Before beginning this most facinating story, I have first to voice my many misgivings in allowing your goodselves to peruse this labour of mine. The production of a written work was never a vocation I ever really seriously contemplated, indeed if you had asked a couple of years ago if I might do just that I would have considered your question a very strange one indeed, surely anyone who has had as limited an education as myself simply do not do this sort of thing! I must admit to writing to a hobby magazine a couple of times but other than that the idea of such a task had never before crossed my mind, so when first I began any delving it was exclusively for personal interest only with no thought of committing anything as such to paper and therefore I beg you some leniency in your criticisms of my efforts. I have intentionally tried to keep my dialogue on the light side, for I dislike reading text that is too heavy and I felt that I did not want my work becoming bromidic or dull so although my style of presentation may not be the norm for such a work as this, I hope you find my efforts make for an easy read and that my enthusiasm for this history comes through in my more “amateur” mode.
The unearthing of the past has always been a great passion of mine and to part the folds of time and peer at days long gone is a great privilege. I was soon to realise that others were keen to hear of the tit bits that I was uncovering and it was at that point that I thought it necessary to put pen to paper. The history of an organisation such as a village brass band might on the surface appear as a uninteresting subject, but as you are about to uncover for yourselves the annals of the Aldbourne band and village are not in the least bit tiresome. Hang on a mo, village? isn’t all this about the band? was so little found that the inclusion of village information had to be included just to stretch this publication out? Certainly not, I actually found a veritable treasure trove of detail but the history of the Aldbourne band is very much the history of the village itself and as you read on you will agree on this yourselves. Some of the yarns occasionally diversify away and out into more “open” country side, but to have not allowed you to savour the odd anecdote about the happenings that ran parallel with this story and not acquaint you with them would I felt been sorely amiss of me. I must make it quite clear that I am not for one moment attempting to present a full or complete village history, social or otherwise and that I have left plenty of room for any further research for anyone who might be encouraged by my own feeble efforts I do hope though that my witterings help bring alive the life and experiences that was to be had by our forebears who were not only responsible for the formation of our band but who also created much of the appearance, general atmospheres and traditions the like of we all hold so dear in our hearts, It is after all what makes living in Aldbourne the unique experience that it is.
Aldbourne’s children have always shown much talent but of late there has been a serious decline in any development of their skills. In the 1970’s the school boasted a musical group of great ability but it sadly does no more, so too the youth club often entertained with like fervour. Underlying this absence there also appears a lack of young lads taking part with most of any “doers” being of the female gender. It would appear not to be “COOL” enough to do prissy things and not of the right image. Ironically it is only in recent years that ladies have been encouraged to take their rightful place amongst the men and even to join the brass band scene in general. In our own case a miss Lindsay Robinson was the first ever female member, but even then her inclusion took until the 1970’s. Surely, of all progressions that the brass band movement has made since its conception then the inclusion of women, particularly into the ranks of our top bands has to be singularly the most epochal and intelligent move it has, or ever will, make!
We must do something to stop this tragic loss of talent and if we can impress on our own sons a more enlightened way of thought before they reach such adolescent short-sighted thinking we might just have a few more musicians to entertain us in the future. The world of brass is one very much of comradeship and most friendships that are formed usually prosper and continue to flourish into adulthood. Often these friendships are formed from not only within our country but all over the world. It is imperative that we do not allow a musical desert to happen in our village, for if it does we will surely ALL be the poorer for it. Believe me, the sands will soon blow in if we allowed it.
This story was given birth to during the early years of the nineteenth century. When in 1837 Victoria became queen no one could have realised that her rule would not only be over the most emphatic empire this world will ever see but that it would also witness the incredible progressive effects of science, engineering, exploration etc. Though perhaps not noticeable on a daily basis, that progression was to change the lives of society at a pace that had never before been experienced.
The life to be had in Victorian Wiltshire was by today’s standards extremely arduous and an example of just how is that farm labourers (the largest workforce) would usually work in excess of 80 hours a week! and with an average agricultural wage of only £12 a year in 1850 at that. Ranks included women and boys as young as 12! Know that an allotment and back garden would also be needed to feed a family, this would also include the keeping of pigs and chickens as well, so a farm labourers day would be a very long one indeed. In 1889 a writer made a plea via the Marlborough Times asking if local farmers could help find jobs for the many unemployed men in Ramsbury. An offer came from a Broad Hinton farmer and anyone willing to up house and family could find help there. His kindness may well have helped one poor family but it didn’t stop the need that same year for a soup kitchen.
The Marlborough Times (MT) proved to be of the utmost importance in my research and without it, it was very unlikely that I could have established little of what you are about to read for its pages contain the facts and figures that I never imagined would still exist. To read those pages is as close as one can ever get to actually living in the past and so this newspaper must be better than any modern text at describing Aldbourne’s victorian life, as all the events and reports are obviously contemporary with their happenings and so then give for a totally unbiased? view of this area for us to study. I must just mention two other publications, one having an even longer history. Swindon’s Evening Advertiser was first published in 1854 but I did not peer too much into its pages as I felt that little would be gained in doing so. The Aldbourne Parish Church Magazine, of which the earliest I’ve have seen dated is 1895 was also an important scource. Anyone researching any aspect of life in North Wiltshire must do as I did and read all and every single copy of the Marlborough Times. Now this is in no way a small task as it was first published in September 1859, but it is of the utmost interest to wade through its pages. It took an average of two hours to scan the 52 issues that make for a complete year, but some years took even longer with 1922 taking four hours! The task was completed with the 1965 December issue, so with over five and a half thousand copies scoured you can now appreciate why I chose not to look at any other publication in anything as like as much depth and only then for any cross checking purposes only. For nearly three years I have lived and breathed the past one hundred and fifty odd years of this corner of Wiltshire and can never be grateful enough to the past staff of the Marlborough Times who made it their business to preserve a near complete set of copies for posterity with only half a dozen issues or so missing.
