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A Memorable Day at Burton Constable

An account by Enderby Jackson of Hull recalling the events of the first Brass Band Contest in July 1845
This article originally appeared in the "Musical Opinion and Music Trade Review", October 1896.

My acquaintance with the primary details attendant upon a competition of brass bands was gained in the year 1845, at a rural Magdalen Feast in the Deer Park of the heavily wooded grounds of Burton Constable (some eight miles distant from Hull), in assistance of charitable purposes, under the auspices of Sir Clifford and Lady Constable, Lord Beauclerc, the Ladies Chichester, the Tichbornes, and other visiting families of noble birth, who enjoyed the noted freedom and pleasure of that well know gay and hospitable barony.

Medieval games, falconry, archery, assaults at arms, and athletics, with a tenantry and cottars' display of fruit and flowers, formed part of the attractions of the feast, acting as strong helpers to an outdoor excitement entirely unknown in Great Britain - "an afternoon's rivalry of brass bands". This perfect novelty on English soil was introduced by the Ladies Chichester, suitably planned from similar competitions they had witnessed in Southern France. The arrangements had been quietly progressing for some months, having been placed in the hands of Mr. George Leng (bandmaster to the barony, also leading violinist for Messrs. Ruderscroft and J. Thirlwall's Yorkshire concerts), the preliminary work being wisely entrusted to a musician well in touch with the surrounding gentry and bands.

Sir Clifford and Lady Constable empowered Mr Leng to offer as rewards twelve pounds and eight pounds to the two best bands visiting and competing at the feast; also promising that, if more than two bands contested, a purse of money should be gathered from the noble guests visiting at the ball for distribution amongst the non-winning bands. Mr Leng, strenuous in his work, obtained several promises of band attendances from quite unexpected quarters; in the meantime, keeping close his own counsel of the several localities from whence the attendant bands would come. Yet sufficient gossip to create great excitement oozed out from other quarters that Burton Constable would on the feast day witness a sharp musical competition; particularly as the number of players being restricted not to exceed twelve instruments in any one band (drums not allowed), great facilities were afforded for the best players of different districts being joined together, not only ensuring good bands, but a tolerable certainty of ambitious attendance at the gay and festive barony.

Then it was the fashion of the times for noblemen of spirit to have their own bandmasters, usually selecting one well versed in stringed instruments; but in the past few years, owing to the introduction of brass instruments, a knowledge in these was also deemed essential to form an efficient bandmaster. This fact, coupled with the high reputation of Burton Constable, greatly assisted the Chichester Magdalen Feast in obtaining the attendance of bands otherwise almost unobtainable on account of the incidental attendant expenses and possible loss of band prestige.

Early on the morning of the feast, Mr G. Leng and his select Burton Constable quadrille band of violins, harp, violoncello, flute (myself), and clarionet drove from Hull. However our services were not required until after the brass bands in attendance had finished the event of the day - the outdoor friendly competition; when our duties were required in the grand banqueting hall to accompany a series of showy pageants and pictures by the house visitors in costumes illustrating historical events for the gratification of the numerous tenantry cottars and friends of the barony. When this was concluded and the outdoor sports had terminated, the parting bell was rung and the park gates closed our musical services were again required (after a suitable refreshing and dressing interval) to play dance music to one of the grand mythological costume balls , for which Burton Constable in certain circles was as famed as Eglintoun for its gorgeous tournaments.

In the brilliant morn the drooping foliage glittered in ever changing colours, as gentle zephyrs undulated their light tremulous holdings, around the platform reared for the use of the bands, heavily draped with scarlet cloth and wreathed around with French silken streamers. On one side of the platform was placed a small tent, red striped, for the comfort of the chosen judge; and further removed was a large marquee for the tenant and cottar's exhibits, which were tastefully arranged within in groups forming banks of flowers and grots of fruit, palms, wild flowers and vegetables, proving the artistic skill of the resident landscape gardener. Archery grounds were placed on select velvety lawns, at other times kept strictly private, but now ornamented with striped marquees of varied suitable colours for the respective class distances of the hopeful competitors.

In adjacent parts of the park highly decorated maypoles were erected for the recreation of the assembled visitors; their brilliant gold, silver and silken bands, with delicate streamers and quivering flags fluttering and sporting in the light airy currents were a sight worth remembering. The country dance courses for Sir Roger de Coverley and sites for the "kissing rings" were marked out, and happy red faced local countryside fiddlers, with their well worn green baize bags encasing their cherished heirloom violins, accompanied by a couple of English drone pipers, were already waiting in the park when we arrived in our waggonette.

