14 Oct. 2015: A seminar on civilians at war, ‘Trust the people’, in London University’s Senate House

This hour-long talk is now available as a podcast, with slides.

It is freely downloadable from the Institute for Historical Research (IHR). The accompanying PowerPoint slides can also be accessed from that webpage.

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The organisation of civilian resistance to invasion will form the subject of Margaret Bird’s illustrated presentation ‘ “Trust the people”: the English approach to arming and training the “mob” 1779–1805 ’.

It will be held in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum, at the Institute of Historical Research (in the Senate House of London University) on Wednesday 14 October 2015 at 5.30 pm (details below). Please note the revised time and seminar room.

William Palgrave jnr (1771-1838)

A young officer in the Volunteers: William Palgrave junior in 1798 aged 27, as the lieutenant commanding the Yarmouth Volunteer Cavalry

The Militia, Volunteers and Sea Fencibles

The three bodies into which civilians were recruited, not altogether willingly, were new. The reconstituted Militia was formed in 1757 at the instigation of a Norfolk MP, George Townshend. An officer in the British Army, he took the surrender of the French two years later following General Wolfe’s death at Quebec. As a Field Marshal, 1st Marquis Townshend and Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk he coordinated the various bodies charged with internal defence in his area during the later French wars, and urged the Government to trust the masses who were being armed at a time of severe tension at home.

The Volunteers were formed towards the end of the American war, which by 1781 had escalated into a British struggle against the French, Spanish and Dutch. Mass involvement in this body, formed of civilians who trained outside working hours while keeping at their jobs, meant that the British populace made a far greater contribution as armed personnel than their counterparts overseas.

In coastal areas the Sea Fencibles, composed of fishermen, Merchant Navy sailors and those engaged in related trades on shore, further reinforced the nation’s defences against the feared French attack on home soil.

Finding the Institute of Historical Research (IHR)

The seminars are open to members of the public free of charge. There is no need to book in advance. The seminar room is the Bedford Room, G37, on the ground floor of the south block of the Senate House. However the room within the IHR may be changed nearer the time, so please check the IHR website shortly before the event.

The Senate House is the tall white building in Bloomsbury on the north side of the British Museum in Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. Details of public transport links and a map are online.

The IHR website lists all the subject areas for their wide range of seminars.

Margaret Bird is an Honorary Research Fellow in the History department of Royal Holloway, University of London. You can read more about the seminar talk on the website for Mary Hardy’s diary, written daily 1773–1809.