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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1871; Down through history in Weymouth town, The Old Rectory.

You can find many fascinating facts about the old buildings of your home town if you do a little digging.

Such was the case with one of Weymouth’s attractions (well…as I knew it in my time anyway)

This building has had a chequered history.

In 1887 a plot in the centre of town was cleared to build the new Jubilee Hall, this great Victorian edifice was designed to be able to comfortably seat 2,000-3,000 people within its walls.

Problems dogged this beautifully ornate building right from its very beginning.

Ultimately, as a theatre, it didn’t work well.

The space inside was vast, but as for the comfort of their patrons, it was extremely cold and draughty.

Even the sound acoustics left a lot to be desired.

Despite this, the building was well used by the surrounding community over the years, it housed many a boisterous public gathering and closed shop meetings such as the Trades Union Congress.

When the Fleet arrived in town, they too were welcomed within its doors. In February of 1896, St Thomas Street was all abustle with Jolly Jack Tars, “On Sunday the men of the Fleet had the corridor of the Jubilee Hall Weymouth placed at their disposal, through the kindness of the Women’s Temperance Association, and a considerable number took advantage of the privilege. Writing materials, periodicals, & co., were placed at their disposal, and refreshments were supplied.”

It’s finely decorated rooms were also used to hold somewhat more grim proceedings, looking into the bodies of men, a place where a jury of local fine upstanding men filed into their seats, put before them many harrowing details of some poor souls sudden demise, a destination for many an inquests into local accidents and death.

September of 1899 and the Halls walls echoed with the gloomy and gory tale of the  death of naval stoker John Gibbons, the gruesome facts were laid before the jury.“the whole of the train, with the exception of one wagon, had passed over the deceased’s body.”

In 1909 it became one of the first places in Weymouth to regularly show the new fangled moving pictures, by now its name had been altered to The Royal Jubilee Hall and Picture Palace.

Jubilee Hall 1917

The good, the bad, and the downright bizarre appeared on stage here.

The year 1913 and headlines appeared in papers nationwide, a strange turn of events was reported even as far afield as the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.

“THE LION WAS UNMOVED.

An unrehearsed ‘turn’ of a dramatic character marked the performance at the Jubilee Hall, Weymouth.

Towards the end of the entertainment the cage door of a performing lion was opened, and two young ladies, both popular amateur vocalists, The Misses Joan and Veronique Walker, daughters of a Weymouth doctor, entered the cage and sang a duet, ‘Tostie’s Goodbye’ one playing a cello and the other a violin accompaniment.

The audience was excited, but the vocalists were perfectly cool, while the lion evinced not the slightest interest in the music. He had completed his part of the show, and just drowsily tolerated the new ‘turn.”

1926, and it was all was changed, the inside of the vast space being altered, it became known as The Regent Theatre and Dance Hall.

The Regent 1927

The advert above is from a Weymouth guide of 1927, the old Victorian music hall had been rebranded, it was now being hailed as “The Wonder House of the West.”

Regent

A couple of years later, it became  the very first picture house in Weymouth to show talking movies.

Just after WWII, in 1951, it was time to change the name again, it became The Gaumont Cinema and Dance Hall. Times and money were hard though, and it didn’t survive long as a business, fairly soon after it’s grand reopening, it firmly closed its doors.

Next came a complete change of use for this grand old dame.

Weyrads, a local radio component manufacturer took over the space to use as their additional work premises.

But by 1959, the inside had undergone another transformation.

The old Victorian plush interior had been modernised, returning to its former use as a cinema, the only thing not changed was its name, it was still trading under the name of The Gaumont.

The year 1968 it became the Odeon cinema, this is what I remember as a child and young adult. It always seemed bizarre that you would have to walk down this strange and very long passageway  to actually reach the inner entrance, mind you, when it was raining, it certainly beat queuing outside in the rain!

By 1976 this grand old building took on her final guise, as the New Invicta, a dual purpose space, cinema and bingo hall.

The cinema lasted for barely a year before it was closed down, though the bingo hall remained until the building was finally demolished in 1989.

Even that wasn’t without its problems.

Inside the old derelict building were many of the original Jubilee Hall structures, and a fight was on to save the beautiful and historic old building from the wreckers ball.

