Maidenhead Town Silver Band

As an unofficial temporary archivist for brass band material (i.e. until a National Brass Band Archive is re-established), I was approached by Gordon Stanley to safeguard some photos of his grandfather’s band that he no longer had room for. We had hoped to meet up during his recent visit to the northern shires, but this trip was cancelled. Sadly, last week, I had to travel to Devon for my uncle’s funeral, but managed to meet up with Gordon en route as we passed by on the M5.

His grandfather, William Henry Stanley, conducted the Maidenhead Town Silver Band in the 1920s and 1930s, with his father also playing in the band. Before WW1 W.H. Stanley served with the 58th Battery, Royal Artillery in his 20’s later playing bugle with the 1st Berkshire Rifle Volunteers (G Company, Maidenhead) Bugle & Fife Band.

The Maidenhead Town Silver Band was founded in summer 1876 as Maidenhead Brass Band (the third of that name since 1855). It was active through to the 1930’s. Conductor was W.J. Harris in 1893-1896, L.P. Connor in 1899, J. Busby in 1900-1903, William Henry Stanley in 1925-1932. Later known as Maidenhead Town Band. In 1893 the officers were: president, J.F. Simpson; treasurer, W. Gibbons; secretary, J.C. Smith. Henry William Janes was a member at the time of his death in March 1904.

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Three bands in one – Eynesbury & St Neots

Eynesbury & St Neots Brass Band had three incarnations.

The first was certainly active in 1862 and lasted until around 1870.

A successor band was formed in 1875, with its first public concert on Monday 17th April 1876 at the Corn Exchange, St Neots. The conductor at this concert was Mr Embury, and later in 1876 it was Mr Parry, with Mr Ferris taking the baton in 1892.

The third band was founded (or possibly revived) in 1905 and lasted through to WW2. Horace Catmull was the bandmaster in 1932-1938, during which time the band entered a number of contests.

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Beatrice Pettit – a cornet soloist who thrived in ladies’ orchestras of the late 19th century

A couple of years ago, I produced a list of female brass soloists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Since then I have gradually been adding to it, and occasionally delving deeper into the lives of these remarkable people.

Beatrice Pettit started to perform at the age of 15, and her first appearance in public was in November 1888. She went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music, and became a soloist on cornet with a number of orchestras, bands and entertainment troupes over the years. She was also accomplished as a pianist and soprano vocalist. She was particularly associated with Rosabel Watson’s Æolian Ladies’ Orchestra, the English Ladies’ Orchestral Society, and Eleanor Clauson’s Ladies’ Pompadour Band.

For more details, see:

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Widdington Brass Band, Essex

Ernest T.Wilson (ed. Gavin Holman)

A brass band existed in Widdington in the 1880’s, however this disbanded some time before 1900. This note refers to the successor band founded around 1909.

Widdington Brass Band

A few years before the First World War, the Rev. J.W. Court formed a brass band, because, it was said, he liked the music the touring German bands played and wanted to have a village band for Widdington. Memories of that pre-war band are scanty, and its members are no longer with us, but enough returned after the War or remained in the village to form a nucleus and restart a band. Mr. Court conducted practice in the school on Monday and Friday evenings and another session for beginners on Tuesdays. One thing he didn’t have to teach us was to read music. We had been taught this at school.

The youngsters were indeed keen and turned out for the Tuesday practice in all weathers, including one cold, snowy night, when the first two to arrive had been rewarded with a sixpence by Mr. Court who was surprised and pleased that anyone would turn out that night. As others arrived he looked amused and exchanged knowing glances with the rest as he had to find more sixpences to hand out. Sometimes the sounds produced were not very pleasing … and he couldn’t think of a word to describe them, but it reminded him of the limerick:-

There was a young man named Zorobabel
Who played with a big indiarobabel
The robabel bust
Zorobabel cust
And the language he used was indescrobabel.

When the result was fair he likened it to a curate’s egg.

