Robert Atcherley and the ‘Rutlandshire Cavalry’

 A few days since died, at St. Alban’s Lieutenant Robert Atcherley, of the Rutlandshire Cavalry; late Ironmonger, of Shrewsbury.  – Hereford Journal, 4 March 1795.

Robert Atcherley was the youngest son of farmer John Atcherley of the Moortown in Shropshire and his wife Elizabeth, née Beech (see John Atcherley and the deterrence of felonies). I have found no other evidence showing that he was an ironmonger in Shrewsbury, so that aspect of the Herefordshire Journal’s death notice is something I regard with an element of doubt. There is however no doubt that Robert was a Lieutenant in ‘the Rutlandshire Cavalry’. What was this body of men, why and when did Robert join its ranks, and how did he end up dying in St Albans?

The Rutland Regiment of Fencible Cavalry – to give the unit its proper title – was formed along with many other volunteer cavalry (and infantry) regiments across Britain in the wake of the French Revolution. In 1792 revolutionary France declared war against Austria, eventually defeating its army and fending off invading pro-Austrian Prussian forces. In the latter part of that year French troops also occupied Nice (then part of the Savoy; both were soon attached to France), Basel (which France then proclaimed an independent republic), Frankfurt am Main, Brussels (in the Austrian Netherlands), and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège. (The Austrian Netherlands and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège together made up the modern-day region of Belgium.)

Then, on 21 January 1793, the deposed King Louis XVI was put to the guillotine (the event is depicted in the image above). Three days later diplomatic relations between England and France were broken. The French government – The Convention – declared war against England and the Dutch Republic on 1 February 1793, and against Spain on 7 March. It also annexed the Principality of Monaco on 14 February, and Belgium (the independence of which it had recognised in December 1792) on 1 March.

So Britain was once more at war with France, a country which threatened Britain’s trade with the European mainland, its naval dominance, and its colonial possessions. The French also had the potential to pose a more direct threat to the British, by bringing war to our shores. It was in response to this latter threat that Britain began to raise volunteer companies in 1794, to free up regular army units for the war. The Stamford Mercury of 14 March that year reported on “the plan of augmentation of the forces for internal defence, communicated by Government to the Lords Lieutenants of the different counties in this kingdom.”

The third of five measures listed, some or all of which might be considered expedient in order “to provide more completely for the security of the country against any attempts which may be made on the part of the enemy”, was this:

To raise volunteer troops of fencible cavalry, consisting of not less than fifty, nor more than eighty per troop, who will be to serve only during the war, and within the kingdom; the officers will have temporary rank only, and will not be entitled to half pay; the arms, accoutrements and cloathing will be furnished by Government, but the levy-money for the men to be furnished by the persons who undertake to raise such troops, and the horses to be found by them, but to be paid for at a reasonable price by Government. A person raising two troops to have the temporary rank of major; four troops that of Lieutenant-Colonel, and six troops that of Colonel.

It was under this measures that the Rutland Regiment of Fencible Cavalry was brought into being (the word ‘fencible’ being derived from defencible). Accounts of when this regiment was raised seem to vary. One source states that it was raised, under the command of Colonel Noel Edwards, on 19 March 1794. Another states that the Rutland Yeomanry Cavalry was “first raised as the Rutland Fencible Cavalry […] following a meeting on 31 March 1794, at Oakham Castle”. The Yeomanry Cavalry however was an entirely separate force, raised under the fourth of the five measures which had been communicated to the Lords Lieutenants.

The Stamford Mercury reported on the meetings leading to the formation of the Yeomanry Cavalry in its pages from 14 March 1794 onwards, but I have found no mention in the papers of Colonel Edwards’s unit before the middle of April. The Ipswich Journal then reported, on the 12th of that month, that: “Lieut. Col. G. Noel Edwards, member for Rutland, has received a letter of service to raise a corps of horse militia, to service in Great Britain only.” And while the War Office announced in May 1794 that George Earl of Winchelsea was to be Colonel of the Rutland Corps of Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry, it was not until July that Gerard Noel Edwards, Esq. was appointed Colonel in the Rutland Regiment of Fencible Cavalry.

