As children we used to spend hours on what was the old pleasure pier…when it was a proper pier, and not just a sorry excuse for what is left of todays pier.
Near the end was a place where you could swim from. There were changing rooms, steps down to the water, a slide, diving boards, and all the kids used to congregate there in the summer. On Sundays we used to spread our towels on top of the toilets roof and lie down and listen to the town band who would play there of an afternoon. Hundreds of holiday makers would be seated around in deck chairs or in the shelters listening to the music.
It got me to thinking how sad it was that Weymouth no longer had a proper usable pier to its name, and how town bands seem to be no longer the popular free entertainment they used to be in a typical seaside resort. What happened to all that wonderful live music that brightened the world of Victorian people, an entertainment that continued right up through to my childhood days?
During the Victorian era town bands would be all important. They were vital entertainment for the visitors.
We had numerous beautiful wrought iron band stands at one time or another along Weymouth’s promenade and in the gardens.
Every single one now gone!
The first one was created in the newly developed Greenhill gardens which was opened to the public in the late 1870’s.
But it was removed and situated along the northern end of the promenade, by Brunswick Terrace, because the town council had decided that all the entertainment was held down the pier end of the town, and that councillors for the northern end thought that their constituents were entitled to their fair share too! Here the Victorians would stop and listen to the music of an afternoon or evening while on their constitutional.
The entertainment was provided by the town band, or more often, military or naval bands, that were stationed in Weymouth at the time. Some of these were conducted by extremely talented musicians, writing pieces especially for their public performances. Music played a major role in the army and navy.
This one was replaced by a the beautiful Pier Bandstand, a supposedly permanent fixture, an ornate art deco styled structure that was built in the 1930’s, with an open top theatre space.
It was a place where the bands played, people danced under the moonlit open skies,(maybe not quite so nice on wet and windy days though!). Very popular with the tourists and locals alike. But after the rather wonky, if not charming legs that I have many fond memories of, were beginning to degrade, the seaward end was ceremoniously blown up on the 4th May 1986.
Sadly, all that remains is the much altered end promenade which now houses an amusement arcade and a Chinese restaurant!
Wander further down the promenade and you arrive at the Alexander gardens open May 1869…which was its heydays just that, proper gardens…with its own very grand and beautifully ornate bandstand.
Here, from Victorian times onwards, literally hundreds would come along to listen to the live musical bands entertain them. Relaxing in the deck chairs and listening to the stirring notes of the marching songs from the soldiers bands or the popular songs of the day from the town bands, one of which is pictured below taken in the late 1800’s. Presumably as the two seated in the middle are from the Salvation Army this was their band. Rather quaintly, on the back of the card Mr Rolfe writes to Miss B Hawkins of no,1, Rocky Napp, Dorchester Road enlightening her as to the order of the hymns to be played the coming Sunday.
An exert from the local paper of the following year gives a flavour of the Victorian entertainment of the time. 1870 2nd Apr
“THE ROYAL FUSILIERS BAND- This fine company of musicians delighted a large assembly of listeners in the new pleasure gardens on Thursday afternoon last. Among the items of a first-rate program was a composition of the bandmaster, Herr Van Heddegham, entitled “ Les Romains” which deservedly attracted a large share of attention, and displayed a great amount of constructive ability and original idea. It consists of five movements, the first of which is written in the frugal style, and is worked out with great skill. The subject commences with the basses, progressing with a highly artistic observance of the laws of fugue, and an able development of the principles of this class of composition. The second movement is an exquisite air for a soprano of a charmingly pathetic character, whilst the third, a Brarbure Militaire, presents a striking and agreeable contrast in it’s bold and animated strains. The fourth movement, “ The Invocation for Peace, “ is peculiarly distinguished by the solemn cast of melody which pervades it, and the concluding portion, “ The Orgie,” is a singularly clever piece of descriptive music, fully conveying the wild and bacchanalian idea of the title. It is almost superfluous to say that the band most perfectly expounded the intentions of their accomplished chief.”
It wasn’t always plain sailing for the town council getting hold of a town band and it wasn’t always local men who played. Often a band would be brought in from outside to entertain, but they didn’t always get what they ordered!
1887 8 Jul WESTERN GAZETTE
THE SEASON BAND.
“The new band from Ramsgate was engaged to commence their duties on Monday, but have had their engagement cancelled. Mr. Hawthorne, of that place, was to furnish a band of 18, and when Messrs Allcock and Webb went as a deputation from the town to hear various bands before making a selection, they were in favour of one Mr. Hawthorne then had, consisting of 12 men, which were to be further increased by six additional musicians. When the band arrived in Weymouth on Saturday night, it was ascertained that not one of the men was the same as the deputation had heard, but a scratch band got up. Under these circumstances, a meeting of the Band Committee was called on Monday, and the engagement of the master cancelled. Great consideration is felt for the men who have been brought from such distance, and permission was granted them to play about the streets until Friday, so as to “raise the wind” to take them to Ramsgate. Another band will now be engaged-probably one from Richmond.”
This open band stand soon went out of use, Weymouth’s leaders wanted an all weather venue for their bands, so a clever, supposedly cost cutting, scheme was put in place. The original bandstand was covered in, turning it into a veritable glass house, which as you might suspect wasn’t problem free, in the heat of the sun it became somewhat too warm.
This one too reached the end of its life, and in 1923 the old glass building was becoming unsafe, a pane of glass having fallen out and hitting a tourist on the head it was decided that it was best dismantled and moved elsewhere, and a new, bigger concert hall built in its place.
The old bandstand from the middle of the demolished building was moved up onto the Nothe gardens to replace the old thatched one that had originally been built there as seen below in the newly plated gardens of the late Victorian era.
Once again, this was a popular tourist destination to enjoy a bit band music, as it had been for centuries. A site where locals and tourists had to share what was was essentially a military space with the stationed soldiers in the Nothe fort and Red Barracks.
The last bandstand stood out at the end of what was an elegant, curving pier, which brings us neatly back to where we first started our story of the Weymouth bandstands.
In 1886 nearly 2,000 people attended a concert and dance at the end of the pier. the entire length was romantically lit for the comfort of the guests by gas light, courtesy of the local Gas Company.
Finally demolished in 1919 when the bandstand became too decayed to use any more, the beautiful old wooden pier itself followed not long behind.
So here we are, 2014, in an era when everyone is now becoming more aware of their lost heritage, and fighting to preserve its special places from the past, traditional seaside Weymouth does not have a single bandstand to its name!
But at least we still have a cracking town band.
Playing during the 2012 Sailing Olympics at Weymouth town bridge.
If you enjoy reading stories of Weymouth and Portland of old, including those of the many military bands who entertained townsfolk, why not buy a copy of my book Nothe Fort and Beyond. Enough gossip in there to fill your evenings.
Available at the Nothe Fort and Weymouth Museum bookshops or on Amazon at
- Why Weymouth and me? (cannasue.wordpress.com)
- Weymouth’s harbour area; Brewers Quay (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1892; Wyke Working Men’s Club. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1824; Weymouth, the Great Storm (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1877; Weymouths shipping trade (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1873; The battle for Greenhill gardens;2013. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1879; Tragedy at the George Inn, Weymouth. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1895 Wheeling and dealing …….. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)