The August Bank Holiday fete held on the rectory lawns, with coconut shies, bowling for the pig, hoop-la and other money-making side-shows, was a regular home engagement for the Band. Marches were the main items in the music book, with selections from the classic symphonies and airs from operas such as “Roberto Devereaux”, popular at the time but not heard now, and arrangements of popular melodies of the day – the famous waltz ‘Destiny’, The Valeta’, Baby Tank’ and ‘Felix kept on walking’. These supplied music for dancing on the lawn in the evening. As darkness fell the fairy lanterns were lit up, and wax night-lights in coloured glass jars were suspended in the trees and shrubs.

The Band provided similar entertainment at garden fetes in various neighbouring villages. Naturally some younger bandsmen liked to dance with girls they knew, and they were given temporary leave of absence, provided sufficient players were left to maintain melody and rhythm. When music for a two-step was called for, Mr.Court said “Play them a march; it is in the same 2/4 time, they won’t know”, but it was all right until the end of the march and the music stopped in the middle of a figure and left the dancers stranded in mid-air.

Another band not far away was the Much Hadham band and a contest was arranged between the two. The test pieces were a march of the band’s own choice and Gounod’s overture to “Mirella”. After commenting on the good and not so good points of each band’s performance and keeping everyone in suspense, the judge finally announced Widdington had won on the set piece, Hadham on the march.

Widdington Brass Band, 1909

One of the treats looked forward to was the annual visit on the last Saturday of September to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham for the National Band Festival. For some this meant their first visit to London and the walk across London Bridge to the station on the other side of the Thames was their first sight of the capital city. Bands of various grades competed; the championship class where the best and most famous bands competed, Grand Shield, Junior Cup and Junior Shield. …. Generally the Grand Shield would be playing the Championship test piece of the previous year; suites by Gustav Hoist, John Ireland, Sir Edward Eiger and Sir Arthur Bliss come to mind. Some of the younger bandsmen were more interested in the sideshows and found the Hall of Distorting Mirrors a greater attraction than the music.

Only with the addition of players from neighbouring villages was it possible to make up the full complement of 24. With this number assembled the Band was able to compete in the Junior Shield section at the National Festival in 1932 playing “Inspiration of Youth” as the test piece. But there were troubles: the solo cornet was unable to make the journey and a player from another band had to be borrowed to take his place. He misread the instructions regarding the repetition of a passage and became confused.

There was great excitement when it was announced that Widdington had been placed first and the result was published in The News of the World the next day. But a later announcement regretted a mistake had been made. The winning bands should have been given in order of playing, which had been decided by a draw in the morning. Unfortunately some official had given out the number of the band in the programme, which of course was quite different. In the issues for the weeks following the Festival ‘The British Bandsman’ published the adjudicators’ notes and remarks on the bands’ performances and the points considered when placing them in order of merit. These made interesting reading. Amongst the remarks on Widdington’s playing was one to the effect that “This is a piece for Brass Band; there is no need for the conductor to sing the solo cornet part”, a reference to Mr. Court’s long-established habit of singing or humming the melody. The outing was an unfortunate one, because when the instruments were gathered up to go home it was discovered that some covetous rogue had taken away the best E-flat bass, a modern type with compensating pistons, and left in its place a battered thing of unknown make.

In a few years players had moved away and World War II saw the end of the Band. Mr. Court was approached with offers to buy the instruments, but he could not bring himself to part with them, they had been so much part of his life.

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History of the Glynneath District Silver Band: 1888-1962

Justin Jones (ed. Gavin Holman)

The band was originally formed in 1888. Known as the Curtis & Harvey brass band. Practices were held at the School House in Dinas Terrace, Pontneddfechan. In 1893, the band later transferred to Glynneath. Band rehearsals were held at the Old White Heart Inn, known then as White Heart Terrace.

In or around 1915, the band moved to the Woolpack Inn. The Conductor of the band was the late Mr John Morgan, he remained as Conductor until the year 1918. In the year 1906, a new set of instruments was purchased from Messrs Gisbourne of London, which cost at that time £150=00. During these day’s, the band members contributed Three pence a week (pre-decimal). Money from engagements and cash collections at Christmas were all added together to help clear the debt for the instruments.

In the same year 1906, another brass band was formed in the locality called the Aberpergwm brass band. The Conductor was a Mr Thomas Sands. During this period, both bands were very keen rivals. Unfortunately, the Aberpergwm brass band existed for a short period of only two years.

