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.
The Band was founded in 1883 as the Ashton Street Mission Band. For local historians, Ashton Street has been re-named Gillam Street, after James Gillam, a well known philanthropist in Luton in the late 19th century. However, in 1890 and probably due to the restrictions laid down by the mission (the Mission Band was NOT allowed to take part in competitions), some players formed their own band. This became the Luton Red Cross Band. †
Incidentally, the 'Red Cross' referred to St.George, England's patron saint and NOT† the International Red Cross.†Legend has it that the Band were performing at a fete, when someone in the audience met with an accident. They turned to the Band for assistance.....expecting 24 fully qualified 'first-aiders'....'mmm'...I don't think so...!!!
The Ashton Street Mission relocated to the Central Mission in Midland Road, Luton, (now demolished), and the remaining members became part of the Luton Wesleyan Central Mission Band - the Bandmaster being a Mr H Cannon. There is evidence that there was still some movement of players between the Mission band and the Luton Red Cross Band, because in 1907 a Mr T Cannon is listed as our conductor in a review booklet of local bands, published in 1907. At this time, however, Angus Holden was our professional conductor - see below.
Luton is also famous (!!) for it's Hat Industry, which was particularly strong in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and at some point the Band (and Luton Town F.C.) adopted 'The Hatters' as a nickname. It is also why the promotions 'arm' of the Band is known as 'Hats Off ! 2 Promotions'†and I use a 'hat' image for the background of some pages!
By the beginning of the 20th century the band had built up quite a reputation and there was intense local rivalry with St.Albans City Band. In 1908 the Luton Band were the first Brass Band to compete abroad, at the Brussels Exhibition, they were the first Brass Band to broadcast 'live' on radio (from Alexandra Palace) and the first Brass Band to play in a Film, 'Up for the Cup' in 1929.†
By 1910, the band's professional conductor was William Halliwell. Not only did he conduct Luton, Mr Halliwell conducted many bands in the north of England, including Wingates Temperance and Foden's Motor Works. Quite a feat, especially as this was before fast cars and motorways! Anyway, it was upon his recommendation that Fred Mortimer, from Hebden Bridge, was appointed Bandmaster at Luton. So in 1911, the entire Mortimer family settled in Talbot Road, and Fred obtained employment in the Hat industry. Having just paid for, what we would now call, 're-location' expenses (!), the Band were having difficulties in finding money to pay the Bandmaster. Fred must have feared the worst, having uprooted his young family. Luckily, the patronage of Lady Zia Wernher of Luton Hoo was obtained and Fred was paid £2 a week to conduct the band. Fred's son, Harry Mortimer (with brothers Alex and Rex) began playing in the Junior Band, but quickly moved into the senior band, ultimately becoming Principal Cornet. Harry's biography says that Fred formed the Junior Band, but the review booklet (see above) shows there was a Junior Band at Luton in 1907. However, the Junior Band paid handsome dividends in the years to come.†
In 1912, the Band took part in the International Music Contest held in Paris, and Fred's son the great Harry Mortimer began playing with the band in 1913. Thankfully, all band members, who had fought in the First World War, returned safely to Luton in 1918. The National Brass Band Championships held at Crystal Palace (begun in 1900), which had been suspended during the conflict, were finally reinstated in 1920.†
In 1923 the band became National Champions of Great Britain, we won the '1000 Guinea Trophy' and beat some of the best bands in the land. To date we are the only southern band to achieve this honour. I can only imagine the joy of winning the 'National' and the celebrations that followed. However, Ted Carter's celebrations were unusual...to say the least !!! As is quite common and for the sake of musical sound and balance, Fred Mortimer had asked Ted to switch to the Flugelhorn for the competition (your Author converted to the Tenor Horn a few years ago and moved to Flugelhorn for the 2001 and 2002 'areas'....history repeats!!) and vowed that should Luton win he would throw 'this damn coffee-pot' under the first train he saw. Quite amazingly...he did precisely that....I bet that went down well !! (NB. - I won't be doing that...apart from anything else the Flugel belongs to ME).
The Mortimer's were tempted to move north in 1924/1925, and join the emerging Foden's Motor Works Band, ...and enjoy even greater success !! Harry Mortimer was destined to become one of THE greatest celebrities the brass band movement has ever known, and in later years he also became associated with the famous Luton Girls Choir.†
When the Mortimer's left Luton, Ted Carter (minus Flugelhorn!), Ernie Davis (a product of the Junior Band) and, of course, Albert Coupe became the band's leaders.†
In 1929 the Red Cross emblem had been established and the band were asked to refrain from using this term, so in 1931 they became, quite simply, The Luton Band, and apart from a short period of sponsorship in the 1980's (see the 'vinyl' page) this name has endured.
In the 1960's the venerable BBC ran a radio contest called 'Challenging Brass' - and Gilbert Vinter (who, at that time, was working as a composer and conductor for the 'Beeb') composed the title tune. The format was simple: each band performed a short programme which was then broadcast on the radio and judged by a suitably qualified panel. (!!) I guess that 'Best of Brass' was the (1970's) TV equivalent.† In 1965 Luton lost in the semi-final of 'Challenging' to Camborne Town...but the final was won by our very own Rushden Temperance Band (now Rushden Windmill). After the final the 4 semi-finalists (Rushden, Camborne, Hanwell and Luton) performed a 'massed band' concert and Derek Garside was the guest soloist. If you go to the Rushden Windmill web site, there is a little more info and a photograph to see.†
Brass Bands are part of our 'social' history - they were formed principally for recreational purposes, usually by mine and factory owners and, as in our case, by Church groups. However, it may not have escaped your notice, but up until quite recently our 'art form' has tended to be male dominated..!! Naturally, there were/are exceptions (much more so in the last 50 years) and I am sure there are many 'gels' out there who will tell me they have played in a Brass Band since......!! Well our 'first' was Sheila Wiles (married to Tony), who joined the band in the 1960's. Sheila actually met Tony while they were in the Junior Band together - although I wouldn't usually recommend joining a Brass Band to meet a bloke !!†
In 1972 (22nd April 1972 - to be exact) the Luton Band won the Championship section of the W.D. & H.O. Wills Brass Band Championships, St. Austell were 2nd and Desford Colliery Welfare were 3rd. The picture on the left is the trophy. These Championships ended in 1973 (probably because of the 'smoking' connection!!) and the band were allowed to keep the trophy - it is STILL in our band room.
Sadly, 1972 also saw the death of our BBb bass player Fred Hargreaves. In his will Fred left around £10.000 - a princely sum! Of which he left, approximately, £500 to his family, the rest was placed† in† a Trust Fund for the Band and, thankfully, this has provided us with a small income when times are hard. But, I bet his family weren't too pleased !!!!!
In 1978 Eric Capron, playing Soprano Cornet was proclaimed Solo Champion of Great Britain. There is more about Eric on† the 'Famous Faces page'. During the 1960's & 70's the Band was served by Derek Stillwell, first as a player and then as Chairman, he was joined in the Band by his son Nick. Derek started playing with the Kent's Works Band in Luton before joining us in the mid-60's. He retired to Kent (the county !) in the 1980's and we sadly learned of his death in 1995. First Section Banding is quite seriously devoid of 'cups & shields' as extra prizes, so the Luton Band were proud to initiate the 'Derek Stillwell (Luton Band) Memorial Trophy'. This is presented annually to the most outstanding Cornet player in the First Section at the London & Southern Counties Regional Contest (the 'area's'). It was first presented, in 1996, by Derek's widow, Daphne to...er....Richard Graves (fix - I think NOT). Derek worked hard for the Band, and we felt that this is a suitable tribute.