A further announcement, dated 13 August 1794 and printed in the London Gazette of the previous day, confirmed the names of the officers of the Regiment (see copy, right). Among the Lieutenants was “Robert Atcherley, Gent.” Now we know when Robert joined the Rutland Regiment of Fencible Cavalry – but I am mystified as to why this young Shropshire gentleman joined a Rutlandshire regiment. The Ancient British Regiment of Colonel Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, another fencible unit formed early in 1794, would have been closer to home.

By the time of the formal confirmation of the Rutland Fencibles’ officers, the regiment was already on the move. The Stamford Mercury of 15 August 1794 stated that: “On the 9th, 11th, and 12th instant, Colonel Edwards’ regiment of Rutland fencibles marched through Peterborough, on their route for Brighton. They are a set of fine young men, and exceedingly well mounted.”

The fencible cavalrymen were “on their route” not to Brighton itself, but to a military camp situated about two miles from that town. Brighton Camp had first been established in August 1793, by the 10th Light Dragoons under the command of the Prince of Wales. It was maintained “until the 7th of November, the Prince taking part in most of the exercises and manoeuvres.” During that time, as many as 10,000 regular soldiers and militia men were kept in readiness there, to deter, or if need be respond to, a French invasion. When the camp broke up, the various regiments and militia forces ‘struck their tents’ and marched to their winter quarters.

When Brighton Camp was re-established in August 1794, it became a temporary home for up to 15,000 troops. The presence of so many men in military uniform nearby attracted many women to Brighton. Some hoped to find husbands (a fact known to Jane Austen, who used the location as a backdrop for the elopement of Lydia Bennet and George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice). Others however were simply looking for men who would pay for their affections. Their customers may well have paid with halfpenny tokens which were issued by one Richard Maplesden, and which formed part of the troops’ wages at Brighton Camp.

Robert Atcherley, being not only a Lieutenant in the Rutland Fencibles but also the regiment’s paymaster, may well have handed out these coins himself – maybe even the one which I now own, shown in the composite image above!

More exercises and manoeuvres no doubt took place over the course of August, September and October 1794 (as they had in 1793) before the camp broke up once more. Robert Atcherley would most likely have been involved in these activities. He would also have experienced an extreme weather event which hit Brighton and its military encampment during the autumn. On 10 October 1794 the Kentish Gazette, after noting that “Brighton Camp will break up on the 25th inst.”, reported as follows:

Brighton, Oct. 6. The whole of yesterday and last night, we had the most tremendous hurricane that has been known for many years. Many houses were blown down, and at Camp a number of the tents and marquees were torn in pieces by the violence of the storm. […]

At the end of October, the Kentish Chronicle reported on the clearance of the camp:

The encampments at Brighton, Seaford and East Bourne, &c. on this coast, are now breaking up. The Winter Quarters of the different regiments may be acceptable information—their destinations are correctly as follows:—
CAVALRY.
10th regiment of Light Dragoons, commanded by the Prince of Wales, quartered at Hounslow, Staines, Windsor, &c.
Lancashire Fencible regiment of Dragoons, commanded by Col. Leighs—at Brighton.
Rutland Fencible regiment of Dragoons, commanded by Col. G. N. Edwards—At Berkhampstead, St. Albans, &c.
Ancient British regiment of Dragoons, commanded by Col. Sir W. W. Wynne—at Barnet, Watford, &c.
INFANTRY. […]
The 10th Dragoons, and the Rutland Fencibles marched out of camp on Monday last; and a regiment is to follow every day until the ground is entirely cleared.
The men’s tents, hammocks, &c. are to be stored at the nearest town to the different placed of encampment:—This [indicates] their return in the spring.