Glynneath Silver Band

In 1913, the Glynneath band attended their first band contest. It was arranged between Hirwaun band, Llywdcoed band and Glynneath. The competition was arranged to play a selection of Quartets and Solo’s by various players followed by a Marching contest. The March contest was played on the main streets of Glynneath, it would seem that on this occasion, the streets were lined with people. It appeared there was more thrill and excitement in this type of competition than any other.

In 1914, war was declared and the band was called upon to assist in the training of the V. T. C. recruits. A continuous demand for the band was required during that period.

In the year of 1916. Glynneath band joined the West Wales Brass Band Association and entered their first band contest which was held at Ammanford. The band engaged a professional conductor to train them. A well known musician by the name of Mr Bob Howells of Aberaman. The band was successful on that day and they won first (1st) prize in class C and second (2nd) prize in class B.

In the year 1918 the Conductor Mr John Morgan resigned and another conductor, Mr Chris Watkins was appointed for a short period of eighteen months.

In 1919, a new set of instruments was purchased off Besson & Co. The purchase price was £600.

In 1921, a Mr Ifor Rees was appointed as Bandmaster. Mr. Rees continued in this capacity until the end of 1923, when he then immigrated to India to conduct a military band. He was a very capable musician and improved the band to a very high standard.

The band were now competing in the Championship section (Class A) and won a first (1st) prize at a contest in Llandovery. In the year 1924. Mr Alfred Casey was appointed as the new conductor. Another very able musician. Mr. Casey continued to conduct the band for twenty one years. In 1926 during the Miners Strike. Mr Casey took the band on a marching tour for two months. The band visited Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. This march was to raise money for the soup kitchens. They collected over five hundred (£500) which they handed over to this worthy cause on their return home.

Glynneath Silver Band

At this time it should be mentioned that the bandsmen on the march received the sum of One Shilling a day to save or spend as they wished and daily dinners which consisted of corn beef sandwiches. In 1928, the band entered the National Eisteddfod at Treorci in the Rhondda and were successful in winning first (1st) prize. In 1930, they again entered the National Eisteddfod at Llanelli. On this occasion the coach they were travelling in caught fire. They just managed to arrive there in time to compete and won second (2nd) prize. Up to this period of time, the band had competed four times at the Crystal Palace in London. On one occasion, the band came fifth (5th) out of thirty five bands that were competing in their particular section.

1939 saw the band win a second (2nd) prize at the National Eisteddfod held at Cardiff and it was at this time that it was recorded in the minutes that Mr Alf Casey was a very capable and successful Conductor and had kept the band well together. Unfortunately, in 1945, Mr Casey decided to resign. This was very unfortunate for the band and a great loss as they had been competing in contests at Bridgewater, Rueadean, Fairford and Cirencester, where they had won first prizes at mostly all these places. It was then decided that they would advertise for another Conductor, but they were not successful. Therefore, the band was without a Conductor until 1947. It was during this year that Mr David Vaughan Jones who was at that time, the solo Cornet player of Glynneath who had joined the band in 1921 at the age of eight (8) years old, was appointed as Conductor and was given complete charge of the band. He remained as Conductor until the year 1981.

To improve the standard of the band, Mr Jones commenced contesting with the assistance of professional Conductor’s such as the well known Mr Haydn Bebb of Parc & Dare band. Mr Walter Hargreves of the Cory Band and Mr Tom White of the Ystradgynlais band. The band found these Conductors were of a great help and inspiration to their newly appointed Bandmaster and also to the band in general. After a short period of using the above named band coaches. Dai Vaughan as he was affectionately known by the band members and also the people of Glynneath, took charge of all other competitions and engagements. The band was very active for the rest of the years under the Baton of Dai Vaughan.

At the Llanelli National Eisteddfod in 1952 the band won the second (2nd) prize, Dai Vaughan won the Trumpet solo, playing Haydn’s concerto for trumpet in Eb. Exactly ten years later (1962) and again at Llanelli, Mr Terry Tilley (Dai Vaughn’s Nephew) won the Trumpet Solo 15 to 18 years of age and again playing the same test piece. Haydon’s Concerto for Trumpet in Eb. Terry had started playing at the age of Seven (7) and continued to play with the band until 1982.

