Aldbourne Heritage Centre

From the very first public engagement in 1861 to the carnival procession of 1996 our village band has played at virtually every village event ever held. For occasions such as football matches, sport days, national celebrations or even political meetings, village causes like the various benefit societies, the sound of brass has been heard. It would seem to have existed solely to bring enjoyment, colour and atmosphere to village functions and though not as often as in those days long gone, we still find the presence of the band when any event organisers ask of it and free of charge for any “village” function at that.

In the past it was so easy for the band to turn out at a moments notice for any village do but this sadly is not now the case, in fact it is now virtually impossible and with so many members living outside the village a repeat of those times will probably never reoccur. Examples of village events are very diverse and as most are covered elsewhere we will only take a look here at some of the more important or unusual ones. Several political meetings were attended but they would appear not to include allegiance to any in particular. There was one meeting in 1934 that the band did not attend, that held by Mosely’s Blackshirts.

The very first event that included both the band and our village happened in 1887 with the celebration of Queen Victoria`s silver jubilee. Led by the band, a procession made its way to “West Street meadow” where some 900 villagers “sat down to a tea” (did they all bring their own chairs I wonder?). The report tells us that a beacon was lit that night on “Peaks hill” by Chandler of North farm.

Celebrations in the March of 1900 were held for the relief of Mafeking and when the news reached our parish “bells were rung, flags were hoisted and “a torchlight procession, headed by the band” was held. Our village agent also made good use of his report and said that “this is an opportunity for recognition of the good progress of the Aldbourne band”. Most other village reports follow along the same line as ours as the news was welcomed by all of the country with most communities having a more official celebration a few days later. On the day that Great Bedwyn received the news an attempt to muster some of the players from the “old band” failed although “a band of youthful musicians” did form. They had to wait for Aldbourne’s band to travel there in order for them to celebrate the occasion in officially and in full style. Sadly for them they have failed to keep alive any musical organisation for they have not only had two brass bands but a drum and fife band as well. A Mr Rosier of Great Bedwyn formed the second band in 1926 but it appears to only have lasted for about 2 years or so.

A few years later a service of mourning was held on the death of Queen Victoria and prior to the service we played “several suitable pieces on the village green”. In 1901 our band were involved in the welcome home of two returning dabchicks who had been present at the relief of Mafeking. Their names were G.R.Palmer and Earnest Bray. The band headed a large procession from Preston back into the village with the two chaps standing proudly high up on a wagon the whole village turned out that day.

In April 1901 we were invited to Ramsbury to play at a “floral fete” held at the Rookery and in the August we played at our own Horticultural Society annual show and sports where some band members did extremely well in the vegetable prizes.

1902 brought the end of the Boer War and when that news hit our village our people seem to have dropped everything to ensemble in the square joining with their neighbours and friends to celebrate the occasion ”  …..the band soon mustered and played the National Anthem and other suitable music”.

In 1903 a village entertainment was organised in aid of the new “nurses fund”. Including the band the report said that it “furnished agreeable items”. The Aldbourne and Baydon Nurse Day was to become a firm event in our two village calendars. With the event of a similar nature to that of the hospital day the only difference was that the money raised was used to support a village nurse as well, with the fund being split between the two. The bungalow that stands at the right of the entrance to Goddards Lane was built for her and a charge of 2d a week to every household was also made to cover the use of her services.

In 1903, Aldbourne`s Total Abstinance Soc invited the Ramsbury Methodist band to play so in return we popped over the hill to them. Never missing out on any chance to fund raise we played at the end of the day under the great elm tree collecting for a “new instrument fund”.

Although 1904, 05, 06 and 07 were relatively busy years very little occurred out of the norm though one or two comments do deserve to be highlighted here. Due to “sickness in the village” the 1904 xmas concert had to be held over til the following week and in 1906 a fancy-dress football match was held with a “capital entertainment” concluding the day. “so over crowded was the room that a little girl named Stroud dislocated her kneecap”. Though present day concerts are not patronised quite as enthusiastically as that one a concert held in the October of 1996 found our chuch full to over flowing.

