The Dance families of Gloucestershire







The Dance Family of Clearwell


William Dance 1835-1871 & the North Gloucester Militia








William Dance 1835


Joseph Dance & Clearwell













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Band of the the North Gloucester Militia 'in my early days' by an unknown artist. Cirencester 1860s


William Dance, who enlisted in December 1854, was  private no.1206 in the North Gloucester Milita when he married Ann Harding at Pembroke Dock on March 17th 1856. His battalion had only arrived there on February the 8th, sharing garrison duty with the Monmouth Militia. He was billeted at the recently constructed Llanion Hut Camp and there is a possibility that Ann's brother William Harding was also a militiaman as he was named as a witness at their wedding.

At that time the North Gloucesters would have had no idea of how long this posting would last, or perhaps the couple may have waited to be married at her home town of Cirencester should they had only known that the Regiment would be back there in May and disbanded in June. 


When I went to the  National Archives at Kew I did find what I thought were some enlistment papers relating to William Dance.  They gave the right date and place of birth and that he enlisted in the VE Gloster Militia 24.12.1854 No 1206 and he was discharged unfit 25.4.1855 I think at Cirencester. June


The North Gloucester Militia was a part-time military force. Together with its sister Regiment, the South Gloucester Militia, it was embodied during the French and Napoleonic Wars when, before Trafalgar, there was fear of invasion. They served at several vulnerable locations, particularly on the south coast and in Ireland, and a number of camps were held at Brighton, where they were reviewed by the Prince Regent. The Militia could not be compelled to serve overseas, but  was seen as a training reserve for the army, and bounties were offered to men who opted to “exchange” into the Regular Army.
The  Militia Act of 1757 required the Lord Lieutenant of each county to supply a quota of men to serve in the militia at home in order to counter any threat arising while the majority of the regular army was stationed abroad, if necessary by operating a ballot. Justices, parishes and landowners were excluded from this process. 

The men selected then served for a longer period. However it was possible to avoid duty by paying a fine or providing a substitute - and often most of the men were substitutes. Proper uniforms and better weapons were provided, and the force was “embodied” from time to time for training sessions.

With Napoleon defeated and the Royal Navy so dominant the threat of invasion disappeared. Muster rolls and the ballot lapsed and the Militia became very dormant.

In 1852 the French President, Louis Napoleon, made himself Emperor Napoleon, and that, together with Chartism at home and proletarian revolutions in France and other European countries, caused some anxiety. The French had also enlarged their dockyard at Cherbourg, and at the same time launched the world's first armoured-plated steam driven warship.

A new Militia Act of 1852 supported by the Duke of Wellington, in his last speech to parliament,, strengthened the public order role of the Militia, a force led by the landed gentry, and this funded rapid recruitment. The Act abandoned the principle of conscription, which had fallen into disuse, in favour of voluntary recruitment. Under the terms of the  Act, men served for five years, and, on enlistment received a cash bounty. Militiamen had to attend an annual training camp, local drill parades and church parades. During the 18th and 19th centuries the North Gloucesters were mainly commanded by members of the the Kingscote family of Gloucestershire. 

In 1852 Colonel Thomas Henry Kingscote found himself at Cirencester, a new Colonel commanding the North Gloucester Militia.

The Militia was now a volunteer force - an alternative to the army. Men would volunteer and undertake basic training for several months at an army depot,  and then return to civilian life. All were obliged to report for regular periods of military training, usually on the weapons ranges, and attend an annual two week training camp. They received military pay and a financial retainer - and of course many regarded the annual camp as a paid holiday. This system appealed to agricultural labourers, colliers and the like - men in casual occupations who could return to their civilian jobs.



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Built at the entrance to Cirencester Park in 1857 as the Armory of the Royal North Gloucestershire Militia. 

An 1890 view of Cirencester looking from the park towards the parish church with the Armory on the left.


