As a general rule there was a great distinction between Shako plates worn by Officers and those worn by the Rank and File. Officers Shako plates were made in several pieces and were of high quality being made of silver and gilt. Other Ranks were of a lesser quality and made in one piece and in brass. But before entering into the detail of Shako plates worn by the 65th and 84th of Foot, it is worth mentioning the various patterns of Shako headdress worn by the army.
The wearing of the Shako headdress became commonplace in the 19th century and was derived from a type of headdress worn by Hungarian soldiers. The first Shako taken into use by the British army was the ‘Stovepipe’ Shako in 1800 and existed in several forms (1800-1806 Pattern, 18061812 Pattern and 1812-1815 Pattern).
In 1816, the Regency Shako was introduced, made of black felt with a leather peak and a plate that identified the regiment of the wearer. At this time it was usual for just the regimental number to be present on the plate although some regiments were allowed to wear special ‘devices’ on the plate. Until 1822, Officers Shako plates were a round shape surmounted with a crown, made of gilt and silver with the regimental device in the centre of the plate. From 1822, a star plate was brought into use and were these made of silver and gilt with coloured enamels. Rank and File plates were a round shape made of brass that bore the regimental number all surmounted by a crown. This Shako was worn 1816-1829.
In 1829 the Bell Topped Shako was introduced, so called because it was much wider at the top than it was at the bottom. The Officers Shako was made of black Beaver (a type of woollen fabric made to resemble Beaver fur) with the Rank and File cap being made of stout felt. Officers Shako plates were a universal star surmounted by a crown and made of gilt with ornaments of silver. The Rank and File wore round plates surmounted by a crown, made of brass edged with oak leaves on the left and laurel leaves on the right. This Shako was worn 1829-1844.
In 1844 the Albert (named after the Prince Consort) pattern Shako was introduced. The Officers Shako was made of black Beaver with a patent leather top and leather peak. The Rank and File Shako was of the same design except that it was made of black felt. Officers plates were a gilt universal star surmounted by a crown with a wreath of laurel and palm leaves with the regiments title and regimental number within the wreath. Rank and File wore brass round plates surmounted by a crown, edged with oak leaves on the left and laurel leaves on the right. The centre of the plate contained the regimental number. This Shako was worn 1844-1855.
The French Pattern Shako was introduced in 1855. Both the Officers and Other Ranks Shako were of a similar design both being made of felt with leather top and peak (although the OR’s Shako was made of thicker felt and leather). The Officers Shako was a gilt eight pointed star with the top point of the star being displaced by a crown. In the centre of the star is the regimental number with a black leather background surrounded by the Garter and Motto. The Other Ranks plate is similar but made of brass with a black painted background to the regimental number. This Shako was worn 1855-1861. 5
The ‘Quilted’ Shako was introduced in 1861. This Shako differed to previous versions in that it was made of cloth material. The Officers version was made of cork covered with a dark blue cloth with a leather peak. The Other Ranks Shako was similar to the Officers but of a much less quality. Officers plates were made of gilt with the Garter and Motto on an eight pointed star with the top star being displaced by a crown with the regimental number and devices being placed in the centre of the Garter. Other Ranks plates were made of brass with the regimental number cut out in a stencilled fashion from the centre of the plate. This Shako was worn 1861-1869.
The final Shako worn was the 1869 pattern (this is known as the ‘Last Shako’ for obvious reasons). It was made of cork covered with dark blue cloth with a patent leather peak with Officers being made of a superior quality to that of the Other Ranks. Officers plates were made of gilt with the Garter and Motto surrounded by a laurel wreath all surmounted by a crown. In the centre of the Garter is the regimental number cut out as a stencil. Other Ranks plates are essentially the same although they were made of brass. This Shako was worn 1869-1878.
With regard to Shako plates, as a general rule, Battalion Companies wore just the regimental number, Grenadier Companies wore a grenade and the Light Companies wore a stringed bugle.
It should be noted that Shakos come with a variety of rosettes, chains, plumes, tufts and lace decoration. It is far beyond the scope of this publication to list all of the variations and configurations of the different attachments to the various patterns of Shako. However, if the reader would like to discover more about Shakos an excellent source of information is to be found in ‘The British Infantry Shako 1800-1897’ by Brian Fosten and Gary Gibbs. This booklet is produced by the Military Historical Society.