In 1881, the final elements of the 1868 Cardwell reforms were put into place. Under Secretary of State for War Childers the pairs of numbered infantry regiments were united under one regimental (usually county affiliated) title, the senior forming the first battalion and the junior the second. The Guards and first twenty-five regiments of the line remained with their titles intact at two battalions. The 79th (Cameron Highlanders) was the only regiment of one battalion till 1897 and the 60th (King's Royal Rifle Corps, and the 95th (Rifle Brigade) had four battalions each. In addition, the militia and volunteer rifle corps were attached as additional reserve battalions; the militia forming the 3rd and 4th (or higher) battalions and the volunteers forming the remainder. Thus, it was considered, all the infantry elements of the British Army were now organized with regular and reserve battalions in place to supposedly form brigades and divisions in case of home defence or the unlikely event of a continental war. The actual formation of brigades and divisions would not take place for at least twenty-five years. In the short term, however, the prime consideration of the War Office was to allow one battalion to serve overseas and the other to remain home which was one of the lynch pins of the Cardwell reforms. This system had never really worked then and would not work now as will soon be seen.
The effects of the Cardwell system on the cavalry arm of the British Army were small. In 1881, the 31 cavalry regiments (three Household and twenty-eight line) were basically as they had been established by 1868: 3 Household Cavalry, 7 Dragoon Guards, 3 Dragoon, 13 Hussar and 5 Lancer regiments. In 1858, the 5th Royal Irish Lancers were raised reviving the number of the old 5th Irish Dragoons which had been disbanded in 1799 on a (later found false) charge of treachery. Their order of precedence nevertheless was not restored and they were ranked after the 17th Lancers. Also re-raised that year were the18th Hussars whose predecessors had been disbanded in 1821. In 1861 the remaining four light dragoon regiments (3rd, 4th, 13th and 14th) were converted to Hussars and the three European Cavalry regiments raised for service in India were brought into the line as the 19th, 20th and 21st Hussars. Except for the conversion of the 21st Hussars to lancers in 1896, this establishment would remain in place until 1922.
As regards to uniform, the obvious distinctions between the Dragoon Guards, Dragoons, Hussars and Lancers aside, there were some commonalities in nether wear, equipment and weapons. The heavy booted overalls which had been worn since the Crimean war, were replaced by breeches (often called pantaloons) and knee boots in 1874, probably in imitation of Prussian changes made in 1867. Stripes on the sides remained as before. Officers accoutrements remained largely regimental and without change but other ranks pouchbelts, pouches, equipment and weaponry were uniform throughout the cavalry arm (except the Household Cavalry). Saddlery and horse furniture were likewise standard for all other ranks. The cavalryman's sword was standardized in 1868 for all branches (again, save for the Household Cavalry) and remained so despite myriad changes to blade lengths, hilts and other features until the last pattern cavalry sword in 1908. After 1885, the sword was not carried on the trooper's belt but put in a leather sheath attached to the horseshoe pouch on the near-side of the saddle. The lance, use of which was extended to the front ranks of all cavalry regiments in 1896, began with the 1868 pattern ash version and changed to a bamboo pattern in 1885. Both patterns remained in use throughout the period. The lance was carried in a small bucket attached to the off-side stirrup. All branches of cavalry (except lancers) had carried carbines since the mid-eighteenth century. The 1868 pattern Martini-Henry replaced the Snider in the mid 1870s and was no longer carried on a swivel attached to the pouchbelt, but was placed in a bucket on the off-side of the saddle. When the Lee-Metford carbine was introduced in the late 1880's, it led to changes in the pouch to accomodate the new cartridges and the shape of the leather bucket. NCOs and some other ranks also carried either the 1874 pattern Enfield revolver or the later model Webley's.
For officers, full dress accoutrements were largely regimental but adhered somewhat to branch differences. All hussar regiments had cloth covered sabretaches, while other cavalry had black leather with gilt badges and a few (original) hussar regiments had cloth flaps on their pouches instead of silver. Sabretaches were abolished in 1895 along with saddlecloths (shabraques) which, prior to that had been square ended for heavy cavalry and pointed or rounded for light cavalry. Heavy cavalry and Lancer officers carried swords of the 1823 pattern, some modified in 1856 while hussars carried the curved sabre adopted in 1828.
Officers and other ranks wore a variety of undress uniforms between 1881 and 1900. Officers patrol jackets had become popular in the mid 1870s and were mostly of regimental pattern in blue with black mohair and lambskin trim. After the Crimean War, the stable jacket had evolved into use as a mess jacket to be worn open with regimental pattern waistcoats. The stable jacket was the colour of the tunic. Other ranks stable jackets remained the same as they were mid-century. The pill-box cap was worn with all these undress orders, with gold lace for officers and NCOs while other ranks wore plain lace, mostly yellow or white. Regimental differences for all these items abounded but from 1895 they began to be discontinued and replaced by plain frocks of tunic colour or blue.
On active service, the full dress tunic was still in use at the beginning of the period, having been worn by all ranks in the Zulu War and the 1st Boer War. In Afghanistan the use of undress or khaki uniforms was widespread although blue pantaloons were mostly worn by all ranks. When the Egyptian War began, most of the cavalry, both officers and other ranks went on service in undress frocks of one kind or another. In the eighteen-nineties undress tunics were almost universal for active service and peace manoevres with the adoption of shoulder chains in the latter years of the century. Of course, the khaki service dress was by then standard for the entire British Army on campaign overseas. (Khaki uniforms will be the subject of another volume in this series).
General Sam Browne's idea for the officers’ leather service equipment had been adopted with great alacrity when it had been invented and by 1881 was worn almost universally by all branches of the army both at home and overseas. For other ranks, the white leather pouchbelt continued to be worn until the brown leather bandolier, first used by mounted infantry, was taken up by all cavalry at the time of the 2nd Boer War.