Between the dates of 1952 to 1962, the band won the following prizes:

  • Glynneath Eisteddfod :- 2nd Prize.
  • Bridgewater :- 1st Prize.
  • Fairford :- 1st Prize (In Selection). 1st Prize (Marching).
  • Cirencester :- 2nd Prize. (1960).
  • Cardiff Miners Gala :- 1st Prize. (1961).
  • Beddau Contest :- 1st Prize. (1961). Class “C”, 2nd Prize (1961). Class “B”.
  • Cardiff Miners Gala :- 2nd Prize. (1962).

The band was also successful in 1962, when they came 1st in the Daily Herald Area Championships held at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea on 26/5/62. At this contest, the winners also won the right to compete in the National Finals held in the Royal Albert Hall in London on 20th of October, 1962, in which they did compete.

Brothers Arthur, Jestyn, Davy Vaughan and Morgan Jones between them have given 260 years of service to the Glynneath Silver Band. David Vaughan Jones was a playing member for 40 years before becoming the Musical Director for a further 30 years. During that period he also found the time to run a music section at the Glynneath Youth Club. This he did for a period of 40 years. His music took him all over Wales where he became well known as a musician and for the playing of The Trumpet Shall Sound from Handel’s oratorio The Messiah. He was also a winner of the trumpet solo in the National Eisteddford of Wales in 1952. He was also a regular musician on the popular BBC radio programme “Welsh Rarebit” and performed with many well known artists, such as Sir Harry Secombe etc.
Glynneath Silver Band
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Bratley Family Brass Band

by Ted Taylor (ed. Gavin Holman)

Cast our minds back to the days before television when people would look towards providing their own forms of entertainment. None can be more interesting than the formation of the Bratley Brass Band.

When Bruce Bratley was a small boy the Bratley family was living at Great Coates, near Grimsby, having moved there from Scartho, as the Second World War started. It would appear that they lived in an area frequently visited by German bombers looking for dock-land targets and the area was surrounded by anti-aircraft batteries.

Mr Bratley senior decided the safest thing was to move away to the peace and quiet of the countryside far from industrial targets, they opted to live at the now deserted village of Dunstall, which lies a few miles West of Blyborough. Their haven of peace was put to the test. A string of very large bombs stretching from Dunstall to Southorpe, jettisoned by a German aircraft failed to explode, but caused considerable disruption to daily life for several weeks whilst they were being recovered by the military. A nice target was the group of tin roofed barns at the Bratley farmstead and these invited a stick of incendiary bombs resulting in a major stack yard fire.

Eventually the family moved to Grange Farm at Willoughton. It was at Grange Farm the story of the Bratley Band begins.

In common with the current practice at that time prisoners of war were used to assist with the farming tasks, several were allocated to Grange Farm. Their accommodation was fairly basic and they needed some bedsteads making, this was carried out by Mr Ernest Hinch, a carpenter from Caistor. Bruce became friendly with Ernest who told about his playing a cornet with the Caistor Brass Band. This interested Bruce and before long he was learning, from Ernest, how to play the second hand cornet bought for £1.

From this modest start Mr Charles Bratley encouraged the rest of the family and set about forming their own brass band. The location was ideal, as there was no near neighbours to be annoyed with practice sessions and it also kept all the family occupied through the long winter evenings.

Who was ‘The Band’?

As mentioned before it was all the Bratley family – mother and father with five boys, aged from around 9 to 17. Bruce was the solo cornet player having had moved on from his £1 starter instrument and also when 14 years old travelled to Scunthorpe for some music lessons; Frank played the euphonium; David the tenor-horn, Ken the E flat bass-horn; the youngest Ronald the second cornet. Bruce also mastered the art of the accordion. Mr Charles Bratley played on the bass drum and for very good measure Mrs Bratley, an accomplished singer joined in with the occasional song. Also Earnest Hinch still helped and would sometimes join the group.

