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Michelmersh Silver Band
There is no record of the day the Michelmersh band first played together, but its first anniversary is reported in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal for Saturday, November 19, 1887. The report says that on Wednesday about 29 persons, members of the band and their friends, attended a tea in the Sunday school room. A Mr. Page took the chair, "congratulating the band on the progress it had made since its formation and impressing the necessity of unity in this as in everything if they wished the band to be a success". He also "eulogised" the kindness of the rector and his wife, who had done so much for the members.
This gives some credence to the long held belief that the Rector of Michelmersh, the Rev. Barrington Gore-Browne, was the band's benefactor. The story goes that the rector's coachmen Harry Parsons, and his brother Tom Parsons and Tom Topp, who worked together as bricklayers, were among a group of local men who approached the rector, asking for a loan to buy instruments and set up the band.
Rev. Barrington Gore-Browne 1884-1913 Mr. Gore-Browne was a redoubtable figure. He was rector for 29 years and had become an honorary canon of Winchester Cathedral by the time he retired in 1913 because of ill health. He was a leading member of the Church of England Temperance Society locally, regularly preaching about the evils of alcohol and the need for children to be shielded from them.
The rector apparently agreed to the men's request - on condition that they formed a temperance band. The bandsmen held their first practices in the Sunday school room at the rectory, the house now known as Michelmersh Court, and it seems likely that members of other bands in Romsey and nearby villages helped them learn to play their instruments.
The brass band made its debut at a temperance society tea and concert in the rectory grounds on June 6, 1887. Two weeks later the band was playing at the village's celebrations to mark the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign.
Tom parsons, the first bandmaster It must have been about this time that Tom Parsons became the first bandmaster, although he was only 18 years old. He had joined the church choir at eight, left school at 11, married at 25, and left Michelmersh at 40 to take over Malthouse Farm, Braishfield. He was a bricklayer and eventually had his own business, building five bungalows at Lower Street which older folk still call Parson's Town.
In those days and until the 1930s fetes, flower shows and similar were held midweek. Bandsmen who were docked wages for taking time off were paid out of the engagement fee. It is said that Tom Parsons was once seen walking home one afternoon with his scythe over his shoulder. When someone asked what he was doing, he said the band had an engagement, adding "My boss told me I shall lose my job if I go out with the band - but I'm still going."
The earliest pictures of the band, from the last years of the 19th century, show 4 cornets, 3 horns, euphonium, bass, baritone and drums. The band was still practising in the Sunday school room when Thomas Parsons, nephew of Tom and father of Wilf, joined in 1899 at the age of 11.
Rumour has it that life in the band was not all sweetness and roses, with minor squabbles breaking out, members leaving and rejoining. Membership probably dropping to around 5 at one stage, and it may have been that the ban on alcohol was beginning to play its part. It is believed that in 1908 Thomas Parsons and Tom Topp approached the rector - still Mr Gore-Browne, of course. There was already a certain amount of hypocrisy creeping in, and the two bandsmen asked him to agree to the temperance restriction being lifted. "If we are to keep it a temperance band, we shan't have a band much longer", said Tom Topp.
It seems that the rector initially agreed to the members being able to drink when not on band duty, and later the restriction was dropped completely - some say there was a ceremony when the word "temperance" was rubbed off the band's big drum.
Tom Topp who reformed the band after the first world war, and was bandmaster until 1932 When the first world war began, many bandsmen were quick to answer the call to arms. The war memorial in Michelmersh Church records ten local victims. One of them, Walter "Charlie" Compton, who was a cornet player with the band, had moved to the village from Broad Chalke near Salisbury when he married a local girl. The band found it hard to keep going during the war years, although it was now under a new bandmaster, Tom Topp. Like others of his day, he managed to conduct and play his cornet at the same time, to help keep numbers up.
One winter's night during the war years, Tom's two sons Stan and Ern were at home with nothing to do when Tom told them: "I'll go and get three of the band instruments and teach you to play them - then you'll have something to do.". He wrote out scales and taught the lads to play hymns and waltzes, making them practice over and over until they got the notes right.
