A box for cartridge papers

I started this project a while back, and documented it elsewhere, but in the interests of documenting my re-enactment creativity both civilian and military, I shall post the project from start to finish here.

The project came about because we needed, as a unit, some way of storing and transporting paper for our cartridges to and from events. If we could keep made-up (and empty!) cartridge tubes too it would be a bonus. The idea came when reading a court-martial transcript while doing research for something else.

Q: Do you know the contents of those boxes that were handed up and examined next morning?

A: They contain’d fill’d musket cartridges; the boxes were such as are generally used for that purpose.

There was no actual description given, but I did not need a bigger box than would comfortably hold uncut A4 paper, and so my search began on Ebay and Amazon. Pine boxes such as the one I purchased are readily available, but most have handles cut into the sides of the box, which would not be suitable for holding paper and keeping it dry in damp camping conditions. The box I found had string handles and a string lid-lifter, and was more than suitable.


The first steps were to sand the whole thing, inside and out, and coat it with a wood preservative, which dried clear and would prevent (or help deter, at any rate) mould growth and insects boring into it.

I also had to make runners for the bottom, which I made out of the top rail of a broken fence panel, and treated in exactly the same fashion then attached them before priming the whole thing.

The third stage was to paint it with a primer, which also included a knotting formula to provide a barrier, preventing sap from the knotholes from discolouring the painted wood at a later date. I got one thing to do both jobs.


The colour I chose is a close approximation to a shade known as ‘Board of Ordnance’ blue. The Board of Ordnance were responsible for supplying cannon, and the various cannon carriages or trucks, limbers and other assorted equipment to both the Army and the Navy. The army’s carriages, limbers and canteens were painted blue, the gun trucks supplied to the Royal Navy were painted red. The shade of blue I chose was from the Valspar range, an own brand range of B&Q’s (a chain of DIY supplies store here in the the UK) and is called ‘Princeton Blue’. It is not an exact match, but is close to it. I chose exterior grade paint because the box is going to be used at events, where we camp out.


Priming and painting both had to be done in stages as it’s not possible to paint the whole of the outside of something and expect it not to stick to whatever you put it on to dry.


Once the paint was dry, I removed the string handles and lid-lifter and drilled the holes out a bit larger in order to replace them with rope. I was lucky in having to hand a length of rope from a demonstration in the Ropery at Chatham Dockyard.S6001206

It went easily through the holes (with the aid of a bit of tape at the end to stop it fraying while getting it through the holes) and is simply fastened inside with an overhand knot at each end, pulled tight.S6001207

I also needed to add some sort of stop to keep the lid from opening all the way, and used a length of brass chain for this purpose.


The very last thing required was a legend on top of the box, denoting the regiment and purpose. I decided it would be labelled ’50th Foot Quartermaster POWDER’ with ‘Qt’r-Mas’r’ as the period-correct abbreviation. I typed the required legend into Word, set the font to ‘Essays 1743’ (downloaded from Dafont.com) and played around with the sizing a little. I wanted it all to be in capitals, with the parts that would naturally be lower-case to be sized smaller. The ‘Powder’ part I kept in the larger size and italicised for emphasis. I used a different font (CF Bonaparte) for the apostrophes as I didn’t like the shape of the ones in my chosen font.


Once the wording was to my satisfaction, I printed it out onto ordinary A4 paper. To transfer the lettering to the box, I turned the paper over and used the schoolkid’s trick of shading the edges of the letters heavily in pencil, then turned it back over and put it into place on the box, going over the edges of the letters in pencil. Finally, I filled in the graphite outlines in black paint, using a very fine-tipped paintbrush. The underlining of the ‘th’ in ’50th’ was totally free-hand, without a outline to follow.


The broad arrow mark I got via a Google Image search. The broad arrow is a centuries-old emblem used by the British government to mark government equipment (which is why British prison uniforms used to have arrows on them where the US equivalent were black and white striped). The broad arrow mark is still used on military equipment to this day.


Finished – apart from one or two tiny areas that need tidying up or painting over. And no; we’re not going to keep actual gunpowder in it (modern safety regulations require a much sturdier, lockable box for one thing) but it’s a close period approximation and will serve admirably to keep empty cartridge tubes in. I just want some sort of suitably-sectioned tray inside – but until then, our cartridges will keep very nicely in a Snickers retail box inside.



