The history of brass bands
A band that helped to fund the Bethany Home for Crippled Children in Kinver during its 13 year existence.
An example of the brass bands established by various children's homes, orphanages and similar institutions, around the world in the early 20th century. This French orphanage fanfare band was founded on charitable principles, to give the children musical training and discipline, and to help raise funds for the home.
A brass band was formed among the workers at the Broadwood piano factory in 1860, which originally supported to the local rifle volunteer company based at the works and, over the years, converted to an orchestra, before returning to brass instrumentation in 1893.
A band created among the women and girl workers at the Roy Graves Canning Factory, which processed various fruits.
A listing of these professional bands, extracted from "Brass Bands & Cornet Bands of the U.S.A. - a historical directory"
A few photographs and contemporary reports that shed a little light on the musical bands of Byesville in the first half of the 20th century
Joseph started his musical career in the London music halls but, after attending a Baptist college, dedicated his life to the ministry, where he preached and performed on the cornet, to the delight and acclaim of his audiences.
Thomas Raistrick became the principal cornet player of the Shipley Brass Band at the age of 13 in 1905 and established himself as an accomplished soloist in his own right. He went on to direct the Band of the 6th West Yorkshire Regiment during WW1.
Joseph Tyler, an accomplished clarinettist, had thirteen children with his two wives, and formed two Family Bands which toured the British Isles and France over a period of nearly half a century. In addition to performing in their own concerts, they took part in pantomimes and other music hall revues, were engaged as the 'town band' in Aberystwyth in 1873, 1874, and 1885; had six seasons at Harrogate, in 1845, 1846, 1872, 1877, 1880, and 1885; and also had the privilege of being the first known instance in the UK of a band's performance being transmitted remotely to an audience, during a concert at the Bradford Technical School's Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition, in July 1882.
In the picture postcards of the early 1900's. which were printed to send New Year's greetings to friends and family, it was not unusual to find depictions of brass instrumentalists, playing or 'heralding' the New Year. This document shows over 100 such images.
The story of Napoleon Bird's 48-hour marathon piano performance to raise funds for the London & North Western Railway Employees Brass Band (Stockport) in 1906
Agnes Mary Squelch (familiarly known as Daisy) was taught to play the cornet by the Black Dyke cornetist, John Paley at the age of 14. Having mastered the instrument, Daisy went on to become a well-known soloist on the concert stage, eventually moving to the music halls, where she excelled in various productions, touring the country from 1909 to 1922.
A look at the various types of bandwagons constructed for the town bands of the U.S.A. and also some of the ad hoc transports they used
Various incarnations of the Fraserburgh Brass Band, together with various military bands, provided entertainment to the inhabitants of this north-east Scotland fishing town from the 1850's to WW1
The Congo Cycling Club of Jarrow developed a musical arm in 1904 The Congo Navvies' Band quickly became a much loved (and laughed at) feature of cycle meets, carnivals and parades. Aside from their bicycling pursuits, the Band managed to raise significant sums for various national and local charities in the twenty years they existed.
From 1852 to the end of the 19th century, this band was one of a number of successful initiatives providing education, training and recreation for the employees of the Press. It was one of a small group of brass bands associated with the publishing industry.
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.
A look at the touring performances of 'Lynn and Lynda', who gave multi-instrumental concerts and turns, with their various brass instruments, on stages across the British Isles during the 1920's.
The anecdotal tale of the pig which was placed on a wall to observe a band marching by, is attributed to various locations and bands across the country. Just one of several 'humorous' accounts of the trials and mishaps of brass bands that seem to be linked to multiple bands.
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.
Flockton Brass Band was a typical Yorkshire mining village band. The local colliery employed many of the menfolk and, although the pits were shallow, unlike the deep pits of other regions, the work was still hard and dangerous. The Band was established in 1838 and produced a small Centenary Booklet in 1938. The wider history of the band is examined with additional information to augment what is in the booklet.
When a band official resigns or retires, they are often presented with something to show the appreciation of the members of the band for their work and service. In some cases this takes the form of an object - perhaps a clock, or watch - usually something that relates to their position (conductors often received engraved batons). In other cases a certificate may be presented to mark the occasion, such as the highly decorated and illustrated certificate presented to Charles Ashby on 30 March 1914, on serving as secretary to the Rushden Temperance Silver Prize Band for 21 years.