It was ironic that I should choose the Aldbourne band to research, for if I had decided to research the Ramsbury, Lambourn, or Great Bedwyn bands I would have made little, if any, headway. For reasons many, most of the important facts and figures concerning the Aldbourne band are to be found printed within its pages whilst the other bands, though often mentioned, simply do not enjoy anywhere near the same in depth documentation. The pride taken in our band by newspaper correspondents has meant that no other band or like organisation is found documented in as much detail as is ours. Although the actual village and social events of Ramsbury and Lambourn are reported with as much rigour and fervour as is ours, our band seems to have been of more importance to our community than any of the others were to theirs. It is also very noticeable that other villages also took a pride in having such a band as ours to call on when they needed us to play for them and comments like “Aldbourne’s fine band” or “few villages boasting better” though perhaps marginally over the top are still typical of any comments found. This praise doesn’t occur straight away though and we must remember that for many years Aldbourne band was in no way different to its peers, it could not claim to be any more skilful an outfit until after the great war.
During the 1840’s the life expectancy for those who were working in the cotton mills of Manchester was only an unimaginable 17 years of age, doubled if you were lucky enough to be middle class or lived in the less squalid conditions of the surrounding countryside. Fortunately Aldbourne offered a more pleasant quality of life and this is indicated in a newspaper report of 1865 with the death of an Aldbourne lady “Mrs Elizabeth Sopp, a 96 year old nonagenarian”. To have lived during the last century must have been just as or perhaps even more exciting than today. It’s so easy to take things for granted, expecting that not only will improvements to the paraphernalia of modern life happen regularly but that any new items to make our days go easier will just appear. Close your eyes and try to imagine yourself back in time. Imagine the marvel of seeing your fist photograph, especially if it was of you! or the first ever steam engine or motor car as it passed through our rutted streets. It would have stopped you dead in your tracks and made you clamber for a glimpse. Perhaps the car that was the first to visit Swindon had passed through here on its way. An 1897 report described just that of the first ever motor car to be seen there, it caused considerable attention and drew many onlookers. So too did the first car crash in the parish of Ramsbury when the two chauffeur driven cars belonging to Moses Wooland of Marridge Hill and Lady Hanbury of Aldbourne collided at Knighton crossroads. The sight of the first hot air balloon over our village must have been the talk on everyone’s lips for weeks or even months. One made the headlines in 1903 when it flew over Ramsbury and caused pandemonium to a flock of sheep as they were being driven up the high street. Certainly the 1934 visit of two light aircraft to Aldbourne brought much excitement but only the more moneyed folk would have bought flights for it cost 2/6d (12 1/2p) per person.
Try telling villagers that a journey to Swindon would take less than 15 minutes let alone less than four hours to America would be a total nonsense to them, they simply would be unable to comprehend the speed or many of the aspects of the world we now accept as norm. Apparently villagers had waited patiently for the “advent of a motor service” that eventually came in 1906. If you find any of this difficult to imagine then think back to your own thoughts when you yourself first experienced something that was to you totally foreign. Perhaps your first television programme in colour or watching the first man set foot on the moon, or perhaps a stereo hi-fi system, a camcorder or maybe your very first surf over the internet? Easy to become complacent, isn’t it?
The arrival of Lambourn’s first locomotive in 1898 or the coming of a telephone office in 1915 must have made our forefathers really believe that the happenings that they read about in newspapers were at last reaching this part of darkest Wiltshire and that for them life was really on the up. Not all newfangled improvements were welcomed however and even less if you had to pay for them. What thoughts to the coming of electricity is best described by the apathy shown in 1928 when the Lottage Road council houses were offered connection. Two of the tenants replied that they were willing to pay a small fee but eight responded that they were not, two households didn’t bother to reply at all.
What would be the most obvious differences if we were able to go back and see just what Aldbourne has been like over that 150 years or so? The village was once very much smaller than it is today and I presume that I don’t need to say where it has grown. The presence of cars, TV aerials, satellite dishes and overhead cables are but a few of the more obvious eyesores that would not block a view of the streets. Even the church tower would have looked bare as the clockface was not fitted until Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1887 when “300 givers” donated £3-4-8d. What a tight lot.
Most cottages were thatched as slate roofs didn’t really catch on till the 1860`s. Many have been lost to fires and all it takes is a quick look around to see just where they once must have stood. One obvious to the eye is where the Alldays shop now stands. The present building was built after Heynes and Stag’s shop was burnt down in 1892. One or two others disappeared for other reasons and the spot that the memorial hall now occupies is just one example as it was once the sight of Hodders farm. Thomas Henry Hodder originated from Middlesex but on his marriage to an Ogbourne girl settled here. He was obviously a respected man as he was a census enumerator in 1861. The bridge out towards Ramsbury is still known as Hodders bridge his farm (Hodders) was given to the village by a Mrs Pembroke of Yew Tree cottage in 1918. Many of these small farms were once to be found but now they have nigh on all disappeared. So too have the barn’s that must have once littered our village (the last ones to disappear was the huge Corrs barn in West Street, Glebe barn where Glebe Close is sighted and in 1997 a smaller example in West street ). None of immense size are left standing now though a few smaller ones do still survive, just, how much longer do we have the pleasure of their company?.
