Rothesay Brass Band – entertaining the excursionists fresh off the paddle-steamers on the Isle of Bute

Rothesay, the main town on the Isle of Bute, became a popular tourist destination in the Victorian era. Tourists wanted entertainment and the town council initially provided professional bands for the summer season from the mainland. A local brass band was established in 1875, which took on some of the musical duties required, and a successor band was formed in the 1920’s.

The article linked below gives details of the musical life of the first band – Rothesay Brass Band, and a look at the second band – the Royal Rothesay Silver Band.

Rothesay Brass Band article

Rothesay bandstand and pier
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Ups and Downs – the patterns of band engagements over the year

A bit of more recent history. Given the almost total lack of band engagements over the last 12 months, I thought I’d look back to when we all had full diaries and, apart from preparing for the upcoming area contests, would now be resting from our December playing exertions.

Between 2001 and 2017 the IBEW hosted an engagements calendar with details of brass band concerts, contests and other events. For various reasons, not least declining support from bands and band organisations, the facility faltered from 2014 and I finally withdrew it in 2017. However, it was a success for the first 14 years.

Over that time over 75,000 events were listed from some 2,500 different bands/groups – it is difficult to be more precise about the bands as there were too many name variations to make an accurate count easy – these also included some military bands, Salvation Army bands, youth/training bands, overseas bands and ensembles, which to some extent accounts for there being more than the 1,200 or so brass bands that actually existed in the UK. Around 2,800 of these events were contests, festivals or similar occasions, the rest being individual (or joint) band engagements.

The pattern of engagements through a year will not be a surprise to any bandsperson, with the bulk of concerts etc. taking place in the summer, and a similar peak at Christmas. This first graph shows the engagements on a monthly basis over the 14 years – the maximum being 2,431 in December 2008.

This second graph shows the average number of engagements each calendar month (from 54 in January to 1,049 in December). Of course these only represent a proportion of all the band engagements that took place and also, although overseas events were listed, they only accounted for perhaps 5% of the total, so a much greater proportion of those were not listed at all.

Happier times – the Harrogate Band performing at the Happygate Festival in 2018.

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Four unknowns to puzzle over

Perhaps the bandsman’s version of Where’s Wally? Spot the bandsmen in the crowd. It reminds me of the crush, trying to play a static piece at the Durham Miners’ Gala, on the return journey particularly, when the crowds throng the streets, and the bands are surrounded by ‘happy’ audiences. This is an unknown location, but obviously a great celebration of some sort.

Excelsior, a Latin word often translated as ‘higher’, ‘excellent’, or ‘upwards’. In the case of bands, it implied they were a notch better than the ‘ordinary’ bands. Many British bands have given themselves the ‘Excelsior’ name (some 325 at the latest count). The earliest of these is Okehampton Excelsior, which dates from 1828, but it did not gain the Excelsior tag until much later (perhaps the 1880’s). The actual earliest known is the Dundee Excelsior Band in 1859. Of course, the later tags of ‘Silver’ and ‘Prize’ became more popular in the succeeding years. ‘Silver’ from 1872, and ‘Prize’ – unknown, but certainly not long after contests took off seriously in the 1860’s. This band is an Excelsior Band, but no other clues to its identity.

An unknown ‘Blue Ribbon Mission’ brass band. I can’t make out enough detail on the drum to match to any known band (particularly, any of the 420 ‘mission’ bands or 45 ‘Blue Ribbon’ bands that I have records of). Many of the temperance bands were associated with the various temperance organisations in the 19th century, of which the Blue Ribbon Army was one, and the bands often did not state in their name the particular group they were linked to.

This one is a puzzle. Three photos of a band, probably from the 1950’s. Obviously well turned out in full uniforms, with a large proportion of young players. No other clues to their identity.

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A Shifnal Band at the pub

Shifnal, Shropshire. A band standing outside the White Hart pub, c. 1905. The landlord was Charles J. Miller, who lived there with his wife Catherine, mother Susan, sister Martha, and three daughters Violet, Lily, and Rose. He took over the pub some time after 1901.

The band is unknown, but could be one of the several Shifnal bands of the time – Shifnal Brass Band (1881-1938), Shifnal Coronation Band (1890-1910), Shifnal Military Brass Band (1902-?), Shifnal Volunteers Band (1890’s-). The first two may have been different manifestations of the same outfit – I don’t have any information showing them active at the same. Until yesterday this photo’s location was unknown, but by using the ‘crowd’ brainpower of the “Unidentified photos of the British Isles Group” on Facebook, it was quickly shown to be Shifnal. The pub is still there, but the surrounding houses have gone/been replaced.

