Special Design Wilkinson
Swords Associated with 'C.J.M'
By Matt Easton
Over my years as a
collector of British military swords, I have formed a particular
interest in non-regulation swords, ordered by British officers
who had particularly opinions about sword design. People who
took an above-average interest in their swords, as I do.
As someone training from Victorian swordsmanship manuals and
teaching classes in military swordsmanship for over 15 years, I
feel a particular affinity with these individuals who had strong
views about sword design.
Any practicing swordsman forms
opinions about the design and effectiveness of swords, and while
there may be no best or ultimate design of sword for all
purposes and scenarios, each practical swordsman will probably
know what suits them best personally, for a given type of combat
Some period authors on the subject, such as
Brigadier-General John Jacob CB and Sir
Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS, certainly made their personal
opinions clear in their writings and in many cases these people came to drastically different conclusions to
each other. We see this in the resulting regulation and
non-regulation swords of the period, with a diverse range of
hilt and blade designs.
Not all of these people with
views on sword design were regular Army or Navy personnel - some
were civilians. Prominent civilians with views on swords and
swordsmanship included John Latham of Wilkinsons (an avid fencer
and student of the Angelo Academy of Arms) and Rowland
Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron Headley. Others were part-time military
volunteers in the Militias, Rifle Volunteers or Yeomanry, for
example Cyril Matthey and George Chapman - both extremely
influential in swordsmanship (the former an officer in the Rifle
Volunteers and the latter in the Honourable Artillery Company).
There were also of course those who had served in the
regular military and, once settled into civilian life, continued
to revel in the practice of swordsmanship, and in some cases
also the design of swords. Alfred Hutton (late King's Dragoon
Guards) and John Musgrave Waite (late 2nd Life Guards) are
famous examples of the latter and both expressed precise details
regarding their opinions on sword design in their publications.
Alfred Hutton and friends, demonstrating fencing methods
of bygone times, in 1890:
Being a civilian was not necessarily a barrier to
influencing the design of regulation military swords - various
committees were put together in the late-19th and early-20th
centuries in order to design new pattern swords for the military
and Alfred Hutton was involved with some of these. Though
generally the Army top brass, for example Colonel Sir George
Malcolm Fox (see my article on the regulation infantry swords of
the 1890s), ruled the
roost when it came to sword design decisions in Horse Guards.
In the last few months (writing in May 2018) I have been
piecing together some information which relates to three
surviving swords (and there are almost sure to be others out
there yet to be documented), one of which has now come into my
Back in 2014/2015 two highly unusual
Wilkinson-made swords came to light which featured special
blades, seemingly modelled after 18th century backsword or
pallasch blades. The first of these came up in auction around
2014 and luckily Gordon Byrne, a fellow sword researcher, saved
the photos from the auction listing and they are featured here:
Every element of this sword is non-regulation, having a
double-fullered backsword blade, a so-called French pommel
(instead of the more usual backstrap found on most British
swords of the period), a rare symmetrical 4-bar guard and a
shagreen and wire grip which features a greater number of
ridges and wire turns than is usual.
The grip and pommel are not
so unusual, both being found on other Wilkinson special order
swords of the period (I have examples of the French-style pommel
cap in my own collection of Wilkinsons), but the blade and guard
are highly unusual.
The guard is in essence a normal 1821
pattern light cavalry guard, but mirrored to provide equal
protection and balance to both sides.
Turning to the Wilkinson proof
book record for this sword, it records:
Unfortunately, I have not been able to match the purchaser to
a specific officer so far (the surname appears to be Rolt), but
the main thing to note for the purposes of this article is "C.
J. M Pattern".
I believe what the record says after that is 4 b
Lt Cav = Four bar light cavalry [guard]. The normal light
cavalry hilt was known as a 2-bar light cavalry hilt, so this
being symmetrical is doubled. Having the guard made this way not
only adds to the protection offered to the hand, but also better
balances the sword in the hand - this is a feature that John
Latham himself noted in his 1862 lecture on swords, where he
noted (as Colonel Marey-Monge before him) that asymmetrical
hilts can lead to the sword turning in the hand during a cut.
But what was the "C. J. M Pattern"?
