Bratton Silver Band – Our History
The village of Bratton has been very proud of its band for a great number of years. Originally, it was formed in 1859 by the part-time musicians who accompanied the hymn-singing in church before the installation of the organ in about 1860. Mr Arthur Smith was its first conductor and it comprised ten members only. He was the start of the Smith family dynasty that provided the band’s bandmasters from its formation through to 2003.
In 1861, the band accompanied dancing on the lawn of the Duke Inn, which then stood behind where the war memorial is now situated. This was its first engagement, and the local people so enjoyed it that at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887 the band led the celebrations arranged for the opening of the Jubilee Hall, held in farmer George Cleverly’s field (where the houses of Manor Fields now stand).
In the early days, very long practice sessions were held, which must have tried the eyes of the players during the winter months when oil and carbide were used in lamps for lighting.
After about 30 years, each member of the band was asked to buy his own uniform and brass instrument – it was then known as Bratton Brass, not Silver, Band. At this time, the band consisted of four cornets, one tenor horn, one baritone, one euphonium, one trombone, one E-flat bass and one drum. With their new uniforms and instruments their next appointment was to play for the Wiltshire Friendly Society fete on Whit Monday 1890.
The years rolled on, with the band playing at many functions in the village and giving concerts during the winter months. The deep melodious sound echoed from the hills and penetrated the valleys filling the village folk with cheer.
Gradually the band grew in number until by 1907 it was 17-strong, and it was felt necessary to purchase new instruments and uniforms. At this time it was decided to make uniforms the property of the band, and they were worn with pride when the band entered its first competition in 1910. The players did very well for their first effort, coming second. Between then and the First World War, the band continued to increase in numbers and quality, performing not only in the village but the surrounding area. In 1912 it played for a fete in the Monastery Gardens at Edington.
In 1914 many members joined the forces, and so for the time being the band was unable to continue, but the interest had not died. It reformed on cessation of the First World War under Mr Nash Smith. Mr Oliver Nash Smith took over the band in 1919 on the death of his father. As ex-members of the band returned from the forces, Oliver Nash Smith worked very hard at rebuilding it, and soon it was again in demand for performing at functions. One of the first things to be done following its rebuilding programme was the provision of new instruments and uniforms, and the money was raised by the energy of its members and support from the local community. Finally, by 1924, the band was re-equipped. For the next three years, it steadily expanded in numbers and its local reputation was such that it performed at functions far and wide.
1927 saw a change: new silver instruments were to be purchased and the name changed to Bratton Silver Band. Some of those instruments were still in use in 1991 when this brief history was first drafted. Many more contests were entered with excellent results so that eventually the band became a Prize Band, but only two years later (1929) they suffered the loss of their bandmaster. Following a special meeting, Mr Herbert Jack Smith was elected to succeed his father. He continued to lead the band until 1935, with Mr Philip Smith as his deputy. In 1935 a change of roles took place, with Philip Smith becoming bandmaster and Jack Smith his deputy. From then until the outbreak of the Second World War the band was kept busy. During the summer months, it played regularly in the centre of the village near the war memorial on Sunday evenings, and many people passing through the village mingled with local people to form an appreciative audience.
For the second time in its life, the band was discontinued owing to the war, but interest was still high, so in October 1952 it was reformed following a meeting called by Philip Smith. In addition, it was decided to train young musicians, and this soon became a regular feature. They had to be provided with uniforms, however, and much practice and fundraising was necessary. One of the first engagements was to provide music on the lawns of Bratton House on the occasion of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In the evening the band led the procession to the top of the White Horse hill, where a beacon was lit. The music was read by the glow of the fire and the vast number of people present joined in the singing of popular songs. As a finale, the hymn ‘Abide with me’ was sung, which proved a moving experience.
Following this it was decided to enrol girls into the band, so once more new uniforms were needed, and in order to pay for them the band accepted bookings for carnivals and fetes, and during the Christmas season played carols in the village, the members walking round with their instruments and settling under the street lights.
In 1954 the price of new uniforms purchased was £400; and during the next few months new instruments were bought for use by new members. In December of that year Mr Philip Smith hosted a supper and social evening for all the members and their wives.
