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The Royal Lancashire Militia


The Lancashire Militia originated in 1689 when King William III directed the Earl of Derby, Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, to call out and train the Militia under Charles II’s Act of 1662 which formed the basis for Militia law until 1908. After training on Fulwood Moor, in June 1690 the Lancashire Militia embarked for Ireland where they fought at the Battle of the Boyne and the sieges of Carrickfergus and Athlone. The Lancashire Militia under Sir Henry Houghton was again called upon to help suppress the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. They were engaged in the Battle of Preston on 12 November when they suffered heavy losses storming the rebel entrenchments in Church Street. They were again embodied in 1745 when the Young Pretender marched through Lancashire, but saw little action.

Defence of the Realm 1760-1783  The Seven Years War opened a new chapter in Militia history. With most of the Regular Army abroad, home defence fell largely on a reformed Militia which henceforth carried out annual training. In December 1760, when the country was under threat of French invasion, the Lancashire Militia assembled at Preston and Manchester. In the summer of 1761 they marched south for training at Warley Camp in Essex, where there was favourable comment on ‘the tall, sturdy, soldier-like appearance’ of the men of Lancashire, and in October that year King George III made them a Royal Regiment. In December 1762 they were disembodied at Manchester, but in May-June 1763 a camp was held on Fulwood Moor, Preston, the future site of the barracks. War with France in 1778 once again caused the Militia to be called out, and over the next five years the Royal Lancashire Militia served in various English garrisons.

Citizen Soldiers Britain has a long history of reliance on part-time soldiers to supplement the standing Regular Army for defence of the Realm. The oldest of these auxiliary forces was the Militia, which first appeared in the statute books in 1558 but could trace its origins to the Anglo-Saxon Fyrd. Before the Norman Conquest every able-bodied Englishman between the ages of 16 and 60 could be called upon to defend his own Shire, while later regulations required regular practice with the longbow in every town and village. This form of local military obligation continued throughout the Middle Ages and into the seventeenth century, but was seldom more than an amateur adjunct to the more professional forces periodically raised by the Crown as feudal levies or by contract.

The Constitutional Force The Militia was always a County-based force, answering at first to the High Sheriff and then, from the time of Henry VIII until 1871, to the Lord Lieutenant of each County. Service in the Militia was an obligation laid on each hundred and parish, with the ballot supplying any shortfall in willing recruits. Its officers were drawn from the local gentry, and it was consequently tolerated by Parliament and the dominant landed interest to an extent that was seldom afforded to the Regular Army. The latter, unless the country was in imminent danger, was considered an expensive and unnecessary burden, and moreover carried a legacy of mistrust from the repressive rule of Cromwell’s major-generals. The Militia, in contrast, was regarded as the ‘Constitutional Force’.

Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815 

War with Revolutionary France brought embodiment and a major expansion of the Militia to 105,000 men, and in Lancashire by 1798 there were 1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments Royal Lancashire Militia. Of these the 3rd Regiment, raised in 1797, evolved to form the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment based at Preston. This Regiment was embodied from 1798 to 1802 and again from 1803 to 1816, serving in England and, from 1813, in Dublin. In May 1813 the 3rd Regiment had the honour of receiving the designation ‘The Prince Regent’s Own Regiment of Lancashire Militia’.

Throughout the Napoleonic War the Militia provided large drafts of trained officers and soldiers for the Regular Army. The 3rd Regiment volunteered to remain in Ireland after peace was declared in May 1814, and when Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba so great was the enthusiasm shown by the officers and men to volunteer for the Regular Army that the Regiment was soon reduced to less than half strength. Many of these Lancashire volunteers fought at the Battle of Waterloo.

The Crimean War 1854-55

With Napoleon defeated, the Royal Lancashire Militia was disembodied in 1816, but later that year the permanent staff of the 3rd Regiment succeeded in quelling a riot in Preston without bloodshed. Annual training was carried out at Preston for 28 days in 1820, for 21 days in 1821 and for 28 days in 1825, but was then dispensed with until 1831, in which year the 3rd Regiment was re-designated ‘3rd Royal Lancashire Militia (The Duke of Lancaster’s Own)’. No training took place for the next 21 years, but in November 1852 the regiments were called up for 21 days training at Preston. With growing international tension they were ordered to recruit up to their full strength of 1,200 each. On 22 March 1853 additional Militia battalions were formed, including:

  • 4th Royal Lancashire Militia (The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Light Infantry) at Warrington

  • 5th Royal Lancashire Militia at Burnley

Training took place that May. When war against Russia was declared on 28 March 1854 the 5th Royal Lancashire Militia had already been embodied at Burnley, and they did duty at Aldershot, Dublin and Clonmel in succession from May 1855 to May 1856.