Built in 1857 Cecily Hill Castle was first known as the Barracks or the Armory. It was then the base for the North Gloucester Militia which in 1881 became the 4th Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment. During the Second World War it was used by the Home Guard. It is currently the centre for Cirencester College Business School. Lord Bathurst's Cirencester Park was the drilling and training venue for the Militia in the 1850s.


Quoted from " The Royal North Gloucester" by  Wilfred Joseph Cripps
Published in 1875.

The quota for all of Gloucestershire was to be 1993 men, 1240 in 1852 and a further 753 in 1853. Its uniform was to correspond with that of the line, silver lace being substituted for the gold. When trained or embodied - to receive the same pay as the line.

Colonel Thomas Henry Kingscote found himself at Cirencester, a new Colonel commanding a new regiment. In October 1852 he assembled 605 men and divided them into eight companies of about 72 men. They were without boots or drill sergeants for twelve days until supplied by the 35th Regiment from Plymouth.

The clothing allowance for each private was 32 shillings (£1.80) and 58 shillings (£2.90) for sergeants.

In 1853 the strength had increased to 831 by the time of the three weeks training which started on April 27th.

In 1854 there was a call for more permanent services of the militia and on the 26th of December they assembled at Cirencester - this time for a more lengthy stay. In August that year there had been calls for volunteers for the line and 63 were sent to Ireland to join the 41st Regiment. Each volunteer was paid a bounty of £9.         (William Dance enlisted on the 24th of December 1854. His number was 1206)


Six sergeants from the Fusiliers were engaged in October 1852 and drilled the new recruits daily for the three weeks training period.


The Gloucester newspaper reported :

January 6th 1855   122 have volunteered for the line, 96 choosing the 41st Regiment in which a son of the gallant Colonel holds a commission. 96 recruits were also dismissed as being unfit for service.

February 9th 1856   This regiment has again contributed nearly 100 men to several regiments. It is now under orders to proceed to Pembroke -due to leave yesterday Friday February the 8th.



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News  from October 1852. There are several reports in the Gloucester newspaper of the local reaction to the shortage of accommodation in Cirencester with the sudden influx of recruits. In 1857 a new barracks and armory were built in Cirencester Park.



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An 1854 recruiting poster for the South Gloucester Militia from Gloucester



Quoted from " The Royal North Gloucester" by  Wilfred Joseph Cripps 

In 1855 it was  getting the men into good order two parades a day being the usual routine of duty for some time. Much was thus accomplished, and when the half-yearly inspection took place in November by Lieutenant-Colonel Pipon, Assistant-Adjutant-General, the creditable state of the regiment procured a general remission of all punishments. On the day following the inspection it had the melancholy duty of parading In the market-place in mourning to escort to the railway station the remains of Captain Hopton, who had died a few days before. 

In the month of August the newly raised militia had balloted for their regimental numbers, and  69 fell to the Royal North Gloucester, the number which it held till its disbandment. The same number had been allotted to the regiment in 1833 and was now retained-in fact it was only regiments now raised for the first time that were concerned. By Her Majesty's regulations militia regiments took rank after the line by the numerical rank thus fixed. 

Officers went on leave as usual in the winter; and on the volunteering for the year being closed it was found that the men left in the regiment available for duty amounted to no more than 370. 

Early in February 1856, the regiment received orders to move from its head-quarters to the then new hut-encampment at Pembroke Dock; and on February 8, a cold, wet, miserable morning, after much delay at the railway station, it left Cirencester at 8 a.m., having paraded three hours before, and reached Cardiff that evening, where it was billeted for the night. 

Next day the regiment started again by rail, but with no clear orders; telegraphic  messages passed to and fro between the War Office and the regiment all day, and it was continually being stood at stations on the route waiting for definite instructions. At length the train reached Haverfordwest, and late in the afternoon the regiment was directed to billet there till the following Monday, the real reason being, that, though the regiment had been ordered to march, no provision had been made for it at its destination. 