In the September of 1909 we again paraded, only this time to “the square”, and it was evidently clear that the band was “still improving”. Interestingly the very next mention in the MT named us as the “Aldbourne Prize Band” as we had now a contest result under our belt we had apparently arrived!

It was also during 1909 that the band formed its first committee, chaired by Mr Charles McEvoy, a non player, who lived at the Malt House. It was he who wrote the “Village Wedding”, a play that was produced in 1910. I’ll side step here for a few moments to tell you of the event that was to be the talk of the village for many years. McEvoy had moved to the village in 1907 and shortly after moved down from Windmill Cottages to the Malt House on his marriage to Gwendolin Nutley of Devon. He soon started work on the conversion of the oast house that still stands in South St. We know it as the building with the large weather vane consisting of the old man complete with shovel on it’s roof.

McEvoy`s intention was to create hundreds of village theatres and Aldbourne was to have the very first one.

Daniel Cook, a builder whose workshop still stood until recently at the bottom of Castle Street, did the main alterations and the seats were cast in the W.T. Loveday foundery in Lottage Road. The theatre was to hold 150 people “by licence” and no expense was spared for even the seats were sloping to enable all to see better. An amusing request in the official programme asked ladies to: “remove their hats, bonnets, or any kind of head dress. This rule is framed for the benefit of the audience, and the management trusts that it will appeal to everyone, and that ladies will kindly assist in having it carried out”.

The play was a “Cottage Drama of three acts” and naturally our band was involved in its production with Albert Stacey conducting an “orchestra” made from band members. They were seated at the front in a proper pit “sunk after the most approved fashion”. The music performed was described as “folklore music”, (what ever that was) and the cost of entry varied from 1/- to 2/6d. George Jerram, was in both the cast and the orchestra, acting out a character named William Picter meant that he had to swap between the stage and his drum in the pit. The theatre was opened by Mr Granville Barker, an eminent man of his time, on the 26th of February at 4-30 pm and many notable names came to see the opening night. After the week long event the play next moved on to Oxford, followed by Swindon, and then finishing on May 29th in London. It then toured more West country towns. Though this theatre was the first to be created McEvoys dream of a country wide set up did not materialise. 1913 saw the production of a second play written by McEvoy. It was called “The situation at Newbury” and was again performed in his theatre but this time the band was not included and it would appear that no more productions were performed after this one. McEvoy`s dream did not materialise.

In 1910 a sports day was organised by our scouts troop and typically the band were there to entertain. They were also involved in the June 1911 event to commemorate the coronation of Edward V11. In 1912 and 1913 an Easter festival was had and an entertainment was held that included a tea and an entertainment by “members of the band”.

In 1913, a November 5th firework display was held at the top of Baydon Hill. It was accommodated in a field opposite Windmill Cottages and the report tells us that “the band headed the procession”. Imagine now having to march up Baydon Hill, somehow I think not!  This event appeared in the church magazine as a small affair but the report in the MT stated that the event was actually organised by the band. The evening started at the Crown at 7:30pm with a cannon being fired and a procession comprising of one hundred torch bearers and floats representing most if not all of the village trades This was a very large and exciting village do with the band being responsible for yet another village entertainment and this was the second such function that our band had organised, the first being in 1886. Over the coming years the band were to organise many activities such as this not only for the benefit of the villagers but also of course for the purpose of raising much needed funds.

In the 1913 Thanksgiving festivities the band “marched in full force and uniform and also had a “decided improvement in their harmony and execution”. In 1920 we turned out for the football match between Aldbourne and Ramsbury, who won? what a stupid question, we did of course 2-1. Also in 1920 a temporary village hall was opened by a Mrs Tanner and we were of course present. This hall stood in the Butts road just opposite the entrance to the stable yard belonging to the Old Rectory.

