The oldest brass band in the Milton Keynes area
A long and interesting heritage...
As the oldest brass band in Milton Keynes, we have a long and interesting heritage. The band owes so much to those who have gone before and this is why present members are determined to keep it going.
Wolverton Town Band was formed in the early locomotive era of Wolverton Works, which opened in 1838.
Two Victorian newspaper reports describe "Wolverton Brass Band" providing music for the meetings of local friendly societies, on Whit Monday 1844 in Newport Pagnell, and also at the Duke of Bedford Oddfellows Lodge at Woburn in May 1845 who:
"after enjoying themselves on the green, and partaking of something to refresh themselves after their rambles, returned to their Lodge Room, the Wheat Sheaf Inn, where Host Rogers had amply provided for his guests, and about one hundred and sixty sat down to dinner. Full justice being done to the substantial dinner, the Wolverton brass band situated in a gallery at one end of the room, played several favourite airs."
London Journal and Pioneer Newspaper - Saturday 17 May 1845
Back in their home town the band played at the opening of the Science and Art Institute on the 16th May 1864:
Early on Monday morning there were evident tokens of a holiday in Wolverton. Flags were suspended from the windows of the principal Inns, and the workmen had donned their holiday attire, and their faces looked happy and full of pleasurable anticipation. The sun came out in all his glory, and gilded the scene with dazzling brightness. The lark carolled in the air, fragrant with the breath of flowers, and the joyful hum of children’s voices swelled the happy music of that splendid May morning. Soon after 8 o’clock the Wolverton Brass Band was heard playing martial music, and the holiday-makers followed the musicians in admiring crowds.
Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press - Saturday 21 May 1864
The band shares its history with the Wolverton Volunteer Rifles Band who put in regular appearances at community events including and appearances at the 1897 Diamond Jubilee celebrations where:
"Queen's weather was associated with the celebration at Wolverton, and the various streets were nicely decorated...at 2pm the scholars of the respective Sunday Schools assembled and proceeded to the Market-Square, where the National Anthem was sung, the band accompanying...A ball was also held in the large carriage shop, and dancing was indulged in to the strains of the Volunteer Band till 3am."
Northampton Mercury - Friday 25 June 1897
A mass demonstration was held in Wolverton on Saturday afternoon last in which almost every unit of Trade Unionism in the district was represented in support of other girls of Messrs. McCorq’s Works who were out as a result of Labour dispute. The demonstration organised by the new branch of other National Union of Paperworkers, which has now a membership of over 500 in the town, was very largely attended.
A parade was made round the streets by the town, the procession being headed by the Wolverton Town Band and the Bradwell United Band. Banners of local Trade Unions were unfurled and in the ranks of the procession were practically all the newly enrolled members of the Paperworkers Union, red ribbons flowing from their coats and hats, who were followed by a body of workmen form Wolverton Railway Carriage Works, representing the National Union of Railwaymen, and the new branch of the Sheet Metal Workers and the Braziers Union. The streets on the routes were lined with spectators. A strong posse of police under Supt. Pearce flanked the processionists.
Wolverton Express June 4th 1915
The band competed locally and nationally, from the mid-1890s, winning the Great Brickill Contest in 1907 and placing 5th later in the same year at the Crystal Palace Preliminary Shield. The Bandmaster from 1914 to 1919 was Mr Frank Sharpe, one of the old stalwarts of the North Bucks brass band movement. Mr Sharpe handed over to Mr Frank Brooks in 1919, who gathered around him numerous first-class players, many of whom had just returned from the forces. In 1920, the band entered the National Brass Band Festival at Crystal Palace, (4th section). The test piece was Il Trovatore by Verdi; 25 bands competed and Wolverton came third. In 1921, it was agreed to engage Mr Fred Mortimer, then conductor of Luton Red Cross Band. Up to the Second World War the band gained many successes both nationally and locally. At the Crystal Palace in 1922, competing in the second section, they again came third. The community was so proud of this achievement it collected enough money to present each member of the band with a medal.
Remember Wolverton, Stratford and Bradwell, Bill West, Baracuda Books 1991
The next two decades and up to the outbreak of WW2 saw a series of contest trophies brought back to Wolverton from competitions in Swindon, Oxford and Leicester. The band stood down in 1939 for the duration of the war.
The Wolverton Home Guard Military Band was formed in 1940 with Doug Dytham bandmaster. It comprised bandsmen from Wolverton, Bradwell and the ex-Stony Stratford band, with one or two from Newport Pagnell.
At full strength it consisted of around forty bandsmen, the band sergeant being Sid Dytham. This band was unique. It was the only Home Guard band in the country and its bandmaster, Doug Dytham, was an 'honorary' member of the HG as he was already a wartime Special Constable. HQ was the old Ambulance Room in the Railway Works where they paraded for practice one nighta week and on Sunday mornings. They also led the Battalion on Sunday morning route marches.The band not only performed for local parades and displays such as Warship Week, but also turned out to lead members of the armed forces for similar events, giving concerts all over the county.
Rehearsing the mid-section of The Light Cavalry in preparation for an event in the south of the county the bass section, which included basses, trombones and euphoniums, had only to play one note for two bars, then miss a bar, and so on through the piece. One bandsman repeatedly ruined it putting one note in on the bar he should have missed. Doug, bearing in mind some of the Stratford men had not blown an instrument for ten years or more, said 'Come on! look at your music', if we get it right this time, I'll buy you all a pint?. They got through it right down to the last bar when Bill Blackburn (an accomplished musician and later to become Bandmaster of Wolverton Town Band) put one in. 'What did you do that for Bill?' sighed Doug. 'I thought I would save you a bob or two' laughed Bill. After leading the stand-down parade through Wolverton at the head of the Battalion in December 1944, the band passed into history.
Remember Wolverton, Stratford and Bradwell, Bill West
In 1948, with the nationalisation of the railways, the band changed its name to the Wolverton Town and BR Band. They continued to compete until 2007. With railway privatisation and another name change later, members decided to instead focus on supporting community events around Wolverton and the new city of Milton Keynes.
Wolverton is twinned with Ploegsteert, a small town in the French-speaking part of Belgium and very close to the border with France. The town is where a local lad, Albert French, who was killed in action on 15 June 1916. He was a member of a working party sandbagging a trench, which was attacked by enemy machine-gun fire. It was a week before his seventeenth birthday. Personal letters to Albert's father from his Captain and Padre tell of a fine young man who served with pride and was an asset to his regiment. The letters were a chance discovery, in 1975, bundled among the belongings of his sister May after her death.
Wolverton Town Council has an exchange programme with Ploegsteert and, each year, the two towns take turns to organise a twinning weekend of commemoration, fun and music playing. As part of this twinning, Wolverton Town Band is twinned with the Ploegstreet Harmonie Royale Band and the two bands play together during the twinning weekends.