Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain


Edited by Susan Wollenburg and Simon McVeigh


Ashgate Publishing

ISBN 07546 38685

Published 2004

Hardback £57.50


The collection of essays presented here offers a portrayal of concert life in Britain that contributes greatly to the wider understanding of social and cultural life in the eighteenth century. Music was not merely a pastime but was irrevocably linked with its social, political and literary contexts. The perspectives of performers, organisers, patrons, audiences, publishers, copyists and consumers are considered in relation to the concert experience. All of the essays taken together construct an understanding of musical communities and the origins of the modern concert system.


Includes “The Catch and Glee in Eighteenth-Century Provincial England” by Brian Robins.


Review Extract:


Robins’s contribution here is particularly welcome: solidly founded on documentary evidence, including the records of catch and glee clubs both in London and the provinces … it is an excellent introduction to the genre. PHILIP OLLESON - Music and Letters 86.3 (2005).



Marsh of Chichester: Gentleman, Composer, Musician, Writer 1752-1828

Ed. by Paul Foster

Otter Memorial Papers, 19

University College Chichester

ISBN: 0-948765-34-8

Published 2004 

Paper £18

Includes the following essay by Brian Robins:



"John Marsh and the Chichester Volunteers"

During the course of an extraordinarily active and varied life, John Marsh’s inexhaustible interests led him to become involved with a wide range of institutions and organizations. Of these perhaps one of the less likely was his service with the Chichester Volunteers, one of the many part-time units formed during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars to protect the south coast in the event of invasion, fears of which, real or imagined, surfaced intermittently between 1796 and 1805[1].

Marsh was indeed at one point destined for a service career by his father Henry, himself a Royal Naval captain, but made it clear that he ‘had a strong dislike for the service’[2], and was instead allowed to follow the career of a lawyer. Nonetheless when the time came, Marsh was well suited to serve his country. A staunch supporter of George III, he had been in favour of the war against the American colonialists, and was horrified by the excesses of the French revolution, describing in his journals the executions of both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as ‘murder’. In April 1791 Marsh started to read Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, the infamous radical response to Burke’s attack on the French Revolution, but found himself ‘much disgusted with the author's treason, impudence & scurrility’[3].

Marsh’s career in the volunteer forces spans two parts of the conflict. The first phase dates from the spring of 1795, when the first volunteer companies were formed in Chichester and ends in May 1803, when in common with most companies the Chichester Volunteers were disbanded following the Peace of Amiens. A year later hostilities were resumed and Marsh again enrolled, remaining with the battalion-strength company through its decline to a final inglorious disbandment in 1808. During the course of this thirteen years service, Marsh rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant (in 1797), captain (1798), and finally, in 1805, a major.

As Ann Hudson has noted[4], most of the original volunteers came from the professional classes and traders, those among the first intake with Marsh including lawyers (William Fowler and Wilmot), a prominent grocer (John Murray) and two brewers (William Ridge and James Drew)[5]. In 1796 impetus to broaden the social make-up of volunteer corps was inspired by the Supplementary Militia Act, which while calling for the embodiment of a further 60,000 men (who could be stationed anywhere in Britain), exempted those belonging to volunteer forces, whose duties were strictly local. Following the start of the second phase of the war (post 1803) the government considerable expanded the scope of volunteering, listing all able-bodied men between the ages of 17 and 55 not already in the services as liable to duty. Coupled with the huge upsurge in patriotism prevalent at that time, this resulted in a far broader intake of volunteers from a wide range of society, a fact well illustrated by Marsh’s several references during this period to summer volunteer exercises having to be geared around harvesting and haymaking[6]. It was the recruitment of the lower classes that almost certainly resulted in the lowering of disciplinary standards during the post-1803 era of volunteering.

There are no figures available for the strength of the original volunteer forces in Chichester, but they were relatively small. Marsh records a complement of 48 privates and three officers in December 1795[7], a figure that certainly increased during the invasion scare of the spring of 1798, when Marsh noted the balloting of no less than fifteen new members at the weekly meeting on 3 May[8]. During the latter part of the war’s first phase numbers went into decline in direct relationship to the lessening threat of invasion, the original ‘young’ volunteers being disbanded in December 1801 after their number had been for ‘some time reduc’d to about 22’. At the same time Marsh tells us that the strength of the Old Buffs stood at a total of 38 privates, officers and sergeants[9].

