All the Kings Men

We mentioned a soldier dummy board in the last post.

Once upon a time they were one of the most commonly seen dummy boards around.

Why on earth would that be?

Let’s take a visit to Chelsea…..{ especially for Sally,  } and see what we can find out.

What are we going to wear for a trip on the river?

Well it will be quite chilly ( there is always a breeze on the Thames ) so it will be advisable to take a cloak and hat, one we can jam on our head well as we don’t want to lose it to the murky waters. Goodness knows what ends up in the river Thames these days.

However, as we have been invited to visit the King, Charles the Second’s newest project, the Hospital at Chelsea, and we might just bump into the Fine Folk as they parade around, we need to be suitably dressed underneath. So here we are in our finest for about 1680.

The King- a PastMastery figure 3 ft after a fashion plate of 1680

A 3ft. PastMastery dummy board after a fashion plate of 1680

We will be rowed there from one of the many water

A Thames Watermen in his ( later) Doggets uniform

steps around the city, by the Thames Watermen, noted for their bad language and rudeness. We are used to it and take no notice. As long as we pay our penny at the end of the journey, they are harmless. They like a good leer at a pretty cleavage though, so we shall keep our cloak firmly tucked in around us.

Off we go with our ‘man’ swearin’ and cursin’ at other boats, at the Thames Lightermen ( bargees who ferry goods and not people up and down the river ) with whom the Watermen have a long standing feud,  and at just about anything  they care to take their tongue to. The Flat Landers are a particular topic of the day.

Boy!…. I thought I knew some invective…but this is an education! 🙂

” Their minds are like a soup dish…wide and shallow” and ” They are little men…and that’s their farce. Their brains are too near to their a***….are  a couple of the more printable quips! 🙂

Founded in 1682 by King Charles II and intended for the ‘succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war’, the Royal Hospital, with its Grade 1 listed buildings, still serves its original purpose in the 21st century. But here in the 17th…it’s a series of building projects and waste ground.

The Royal Hosptial Chelsea

Chelsea is a nice little village. The name means a landing place for boats and that is just what it is as we step ashore, minding the mud and debris at the edge of the water. They have managed to build a water stair, probably because the King regularly comes here and the dainty regal feet are not allowed to be wet and cold!

The place is laid out very nicely. There will be lawns, arbours and flower beds and the buildings will be, from what we can see, very grand indeed. Sir Christopher Wren is leading the proceedings but he isn’t here today. There was a building already on the site and this is to be incorporated into the new building. Are there any soldiers….? No not yet….just builders.

Well then…we shall have to fast forward ( as we can on these virtual history tours) to 1692, for then there were 400 pensioners living in the hospital.

A rare 19th century advertsing figure 18 inches, of a Chelsea Pensioner, probably used on a shop counter top. Private collection in the U.K.

The dress was slightly different than the one we can see to this day. They wore the scarlet coat, slightly more full and waisted, of course and the tricorne hat but the trousers would have been knee breeches with socks. This was their ceremonial dress- they would have been found in everyday clothes too.

We look around for some soldiers. PAH! They are all old crumblies…..where are the real life, full blooded Men of War?

We are getting a little peckish. Shall we see if we can find a hostelry hereabouts that might serve us a cool ale? We walk a short distance into the village.

What’s this we can see?

A Grenadier from the early 18th c. (Morier)

Another soldier is leaning nonchalantly on the door post just inside the Inn. He is a staggering 7 foot tall with his musket.  😉

An early 18th century Grenadier in the " at ease" position. { Mmmm 🙂 } Clandon House Surry

We offer up a ” Good Day Sir ” . No answer.

Maybe he has been deafened by the roar of the cannon. < LOUDER! > “GOOD DAY TO YOU SIR!”

Pah…ignorant square basher! They’re all the same!

Early 18th century grenadier. It was said that these wer used as recruitment figures, but it can't be proven. Clandon House Surrey U.K.

Here is another one as we walk into the pub. Slightly different uniform. Same size.

Ohh….How foolish we are. It’s   A DUMMY BOARD, of course.  Hard to tell in the gloom of the doorway and the passage. But what are they doing here?

” Excuse me Sir…”

We are looking a real soldier in the eye here and it pays to be polite…. ” Can you tell us what you are doing with these cut out figures?”

The soldier draws himself up to his full height.

Which is considerable ( for the age ).

He is over six foot ,when most men hover around the 5 foot 6 mark and ladies are mostly to be found under five foot four. We are ladies and delicate , fine creatures, all of us and are rather intimidated by this fine figure of manhood. *< blush>*

” Certainly Maam….we are recruiting for his Majesty’s army and our figures are there to encourage the taller young men in the area to enlist in his glorious name, to go and fight the pesky Cheese Eaters in that God Forsaken flat land full of water over the Channel” ( The Dutch…alas…)


So, these are adverts. They are huge because…well they look good huge and only the tallest men are to be encouraged to join. The uniforms are that of Grenadiers…the latest fashion in the army..the newest edition.

” I read, Sir” says I ” that His Majesty has a new weapon, called a Gren- ade..they must be a fearful tool”

“Indeed” said the soldier, ” I have a mention of it here in the newspaper”

“ Now are brought into service a new sort of soldiers called Grenadiers who are dextrous in flinging hand grenadoes, every one having a pouch full”  ( Dairies of Evelyn )

“ I went to Greenwich where his Majestie was trying divers grenadoes shot out of canon….they brake not till they hit the mark…” said my soldier proudly. ” I , Madam, am a Gren- a- dier”

” Oh” we simper, ” How very terrifying. Do you have many of these figures?”

” Many of them Good Lady, scattered around the country. Wherever His Majesty needs soldiers.”

He smiles winningly.

” Come Maam” said the Grenadier” Take a glass with me and I will show you my pouch, I promise you, you will not be disappointed…!”

With an offer like that..what is a girl to do? 😉

The Canons Ashby Grenadier. National Trust. Over 7 ft to the tip of his bayonet!

Next Post…. what happens next!

Replica 18th c. Grenadier's pouch etc. Well.....what else did you think we meant? 🙂

( Apologies to the Dutch…we were at war with them at this time and were less than kind when speaking of them). Particularly Thames Water men…..;)

2 Responses to “All the Kings Men”

  1. Sally Says:

    Well thank you kindly for a wonderful trip down memory lane! I loved to meet the soldier boys from the Duke of Yorks barracks in the King’s Road. A short walk away would be the Rotunda Coffee House in Pimlico near wher I 1st went to school. I clearly remember a kind of dummy board in the shape of a huge coffee pot outside – not quite your style but must be related.


  2. FIRE! « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] You remember the Gentlemen amongst us had been to the Coffee House to catch up on the gossip and found all sorts of ‘goings on’ in progress. Meanwhile the ladies of our group had been to Chelsea by river and had made the acquaintance of some Grenadiers, gentlemen all, we are sure. in All The King’s Men. […]

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