The acquisition of a single faded photograph, certainly the only example I have seen, sparked an investigation into the life and times of the Lamberhurst Brass Band, which kept this Kent village entertained from the early 1870's through to the 1930's. Their first conductor, Walter Bailey, remained with the band in various roles, including cornet, trombone, bandmaster, until the band ceased, eventually dying just short of his 100th birthday.
Of the many brass bands that have existed in the USA over the last 200 years very few have documented records covering their history. This directory is an attempt to bring together information about such bands and make it available to all. It is an expanded extraction from my earlier "Brass Bands of the World". Over 8,700 bands are recorded here, with some 560 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This is, however, but an unknown, and probably small, proportion of the cornet/town bands that flourished in the USA, particularly in the 19th century. I am sure there are many more still to be unearthed, hiding in newspaper reports or contemporary photographs and documents in museums, archives, the hands of private collectors and the attics of individuals. My own research on a broad scale encompasses US brass bands from the 1840's to the 1920's. A more detailed investigation is ongoing, but has only reached 1872 so far - and I intend to issue an update when I have proceeded further into the late 1800's!
From the middle of the 19th century Royal Navy warships, especially the larger vessels, often had bands aboard. These were generally brass, with occasional woodwind instruments and/or fiddles. Their ongoing upkeep was usually the responsibility of the individual ship's officers with a modicum of support from the Admiralty. This paper lists some of the known ships' bands and their activities, although information about them is even more sparse than that for civilian, land-based bands of the same period.
During the 19th century, many travelling entertainment shows criss-crossed the country as they thrilled audiences with their various acts. Circuses, menageries, waxworks and minstrel shows usually had a band attached to them to provide exciting music, drawing in the punters and emphasising the acts themselves. In addition to these bands, other static entertainment venues also engaged professional bands to supply musical entertainment to their clientele - these included pleasure gardens, theatres and museums.
A receipt for the hire of oil lamps and an account sheet for a charitable concert, in the Bath Record Office, led me to the Bath Post Office Band leading me to dig further into the story of this band. Over the years there have been some 50 or so bands associated with the British Post Office - from Aberdeen to Exeter. The Bath Post Office Band existed for about 40 years from the early 1890's, endorsed and supported by the local postmaster, and consisting of his employees.
The story of the first recipient of a gold medal for a cornet soloist at the 1900 National Brass Band Championships, in the Royal Albert Hall.
The British police forces have been protecting the population for over 200 years. What is not so well known is that some of them have also been entertaining audiences through their brass and concert bands. Originally established in the late 1850's, some 75 police bands are documented here, including the nine which are still active today.
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.
Albert Wade, a successful conductor of several British bands in the 1890's and early 1900's, including Wyke Temperance, accepted an invitation to adjudicate at the Ballarat contests in Australia, leaving the UK in 1905. He was quickly accepted in Australia, and made his home in Queensland. In 1906 he adjudicated at the Rockhampton contest and gave a somewhat critical assessment of the losing band's performance.
Charles Henry Balliette, and his wife Martha, had eight children, four girls followed by four boys. In the mid-1890’s Charles formed a family quintet, with himself and his four daughters, which spent the next eight years performing in and around Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The girls were Hope Amanda (Bb cornet, b. 1879), Vesta Helen (Eb alto horn, b. 1883), Viola (Bb baritone horn, b. 1885), and Alfaretta T. (Bb bass, b. 1887)
Richard Taylor was a bandmaster and band trainer in the north-east of England. Having had a successful musical career in the UK he emigrated with his family to Australia in 1926 to establish a further series of musical endeavours. Thanks to his grandson and family members in Australia we have some insight to his life.
Originally founded as Wormholt Silver Band in 1927, it went on to become the "official" band of Hammersmith Borough, supported to a small extent by the Borough Council. A term as a Home Guard band during WW2 and its later disbanding and reformation in the early 1960's, before finally folding in the late 1970's
The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain was founded in 1952, and this paper shows a number of early photographs of the band taken at its residential courses from 1957 to 1962
During the Second World War various civil defence forces were established, in particular the Home Guard. Many of these had brass bands associated with them, with members partially or entirely from local bands. This paper gives details of more than 150 such bands that supported the Home Guard and other forces during parades, various military engagements, and also entertained the local population.