As suggested above, the numbers of the newly constituted force for the second phase of the war were considerably larger. Anne Hudson quotes a figure of 425 rank and file for the Chichester Rape South corps in 1803[10], although it is not clear what proportion of this figure were based in the city. According to Marsh only 180 has been enrolled by the end of September, when the Chichester force was divided into three companies, the command of the first of which was given to Marsh, who was again nominated as a captain along with William Johnson and William Fowler[11]. By early October sufficient numbers had been added to enable a fourth company to be raised and there was the nucleus of a fifth. By October 1806 the figure had apparently risen to nearly 400, Marsh recording that in the wake of the new Training Act, when volunteers were given the option of resigning, 123 non-commissioned men availed themselves of the offer, leaving 264 privates, a figure Marsh puzzlingly claims ‘left little more than half our establishment’[12]. No further figures are available, but it appears fairly certain that the decline of the strength of volunteer forces after 1806 applied as much (if not more) to the Chichester battalion as elsewhere.

So what did these men do while enlisted as volunteers? One thing they did not do, of course, is witness any real action. The nearest they came to being moved out of Chichester was at the end of the critical year of 1803, arguably the closest Britain came to invasion, when in November the battalion was placed on notice to march to Arundel in the event of the expected invasion forces making a landing to the east[13]. A proposal made the following March that the Volunteers should go on permanent duty for two or three weeks was met with disagreement by half the force, many of those who did agree doing so only on condition they did not have to leave Chichester, ‘without which’, Marsh dryly records ‘the Col’l thought it would be of little use’[14]. Nor indeed were the Chichester men ever called upon to face a riotous mob, which Marsh tells us was one of the original motivations for the formation of the corps[15].

The basis of training was drill, moving in close synchronised order, and the use of firearms. The earliest training of the Chichester force appears to have been marked by a degree of levity, Marsh noting ‘we co'd scarce forbear from laughing (considering the age many of us were of) at the novelty of our situation in as it were, going to school again or being lectur'd like so many children (...) by an illiterate serjeant in his quaint manners, who however silent he wish'd to keep us was loquacious enough himself & seem'd proud of having so many grown gent'n under his command’[16]. By August the company had moved on to arms training, practicing street firing with powder and firing with ball at a target in a gravel pit on the Broyle, at that time common land located just outside the city. Drill took place at a variety of venues, the most usual during the 1795-1802 period being the Broyle, although in wet or excessively cold weather the Cathedral cloisters and the town hall were also used. After 1803 the earliest exercises were held in a field near Dell Hole owned by the mercer and draper Blagden, but later Hunston Common appears to have been the most favoured location. Target practice was carried out at a variety of locations including one ‘near the water’ at Fishbourne. A competitive element was introduced to target firing, Marsh proudly recording that the privates of his company ‘put in most balls’ during the course of one such exercise at Fishbourne[17]. In October 1807 a firing competition was held, with a silver medal awarded to the best shot in each company, an event that ‘took up much time from its being necessary after each round to examine the 6 targets & mark the name against the bullet holes’[18]. In addition to firing practice, the company was frequently called upon to fire a feu de joye on such occasions as the birthdays of the king and queen and following notable victories in the war, Marsh recording such ceremonial vollies being fired in the city following the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (February 1797), the Battle of Camperdown (October 1797), and a number of other occasions, including, of course, the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. As an officer, Marsh also underwent sword training, while skirmishing was also part of the training of the full battalion.

In general terms the picture painted of the Chichester Volunteers by Marsh is not a flattering one. He provides no evidence to support Arthur Bryant’s rosy picture of eager volunteers anxious to serve their country[19]. Unauthorised absenteeism (which was punished by fines that gradually increased in attempts to stem it[20]) and general discipline were a constant problem. At reviews and inspections, which were held regularly, the Chichester companies were frequently noted to be thin in number and generally less attentive than other volunteer forces. In April 1805 there was near-mutiny in the ranks following an inspection on Long Down, about six miles out of Chichester. Marsh was not present on the occasion, but records that on the march back to Chichester ‘many of the men became so disorderly, quitting the ranks as they pleased & paying so little attention to the Col’l [John Gage] that he rode off before they got to Chichester & imediately wrote & sent his resignation’[21], an action that left the newly-appointed Major Marsh in reluctant command of the company. Three months later a large inspection assembly including both regular and volunteer forces was again held on Long Down, on which occasion General Donn, the inspecting officer, ‘express’d much satisfaction’ when addressing the assembled forces, but excepted ‘the rather thin attendance of the Chichester battalion in comparison with the other Volunteers’[22]. It is worth adding that the summer of 1805 was a period of particular tension, Napoleon having built up a substantial invasion force on the other side of the Channel. In the October of the same year a more localised review of the Chichester battalion by the overall commander General John Crosbie hardly improved their image, ‘as many of the privates had lately become slack in their attendance at the late drills’. They were thus ‘so imperfect as to spoil the effect of the whole, so that we did not receive any compliments upon the occasion’[23]. In March 1808 the Chichester men were again in trouble, receiving a lecture from Colonel Lyon ‘for their great inattention & thin attendance compared with some other Volunteer corps in the county, particularly one at Lewes, which was equal in appearance and discipline to a regular regiment’[24].