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Lynn and Lynda – two ‘dainty’ brass musicians

Unfortunately, the full names or true identities of “Lynn and Lynda” have yet to be discovered. These two multi-instrumental brass performers appeared first as a double act in 1918. They certainly made a hit with the audiences and continued to tour, as a single act, sometimes as part of a revue, or even providing music and acting in stage plays, through to 1932. There was apparently a gap of 3½ years between 1924 and 1927 when it seems they were not performing, only for them to return to the stage in 1928 and, later that year, taking in a third performer – a dancer and vocalist – to make up the “Lynn and Lynda Trio.” The rest of their story is a mystery, at least for now.

The full list of Lynn & Lynda’s performances is available in the paper here:

Lynn and Lynda – 14 years of touring and treading the boards for two ‘dainty’ brass musicians

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The pig and the brass bands

A tale is told, anecdotally, in the annals of several brass bands, of a pig that was placed on a wall to listen to the music, and sometimes pass judgement on the quality of the sound. Similar to other stories which are claimed by more than one band as ‘theirs’, this tale does seem to be restricted to the Midlands and the North, ranging from Huncote to Ribchester.

Possibly linked to Captain Webb, of Dawley (he of cross-channel swimming fame) or just a merry jape by some local men, it seems to have been replicated in the local lore of several villages.

The paper below gives some instances of the appearance of the ‘pig on the wall’ and its possible link to a few specific bands.

A pig and a tale of several brass bands

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Matrimony and Music

A report from the Bradford Observer, 1857

In a village near Barnsley are two rival bands of musicians, which, for a length of time, have “kicked up no small din” by what is called “practising.” Lately one of the players belonging to the older of the two bands, it would appear, got married, and thus for several weeks deserted his musical companions to spend the honeymoon, when he again resumed his ophicleide, and by way of making up for lost time, he stayed at home two days to practice. His wife, who was almost distracted by the horrid noise he made by his playing, and, thinking it would be more to his credit to be at work, remonstrated with him, but to no use. He told her to mind her own business, for he loved his ophicleide as well, if not better, than he loved her. This provoked the young wife so much that she was determined to be revenged for it; and, the other night, on the would-be-musician getting into his four-poster, he found a very cold bed fellow in the shape of the ophicleide, which his wife had managed to put there to testhis love, and to see if he really did like the ophicleide better than her. It, however, turned out that the wife gained the day, as the ophicleide was disposed of by private contract on the following morning.

The couple in their courting days

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York Industrial School Boys’ Band

York Boys’ Industrial School Band was founded in 1880, with conductor Mr Hunt, the school was based in Marygate, York. It was active through to 1913. The bandmaster was Mr Hulse in 1882, and Mr Bates in 1902.

York Industrial School Band, outing to Bridlington

One of its earliest engagements was at the York and District Band of Hope demonstration and gala, which gathered over 1,000 children and 200 teachers, in August 1881. It performed at a bazaar for the rebuilding of Myton Church in August 1884; at the Yearsley Baths Sports in August 1886; the Easingwold Sports in July 1888; at the Huby and Sutton Forest Agricultural Show in August 1891; at the Haxby Agricultural and Horticultural Show in July 1893; at a flower show for the benefit of the tenants at Beningborough Hall in August 1893, conducted by Mr Varley; the Thorganby Horticultural Show in August 1894 & 1895; the Bolton Percy Agricultural Show in 1896; it joined the York & District Temperance Band and Mr Pink’s Band to lead the procession of the Amalgamated Friendly Societies through York in June 1899; at a garden party at Bishopthorpe Palace in July 1910; and at Copmanthorpe Agricultural Show in July 1913. It made an annual visit to the seaside, to Bridlington and possibly other east coast resorts, where they played concerts (to raise money for the school) and to give the boys a short holiday.

York Industrial School Band, 1913

The York Industrial School was a successor to the York Ragged School, and was installed in the old York Workhouse in Marygate.

