Dress of the Royal Navy

For several years now the Society of King George the Third has been working to bring to life various aspects of life in the Royal Navy during the period of the French Revolutionary Wars; this of course being the conflicts which would eventually lead into the Napoleonic Wars. To those who know the period well, the 18th century is often characterised by its clothing; from the flamboyancy of the aristocracy to the elegance of the middling classes. 

As with all of the Society’s impressions, accuracy and authenticity were of the upmost importance when trying to capture the image of the common Jack Tar in the 1790s. On closer inspection we found that there was actually far less than one would expect with regards to official uniform for the Royal Navy at this time. It was not until 1748 that the first attempts at establishing a uniform dress for officers was introduced to the service. Traditionally, officers wore clothing according to their own taste, generally red or blue and cut in the current style worn in town that season. It is argued then by many, that the initial conception of the characteristic blue coats, face white with gold lace, were originally inspired by Captain Philip Saumarez in the 1740s. This would become regulation thereafter. 

Now by the 1790s, the elaborate laced frock coats had been dispensed with in return for the adoption of a plainer coat style. Still faced white but with some of the cosmetic details removed (much to the joy of SKG3’s Tailor). The new style of coat became an all purpose uniform for the officers onboard ship to wear for various duties; that said from about 1774 captains and commanders were ordered to convert their universal coats into a more traditional styled full dress uniform, saved for special occasions. 

They would then have a second uniform that would become an underdress; with white unlaced waistcoats and white breeches. What is interesting to note is that SKG3’s impression falls in between two very distinct uniform changes. Officially the society conforms to the 1787 uniform in it’s portrayal, which in essence is the collection of many of the existing fashions and conventions of those in the service. The second is the 1795, which came into effect in June of that year. The major distinction after this period being the suspension of the wearing of white lapels for all ranks above lieutenant. 

This is all well and good, but what about the common man I hear you cry? Well interestingly enough the British Rating as they were known, did not actually have so much as a uniform to speak of. When new landsmen were brought onboard often they came wearing their own personal clothing. As the vast majority were already maritime fellows, much of their dress was not at all different to that of the existing crew. When on voyage for months at a time the only source of material to hand, would come from the ships purser. This is where the blues, reds and whites traditionally associated with the dress of the Royal Navy sailor comes from. By the end of a voyage the crew would come ashore dressed in a similar fashion simply because they had all purchased the same cloth. Hence the adoption of blue wool jackets and canvas breeches or slops. 

In the 1790s red doubled breasted waistcoats appear to have been very popular amongst the ratings in service, as well as slops and skilts. The former being a pair of long breeches that come down to just above the foot. The latter again was a essentially an apron worn on top of a pair of breeches when performing daily tasks, you will note that pair of skilts was painstakingly reproduced by society tailor, Lucas Radford to be worn at our Greenwich event, they can be seen in the accompany photographs. 

The central purpose of naval clothing was to be functional. As opposed to the relative pageantry and excess worn by the British Soldier at this time, the naval rating and even to an extent his superiors, were not what some at the time would refer too as macaronis. However, this distinctive fashion would later become a focal part of the later uniforms of the Royal Navy, from Trafalgar to the present day. As a society we have always prided ourselves in the attention to detail that goes into the construction of our clothing and accoutrements, we are constantly adding to our research and in many ways these blog entries, represent and attempt to record the development of our impressions.

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25th Anniversary

25 Years! For most of us this isn’t a small passage of time; some would argue a generation! Indeed the passage of the American Revolutionary War (outside the foment and dissidence) lasted but a fraction of this and yet here we are a small, close-knit circle of friends and cohorts, sharing an anniversary perhaps none of us would have predicted that our somewhat odd hobby would last.

The answer for this is quite simple – Michael Butterfield. 

It is beyond doubt that the engine room for the society’s longevity has been powered by Mike’s enthusiasm for the Georgian era, his dedication in research, care to detail and boundless subject knowledge. 

I came to meet Mike through Chris – a friend and a society member with a hobby so left-field, so anomalous to me as to pique my interest and so, having attended a couple of sporadic events in the run up to the turn of the millennium I found myself pulling on the breeches time and time again.

Some eighteen years later I feel proud to call Mike a close friend, someone I respect and wish well with future endeavours as he takes a hard earned back seat and focuses on ventures new. I hope these receive the same nurturing and professionalism he was kind enough to grant to The Society of King George the Third.

The Society, it’s portrayals and research is all based around a period that with every passing day stretches that little bit further away and yet, as this milestone is reached it is the future we focus on. With the bar having been set so high it was decided amongst the members that we would share the colossal workload that our predecessor bore without complaint.

The quarter century hasn’t passed without it’s pitfalls and losses and we still remember kind friends such as Jim Fuller and Colin Adams. 

We look forward to working with, edifying and entertaining clients and their patrons old and new in the years to come!

Wayne Mitchell, Society of King George the Third

God Save the King!

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Snow Day = Productivity

Well, it can’t have escaped anybody’s attention (especially those that live in the UK) but this last fortnight has given us a somewhat torrid time with the weather. Whilst I appreciate this will elicit not one iota of sympathy from neither our friends in the north nor our American & Canadian cousins having a dollop of snow delivered unwanted and most unkind atop the sunny South-West has meant that our regular 9-5s have taken a back seat and some behind-the-scenes work has duly been undertaken.

Society member Mr Radford (our encumbered tailor) has made meaningful headway on outfitting our midshipman; no doubt fuelled as one should rightly expect, by fine port and the inability to leave his house!

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Hand Binding Project

Society member Mr Radford (an oft proven artisan at whatever pet-project he turns his hand to!) has recently produced this hand-bound copy of ‘A Treatise on the Operations of Surgery’ by Samuel Sharp.

We are truly blessed to have amongst our members some most gifted and skilled individuals – many of the reproduction objects you will see on display at SKG3 events are hand made by society members, who research and learn period skills to bring these to life. Take a look for yourself at the truly magnificent work that went into this unique piece.



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AWI Lecture American Museum

Society member Mr Mills attended the Winston Churchill memorial lecture at the American Museum in Britain and upon invitation fielded several questions concerning the loyalist war effort in the South all of which were well received.

The lecture; delivered by Professor Jeremy Black (Exeter University), focused on the question of whether or not the British could have won the American War of Independence.

It was a great opportunity to catch up with an old friend of The Society Jon Ducker to whom we extend our thanks.

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Simcoe Anniversary

The Society offered respects on the anniversary of Simcoe’s passing (1806) at the place of his burial; Wolford Chapel with sombre reflection and sentry. For the most part the majority of The Society’s members have grown up within a stones throw of the chapel. Of note it was this same month in ’77 that ‘Major’ Simcoe assumed command of the Queen’s Rangers.

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Bath, No.1 Royal Crescent

A small contingent of members were invited by The Bath Preservation Trust to enhance the display of the recently rejuvenated No.1 Royal Crescent (currently celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Crescent).

The portrayals included gentleman at leisure, returning loyalist officer and retired gentleman of the 35th – much engagement was to be had with members of the public being treated to join in standard army drill – a society mainstay which; as always, was well received!

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Naval Recruitment Poster

Stalwart member Mr Mitchell has been working to contextualise and reproduce a surviving recruitment poster, tweaking primary source material and replicating the typeface and letterpress has been really interesting and we think a fantastic effect created.

Although the attached image shows a test run on standard A3 copy paper Mr Mitchell has researched the correct paper stock and society member Mr Radford is VERY close to achieving a fine-finished hand laid stock – it is important to note that whilst the intention is for the piece to be period correct there is a need to ensure it appears 225yrs new! 

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