Birmingham and Wellington's Muskets

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The Birmingham gun trade was well established by the time the Napoleonic Wars broke out in 1803.

Driven by technical innovators such as the Galton and Ketland families, the munitions industry helped to turn Birmingham and the Black Country into a global economic powerhouse which supplied weapons to the military – and for the slave trade.

During the Napoleonic Wars close to 750,000 men served in the British Army. At Waterloo, Wellington fielded an allied army of 67,000. Many of these were infantry men – the Foot – all of whom would have had access to gunpowder weapons and small arms. The Foot fought en masse, either in a two-deep ‘thin red line’ formation, or in a square when attacked by cavalry. Fighting was done at close quarters with volley firing of the musket and fixed-socket bayonet. Among the ranks, the cry ‘give them the Brummagem’ was often heard as the signal to go in with the bayonet.

The primary infantry weapon of the Napoleonic Wars was the India Pattern Brown Bess musket. This robust flintlock was adequate and significantly better suited to mass manufacture in wartime than the highly-finished earlier patterns of Brown Bess. Brown Bess was the affectionate name that British soldiers gave to their muskets.

From the 1720s these smooth-bore weapons were made under the Ordnance System, which meant that they were essentially assembled and finished at the Tower of London from components supplied by the London and Birmingham makers.

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