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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 and environment.

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 collection.

Back in 2014/2015 two highly unusual Wilkinson-made swords came to light which featured special custom 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 of it.

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 backsword blade.

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 pattern.

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 sword.

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.

This narrows 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.

If 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 as follows:

No. 23506, Proved 3rd Feb 1880
33 x 1 1/8th [blade proportions in inches]
Special [blade type]
Mounted 20/02/80 [hilt fitted to blade]
??semi?? ??????[balanced?] Lt [light] Cavalry
French & neck chequered*
Blade embossed 20/2/80 by Rowe
Sold to Capt Gordon
 
4 inch flat shoulder
a centre groove to point
& narrow groove under
back - ? back edge
17 inch point

[3 blade section labels]:
Shoulder
9 inches from shoulder
Point
 


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 metal):



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.

In the 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 collector.

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 rapier.




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".

Furthermore, the Wilkinson records refer to 'C. J. Mitchell's pattern'.

So, 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.

In September 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.

Presumably, some 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)
- Mother: Sarah Mitchell, North Terrace, Camberwell, d. 10 April 1863
- Only Sister: Anna Mitchell, North Terrace, Camberwell, d. 12 July 1876
- 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.


Conclusion

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.

It remains 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.

Despite the 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 officer's broadsword.

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