When that failed, the iron work was removed and ‘carefully’ stored, supposedly for future use when it would be reconstructed elsewhere…but those same stunning Victorian iron works are now rusting away in a Portland quarry.

When work finally started on the demolition, an original Georgian building was discovered tucked away inside.

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© Copyright Chris Talbot and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The newly revamped building that emerged from the old shell became a public house, duly named The Rectory…..which is the original building that stood on that very spot…and very nicely brings me  at last to my Victorian tale.

(renamed yet again…this time The Clipper)

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In the start of March of 1871 a new family moved into the town of Weymouth.

Installed into the Rectory building at no 82 St Thomas Street was 50 year-old Rev Thomas Alexander Falkner, he was the new  curate for St Mary’s church over in  St Mary’s street.

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Thomas was no pauper parish priest, he originated from the  wealthy landed gentry class.

In 1852, Thomas married Elizabeth Grace Mead, and as they dutifully  moved from parish to parish, ministering to his flock,  Elizabeth played her role in which ever parish they were sent to.

During this time, their family grew in size, until in 1871, they found themselves all settling in the little seaside resort of Weymouth.

Thomas and Elizabeth had been blessed with 6 children in total, Robert Alexander (1854), Mary Grace (1856), John Mead (1858), Annie Louisa (1862), Charles Gaskell( 1864), and William Richardson (1867).

Also moving into the Rectory along side the family were their staff.

There was the all important cook, 28 year-old Harriet Churchill, and an 18 year-old housemaid, Mary Bridle.

However, virtually as soon as the family settled into their new home disaster struck.

I’m sure you can remember how disruptive and stressful it is to move house, all your possessions packed in to boxes, a thousand and one things to be done, life topsy turvy, things get rushed…so it must have been for the Falkners.

Mum Elizabeth became seriously ill, along with her children.

At first the doctors diagnosed a simple case of gastric fever…but it turned out to be far more sinister than that.

Despite the best medical care available, Elizabeth passed away after a few days, and the children remained critically ill.

They weren’t expected to survive,

Not surprisingly, Weymouth was a full of fanciful tittle-tattle, according to the press it had “cast quite a gloom over the town.” 

The said ‘town’ became a hive of gossip about this terrible state of affairs. That poor new curate losing his wife…and now more than likely to lose his entire family too.

Thankfully, the children pulled through, and slowly began to regain their health.

At least he was spared the horror of having to bury them as well as his darling wife.

Elizabeth was laid to rest in the Melcombe Regis graveyard on the 17th March 1871.Image

Despite all the rumours that circulated around town, a thorough investigation put paid to any spurious speculations into what had caused the illness, the doctors made startling discoveries within the household itself.

The young housekeeper, being rushed off her feet,  had taken water from a tank in the house instead of collecting fresh from the well nearby. She had then used that water to make the tea…in it was part of a rats tail.

After Elizabeth’s death, and when investigations into the origin of the disease were under way, the old water tank in their home became one of the sources under suspicion…in there they found the rotting, putrid body of a rat!

A couple of weeks after the heartbreaking events, Thomas received a stark reminder of his great loss.

To his door came the enumerator, he needed to fill in that years census returns form.

Thomas had to state who would be resident in his home on the night of the 2/3 April.

By then, two new names were added to the household, two new members of staff, 28 year-old Jane Shepherd, and 50 year-old Ann Hatton, both were nurses employed to take care of the slowly recovering children.

For the newly widowed Thomas, the pain must have been very raw still, having to list himself as a widower for the first time.

It was  a hard time for all the family, but like most who lost a parent or sibling, despite the grief, life simply went on.

One of those who pulled through the sad times was only 13 when he lost his mother, but despite this unhappy time in his childhood, he went on to make a name for himself, John Meade Falkner.

John Meade was enrolled as a pupil at Weymouth college and Weymouth Grammar School.

He went on and became a successful businessman and author…one of his most famous novels being Moonfleet.

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/68748051@N06/8815147305/ (fascinating old photos of the old  Jubilee Hall as it went up through the ages.)

http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/book/moonfleet-by-j-meade-falkner (download free copy of Moonfleet)

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=031-dfal&cid=-1#-1 (Falkner family papers and letters in Dorset County Archives.)

http://www.weymouthinoldpostcards.co.uk/st.%20thomas%20st.%201900 (view of St Thomas St early 1900’s)