Words and Music – the Oxford University Press Brass Band

The Oxford University Press is a world-famous publisher that has been an integral feature of the University’s academic printed output for many centuries. One of the lesser-known products of the Press is its works brass band that operated in the second half of the 19th century. The band was established in late 1852 by the senior manager at the Press, Thomas Combe, “as a means of furnishing the men with an innocent and refining amusement”, and continued, with a couple of interruptions, until 1900. Although unusual, in being associated with a publishing business, it was not unique – there being at least another 19 such bands in the UK over the last 200 years.

The following paper delves into more detail about the Oxford University Press Band.

Words and Music [PDF]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Spa Brass – a History of Brass Bands in Harrogate

Over the last 180 years there have been a number of brass bands resident in the North Yorkshire town of Harrogate. These are in addition to some ‘not quite’ brass bands that also are worthy of mention. The present Harrogate Band, currently counting the days until it can resume playing together again, is the successor to a long line of predecessors that entertained the visitors to the town, most of whom, in the early days at least, arrived to ‘take the waters’ and hopefully benefit from their ‘healing’ properties. This book examines the activities of these bands, some very short lived – at least as far as the current evidence suggests – and gives some background to the musical life and healthy waters of this spa town.

A PDF version is available to download from the IBEW site – http://www.ibew.org.uk/GH188-spabrass.pdf

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


A cartoon from Punch – 11th October 1879.

The Mayor of Shrimpington (to Ecclesiastical Dignitary, who is congratulating his Worship on the improvements which have raised that once obscure marine hamlet into a place of elegant and fashionable resort)

“Improvements, my Lord! You may well say that. Why, only last year there wasn’t so much as a cornet to be ‘eard in the ‘ole blessed town; and now you may stand on this very spot and listen to three brass bands a-playing away – and classical music, too, mind yer – at one and the same time! Beautiful!”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bourton-on-the-Water Brass Band

Bourton-on-the-Water is a village in the Cotswolds, sitting just off the Fosse Way Roman road, south of Stow-in-the-Wold. Since the 1930’s it has become a popular tourist destination, with its model village, motor museum, Birdland, and, not least, the quaint village centre through which runs the shallow River Windrush.

However, prior to it gaining fame as a place to visit, it was just another sleepy Gloucestershire village, served by the G.W.R. railway, and home to the usual mix of agriculture and small commercial businesses.

The Bourton-on-the-Water Brass Band was founded some time before 1873.

Bourton-on-the-Water Brass Band, c. 1875

In 1875, members of the band were:

  • William Troughton (b. 1845, carpenter, cornet)
  • George Lawrence (b. 1828, mason, cornet)
  • Richard Betteridge (b. 1842, coachman, cornet)
  • George Clifford (b. 1830, a stone mason, cornet) – married to Caroline, a dressmaker
  • Jim Wright (b. 1820, slater & plasterer, trombone)
  • (Al)Fred Clifford (b. 1832, mason & builder, tenor horn)
  • W. Butler (hay trusser, baritone)
  • S. Hall (timber feller & sawyer, euphonium)
  • R. Hall (timber feller & sawyer, bass)
  • Frank Palmer (drum)
  • C. Lock (conductor)

C. Lock was the band’s conductor from 1875 to 1879. Henry Charles Barton (d. 1937) was the bandmaster from 1883 through to the late 1880’s. Sadly there are no references to the band beyond 1889, and it is assumed that it disbanded shortly thereafter.

There was a later Bourton Bugle Band from 1937 to 1941, bandmaster G.H. Palmer, and a note that their band instruments were sold in 1941 (raising £60) which was invested by the Band Trustees in Defence Bonds.

Some events in the brass band’s calendar over the years:

