Historic fighting force back at Alnwick Castle

If you hear loud noises from Alnwick Castle this month, don’t be alarmed.

It will just be the Percy Tenantry Volenteers (Volunteers) burning powder and practising drill.

Just over 200 years ago, the original Volenteer force was disbanded after the defeat of Napoleon, but now it has been reformed.

The Percy Tenantry Volenteers was initially raised in 1798 by Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland, to face the real and growing threat of a French invasion in Northumberland.

It was a unique Northumberland fighting force and soon consisted of around 1,500 men, including 17 companies of riflemen, six troops of cavalry and two artillery batteries. The troops where based throughout the county from Wooler to Prudhoe, and were all tenants in some form or other of the Duke.

This was no “Dads Army” or aristocratic whim. The 2nd Duke was a veteran soldier having served in the Low Countries and the Americas. It was here he learned his soldiering, especially light infantry tactics, so he dressed his men in green rather than red and armed them with the accurate rifles rather than the very inaccurate Brown Bess muskets. The men were trained in guerrilla type warfare, moving quickly and shooting accurately rather than firing volleys stood in straight lines.

The green uniform and riflemen have now become famous through the 95th Rifles and Bernard Cornwell’s character Sharpe, but the duke was there first - his riflemen were formed two years before the 95th.

The new intake is comprised of Sgt Bolam, Cpl Openshaw and Rifleman Brown. They are kitted out in exact replica uniforms and webbing, and will be firing muzzle loading weapons.

Sgt Bolam, whose namesake was a sergeant in the Rothbury Company, is extremely enthusiastic about the project and said: “The PTV was a major part of life in Northumberland and yet it’s not that well known in the county, which is why we want to bring it back to life. As such we have a menu comprising: A lot of audience participation, artefact handling, drill and generous spoonfuls of humour. The long-term plan is to reinstate the artillery battery and grow the rifle company so by next summer there will be regular barrages and light company re-enactments.

"We are also keen to find any descendants of the PTV and any examples of their kit, even a button."

Small soldiers and their parents will be put through their paces by the NCOs, learning the original drill of the period, see how a muzzle loading flintlock musket is loaded, and terrify the enemy with a bayonette charge.

All the other activities at Alnwick Castle – film location tours, wizards, broomstick training, spooky cellar tours, dragons, history tours, fabulous paintings, crafts-making – are free with admission (apart from archery which is a £3.50).

For more information go to www.alnwickcastle.com or call 01665 511 100

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