Dissent amongst both officers and men seems never to have been far from the surface. Very early in the life of the corps formed in 1795 there was a dispute over the nomination of officers, the Duke of Richmond refusing to accept the two names offered on the grounds that as Lord Lieutenant of Sussex and thus in charge of coordinating all volunteer activity in the county, it was a matter for his jurisdiction. Letters were exchanged and threats flew between Chichester and Goodwood, the company at one point threatening to disband if the Duke failed to accept its choice. Eventually the matter was settled on a technicality, Richmond agreeing that since the company was not insisting on a sine qua non, he would recommend the two officers nominated by the company[25]. 

At the end of 1801 the Duke, who as an experienced military man himself was never wholly in favour of volunteer forces, became involved in a complex episode that led to Marsh’s ‘Old Buffs’ being accidentally wound up. Having been led to believe by one of his sergeants that it was the desire of his men that the company be disbanded, Marsh called in their arms, only to discover that he had been deliberately misled. A highly embarrassed Marsh, who had already informed Richmond that his company was being disembodied, was forced to go to the Duke to rescind his previous communication. Only after lengthy negotiation was Richmond persuaded to allow the company to continue its existence[26].

Nothing however caused more problems within the ranks of the Chichester Volunteers than dress. This was considered one of the most important aspects of volunteering, with corps frequently choosing to display themselves in colourful outfits that they could wear around the town, to church parades, and even to the theatre on occasions when officers sponsored performances[27]. Marsh provides details of the uniforms adopted by both troops formed in 1795, that of the young corps first formed (of which Marsh’s nineteen year-old son John became a member) consisting of ‘a blue jacket, white waistcoat & pantaloons, half gaiters & a round hat with a black feather’[28]. While the more senior members of Chichester society wished to emulate their juniors by forming their own volunteer force, they considered this outfit rather too outré, choosing instead the scarcely less conspicuous ‘blue double-breasted coat faced with buff, with buff kersymere waistcoat & breeches, the buttons being to be made on purpose, with the city arms thereon, cock'd military hats & half gaiters’[29]. For this reason the seniors became known colloquially as ‘the Chichester Old Buffs’. The above mentioned invasion of the spring of 1798 brought a fresh influx of volunteers, at which time it was decided by the Old Buffs that ‘all new members wear a less expensive uniform than our former one (w’ch had deter’d many from entering) tho’ in some measure conforming to it, & that we might in common appear all of apiece, the old members agreed to have an undress uniform, consisting of a plain blue coat, with red collar & cuffs, white pantaloons & round hats, & to wear them always at exercise, having before not had any uniform at a common drill or weekly exercise’[30].

The broadening of volunteering on the resumption of war in 1803 necessitated a new approach to uniform, the lavish outfits afforded by the gentleman soldiers during the first phase of the war having now to be superseded in favour of simpler, more practical dress. At a meeting called to re-embody the Chichester volunteers on 8 August, Marsh not only re-enrolled, but contributed ten guineas to a subscription to buy clothing for the new force[31]. On recruitment privates were offered by the Duke of Richmond a cloth uniform ‘equal to that of serjeants of the Militia’. However, the Duke subsequently attempted to persuade the battalion to accept ‘the comon ordinary cloths of privates’, with the further inducement of a greatcoat[32]. The force was having none of this, furiously rejecting the alteration and, with the exception of a handful of men, immediately seceding. A standoff followed, leading Marsh to form the opinion that the matter had brought ‘an end to our Chichester volunteering[33]. A flurry of handbills abusing Richmond appeared throughout Chichester, much apparently ‘to the amusement of the townspeople in general’[34]. Marsh went off on one of his periodic trips to visit his estates in Kent convinced that his service career was over, returning to discover to his surprise that a new series of bills had appeared in the city announcing that the objections to the proposed uniform had been withdrawn.

