It is asserted that Rotherham took the lead in the patriotic outburst which convulsed the country throughout its length and breadth at this imperiled period of the national life, and that the first enrolling of names was at Rotherham, these for a long time being toasted as "the first fifteen", forming, as they did, the germ of the national defence in the great French War. A claim like this could not be made without a proper foundation for it, and it may be accounted for by the fact that Earl Fitzwilliam, being Lord Lieutenant, and on the spot, was one of the most ardent supporters of the war, and at the head of the movement, Rotherham also being the seat of the cannon trade.
The Rotherham Yeomanry Cavalry were a fine and dashing troop at that period, The Yateses and Booths were remarkably fine men, three of the latter served in the Peninsular War. Charles was killed in the storming party at Badajoz. But the great attraction was the regiment of infantry commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Joshua Walker, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Walker, with their band. These were the people, and all had the hearts of the people with them. Any attempt to describe the universal excitement, and the war spirit enthusiasm which prevailed in the town and neighbourhood during the last decade of the last century, would utterly fail. It pervaded all ranks, parties and conditions, and the very few who then bore the name of Jacobins were for the time extinguished. Perhaps the most forcible exposition of it was the then celebrated exclamation of Earl Fitzwilliam, "War while we have a man or a guinea left". Events produced a change in his lordship's opinions, but the one t hen expressed was the keynote of the exasperated feeling of the kingdom at that time. The first notice of enrolment and subscription was as follows.
At a meeting of the Wapentake of Strattford and Tickhill, held on Saturday May 31st, 1794, at the Town Hall, in Doncaster, a liberal subscription was entered into, headed by the Corporation of Doncaster with 500 guineas, at the same time gentlemen enrolled themselves for personal service, Bacon Frank, Chairman.
The subscriptions amounted to £15,773. 6s. Rotherham pledged itself for £499. Barnsley, £885. 3s.3d. Amongst the contributors was Wentworth William, £1000. Reverend William Mason of Aston, £100. Samuel Tooker, Esquire £100. On the 9th July, at a meeting held at Pontefract, the high sheriff in the chair, the following gentlemen were recommended as officers. Troop formed in Rotherham, C. Newton, Esquire, Lieutenant, George Lempriere, Cornet.
On November 7th, the West Riding Yeomanry Cavalry assembled at Doncaster to receive their standards, and it is described as 'a magnificent ceremony'. The whole regiment dined with the Mayor and Corporation at the Mansion House, amounting to upwards of four hundred gentlemen.
These treats were profusely adding fire to the flame in all directions. There was a grand jubilee at Peterborough on the 13th of June. Earl Fitzwilliam as Captain of the Yeomanry, provided an excellent dinner for them at the Talbot. Plenty of liquor was given to the populace. The Government apprehended that the impending blow of the threatened invasion would take place on the Yorkshire coast, and took every precaution against surprise, no less than 15,000 Cavalry were billeted in the County in February 1797.
The Lord Lieutenant, Wentworth Fitzwilliam, and the Deputy Lieutenants etc., of the West Riding, on the 10th of November 1803, at the Hotel, Leeds, fixed several places where the volunteer and trained forces of the Riding were to assemble on an alarm of the enemy's approach towards the south, and a series of orders were issued as to the several routes and places of Assemblage. Regiments of volunteers enrolled themselves throughout the country.
The beacons were lighted at 9 o'clock in the evening of Monday, December 19th, 1803, to ascertain whether all the beacons in the Riding could be seen from, and have a communication with each other.
The first presentation of colours to the Rotherham Volunteers was by the Countess of Effingham, on the 20th of December 1798.
The Rotherham Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Colonel Walker, received their colours on the 28th of December 1803, at the hands of the Countess of Effingham.
On the 8th of October 1804, Brinsworth Common was the scene of a great review, by Earl Fitzwilliam, of the Sheffield, Rotherham, Ecclesfield, and Wath Wood Infantry, and of eight troops of the South Yorkshire Regiment of Cavalry. 2,000 volunteers were present. On Monday, 22nd April 1805, the Sheffield Volunteers were inspected on Brinsworth Common, by General Fergusson, and Colonel Bell.
On the 15th August 1805, the beacons were fired, as though the French had landed, the shrill clarion of war was sounded and the volunteers flew to arms, almost to a man. All volunteers were put in motion. The Staincross marched to Ferrybridge, the Rotherham and Ecclesfield to Pontefract, the Sheffield, Rotherham and Kiveton troops of cavalry arrived at Doncaster on Thursday evening, and those of Sheffield and Wath Wood marched in at 9 o'clock.
The roll call was Rotherham infantry, 381, absent 16. Wath Wood infantry, 278, absent 18.