Using the Attendance Book for the Hambledon Brass Band (1920-1925) as a starting point, this paper looks at the brass bands in Hambledon, and a surprising link to the “cradle of cricket” and the composer Peter Warlock
An article in Scientific American in 1896 concluded that the playing of brass instruments induced more baldness in players than other instruments – i.e. stringed or wind. This paper looks, a little sideways, at this and subsequent results/reports.
Originally known as the Brompton Boys' Institute Band, from the New Brompton Orphanage in Kent, its proprietor Henry Allen developed the band from its formation in 1896 into a touring set of brass ensembles - the "Lads of Kent" that raised money for the bands and the home. They were very popular in their time, but towards the end of the band's existence serious questions were raised about the well-being of the boys under Allen's care.
In December 1937, James Southern, band manager of the famous St Hilda's Professional Band, announced it would be disbanding. In an article he outlined the history of the band from its earliest days in South Shields attached to the local colliery to its outstanding successes in the 1920's, subsequently turning professional and its decline in the 1930's. I have illustrated his "swan song" with various pictures of the band through the years.
Methil Brass Band was active from 1870 through to WW1. Not much is known about its activities prior to the 1890's, but the discovery of a tenancy letter from North British Railways, and some poetry written about the band, give a brief insight into its activities during that period.
A series of formal photographs of each of the National Brass Band Champions from 1900 to 1951, with brief notes on their achievements
This band was formed in Auckland, New Zealand following the success of an earlier drum and fife band associated with the Ponsonby Boy Scouts Association. It undertook several country-wide tours on both islands during the 1920’s and was a very successful and sought-after musical organisation.
Alexander Owen conducted two bands at the 1908 British Open Brass Band Championships, when the test piece was "Souvenir of Grieg". This paper looks at the conductor, the music, the arranger and the bands that made up this unique situation - as this piece was never again used in a contest.
In December 1910, the Camberwell Temperance Silver Band promoted a brass band contest at the Pilgrim Hall, New Kent Road, London. It followed this first successful event with similar contests in 1911 and 1912. A look at the competing bands and their activities around that time.
The band celebrated its founding in 1854 (although it was actually 1859) with the publication of two booklets, for its centenary in 1954 and its 125th anniversary in 1979. This document extracts relevant sections from these publications with an introduction covering some other aspects of the band’s history.
The formation of "county band associations" was originally promoted as early as 1882 by William Seddon and other high profile bandmasters, but it took some years for the ideas to bear fruit. Apart from an early association in Glasgow in 1863, most did not form until the 1890s or later. Some fell by the wayside over the years, but a good number are still active
The Shotts Foundry Brass Band was founded in June 1829 and survived through to around 1960. A typical industrial "works" band, it provided entertainment for the workers at the iron works, and at one time was one of three brass bands in the small town.
Some notes on the history of the band, from the band's extinct website, together with scans of two books of minutes of the old Llangollen Town Band which were discovered some years ago as part of a parcel of books in an antique shop in Yorkshire. It is not known how or when the books became "lost", but the original books now reside safely with the current Llangollen Silver Band.
The Cambridge Albion Band was formed on November 18th 1921. During its short independent existence it only appeared to have entered one contest, at Kings Lynn in September 1926, winning first prize. It merged with the Cambridge Town Band in January 1927, to form the Cambridge Town Silver Band. The following document is compiled from scrapbooks and record books of the Cambridge Albion Band which had been in the possession of Ronald Matthews, a bass trombone player in the band.
Brass bands in the Africa have been in existence since the 19th century after the various colonial powers had established their presence across the continent. The history of such bands is very sketchy and limited, and the small amount of information I have collected so far is presented here. I hope that future researchers will be able to open up much more of this hidden history.
Over the years there have been many outstanding child musicians who have excelled at their particular instrument(s). Some of these went on to become accomplished adult artists and/or composers, others disappeared in the mists of time. During the 19th century in particular, children who showed musical promise were often exploited, as solo artists or within family ensembles or “professional” groups, their youth and musical ability being an attractive novelty to audiences.