There was a requirement to replace the Regular battalions sent to the Crimea, and all Lancashire Militia Regiments volunteered for foreign service. In June 1855 the Preston-based 3rd Regiment sailed from Liverpool for Gibraltar where they carried out garrison duties for 12 months. The 4th Regiment was embodied at Warrington in January 1855 and served at Berwick, Dublin and Newry until May 1856. It was again embodied from September 1857 to March 1859 and stationed at Aldershot and Portsmouth.


The Officers of the 3rd Royal Lancashire Militia, some proudly displaying exotically heroic growths of facial hair, pictured with their Colours in the 1870's.

The South African War 1899-1902

In 1881 Militia battalions were redesignated as the 3rd (and sometimes 4th) Battalions of the new ‘localised’ infantry regiments, but without changing their Militia status.

The outbreak of the Boer War put the Militia under particular strain, for they were first stripped of much of their trained manpower to complete Regular battalions and were then asked to volunteer for overseas service as formed battalions, which to their credit they did. All three battalions saw active service in South Africa.

Among the first Militia units to be embodied, in December 1899, were the 3rd Battalions of the South Lancashire and Loyal North Lancashire Regiments. Both mobilised at Fulwood Baracks, from where the Loyal North Lancashires left for pre-deployment training at Shorncliffe and Lydd before sailing to Malta. The South Lancashires sailed from Liverpool for Cape Town in January 1900. They were followed in February by the 3rd East Lancashires, who were embodied at Burnley in January 1900 and stationed briefly at the Curragh Camp, near Dublin. The 3rd Loyal North Lancashires did garrison duty in Malta until March 1901, when they too sailed for South Africa.


The 3rd (Militia) Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment trooping the Colour in front of the Main Guard at Valletta, Malta, in 1900. The Militia battalions were mobilised for the duration of the Boer War, replacing Regular troops in overseas garrisons as well as serving in South Africa

In South Africa the main task of the Militia battalions was to protect the vital but vulnerable railway lines of communication from Boer raids and sabotage, but they were also engaged in more mobile operations. In a guerrilla war of patrols, mounted infantry, armoured trains and blockhouses, they were involved in numerous skirmishes. Six of the Lancashire Militia were killed in action and 14 wounded, but a further 81 died of disease or by accident.

The Haldane Reforms In 1907 the Secretary of State for War decided to reorganise the Army in two lines: an Expeditionary Force, backed by individual reinforcements, and a Territorial Force for home defence. It was at once clear that there was no place in the new order of battle for a third force, and the alternatives were for the Militia to take on the draft-finding individual reinforcement role or for it to form the basis for the new Territorial Force. Neither option appealed, but the final decision was taken at Knowsley Hall, Lord Derby’s Lancashire seat, where a large gathering of Militia commanding officers unanimously agreed that the old Militia must be sacrificed to form the required draft-finding ‘Special Reserve’ battalions.

The Special Reserve In 1908 the Militia in its historic form ceased to exist, and its units were transferred to the Special Reserve, but they retained their battalion designations in the regimental system and up until the outbreak of war in 1914 they continued with unit training and annual camps much as before. The Special Reserve battalions were given two main mobilisation roles, coastal defence and the provision of reinforcements to the Regular Army in the field. Their recruits completed 6 months continuous training at the Regimental Depot and thereafter attended annual camp for one month each year.

The Great War 1914-1918

The Militia battalions were embodied in the First World War and moved to their war stations:

3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion The East Lancashire Regiment – Plymouth (Saltburn from 1917)

3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion The South Lancashire Regiment (PWV) – Crosby (Barrow from 1917) 

3rd (Special Reserve)  Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment – Felixstowe

Normal strength of each of these draft-finding battalions throughout the war was some hundred officers and two thousand men, and between them they sent some fifteen hundred officers and sixty thousand men overseas.

Troubles in Ireland Early in 1919 the 3rd Battalions of the East Lancashires and the South Lancashires were stationed in Ireland, at Buttevant and Dublin respectively, carrying out duties in aid of the Civil Power. All three Special Reserve battalions were disembodied later that year.

The End of the Militia The Special Reserve was renamed the Militia in 1921, but it was not as popular as the old Militia and all its units quietly went into suspended animation. The Militia was not reactivated during the Second World War, resulting in an acute shortage of Infantry reinforcements, but it was not formally disbanded until 1953. Its role of providing reinforcements for the Regular Army has in recent years been taken on by the Territorial Army.

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