perryn and therefore Hatfield's brother-in-law. He died in a carriage accident in Ulverston, Lancashire, in July 1805 at the age of 47.

Thomas Amyand was descended from Claudius Amyand, a surgeon who performed the first appendectomy. He lived in Amyand House, now St John's Hospital. He died of dropsy in August 1805.

George Owen Cambridge was Superintendent of the Parish of Twickenham, Chairman of the Committee of the Volunteers and later Archdeacon Cambridge. He raised money for the building of Holy Trinity Church on Twickenham Green. He lived at Cambridge Park.

A button marked "TWICKENHAM VOLS" and "JOHN WILLIAMS", found near Maidenhead

Postscript

There is no record of the Twickenham Volunteers after 1805; most volunteer forces formed during the Napoleonic Wars had been disbanded by 1815.

However, in 2013, a button marked “TWICKENHAM VOLS” was discovered in a field near Maidenhead by a metal detectorist. The finder subsequently donated the button to the Museum. The reverse is marked “JOHN WILLIAMS”, which may refer to a military button maker in St Martin's Lane who was active at about this time.

References

Portland of Welbeck (6th Deposit): Deeds and Estate Papers, DD/P/6/12/59/1-8. Courtesy of Nottinghamshire Archives

A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1. Sir Bernard Burke, 1858

The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle for the Year 1805

Memorials of Twickenham, Parochial and Topographical, R S Cobbett, 1872

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