Improved road surfaces didn’t come till well into this century and several letters on their state of repair were written. In 1889 the road between Woodsend and Aldbourne was described as “unsafe”, and it most probably was as any maintenance was still the responsibility of a parish and any that run as far out from a village as that one would have been the near to last on any list for remedial work. Many travellers used shank’s pony and at best a pony and trap to get around, and although we now sentimentally describe these old byways as green lanes, the metaling of our streets is essential to this list for it must have been a joy for everyone. Another problem of unmetaled roads was that of street dust and adverts were found for “Aridor” dust free sweet jars. They show how big a nuisance dust was and in 1914 `Akonia` was sprayed “with poor results” on the surface of Marlborough’s high street in an attempt to reduce their problem.
The appearance of our country side would be very different to what we now see. An 1865 visitor described his approach to Aldbourne as a “pleasant ride through somewhat wild country”. Britain’s wildlife has also had to bare much of the brunt of mans progress. In 1866, Aldbourne`s curate Woodley witnessed a flock of sparrows strip an acre of barley and in 1881 complaints were printed from several Ramsbury farmers about their inability to control bird numbers. One told of a field sown with peas being covered by “thousands of birds”. Such sights as this, though not totally unheard of in today’s near wrecked world is rare to the extreme but how sad the otter hunts that were once held frequently in Ramsbury, as recently as 1922 an otter was shot there.
Of all these aspects probably the most noticeable would be the sounds and smells, some good and many more bad. Without becoming too involved in any personal problems had by folk, the general atmosphere of our village would be very different to today. The abundance of horses compared to what we now see would make a walk through our streets a much more hit or miss affair than it is now. The emptying of cess pits and the best time that this should be done was once the topic of a letter of complaint written in 1901, anti-social bonfires surely replace that particular evil, but the amount of smoke then bellowing out of the many chimneys would have also been very offensive. Cooking in the summer still involved the burning of wood though ironically an 1864 report told of the “clear bracing air of Aldbourne”
Curiously Aldbourne has two areas that serve for communal use, the Green speaks for itself with its market cross still standing but the vicinity of the pond does need a little explanation. The biggest thorn in the side of our village seems to have always been the general state of the pond area though it was not successfully(?) dealt with till just a short while ago. Being now constructed of concrete it would appear to any visitor as a totally man made feature and not of a natural origin but our modern day square was once a large boggy lake that was fed by springs that rise to the north of the village. These springs once rose for most of the year but as time has passed the water table has dropped causing the marshland to recede. During the early medieval period we hosted a market and animals brought here would have used this lake to be watered but the gradually dwindling caused the area to shrink and eventually it became just a small pond. Its likely that this drying marked the end of the market. The springs still rose of course but not as they once had, so this meant that buildings were able to spread down into this lower lying land forming what was once known as “Bell square”, “California square” and of course “Pond place”.
During the winters of 1994/5 extremely heavy rainfall caused the rising of the springs in Lottage and not for the first time either as in 1915 we suffered the worst floods since 1879 and some of the worst snow falls ever experienced as well creating floodwaters nearly two feet deep throughout the village. The 1994/5 rains caused problems with the sewerage system oozing its contents out of manhole covers and onto the road. Although not a pretty site there has always been this type of problem and it’s also long been complained about. A letter written to the MT. in 1901 about the pollution that was being experienced told of the “liquid manure” that flowed from the six farms in Lottage and that emptied into the open ditches that run through our village. Things were often worse in the dry summer months for there would be only the occasional heavy rain to help wash this reeking slurry away and only the winter rain causing the bourne to fill would really wash it clean.
Medical knowledge made enormous advancements but we can still find the odd quack remedy or two in MT adverts as late as 1927. “Dr William’s Pink Pills” professed to cure (big breath needed here) anaemia, sciatica, indigestion, rheumatism, fainting fits, inflammation of the lungs, nervous disorders, asthma, ladies ailments, general weakness, painful dry throats, varicose veins, oh I nearly forgot to include St Vitus`s dance as well. Anyone with a worn out heart could also benefit from taking them and they were also good at keeping the old youthful and full of vigour. Moreover they could improve women’s charms?, improved your sleep, gave colour to the pale, improved one’s appetite and according to one old lady they even helped her “work and sew almost as well as a girl of 17! I am at this point struggling to make a suitable comment but if anyone has any of those pink pills spare, one or two might just be all I need to help me think of one.
Here in Aldbourne we have had to make do without our own doctor and so physicians from Ramsbury, Lambourn or Marlborough have always tended our ailments. Remember that they had to come by pony and trap and any messages would have had to be sent that way as well meaning that help would often take time to arrive and even then little relief might come. Imagine the pain a lady of Ramsbury endured in 1873 when she fell from the top of a straw rick that she was building breaking both her legs. Doctors from the newly (1871) built cottage hospital in Savernake came and tended to her injuries.
