In 1881, Hugh Childers, the Secretary of War in the new Gladstone administration, implemented the final act of the Cardwell reforms of 1870. Eighty-two of the 138 regular infantry battalions were to be amalgamated into two battalion regiments. The remaining battalions included the first twenty five numbered regiments, already of two battalions and the 79th Cameron Highlanders plus the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and Rifle Brigade which had two or more battalions.  At this time the regiments were augmented by additional battalions from the Militia thus firmly establishing their territorial status. There now stood sixty-nine regular infantry regiments with names instead of numbers. This act at first caused much consternation as these “marriages” were not always happy ones or even convenient. Apart from numbers, many regiments had iconic symbols and devices and discussions on where to place them on the various appointments often were contentious. The British regimental system, as many understand, is a unique institution unlike any military organization in the world. The needs of an expanding Empire had placed battalions in remote stations on all continents sometimes for many years and often isolated from central commands. This created a strong sense of solidarity within the regiments and less attachment to the army as a whole. Their badges and battle honours solidified this attitude and they saw themselves apart from other regiments.

The earliest metal insignia for enlisted men had been quite rudimentary, comprising a head dress plate with the unit’s precedence number, a Royal cypher and the crown of the reigning sovereign. Officers’ equivalents were more elaborate and for the older regiments often bore a unique central emblem, or special device to mark either, Royal association, or approved battle honours. The former emblems most commonly included the White Horse of Hanover, to mark the Hanoverian dynasty, the Prince of Wales’s feathers to mark association with the heir to the throne, or knightly honours in the gift of the Sovereign, including Orders of the Garter, Bath, Thistle and St Patrick. The latter emblems included a Sphinx, marking the Egypt campaign of 1801, a Royal (Indian) Tiger or Elephant to mark special service in India, the castle of Gibraltar to commemorate its epic defence, a Chinese Dragon, to mark service in the Opium Wars, and numerous laurel and oak wreaths for a range of actions and campaigns. National identifiers like an English Rose, Scots thistle, Irish Harp, or Welsh dragon also featured for some regiments and several regiments included earlier, County titles given in 1782, but never really cemented in a meaningful way. Fusiliers and Light Infantry regiments had a certain elite status and a grenade for the former and bugle with strings for the latter formed the central device on their appointments.

In sum, each regiment was different and the mix and design of these icons varied so as to make each unit identifiable. More junior regiments sometimes had very few special badges, or honours, as they had not existed for so long and so their insignia was rather more barren and simple. A further factor in the insignia was the merger of the Militia regiments with the Regulars and, as the former was so much older, they often bore Royal association and geographical titles and symbols that the Regular unit with which they were matched did not. By the time the 1883 Dress regulations were published, most regiments had established and had received approval for the mix of badges, symbols and battle honours that encompassed all these factors and that would be placed on appointments and colours.

This then was an evolutionary expression of the identity that the regiments would establish for the next one hundred and thirty years or so. The lions, tigers, sphinxes, roses, bugles and other familiar devices that were worn then still adorn the uniforms and colours of the modern British Army.

This study shows the insignia placed on the full dress headdress*, the waist clasp or plate, the collar badges and the button. The timeline is 1881-1890 as, after that date the Scottish regiments adopted new elements and the rifle regiments took up different headdresses. In addition there were several regiments that changed insignia before 1900. The format we have shown is for the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and the infantry regiments. For the Foot Guards, who had no badge on the full dress bearskin (but did on the forage caps and white foreign service helmets) along with the departments who had helmets, but no collar badges yet, we will have an appendix section to address their insignia in an appropriate format.

*Including the 1878 pattern helmet, the Fusilier raccoon skin cap and the Highland feather bonnet along with the Shako of the Highland Light Infantry.

The Royal Regiment of Artillery. The badge of the Royal Arms and supporters with a cannon, was granted in 1832, along with the mottoes Ubique (Everywhere) and Quo Fas et Gloria ducunt (That right and glory lead). From 1834 a grenade was worn on the shoulder strap and then on the collar of the shell jacket in 1838.
The Corps of Royal Engineers. The badge of the Royal Arms and supporters was granted in 1832, along with the mottoes Ubique (Everywhere) and Quo Fas et Gloria ducunt (That right and glory lead). A grenade was worn as a skirt ornament from 1824 and on the collar of the shell jacket from 1838.
The Royal Scots Formerly the 1st of Foot. Indisputably the longest serving British Army regiment since 1633, from 1743, The Royal Scots (for a short time from 1881, the Lothian Regiment) bore on their Colours the Royal Cypher within the Collar of the Order of the Thistle with the badge appendant. From 1881, the officers adopted cap and collar badges based on the Star of the Order of the Thistle that initially were identical to the badges worn by officers of the Scots Guards.
The Queen’s Formerly the 2nd of Foot. An unadorned lamb, whose origin is obscure, was the ancient badge of the Queen’s. Over time it took on the form of the heraldic Paschal Lamb, with regimental tradition suggesting it represented the family of the Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza, but it seems more likely to have been seen as a suitable Christian symbol for a regiment destined to defend Tangiers from infidels.
The Buffs Formerly the 3rd of Foot. A green dragon was referred to in 1747 as the ancient badge of this regiment. Its origin is lost in antiquity, but probably traces back to the Trained Bands of London from which the regiment was raised. Another possible source was a famous dragon taken from the Mosque of St Sophia during the crusades and placed at Ghent, where the regiment was based in 1707.
The King’s Own Formerly the 4th of Foot. The Lion of England was the ancient badge of the King’s Own, having been granted to them by William III as a reward for their services after his landing in England in 1688. From 1881, the Red Rose of Lancaster was adopted by the Regular battalions of the regiment. It was an old badge of the 1st Royal Lancashire Militia.
The Northumberland Fusiliers Formerly the 5th of Foot.  The origin of St George and the Dragon emblem worn by the Northumberland Fusiliers is unknown, but it was displayed on the colours in 1797. A grenade became the supporting insignia when the regiment were titled as fusiliers in 1836.
The Warwickshire Regiment Formerly the 6th of Foot. The Antelope was recorded in the clothing regulations of 1747 as the Warwickshire Regiment’s ancient badge. The Bear and Ragged Staff was the old badge of the Warwick Militia and dates back to the noble Neville Family of ‘Kingmaker’ fame.
The Royal Fusiliers Formerly the 7th of Foot. The badge of the United Red and White (Tudor) Rose within the Garter with Crown over it was decreed for the Royal Fusiliers in the Regulations for Clothing and Colours of 1747, along with the White Horse of Hanover and the motto Nec Aspera Terrent (Nor do difficulties deter us). A grenade marking the regiment’s specialised role as fusiliers escorting the Royal Artillery train.
The Norfolk Regiment Formerly the 9th of Foot. The figure of Brittania was the distinctive badge of the Norfolk Regiment, but its precise origin is unclear. It has been accredited as an honour awarded for both, the battle of Almanza in 1707, and Saragossa in 1797. Whichever it was, the honour was finally confirmed in 1800, long after usage had become firmly established on various accoutrements.
The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment Formerly the 8th of Foot. Uniquely in 1716, the White Horse of Hanover and the motto Nec Aspera Terrent (Nor do difficulties deter us) was directed to be worn within the Garter on the Colours of the King’s regiment by King George I. Additionally the Red Rose, an old badge of the 2nd Royal Lancashire Militia, was worn for a time after 1881.
The Lincolnshire Regiment Formerly the 10th of Foot.  The Sphinx superscribed ‘Egypt’, commemorates the services of the regiment in Egypt, in 1801, and was authorised in July 1802.