The Bratley Brass Band soon became noted for their playing skill and was constantly requested to play for local functions, an activity that continued until 1952. The Band had no desire to make money out of their performances and asked only for transport to the venues, a little supper no doubt welcome, with all the money raised going to the various organisations. They visited many of the surrounding villages helping to raise funds for the Chapels and Churches and also gave support to the British Legion to name a few of those they helped. At Christmas, the band used to have singers from the churches, chapels and the British Legion making a group of around fifty people travelling about carol singing. The band was always invited to play for Mr Clifford Nicholson at Willoughton Manor, the mince pies and coffee was enjoyed.

After the band had been together for around five years, they joined The Britannia Brass Band, which was at that time had the use of the canteen at Marshalls of Gainsborough. In addition, every employee, there were around 1000, at the works contributed 1d (old money) towards the cost of the band, also each band member paid a small weekly subscription. Joining this professional band certainly helped the Bratley Boys to improve their musical skills. Their first competition success with The Britannia Brass Band was when it gained second place in a competition at Leicester.

About this time the reputation of the Bratley Brass Band had spread as far as the BBC Home Service no less! On a Wednesday in July 1951 presenter Eric Jolly invited the listeners to ‘Meet The Bratleys’ in a fifteen minute programme recorded at the family home, Grange Farm, featuring a band rehearsal. A notable success with Britannia Brass Band was achieved when they became the Lincolnshire Champions in a competition held at Cleethorpes beating off the challenge from the last year winners Grimsby by four points and also Brigg Town Silver Band who had been runners up for the previous two years.

Their association with Britannia Band continued throughout its change of fortunes following the changes of ownership of the Marshalls works, sponsorship was taken on by the Spiller Group but the loss of a suitable rehearsal hall and other factors eventually caused it to disband.

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Eating people is wrong – blow a trombone instead

Report from the Musical Times, March 1920

The Catholic Mission of Yule Island, Papua (a Mission once supported by France and Belgium, but now exceedingly impoverished), is anxious to introduce brass band playing among the cannibals of the main range, where much of their work is done.

It is found that brass instruments subdue much of the dangerous energy of these people, and supply the excitement and amusement formerly furnished by a head-hunting raid. When Christianised, and consequently induced to cease from hunting, cooking and eating his neighbour, the wild Papuan of the hills is apt to find life a trifle dull, and the Catholic Mission of Yule Island, with characteristic common-sense, sets itself to fill the gap as far as possible.

If any reader of the Musical Times has any good, noisy brass or other instrument that he has no further use for, he may be assured that it will do excellent missionary work at the far ends of the earth, if he will take the trouble of sending it, carriage paid, by any of the parcel agencies, or by parcel post, according to size, to Yule Island, Papua

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Bradford City Brass Band and Harry Grace

Newspaper report: Bradford’s Winning Band – Teamwork Tells – Conductor’s tribute to Leeds Contest Promoters [1936?]

A brass band composed of 25 Bradford men, following such occupations as motor drivers, textile workers, tinners and warehousemen, led by a conductor who laid aside his shoemaker’s last for a day to take up the baton, won one of the premier awards at the Brass Band Festival in Leeds.

The organisation was the Bradford City Prize Band. In an interview today with a representative of “The Yorkshire Evening Post”, Mr H. Grace, the conductor, back at his last in his cobbler’s shop in Hewood Street, told of 40 years’ experience with some of the foremost bands in England.

The name of Grace is almost as famous in brass band circles as it is in cricket. Mr Grace’s father who, curiously enough, bore the same initials as those of the famous cricketer, was a brass band conductor. It was he who initiated “Harry” at the age of nine years, and his brother Arthur, at a similar age, in the intricacies of brass band music.

Arthur Grace became a prominent cornetist and played with some of the best bands in the country. Harry, too, made his mark in the brass band world. He played with the Halifax King Cross Band before the late King at Buckingham Palace on the day before his coronation. Later, when King George cam to Dean Clough Mills, Halifax, on his industrial tour, the King Cross Band was once more summoned to play before His Majesty. Harry was again a member of the band.

From Halifax Mr Grace went south to take up the baton in the service of the Bookham Silver and Guildford Borough Bands. At the outbreak of the war he served for a time in the Band of the Royal Fusiliers. When peace came again Mr Grace, being Yorkshire born – his home was in Sowerby – “made tracks” back to his native county because, in his own words, “all the best bands were Yorkshire ones, and still are”.