An advert was placed in 1860 by Mrs Moulding of West Street claiming an “effectual” cure for “broken breasts”. She could also cure yellow jaundice, corns and bunions. Her remedies seemed to work if the letter of endorsement written by fellow villager Mrs Elizabeth Lawrence is to be believed. Elizabeth was one of our school mistress’s so her blessing would have been a major bonus. Another advert was placed by a Newbury dentist in 1896 whose practice claimed “painless dentistry”! just who did he think he was kidding?
With few diseases not being cured or at least the pain that goes with them eased until the coming of more recent times, our villagers had much to endure. It really isn’t all that long ago (1889) that a measles outbreak in Aldbourne was responsible for the deaths of two of our children or the death in 1915 of an Ogbourne St George girl of spotted fever contracted by drinking water from a pond. In 1878, we (frighteningly) suffered an outbreak of small pox and when in 1927 a flue epidemic hit our village the MT. stated that “happily the death toll has been light”! “happily” is not a description that springs to my mind.
In 1918, there was a severe measles outbreak in Ramsbury with no fewer than 100 cases reported and can you believe that several families had as many as seven children all ill at the same time. Just remember the next time your little blue-eyed cherub is unwell what your great grandmother may have had to contend with, Victorian and Edwardian doctors were without doubt still working in the distance past.
Death is never an easy subject to discuss but it is the one happening in life that is a total guarantee. Though always sad and at times most pathetic, the inquest reports and causes of death given by our local doctors make for an extremely interesting read. If asked your thoughts on the most common cause of death of the last century some of you might respond with cancer, a horse kick, Pneumonia or even Consumption (T.B.). Well I`m sorry, but even if you were to name every known ailment (even those that only have the most minute or remote of chance in causing a persons departure from this life), I know I can quite safely concur that none of you, and I mean none, would get even close to what was actually frequently given. Until well into the last quarter of the nineteenth century the most commonly found cause of death given in our local paper was simply a “visitation from God”. (I said that you would never guess). This description obviously covers the myriad of diseases that once were (some still are of course) the curse of humanity but remember it was also a diagnosis? given in good faith, with the many true causes simply being unknown to our medical practitioners at that time.
One extremely sad case in 1873 was that of one year old William Emberlain when his cause of death was given as “irritation by teething”. Cancer is a word not often used in any of the early issues, if at all, but it might well be this malady that is repeatedly to be found described as “a long and painful death”.
Poaching is of course one and most likely THE most reported misdeed and several of our own villagers are mentioned in court proceedings though I must just say that men from Ramsbury and Lambourn feature many more times than ours. Were our men better at the art of poaching or were they a more honest bunch of chaps? I think more likely that they were probably just luckier and not caught so often . Aldbourne man John Barrett wasn’t very lucky though for in 1882 he was brought to court in Marlborough and SENTENCED TO ONE MONTHS HARD LABOUR, and he was only “trespassing in search of game”! Theft has always been a common felony, though it was not usually of cash but of possessions. Churches, even then didn’t escape and a report of 1878 tells us that the poor box in Kintbury church was broken open and its contents stolen, nothing new is there? Shop theft also wasn’t unusual with the Swindon of 1875 seeing the arrest and the successful prosecution of “2 shoplifters”. In 1859 Aldbourne villager George Ebsworth, was found guilty of stealing a leg of mutton from one Charles Briant. The court was told that the leg was “a particularly fine one”. (what this comment had to do with the case I haven’t as yet figured out, ideas on a postcard please …).
Disgrace (usually pregnances out of wedlock) was depressingly a frequent cause of suicide, and attempts in the area are an extremely common read, though most being unsuccessful. For us there appear to be only one or two cases, one being witnessed by Wilf Jerram when only a young lad. In 1913 a tramp had tried to cut his own throat and having failed in his attempt was later punished by the Marlborough court, we have to remember that suicide was once recognised as a crime.
Murder, thankfully, is not a common subject to be found in any of the local village reports, but murder and attempted murder stories from all over Britain are and often they were described in an unhealthy way. One or two did happen locally though they were in no way connected to our village. Hungerford sustained two in 1876 with the murder of police officers by poachers on the Denford road, a memorial still marks the spot. The folk of Watchfield must have been stunned when in 1893 John Carter was brought to trial and subsequently executed for the murder of both his first (Rhoda) and his second wife (Elizabeth), Incidentally he buried both bodies in a farm yard. In 1849 Rebecca Smith of Swindon was duly executed for the murder of 7 of her 11 children. She had smeared arsenic of to her nipples whilst breast feeding.
Today we often see that a persons need to feed his or her drug addiction being the excuse given for many crimes. In the last century the need for men to feed often large families would have made them desperate enough to offend. Poverty is and always will be an undesirable situation and our village has often known it’s presence. In the early 1830`s riotous conditions came to Aldbourne when many men from the county “called” on farms. A mob of men smashed at least seven farm machines and then demanded that farmers gave them a sovereign for each machine they had smashed. The names of the Aldbourne farmers who suffered are known to us, they being George and Richard Church, Broome Witts, Thomas Gould and John Brown. On their arrival toe the village the men were met with the news that the counties Yeomenry were on their way to stop them but they still continued till they had done what they had came for. Afterwards they dispersed into the surrounding countryside and villages but they were soon found and many arrests followed. Local man Thomas Barrett was one of the mob and in an account printed in 1890 in the Gospel Standard, a publication of the Baptist church he described his participation on that day.
