British Rifle Socket Bayonet by Hill c1820
- Product Code: EWB-2174-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
In 1815 the British Board of Ordnance was forced to face the fact that while the sword bayonet then being issued to riflemen in the field who were armed with Brunswick Rifles was an effective weapon and tool, it was not a particularly effective bayonet. Due to repeated complaints from the soldiers on campaign against Napoleon as to the ineffectiveness of the Baker sword bayonet and the horribly cumbersome combination that it made when affixed to the rifle, a socket bayonet was adopted for issue. Interestingly the saber bayonet was retained as well for use as a close quarters weapon and tool, but for use as a bayonet, the new Pattern 1815 Baker Socket Bayonet was adopted. In order to use this new bayonet with the guns already in the field, the rifles had to be modified, with the forend cut back, the bayonet bar (mount) removed and a bayonet stud attached. Rifles were recalled to the Tower of London for modification and in some cases were altered locally to accept the new bayonets. Pattern 1815 Baker Bayonets were produced by the usual assortment of Birmingham contractors, but were also made by altering old “Duke of Richmond” socket bayonets (circa 1793) to be used on the Baker Rifle as well. For whatever reason, however, the use of the socket bayonet on the Baker Rifle with the rifle regiments of the regular army was short lived, and by 1823 a newly adopted “Baker Hand Bayonet”, what we would call a “knife bayonet” in modern military parlance, was adopted. The hand bayonet combined the hilt and guard features of a sword bayonet with a shorter, lighter and handier knife length blade, offering the rifleman the best of both worlds. While the Baker rifle in British Regular Army service was to be replaced in 1837 with the adoption of the percussion ignition Brunswick rifle, the flintlock Baker remained in service in a secondary roll with native troops in British colonies, with the constabulary (police), with British Volunteer regiments and with the East India Company well into early 1850s. To this end a dizzying array of sword, knife and socket bayonets were produced for use on these rifles well past the introduction of the Pattern 1853 Enfield.
Offered here is one of those scarce and rather interesting examples of a Baker Rifle Socket Bayonet, likely produced for a Volunteer or East India Company variant Baker Rifle. The bayonet is rather unique when compared to the socket bayonets in British service during this era, as it has a longer than normal blade, and is of much heavier construction than other socket bayonets of the period, particularly the socket itself. The bayonet itself has an overall length of some 26 ““ with a heavy 22 ““ long triangular blade and hefty 3” socket. The socket has a heavy, wide, reinforcing ring at its rear, roughly twice as wide as those found on other British bayonets of the period. The heavy ring suggests that it may have been intended for use with a variation of the Hanoverian Catch that had been adopted by the Board of Ordnance for use circa 1838 and only remained in service officially for a few years, being superseded by the Lovell’s Catch between 1842 and 1844. This large rim, however is not compatible with the Hanoverian Catch as too thick to work effectively. The fact that this bayonet is specifically for a rifle is clearly evident by examining the rear of the socket, where the bridge is clearly mortised to fit over and around a front sight (not just a mounting stud), and has a gap in the reinforcing ring and a corresponding flat the entire length of the socket to allow the use of that front sight while the bayonet is mounted on the rifle. This exact pattern of bayonet is illustrated as Figure B132 on page 95 of Ian Skennerton’s British & Commonwealth Bayonets, and is described and discussed on pages 94-95. Skennerton notes that some India Pattern “Brown Bess’ socket bayonets contracted for the they East India Company and provided by Birmingham contractor John Hill have a similarly large rim. Other than the fact that bayonet is clearly for use on a rifle, Skennerton does not hypothesize as to which pattern of rifle it was intended to see service with. The example pictured as B132 is noted to be marked “J HILL”. This example is marked HILL as well, but no first letter is visible. The absence of any British Board of Ordnance inspection marks indicates that this was not a British military purchased bayonet, but was a commercial one, that was likely sold to the East India Company, a Commonwealth constabulary department or a British Volunteer Rifleman. John Hill worked in Birmingham as a Gun & Pistol Maker & Sword Cutler from 1817 through 1851. During that period, he operated at two addresses, 168 Tooley Street from 1817-1832 and at 76 Tooley Street from 1833-1851. Skennerton notes the example he illustrates is likely circa 1820. As it is a rifle bayonet and from that time period, it is most obviously (in my mind) a variant for use on the Baker Rifle, rather than the much later Brunswick Rifle. The bayonet has the following dimensions:
Overall Length: 26 ““
Blade Length (measured to the face of the shank): 22 ““
Blade Width: 1 1/8”
Socket Length: 3”
Muzzle to Stud Distance: 1 1/8”
Muzzle Ring Diameter (Bore): .965”
Socket Diameter (Rear of Socket): .985”
The bayonet is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE overall condition. The blade has a medium pewter patina with scattered flecks of light surface oxidation and darker age discoloration. The blade is mostly smooth, with some lightly scattered pinpricking and some small areas of light pitting, most of which is on the rear portion of the blade, which is iron, while the forward portion (made of steel) shows less pinpricking and light pitting. An angled weld line is visible in good light, running from about 17 ““ from the tip on one side to about 16 ““ from the tip on the other side. This method of construction allowed the stronger, harder to work steel to be the front portion of the blade and the easier to work and somewhat softer iron to make up the rear most part and the socket, where the shock of stabbing a victim would be absorbed. The steel tip also held an edge better and was easier to keep sharp. This method of using both steel and iron in British bayonets would continue through the last part of the 19th century, and use of an iron to steel bayonet blade, welded at an angle would be a regular practice on Confederate made socket bayonets of the American Civil War era. The socket and shank of the bayonet have a moderately oxidized brownish-gray patina, and the iron socket and shank show evenly distributed moderate pinpricking and some light pitting over their surfaces, with a thin layer of surface oxidation present. The patina of the socket and shank suggest that they may have originally been blued. The standard three-step mortise remains in crisp condition and the socket remains in nicely rounded condition, with the expected reinforcing ring and bridge at the rear of the socket. As noted above, the blade is clearly marked HILL in small letters on the ricasso. No other markings are present.
Overall this is a very nice example of a fairly scarce British Rifle Socket Bayonet circa 1820, likely for a Baker Rifle variant. Further research may reveal to whom these bayonets were issued with exactly what rifle and for what service. Realistically it seems almost certain that it is for a Baker rifle that was either in use with the East India Company’s private army or with a British Volunteer unit. As Mr. Skennerton’s book and research is certainly in-depth with no stone left unturned, it would seem that these bayonets were for a rather small and obscure contract, and if their origin is someday uncovered, may prove to be very important and valuable. As it is, this bayonet remains a curiosity and fairly scarce if Mr. Skennerton’s limited commentary is any indication. It will certainly be a nice addition to your collection of early-to-mid 19th century British socket bayonets, and may turn out to be a really important bayonet in the future.
This bayonet ships free within the Continental United States at no additional charge. SOLD