Among the many institutions that were established in the 18th and 19th centuries to provide for the various segments of society which did not fit into "normal" life, were those that provided for the physically and mentally handicapped. A number of bands were established, despite the challenges the players and organisers faced in learning and performing music.
Prior to the advent of cigarette cards, and subsequent food product collectors' cards (e.g. tea, bubble gum), Victorian companies often included trade cards advertising their wares with various pictorial images. Some of these included brass instruments and players, many of which are featured here.
From the earliest days of brass bands in the British Isles, they have been supported at various times and to differing extents by businesses and their owners. In some cases this support has been purely philanthropic, but there was usually a quid pro quo involved where the sponsor received benefits – e.g. advertising, income from band engagements, entertainment for business events, a “worthwhile” pastime for their employees, corporate public relations and brand awareness - who would have heard of John Foster's Mills outside of the Bradford area if it wasn't for the Black Dyke Band?
Over the years the brass bands in the UK, and elsewhere, have appeared numerous times on screen, whether in feature films or on television programmes. In most cases they are small appearances fulfilling the role of a “local” band in the background or supporting a musical event in the plot of the drama. At other times band have a more central role in the production, featuring in a documentary or being a major part of the activity. This is a list of 450 such appearances, from 1931 to 2019.
Of the 762 brass bands I have records of from County Durham, around 130 were colliery bands (and more of them would have been directly connected to the local colliery, even if not specifically named after the mine or mining company). This article looks briefly at the history of the Durham Miners' Gala and the colliery bands that performed at it.
As brass bands gained in popularity, composers and arrangers naturally produced pieces to supply the ensembles with the music for their craft. It was not long before some of those pieces became arranged for solo or piano performance, sometimes with words attached. These first appeared in the 1870s through to the early 1900s. A little later, songs were composed which featured bands, extolling the musicians' abilities, the “sweetness” of the music, and other aspects of bands and their relation to the singer. These were particularly prevalent in the USA, mainly being produced by the talented songwriters of Tin Pan Alley in New York.
From the early 17th century large numbers of institutions were established to provide for various segments of society which did not fit into “normal” life. These included orphans, the sick, criminals the destitute, paupers, and those, that today, we would refer to as physically and mentally handicapped. From the mid 19th century onwards brass and other bands were often set up in these institutions to help educate the children (mainly boys it has to be said), to provide another aspect of discipline, recreation and also, potentially, to give access to a musical career once they left the school. Adult bands were also formed in prisons and asylums among the inmates.
A number of humorous images have been produced which portray brass instruments being played by depictions of buttocks. Some of these were produced by French illustrators .as more "serious" satire during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905.
A look at a form of commemorative souvenir that due to its fragile nature is rarely seen today. These items were printed, and often overprinted to mark some significant event in the 1890s and up to WW2. The first case I came across was some programmes for the Besses o' th' Barn Band - their final farewell concerts before embarking on their two world tours in 1906 and 1909.
During the 1890s and early parts of the 20th century a type of band arose using kazoo-type instruments. Zobo instruments, based on kazoo principles, were invented and developed in the USA in the early 1890s, rapidly becoming a new craze for a while. When the instruments spread to the UK the bands that were formed using them were largely "comic" bands, created ad hoc for galas and festivals, and occasionally having a more long-term existence, to entertain the public and raise money for charity.
Brass bands are, of course, musical organisations first and foremost, and the bulk of their heritage is bound up in the hundreds of thousands of concerts, marches, contests and other performances they have provided their audiences with over the years. Very few of these live performances were ever recorded, at least until recent years, and we must depend on the formal studio recorded performances to enjoy the music of the bands of the past. Many such recordings still exist in personal collections, music libraries, archives, the bands themselves and, more recently, digital archives which have digitised recordings from older media, cleaned up the sound and preserved them in digital audio files. This paper gives an outline of various sources and resources for archived vintage (and not so vintage) recordings in physical repositories and on-line databases.
From 1861 through to the mid-1870s Morpeth had held a series of non-competitive annual band festivals known as the “Monstre Band Festival” after the “monster” massed bands that were a feature of the events. The early events were held in the Old Brewery Field (now built up as the area around Olympia Gardens). Between 8 and 15 bands took part with 200 to 500 performers. Audiences ranged from 4,000 to 8,000. These were major events for the town, with hundreds of visitors arriving by coach and special excursion trains. The entrance fee was around 6 pence, and each bandsman received around 5 shillings, the bands themselves offering their services gratis. A revival in the 1890's was not to prove successful, largely due to the weather being against the organisers.
