The Royal Military Academy, Woolwich

The Royal Military Academy (RMA) was opened by authority of a Royal Warrant in 1741: it was intended, in the words of its first charter, to produce "good officers of Artillery and perfect Engineers". Its 'gentlemen cadets', who initially ranged in age from 10 to 30; were accommodated in lodgings in the town of Woolwich to begin with, but this arrangement was deemed unsatisfactory due to their unruliness, so in 1751 a Cadets' Barracks was built just within the south boundary wall of Woolwich Warren, and the cadets had to adjust to a more strict military discipline. Education in the Academy focused at first on mathematics and the scientific principles of gunnery and fortification. In the 1760s the Military Academy was split: younger cadets entered the Lower Academy, where they were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin, French and drawing. If they performed well in examinations they were allowed to proceed to the Upper Academy, where they learned military skills and sciences.

The possibility of moving the Royal Military Academy out of the Warren was mooted as early as 1783. Eventually a new complex of buildings was built on a site at the southern edge of Woolwich Common between 1796 and 1805 and opened for use the following year. 128 cadets moved to the new Academy: these comprised the four senior years. Of the younger cadets, sixty were kept at the Warren and another sixty were sent to a new college for junior cadets at Great Marlow. In 1810, military cadets of the East India Company, who had previously been educated at the Academy, were moved to a new college at Addiscombe. During the years that followed the status of the Woolwich cadets changed: rather than being considered junior military personnel, as had previously been the case, they were removed from the muster roll and their parents began to be charged fees for attendance. In this way the Academy took on something of the ethos of an English public school. Following the demise of the Board of Ordnance in the wake of the Crimean War the Academy was inspected by a commission which recommended changes: the minimum age for cadets was raised to fifteen and more specialist training was added. As part of these reforms the Academy complex was enlarged in the 1860s, with a view to accommodating all cadets on the same site and the frontage was extended with the addition of new pavilions at either end. These contained new classrooms and accommodation provided in blocks behind.

As had always been the case, in 1880 the cadet's dress was a simplified version of that worn by the Royal Artillery, regardless of the cadets regimental destination. As such it comprised blue tunics and frocks with red facings, together with the pill box cap in undress, and for full dress the blue, universal helmet that had replaced in 1878 the fur busby that had been worn since 1870. The colours blue and red had long been associated with the Board of Ordnance to which all of the cadet's intended corps belonged. No collar badges were worn, but there were special buttons, and waist belt and helmet plates with the designation 'Cadet Company' added to the standard RA design.

The Royal Military College, Sandhurst

Until 1870, the usual way for an officer of the cavalry or infantry to obtain his commission was by purchase. A new candidate had to produce evidence of having had "the education of a gentleman", to obtain the approval of his regimental colonel, and to produce a substantial sum which was both proof of his standing in society and a bond for good behaviour. When a promotion vacancy occurred, the senior officer of the immediate lower rank in the same regiment had the first claim to be promoted, subject to being able to produce the as appropriate sum laid down by Parliament for the rank in question. Promotion to colonel and above was by seniority without purchase. Staff appointments, which carried promotion, were by selection, not purchase, but an officer reverted to his regimental (normally purchased) rank on expiry of tenure. When an officer left the Army, the price of his last commission was refunded, thus realising a large capital sum for investment elsewhere. The system was subject to abuse, as very rich men could pay their juniors not to take up their right to promotion, but had the advantage of allowing wealthy officers to obtain command of a regiment in their twenties, while at the peak of their fitness and energy. By contrast, in the Board of Ordnance corps, where promotion was by seniority, it was common to find officers in their forties still serving as subalterns. 

The Junior Department of the Royal Military College (RMC), formed as a college of gentlemen cadets, began in 1802 at Remnatz, a converted country house at Great Marlow. When the experiment proved successful, a new site was purchased at Sandhurst Park, Berkshire, where the new RMC was first occupied in 1812. The purchase system was still in force, but gentlemen cadets who completed the course and were recommended by the College authorities were granted their first commissions without purchase. Moreover, when there were more candidates than vacancies, RMC cadets were given priority. Despite these advantages, the RMC gained a reputation for disorderly behaviour comparable with unreformed public schools of the period, with the average age of the cadets being about fifteen, although the age was gradually raised until the College was closed in 1870. In that year the purchase system was abolished and first commissions were, for a time, awarded by written competitive examination. The buildings were used to train successful candidates in military skills while they waited to join their regiments, but this did not prove satisfactory, and in 1877 the examination became for appointment to the RMC as a cadet, rather than for a commission. In practice the cost of the college fees was much the same as that formerly charged for an ensign's commission, and this, plus the school fees required in preparation for the entry examinations, meant that the social composition of the Army's officers remained unchanged. The RMC was not large enough to train all the subalterns needed by the Army, so an alternative route, favoured by those who failed entry to the College, was to obtain a commission by nomination in the Militia. It was then possible to transfer to the Regular Army after a period of full-time service and passing the College's final examination.

In 1880 the dress of RMC cadets was based upon that of line infantry and comprised scarlet tunics with the dark blue facing's associated with Royal approbation. Glengarry caps were adopted as undress head wear in 1874, and for full dress the blue, universal helmet was worn, having replaced the long standing shako in 1878. There were no collar badges, but there was a special RMC badge for both types of headdress, as well as buttons and waist belt clasps.