On Monday it marched from Haverfordwest at 8.30 am and, reaching Pembroke Ferry at about mid-day, found that no means of crossing Milford Haven had been provided, nor would the dockyard authorities allow the use of any boats for the purpose. The men, however, got across a few at a time in a ferry boat and a horse-boat that was pressed into the service, and the regiment at last found itself in its quarters at the Hut Barracks, the first introduction of the new North Gloucester Militia  to garrison duties, which were shared with the Royal Monmouth Militia, who had been in occupation of the Fort for some time. The Montgomery Rifles and the Pembroke Artillery Militia arrived soon afterwards. 


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A typical GWR locomotive and passenger carriage of the 1850s


Travelling the rail route to Pembroke Dock in South Wales from Cirencester would have been considerably more uncomfortable and time-consuming than today. Before the Severn Tunnel was completed in 1886 the ride would have been the more lengthy journey through Gloucester to Brunel's recently opened (1852) bridge at Chepstow and then on to the  Swansea line. Compared to today, rail travel would have been a trial of physical endurance. There were no cushions in the carriages and because of the limitations caused by only having four wheels, the jolting would have added severely to the passengers' discomfort.



Llanion Hut Camp, Pembroke Dock.

Built in 1855, this was constructed of wood and was sited in Pier Road at the base of Llanion Hill, which stands just north of the town. It was built to accommodate 1000 men. The North Gloucester Militia are believed to have been the very first occupants, arriving in February 1856. They were later joined  by the Royal Montgomery Rifles who in 1881 were to become  the 4th Battalion of the South Wales Borderers. 



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The Royal Monmouth Militia at Pembroke Dock in 1855.  In February 1856 the North Gloucesters joined them to share garrison duties.


Quoted from " The Royal North Gloucester" by  Wilfred Joseph Cripps

The huts, though doubtless of the newest pattern, were contrived so as to combine the greatest amount of discomfort in themselves with the maximum of danger to one another; for the flames issuing from the iron chimney-pipe of the stove of each hut continually threatened the wooden roofs of those standing near, whilst the stove itself was so fearfully and wonderfully made that the patient endurance of tropical heat or the full and invigorating draught of a wide-open door were the only alternatives open to the patriotic tenant, who thus illustrated in his daily life his readiness to accept if necessary the "sweet and becoming " liability of sacrificing his life for his country. 

One officer, Captain Mansfield, did nearly succeed in making a burnt-offering of his hut and effects  but the flames were extinguished after the destruction of some of his furniture. 

A ball, several brigade-days in April under Colonel Norcott, an Inspection the same month by Colonel Shirley, who commanded the District, and more brigade-days in May, filled up the time; unless the soubriquets of "jester" and "the acrobat", found in MSS of that date applied to a certain gallant officer, or casual mention of boxing, athletics, or the three-card trick, in the same veracious sources of information, afford ground for suspicion that some leisure was found for lighter amusements, of what nature who shall now say? 

The sciences too were not uncultivated by the regiment, for it is recorded that not only was the existence of unwholesome properties in the mess champagne successfully demonstrated to one of its officers by subtle means, but their effects neutralized by simple treatment recommended him by his brother officers, he knowing not till later days of its inefficacy, nor their innocent deceit. 

A regimental school was on foot at this time, and its establishment reveals that military routine may be a lower depth of misery to the British militia-man than the painful recollection of his original difficulties with the alphabet, for, says the order-book, "care is to be taken that the men attend the regimental school to improve in learning, and not to escape evening parade". though how the intelligent non-commissioned officer who acted as as a schoolmaster proceeded to test purity of learning that history had not handed down.


In May of 1856 the Regiment returned to Cirencester and was disbanded in June.


In 1881 the North Gloucester Militia was now the 4th Battalion. It was finally disbanded at Cirencester in 1908 and the Colours moved to the parish church.



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The disbandment of the 4th Battalion (Militia) in 1908 at Cirencester.