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Shropshire group with roots in days of Napoleon to disband

Newport | News | Published:

A volunteer group that has its roots back in the days of Napoleon Bonaparte will see its last few, but its final members have had to stepping down because of plummeting numbers.

Pictures of the group in their heyday

The original Loyal Newport Volunteers formed in 1803 in order to fight off Napoleon if his armies reached English shores.

And in 1987, the group was reformed as the Mayor of Newport’s Civic Guard – one of only two private armies in England.

Now, with only two members left, the group has had to disband, but that hasn’t stopped Colour Sergeant Geoffrey Sharples from hoping someone will pick up their bayonets again in the future.

Mr Sharples said: “The volunteers attended 25 to 30 events each year throughout Shropshire. The highlight was being chosen to lead the parade at Cosford in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

“Some years before the company provided a guard of honour for a re-enactment of a Victorian wedding at Blists Hill Museum where their task was to fire a volley of feathers over the bride and groom with the wish that nothing heavier would befall the happy couple. The volunteers went on to provide this service at many other weddings.

“Sadly, it became more and more difficult to recruit replacement members for the company, following a trend seen in many service organisations. When numbers were down to two and insufficient to form a colour party it was decided to disband, which has now taken place. A memorial plaque with a range of volunteer artefacts is on display in Newport’s Guild Hall and a bench has been installed close to the war memorials in Newport Cemetery, all in the hope that The Loyal Newport Volunteers will not be totally forgotten.”

Pictures of the group in their heyday

The volunteers have a long history, going back to 1803.

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When French armies began amassing in Calais with a view to invading England, all areas were ordered to form volunteer forces to fight them off if needed.

Major Ralph Leeke, who lived at Longford Hall, Newport, formed the Light Company of Loyal Newport Volunteers. Records show that Major Leeke had 450 men under arms.

The soldiers wore traditional red coats trimmed with green, white cross belts, white breeches and tall black shako hats. The weapon of choice was the flintlock Brown Bess musket.

Mr Sharples said: “The Volunteers disbanded in 1816 but not before they had provided a Guard of Honour for the then Princess Victoria when she visited Newport en route for the Grosvenor Estate near Chester and lunched at what was until recently The Royal Victoria Hotel.

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“Following a summer Carnival in Newport based on the theme of the future Queen’s visit which caused information about The Volunteers to come to light, it was decided in 1987 to reform the Company under the supervision of Ray Edwards, a local antique restorer. Supported by various local businesses and individuals uniforms were made to match the original design and replica, and fully fireable muskets were acquired.”

Mr Shaples said he hoped someone else would take up the bayonet in the future.

“I just hope that one day somebody comes along and thinks ‘that would be interesting’ and looks into it and gets a couple of mates along," he added.

"It only takes a few uniforms and some muskets and you can get it going again.”

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