War. Whenever it looms the country feels safe in the knowledge that the armed forces will step up to the plate and ensure safety. But around 220 years ago, it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
It was the time of the French Revolution. In 1792, France declared itself a republic, and the following year King Louis XVI was beheaded. This was a time of great turmoil and unease, with events in France creating the threat of war on the horizon and although there was a regular army in England, it wasn’t considered large enough to be able to defend the country in the event of an enemy attack.
The effect of this on the East Riding, and indeed the rest of the country, was that local people were called to arms to stand guard of their communities.
The first meeting was held at the Tiger Inn, Beverley, on 17 April 1794 and was made up of the leading gentlemen in the area at that time. The Committee was tasked with organising the defence of an area stretching from the banks of the Humber to the coast of Filey Bay. Its first decision was to begin repairs on the fort at Bridlington Quay and stock it with ordnance and ammunition.
Five companies of militia were formed, each 60 men-strong and composed of farmers, fishermen and other ordinary local people, ready to fight in defence of their homes.
A system of beacons was later set up to act as an early warning system if the French landed on the east coast.
Sam Bartle, collections officer, said: “The East Riding Militia was funded by ‘subscriptions’ or donations from the local gentry, which amounted to £5736.20 shillings by October 1794, the equivalent of about £6.9 million in today’s money. So, clearly, the local people in East Yorkshire were very concerned about a French army coming to their shores.”
The minute book of the Committee for Internal Defence and other original documents relating to the formation of East Riding Militia during the French Revolution can be read and studied in the Research Room of the Treasure House, Champney Road, Beverley. You can also search ‘militia’ via the online catalogue www.eastriding.gov.uk/CalmView/ to find other available documents for when you visit.
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