My first dress-making attempt

OK, wish me luck…

I had two patterns for Regency gowns: Sense and Sensibility’s Elegant Lady’s Closet and Reconstructing History’s Regency Lady’s Evening Gown. I have been poring over the instructions (and to a lesser extent the actual pattern pieces) for ages now, in an attempt to work out A. which is the best (I mean, easiest) pattern to use.

May I add that I’m a complete novice when it comes to this sort of thing? Men’s shirts are so easy: it’s basically cutting out and sewing together a bunch of squares and rectangles. And I have a pattern for them too – Kannick’s Korner Man’s Shirt 1750-1800. KK provide simple really easy to follow instructions with Actual Diagrams. And that very first shirt was a checked one, with a woven-in line that I could follow when sewing. In either direction that mattered…

I was recently donated a couple of ex-fitted, double sheets. (as in, the elastic to make them fitted sheets has died).

I have decided on the Reconstructing History pattern… and am in the middle of cutting out this dress. Did I mention these (very nice cotton) sheets are plain? And I’m still not the most confident person in the world when it comes to actually setting up and using a sewing machine.

Wish me luck. I want this to work out well.

Related to the previous

This is a repost from elsewhere of something I wrote back in 2013, and illustrates the general way re-enactors are viewed in Britain, by way of a response to a simplified statement by a BBC presenter on the Culture Show, who was very disparaging towards reenactors/living history interpreters, calling them ‘actors in fancy dress’ or something very like it.

To that presenter:

We do as much research into history as you do, and have as much love for our heritage and historical roots as any ‘serious historian’ or museum curator or conservator. We may not have the degree (although you would be surprised at the numbers of us who do have a degree in History or an associated subject), or the connections or the desire to work in heritage in quite the same way – and those that do get to work at places like Beamish, or the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, are very fortunate indeed.

Garments and clothing worn by living historians are researched and carefully manufactured – and for those whose interest lies in any period before 1860, that means hand-sewing them (or at the very very least, hand-finishing them). To kit up a Napoleonic foot-soldier from head to foot, including musket, you’re looking at between £1000 and £1500 due to the cost of materials, weapon, footwear, and unseens like musket cleaning kit, shotgun licence and gun safe – and it’s no cheaper for someone wishing to play a female role. A quick run-down of my own kit:

Shoes: £80
Shako: £65 – I need to buy a proper period correct one; my present one was £20 or so, ten years ago. (Mine is felt-covered cardboard, based on a modern peaked hat)
Shirt: £30 (if you make your own)
Trousers: £30 (same)
Jacket: £250 – and that is a cheap one due mostly to not having the proper lace. I would need to add about £40 for the correct lace, going on 15 metres at £2.50 a metre. The fabric alone costs about £100, and that is for a short-tailed jacket. Anyone portraying an earlier period would be looking at double that.
Stock: £15
Musket: £360 (they are now nearer £450)
Gun safe: £90
Shotgun licence: £50
Cleaning kit: £20
Musket sling: £20
Crossbelts: £120
Breadbag: £15 (if you make your own)

Total: £1115 – but you need more than one shirt and preferably two pairs of trousers. And that does not even touch the amount of money required to purchase equipment to take part in weekend camping events where everything on show has to be period correct.

Myself and two comrades-in-arms at Fort Amherst in Kent
Myself and two comrades-in-arms at Fort Amherst in Kent

That is hardly ‘fancy dress’. Also, the research to be able to talk about your role as a soldier/camp follower or whatever your period persona is and does take time, lots of time. Those who do this are precisely as knowledgeable in their own way as the ‘serious historians’ – and some are TV presenters and published historians in their own right.

We have proven to the Army that we take their regimental histories and traditions seriously – I personally have been involved in an event put on by the British Army, and we would not have been invited if they thought that we were merely actors in costume.

Cultural Differences: England v America

First of all, allow me to admit that I have never visited the United States in person, much less been to any historical site, re-enactment or Ren Faire there. Even so, while wandering the Internet, I have come across numerous blogs and sites by individuals and groups involved in re-enactment of all different eras and interests in America.

