This page is part of an archive of historical details from existing or defunct brass band websites. This is being maintained to provide a record of this information in the event of a band folding, its website disappearing or other loss of the historical record. Where possible, and appropriate, the information cached will be updated from time to time - and any corrections or updates are welcome.
During the period between the two world wars, a group of likeminded men from a small market town in the heart of Norfolk met at the local Royal British Legion Club to discuss the formation of a new private subscription brass band. The date of the meeting was 20th August 1931. The name of the proposed organisation was "The Dereham British Legion Band", the proposition being carried, a further meeting was held to elect the first serving members. A "Mr Frost of Reepham" put his name forward as the first "Bandmaster" and the committee accepting his offer, only had to find accommodation, music, uniforms and a few more players and the rest, as they say, is history!
The band seemed to take on these tasks with admirable verve, and against all the odds the first concert was played on 20th March 1932 in the Assembly Rooms in Dereham. The collection raised £2-11-7 1/2d. Despite scarcity of funds over the next few years, uniforms, practice rooms and music were all found, and a busy round of engagements ensued. The early engagements consisted of a great deal of work for the Royal British Legion, the band featuring in parades and church services (as is still the case today). A particularly interesting series of regular concerts were held at the Gressenhall Poor Law Institution, from 1934. This was essentially a workhouse, which is now a popular local museum.
The progress of the band was somewhat sharply disrupted by the sad and untimely death at forty-two years, of Mr Frost the first bandmaster. The band attended his funeral in May 1936, but did not play, out of respect. The Late First Bandmaster was honored by having his favorite hymn, "Abide with Me" played by colleagues of the Reepham Band.
The dark days of World War Two saw several band members on active service in His Majesty's forces causing considerable difficulty to the running of the band. Unfortunately three members became prisoners of war in France and Japan. Sadly, Company Sgt. Major George Hardiment was never to return, although the other servicemen were welcomed back by the events of a special "Band Week" in 1945. This consisted of several open air concerts and events within the town, to commemorate the safe return of some of the members. It also closed a difficult and traumatic chapter in the early history of the Dereham Band.
In the mid-fifties the band committee decided that it would be in the best interests of the membership to end the close association it had shared with the Royal British Legion. The membership felt that the very tight rein that the Legion wanted to maintain over financial matters might have restricted the future activities of the Dereham Band. Although the relationship was formally dissolved, the Band still performed in British Legion parades and marches, and still does to this day. The Dereham Band provides musical support for the Armistice Day service, Battle of Britain Sunday and the Festival of Remembrance concerts, including those held at Swaffham in November of each year.
Throughout the fifties and sixties the Dereham Band, (as it was now becoming known) saw yearly local and regional contesting successes as well as the usual town engagements and parades. A popular feature of those far off days was the annual "Band Rally" often held in the Winter gardens in Great Yarmouth. Several local bands, including Dereham would meet and rehearse separate pieces, as well as items which they would all play together as a "massed band" in a gala concert at the end of the rally. Parades and marches also featured from time to time. These events were very popular at the time with audiences and brass bands alike, and it was estimated that during the first half of the twentieth century there were over forty thousand brass bands in the U.K.! Although a slightly less popular form of entertainment now, in those days the brass band was a key part of British industrial and cultural heritage. Relationships flourished between factories, collieries and British Legion sections and their allied and representative brass bands. Dereham was no less a part of this, thanks to the foresight of the original band committee in 1931.
A particularly memorable and noteworthy year was 1962, when Mr Victor Bishop took the band to first place in their section in the "Daily Herald" national Contest at the Seymour Hall in London. The Dereham band first fought off regional rivals to qualify for the "final" in London, of which they became outright winners. The band also became Champion Band of East Anglia in 1965. The local East Anglian Brass Band Association Contest is an annual event, and during these years the band regularly achieved successes in either the set "test piece" or the hymn tune sections. Very often the band appeared in the winners lists of both sections.
The band developed a flourishing youth section in the seventies and eighties, which developed into a thriving youth band under the direction of Alisdair Goodall, Roy Mercer and Keith Dickenson. This in turn, prepared many of the current serving members for life in the senior band. Youth band, quartet and solo contest wins and placings followed, and the youth band enjoyed for many years a concert diary in its own right. It also regularly played with the senior band in the Christmas and spring concerts. Over the last twenty or so years, the Dereham Band has had close ties with the local schools in the area and has shared many concert engagements with them to mutual benefit. Particularly noteworthy is the association with the two larger schools in the area the Neatherd and Northgate high schools.
1981 saw the first contact with the Bergstadt Musikanten, a German town band of slightly more "continental" flavour, from the twin town of Ruthen. Our first visit was in 1982, and indeed it is arguable that the band actually started the regular visits between the twin towns some years before the official twinning society. Since that time, the Dereham Band has regularly visited our German friends, and toured and played in concerts and "Shutzenfest" marches and beer festivals. In turn, they have attended many of our concerts in this country, and we have had the pleasure of accompanying our German friends to many local (and not so local) attractions and places of interest. In this respect, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that amongst other roles, the Dereham Band members are in some ways also European ambassadors. The band visited Ruthen again in September 2006 as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations.
In 1983 the Dereham Band members became the very proud possessors of their own rehearsal room, on land provided for a "peppercorn" annual rent by Breckland District Council. This ended a great many years of uncertainty. The matter of a "permanent" rehearsal room had taxed the committee for almost as long as the band had been in existence, and whilst the Dereham Band had always managed to find somewhere to rehearse over the years the problem needed resolving. The band was very grateful in particular to Mr Tony Aldiss, who allowed a "homeless" band to rehearse in his bed store for many years. Other famous temporary bandroom highlights included the staff canteen of the Crane Fruehauf factory and the Avenue House Centre. This is now many feet under the Dereham bypass flyover, as it was demolished in the early 1980s. The minute books show that many years of arduous struggle elapsed between the granting of the site and the final opening of the present day rehearsal room at Charles Wood Road, Rash's Green. It seemed that for many years the funding and relevant planning permissions would never emerge together! Intermittent fundraising took place for many years and eventually the necessary funds were acquired to purchase a prefabricated steel framed building to erect on the site. This new band room was opened in 1983, and the band has been in residence there ever since. The building is beginning to show its age a little now, so in the future it is hoped that funding will be forthcoming to rebuild it in brick.
These days the main musical efforts are centered on our extensive concert engagement diary. Two larger scale concerts are held at Christmas and in the spring for the benefit of band funds. During all its seventy-five years the Band has remained self financing via member subscriptions, donations and engagements. The members derive no individual financial benefit from playing, as all the funds collected go towards the extremely onerous annual overheads. With small instruments such as cornets, costing well over £1000-00 and larger tubas £5500-00 each, it is easy to see where the money goes. Every year we carry out carol playing to raise money for our annual nominated local charity. This happens at evenings and weekends outside shops and supermarkets in the town. The band is pleased to contribute over a thousand pound per year to such charities as the "Macmillan Cancer Charity" and the "East Anglian Air Ambulance". The "Norfolk Accident Rescue Service" benefited by over thirteen hundred pounds as our nominated charity for 2005.