Five years ago, Mr Grace was appointed conductor of the Bradford City Band, with its headquarters in Heap Lane. Since that time the band has got right among the prizes and kept there. With last Saturday’s trophy their “bag” of trophies for the season – not yet ended – is five.

A few years ago, the members of the band formed a working men’s club and built palatial premises in Heap Lane at a cost of £11,000. There are now over 900 members of the club and the band claims a big share of their interest.

The “lads” who form the band either sit behind steering wheels, haul bales of wool around in Bradford warehouses during the week, or follow other occupations in the wool textile industry.

“Yet when they get together for practice there is not a more cheerful or obedient set of boys anywhere,” said Mr Grace. “All the successes which we have gained during the past five years – we have only been out of the prizes on five occasions – is due to teamwork, and that alone.

Mr Grace wishes to express his gratitude to the Leeds authorities for promoting the festival. “It has long been wanted in Yorkshire – the home of good brass bands for generations”, he said, “I hope it will be the forerunner of many more contests in Yorkshire, and that it becomes a permanent institution.”

Then, with a knowing smile, Mr Grace turned to his last, saying “In Bradford we let Leeds do this promoting, and then go in and fetch the brass out!”

Bradford City Band Club Trophies, 1936
Bradford City Band Club, receiving the deeds, 1945

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Support for the St Albans bootmakers on strike

On the afternoon of Saturday 1 September 1894, a parade and mass meeting was held in support of the men on strike at Messrs. Freshwater and Co.’s boot factory, Lower Dagnall Street, St Albans. Headed by the St. Albans City Brass Band, who gave their services gratuitously, and the banner of the Metropolitan Branch of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Overatives, about a hundred men paraded the principal streets of the city and collections were made on behalf of the funds, starting from the Market square at five o’clock.

The strike was largely about pay, but matters were not helped by blackleg operators being brought in from Colchester. The men were paid 28s a week for which they had to work 54 hours, making the rate about 6½d per hour, when unskilled labourers were paid 6d per hour. At slack times, Bank Holidays and stocktaking, the men did not work, so the average wage was actually less than 28s per week. The female operatives at the firm, not being organised in a trade union, were not on strike with their male colleagues. The dispute was eventually resolved in October 1894 through arbitration.

This photo shows the St Albans City Band, resting after the parade, taking advantage of refreshments which had been supplied by the striking bootmakers and their supporters.

This dispute, however, was the first of several over the next few years involving the boot & shoe industry in Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire in particular.

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Some early brass band contests pictured

A huge crowd at the Raith contest – 19th August 1905 – Raith Park, Kirkcaldy. Attracted 17 bands, test piece Tam O’Shanter (Harry Round), adjudicator W.M. Short, won by Polton Mills Band.

The Glastonbury Band Contest – 1st September 1906, won by Aberdare Town Band. Test piece Meyerbeer’s Works, adjudicator Tom Morgan.

One of the Ruardean contests c. 1910.

The Hastings Amusements Association Brass Band Contest – 20th August 1904, at Alexandra Park, Hastings. The Association offered to engage the winning band to perform in the park on the two days following the contest (Sunday and Monday). In the event, the winning band performed on the evening of the contest for dancing, and gave two performances in St Leonard’s Gardens on the Monday. Mr Harvey Du Cros, the Conservative candidate for Hastings, had provided a 50 guinea challenge cup for the contest, and there was an additional £100 in monetary prizes. The bands marched off at five minute intervals from Hastings Pier, to congregate at the Park for the contest proper, which consisted of each band playing two own choice selections. Rushden Temperance, the winners, had been tipped as favourites in advance – as they had only just lost out to Besses o’ th’ Barn Band by two points to come second in the National Championships the previous year – with a national newspaper stating “These shoemakers will thrill you with Wagner until your heart throbs”. George Seddon was the adjudicator and he placed the bands in the following order: Rushden Temperance, Raunds Temperance, Walthamstow Silver, Enfield Town Foresters, Chesham Town, Grays & District Temperance, and Bexley Heath United.

Unknown contest
Unknown contest
Probably not a contest – unknown band playing at Garforth (posing with no music?)
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