At eleven a.m. the ponderous gates of the Deer Park were thrown open; broad charity sheets duly suspended near the entrance columns, also in other parts of the grounds. Visitors of all ages and conditions of life - on foot and horseback, in gigs, carriages, dogcarts, waggonettes and farmer's waggons - were all equally welcome and admitted. Pleasure seekers from Patrington were among the first to gather up in force, headed by their local brass band, consisting of three cornopeans, two keyed bugles, one trumpet, two trombones, one ophicleide and three serpents, led by James Dalton. They lustily pealed out, aided vocally by their admiring followers "The Fine Old English Gentleman". Mr Leng met the band at the terminus of the magnificent entrance avenue formed of lime, chestnut, sycamore, and cedar trees, and delegated me and our cello player (W. Retalic) to escort them to the private refreshment tent.

Distant music and cheers announced a second arrival. Quickly dashing up the grand avenue post haste in a four horse waggonette, with colours flying, came Holmes Hull Tannery Brass Band, led by the best local player (Mr. Tom Martin), boldly pealing out "Lützow's Wild Hunt". Cheer after cheer accompanied them to the refreshment tent, the hope of victory beaming in their sparkling eyes. Again martial strains are heard, and all turn to see steadily prancing up the avenue in a large light van belonging to the company, richly decorated with coloured mill trimmings, the newly formed Hull Flax and Cotton Mills Band, playing "The Dashing White Sergeant", under the experienced lead of James Bean.

Anxious enquiries were now frequent on every side. "Have all the expected bands arrived?" "Who'll win?" "Who's to judge?" Distant horns once more advancing increased the growing excitement. "What band is it?" "Where are they from?" All the hubbub when, dashing into the park, comes a four-in-hand coach in full May day panoply of sixty years ago. Each horse is decorated with rosettes and long streamers of narrow various coloured ribbons attached to its head gear and neck; the gorgeous portly driver with red beaming face, attired in crimson coat and gold corded hat, and long whip streaming with ribbons, completed the resemblance. Small flags and rosettes peeped from every projecting portion of the coach, partly concealing the happy musical occupants, whose highly polished brass instruments gleamed as gold amidst the bedecking ribbons. The occupants earnestly blow out "Forester, sound the cheerful horn", and the gathering crowd cheer and shout. "Why it's one of ould squire's coaches fra Sledmere!" "It's Sir Tatton's lot fra Malton and Driffield!" "Ah, sure! and that Jim Walker fra York that's leading em! My word on't; they'll prove a tough lot to beat!"

Mr. Leng personally met them, cordially shaking hands with Mr. Walker, a gentleman personally well known to all our band, he often coming from York to play with us at district and county balls. While yet the two friends were in conversation, fresh sounds were heard, and another rush was made to the avenue, where, cheerily playing the popular melody "With a helmet on his brow", Lord Yarborough's Brockelsby Yeomanry Band, led by J.C. Acey (the young musical genius of Kirkella), made their unexpected appearance. The waggonette and horses were showily decorated in keeping with their brilliant uniforms. Hearty cheers, loudly prolonged, welcomed them, keeping up until Mr. Leng made his appearance on the platform and announced that, the promised bands having all arrived, the competition would commence at half past one prompt, and that falconry, quarterstaff, and sack racing would until then engage the attention, so giving time for the five attendant bands to refresh, draw lots for the order of playing, and otherwise prepare themselves to contest the Lady Chichester's French novelty. After the competition, the declaration of the result would immediately be made known, and be followed on the platform by assaults at arms, and on the lawns by feats of archery for the Constable Silver Arrow, the feast terminating with champétre dancing to joyous music by the victorious bands. After this oratorical effort, the bandsmen were taken to the archery marquée, where Lady Clifford Constable, surrounded by the guests of the mansion, rose to meet them, cordially thanking them for their welcome attendance, dwelling at some length on the benefits that must accrue to music and also to musical homes if similar meetings were arranged in other parts of musical Yorkshire. Finally, her ladyship requested each of the bands to strive hard to obtain one of the honourable winning places; yet, as three aspirants, however excellent, must remain unplaced, a solacing purse would be gathered by friends present for division - to soften the expenses of the non-winners - at the discretion of the musical judge, Mr. Richard Hall (organist of St. Charles, Hull), who had been carefully selected by the Ladies Chichester. Mr. James Dalton returned thanks to her ladyship and guests for their liberality in music's cause on behalf of the bands, who gave three cheers for the ladies, and lots were at once drawn for the order of playing.