And as there are cultural differences between England and America anyway, so there are differences in the approaches to history which each nation has. America seems, to me, to be far more geared towards first person interpretation and getting even the minute details right of clothing, living, eating and drinking than I have seen in Britain.

There are about two sites that I can think of in Britain where we have anything approaching what America has in Colonial Williamsburg, and that is it. And I am not even certain of one of those.

Great Britain is blessed with an abundance of riches when it comes to historical sites – after all, with a good 2000 years’ worth of recorded history in an island nation as small geographically as Britain, that is hardly surprising. English Heritage and the National Trust own hundreds, if not thousands, of stately homes and other significant sites, but they have a tendency to preserve them as they were at a set time in the past, and you wander the house (or whatever the site is) as an observer, kept from touching the furniture or walking on the carpets by velvet ropes. Nowhere do you have people in period dress to speak to about how a room would have been used. It is all very much like walking through an Ideal Home Show of pick a date! There are placards in certain spots to explain things, but they don’t go into much detail and you can’t interact with them. Even privately-run sites follow this trend.

The library, Avington Park, Hampshire
The library, Avington Park, Hampshire

EH has its own staff in its properties, but these people are in uniform rather than period dress and the once or twice I have spoken to one with a query about something, I got a very generalised, ‘frothy’ reply which did not actually tell me anything that I (as an amateur historian of the period in question) did not already know.

There are re-enactment events held at EH (and NT) properties, but again here I can only speak from my personal experience. Very often, these seem to be held at a particular site, not to bring the site to life and illustrate what it was like to live there, but because said place has land and can be used for camping and to give battle demonstrations.

OK, my own period is the Napoleonic Wars – at events, I can be found in kit as a redcoat soldier of the 50th (or West Kent) Regiment of Foot, one of Wellington’s Peninsular regiments. Technically, I (and other re-enactors of that era) should not be putting on recreations or demonstrations of Peninsular battles and tactics at stately homes at all. But we do because they are the places with the space that we need and that are open to other ways of demonstrating history.

I think the single biggest thing that I have come across in the twelve years (and more) that I have been a re-enactor is that Americans, no matter the event or the rank of the persona, seem to offer a first-person interpretation. “This is the Year —-, my name is XYZ, I am a Whatever role and this is how we do This Thing.”

I have never knowingly come across this in Britain. I have seen people portraying specific historic characters from a distance, but I don’t know that they keep in that role when the public are wandering the camp. Certainly I have never known any re-enactor in the ranks to do this. “I am Name, a soldier in Wellington’s army, and this is how they did this then,” seems to be the closest we get to it.

While the American sites and events seem (mostly) geared towards first-person, they have specific people in modern dress who can introduce a particular demonstration or answer questions from the public about certain things, or guide the public into how to deal with those people in period dress that they will meet. We have not got that at all here and so all of that falls to the person in period dress, and again that can detract from being able to stay in character (if we were in character at all in the first place).

I want to be able to have a nineteenth-century persona and to talk to people as that person, whether it’s a discussion about my uniform, my weapon or what’s for dinner. I am not sure that those who have been in re-enactment for years and years will ever change, and nor do we have a small number of dedicated sites, such as Colonial Williamsburg, who can make an impact and lead the way in doing this.

The average age of a visitor to Britain’s stately homes is 50 or 60 something. They are generally (although by no means always) part of a coach party and they are used to the static displays, the placards and the velvet ropes. I don’t think that we will ever have ‘free run’ of a historic site in order to show daily life there – although it may happen in smaller sites rather than the country mansions of which we have such an abundance.

A placard in the main magazine of HMS Victory, Portsmouth
A placard in the main magazine of HMS Victory, Portsmouth

Brickdust and Elbow Grease

Reenactment obviously does weird things to one’s brain when you think ‘wouldn’t this be a good thing for random MoPs* to see’ and/or ‘this’d make for an interesting thing to include in a photo of period cleaning materials’.

Possibly my brain has fried?

The main period use of brickdust was as a polishing agent in the decades before Brasso came on the market. Coupled with a damp cloth and a whole ton of elbow grease, it (along with shoe-blacking, pipeclay and gun grease) was guaranteed to make many a soldier and Marine curse the day they ever thought of enlisting.