When the war ended, Tom Topp called a meeting to see if he could reform the band. Several members had not returned to the village for various reasons, and only six men turned up - Tom himself, Thomas Parsons, Harry Tongs, George Jacobs, Bert Elcock and Harry Head. But they decided to go ahead. Stan and Ern soon swelled the numbers to eight, and a couple of weeks later Jack Pearce joined them.
The band's first appearance in public after the was was on Rogation Sunday in 1920 when it played on the old cricket pitch close to the church, after the service. Bill Morgan, who lived in Michelmersh, but played in Lockerley band, strengthened the group to 10 players. The Romsey Advertiser reported that the rector, now the Rev. William Hawksley, congratulated his brothers of the band. Over the next few years Tom Topp worked hard at recruiting likely young men from the village into the band, and some of them were to remain members for half a century.
The band continued to practice in the Sunday school room for a short while after the war, but some ill feeling developed between the band and its landlord. Harry Tongs, a rustic character who was known as "Farmer" Tongs, offered band use of an old cow pen behind his cottage. It was nicknamed Rat's Lodge. "it used to hold four or five cows before we moved in, but there was enough room for us to practice there," said Stan Topp. "The rain used to beat down on the iron roof, we had to play with our coats on in the winter because it was so cold, and one particular note on the euphonium made the oil lamp flare up."
Eventually, it was decided that a different home for the band was needed, and Tom Topp went to see Mr Rolfe at the garage at Winchester Hill, Romsey to buy an old army hut from him. He got two sections for £12 delivered!. It was erected in Harry Tongs orchard and was the bands home for many years. Tom Topp insisted on an official arrangement, so it was agree to pay Harry five shillings rent a year - but he always gave it back to the band fund at Christmas
In September 1926, still with only 15 or 16 players, the band decided to try its luck at contests. The band entered a contest on what is now the Romsey Community School premises at Priestlands. Five other bands took part and Tom Topp conducted. Stan Topp's memory of the event was: "Twas a big lash-up". The Romsey Advertiser reported the adjudicator's comments: The band started too soon ...... the euphonium solo was choppy .... the moderato was carelessly played altogether .... finale not good. "More care is needed," he said, giving Michelmersh 64 marks, leaving it last. Lockerley won that day, and there has been friendly rivalry between the two bands ever since.
Harry Lawrence with the band in the 1930s A few years later the Band tried again and soon could chande its name to Michelmersh Silver Prize Band. Tom Topp was still bandmaster, but probably with contests in mind, had introduced the bands first conductor - Harry Lawrence. Having served with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Harry was a strict discplinarian with an eye for deportment. He is also remembered for his unique demonstrations to show how little pressure is needed to sound a note on a cornet. He would hang an instrument from the ceiling on a piece of string and get the bandsmen to try to play it while holding a broom handle behind their backs!
His methods must have paid off, however, for almost immediately the band recorded its first victory in a Wessex Brass Band Association festival at Victoria Park, Salisbury in May 1932, with Harry Lawrence conducting. It came first in its section for musical selection, third for the March and Frank Harris won a medal as the best soprano player. Someone telephoned the news back to the village and when the band returned home they were astonished to see flags across the road at the top of Michelmersh Hill, and villagers gathered to welcome them. It had not happened before, and has not happened since - although they have recieved one other triumphant welcome... with giraffes!
Bill Cooper was one of many who carry his instrument over his shoulder on his bicycle - even when the instrument was a large E-Flat Bass, and the cycle had solid tyres. Once he cycled from his home in Braishfield to work at Michelmersh Court, and then in the afternoon went on to Kings Somborne where the band were playing. "I got as far as the church and didn't know where to go, so I stopped and listened and heard the band playing - 'When the Moon Comes Over the Mountains', I think it was. It stuck in my memory for ever more how nice it sounded."
