The custom of embellishing drums is probably as old as the instrument itself. Actual regulations as far as the British army is concerned can be traced as far back as 1660 following the restoration of King Charles II to the British throne. The expression “emblazoning” means adorning with heraldic devices.
It is likely that drums were painted with the heraldic devices of the various noblemen who raised their own armies. Predating all this we have evidence of Drake’s drum that carried his coat of arms emblazoned on the drum shell. Drake is said to have taken the drum on his voyages around the world between 1577 and 1580. It was still with him for his final voyage. On his death, the drum was returned to his family home of Buckland Abbey in Devon where it remains on public display under the care of the National Trust.
There is proof of emblazoned drums of the British army going back to 1661. There was a Warrant issued on 2nd June 1661 for the painting of drums for the 1st Foot Guards stationed at Dunkirk. The 1st Foot Guards are now, of course, Grenadier Guards.
The order was issued through the offices of the Master of the Great Wardrobe (from which orders for Regimental Colours were also issued).
Charles R: “Our will and pleasure is that you forthwith take care for the painting of twenty-five drums for our Regiment of Foot Guards in Dunkirk and for so doing this shall be your warrant given at our court in Whitehall on the second day in June in the 13th years of our reign to our right and trusty and right beloved the Master of the Great Wardrobe for the time being or to his deputy – By His Majesty’s Command, Edward Nicholas.”
The heraldry for the Foot Guards included the Royal Coat of Arms and for the Infantry Regiments of the Line, the Royal Cypher within the garter surmounted by the Crown and below this the regimental numbers.
The emblazoning of drums for the Household Division Foots Guards has changed very little. Although over the years, regimental devices and battle honours were added. Unlike Colours carried by the Foot Guards and Infantry of the Line, there are no Queen’s Regulations prescribed for emblazoned drums nor any other guidance other than the Household Brigade Regulations covering in detail the heraldry and format for the five individual Regiments of Foot Guards. Drums of the Infantry of the Line are emblazoned in accordance with regimental traditions.
Drums are still emblazoned by hand using the finest oil colours and both 24ct gold or white gold leaf.
There are only five tinctures or colours used in heraldry:- Black (Sable), Green (Vert), Red (Gules), Blue (Azure), and Purple (Purpure). Two metals are used:- Gold (Or) and Silver (Argent). These may at times be represented by Yellow and White. The three furs used are Ermine, Sable and Vair.
The artist first prepares an heraldic layout. From this a “pounce” or master is produced consisting of the complete layout in outline and pinpricked. The pounce is applied to the shell previously prepared with the laid down ground colour. The colour of the ground is normally governed by the regiment’s or unit’s facing colour. A chalk pad is rubbed over the pounce, which when removed, leaves the outline on the shell as an accurate guide for the artist. He applies the ground colours of the respective Arms, Badges and Devices. The detailed artistry and shading is completed.
The next stage is the first application of gold size to the heraldry where a gold or silver ground is required.
Typical requirements are title and battle honours scrolls. Assayed gold or white gold (silver) is overlaid on the gold size. The gold and silver are given detailed artwork and shading. Finally the lettering is painted upon the Title Scrolls, Arms, Badges, Devices and Battle Honours. The shell is then given several coats of protective varnish. Each coat is a separate texture and application resulting in “coach varnish finish”.
Following the implementation of the “Future Infantry Structure”, since 2008 a number of regiments were embraced into new regiments. New Colours were required in consultation with regimental councils and designed by Garter King of Arms and Inspector of Regimental Colours of the College of Arms to be approved by HM The Queen.
In most cases, those regiments affected had a requirement for their drums to be re-emblazoned. The designs for drum heraldry are invariably based upon the heraldry displayed on the Regimental Colours.