Friendship through music is key to The City of Oxford Silver Band’s longevity

Caroline Dalton, librarian with The City of Oxford Silver Band, with old instruments and sheet music belonging to the group. Picture: OX67846 Antony Moore

Caroline Dalton, librarian with The City of Oxford Silver Band, with old instruments and sheet music belonging to the group. Picture: OX67846 Antony Moore Buy this photo

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering North Oxford, Jericho and Summertown. Call me on 01865 425498

THE City of Oxford Silver Band has a history that stretches back more than 125 years.

But since its beginnings, the Cowley-based group has grown to be able to provide free music schooling to beginners and performs at musical events across the county.

And members have even recently discovered where part of their unusual name comes from.

Like many other bands, the family that started it could not have guessed how long it would last.

Group librarian Caroline Dalton, who joined five years ago, said its origins date back as early as the 1880s.

“A key function of the band back then was to raise money for local causes like hospitals because it was before the beginning of the National Health Service,” she said.

“There would be parades in the streets and people would be encouraged to make donations.

“Bands were much more engaged with their communities back then.”

It has also, during its lifespan, accumulated an impressive collection of unusual musical sheets.

Ms Dalton said: “You would not believe what you can find in there (the band’s archive). There are obscure brass band arrangements and operas which have long been forgotten.”

The group was formed in 1887 as the Headington Brass Band, by A J Taylor and his three sons, John, Dan and Fred. They got together with other men to play at a series of village fetes in Oxfordshire, including Standlake, Stanton Harcourt and Garsington.

But it was in 1914, months before the outbreak of the First World War, that they decided to buy a set of silver-plated instruments. The cost has been lost in the mists of time, but an Oxford Mail report from 1962 notes: “The period of the First World War was one steady grind to pay back the debt”. The collection of instruments have not survived but the silver-plated conductor’s baton is still kept by the band, discovered in the group’s archive this year.

After the war many of the band’s members returned from service in the Armed Forces and set about to start repaying the debt with a concert in Headington’s Manor Park.

It also began its long tradition of teaching youngsters, when bandmaster W Miller joined with the aim of bolstering its membership.

This was a success and, following the introduction of professional coaches and more new instruments, the band had a number of contest victories and its name was changed to the Headington Silver Band.

It was a time before radio or television and concerts were popular, particularly at the Palace Cinema, in Cowley Road. In the early 1920s, queues could be seen outside the venue on performance nights, which often boasted a full house.

A night at the Town Hall, Oxford, even saw hundreds turned away because it was so packed.

Oxford Mail:

  • Monty Bowen, pictured in 1923 holding the band’s original baton

In 1929 uniforms were purchased and then, in 1930, the band gave what was at the time regarded to be its best performance at the Belle Vue contest, Manchester, attaining second place.

A turbulent decade in the 1930s was followed by the Second World War and in 1940 the band was forced to temporarily close when its numbers were called up.

But they reformed in 1946 and, under the leadership of Cyril Challis from 1949, began training youngsters again. In 1952 the group took its current name – the City of Oxford Silver Band.

By 1957 they had taken their first tour abroad, to Holland, the first of many. Members would in later years visit France and West Germany in 1973, when Heinrich Walter, band leader of Nordlingen’s brass band in Germany, composed The City of Oxford Silver Band March for the visitors. The piece remains in the band’s set lists to this day.

However, even as they approached their 75th anniversary in 1962, they were yet to find a permanent home.

Since their establishment they had practised in the Field Schools, London Road, the “Britannia Clubroom”, a hut at the Wingfield Hospital, the “Cape of Good Hope”, the Magdalen Arms, the Carpenters Arms and Cowley Community Centre. For much of that time they used a large hut, which they could dismantle and move, which had originally been built for Milham Ford Girls’ School.

Oxford Mail:

  • Band members dismantling a large hut which was to be re-built as a band room in Cowley in 1957

But in 1964 the years of wandering came to an end, with the start of a fundraising campaign to build a permanent home in 1964. It took them two years and £7,115 – about £115,600 in today’s money – but the hall was completed in October 1966 in Temple Road, Temple Cowley.