With the extra distance the band was travelling it was decided to hire Moores bus from Newtown, the first to run a regular service into Romsey, and it must have been quite an experience. When the driver wanted to change to a lower gear to tackle a steep hill, he had to stop the vehicle and put a block behind the wheels. Then the bandsmen had to get out and push
In 1934 and 1936 the band played contests at the old Crystal Palace. The second occasion is remembered by all who were there at the time as the conductor of the band playing before Michelmersh collapsed and died on the stage. It is said that his son picked up the baton and the band played on without a hesitation. It was soon after that the palace burned down.
J.O. Yard with the band in 1957 after winning the Hawkes Challenge Shield for the third consecutive year
Albert Head met his wife when the band played at a Braishfield flower show. Ron Morgan married on a Wednesday because the band had an engagement on the Bank Holiday Monday originally chosen, a loyalty equalled only perhaps by Frank Lucas who, in later years, returned early from honeymoon to play in a contest.
Playing for dancing on a warm summers evening at Grove Place, Nursling remained in Bill Coopers mind, while Harry Turner could not forget a visit to Andover - he was told the wrong place to catch the bus home and walked as far as Stockbridge before a brewery lorry gave him a lift. Two members missed the bus back from Somborne after over-indulging in the hospitality offered by the working mens club. Another, playing the drum, had his eyes on a girl in a Hedge End carnival procession and, following her, marched off in a completely different direction to the rest of the band. Then there was the day that Jack Pearce nearly missed an engagement because his false teeth, wrapped in newspaper and left on the stove, had been thrown out with the ashes.
Such incidents may have caused friction at the time but they are recalled with a smile now - an indication that playing in the band brought spirit, friendship and fun, as well as the pleasure of performing the music.
Since the war the band has been called upon regularly to play at civic events in Romsey. It has provided the music for Romsey Rotary Clubs open air carol service in the Market Place, considered by many to mark the start of Christmas in the town since it began more than 50 years ago. The bandsmen remember only one night when it rained so hard that they did not even bother to get out of their coach. The Act of Remembrance at the cenotaph in Romsey Memorial Park has been in the bands diary for a similar period.
The post war years brought many changes - Fetes and flower shows moved to weekends, Michelmersh bandsmen began to come from a wider background, with the brickyard workers and farm hands of earlier years being joined by farmers, a medical student, a customs officer, and others.
A more obvious change was the introduction of female players. Wives and mothers have always played a vital part in supporting the band financially by organising dozens of fundraising events - and still putting up with their husbands and sons disappearing on engagements at weekends and holiday times when they might have expected them to be home.
The first bandswoman did not appear until the late 1960s, in the shape of Sarah Jones who went on to be a surveyor in London. There had been some reluctance amongst the men to break the tradition and admit her, but equality won through, and she paved the way for the girls and women regularly seen in the bands ranks today.
The first world war hut that Tom Topp bought for £12 in the 1920s had served the band well, in spite of the odd occasion when players turned up for practice to find it buzzing with hornets. But after old Harry Tongs died, the new owner of the land served notice on the band to vacate the site. The answer was to negotiate with the Compton Manor Estate to acquire land on the other side of the road - this arranged, the band took down the old hut piece and re-erected it on the new site. But there came a time when the band was reaching its peak membership and the hut was getting too small for everyone to squeeze in, so the decision was taken to build a new bandroom.
For most of its life the band wore black uniforms with blue and later maroon facings, the first being bought secondhand from the Army. The change to the present maroon was made in about 1975, thanks again to the fundraising efforts of band and supporters alike.
Considering that the band had played as far afield as London, Hove, Weymouth and Bath, it is strange that until the mid 1970s it had not performed in Romsey Abbey. That omission was corrected when it gave a concert in aid of the abbey appeal fund. Since then, the band has performed in the abbey many times, although mainly to accompany hymns and carols during services. It has also played and mounted a guard of honour at the weddings of its own members and also sounded a fanfare at the golden wedding celebrations for Harry & Win Turner.