York Industrial School marked in red

The boys of the industrial school were housed, educated, and trained, in the hope that they would become good members of society on their departure from the school. In addition to the brass band, the school also had a string band, and a drum and fife band, all instructed by Mr Hulse. The band was one way of providing some recreation as well as a skill that could be of use to a career in the military. The Industrial Schools Act of 1857 gave the following definition:

“Any person may bring before two justices or a magistrate any child, apparently under the age of fourteen years, that comes within any of the following descriptions, namely: That is found begging or receiving alms (whether actually or under the pretext of selling or offering for sale anything), or being in any street or public place for the purpose of so receiving alms; that is found wandering and not having any home, or settled place of abode, or proper guardianship. or visible means of subsistence; that is found destitute, either being an orphan or having a surviving parent who is undergoing penal servitude or imprisonment; that frequents the company of reputed thieves; that is lodging, living, or residing with common or reputed prostitutes, or in a house resided in or frequented by prostitutes for the purpose of prostitution; that frequents the company of prostitutes. The justices or magistrates before whom a child is brought as coming within one of these descriptions, if satisfied on inquiry of that fact, and that it is expedient to deal with him under the Act, may order him to be sent to a certified industrial school.”

For more information about the bands of schools and homes such as this, see my paper:

Music of discipline and reform – the bands of children’s orphanages, industrial schools and asylums

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Music to roll along by

Roller skating was a pastime that became very popular in Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century. The initial skating rinks were established in London in the 1850’s and, with the introduction of the ‘modern’ roller skate in the 1870’s the craze took off, with rinks being opened in all the major towns and cities. Many of these establishments had bands to provide music for the skaters – either professional bands that were engaged for a season, or ad hoc arrangements with local bands/groups.

The paper linked below takes a look at the roller skating phenomenon and the bands associated with it.

Music to roll along by – bands that entertained the Victorian and Edwardian roller skaters

Dunfermline skating rink band
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Unknown bandsmen (2)

I recently posted these images on the History of Brass Bands Facebook Group site. As with the previous set, they are anonymous (with a couple of exceptions), but nonetheless still very interesting examples of the costume and instruments of the past.

What is the story behind this first photograph? I suspect we will never know. It is anonymous, with no indication to location other than somewhere in Britain. The young cornet player’s uniform has no clues, and the girl could be his sister or girlfriend? Is he on his way to play with his band, or just posing for the photo in his finery? The second photo is also of an unknown player, this time not in uniform – but we do know this was taken by a photographer in Dewsbury, in his studio. Both are undated, but will be early 1900’s.

Another couple of anonymous cornetist photographs, both from the UK, but location unknown. The first has a collar badge with CA (or AC) on it. The second, older one (probably c.1870/80) has the name Harry Loadly (or Loady, Coudy, Coady….) – I can’t make out what it actually is. A search for a similar name has not resulted in anything, yet!

A couple more anonymous photos. Two lady cornetist from c. 1920. Sadly a rescan of the photo at a higher resolution failed to bring out the writing on the displayed book. A horn player, c. 1910

Two more of my unknown photographs to ponder over. The first is a conductor/leader judging by his instrument and baton held proudly – probably military judging from his cap and shoulder badges (anyone recognise them?). Why is he sitting in a wood? The second is a father and son? members of the Salvation Army. The lad is probably a member of the local Young People’s (YP) Band.

This photographic pair are tuba players, both c.1890. The second one is wearing his carrying strap and his bass has the lyre attached, so it was probably taken after/before a marching engagement.

Two cornet players, who are clearly in the same band and were photographed in the same studio, probably at the same session – father and son perhaps? Very elaborate braid on the jacket and a military-style cap badge.

Conductors and bandmasters of the 1910’s and 1920’s seemed to favour these designs of uniform coats, known as Guards Frock Coats. The first photo is of Henry Gallon Amers (1875-1944) who directed the Eastbourne Military Band for a while. He was more famous as the leader of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra from the early 1920’s to 1935, and had previously conducted the Band of the Northumberland Hussars for about 15 years prior to WW1. The second picture is Edmund Maney, conductor of the Royal Meister Orchestra in 1904 (later to become Margate Municipal Orchestra).

Some couples and groups. The first is a group from Holmfirth, the second is a trio of bandsmen, c. 1920, in a cellar? The third is a group of five Salvation Army bandsmen, each from different bands, and finally two men in a back garden somewhere.

Lastly, in this set of pictures, an unknown member of the band of the 2nd Oxfordshire Rifle Volunteers. This photograph was definitely taken after 1878, but will probably not be later than 1885. This band was originally the Oxford City Corps Band, active from 1875 through to 1880. After the reorganisation of the volunteer corps in 1880, a successor band was formed in May 1882, with conductor Sergeant Gaitley. George Gaitley was born in Athlone, Westmeath, Ireland, around 1840. He served as a sergeant in a fusiliers regiment at Gosport, later joining the volunteers as a bandmaster, moving to Oxford around 1875, where he remained with his family until 1886 when he moved to Brighton.

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