As can be seen from the
photos of the sword above, the forte of the blade actually
features two sets of initials on each side - CJM 1881 and what
appears to be HR [Rolt?]. It was reasonable to assume at that
point that C.J.M were the initials of a person and that the
sword was given as a gift in 1881. This C.J.M, as well as
gifting the sword, presumably designed it, or at least some part
The next sword to come to light was in 2015 and
happily it has now passed to me in 2018, currently sitting in my
collection - pictured below.
Straight away we see that it
features a similar, though not exactly the same, double-fullered
As with the previous sword, it has two sets of
initials on each side of the blade. The familiar C.J.M jumps
straight out, with the prefix "From", showing that it was indeed
a gift from them, in this case to "A.G.".
The hilt is the
standard 1897 pattern and not original to the blade. The sword
was clearly made and gifted in 1880, but in 1897 the then-owner
elected to update the hilt to the new 1897 infantry officer's
At the moment it is not totally certain whether the
sword was still being carried by the original owner in 1897, or
whether the sword had changed hands by that date.
The Wilkinson record sheds more light on this sword and
we're even lucky enough to get some notes about the exact blade
design, which I can confirm do exactly match the surviving
The purchaser is recorded as "Capt. Gordon". Interestingly
there is no mention of C.J.M on this record, but that doesn't
matter, because we have C.J.M on the blade.
Coupled with the
previous sword, we know that this sword is related. We also know
from the etching on the blade that Captain Gordon's first
initial was A and that he was a Captain in 1880.
down the search considerably and having spent a lot of time
analysing the Army Lists, both for regular Army and volunteers,
I consider the most likely candidate to be Alexander
Evans-Gordon of the Bengal Staff Corps and 12th Foot.
Alexander Evans-Gordon is
our "A. G", then indeed it would have made sense for him to
change his hilt in 1897 to the new infantry officer's pattern,
both due to it meeting the new dress regulations better (though
the previous hilt didn't at all meet dress regulations for an
infantry officer), but also perhaps because it is simply a
really good design for the hilt of a combat sword.
Officers and men of the 15th Bengal Native Infantry in 1885:
The Wilkinson proof book record tells us some details about
the original hilt as well, my transcription of the details are
No. 23506, Proved 3rd Feb
33 x 1 1/8th [blade proportions in inches]
Special [blade type]
Mounted 20/02/80 [hilt fitted to
??semi?? ??????[balanced?] Lt [light] Cavalry
French & neck chequered*
Blade embossed 20/2/80 by
Sold to Capt Gordon
4 inch flat shoulder
centre groove to point
& narrow groove under
- ? back edge
17 inch point
[3 blade section
9 inches from shoulder
Given the proof book record entry above, it seems
reasonable to assume that the hilt on Gordon's sword would
originally have been somewhat similar to that of the previous
'Rolt' one - with a symmetrical light cavalry hilt and a French
style pommel cap.
It's also worth noting that the Gordon record
contains a precise detail which we do not see on the Rolt
record, but which is on the Rolt sword - namely the chequering
on the neck of the French style pommel cap (see the back of the
The natural assumption from that hilt type would be that
this sword was for a light cavalry or artillery officer, but in
fact infantry officers in India did sometimes use cavalry styles
of hilt, which they considered to offer better hand protection
in an environment where they were more likely to get into close
combat than a typical European officer.
This being said, they
usually went for the Scinde Irregular Cavalry style guard, often
known as the Scroll Hilt, rather than a variation of the light
cavalry hilt with bars, as seen here.
It also seems
reasonable to assume that while the record does not record
Gordon's sword as having been of 'C. J. M Pattern', that it
actually was, matching the previous sword so closely (and
actually pre-dating it) and having the C. J. M initials on the
blade to seal the deal.
Given the detail by Wilkinsons to put
blade section notes on their record for Gordon's sword of 1880,
it may be that this was the first blade exactly like this that
they had made and that the 1881 Rolt sword was based on it - the
blade type (perhaps) by this time being referred to at
Wilkinsons as the C. J. M pattern.
However, was C. J. M's
pattern a blade, a hilt, or both? This remains slightly obscure.