The band was founded in 1850 and was supported by the colliery owners, the Blackett family, and also by subscription. A set of rules were drawn up which, by today's standards, were quite strict in their forfeits and fines, though the issues they foresaw in their members' behaviours are still relevant today!
A history of this brass band from an industrial village to the north of Manchester. Sponsored by a local bleaching & dyeing firm, the details of the last 12 years of its existence are documented in the Treasurer’s Note Book, which is transcribed as part of this narration. Also included is a brief biographical sketch of its conductor John H. White.
A look at a march book consisting of the Repiano cornet parts of 50 bound marches (of which two are missing) for the Riddings United Prize Band. Dating from around the 1890s/1900s - possibly slightly earlier. Most bands at this time had at least one set of music similar to this, either filled with marches, or simple "tunes & toasts" or equivalents.
This is a score book of the original Rothwell Temperance Band. This band was formed in 1881 with bandmaster Israel Blackburn, and it enjoyed considerable success over the years before merging with Yorkshire Imperial Band in 1999 and losing its identity. The book consists of a complete manuscript score of Rossini’s Works (as arranged by Alexander Owen in 1882, featuring music from William Tell and Semiramide) and the last six pages of an unknown work.
All those who have played with brass bands in contests in the UK over the years will be familiar with Registration Cards. These were introduced after the Second World War to ensure that players did not compete with multiple bands, and also that the person was actually the correct player. James Ollerton was a player with Preston Town Band and competed with that band from 1955 to 1963, transferring to the Lancashire Constabulary Band (based in Preston) in January 1965 where he remained until his last known contest in 1980. Almost nothing is known of James Ollerton's life outside this registration card. I have found few clues elsewhere. He was a police constable, playing tutti cornet (named as such on the Constabulary Band's recording in 1979). James' registration card outlines his contesting performances over 25 years with two bands, giving a brief insight to the life of a bandsman through his competitions.
Judith Potter appeared on the brass band scene around 1949 when, at the age of six, she gave a cornet solo at the annual supper of Coleford Town Band. The press cuttings of this event, together with many others covering her time with bands up to the early 1960s, are pasted into her scrapbook. She was a member of the National Youth Brass Band between 1956 and 1962, and also was principal cornet of Cinderford Town Band in 1962.
In May 1952, Mary Simm, who played cornet with the Kearsley Silver Band, started her second scrapbook of brass band memories. She collected press cuttings, programmes and photographs of events she attended or took part in through 1952. Items from her scrapbook have been scanned, more or less in the order she pasted them in. They cover not only the events of the Kearsley band, but also others in the area, providing a brief look at the banding aspects of a year in her life.
The South Street Mission was located in Macbeth Street, Hammersmith, Middlesex and was founded in 1901 by Sister Lizzie (d. 1949). The band was founded in May 1909, and was active through to the mid-1950s, competing in a few contests in its later years.
A collection of information about brass bands in Canada over the last 200 years. 374 bands are recorded here (31 currently active). This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier "Brass Bands of the World – a Historical Directory" (2019)
A collection of information about brass bands in Scotland over the last 200 years. Over 1,360 bands are recorded here (95 currently active), with some 731 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier "Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory" (2018)
A collection of information about brass bands in Wales over the last 200 years. Some 1,260 bands are recorded here (90 currently active), with some 582 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier "Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory" (2018)
A collection of information about brass bands in the island of Ireland over the last 200 years. Over 1,370 bands are recorded here (93 currently active), with some 356 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier “Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory” (2018).
Few records remain of the thousands of brass bands that have existed across the world over the last 200 years. This directory is an attempt to collect together information about such bands and make it available to all. This is a companion volume to Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory. This volume covers all other overseas countries which have had brass bands similar to those that flourished in the UK. Over 9,500 bands are recorded here, with some 2,700 additional cross references for alternative or previous names.
A brief look the women who have composed music for brass band, and the initiative of the Harrogate Band to highlight their music