and The Lancashire "Besses O' Th' Barn" Band
But what was the "Besses O' Th' Barn" Band?
Turns out it's not a case of "what WAS...?" but "what IS...?" The "Besses O' Th' Barn" Band still exists!
Besses o' th' Barn is actually a curiously-named town on the edge of Manchester, in Lancashire, UK. Theories for its name abound (including being named after highwayman Dick Turpin's horse Black Bess), but more likely it stems from an infamous landlady of a local hotel! The industrial town's main claim to fame though is that it's the birthplace of one of the oldest and most famous brass bands in the world, the "Besses O' Th' Barn" Band.
This celebrated outfit of amateur musicians, known affectionately as the "Besses", can be traced back to 1818. And by the late 1800s, Besses were firmly established as one of the UK's leading musical ensembles - amateur or professional.
|Seddon: Grand Master|
The early years of the 20th century saw Besses at the peak of their success. They were so successful competitively that they undertook an extensive UK tour. They played for King Edward VII at Windsor Castle, and that led to a tour of France. As their fame spread, invitations to play arrived from all around the globe.
So they decided to tour the world: between 1906-1911 they did this twice, both trips lasting an incredible eighteen months. The band played hundreds of concerts in USA, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, Sth Africa, New Zealand and Australia. They were the pop stars of their day, welcomed by enthusiastic crowds of thousands wherever they went.
On their second tour of NZ, their conductor Alexander Owen wrote a march, which he named after the famous NZ dolphin known as Pelorus Jack. Pelorus Jack became one of the band's signature tunes and is often included in present-day concert programmes. A notable souvenir from those tours was a wild boar trophy presented to them in NZ in 1910, still proudly displayed on the bandroom wall.
|The Besses in Christchurch, 1907|
After the death of Premier Richard 'King Dick' Seddon in 1906, a set of bells was purchased in his memory. The Press (12 April 1907), after a St Mary's parish meeting, reported that "owing to the interest taken in the parish by the late Mr Seddon, a belfry to his memory had been erected by the vestry on the church lawn. In addition thereto, owing to the kindness of the Besses o' th' Barn Band and the Exhibition authorities, they had been enabled to order from England a peal of bells as a further local church memorial of the late Premier. The peal of bells would cost £250, and the largest would be cast with the inscription 'In memory of R. J. Seddon'."
Seddon had been closely associated with the church since his eldest daughter Jeannie married one of the vicars, Walter Bean. The Premier was a frequent visitor to the vicarage, and on one of his last visits, gave money for "some bells for ringing". Following his death more funds were raised [perhaps a fundraising concert by the Besses?] and a peal of eight bells was hung in the bell-tower, erected in 1907. Over a thousand people attended the dedication ceremony.
St Marys and its belfry came through the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes with almost no damage, and the church remains one of the earliest timber churches still standing in Christchurch.
|Church of St Mary the Virgin in Addington, Christchurch|