John Players Cigarette Card: Nottingham Yeomanry (Sherwood Forest Rangers) – 1897

Found in My Grandfather’ Old Travelling Trunk!

The John Players Cigarette Company originated (and still exists) in the Nottingham area. As part of that company’s drive to popularise and spread the habit of habitually smoking cigarettes (originally only amongst men) – the cigarette packs often came with a well-made and designed laminated ‘card’ featuring well-known characters from historical or fictional books – as well as a plethora of testosterone-driven military-themed subjects! These cards were usually issued in sets of ’50’ and were designed to encourage the purchaser to smoke as many packets of cigarettes as possible in the hope of randomly acquiring all 50 cards in the set! The first such set issued by Players was the 1893 series entitled ‘Castles and Abbeys’. This proved so popular as a selling tactic amongst working-class men (who would exhibit, discuss, and swap ‘doubles’ of the cards ‘down the pub’) that more sets soon followed. such as ‘Footballers’ (1928), ‘Cricket’ (1934) and ‘Civil Aircraft’ (1935), amongst many others. The above Players card I acquired from my paternal grandfather – Alfred Wyles – which was found amongst his possessions following his passing in 1976. The above Player’s Cigarettes card is from the set entitled ‘Uniforms of the Territorial Army’ – which was issued in 1939 – just war with Nazi Germany was looming! Although encouraging a habit medically proven to be ‘life-threatening’ – the cards also served an important educational purpose amongst (primarily) working-class men. The fun and mystery of ‘collecting’ was combined with learning new facts and feats about interesting subjects! Obviously, the cards eventually became as addictive as the cigarettes themselves! The ‘Yeomanry’ were recruited from local gentleman of means who often owned land and were generally ‘respected’. They could afford to purchase and maintain their own horse, as well as commission a local tailor to produce the best quality uniforms. The local blacksmiths were often tasked with producing the best quality swords and/or lances that were carried by the ‘Yeomanry’. The term ‘Yeoman’ derives from the feudal system and denotes a rank found within that system. A Medieval ‘Yeoman’ in Europe was of an intermediate social status. The social status of a ‘Yeoman’ was higher than the common peasantry, but lower than the nobility and knights. A Yeoman typically a rich farmer who possessed land, owned arms and took part in fighting on behalf of his lord. From this ‘Yeomanry’ the modern ‘bourgeoisie’ (or ‘middle-class’) would eventually emerge. It is ironic that the ‘Nottingham Yeomanry’ would associate itself with the legend of ‘Robin Hood’ (who stole from the rich to feed the poor) – when the local ‘Yeomanry’ was often deployed to brutally crush any peasant-uprising! Robin Hood would have considered this type of Yeomanry as being the ‘enemy of the people’!


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