The Warrington Volunteers

In his latest blog, Philip Jeffs uncovers a tune that captures an important moment in Warrington’s history…

Today’s blog entry is a short piece of music from a manuscript in the collection. The tune is called “The Warrington Volunteers” and is found in a book of hand-written music from the late 1790s.

The volume of music appears to have been written by Martha Rylands in her youth, and is signed to the frontispiece “M. Glazebrook”, Glazebrook being Martha’s maiden name. A note in the volume suggests it to have been written by Martha for the use of her grandfather, Dr. Kirkland, a noted physician at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, who in his spare time organised a village band.

I have not, during these blog posts, tried to explain to you the intricacies of the Glazebrook-Rylands family tree – it seemed enough to show you all some of the fascinating documents that can turn up in a family’s private archives, and the way they can shed light on the lives and thoughts of the individuals who created them and even on the society they were part of. But it is worth saying that Martha provides that initial link between the two families, she was the first Glazebrook to marry a Rylands, and although the two families inter-marry many times over the years, this can be seen as the first formal cementing of the relationship.

Martha’s father, the Reverend James Glazebrook, whilst primarily Vicar of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, was also minister of St. James’ Church in Warrington. This might explain why a band in a small Leicestershire village was playing music about the volunteer regiment in a North West town. It also answers the question of how these two geographically distant families came to meet in the first place. (It raises questions about how a clergyman can serve a congregation he lives 80 miles away from, but that is for another blog entry).

Now I had better return to the document in question, before I start doing the very thing I was trying to avoid and describing the entire Rylands family tree.

The piece of music here is entitled “The Warrington Volunteers”. Sadly we have only a few bars of music and no lyrics. The extent of the tunes in this little volume varies significantly, some get several pages and some only a few bars, some have words and some are purely instrumental. This is probably down to them being created for a very specific purpose, the use of Dr. Kirkland’s band. If they knew the lyrics, they weren’t written down, if the tune was simple or required them to improvise, then only the basic gist of it was written. In no case is a full score given for any piece of music, so it seems likely that the band learnt by playing and memorising the tunes as they went along.

So, now we know a bit about the woman who copied out the music and a bit about where it was to be performed, but what was the tune about?

In 1794 the government, worried about a possible invasion following the French Revolution, authorised the setting up of volunteer units across the UK. These units were somewhere between the Territorial Army of today and the “Dad’s Army” of WW2. The units usually met for training each Sunday, but worked their usual jobs during the week. Warrington’s original volunteer unit was known as the “Bluebacks” because of their uniform, and were the object of great local pride within the town. This song would have been part of that out-pouring of support.

The Lancashire Infantry Museum state that by 1803 and the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, the volunteer units across the country numbered some 440,000 men. This vast potential military force was largely disbanded when Napoleon was defeated.

So this little tune of a few bars, captures a moment in history of the town, the birth of the Warrington Militia and the town’s response to terrors of revolutionary France.



This article was originally posted on Monday, September 15th, 2014.