Volunteer army units and militias had often been formed in England in times of need when the country was under the threat of attack or needed extra troops to fight overseas.  These units usually disbanded quickly once the threat faded away.  Following the Crimean War, it was clear to the Government that our military forces were spread too thinly around the globe and it was difficult to ensure the country could fulfil our military commitments overseas and at home.

In 1859 Secretary of State for War, Jonathan Peel, authorised the formation of volunteer rifle corps and artillery corps.  According to Ray Westlake’s book “Tracing the Rifle Volunteers 1859-1908: a Guide of Military and Family Historians” it seems that the 1st Gloucestershire (City of Bristol) Rifle Volunteers was set up in 1859.  It is possible that Thornbury men served in that unit in the early days but it was not until 1886 that Thornbury had its own detachment.  The full title was 1st (City of Bristol) Volunteer Battalion G Company Detachment at Thornbury.  It was formed on 30th May 1886 when the first batch of volunteers made their oaths.

The formation of the Thornbury Detachment seems to have been as a result of the efforts of Henry Privett Thurston who became the Detachment’s first Lieutenant.  Henry was a solicitor by profession, but he seemed to excel in the role of running the volunteers.  In the Regimental Orders dated 1888 the Battalion’s Commanding Officer, Colonel Jones specifically reported that ‘again I have to remark on the zeal and ability of Lieutenant Thurston in his command of the Thornbury detachment which has increased in numbers during the past year’.

From the battalion’s early records we were able to compile lists of the volunteers in 1886.  Some of these names have links to other pages because we know a little more about the men and their families.  Please click on the links where applicable to read more about an individual.

H J Abbotts H Harvey H G Phipps E C Trayhurn
Henry W Bendall J ? T? Knapp E J Ponting Frank Tucker
J Bennett J Lewis Sydney J Ponting Charles Turner
Horace Boulton Edward Liddiatt Arthur Prewett Ernest James Underhill
James Buck F Liddiatt E Purnell Thomas Virgo
J T Chambers  J Luce E Reeves Charles W Wells
George Eli Clay Ernest Mainstone George Reeves J White
William Cornock Henry Maslen Henry Robbins Richard White
James Cullimore J Master William Rugman G M Williams
Thomas Davidson C Mills Thomas Shore H Williams
William Dunscombe James Moxham Charles Short H C Wilson
E Eddington E Neale Edwin Arthur Short? W. D. S. Young
Harry Eddington W E J Penduck F Thomas  
Thomas Grove George Perks H Thurston  


By signing, the Volunteers were not only agreeing to wear the uniform and to train to defend their country but also to pay to do so.  A rule book of 1888 indicates that the annual subscription Field Officers was 4 guineas, Captains 3 guineas, subalterns 2 guineas.  Every member not an officer was liable to pay 35 shillings for the first three years and one pound thereafter.  This is at a time when a solicitor’s clerk in London would be earning about 25 shillings per week (source http://www.victorianlondon.org/finance/money.htm)

There was an incentive to gain qualifications.  When an officer gained a qualification in a subject such as tactics his subscription fee was reduced by one guinea.  There were also fines for infractions of rules.  These included;

  • for pointing a rifle, loaded or unloaded at any person without orders – 10s 0d
  • for having ball cartridges on his person without orders , when on drill – 5s 0d
  • for firing at a target when the danger flag is shown or the white disc is covering the bull’s eye – 5s 0d
  • for discharging a rifle accidentally or without permission – 5s 0d

1886 24th Aug volunteers exercise2A newspaper report dated 1886 shows that the Battalion had an exercise. 1886 24th Aug volunteers exercise Lieutenant H. P. Thurston was in command.  Corporal Robbins, Sergeant Russell and Sergeant Major Owens were also mentioned.  Unfortunately the article is divided into two columns and we have had to present this in two separate images.  Click on the two thumbnail images to read the article about the exercise.

They also had regular shooting competitions.  One competition held at the new Oldbury rifle range was clearly won by H. P. Thurston with 47 points, the next person was Lance Corporal J. Bennett with 40 points.  Sergeant Major Owens was fifth with 35 points.  A shooting competition in 1888 showed that Private H. Eddington won £ 10s with 46 points and that Private E. Eddington had the same points but only won £1 5s.

Click here to see the list of volunteers in 1888, with annotations added from the list for 1891

It appears that the Thornbury Detachment was disbanded in 1895, although the 1st Gloucester (City of Bristol) Volunteers continued.  The Thornbury men were required to return the equipment they had been issued.  It is interesting to see the details of the equipment returned:

25 tunics 6 old waist belts (obsolete pattern) 2 great coats (numbers 62 & 215)
3 pairs of trousers 1 pair coat straps 28 water bottles
25 helmets 3 old mess tin straps (obsolete) 4 Slade Wallace waist belts
20 Glengarry capes 2 old pouches (obsolete)12 mess tins 4 pair Slade Wallace pouches
26 old white haversacks 11 kit bags 12 mess tins


Lieutenant Colonel Chester Masters

The list was annotated with the remarks “What has happened to all the trousers?”  Perhaps the men found them too useful to return)

It is difficult to visualise what this uniform would have looked like.  The photograph on the left shows Lieutenant Colonel Chester Masters of the Second Volunteer Battalion in 1883.  It is unlikely that the ordinary soldier would have worn something identical to this but it could have been along these lines.  The references to “old frogs” in the list of uniforms probably relates to an ornamental fastening rather an amphibian.  Frogs could be very eye catching gold braid but in the Volunteers (even in the case of the Lieutenant Colonel on the left) they could have been quite dark and discreet.

We are not sure why the Detachment was disbanded.  We cannot find any newspaper article referring to it so would be pleased to hear from anyone who know more.

Click here to read about a similar unit for Thornbury which was formed in 1916