These swords by themselves would probably not get us closer
to who C. J. M was, but luckily other records and a final sword
would fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw.
book 'Wilkinson Sword Patterns & Blade Rubs' by my acquaintance
and legendary researcher Robert Wilkinson-Latham (also a
descendant of John Latham and former employee of the Wilkinson
sword Company), available through Pooley Sword, appears (p.16) a
very particular sword of non-regulation design of 1870 (ten
years earlier than the previous swords discussed).
This sword previously survived to researchers only in the
records of the Wilkinson company, until a few months ago the
sword itself actually came to light, having emerged in auction
in Norway. It is now in the possession of a fellow sword
Every part of the sword is non-regulation, having a
symmetrical basket-hilt which is very clearly modelled on the
1788 pattern heavy cavalry sword hilt, a walnut chequered grip
of a type associated with specially-order Indian service swords,
and a blade which is somewhat like a hybrid between a Highland
broadsword (known as claymore in this period) blade and a
This sword was purchased in 1870 by Captain Francis Dempster
Hawkins of the Bengal Staff Corps, who was then in command of
the 4th Punjab Cavalry (research credit to Jordan Pryce Lewis
and Gordon Byrne on Swordforum International). But also on the
records (both the sales ledger and the pattern book) another
person is mentioned - "C. J. Mitchell Esq, friend".
the Wilkinson records refer to 'C. J. Mitchell's pattern'.
our C. J. M was Mitchell - he had been right there, hiding in
plain sight all along. It seems that Mitchell was designing
swords and at least in some cases giving them as gifts, at least
between 1870 and 1881 (though his involvement with Wilkinsons
seems to have been longer than that).
Robert Willkinson-Latham adds the footnote in 'Wilkinson
Sword Patterns & Blade Rubs':
"C. J. Mitchell was an agent
and customer of Wilkinsons and made numerous purchases etc., his
name appearing on many a Proof Book stub. He was also a good
friend to Wilkinsons and John Latham, loaning money to the
company at various times in the period 1865 to 1885."
Our C. J. Mitchell was heavily involved with
Wilkinsons, designing special swords, giving them as gifts, as
well as being a friend to John Latham and, as it transpires,
preventing the company from collapsing.
Turning to one of Robert
Wilkinson-Latham's other books, 'Mr Wilkinson of Pall Mall,
Volume One 1772-1899" (available through Pooley Sword), we can
see various correspondences between John Latham and C. J.
Mitchell and we find out that in February 1880 it was C. J.
Mitchell's financial assistance that essentially saved the
company when it was on the brink of financial ruin, due to the
stipulations put in place on the company finances by Henry
Wilkinson before his death.
Finally, in one reference we see
Mitchell's full name given as Charles James Mitchell.
With this information I started my search, to see if as well as
pulling these strands together I could add some new research. I
can now for the first time give some more information about
Mitchell himself for future researchers:
Charles James Mitchell
Charles James Mitchell, Esq, was born in 1815, the son of
Peter Mitchell, Esq. and Sarah Mitchell, of Camberwell. He
worked as a stock broker at the London Stock Exchange and
clearly became very wealthy. He came to reside at 90 Queen's
Gate, South Kensington, London.
As well as being
financially successful, he obviously had an interest in the
military and in October 1852 became a Lieutenant in the Royal
London Regiment of Militia.
On 27 December 1855 Mitchell married at St. Pancras, Louisa
Harriett, the second daughter of Reverend Edward Osborn, the
Vicar of Asheldam in Essex.
In May 1860, Mitchell chose
to resign from the Royal London Militia in order to become an
Ensign in Queen Victoria's Rifles. The Victoria Rifles, raised
in 1860 and associated with the King's Royal Rifle Corps, were
one of the first and most senior branches of the new Rifle
Volunteer movement, which had started in 1859/1860.
Rifle Volunteers were generally considered as more elite than
the militias - they had newer rifled firearms and uniforms based
on those of the Rifle Brigade and King's Royal Rifle Corps, who
were considered as elite infantry forces of their time. In this
context, Mitchell's decision to give up a higher rank in the
militia, in order to join at the lowest officer rank in the
Victoria Rifles, makes sense.
The Volunteer Rifles movement had exploded in 1859/1860 due
to a combination of factors, including the perceived threat of
invasion from France and the beginning of a period of reform in
British armed forces in the wake of the Crimean War and Indian
Mutiny. One of the first officers of the Victoria Rifles was
Captain Hans Busk, who had been a key lobbyer in encouraging
the Government to raise the Volunteer Force.
