Weymouth’s Victorian bandstands.

As teenagers 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.

At 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.

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I got me to thinking about how sad it was that Weymouth no longer had a proper pier to its name, and how town bands seem to be no longer the popular free entertainment that they used to be in a typical seaside resort.

What happened to all the live music that used to brighten the world of the Victorians right up through to my childhood days?

During the Victorian era the 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 our promenade and in the gardens.

Every one gone now!

One was placed in the newly developed Greenhill gardens which was opened to the public in the late 1870’s.

Another was placed 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 the 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 the military bands that were stationed in Weymouth at the time. some of these were conducted by extremely talented musicians who would write pieces especially for their public performances.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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 getting a town band, and it wasn’t always the 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 band stand of course soon went out of use, the town wanted an all weather venue for the bands, so a clever, supposedly cost cutting, scheme was put in place, the original bandstand was covered in, making it into a veritable glass house.

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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 a new, bigger concert hall built.

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..

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Once again, this was a popular tourist destination as it had been for centuries.

This was when the locals and tourists had to share the grounds of what was was essentially a  military space with the stationed soldiers up on the Nothe fort and Red Barracks.

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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.

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You can just make out the bandstand at the end.

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 it became too decayed to use any more, the beautiful old pier itself followed not long behind.

So here we are, 2014, in an era when everyone seems to becoming more aware of its past heritage, and fighting to preserve its special places from the past, and seaside Weymouth does not have a single bandstand to its name!

But at least we do still have a town band.

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Playing during the 2012 Sailing Olympics at Weymouth town bridge.

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

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Easter at Weymouth in 1896

Weymouth is basically a tradition bucket and spade seaside town, that is how we began our rise as a resort in Georgian times, and so it has been ever since!

The town council has the task of helping to promote the town, as it always has done, but as the recession has hit, they have had to juggle ever decreasing finances, and make unpopular decisions which meant they had to axe certain events in the resort due to lack of finances.

None of this is new…even way back during the Victorian era, the council had to juggle their finances, while still attracting tourists and keeping the locals happy.

The resident military and naval companies were often first port of call for the towns entertainment, they provided bands to play in the resort, put on theatrical shows to help raise funds for local charities.

In April of 1896 it was the first Bank holiday of the year, and the start of the tourist season.

Walter Robert Wallis was the secretary for the Town’s Amusement Committee, as the name suggests it was their focus to organise and arrange any events in the town. (He has already cropped up in another story about pugilistic councillors on here, he certainly was a character)

Originally there was supposed to have been a sham fight arranged for that weekend between the military in the area and the navy, a great crowd puller for the resort. However at the last moment plans were changed and  the military had to pull out . On hearing this the town current Mayor, T. H. Williams contacted the Vice-Admiral, Lord Walter Kerr of the Fleet, asking  if they could provide some other form of entertainment for the town instead. Kerr agreed to supply a band to give performances in the Alexandra gardens, and for his men to partake in the Regatta that was already organised.

The weather was set fine for the Easter holiday, sunny, if not on the fresh side, but this didn’t stop the tourists and day trippers flooding into the seaside town. Tourist numbers were up this year!…as normally happens with good weather, which of course, it still does today, forecasters predict sunny weather, and everyone and their aunts heads for the coast!

Special train excursions laid on to Weymouth poured in from all directions, Bristol, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Yeovil, trains run by the Great Wetern Railway, while the South-Western brought passengers in from places such as Plymouth. Thousands of excited, eager  adults and children disgorged from the station and streamed up through King Street and onto the seafront , some heading straight for the beach, where they could paddle in the shallow waters of the bay, or even swim from the bathing machines if they were feeling brave enough.

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Others took the opportunity to stroll along the esplanade, some towards the harbour, others went in the oposite direction, away from the busy throng.

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The local boatmen were reported as to having a very busy start to their season.

Walter Wallis had been tirelessly working behind the scenes in the meanwhile, organising Monday’s Regatta with the help of the Navy. He had helped to collect private subscriptions from local people of standing, and due to his persistance had managed to collect a total of £60 in prize money for the contestants.

Bank holiday Monday dawned fine and bright. Perfect conditions for the Channel Fleet Regatta, and perfect for drawing more tourists to the town to watch the antics. Under the stern eye of Commander Williams of H.M.S. Resolution, the racing began out in the calm bay. A variety of the ships men competed for the prize money and the honour of winning in their class. There was six oared gigs racing, marines in cutters, five oared whalers, stokers in cutters, pinnaces, double banked….they had certainly laid on plenty of exciting entertainment for locals and tourists alike.

Later, in the evening, the boys from local H.M.S. Boscowen entertained the crowds on the pier with their musical prowess. Further along, in the Alexandra gardens, the massed band of the Fleet performed before a packed audience. It was reckoned that between 2-3,000 people attended in this little space, no doubt may more watched and listened from outside the low walls, reluctant, or unable to pay the admission fee. Their rousing performance had raised a grand sum of £20.1s 8d, this would go towards the Garden committee’s funds, a good start to their season!

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Their evening was brought to a close with the playing of the National Anthem, and due thanks given to the men of the Fleet and the Town Mayor and councillors for the work that had gone into the event. The bandsmen were then taken to the Crown hotel in town where they were treated to a slap up meal.

The Weymouth holiday season of 1896 was off to a bang.

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

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