Throughout the pages of this publication we can well see that very little has altered much over the last one hundred years or so as far as the type of events held here are concerned.  Most if not all of the villages and towns in this area held their own hospital fund days, in our case the money raised going to fund Savernake Cottage Hospital. Aldbourne’s first Hospital Sunday happened in 1897 and was held under the auspices of the Ancient Order of Foresters and Rational benefit society. They were to be a main event on our village’s calendar for they continued until 1934, they continue today under the auspices of the carnival committee.

The photo dated 18th July 1914 pictured our band at Ramsbury playing in one of these events. Our band were often invited to take part in Lambourn`s hospital day and in 1902 an “18 strong band under Mr A Stacey made a “capital contribution”. They not only marched around the streets of Lambourn but paraded out and around Eastbury and after all that we marched back to Lambourn. I don’t know about you but I’m worn out just typing about it.

From 1837 to 1892 another annual engagement parade that our band invariably led was for the Aldbourne branch of friendly societies. The open air play that was held in here in July 1996 was based on one of these events and although fictive it really did portray its like well, showing us well what things might just have looked like. For many years the Paddington GWR band visited Aldbourne and when they did the whole village would turn out to listen. The three photos that survive of the 16th of June 1916 visit show that the men of the G.W.R. band were continuing their lives as normal with the on going war having little affect on their banding anyway. We see them in what would now be deemed as an unusual formation, a square with the conductor facing away from the tuba section, perhaps he would turn around and face a section of the band when he felt it necessary, I really have no idea. It’s also unusual to see them sitting down, as it was more the the norm for bands to stand when playing.

The connection of Paddington’s band to Aldbourne is easily explained by remembering back to the Alder brothers and the departure of numerous families to London. It has even been documented that some of our bandsmen were involved in the formation of the GWR Paddington Borough Silver Prize Band (to give them their full name). This cannot be correct however as this band was already formed many years before the exodus of our men. This is confirmed in a report that the Paddington band played at the GWR widows and orphans fund fete held at Hungerford in June 1860, the very same year that our own band was first formed. Anyhow, in a 1912 report of that years visit it tells that 7 Aldbourne men were then playing in their band, we don’t know all the names of these bandsmen for certain but an educated guess is possible and they were probably the Alder brothers Archibald, James, Frederick and his son Joe jnr and the brothers Frank, William and John Barrett. The GWR has figured often in the life of our village even to the point of discussion of bringing a line through Ramsbury to Aldbourne but this as we now now never happened.

The years that the Paddington band came were 1907, 12, 18, 19, 20 and finally 1922. The 1907 and 12 visits are well reported on with a committee being formed to organise the ’07 occasion. This committee included GM Watts chairman, W Brown sec, Rev AJ Pitkin, C Orchard, J Orchard, AE Bray, J Alder, W Alder, A Ford, HB Sheppard, J Wakefield, A Stacey, F Hale, F Perrott, C Liddiard, H Westall and W Pye. The band were represented by J Barnes, G Jerram, A Jerram, F Wakefield and the then bm T liddiard (nearly as many were involved in the organising as probably attended to listen). Paddington first visited Swindon where they gave a concert to raise funds for the widow of a player who had been formerly an Aldbourne bandsman. For some unknown reason his name is not recorded though I believe it to have been James Alder, anyway £5-16s-41/2d was raised for the widow. The 1912 report tells that they performed three concerts and that some 600 people attended each do. They were being conducted in 1912 by Tom Morgan and in 1918 by A Wallen.

When they next came in 1919 they took part in the hospital parade concluding the next day not only with their usual concert on the village green but joining with our band to play for a village dance. A collection was made in favour of the Aldbourne band in 1920 and their final visit in 1922 coincided with one of our own village band contests which they entered but surprisingly didn’t feature in the prizes. Surprisingly? as they were recognised as a tip top band they should have done so. However bad the result was for them they stayed on to entertain us and the Sunday saw them parading from the band room in West Street to the green where they gave a concert. Later that afternoon they paraded to the memorial hall for a short service of remembrance where they laid a wreath in respect of our our 43 fallen men.