The first legal “afternoon” marriage did not take place here till 1888 but that didn’t stop one young couple. It was in 1860 that a young man and lady (they are not named) knocked on our curate’s door. They asked him if he would be good enough to marry them that very day. Although neither could pay him for his services, he did as they requested. Imagine the relief for our young newlyweds as the very next day the young wife gave birth (phew). The young husband’s income is quoted as being 5/- a week and with an 8lb loaf of bread (yes 8lb) costing 1/5d at a bakery in Ramsbury that same year we can well see how difficult it must have been for men to keep their families fed and clothed. With families large, and without TV etc. to pass the time away, folks just had to amuse and entertain themselves. This in itself probably caused large families! While we are on the subject of large families I must tell you of the announcement in 1864 that a lady of Aldbourne had just “presented her lord her 20th child”!
The Temperance movement that tried to oversee life in the two villages of Gt. Bedwyn and Ramsbury never took off with any real success here though many gave it their support. It would seem that drunkenness was never a major problem here, not that we didn’t have any disorderly episodes ever, simply very few. In 1868 a writer stated that there was “not a house in the whole district better conducted than the Crown”, Gould was the then landlord. In 1883 a vote was taken here on whether to allow Sunday opening or not. It was not a close run thing and with 233 of the 234 voting slips being returned it was obviously a near to the heart felt affair. Oh! you want to know the result? sorry, well 232 voted yes to allow it and one voted to be neutral. If you feel the need to do more research on this you will find that many brass band’s have been involved in the Temperance movement.
One of the saddest stories to be found concerning our Victorian village, is one of immense tragedy. At best it show’s us just what men had to do to enable them to feed their families. Benefit of sorts was available to prevent a family from starving, but men often proud, would not ask lightly for “parish relief” and so any work would be accepted to enable them to hold their heads up high. The men who had been arrested here in 1830 were very concerned with the way that farm machinery was ousting them off the land and out of their jobs. Farms that had once employed many were now employing many less and these men were really concerned about their ability to provide, particularly in the cold winter months.
One such morning in January 1890, found Aldbourne man William Stacey, one of his young sons and another youth arriving at farm buildings that once stood at Little Down in Baydon. William had been asked to clean out a well for a farmer called Pembroke and so he had taken the two boys to help him. This was a job for experienced men only but times were not good and being winter, work was, as often as not very thin on the ground. Men had struggled for years as by 1870 the winter work of willowing the corn crop had been mechanised by as much as 80%. Before descending into the well, William had tested for the presence of “damps” (known as carbonic acid, this gas is often found in mines, wells etc. ). By throwing a bundle of burning straw down the 150 foot (50 metres) deep shaft, he thought it would show him if it was OK to descend its depths or not, but unknown to him the straw had given a false reading. The speed of the falling bundle of straw had dragged down with it sufficient oxygen to keep it alight. If he had lowered a lighted candle slowly (as recommended by a writer to the paper a couple of weeks later) it would have been snuffed out if it had passed through a problem area, but instead the bundle of straw had stayed alight until it was doused by the water. Happy that things were OK, William had the two boys lower him until he was a good way down the well. William then shouted to the surface that he thought he sensed the presence of damps and so had himself brought back up. He tested again and William even questioned after his own safety but anyway he decided to descend for the second time, but yet again he shouted to be hauled back up to the surface.
You will have by now probably made a guess at what happenings are to come next and most of you will be correct in your thoughts. If only William had heeded his own words of warning for if he had I would not be telling you this story now, for within the next few minutes William would be dead.
For the third time he was lowered down into the darkness only this occasion he reached somewhere near the level of the water. Straining to breath, he shouted in panic for the boys to pull him up but he was quickly overcome by the airless conditions, and as he had not tied himself on, fell off his wooden seat into the water and drowned.
The young boys up top, on realising that William was in serious trouble shouted and called for help. William Herring, an Aldbourne shepherd who was working closeby heard their cries and rushing to their aid had them lower him down in order to save him. William Herring never stood a chance either for he too was overcome and so perished the two men. The two bodies were recovered some hours later by grappling hooks and the two doctors, Burman and Connor that were called to the scene, pronounced them both dead.
Twenty three year old William Herring had only been wed to Lucy Coxhead for six months. She had been widowed before and was now left alone again to bring up her newly born baby and her two other children. William Stacey also left Ruth his wife and their six children and so the next time you walk past the Methodist chapel you may like to pause to read the stone laid in the front wall of the present youth centre in memory of them both.
Even with all the hardships of life to contend with, in 1867 our villagers were still able to find the will to raise money for the renovation of St Michael’s church. It cost the village the then huge sum of £2,000 and it’s at this point I return to what is after all the main subject of this work the band. To put the forming of a band into perspective in 1887 it was announced that the town of Newbury was to attempt to create a band of its own and the estimated cost for the quoted number of 28 bandsmen was £100, plus a further £100, for uniforms, etc. To enable them to do the same today I estimate this cost would now be some c£100,000! The expense of kiting out our early band was not of that magnitude as the reports and photo’s that were taken in those early years show a much smaller number of approximately ten to twelve members, but still a tidy sum of money still had to be found.
