Tunbridge Wells – the Corporation Band (1896-1902) and Matthew Marks

Royal Tunbridge Wells has had a number of bands over the years. The Tunbridge Wells Brass Band was active from the 1840s to the 1900s – probably folded during WW1. The Tunbridge Wells Electric Temperance Brass Band (a.k.a. Tunbridge Wells Temperance Band) was founded in 1896 and continued into the 1900’s – their conductor was A.J. Richardson in 1901, and a concert at the Grosvenor Recreation Ground on 4 June 1903 was: Brass Band Annual, Arcadia, Love’s Serenade, Queen of the Earth, Mountaineer, Our Sports, Gems of Columbia, and Narcissus. The Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band was active from 1903 into WW1 – 1916 at least. Following WW1 the Tunbridge Wells British Legion Band was active in the 1920’s and 1930’s; the Tunbridge Wells Town Brass Band in the 1920’s, and the Tunbridge Wells Home Guard Band in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

In 1895 the Tunbridge Wells Town Council bemoaned the fact that the Recreation Ground paths were in a bad condition, with children picking up the stones and throwing them around. It was hoped that the new Corporation Band, in the 1896 season, would attract many more visitors there, thousands rather than hundreds. Residents were unhappy with the other ‘bands’ in the town and the suggested Corporation Band would be engaged for four months in the summer. Subscriptions were opened for a central band fund. Bandmaster Matthew Marks (of the Royal Marines, Portsmouth, and Miller’s Band, Southsea) was engaged at 5 guineas per week, who then, presumably, recruited the Band’s players for the 1896 season starting on 1 June, the final concert of which was on Saturday 3 October.

At this time the band was known as the “Borough Band”. In August 1898 the band gave a benefit concert in aid of the local hospitals in the Spa Hotel grounds, in ‘tropical weather’, which was a ‘real musical treat’. The programme included the band pieces: march “Unter dem Siegebanner”, selection “Carmen”, “Incidental Music to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII”, ballet music “Faust”, “Lead Kindly Light”, overture “Lutzspiel”, and overture “Zampa”. One of the band’s concerts, in July 1899 at The Grove, occupied all 550 chairs available, and the committee decided to purchase more chairs as the concerts were showing a profit.

During 1900 the concerts were often advertised as “Grand Illuminated Vocal and Instrumental Concerts” due to the recent installation of electrical lighting.

A sacred concert on Sunday 27 July 1902, at Mount Sion Grove, for the benefit of the hospital funds, was: grand march “Cornelius” (Mendelssohn), selection “Redemption” (Gounod), evening hymn “O Gladsome Light” from “The Golden Legend” (Sullivan), cornet solo “The Chorister” (Sullivan), “Coronation March, Henry VIII” (Edward German), selection “Calvary” (Spohr), meditation “Ave Maria” (Gounod), trombone solo “Prayer from Moses in Egypt” (Rossini), and “Hallelujah Chorus” (Handel).

The concert details for August 1902 can be seen in the extracts from the band’s “Official Programme” below. The penultimate concert of Mr Marks’ seventh season took place on Friday 26 September 1902, at The Grove, until 9 o’ clock, when the bandsmen adjourned to the Clarendon Hotel where a supper of soup, fish, and joints awaited them. The final concert was on the following day at the Pantiles.

For the following year, 1903, the Council decided that the “Corporation Band” would be orchestral in nature, and Mr Marks and his bandsmen would not be re-engaged.

Matthew Marks was born on 19 February 1853 at Aldbury, Herts, and enlisted in the Royal Marines at Portsmouth on 19 September 1879. By 1891 he was a Band Sergeant, had married Mary Owen in 1883, with whom he had three children, Edith, Rosamund and Edward. Leaving the Royal Marines before 1896, he established himself as a professional bandmaster of “Municipal and Volunteer Bands”. In 1901 the family was living at 42 Kenilworth Road, Willesden. In the 1911 census the family all lived at 41 Hamilton Road, Dudden Hill, Willesden. By this time Edith was a dressmake, Rosamonde a milliner, and Edward an office boy at a theatre ticket office. Matthew was reported as being a naval pensioner and bandmaster. At some point he re-engaged with the army, eventually being discharged on 1 October 1917, as no longer physically fit for war service, with a separation allowance being issued. He had received the Royal Naval Long Service Good Conduct medal, and the Territorial Long Service & Efficiency medal, and was a member of the National Orchestral Association.

Corporation Band Concerts – August 1902

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