North Devon in 100 Objects 37

37. The Yeomanry Music

This hand-written sheet music was created in 1852 by the Thomas and John Marshall, the sons of the owner and manager of the Barnstaple Bank.

The two Regiments of Yeomanry, the North Devons and the First Devons, had originally been created to protect against a potential invasion by Napoleonic France.  By the 1830s most regiments had been disbanded, but the landed gentry, young farmers and merchants’ sons of Devon chose to carry on.  Being a Yeoman meant horse-riding, musket practice, fetes and balls that became a major feature in Devon’s society calendar.

The brothers were 20 and 22 when this manuscript was created.  Taking a popular tune by the composer C.E. Horn, John wrote some suitably uplifting lyrics while Thomas provided the illustrations.  The lyrics include the promise that yeomen “fight with as good a might” as regular soldiers, as well as being “in the ball-room blythe and gay”.

By the 1860s the North Devons held an annual Cavalry Week in Barnstaple. As many as 400 yeomen rode in from outlying areas and stayed in the town.  After parading with their horses at 9am, the Yeomen were ready for days of training at Youlston Park and military sports like tent-pegging and “Cleaving the Turk’s Head”.  There were balls, concerts, and a special season at the theatre to enjoy.

Thomas Marshall was not taking part. He had died of tuberculosis in 1859, a reminder that even the gilded youth of Victorian Barnstaple were at risk from the diseases that killed so many of their poorer neighbours.

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