A further dispute over uniforms would be the direct cause of Marsh’s resignation and a harbinger of the disbandment of the Chichester Volunteers in July 1808. New uniforms recently made in London had been issued to the corps, who first wore them at exercise on Hunston Common on the 18th. Since many were apparently too large, the men were asked to show to their officers what alterations were required to make them fit. Instead ‘they chose to behave riotously, & 3 of them quitted their ranks soon after our arriving at the comon, & instead of falling in with the rest at the roll of the drum, began marching back towards Chichester’[35]. Marsh despatched a sergeant and three file of men to fetch them back, after which they were arrested and taken back to the city as prisoners. ‘I never’, wrote Marsh of the episode, ‘knew the men so little disposed to attend to anything, there being more talking and laughing in the ranks than ever I remember’d to have seen, on w’ch I found it expedient to put and end to the drill…’. This lack of discipline Marsh attributed to the low turnout of officers, only five out of fourteen attending and of the nine who were absent, only three had sent their excuses. ‘I could not’, he complained, ‘but find myself unsupported by my brother officers’[36]. A meeting of all the officers at Marsh’s house held on the following day made the decision to resign their commissions, ‘finding it unpleasant to go in that manner’, and although several later retracted their resignations on the grounds that it was unfair to the well-behaved members of the corps, the incident ended Marsh’s association with the Chichester Volunteers. The battalion was eventually disbanded at the end of the year, after giving an opportunity for those who wished to complete their 24 days training, the stipulated period necessary to avoid call-up to the militia.

As seen thorough the eyes of John Marsh, Chichester’s Napoleonic ‘Dad’s Army’ hardly covered itself with glory. What would have happened had the French succeeded in invading the south of England can only be conjectured. Perhaps there may have been a different story to tell.

[1]   For a detailed account of volunteer forces in Sussex see Ann Hudson ‘Volunteer Soldiers in Sussex During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815’, Sussex Archaeological Collections 122, 1984

[2]   Ed. Brian Robins The John Marsh Journals, Stuyvesant, NY, 1998, p. 46.

[3]   Ibid, p. 492

[4]   Hudson, op. cit. p. 166

[5]   See Marsh Journals, op. cit. pp. 576-77) for Marsh’s list of those with whom he joined up.

[6]   See for example John Marsh  ‘History of My Private Life’, Huntington Library Ms.54457, vol. XXVI, p. 87 (July 1807), and vol. XXVII, (June 1808).

[7]   Marsh Journals, op. cit. p. 592

[8]    Ibid. p. 666

[9]    Marsh ‘History’ op. cit. vol. XXII, p. 33

[10]  Hudson, op. cit. Table 4, p. 173

[11]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol. XXIII, p. 181-2

[12]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit, vol. XXV, p. 173

[13]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol. XXIV, pp. 14-15

[14]  Ibid. p. 39

[15]  Marsh Journals, op. cit, pp. 576-577. Serious rioting over food prices took place in many towns and cities during the spring of 1795, Chichester being among those affected.

[16]  Marsh  Journals op. cit p. 577

[17]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol. XXIV, p. 30.

[18]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol. XXVI, p. 126.

[19]  Arthur Bryant Years of Victory 1802-1812, London, 1944, 1975, pp. 64-66.

[20]  In 1799 forfeits were raised from one shilling to two, the men ‘not minding the shilling’, at the same time as meetings were reduced from one per week to one a fortnight – Marsh Journals, op. cit. p. 694.

[21]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol.  XXIV, pp. 171-2.

[22]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol.  XXV, pp. 15-16.

[23]  Ibid. p. 57

[24]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol. XXVI, p. 174.

[25]  Marsh Journals op. cit. p. 579.

[26]  Marsh ‘History’, op.cit. vol. XXII, p. 33ff. Marsh covers this episode in extenso, a course frequently taken in the ‘History’ when he felt on the defensive.

[27] Both Hudson, op cit, p. 179 and Linda Colley (BritonsForging the Nation 1707 –1837, New Haven & London, 1992, p. 288) draw attention to the decorative uniforms worn by volunteers.

[28]  Marsh Journals, op.cit. p. 575.

[29]  Ibid. p. 579

[30]  Ibid. p. 666

[31]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit. vol XXIII, p. 154

[32]  Marsh ‘History, op. cit, vol XXIV, p. 2

[33]  Ibid .

[34]  Ibid, p. 4

[35]  Marsh ‘History’, op. cit, vol. XVII, p18ff

[36]  Ibid