Since then the band has been a mainstay in Oxford, performing charity Christmas concerts, fundraising for its own projects at fetes, and it has recently qualified for the finals of the National Brass Band Championships in Cheltenham in September.

But the longest running philosophy of the group has been the training of new members, which has continued through to the present day, said baritone player and former band manager Kate Banks.

“It’s a very inclusive band,” she said. “And we’re represented by a very wide range of ages. We always welcome new players.”

There are three bands, divided into the beginners’ group, the training group and the senior group.

Ms Banks, from Littlemore, said: “The beginners band is open to anyone and we can provide instruments and training for free.

“Our training band gets involved by doing a lot of fundraising and our senior players take part in the national championships. It’s a self-perpetuating process.

“We have some people who have been with us for a long time and there have been some great memories.

“For me, playing at Oxford’s Town Hall last Christmas was magical, because we weren’t sure if we would get a conductor. We did in the end, though, and he was very good. It ended up being a fantastic concert.”

The band is also set to carry out renovations to its hall in August, which will see new sound-proofed rehearsal rooms added so its bands can practise at the same time.

For Ms Banks though, watching the band’s numbers and skill grow has been most rewarding. She said: “Our mantra is ‘friendship through music’ and that is a really big part of why we are going from strength to strength.”

TIMELINE

  • 1887 – Group formed by Taylor family and friends

Oxford Mail:

  • A group picture of the band members taken in 1923
  • 1914 – The silver-plated instruments are purchased
  • 1923 – Band wins the first Oxford and District Brass Band Association contest at Kirtlington Park, temporarily renaming itself the Headington Silver Prize Band
  • 1940 – Members temporarily fold the group after being called up during the Second World War
  • 1952 – Band renamed The City of Oxford Silver Band
  • 1957 – First overseas tour, in Holland

Oxford Mail:

  • Above, the band playing in Cowley in 1963
  • 1966 – Permanent home, and current headquarters, is built in Temple Cowley after a two-year fundraising campaign
  • 1973 – Heinrich Walter, of Nordlingen in Germany, composes The City of Oxford Silver Band March

Oxford Mail:

  • Above, the band in their new uniforms in 1976
  • 1987 – The band celebrates its 100th anniversary, with a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre
  • 2011 – The band plays at the 10th anniversary of Prime Minister David Cameron becoming MP for Witney.
  • 2012 – The band celebrated its 125th anniversary
  • 2014 – Members find some of the original silver-plated instruments bought in 1914. New renovations are planned for the band hall

A SUCCESS IN COMPETITIONS

  • The City of Oxford Silver Band has been entering brass band competitions since 1922
  • In that time it has won 33 times, been runner-up 54 times and finished third 33 times
  • The band won the London and Southern Counties second section of the National Brass Band Championships in 1987, its centenary year, came third in the first section in 1994 and won eight different trophies in five months in 1997
  • The last two competitions in which it won its sections were the London and the Southern Counties Championship in the National Brass Band Championships in 1997 and the Southern Counties Amateur Bands Association Championship in 1997.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

DO you know any of the youngsters in these pictures, below, from band days past? Maybe one of them is you. Did you continue with your musical ambitions? What are you doing now? Call Matt Oliver on 01865 425498.

BRASS ACT: These friends, below, enjoyed some success in 1980. Sisters Marilyn and Elaine Wolff, and Alison Webb, prepared for a busy week at a summer course run by the National Youth Brass band near Rugby.

Oxford Mail:

The City of Oxford Silver Band members were all looking to pursue a career in music. Alison, 16, of South Avenue, Abingdon, played the flugel horn. Marilyn, 18, and Elaine, 17, of Divinity Road, Oxford were inspired to take on brass instruments by their father Frank. Marilyn played the tenor horn, while her younger sister played the cornet and they both took up their instruments at the age of four.

Oxford Mail:

  • Above: Emma Lewis, eight, with a trophy in February 1992

Oxford Mail:

  • Above: James Lewis, aged seven, with his tenor horn in June 1992

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