1863, Mitchell was promoted to Lieutenant in Queen Victoria's
Rifles and in August 1864 he was promoted to Captain.
A contemporary officer in Queen Victoria's Rifles of 1862:
We know from the Wilkinson records that during the period
1865-1884, Mitchell continued his financial business and
provided financial support to John Latham and the Wilkinson
company even after John Latham's death in December 1880.
It is also evident that Mitchell was designing, ordering and gifting swords
to military officers during this period.
recipients of Mitchell's swords were family or friends, perhaps some were the sons of business
associates or clients. It is not difficult to imagine how
someone involved with finance, the Wilkinson sword making firm
and also the Volunteer movement may have known plenty of people
who would be grateful to receive a special sword as a gift.
Charles James Mitchell died on 14 April 1884 at 90 Queen's
Gate, aged 69.
He left a widow, Louisa Harriett Mitchell, who
herself died on 8 July 1887, also at 90 Queen's Gate.
Some other family notes:
- Father: Peter Mitchell, Esq.,
North Terrace, Camberwell, d. 27 Oct 1850 (age 81)
Sarah Mitchell, North Terrace, Camberwell, d. 10 April 1863
Only Sister: Anna Mitchell, North Terrace, Camberwell, d. 12
- Eldest Brother: Peter Stanton Mitchell (b. 26 Dec
1805, d. 21 Aug 1879) - m1. Ellen (d. 7 Jan 1855, daughter of
Stephen N Barber Esq, of Denmark Hill, Surrey), m2. Sophy (m. 18
June 1856, second daughter of Charles Edward Waller, Esq. of the
Bank of England) - Resident of Clapham Park/Upper Clapton and
later 100 Marina, St. Leonard's, engaged in charitable causes.
- Son: Percy Mitchell of The Hall, Cranford, Northamptonshire,
died age 39 on 17 December 1902, in Harbledown, Kent. Percy also
held estates at Massbrook, County Mayo. He was J.P. High Sheriff
of Northamptonshire from 1896.
I hope that this article proves interesting and useful to
some people. Hopefully with time we will find out more about
Charles James Mitchell and, if we are lucky, some more of the
swords associated with him will come to light.
an open question as to what exactly the 'C. J. Mitchell pattern'
was. Was it a type of blade, a type of hilt, or was it simply
any sword which he designed/ordered?
It seems that in
1881 the Rolt sword more or less emulated the design set out in
1880 with the Gordon sword. But the earlier 1870 Hawkins sword
is quite different, having an archaic 1788 pattern guard, a
totally bespoke modern grip and pommel, and a blade rather more
like a contemporary claymore, but stretched.
variations however, there are some common features, which tell
us quite a bit about Mitchell's opinions on swords.
Clearly, he preferred straight blades with good thrusting
capacity, while not being entirely dedicated thrusting blades and retaining a
reasonably good cutting ability. Clearly, he liked double-edged points,
either to make thrusting more effective or perhaps to increase
the use of false-edge cuts.
Mitchell seems to have had a real
penchant for swords which harked back to 18th century models. We should remember that he was born in 1815 and in his childhood
18th century swords were probably still around in abundance.
Perhaps his father or grandfather had a favourite basket-hilted
broadsword or backsword and this made an impression on him.
Finally, it is clear that Mitchell thought that guards
should be symmetrical and very protective. The 1870 Hawkins
sword, as well as being modelled on the 1788 basket guard, was
even equipped with a leather liner originally, like a Highland
However, it is important to note
that unlike many earlier basket-hilt designs, his swords did not have
side bars connecting at the side of the pommel, which is a
feature that changes how it is possible to grip and use a sword
- particularly when thrusting.
Having the side bars
connecting to the front (knucklebow) of the guard leaves great
grip mobility and means that the sword can still be used like a
conventional sabre of the day.
It is also entirely
possible that his views on symmetrical guards were related to
cutting mechanics, as extolled by John Latham and Colonel
Marey-Monge, as much as protectiveness.
Perhaps if we can find more Wilkinson
records about Mitchell's swords, or indeed surviving examples,
some of these questions can be answered.
Copyright Matt Easton - May 2018