The first brass band to mount a contesting platform in Yorkshire was the Brockelsby Yeomanry Band, formed of four cornopeans, two Sax tenors, three trombones, one Sax bass, and two ophicleides. They chose as their competitive piece of music a selection from the works of Sir Henry Bishop, consisting of "Should he upbraid", "Mynheer van Dunk", &c. That the performance of this band gave enjoyment to the assemblage was distinctly proved by the applause which greeted them as they re-entered the park from the platform.

Their place was taken by Holmes Tannery Band, with a similar instrumental formation; excepting that the leader played a Sax's recent cornet-à-piston, as introduced by the Distin family in their last 1844 tour. This band's musical choice was a wise one, being a selection from Mozart's Twelfth Mass. Rapturous cheers, not unmingled with religious party zeal, greeted their really excellent playing of this very grand music.

The Hull Flax and Cotton Mills Brass Band (led by Mr. James Bean, also on a Sax cornet-à-piston) was the third band seeking honours on the platform. The instruments of this band unfortunately were not equal to those of the two preceding them; and, although they played "Hail, smiling morn" fairly well, their best efforts fell flat on the assembled crowds, and they left the platform with but few hands in their favour.

The fourth band to ascend the rostrum was entered as the Wold Brass Band, led by Mr. James Walker of York, who played upon a D flat soprano cornet. This band contained one Sax cornet-à-piston, two cornopeans, two valved French horns, three trombones, one ophicleide, with one solo valved bass, and one valved tuba, both made (as was also the soprano) by the rising musical instrument maker of Yorkshire, Mr. Wigglesworth of Otley. The music selected by this band, from Rossini's "Barber of Seville", was specially arranged to show the artistic skill of each member of the band, enthusiastic shouts of pleasure, mixed uncanny with the delightful airy playing of the band, a new school of playing was being introduced, and on conclusion of the piece tremendous cheers followed their retirement from the platform.

The Patrington Band, as fifth and last competitor, next occupied the attention of the judge by a small pot pourrie of country airs. Unfortunately their instruments were perverse, as well as imperfect, and caused their well meant efforts to pass totally unregarded by their friends and the populace. After they quietly vacated, Mr. G. Leng appeared and stated that the judge wished to hear the second and fourth bands play again. The second band this time to play a sacred piece, thus enabling him to accurately determine each band's respective and combined excellence.

After a short interval the second band, amidst loud applause, resumed their place upon the platform. The conductor raised his arm and the band commenced pp. the Prayer from Weber's "Der Frieschütz", followed by a spirited selection from the same opera, full of fire and brilliancy. The spectators seemed assured that this band would easily win first place, and loudly gave free scope to their belief; but the Woldsmen smiled cheerily, not at all discouraged at the hostile demonstration.

Without delay the fourth band remounted the platform, and calmed the hubbub with the fine style of playing the well-known introductory strain of the chorus so dear to every Yorkshireman, Handel's sublime "Hallelujah Chorus!" "Uncover!, Uncover! Hats off!" resounded on all sides; and in bare headed reverence the assembled rustics listened motionless to the finest performance they had ever heard of their deeply loved chorus. The expression of feeling evinced on the band leaving the stand can only be understood by musical enthusiasts.

After a short pause, Mr. G. Leng accompanied Mr. Richard Hall, who announced his decision of the result of the playing - vz., that the Wolds Brass Band (the fourth) was the winner of the first prize of twelve pounds; and the Holmes Tannery (the second) was the winner of the second prize of eight pounds. Escorted by Lord Beauclerc, the Ladies Chichester ascended the dais and presented the prizes to the two winning bands, with an extra purse of sixteen pounds to be divided five pounds to each of the three non-winning bands, and the odd sovereign to be given to the judge. Thus terminated the Chichester Brass Band Contest in 1845.

The bands dispersed, playing on the lawns; and the coloured fiddler, Fred Freedee assured Mr. Leng that he (Freedee) would uphold the dignity of the profession by his grand rendering of "Haste to the wedding", "Garry Owen", and "Sir Roger" (aided by his drone players) in the rustic dances, and he triumphantly shook his old fiddle bag of many colours in proof. We in our turn adjourned to the hall to play for the pageant and the mythological ball.

Over fifty years have passed away since that inaugural Chichester contest. The grass grows green over all I can call to remembrance as taking an active part therein, and one voice alone remains to reawaken echoes fading into the solitudes of glimmering space.