The Rutland Fencibles did not in fact return to Brighton Camp the following spring. Instead, the six troops of which the regiment was composed were to assemble with other units at Barham Downs Camp. Robert Atcherley was of course not among them, as he died while staying at the regiment’s winter quarters at St Albans (another question answered!). He was buried at the abbey on 24 February 1795, two days after his death. Writing in 1815, Robert Clutterbuck (in the first volume of his History and Antiquities of the County of Hertford) noted in respect of the abbey (or, as he referred to it, The Conventual Church of St Alban) that:

On each side of the Nave there is an [aisle], which extends, from the two smaller doors on each side of the great West door, the whole length of the Church. In these [aisles], as far as the Nave extends, and in the Nave, there are few monumental inscriptions of any note. The following are most deserving of record. […]

Robert Atcherley, late Lieutenant and Paymaster of the Rutland Fencibles, dyed 22nd of February 1795, aged 26.

Robert’s life, and his contribution to the defence of his country from revolutionary France, was over. The ‘Rutlandshire Cavalry’ replaced him with Cornet Gilbert Affleck. And over the course of Britain’s continuing war with France, right through to the final defeat of Napoleon, other members of the Atcherley family would step forward to make their own contributions.


Picture credits. Execution of Louis XVI: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia CommonsExtract from London Gazette, issue 13693, 12 Aug 1794, page 829: used under the Open Government Licence v2.0. Obverse and reverse of 1794 Brighton Camp halfpenny token: Photos by the author.


References

[1] Hereford Journal, 4 Mar 1795, page 3. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive (search term atcheiley, correction made).
[2] French Revolution. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 28 Jan 2018).
[3] Timeline of the French Revolution. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 28 Jan 2018).
[4] French Revolutionary wars. At: Encyclopædia Britannica website (accessed 28 Jan 2018).
[5] Stamford Mercury, 14 Mar 1794, page 2. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[6] List of British fencible regiments. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 28 Jan 2018).
[7] Rutland Yeomanry Cavalry. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 28 Jan 2018).
[8] Stamford Mercury, 14 Mar 1794, page 1. “RUTLAND Constitutional Association.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[9] Stamford Mercury, 28 Mar 1794, page 3. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[10] The Ipswich Journal, 12 Apr 1794, page 2. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[11] Derby Mercury, 29 May 1794, page 3. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[12] Stamford Mercury, 11 Jul 1794, page 3. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[13] London Gazette, issue 13693, 12 Aug 1794, page 829.
[14] Stamford Mercury, 15 Aug 1794, page 3. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[15] Manchester Mercury, 10 Jun 1794, page 4. “Brighton Camp, June 5, 1794.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[16] Henry David Roberts (1939), A History of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Page 37. Snippets viewed at Google Books.
[17] Peter R. Jenkins (1987), Sussex Money: A History of Banking in Sussex. Page 23. OCR text viewed at Google Books.
[18] The Ipswich Journal, 9 Nov 1793, page 2. “The Brighton camp began to break up on Monday se’nnight, when the Sussex and Dorset regiments struck their tents, and marched, the former for Canterbury barracks, the latter for Godalming. Tuesday the East Middlesex left the ground, and marched for East Grinstead. The same day the Surrey militia quitted their quarters at Brighton, and marched into Lewes. Wednesday the North Devon proceeded on their route to Tunbridge and Sevenoaks. Same day the Prince’s Light Dragoons, headed by his Royal Highness, uncovered, took their leave of the encampment, and marched into winter quarters at Brighton.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[19] George Holbert Tucker (1995), Jane Austen the Woman. Page 73. Copy previewed at Google Books.
[20] Douglas D’Enno (2007), Brighton Crime and Vice, 1800-2000. Page 158. Copy previewed at Google Books.
[21] Kentish Gazette, 10 Oct 1794, page 4. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[22] The Kentish Chronicle, 31 Oct 1794, page 4. “Encampments.—Sussex.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[23] Hereford Journal, 1 Apr 1795, page 1. “Encampments.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[24] St Albans Abbey, Hertfordshire, parish register covering 1794. Record of burial of “Lieut. Robt. Atcherley R. Fen:”. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Hertfordshire Burials.
[25] Robert Clutterbuck (1815), The History and Antiquities of the County of Hertford. Volume 1. Pages 60-1. Copy viewed at Gengophers.
[26] Kentish Gazette, 9 Jun 1795, page 2. “Rutland Regiment of Fencible Cavalry.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.

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