  • Thursday 23 October 1873 – the band accompanied the Bourton Temperance Society on its winter excursion to the village of Clapton, marching in procession along the route. After the meeting, the band played some lively pieces and also played at intervals on the return journey to Bourton.
  • Tuesday 2 October 1877 – the band performed at intervals at the cricket match between eleven of the Bourton club and twenty-two non-members.
  • Friday 19 July 1878 – the band headed the procession of the Bourton Baptist Sunday School children, who were conveyed in wagons to Little Rissington for their Sunday School Treat. The band played at intervals during the afternoon.
  • Friday 13 June 1879 – the band played at the bazaar in the Lansdown Schoolroom in aid of the parish church restoration fund.
  • Monday 4 August 1879 – the band led the march of the Loyal Rose of England Lodge of Odd Fellows, in Bourton, as they celebrated their 30th anniversary.
  • Monday 18 August 1879 – the band played selections of music during the evening on the occasion of the Agricultural Labourers’ Union Meeting in the village.
  • Friday 22 August 1879 – the Bourton Band of Hope joined with the Stow Band of Hope and were led in procession by the Bourton Brass Band to the village of Lower Slaughter, where games and a tea were enjoyed, together with some of the “cup that cheers but not inebriates”.
  • Friday 11 June 1880 – the various benefit societies held their club day in the village with the Naunton Band leading the Wellington Club, the Bourton Band with the East Gloucester Club, and the Stow Town and Volunteer Band with the New Inn club meeting. Processions to the church, followed by parades round the village, ending up with substantial dinners for each club.
  • Thursday 1 June 1882 – the Burford Mutual Benefit Society held its Club Day, with the Bourton Band leading their procession from the Lamb Inn to the church and back. In the evening the band paraded the streets of Burford, enlivening the town with its musical strains.
  • Tuesday 16 May 1883 – the Bourton Band led the Sherborne Friendly Society in its annual festival parade.
  • Thursday 18 May 1883 – the Burford Mutual Benefit Society held its festival, with the Bourton Band leading their procession from the Lamb Inn to the church and back. The band played Onward Christian Soldiers as they marched up the church aisle.
  • Monday 4 June 1883 – the Bourton Band led the procession of the Stow-in-the-Wold branch of the East Gloucestershire Benefit Society in their annual gathering at Stow.
  • Wednesday 18 July 1883 – the Bourton-on-the-Water Temperance and Band of Hope Fete took place, with the Bourton Band leading a procession of more than 400 people and later in the evening performed a concert in the field between 8 and 10 o’clock.
  • Tuesday 3 June 1884 – the Bourton Band led the Sherborne Friendly Society in its annual festival parade.
  • Monday 30 June 1884 – the Band led the children of Aston Blank National School on their treat outing to the Elms, where they sat down to a plentiful tea and, joined by a large number of the villagers, ran races, scrambled for sweets, romped in the hay, and danced to the inspiring strains of the band.
  • Tuesday 1 December 1885 – the Band paraded through the streets of the village during the day, together with the Rissington drum and fife band, celebrating the polling day for the election of the local member of parliament.
  • Monday 24 May 1886 – the Band gave a concert in the centre of the village in the evening as part of the celebrations for the Queen’s birthday.
  • Monday 7 June 1886 – the Bourton Band led the procession of the Stow-in-the-Wold branch of the East Gloucestershire Benefit Society in their annual gathering at Stow. This was in conjunction with the Stow Oddfellows, who were led by the Cheltenham Town and Promenade Band.
  • Tuesday 15 June 1886 – the Band led the Sherborne Friendly Society in its annual festival parade once more.
  • Wednesday 11 August 1886 – the Band was engaged by the Loyal Vale of Bourton-on-the-Water Lodge of Oddfellows M.U. to lead their parade on the occasion of their first fete.
  • Saturday 28 August 1886 – the Band welcomed guests from Chelsea when they arrived at Bourton, leading them in procession to the Manor House at Lower Slaughter for the reception of the newly-returned Member of Parliament, Mr C.A. Whitmore.
  • Friday 3 June 1887 – the Bourton Band led the New Inn Club on parade for its anniversary feast, at the same time the Fifield Brass Band was leading the Wellington Club. As the rains deluged the afternoon, the Bourton Brass Band visited the houses of the principal inhabitants on the following day.
  • Wednesday 17 August 1887 – the Band led the Loyal Vale of Bourton-on-the-Water Lodge of Oddfellows in their anniversary parade, and later gave every satisfaction in their playing on the fete field.
  • Saturday 10 March 1888 – the Band played appropriate tunes in the centre of the village in the evening in honour of the Silver wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
  • Wednesday 22 August 1888 – The band was engaged to lead the Loyal Vale of Bourton Lodge I.O.O.F. in their procession to their annual fete, and then proceeded to play for dancing later in the afternoon.
  • Friday 7 June 1889 – the Bourton Band led the New Inn Club on parade for its anniversary feast, at the same time the Bourton drum and fife band led the Wellington Club.
  • Wednesday 11 September 1889 – the Band played for the Church Bazaar at the Manor House Grounds.
Bourton-on-the-Water, c. 1900
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cleora Miller – touring the American mid-west with her trombone and sousaphone for thirty years

Cleora Miller was a multi-instrumental musician, who toured with her parents in a musical trio, before becoming the figurehead of the show and a much loved and admired solo artist in addition to her ensemble work, eventually leading a multi-act variety show that was greatly sought after in the American mid-west in the early 1930’s.

The following article outlines her life and offers a glimpse into the travelling musicians’ time on the theatre, vaudeville, chautauqua, and fairs circuit of the early 20th century in the U.S.A.

Cleora Miller – the “Prima Donna and the Instrumentalists” – a trombone and sousaphone artist on tour for thirty years

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Charles Godfrey Jnr. – the insult that lasted nine years

Charles Godfrey, bandmaster of the Royal Horse Guards, was a prolific arranger of music for brass and military bands, and also adjudicated many brass band contests. However, an unpleasant experience at the British Open contest, in September 1888, led him to refuse to judge any further band contests – a decision which would last until 1897.

