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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.

Witney Town Band

Notes by Betty Brown - November 2000

A forerunner of the Witney Town Band was the Witney Temperance Band, founded in about 1850 "for society purposes and religious festivals".

Money was raised and twelve instruments were purchased. Practices commenced under the tuition of a Mr. Mark Talboys "who had for many years taken part in a select band that was well known as Mr. William Early's and was far superior to any other in the neighborhood". The new band was greatly supported and played in by Mr. William Smith, owner of Smith's Mill in Bridge Street Witney, who in 1880 set up his own band. The Smith family continued to support the Witney Band right up to 1973 when Neville Smith was president.

Progress was very rapid after purchasing these 12 instruments and within the first week they " ventured their first tune beneath the Town Hall". They played a piece called "We lived and loved together". The Witney Temperance Band lasted for 25 years "from first to last" and a "more consistent party of young men never banded together for any purpose", there was never an oath heard nor anyone seen the worse for liquor whilst on duty. The leader of the band was Mr. Thos. Clark and "any past being neglected by any performer never escaped the vigilance of Mr. Thos. Clark" who would "correct in the most gentlemanly manner".

The band uniform was a military officer's uniform of blue cloth with braid made by Mr. Parsons of Chipping Norton together with caps to match at a cost "upwards of £40". It was also thought desirable to have a carriage of their own as they travelled considerable distances. In all they visited thirty-three cities, towns and villages and calculated the distances travelled to be 1,298 miles in six different counties.

The first performance of note was at a great Temperance demonstration held on Prospect Hill at Reading "'under the largest tent that was ever erected" and held upwards of 3,000 people sitting down to tea. After which "an orchestra was fitted up for the band" (an orchestra in these days meant the stage) and the music was performed. "Such was the satisfaction it gave, that a special invitation from several gentlemen was given to revisit Reading and give a series of Promenade Concerts, which were carried out in due course at the Concert Hall and gave great satisfaction to the Publick".

The first competition of note was held at the Zoological Gardens, Clifton , Bristol in the summer of 1860, carried out by Enderby Jackson, "the Great Northern Musician". He advertised for amateur bands in England and Wales to play a Grand Prize Waltz composed and arranged by himself, with an additional piece of their own choice. The waltz was a very difficult piece to play, evidently. "Especially to parties not practicing new compositions frequently". The piece of their own choice was Viva ? There was a limit of performers in each band from 12 to 20. Witney band numbered 15. There were three judges - an unknown Bandmaster from London, the Bandmaster of the Gardens in question and the Bandmaster of the 4th Dragoons. The number of Bands taking part was something between 20 and 30. Enderby Jackson announced that the first prize should have gone to Witney Band, but the judges concluded that they were professional men banded together for the occasion and so the outcome was: - Gloster lst, Witney 2nd, Cardiff 3rd. However, Witney Band "had rendered his composition with more perfection than any other band and so he gave them a special invitation to play at a "grand demonstration at the Crystal Palace for 1861" to compensate them for second place.

In due time the programme for the Crystal Palace performance came out and Witney Band was included in the list of 76 bands from all parts of England and Wales. The Grand National prize piece was the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, with the first prize of £50, plus one piece of their own choice. Witney Band chose to play a selection from Travatore and as there was a special prize for the best Bass player they arranged as a solo for a bass instrument called the Ophecleide. The outcome of this was that six bands were to be selected for the final competition where they were to play the Grand National Test piece.

The results were as follows: - 1st Dewsbury, 2nd Witney, 3rd unknown, 4th Black Dyke, 5th and 6th unknown.

After an hour's interlude, they prepared to play the Hallelujah Chorus, when to everyone's astonishment and disappointment the programme had been altered without notice by Enderby Jackson himself who demanded that the final test piece should not be the Hallelujah Chorus after all but should be from Operatic Selections, each band choosing their own piece. It completely threw everyone; Witney had no more music with them. A good old row resulted, but Enderby Jackson had "reserved to himself the right of adopting any course he thought proper by a rule, and this rule was not known by many bands". This was a sad blow for Mr. Jackson's reputation and injured his subsequent efforts for similar events. However, the best part of the programme was a performance by the United 76 bands "timed by the metronome" of the Hallelujah Chorus, The Heavens are Telling and the Wedding March. "The effect of this was wonderful, near upon 2,000 instruments all Brass, was never brought together before. There were 230 leading instruments. The disappointment earlier in the day was made up for by this treat.

There followed a period when the country went to war with France (it doesn't say which war) but it had to be about 1861 because I have a copy of a Committee meeting held on the 15th June, 1861 in the Bull Inn, Witney. The whole of Witney Band was taken over stock and capital into use for the Rifle Corps of the 5th Oxon Rifles "free of expense or reward". The committee comprised of a Mr. N.J. Ravenor, Mr. A Batt, Mr. James Clinch (Chairman), Mr. Wm. Smith, Mr. Wm. Seely Sr, Mr. Hy. Early, and Mr. M. Cripps. The Treasurers Accounts & vouchers to this time were examined and allowed, and there appeared to be a sum of £4.16.6. due to the Treasurer, and Mr. Seely was unanimously elected honorary Secretary to the committee.

