The 1859 Volunteer Force and the Funding of Local Brass Bands


Bacup Old Band, most likely taken 1853.
Bacup Old Band, most likely taken 1853.

Oldham Rifle's Band c.1922

The 1859 Volunteer Force was essential in supporting many local bands. Yet, did bandsmen subscribe to the aims of the Volunteer Force, or, were they using it to further their own social and musical aims?

The 1859 Volunteer Force began in response to a circular letter sent in May 1859 from the Secretary of State for War to the Lord Lieutenants of all counties in response to a perceived military threat from France.[1] By the 1870s it was estimated that the volunteer movement involved eight-per cent of the male population.[2] The volunteers were joined with the formal military by the War Office, but their regular displays of ill-disciplined and amateurish behaviour were the cause of some concern. The force, however, attracted much popular admiration, mainly because it was viewed as a ‘rational recreation’; it was never called into action but its activities were ubiquitous throughout the areas where bands were popular.[3]

The main beneficiaries of the movement were many amateur brass bands, which had already been formed and volunteered en bloc motivated by practical and self-interested reasons.[4] Bands were seen as desirable, and, for many, an essential part of the volunteer movement. At annual reviews, and other special events, they afforded a sense of occasion together with a practical use at drills.[5]

From the 1860s contest reports confirm the number of bands which carried the name of volunteer corps.[6] Many of the volunteer bands from the West Riding of Yorkshire, for example, began life as amateur brass bands. Thus Bramley Band combined their contesting and concert activities in the 1860s and 1870s by providing music at volunteer functions under the title of the Prince of Wale’s Own Yorkshire Hussars Regimental Band.[7] Likewise, in the 1870s, Bowling Green Brass Band became the Third West Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers Band and Eccleshill Band became the Eccleshill Rifles.[8]

Apart from volunteer bands started from scratch, the performance standard of the volunteer band relied upon the instrumental skill of its fore-runner, but whatever the instrumental ability there was opportunity for improvement.[9] This was due to the funding available for these bands, for the purchase and repair of instruments, the purchase of music and uniforms and, in addition, rehearsal spaces were readily available in the form of drill halls. It also became possible to appoint an experienced conductor.[10] The government did not make provision for the funding of bands through the War Office. It was obvious, however, that moneys paid in the ‘capitation grant’, the official mechanism for government funding, were being appropriated to pay for bands, and the issue of volunteer banding soon became controversial.[11]

In 1862, a Royal Commission which had been established to ‘enquire into the condition of the volunteer force in Britain’ submitted its report and the cost of bands was one of its chief concerns.[12] In questioning Viscount Enfield, a former, subsequently, honorary, Colonel of a former (unnamed) volunteer battalion, the commissioners highlighted that ‘the volunteer principle in organisation is this, that so long as they provide for their own expenditure they are entitled to exercise the most discretion as to [how the money is spent].’[13] Enfield, however, while largely accepting that point, evidently spoke from bitter experience that the main drain upon his regimental fund had been the band – or rather, two bands, since despite his best efforts ‘to induce them to be content with one band [… they] would say that unless they had the advantage of two bands to accompany them when they marched out the regiment would probably not attend.’[14] When Captain Alexander Ewens, adjutant of the City of London Rifle Brigade, was examined he made known to the commissioners that the band cost £600 a year, a fact ‘which has lately come to the knowledge of the public through the newspapers.’[15] The evidence of other officers revealed that the more typical cost of a band ranged between around £100 and £300 a year, with the very modest bands costing about £60 a year. Significantly, the testimonies show that the costs were borne not only at the insistence of the officers but also the men.[16]

Financial scrutiny of bands’ expenses continued in 1878, when Lord Bury chaired a Departmental Committee Report on the Volunteer Force of Great Britain.[17] All volunteer corps in the country were supplied with a questionnaire and asked to supply details of their expenditure from 1873 to 1877 under various headings. Of the 278 returned questionnaires only a handful admitted that they supported bands, though there was at this time no formal device to fund bands from volunteer finances.[18] As Herbert has written, ‘it was in the interests of the respondents to understate their expenditure on bands, and it is certain that estimates under this heading were artificially low.’[19] As with the 1862 Royal Commission the Bury Report revealed that the support of the band was a major financial burden. Lieutenant Colonel J. A. Thompson of the 1st Fifeshire Light Horse VC was challenged that ‘Your band cost you 10s. a man: that is a heavy item to come out of the capitation grant: it was £62 last year for 119 men-that takes up the whole equipment fund […] it runs away with your capitation money.’ To this, Thompson replied: ‘Yes it does.’[20] Captain and Adjutant Ball of the 1st Middlesex Engineer Volunteer Corps admitted to average annual expenses of £280 on the band. When asked for details of these expenses, Ball replied:

[…] we pay a bandmaster. That expenditure will be lower in the future. We have a new system. We give the bandmaster £12 a year and he provides instruments, clothing and everything for the band. We enrol any men he likes and we give him the capitation grant for those men. If he has 30 men he can draw the capitation allowance.[21]

Major Sloan of the 4th Lancashire RVC declared an expenditure of £105, and further pleaded that the band ‘should be exempt from firing as the buglers are. Their attendance as bandsmen qualifies them for efficiency as far as drill is concerned.’ He recommended no substitute duties: ‘We have as good a band as we can get […] but they look upon firing as a heavy task […] to keep up a good band is one of our difficulties and a good band is necessary in order to get recruits.’[22]