For several years following, the band was heavily engaged in social functions and competitions and grew from strength to strength. During 1961, Mr Norman Smith (son of Herbert Jack) was elected to become bandmaster/conductor. He had been a playing member for many years. Some of the band’s more notable functions now emerged: for instance, local celebrations of the Battle of Ethandun, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer.
Norman Smith resigned as conductor in 1982 but remained bandmaster. More and more young people were now joining the band and a thriving junior section was being trained by Mr Vic Beer, who had been with the band for approximately 30 years. He was now elected as musical director.
In 1985 the band re-entered the contesting arena in the fourth section. In 1986 it won promotion to the third section of the national band gradings, following a mere two years in the fourth grade. This promotion followed a series of contests which were held throughout the whole country and the winning of first place in a competition held at the Festival Theatre in Paignton.
By this time the band’s President was John Annetts, who was also a local councillor and heavily involved with the Wiltshire Scouting movement. He encouraged the band to broaden its horizons and involvement with the local community. This resulted in a number of initiatives including an annual series of joint concerts with the very popular folk group The Yetties, 3 visits (in 1982, 1984 and 1992) to Soisy-sur-Seine – then Westbury’s Twin Town – and a concert tour to Grindlewald in Switzerland in 1988.
In 1987 the band played for the Bratton Jubilee Hall Centenary celebrations, having played for the hall’s opening ceremony in 1887. In the same year the band purchased a new set of uniform jackets, at a cost of £2,000, a large increase on the £400 paid in 1954. The first ‘outing’ for the new uniforms was at a concert at Warminster Athenaeum with Stan Richards (Seth Armstrong of TV’s Emmerdale Farm) in September of the same year.
In 1990 Graham Smith took over as Bandmaster from his father Oliver Norman Smith, continuing the Smith family dynasty of bandmasters that lasted from the band’s formation in 1859 until 2003.
The band, with John Annetts encouragement, had re-entered the contest arena in 1985 and March 1992 saw its greatest success to that date – winning the 4th Section Area Championships at the Colston Hall, Bristol (playing The Seafarers by Bruce Fraser), and qualifying for the National Finals in London, where the band performed at Wembley Conference Centre in October 1992.
The band has subsequently qualified for the National Finals a further 5 times, playing at Cardiff International Arena in 1996, Caird Hall Dundee in 2003, International Conference Centre Harrogate in 2004, and Cheltenham Racecourse in 2011 and 2014.
In a further move to raise its profile the band organised a “Best of British” concert in 1995 to bring one of the country’s top brass bands to West Wiltshire, an area hitherto starved of top quality brass band concerts. The first band engaged was the Yorkshire Imperial Band, who also returned in 1996. This series of concerts, organised and run by the band, continues to this day with annual concerts being put on by Besses O’ The Barn, Yorkshire Building Society Band, the Leyland Band and, since 2003, the Cory Band from South Wales with whom the band has formed a long-standing relationship.
A big moment came for the band at its AGM in January 2003 when, following Graham Smith’s resignation as bandmaster, Carol Bowes took over the role, becoming both the band’s first ‘non-Smith’ and first female bandmaster.
More innovation in 2005 when the band recorded its first CD (Immemerie) over Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd April in All Saints Church, Westbury, followed by another new venture in 2007 when the band travelled to Volkertshausen near Lake Constance in Southern Germany to take part in 150th Anniversary celebrations of Musikverein Volkertshausen.
2009 saw the biggest year in the band’s history to date – its 150th Anniversary. A number of special events were planned and held throughout the year. To start the Band commissioned a piece of music, from composer Rodney Newton, to mark its 150th Anniversary. He produced “The Bratton Silver March”, which received its first public performance at a joint concert with The Cory Band on Sunday 1st February 2009 – fifteenth “Best of British” Concert – at the Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-on-Avon. The Cory Band has been the number 1 ranked brass band in the world from 2007 through to 2016, the date of updating this brief history. To perform on stage with Cory was a nerve-wracking but truly wonderful experience for the members of BSB. In May the band was lucky enough to be invited to take part in Bath’s Festival of Music. An excited band travelled to Bath, on Friday 22nd May, to perform in Bath Abbey – a huge venue for a small village band!
