The Twickenham Volunteers
A short-lived 19th century “Dad’s Army”
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 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
The first mention of their activities appeared in the Morning Post in the following October:
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
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:
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:
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
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.
Alexander Hatfield was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in either 1755 or 1756. Little is known of his ancestry, though one source claims he was
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.
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.
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