Villagers supplied accommodation and Bill Deacon often had them stay with his family, particularly a Mr Luke a tuba player. It was generally agreed by all that they were a much better band than our own and our own bandsmen must have learnt many things having more able players to listen to. Having said that there are none of our village bandsmen to be seen listening to them on the 1912 photo and it really is odd that there are none in sight, surely they are just off camera? The platform they are using was apparently constructed for them by the brothers Jerram.

In a parish news article of 1974 a writer said that a German band once came in the 1890’s to play in Aldbourne and strange as it may sound this visit just might have actually happened. A German band certainly visited this part of Wiltshire and can be found mentioned in a letter written in 1889 from an irate Marlborough man who complained about the bad behaviour and drunkenness of some of the men when in the town. No report of any such visit here was made but the two 1893 regimental band visits may well be the answer.

Albeit that our band held several of its own band contests in our village, (1922, 23, 24 and 25) only one record of any financial accounts survive. The MT report tells us what form the event took, but the financial side of things was documented in an issue of the Church Magazine. All three contests would have all been of the same format, they were held in Whitley Meadow, what is now the tennis courts in Castle Street and they involved the whole village in that they included a village fête and was generally a day of fun and excitement for all.

1922 was a little different from the other years as it was decided to split the event and hold it on two separate days as several of the bands that normally came sent word that due to other engagements they were unable to attend on the first date. On Saturday July 28th East Woodhay conducted by A Muddiman, Wroughton led by W Robinson, Tadley and Silchester bands all assembled on the green. As per norm they all marched in turn to Whitley meadow where they each performed their own choice test piece. The Silchester band, conducted by B S James won both the march and selection sections.

Part two was held on September 2nd with an identical format. An ad in the M.T. tells us that it cost 15/- for a band to enter and that the total prize money available was £27-5/-. This time the Swindon GWR band won the march and the Kingswood Evangel band from Bristol won the selection. A Mr Cooper from Huthwaite nr Nottingham was the adjudicator, he returned on two other occasions in 1923 and 1924. He once made a controversial decision “the chief bone of contention was putting Swindon GWR right out of the prizes”. Anyway the result put Headington first in the march and Kingswood first in the selection. The three bands of Fairford, Tadley and East Woodhay entered the second section. Whilst our own village contest existed it was known as the East Wilts brass band contest.

From the church magazine:

1925 July

“The contest organised by the Aldbourne Silver Prize Band was held on July 25th It was unfortunate that several bands were not able owing to engagements elsewhere to enter the contest. Never the less the playing was of a very high standard, The Newbury Band captured two first prizes and one second prize and Silchester one first prize and two second prizes. We are glad that the contest was a financial success”.


What sort of success we can see for ourselves.


               INCOME                             EXPENDITURE

Taken at gate            £11-19-08 1/2     Prize money            £12-02-06

Bowling for pig         £12-08-00         Aujudicators fee       £ 6-06-00

Teas                    £ 8-02-07 1/2          Cockerals and ducks     £ 0-06-04

lemonade and ice-cream  £ 4-11-08    Darts and cigarettes   £ 1-05-03

Jumble sale             £ 4-06-09             Ice cream and

Advertisments         £ 4-05-00          chocolate etc.         £ 0-18-10

Coconuts               £ 3-06-04             Pig                    £ 1-00-00

Throwing on squares     £ 2-15-7       Printing               £ 3-19-06

Darts                      £ 2-05-07                Police                 £ 0-12-06

Flower stall            £ 1-11-06           Hire of coconut shies £ 0-07-06

Rifle range              £ 1-11-03            Coconuts              £ 0-12-06

Programmes           £ 1-08-02        Carriage of coconuts  £ 0-05-00

Guessing for ducks  £ 1-05-03       Peas                   £ 0-00 06

Subscriptions                                    Postage paper &etc.    £ 0-10-00