It was ordered that 50 family tickets and 100 single tickets 'be printed and issued to subscribers for the season to enable them to attend the weekly promenade concerts - Subscriptions of £1.1.0 for a family ticket, and 5 shillings each for a single ticket. 500 Programmes were printed for sale to the subscribers of the Promenade concerts. The Secretary was requested to see that "Mr. F Collier fulfils his contract with regard to the clothing and accoutrements of the band". A vote of thanks was given to the chair and signed by Jas. CIinch, Chairman. All seemed to be going very well.

However, a Committee meeting was called for the next day, attended by Messrs. Ravenor, Clinch, Smith, Cripps, Batt, Seely Clinch, and a Mr. Matriott. Mr. Early was missing from this meeting, for some reason. Mr. Clinch was in the chair, and all was evidently not going as well as it at first seemed.

The chairman addressed the meeting and stated that he had called the Committee together for the purpose of ascertaining and enquiring into the cause and reason of the band not fulfilling their Tuesday and Friday nights engagements. That a Mr. Clarke had called upon him and stated that he would not be able to fulfil his engagement with the band, as it was insufficient in consequence of two of the members leaving. Mr. John Clarke attended the meeting at the request of the Committee, and stated that it was impossible for the Band to be reorganised to serve the Rifle Corps.

The following resolution was proposed by Mr. Ravenor and seconded by Mr. Batt, that the members of the band having been supplied with uniform and accoutrements as a band of the 5th Oxfordshire Company, and having through their bandmaster intimated to the Committee their inability to comply with the requirements of the Committee in playing to the Company, it is resolved that the secretary request the members of the Band forthwith to send in their uniform and accoutrements to him or Mr. James Clinch with a view to a reorganisation, and the Secretary is requested to forward each member of the Band a copy of the above resolution. It was carried unanimously.

Another resolution proposed by Mr. Ravenor and seconded by Mr. Cripps. That the Secretary be directed to return the sums paid for tickets for the proposed Promenade Concerts since the meeting of 15th of June. Carried unanimously.

Resolution proposed by Mr. Seely and seconded by Mr. Smith, that all members of the Band who will give a guarantee to Mr. Clinch for their attendance at Drill, can still retain their uniforms. Carried by majority.

A vote of thanks to the chair.

Copy of letter - Witney. Sept 20th 1861.


5th Oxon R.V.C.
On the other side I beg to hand you a copy of a resolution of Committee Meeting which I am instructed to forward to members of the Band and ask them to comply with the request as early as is convenient.
I am Sir,
Yours Truly
Wm. Seely. Hon Sec.

One more day which I would like to mention was known as the "Thame Band Contest". Witney Band was asked to play in a festival at Bicester and was engaged "through the Publick Press which announced that it was the best Amateur Band in England". The Thame Band at that time held the title of "Royal" simply because they happened to be playing one day as Her Majesty (Queen Victoria) was passing on her way to Blenheim. To see Witney Band described in the above way roused their feeling somewhat, so they wrote to the secretary of the Cross Keys Club in Witney asking if they could come and play in Witney for a nominal fee. This was agreed and advertised that the Royal Thame Band was coming to let the inhabitants know that theirs was not "the Best Amateur Band in England".

The Festival was held on the Wednesday in feast week and on the same day, the London Institution held their feast at the Marlbourgh Arms, Witney. Thus it was decided that that day would be ideal for the Whey Band to make its appearance. Word got around and "all of a sudden, Edmund's division of Wombwell's Menagerie announced their intended entry into the town for the same day". They evidently had "two competent judges to decide as to the merits of the two Bands".

The position of each band was equal in distance and within hearing and played alternately a great portion of the afternoon. The pieces played by Witney Band were Tancredi, Caliph of Bagdad, Barber de Seville, 1 1 Italiana in Algeria, The Hallelujah Chorus, Glory of the Land, Sing unto God and To Our Great God from "Judas Maccabeus".

At the end of the afternoon "all ears were open for the decision of the professionals". Needless to say Witney came first and the leader of the Thame Band, a Mr. Sanders, "retired" and his place was taken by a Mr. Fowler.

Witney Band now (150 years later) still has fifteen players (not the same ones). It has had varying fortunes throughout the years and much has been written about it. We are still very busy, we have a hectic Christmas programme, most enjoyable, and an even busier summer programme, which is even more enjoyable.

Witney's recent accomplishments were at their best in the 1930's winning six contests in six weeks. They won various contests in the 50's and 60's. They came 2nd in the Stroud contest in Class A in 1973 and the same year they won the London and Southern Counties Third Section and in 1974 they came 4th the Second Section. In 1994 and 95 they won various cups by winning different contests held by the Oxford and District Brass Band Association.


My grateful thanks to Mr. David Smith for allowing me to use material written by his great grandfather Mr. Wm. Smith founder of the Witney Band of 1850.

Betty Brown - November 2000