The 150th (Sesquicentennial!) celebrations continued. Musikverein Volkertshausen visited Bratton over the weekend of Friday 26th to Monday 29th June to help the band celebrate its 150th Anniversary. The year ended with a reunion and celebration party for the band (past and present) and families in the Jubilee Hall, Bratton to mark the end of the band’s 150th Anniversary Year.
Each year the Band performs a concert for a specific charity and in 2010 the Band played at the Italinate Church in Wilton, Salisbury and the charity benefitting from all the proceeds donated from this concert was Parkinson’s UK. £500 was raised for this very worthwhile cause. Subsequent charities the band have supported include Dorothy House, Clifton Children’s Society, Alzheimer Support and Motor Neurone Disease Society.
December 2011 saw a new invitation – to play at a Christmas Carol concert in St Giles Church, Imber; repeated in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. This event is a big favourite in the band’s calendar. Imber, the ghost village of Salisbury Plain, is only opened up by the Ministry of Defence for a few days each year and this event has become very special. It always sees a total turnout by the band. They all want to play in Imber Church.
The highlight of the following year (2012) was the band’s second trip to Volkertshausen, which is near Lake Constance in Southern Germany, for a wonderful weekend of concerts and social events with our friends in Musikverein Volkertshausen.
8th March 2014 saw the band surpass its 1992 West of England Regional Contest result by winning the 3rd Section, playing Philip Wilby’s ‘Partita for Band – Postcards from Home’ under MD Simon Carr at the Riviera International Centre, Torquay. This was a wonderful achievement, qualifying the band to play at the National Finals in Cheltenham.
In December 2014 the back drop of the beautiful Bath Abbey, provided a magical setting for the filming of a scene for the BBC programme ‘Countryfile’. The presenters, accompanied by a quartet from Bratton Silver Band, led the singing of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ which was played at the end of the 2014 Countryfile Christmas Special.
2015 and 2016 (to date) have been typical band years – a mixture of fetes, a few concerts and many Christmas engagements. In June 2016 we welcomed our friends Musikverein Volkertshausen, a wind band from South West Germany, back to Bratton for a long weekend. This was their second visit to Bratton. We organised an array of exciting activities and entertainment for our guests, including a visit to Salisbury and Stonehenge, followed by cream tea; a parade and concert on Bratton Village Green; a hog roast; a concert at the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon and a fantastic party in which we were entertained by the German lounge band. Our friends presented us with a signed photograph, some seat cushions printed with the names of both bands and a large keg of German beer! We presented them with two specially designed kegs from White Horse pottery, filled with 3 Daggers Ale from the micro-brewery at the 3 Daggers pub in Edington! We look forward to making a return visit to Germany in a few years’ time!
Shortly after their visit Stephen Smith was elected to the post of Bandmaster, taking over from Carol Bowes thus resurrecting the Smith family dynasty of bandmasters.
To keep the band running and enable projects such as our visits to Volkertshausen, and theirs to Bratton, the band has to raise a lot of money and it is noticeable how many fewer fete type jobs we are being invited to play at. Times, and preferences, change and this is having a marked effect on band finances to the point where the band is having to seriously review its means of raising income and reducing costs in order to remain financially stable.
Much money has to be earned from every available source, and some comparisons of costs may be made from the following:
In 1912 12 new instruments cost £70.
In 1954 a complete set of uniforms cost £350.
In 1987 a new set of jackets was purchased at a cost £2,000.
In 1991 a set of 4 ‘nearly new’ basses was purchased at a cost of over £9,000.
In 2015 it cost £193 each and every week to keep the band running.
From time to time new music has to be purchased, which is extremely expensive, but during the years a library of well over 1,000 pieces has been built up which the band can and does use frequently. To replace the entire library at today’s prices would cost in excess of £30,000.
And so life continues. The band comprises some 30 members, many of whom come from the surrounding villages and towns. The band formed the Bratton Brass Band in 2023. In total, we now comprise of approximately 60 musicians.