It was clear that many saw a good band being of value to the corps. Nevertheless, issues of funding and discipline remained a matter of contention. Ralph H. Knox, deputy accountant general at the War Office, who was also lieutenant in the 2nd Middlesex RVC, cited bands, together with extra pay to permanent staff, and county associations, as one of the principal causes for excess expenditure on volunteer corps.[23] J.R.A. MacDonnal, the editor of the Volunteer Services Gazette, argued that the cost of bands should be borne solely by commanding officers.[24] Lord Bury concluded: ‘No allowance for bands is made in the disembodied period for any branch of the auxiliary forces, any expense under this head being defrayed by private subscription. The Committee can not advocate any allowance under this head.’[25] In 1887 the Harris Departmental Committee was sympathetic to the problems of recruiting officers because of the costs incurred by ‘balls, bands refreshments and so on’, and noting the recent changes in the funding of regular army bands, recommended that 7.5 per cent of the capitation grant be made for the funding of bands.[26]

Russell suggests that some bandsmen would have enjoyed the extra recreational activities offered by the volunteers, such as the opportunity to go on annual camps and, most notably, rifle-shooting.[27] Newsome noted that the number of concerts and engagements increased as a result of being in a volunteer band.[28] This extra exposure and display most likely meant that bands benefited from the respectable and patriotic associations of volunteering.[29]

The movement had its most potent influence on the material needs of banding. Many bands that were not formed by the volunteers were saved or revitalised by it. The Bacup Band, after breakdown and amalgamation, were reconstituted in 1859 as the 4th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers. The Oldham Band, formed in 1865, became the Oldham Rifles in 1871.[30]It is in this revitalising light that volunteer bands should be viewed. Michael J. Lomas has suggested that volunteer bandsmen were using the bands to create amusement for themselves over any respectable and patriotic associations of playing in a volunteer band. [31] It was noted that volunteer bandsmen had problems adhering to standards of discipline expected in the military. In 1868 ‘A Commissioned Officer of Volunteers’ wrote to the Volunteer Service Gazette, claiming the behaviour of volunteer bandsmen brought the force into disrepute. He complained that bandsmen were ‘notorious for straggling away from their corps and, feeling themselves under no sort of constraint and acknowledging no authority whatever’.[32] The same correspondent claimed he had seen bandsmen on a train who were too drunk to stand; challenging other passengers to a fight; trying to avoid paying the fare and swearing in the company of women.[33]

In this light it can be argued that volunteer bands had used the movement for their own practical and convenient advantage, a secure way of obtaining funds and stabilising the band, disregarding, mocking and even usurping authority because of their own self-interest. The rational recreation ethos in the 1859 Volunteer Movement created an arena where bands could prosper and working-class bandsmen exploited this situation to advance their own music-making.

 

[1] Trevor Herbert and Helen Barlow, ‘The British Military as a Musical Institution’ in Paul Rodmell (Ed.), Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Music and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Abingdon, 2012), p. 252.

[2] Dave Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914: A Study of the Relationships Between Music and Society (PhD Thesis, University of York, 1979), p. 251.

[3] Herbert and Barlow, ‘The British Military as a Musical Institution’, p. 252.

[4] Herbert and Barlow, ‘The British Military as a Musical Institution’, p. 252.

[5] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 37.

[6] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p, 36.

[7] Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914, p. 252.

[8] Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914, p. 252.

[9] Roy Newsome, The Nineteenth Century Brass Band in Northern England, Musical and Social Factors in the Development of A Major Amateur Musical Medium (PhD Thesis, Salford University, 1990), p. 124.

[10] Newsome, The Nineteenth Century Brass Band in Northern England, p. 125.

[11] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement, p. 37.

[12] Herbert and Barlow, ‘The British Military as a Musical Institution’, p. 252.

[13] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, ‘Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Condition of the Volunteer Force in Great Britain’, 1862 [3053] paragraphs 761-769, cited in, Herbert and Barlow, ‘The British Military as a Musical Institution’, p. 253.

[14] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, p. 253.

[15] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1364-1382.

[16] Herbert and Barlow, ‘The British Military as a Musical Institution’, p. 253.

[17] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1878-1879 ‘Report of the Bury Departmental Committee’ [c.2235] l xv.181, cited in, Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 40.

[18] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 40.

[19] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 40.

[20] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1878-1879, 1216 ff, cited in, Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 40.

[21] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1878-1879, 1216 ff, cited in, Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 40.

[22] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1878-1879, 2550, cited in, Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 40.

[23] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 42.

[24] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 42.

[25] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers,1878-1879, ‘Bury Report’, p. xviii, cited in Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 42.

[26] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1887, ‘Report of the Volunteer Capitation Committee’ [c.4951] xvi. 271, cited in, Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 42.

[27] Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914, p. 252.

[28] Newsome, The Nineteenth Century Brass Band in Northern England, p. 124.

[29] Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 42.

[30] Arthur Taylor, Brass Bands (St Albans and London, 1979), p. 50, cited in Herbert, ‘Making a Movement’, p. 42.

[31] Michael. J. Lomas, Amateur Brass and Wind Bands in Southern England Between the Late Eighteenth Century and circa 1900 (PhD Thesis, The Open University, 1990), p. 73.

[32] Volunteer Service Gazette (25 July, 1868), cited in, Lomas, Amateur Brass and Wind Bands in Southern England, p. 572.

[33] Volunteer Service Gazette (25 July, 1868).

[34] Herbert, ‘God’s Perfect Minstrels’, p. 194.

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