(inc 12/- for social ) £ 1-02-00

Table skittles           £ 1-01-04          Skittles                £ 0-19-05

Bran pie                  £ 0-13-06

Loop ball                £ 0-03-11

Competition            £ 0-11-00

Donkey rides          £ 0-08-00

Quotes                    £ 0-07-06

Throwing basins     £ 0-06-05

Entrance (jumble sale ) £ 0-06-04 1/2

Pie guessing            £ 0-06-03

Pea guessing            £ 0-05-04

Cockerels               £ 0-02-00

Entrance fees           £ 1-10-00

Total                       £68-10-07                                     Total £28-05-11

Balance                 £40-04-08

“£40 of this balance will be paid towards the debt on the new instrument fund leaving £293 still outstanding”.

The bands marched from Pond Square up to Whitley Meadow and were judged on their smartness and playing ability. Next would come the “selection”. The bands would play on a raised platform set in a semi-circle and would play either a set test piece or would be allowed to choose a piece of their own. Our band can be seen ready for action on just such a stage in a photo taken in the early twenties, note the spelling of Aldbourne.

It wouldn’t have been unusual for a host band to be included in its own contest, even if to only boost the numbers. The Marlborough band played in their own contest of 1909 but as far as we know ours didn’t ever take part here. Our band did round the day off though playing in the evening for dancing.

What an interesting read this balance sheet is. It tell us of all the fete events and stalls to be had, they weren’t very different to those of today were they? I do wonder what the stall named “throwing the basins” entailed, I bet it was a smashing game. Having a coconut shy was an expensive exercise but what about the of the cost of the peas? I realise that people were not made of money but to charge for a jar of peas is surely the ultimate in miserly deeds?

The most important figures however to be found in these accounts has to be the amount specified as the balance of the debt of the new instrument fund. Tales have abounded for many years concerning a gift of instruments to the band by a chap named Jimmy White but the story behind this affair is a little confused, so lets take a look at the Jimmy White saga of 1922, and correct yet another known misnomer of an event that never actually happened. The story behind Jimmy White has over the years been documented to some degree but I think it best that we are put in the picture here.

James White, originally came from Rochdale in Lancashire and was a self made millionaire. Although he had a residence in Park street, Westminster, London, he also owned King Edward Place at Foxhill. White had many financial interests, one even included involvment in the purchase of the Wembley site, and he was also the owner of Daly`s theatre in London. Although he was married with two children he did not live with Doris his wife. White often entertained famous names of the day at Foxhill and Roland Mundy once told in a letter of playing there at a grand house party when many famous actors and actresses were present. Our band frequently travelled out to Foxhill, usually on a Sunday, to play for him and White often called us “his band”.

This gift of a set of instruments by Jimmy White never occurred. What did happen was told to Arthur Palmer by Wilf Jerram but the truth of those events can actually be found documented in a 1922 issue of the Times. The band had resolved that if they were to advance themselves still further they would have to first improve on the instruments that they were using, so it was decided to approach White for a loan. Now this was not something that would have been decided on lightly. Lets just say that as our men were not ones to throw money around willy-nilly but they must have thought that to repay a loan was well within the bands capabilities.

It would appear that a conversation was held between the bands committee and Whites estate agent Major Valentine Steven Bland. Major Bland must have thought it likely that a meeting between them and White could be worth our bands while, so a meeting was arranged and our bands committee was duly invited along to have a “chat”. Edgar Dixon, Fred Jerram and Harry Westall duly arrived and asked White if he would lend them the money to purchase the instruments with. White asked from whom the instruments were to be purchased, and was told the name of the firm. The conversation then continued along the following lines “I know those ?@%£¬*s so I’ll get you your instruments. I will give the band a donation, but don’t worry about the balance you pay me back when you can”. The report that confirms that White lent the band £500 interest free and donated £100.

