Not Missing a Beat: Re-Creating Coldstream Guard Drummer Coats

As amateur historians and re-enactors, we are constantly looking at history through a soda straw. We never have the totality of information we want or need to re-create history in a full diorama. Rather, we are provided with mere pigeon hole glimpses of a vast historical record. Under these circumstances, a technique often employed to best understand our individual/unit preferred period of history is to look at what came before and evolved afterward. When it comes to the regimental coats of the 4th Company's musicians (specifically drummers and fifers), this is especially true. And lucky for us, G. Derbidge's 1973 research article titled "Dress of Drummers of the Three Regiments of Footguards" does exactly that.

Now Derbidge's purpose is larger than our own, as he goes to great lengths to chart the evolution of Foot Guard drummer coats from the reign of Queen Anne to the end of the 18th century. But to identify precisely what they would have looked like during the American War of Independence, he first focuses on the Royal Clothing Warrant of 1768, which states that:
The coats of the drummers and fifers of all Royal Regiments are to be red, faced and lapelled with blue, and laced with Royal lace ( and white, or blue, white and yellow worsted, considerably raised above the common lace. Infantry Clothing Regulations 1802.)...
The challenge here, of course, is that the Foot Guards are not specifically mentioned in this clothing warrant. Nonetheless, they do fall under the category of Royal Regiments, which are contrasted with the musicians of other regiments. The latter would have worn white coats (for those regiments with red facings) or coats matching the regiments's facing (for those regiments with other facing colors). (Derbidge, p. 45)

So just from this warrant, we can be confident that Foot Guard drummers during the American War of Independence wore red coats (the odd, seemingly short-lived directive that the Third Foot Guard drummers wear white coats in 1768 aside). But in order to uncover the coats' more specific features, Derbidge must turn to "pictorial history". And a key source for what he describes as "post-1768 Warrant" coats is the watercolors of E. Dawes, published in 1792 by Coldstream Guard Captain James Ewell.

1792 watercolor images of Foot Guard (First, Third, Coldstream) drummers by E. Dawes. Originally appearing online in Germany by Napoleon Online in conjunction with Universitats-und Bibliothek Darmstadt, reposted and available at the Napoleon Series. Copyright by Markus Stein.

This set of prints catalogue the uniforms of the FirstThird, and Coldstream Foot Guards (among other regiments) at the start of the French Revolutionary Wars. And it is this visual evidence that Derbidge is likely citing when he explains the distinct lacing patterns of the Guards' drummers at the close of the 18th century:
In the case of the 1st Foot Guards the lace had a band of red down the centre and down the outside white edges were blue fleur-de-lys. 
The 3rd Foot Guards had two bands of dark blue with white lace showing as a narrow band down the centre and at each edge, on the blue bands were yellow fleur-de-lys. 
The Coldstream Guards had a double row of fleur-de-lys down the white lace. (Derbidge, p. 46)
Interestingly, explanations for placing the fleur-de-lys on the lace of Guards drummers - at least to Derbidge in the early 1970s - remain speculative. It is possible that the inclusion was borne out of King Charles II's temporary alliance with Louis XIV and the Foot Guards being sent to fight on behalf of France. But, as Derbridge points out, this would be strange given that the fleur did not appear on Guard lace until over 100 years afterwards. A second (and slightly more probable) explanation is that the fleur's inclusion was simply a relic of the days when the British King claimed the throne of France (and did so until 1800).

Now of course, many of us will wonder how accurate these prints from 1792 could be for a war fought 15 years prior. And clearly, they do show changes made following the American War of Independence: namely, black gaters as dictated by warrant in 1784, a higher, stiff neck collar, and shorter waistcoats. Yet, thanks to the collection at the UK's National Army Museum, an extant First Foot Guard drummer coat circa 1780 (shown below) proves that the 1792 prints are amazingly accurate sources for Foot Guard uniforms a decade or so earlier. The design of the royal lace and its application appear identical, and the only glaring differences are the number of sleeve chevrons (five on the 1780 example but six in the 1792 images) and the application of lace to the sleeve cuffs (absent for the First Guards in 1780 but present in 1792).

1780 (circa) drummer's coat, First Regiment of Foot Guards. Copyright National Army Museum.

Still, no extant drummer coat from the Coldstream Guards is immediately available to us, and so in constructing our re-created ones, the 4th Company was faced with the common challenge of INTERPRETING varying pieces of evidence. As you can see from one of ours coat below, we have thus far taken what might be called a "hybrid" approach.

One of two of the 4th Company's re-created Coldstream Guard drummer coats.

In the re-created coats, our cuffs are done without lace (akin to the 1780 First Guard example), under the assumption that the same likely would have been true for the Coldstreams at the time. This is supported by Derbidge's assertion that "the similarity in the dress of the drummers and fifers in the regiment of Foot Guards has from their formation been such that at a distance it was almost impossible to distinguish one regiment from another. When marked changes in the dress did occur they usually applied to all three regiments about the same period." (Derbidge, p. 44) We also have followed the pictorial evidence example of the Coldstream not lacing their facing with the Royal fleur-de-lis type, which was probably due to the difficulty of folding this thicker lace into the tight scallop patterns the regiment required.

Yet, as research continues, so does the evolution of our impressions. As the 4th Company embarks on the construction of a new drummer coat this year, we will be making it with a darker shade of red wool (ideally it would be madder as opposed to scarlet, which came from an older body of Foot Guard research we now believe to be incorrect). We will also be exploring why the extant First Guard drummer coat has only five sleeve chevrons.

In the meantime, we can be grateful for the excellent contributions Derbidge's research provided to the hobby and for the continuing efforts of our Company's historians. Our understanding of history - and therefore of our own impressions as re-enactors - continues to evolve in fascinating ways.


Derbidge, G. (1973), "Dress of the Drummers of the Three Regiments of Footguards", Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 51, No. 205, pp. 40-48