*Note: For those who don’t know, MoPs = Members of (the) public (AKA the paying punters) at reenactment events who ask silly questions and think we’re there only because they want entertaining. When we actually do it because it’s fun and we want to be there. There are occasionally events where there are no MoPs and it’s just run for the people taking part in kit…😀

Musket cleaning equipment

Cleaning stuff

Key: 1: Tow, used for various cleaning purposes, such as drying the inside of the musket barrel
2. Cleaning rod assembled and ready to use
3. Cleaning rod broken down ready to be put away
4. Packet of flints
5. Worm, used for removing unfired musket balls, wadding or other debris from a musket (screws to the cleaning rod for use)
6. Oil bottle and dropper, for oiling a musket lock
7. Two screwdrivers
8. Rag
9. Tin of brickdust, used for polishing metalwork

Surrounded by boxes…

So far, I have packed every thing from the two bookcases in my room, save only the oversized books, which I will need to do tomorrow. I have also packed my stash (of which I have rather a lot, all things considered, including a bagful of fat quarters for various small projects).

I am halfway through hemming a tablecloth for the new flat – it’s black and red checks and was an off-cut from C&H Fabrics that I bought because I liked it. I will need to buy some black lace to trim it with, I think – I don’t really have any trimmings in my stash, but I’m sure that’s only a matter of time.

I have two dress-lengths of fabric and a third to come soon, and I think my stays are being put in the mail next Saturday (there is NO WAY I am attempting to make my own stays yet!), so if I put my mind to it, I may have some actual dresses come September and can take part in the parade for the Jane Austen festival if nothing else – I honestly don’t think I will be able to afford any of the actual events, and nor do I have the guts to barge in on things, which is pretty much what it would amount to, though I do plan to look up the local branch of the Jane Austen society at some point after I’ve settled in to see if that’s something I’d like to do.

I would also like to look into being able to hold a drill day somewhere (or do something in kit, at least; it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything in kit. We’re not going to Waterloo because there’s too many people wanting to take part and the organisers have decided that those who have taken part in previous Waterloo re-enactments should have precedence in being able to take part in the bicentenary. Which I’m kind of OK with because it was far too over-organised in my opinion – the form wanted to know who was sleeping in which tent, for crying out loud! – and the regiment my unit represents wasn’t at  Waterloo anyway, being stuck on garrison duty in Ireland. And it’s next to impossible to take part in an event when there’s only one car to transport everything, or the vast majority of it at least, plus half or more of the unit who are going.

Who am I?

Well, first things first; I suppose I ought to introduce myself. I am a re-enactor based in England, whose period of interest is the early nineteenth century. I play a ‘breeches role’ as a soldier in the 50th Foot, a redcoat regiment that fought in the Peninsular War under Sir Arthur Wellesley – the guy with ‘the nose’ who was made the first Duke of Wellington in 1814.

This is me in uniform
This is me in uniform

I am also beginning to develop an interest in recreating a Regency ladies’ wardrobe, and hope to use this blog to record my journey. I am soon to move to Bath so I should, in theory, actually have an opportunity to wear the garments I plan to create.

So far, my sewing is limited to two shirts (both for my male persona and both in patterned fabric, one checked, one striped) and one and a half pairs of trousers. I say ‘a half’ advisedly as the second pair, in a rather wonderful pepper-coloured wool, was cut a little too small for my current clothing size and therefore remain incomplete.

All of you lovely ladies who recreate your own stays, &c, will doubtless decry me when I inform you that I do not plan on making my stays. This is for the very good reason that I have practically no dressmaking experience whatsoever – the above garments are the limit of my skills, and I could only tackle them because I used the amazing Kannick’s Korner patterns, which tell you everything you need to know in order to put their patterns together – and my first shirt was a gorgeous blue brushed cotton check which meant that I could follow a line when sewing no matter what direction the stitching was going in. I hope to redeem myself a little when I inform you that both shirts and the majority of my first trousers were hand-stitched, the first shirt because I did not have a sewing machine at the time, and the second and the trousers because the tension is all out of whack and I haven’t had the time to deal with it yet. This is something I fully intend to deal with after The Move.

I have a whole list of things I intend to make, which will necessitate sorting the tension out (there is only so much hand-sewing I can stomach, after all; if limited solely to that, I will probably cry foul halfway through a chemisette!) I will document what I can, when I can.