I trust that these snippets from the past has helped you to visualise the life to be had here. The paintings of past lives on the TV or cinema screens frequently show too rosy a scene. Believe me when I say things could be hard, they could be, damned hard! Aldbourne man Reg Penny once wrote “low wages and hard living but contented happy families”. Possibly they were, as having said all of this, times could also be good and I often wonder if the life to be had then was more rewarding than possibly that of today for the individual had little to tempt them into the extravagance of doing nothing and lots of time to participate in as many of the village activities as he or she saw fit or were able to. Self development was not impeded by things like mundane TV programs, videos or the playing of pointless computer games or internet surfing. Another challenge for our children is the amount of homework they are now required to do in order to achieve later in life, things are very different now even if compared to only thirty years ago. Time really is too precious to waste.
I hope that this publication is readable to both none Aldbourne villagers and none bandsmen alike as I have tried very hard not to make it a restrictive read. The history of the village of Aldbourne is really not all that different to any other village in Britain and most of you will have some semblance of what has already been said but for those of you who know little or even less of the richness of Britain’s brass banding movement, here is just a very short account of its history.
There are many different reasons that “bands” came into being but many resulted because of a Parliamentary Act passed during the reign of Elizabeth I. It classed all wandering peoples as “rogues and vagabonds” this included wandering minstrels and the policing of this act forced those ambulant musicians to stop and settle down. It was those wanderings that would have brought any new songs, instrumental and vocal, but probably of most importance and certainly of more interest to all villagers was the national and even international news that was forthcoming , even if it was out of date, it was still welcomed. Some town bands were established when these musicians were forced to get together in order to survive and the resulting groups were made up of all kinds of different types and combinations of string, reed and brass instrumentation.
Before the mid 1600`s, the music in British churches was generally provided by organs, but these instruments had then been forbidden by Puritan churchgoers and a decree of 1644 demanded that all organs and frames should be taken out and defaced. A request by the churches for help in replacing these now defunct instruments was answered by village singers who formed either or both white robed choirs or orchestras. I would guess that being asked to take part in another form of musical expression or to join in another outlet to show off their musical talents would without doubt have also appealed to many but by the middle of the nineteenth century most of these orchestras and bands had been removed as the then church hierarchy decided that neither of these forms were any longer an acceptable type of religious accompaniment and that organs and their like were then more fitting. An 1881 MT article stated that the rector of Cherhill “some thirty years since, banished the old string orchestra from the church services”. The report also tells that it had become extremely common to find congregations struggling to perform often complex anthems. It would take more than just a few words here to explain the why’s and wherefore’s behind all this so I leave you to do your own research if you have the need to know more.
The majority of Britain’s churches had minstrel galleries but these were nigh on all dismantled when it became the fashion to “renovate” during the last century. Believe it or not it would appear that our own church had two as an entry in the churchwarden account books dated Nov 5th 1756 stated that Thomas Strong paid for seats to be added to the “upper gallery”. These “unsightly galleries and the space beneath them” was removed during the restoration of 1865. As far as I can ascertain we had two situated in the West window and its opening up must have made as big an impression in 1865 as did the removal of the organ pipes in 1996. The purging of the orchestra also meant the demise of the church choir. An 1895 obituary for villager Thomas Haines told of his conversion from the C of E to the Wesleyen Methodists due to the removal of the “singing gallery” as he had still wanted to sing in a choir and only they were able to provide this in their act of worship.
In general, all over the country and for various reasons, church orchestras had their string instruments removed from their ensembles and so the military style of wind band was born. Eventually reed instruments disappeared so bringing about an all brass combination. Brass band contests started by the mid nineteenth century and by 1900 they were enormous affairs with many being held all over the land. The public response was as big as anything that had ever happened at any time, with thousands attending concerts and contests. When the giants of the brass band movement such as the Munn and Felton band of Kettering returned home after a victory, thousands went out to welcome them. It was reminiscent of football crowds welcoming home their winning team after a Wembley final and would have been typical all over the country. By the seventies however a slump had set in and at the time of writing the banding world is I believe still in decline or at best this decline has levelled off. Will the banding world continue to live or will it fade away? Without painting too gloomy a picture I think it is doubtful that we will ever return to the like of the old days and that it will decline even further but I doubt that it will ever die completely, it would be a most tragic loss to the British way of life if it was allowed to do so.
In 1929 when asked why Aldbourne was so famous, a young lad replied because “all were borne there” (think about it). But Aldbourne has to have been THE or at least one of the most celebrated villages in Wiltshire, for many is the time that it has been host to a camera or microphone. From the making of a Dr Who story in 1971 or the village documentary, a pop video or just the filming of the church bells, cameras have often rolled. One Christmas morning the sound of our church bells was even broadcast live to the nation and as if to crown all this our village has even witnessed the rise of televisions most beloved children’s celebrity ever, Johnny Morris, and if you haven’t as yet read his biography I suggest that once you have finished reading this, you do.
Being on the way to nowhere and with no main thoroughfare to bring us any passing wealth as such, our predecessors had to be diligent in the finding for themselves of a living and therefore several notable industries have come and gone leaving little or more often nothing in the way of evidence of their existence. Rabbits were probably the first major village export with many ending up in the markets of London but little, if anything survives of that animal husbandry apart from the odd mark or two in the countryside and a few copper monetary tokens that were issued in 1666 by warrener John Adee.
The fustian trade that was probably introduced by the Witts family, has left a building that once produced that cotton cloth. It still stands, albeit one storey less in height, in South Street behind Yew Tree House. Willow weaving was once a very profitable way of earning a living but you must not confuse that craft with the more rural art of basket making. Willow weaving was of a much finer quality with the willow being sliced into very fine strips indeed, bleached and then woven to produce a flat sheet which was then used for hat construction. In 1874 William Pizzie died and the MT report of his death says that he was the bringer of the “staple trade” of willow weaving to our village. True or not in 1887 a letter written by Henry Palmer told of the depressed state of Aldbournes willow trade. Henry was both farmer and willow weaver who operated from Neal`s farm in South street. His letter complained that the influx of cheap foreign products was destroying his business and that it would soon mean he would not be able to provide his men and women with work. His letter may well indicate the coming of the end of the willow weaving industry. Another letter written that same year by John Orchard told of his concern for his own chair and table business though his fears were to be unfounded as his son took over and still continued well into the 1920’s. It is unknown if any of these products still survive, as they don’t have “made in Aldbourne” stamped on them it really is very difficult or almost impossible to tell if an item was made here or not.
Bells of course were cast here for more than two hundred years and it must be this industry that Aldbourne is most famed for. Today there is nothing to be seen of any foundry buildings as such but at least many of the bells still survive. Not only were large church bells cast but quite small ones and some of these smaller examples can be found in village homes today.
Despite though the successes and subsequent failures of all of these village businesses, the name of Aldbourne has been spread more widely than all of these put together by yet another of our great village institutions. Nothing spreads the reputation of any entity quicker than success, and nothing has been more successful than our brass band. It’s without question that it put the name of Aldbourne on the map! Time was that the band WAS Aldbourne as it was once the singularly most proliferant organisation of our village. Locally this is displayed by the many reports printed in the MT that are either about or include mention of our band, the only other regular reports are of our church and its bell ringers, the two Methodist chapels and our once “unstoppable” football team. Bandsmen also frequently turn up regularly in these other village stories showing us that if you were involved in village life at all you were likely to be involved completely. Organisations such as the three churches, fire brigade, parish council, bellringers, football team, or the many village benefit clubs are typical of such fraternities that our bandsmen not only turn up being members of, but often as not helping to run as committee members as well.
During the last century, and well into this, any musical education being taught in our “National School” (built c1858) would alas have been of a very basic nature. Only bare essentials were taught and musically at best the tonic solfa and perhaps a few “traditional” songs. Our village youth would leave school to start work at the age of 12 and the village census returns of the last century show this well with most occupations being listed as “agricultural labourers”. Its also interesting to see the amount of females who too list themselves under this occupation. Our lads would have had very little or at best quite poor tuition in any instrumental techniques and I cringe just imagining what the musical groups of various forms that we have had here in Aldbourne actually sounded like. We have had more than one musical group here over the last two hundred odd years and I hope to acquaint you with them as we pass on this, our journey through time.
I mention to you once more that until more recent times the fairer sex of our country were considered to be very much second class and were rarely allowed to mix as they do today in the world of the men. A report of an 1886 political meeting held here told of an appeal for votes by Mr W.H.Long MP to the “loyal men of Aldbourne” as there was of course still a long wait for the ladies to receive their right of suffrage. Despite this none involvement as playing members of our band most would have been able to play the many various instruments such as piano, cello or violin. Being taught at home would have been the norm and to break into song was course second nature to both sexes with everyone having their own party pieces that they could perform and we would often find ladies taking part in band and village entertainments. Any ability to play more than one instrument often included bandsmen and an example of this expertise is Mr Albert Stacey, a member of the early part of this century, he played not only the euphonium but the piccolo, violin and the piano as well.
It was in the year 1816 that the Peter Wharton Band was formed in the Yorkshire village of Queensbury, later it became known as the world famous John Foster and Sons “Black Dyke Mills Band”. In 1818, Cleggs Reed Band was formed and they later became the Besses O` th` Barn Band. These two were to become all brass by the 1850,s whilst our own band was still using clarinet’s until well into this century. I don’t intend to get too deep into the history of the brass band movement (there are several authors more qualified than me that have already done so) but I want to put our own village band into perspective with the other bands in the country. Although we have had many successful times in the past we cannot even begin to compare with the great`s of the movement such as the Brighouse and Rastrick or Black Dyke Mills bands though we do however compare with the rest of the country’s somewhat less successful bands. For many years we were always the equal and many times the better of the likes of Hanwell or Luton of London, Bodmin or St Dennis from Cornwall, Cinderford or Yorkly Onward from the Forest of Dean, Cable and Wireless, John Dickenson, Pressed Steel Fisher or the Morris Motor bands from Oxford and even the Desford Collery Band are just a few of the works sponsored bands we once often beat.
There are few bands in the West of the country that have gone from a small musical group to become a feared adversary on the contest stage and the only other Wiltshire band with a history that might sound similar to ours is that of the village of Woodfalls near Salisbury. They also have been of great credit to the banding scene for many years but to have only two bands in the whole of the county to not only rise above the others but to stay as long as we have amongst the top of southern bands is a pitiful amount when you think that just about every village and town in the country once had a band of one sort or another. Our village band was not unique to this area nor was it the first one either. Ramsbury’s village band was already in existence by 1859 and it appears to have still been functioning until 1911, in fact Ramsbury once boasted three brass bands! Thomas Edwin Hobbs formed a methodist band in 1900 and with a Salvation army band as well all three operated at the same time from 1900 until 1911. The SA band seems to have continued until at least 1935.
The midpoint of the nineteenth century saw throughout the country brass and military bands appearing at a breakneck speed. The country experienced a musical explosion, the like it had never seen before and most certainly never will see again. With few communities being able to claim not having a band this must give us some idea of just how big a business the banding world has been. Lets take look around our immediate area at the bands of various types that are found mentioned in our local paper. I’ve drawn a circle that stretches only twenty odd miles out from Aldbourne, though the MT has a geographical void that stretches from Newbury through to Wantage and Faringdon around to Cirencester, their news seems to have taken care of by Swindon’s Evening Ad. From the first issue of the Marlborough Times in 1859 till the outbreak of the second world war, the following have all been found mentioned at least once within its pages.
- Avebury brass
- Alton Barnes brass
- Amesbury Comrades brass
- Bishopstone brass
- Burbage brass
- Beechingstoke brass
- Blunsdon brass
- Broad Somerford brass
- Childrey brass
- Chilton Foliat drum and fife / military
- Cricklade brass
- Calne rifle corps / Town brass
- Chippenham Rifle Corps / Town brass
- Chiseldon brass / drum and fife, string
- Cold Ash brass
- Crookham drum and fife
- Charlton brass
- Devizes rifle corps / Town brass
- Durrington brass
- East Woodhay brass
- Enborne brass
- Easton Royale brass
- Everliegh brass
- Froxfield drum and fife
- Fighledene brass
- Fairford brass
- Faringham brass
- Great Bedwyn brass x2 / drum and fife
- Hungerford brass
- Highworth brass
- Inkpen Temperance / Imperial brass / United Silver
- Kingstone Lisle brass
- Kintbury Temperance brass
- Kennet Vale brass
- Lambourn brass / drum and fife Temperance
- Leckhamstead Thicket Methodist brass
- Lavington brass
- Lockeridge brass
- Marlborough Dismounted Yeomenry Rifle Corps / Prince of Wales Own Yeomenry Royal Wiltshire / Town brass / Kaffir Bugle / Coronation
- Market Lavington brass
- Newbury Town brass / Prize Temperance / South Berks Brewery
- Netheravon brass
- Oare drum and fife / Overton brass / Westlyn Mission brass,
- Pewsey brass / Kings corner / Rifle Yeomenry, Purton brass
- Plaistow Green brass
- Pottern Temperance brass
- Ramsbury brass / Primitive Methodist brass / Salvation Army / Temperence Drum and Fife / Tea total drum and fife
- Rushall brass / Rushall and Charlton brass
- Shalbourne brass
- Shrivenham brass
- Stratton St Margaret brass
- Shefford Drum and Fife
- Swindon Town / Gorse Hill Wesslyan brass / Military / Prospect / G.W.R. Staff Association / Old Town S.A. / Home Guard / Central Hall Methodist drum and fife / Wills whistle / RAOB / Moredon brass / Wiltshire Highland pipe
- Thatcham brass
- Vale of Pewsey silver
- Wantage brass
- Woodborough Prize brass
- Wanborough brass
- Wickham brass
- Wootton Rivers brass
- Wootton Bassett Drum and Fife / Town brass
- Weston brass
- Woodspeen brass
- Wroughton brass / Methodist Prize brass,
and yes, believe it or not even Beckhampton and Russley both boasted a small orchestra, they did, honestly. Opening a map of our locality will show that we seem to have missed out on the odd one or two communities, Ogbourne St George, Broad Hinton and Shrivenham are but three communities that should surely have had a band of their own but evidently didn’t, no mentions of them were found anyway. Suffice it to say that this list is only a minute portion of the total amount of bands that once existed throughout the British Isles. The one area that seems to have had plenty of brass bands is that that of Pewsey through to Devizes, but with the sheer amount of communities present there no wonder.
In a “Brass Band News” article written in the fifties our band is described as “a giant of pre-war days”, and so it was in this part of the country. Nobody, unless they were kidding themselves, wrote off the Aldbourne Band at any contest EVER! We were never a non runner and it became the expected thing for us to win! Expected not only by us but by our rivals as well! A 1927 report said that “few villages could boast such an honour except perhaps one or two in Yorkshire”. Though perhaps a trifle over stated, this comment really does describe the respect that folk once held for our band. When arriving at contests the first thing to be done is to buy a programme and take a look see at who are in the competition. Was Aldbourne there that day?, if so conductors knew that if they were going to win they had us to beat first! The abilities of our players over the last few years has always been unquestionably of a high standard and this perhaps stems from our ancestors. In a press statement in 1950, Tommy Liddiard, a member for fifty years, claimed that “as 21 of the 28 players in the band were descendants of the first band, that musicians were born and not made” and that the gift “has been handed down family to family and we have got it here in the band today”. I like to think he was right and that in his words there is still an element of truth. Even now, though the majority of the band come from “foreign” parts, the core of the players are still Aldbourne trained if not Aldbourne born and bred. Mores the times I have heard say that “its not like it used to be when our band was made up of “village” people only”. Well many years have passed since the “rot” set in as early as 1922 we had a “NON villager” as a member. Albert Gregory came from Hungerford to work at Smiths farm in West Street as a shepherd but its well to remember that if these “outsiders” hadn’t come to play with us we probably wouldn’t have had the calibre of band that we have all enjoyed listening to over the decades.