This was the offer the band had wanted and they certainly couldn’t afford to turn it down and so shortly afterwards the new set of Hawkes Excellsior Sonorous instruments was duly delivered. They were of course collected by the band`s chairman Tom Barnes from the Hungerford Railway station. Repayment of a substantial amount had been made to White until the Wednesday morning of June 1927 when James White was found dead in his bed. He had administered himself a lethal dose of chloroform, he was only forty nine years of age. White`s company, the Beecham Trust Ltd had gone bankrupt to the tune of £450,000. and with assets of only £83,002 he had decided to end it all. He was buried in Wanborough church yard though there is no headstone to mark his grave.

The accounts of the band contest show us that £293 was still owed to White, withal an enormous amount. This was a very worrying time for our band as they didn’t quite know what was going to happen. The question on their lips was would White`s receivers come knocking asking for the balance still owed to be repaid in full immediately? If they did it would not be possible to repay such a large sum and as there was nothing as such written down about the repayment method etc etc….. things really didn’t look too good. They were doubtless very worried that the band might be declared bankrupt, and as officials might become liable for the debt themselves! Fortunately Mr Bland sorted out the problem with the receivers who agreed to wave the debt. Our band didn’t quite get a free set of instruments but they didn’t have to find all of the money for them either. The balance had been waved to the relief of all. They had borrowed some five hundred pounds and still had some £300 left to repay.

All credit must be given to our village for supporting their band to such a great extent for to repay a total of some £200 was in its self a huge achievement. To put this amount amount into perspective we can compare the cost of the building of the memorial hall in 1921, just six years earlier. My source for this figure is again the MT and it that tells us that the cost was £1200, a veritable fortune at that time.

Interestingly, several years later it was decided that it might be better if any written mentions of this affair didn’t exist at all (just in case) and Arthur Palmer, a then 12 year old player and committee member witnessed the burning of the band’s records by Cecil Liddiard, Tommy Barnes and secretary Harry Westal on the fire of the West Street band room. This explains why there are no surviving band records from this period, in fact there are no surviving anything until the early sixties and this opportunity must be taken to thank Jesse Jones, band secretary for many years for keeping his records for use in the future.

According to the MT 1921 was a “1921derful year” but as far Aldbourne or its band were concerned little occurred to make it stand out in any crowd. The band entered two contests and won them both and apart from the formation of yet another amateur dramatic club the only thing mentioning is a little story that surrounds our houses of worship. Instigated by the Anglicans it was proposed to hold a united Rogation service. All three congregations were to meet on the green and they were to be led by the band. Well the band turned up and so did the Anglicans but when it looked as if the others weren’t coming off they all went. Later claims that they left early were made but one thing is for sure,  one of the Methodist chapels did not turn out. Men would live, work, play, and even die together but worship ? No way!

In 1923 a comic pushball match was held in the field behind Mt Pleasant and our band as always led the procession there, in aid of the hospital fund, this game involved the use of extremely large balls. A similar event in 1930 was well reported on and was a very humorous affair indeed. Band members dressed as ladies and village ladies dressed as men. Fred Jerram, the referee, dressed as a member of both sexes so as “to show impartiality”. Apparently the match consisted of the men frequently stopping in order to powder their noses or to issue complaints of “rough play” by the ladies as they were “clever with their handling of not only the ball but of the mens skirts as well”. Fred Barnes was advised to put a tuck into his skirt after expressing concern about his lower garments and the general consensus of opinion on both sides was that the ref should be reported to the football authorities for gross misconduct. The score? 11-5 to the ladies of course.

`Those of us familiar with the film “They shoot horses don’t they” will know that the craze of non stop dancing once swept across America during the 1930 depression but few might realise that it too was popular here. In 1932 the band organised one such event and “100 dancers” took part. Reg Penny was the M.C. with the music being supplied by the “Hungarians” from Hungerford and the “Aldbourne octave” band, sorry but I am unable to tell you who won the event or if any horses were shot either.