See the following article explaining the this unfortunate event in the history of brass band contesting:

Charles Godfrey Jnr. – the insult that lasted nine years

Charles Godfrey, Jnr.
Wyke Temperance Band – winners of the 1888 British Open Brass Band Contest

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hazel Gwinnup and the Six Royal Hussars

Hazel was a trombonist and saxophonist who, after touring with Helen May Butler’s Ladies’ Brass Band, joined a vaudeville brass sextet on the theatre circuit for a further six years, until she married and left the stage behind her.

For a brief look at her life and her tours with the sextette, see the following article:

Hazel Gwinnup and the Six Royal Hussars – a brass sextet in early 20th century America

Hazel Gwinnup – publicity photograph
Hazel in Helen May Butler’s Ladies’ Brass Band, c. 1910
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Castle Howard Reformatory School Band

The Castle Howard Reformatory School was one of the many institutions set up in the late 18th and 19th centuries to cater for sick, orphaned, destitute, and criminal children. This Reformatory was established in 1856 and the education and training activities for the boys included the school’s brass band, which was active from the late 1880’s through to the late 1920’s. The article below gives details of the school and its band over the 40 years of its life.

Castle Howard Reformatory School Band article

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nettie Goff – trombone soloist and minstrel actress

Nettie Goff was an African-American trombone soloist and actress who toured the eastern and southern USA with a number of different minstrel shows in the 1890’s and 1900’s. With her husband, Will Garland, she also undertook various European tours.

Nettie Goff, 1917

Sadly, very little is known about the content of her actual performances, although she was a solo artist as well as a member of the various show brass bands, but she did have a very successful career, touring with a range of different companies.

The life of the travelling artist, in vaudeville or minstrel shows, moving from town to town on nearly a daily basis, must have been very difficult, and not many performers will have lasted more than a few years before other pressures and priorities made them seek a different course in life. However, some stayed the course and made it their life – those who made their name on the road often attracted other quality artists and built up respected and popular touring companies – some of which Nettie Goff was engaged with.

Perhaps the most famous of Nettie’s ’employers’ was Black Patti (Sissieretta Jones), a soprano vocalist who established her own company, famous throughout the USA.

The article below gives the details of Nettie’s life and the shows she was involved with, including her occasional forays across the Atlantic to Britain and Europe with her husband, Will Garland.

Miss Nettie Goff – a minstrel and vaudeville trombonist

Will Garland’s Negro Operetta Company, in Germany
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ladies of Brass

To mark International Women’s Day, 2021, here are few papers of mine which look at the contribution women made to brass bands and their performances as brass soloists in the early days. From the solo performer to the female brass bands, and the women who wrote music.

Kate Baker’s Ladies’ Silver Cornet Band, 1888

Women and Brass: the female brass bands of the 19th and 20th centuries – Brass bands have been a musical force across the world over the last 200 years. Mainly concentrated in Europe, North America and Australasia, they were predominantly male, and the members were largely working class. The female brass band is a somewhat rare beast, even today, though it did enjoy a “golden era” during the late 1800s and early 1900s in the USA. In this paper are details of some 410 female brass bands – a very small number compared to their male equivalents
PDF – Women and Brass

Soft lips on cold metal: female brass soloists of the 19th and early 20th centuries – During the later 1800s and early 1900s there were increasing numbers of women musicians taking part in the musical life of the western world. Whether as instrumental soloists; members of family groups; amateur or professional bands and orchestras; string, brass and mixed ensembles; and vaudeville performers; these female musicians earned their place in history – one which has largely been overlooked in favour of their male counterparts. This paper documents a number of these solo brass performers, giving an insight into their lives and performances (originally published in 2018).
PDF – Soft Lips

Damen ohne Blasinstrumente – the non-brass ladies’ entertainment groups of the German Empire 1895-1918: an illustrated directory – Travelling musicians and entertainers had been a part of European life for centuries. In the German speaking countries of Europe during the German Empire there arose a large number of “Damen Kapellen”, troupes of musical and variety entertainers consisting largely of women, usually led by a man, and occasionally including males as players. This paper (in three parts) gives an illustrated directory of some 350 such ensembles (excluding the brass instrumentalists covered in my paper “Damen und Damen”). It includes various other musical ensembles, vocalists, dancers, acrobats, and general variety acts.
PDF – Damen und Damen

Scoring for the ladies: the women composers of music for brass bands – A brief look at the women who have composed music for brass band, and the initiative of the Harrogate Band to highlight their music
PDF – Scoring for the ladies

The cornet madam and the trombonist actress – two extraordinary women at the turn of the 20th century – A look at the lives of Antonia Gonzales in New Orleans and Marguerite Dufay in Paris.
PDF – The cornet madam

Beatrice Pettit (1872-1922) – a cornet soloist who thrived in the nascent ladies’ orchestras of the late 19th century in Britain – Beatrice Pettit was one of many accomplished female brass musicians who made a career out of their music in the 19th century and early 20th century. She 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
PDF – Beatrice Pettit

Louverne Ladies’ Brass Band – fleeing France during WW1 – A professional band that fled France during WW1 and toured the USA with the Billy “Single” Clifford Company.
Blog post – Louverne Ladies

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment