Aldbourne Heritage Centre
Exploring the Village Story

Chapter 6 : Entertainments

The earliest band engagements consisted almost entirely of parades and only occasionally did a small group or full band participated in any village entertainments and then this only occurred during the very latter years of the nineteenth century. Concerts given by any village organisation were filled with a very mixed bag of acts with participants singing, playing the piano, performing recitations, etc etc. and are best described as they were in a 1902 report as of “varied character”. The band often took part in these sundry concerts including one in 1899 that also included two professionals, a Miss Macauly, a contralto singer of the Savoy Theatre, London and a miss G Frank who played the violin.

When the band decided to hold entertainments in their own name they were not very different to any of the others then held in their make-up. Our men seldom played brass instrumental solos in these inaugural concerts but they did frequently take part performing dialogues, singing etc. Two simple examples of this is the evening that Jim Penny, a young cornet player, sang a duet with Alice Cook and when Francis Jerram rendered some “amusing recitations”.

If you look between the two outside doors of the church tower you can find a poem about young Jim that one of his friends? once scrawled, it says “J Penny is the biggest fool of any”.

The bands very first indoor concert performed under their own banner was on the 23rd of February 1900. A mixed bag is a very good way of describing these early concerts and mixed they certainly were. In one of 1909 we had the pleasure of gramophone records being played and this was obviously a major contribution to that particular evening’s activities but I think you will agree that the most odd thing to find included in any concert programme was the 1902 display by 12 young men of military drills. They had been instructed by Fred Wakefield, the father of one of our young bandsmen. At another in 1902 Tommy Liddiard gave such an “amusing lecture on music” that he apparently had the audience in stitches. Any instrumental solos that were being performed were not as yet accompanied by the band and Walter Lawrence jnr often did this job on a piano or harmonium.

Walter Lawrence jnr (Tapey) was a very popular chap following very much in his fathers footsteps not only as a painter and sign writer but as a major participant in most village events. Walter Lawrence snr was the leader of the Aldbourne Amateur Choral society in the 1880`s and presented our church with a new set of hand bells in 1889. It was Walter Lawrence snr and F H Ault snr who we have to thank for many of the old village pictures we all love looking at. Frederick Horatio Walker Ault was a Swindon photographer operating from 11, Islington street and the marriage between his son Frederick Hubert William to Aldbourne girl Mary Jane Barrett, sister of Dumper Barrett, in 1897 shows his connection to Aldbourne.

Walter jnr was also a bell ringer, both tower and hand and lived in Fir cottage, the thatched cottage that once stood next door to his fathers home on the Green. Of fairy tale appearance it was destroyed when the great fire occurred at High Town during the twenties. He married Sarah Tipper in 1899 , she was headmistress of our school for 39 years. He seems to have started off his musical career as a flautist but eventually he became another church organist. Walter died in 1932, possibly of Altziemers.

Lets take a look at some concert reports found in the MTimes and the Church Magazine as only they can best describe the nature of those early ones.

February 23rd 1900

A concert held in the “new” band room at which the band were wearing their “brand new uniforms”. Where this room was will have to wait for now but the report also recounted “unruly and ignorant behaviour by young and older persons and not for the first time”! What! fractious behaviour by our grandparents? what ever next!

A similar report in 1901 mentioned “exemplary behaviour”.(I should think so too). The programme content was described as a “little too heavy” and the concert also included the Bishopstone Hand Bell band conducted by Walter Lawrence snr. The programme included two March`s entitled “Departure” and “Harlech” plus two polka`s “Pretty Polly and Silver King”. Included in this concert was Reginald J.Alder and Harry Stacey, although a cornet player here he played a violin solo (just who didn’t play the violin?) and was accompanied by his wife on the piano. This was obviously a very busy evening and I doubt if a more different line up of entertainments could be had anywhere.

March 1901

This was a two night entertainment for the purpose of fund raising. “The first evening was poorly attended but the second was full and the audience enjoyed songs by Messrs Orchard, Barrett, and with Mr Collier on a piano that was kindly loaned by Mr Orchard”. John Orchard, owner of the village chair and table factory was famous for and often performed his “dialect” songs.

In the October a we took part in a “Smoking Concert”, it was actually held in the school room! These do’s were to be a regular thing for many years not going out of fashion til the late sixties (along with all those who attended as well I can only imagine). but we apparently enjoyed “improved harmony and smart appearance”. Another held in 1901 tells of Albert Stacey playing a “charming violin solo”. Mention must be made here of  the evening had that same year during which a Mr W.F.Hayden enthralled his audience with a talk on “The Evolution of the Horses Foot”. (Nay, I just can’t bring myself to make a comment).

In 1902 a concert was held to raise money to “procure a side drum and cymbals and thus become an ideal band for a country village”, incidentally this was the first time the band performed sat down and not stood. The writer went on to say that we were “still improving” and that we “now compare favourably with many bands in larger places due to an energetic bandmaster”. The thought process can indeed be a funny thing as surely the size of a community has little if any effect on the caliber of anything? In a statement given by a chap from Hungerford in 1911 he too said something along the same vein, but when I tell you that the greatest band of all came from the small Yorkshire village of Queensbury (the celebrated Black Dyke Mills) you will have to agree that size is not everything. (who else said that?)

In the December of 1902 we held yet another concert in aid of band funds. It  raised the princely sum of £2-10s and once again, according to the village agent, we were “still improving”. The concert also included F and J Barrett and T Stacey in a comedy sketch.

In 1903 the windmill at the top of Baydon Hill was demolished but it was also that year that the band made its first official appeal for money to buy new instruments, their next being one in 1909. We don`t know how much was raised but they soon replaced the helical tuba that is to be seen on the photo dated c1905. It’s being played by Tom Palmer, which is strange as he was playing a conventional tuba, albeit an elderly instrument in the 1898 photo. Though these instruments went out of fashion in the late 1870`s (they regained notoriety as redesigned sousaphones a few years later) we were still using one over thirty years later, perhaps it was used only for marching? The Ramsbury Methodist band also used one, perchance we sold it to them. Theirs was played by Uriah Hunter. For another village concert in 1903 to raise band funds Tommy Liddiard actually formed a “nigger troop”, thankfully this most insulting form of act has now died its death, anyhow the report says that the evening was “of varied and successful character”.

In 1904 we showed an advanced outlook when a quintet made up of Albert and Tom Stacey, Fred Barrett, Tom Barnes, and Frank Wakefield performed in a Band of Hope entertainment, Tom Stacey also “contributed a capital cornet solo”. A few weeks later a quartet that included Jack Liddiard, Edward and Christopher Hawkins, Tom and Charles Barnes took part in a Primitive Methodist entertainment. (Charles Barnes was to become Bob Barnes’s father in law). That autumn a concert had to be cancelled as a large proportion of the players and audience were taken ill due to a “sickness in the village”. But when it did occur a week or so later it shows us that Albert Stacey was still a playing member as well as leader as the report tells us that he played a “duet with Tommy Liddiard”. A flu outbreak also struck in 1932 and for the second time a concert had to be postponed.

1906 was the year that we performed in a sing-a-long entertainment to raise funds for the churchyard extension fund and even now the proceeds of the band`s Christmas concert in St Michaels are still given to the churchyard fund. In 1907 the Swindon Gorse Hill methodist band came for the hospital Sunday parade and we travelled out to Chilton Foliot to play at their fete and to Baydon for their hospital day. 1908 proves to have been yet another quiet time for us as so does 1909 and 10 but in 1911 we performed a concert in the “village theatre” in aid of the football club and the “music was both charming and well selected”. Why the village did not make more use of this building for its entertainments is a mystery as this is the only reference found of this venue being used for such an event. As the theatre was in private hands we must guess that its owners did not welcome its regular use for village recreational events.

Fund raising for the survivors of the Titanic disaster occurred in 1912 with many of our surrounding villages holding events. We were expected to play at a football match held between the clubs of Aldbourne and Lambourn but for some unknown reason we were unable to attend so the Lambourn band did the job instead. That same year a band quartet performed in a village concert and the comment was that “an item from this quarter being always welcome”. This evening also included the Aldbourne Choral society and as many of their number were bandsmen it might explain why only a quartet only was available. Apart from the 1913 Easter celebration it would seem none were worth reporting on as naught were.

Prior to 1900, the band rehearsed in a willow weaving shed and they would parade from there to play short concerts. These concerts were performed either in Bell square outside Bert Stacey`s bakery or outside the Crown and so must be forerunners of today`s pond concerts. A 1923 report mentions that we had resumed another series of Sunday concerts in the square so it would seem that the now (often copied by others but bettered by few) famous pond concerts have also a long history.

Parading seemed to happen all too frequently and often in the winter evenings. The bandsmen wore shoulder straps complete with a pouch to keep their music in and the band had two lights that were carried by a team of helpers. Remember that before the coming of electricity (first brought to the village by Mr Cheeseman) here in Aldbourne there were no street lights or at least not until 1928 and even then only a few.

Occasionally others would hold a concert in aid of band funds and one that raised the then quite amazingly huge sum of £20 happened in 1920, it was organised and performed by the (wait for it) Dudmore lodge farm co.