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The Pensnett Victoria Saxhorn Band


Perhaps the first point that needs to be addressed is to explain the title of this blog. What exactly was a Saxhorn? A picture of the instrument is shown above, and a Saxhorn band was one of the early brass band variants. The Pensnett Victoria Saxhorn Band was active in the 1860s, and 1870s and its services were in demand for concerts across a wide area. It wasn’t the only organisation to use that title - there were also Pensnett Victoria Football and Cricket clubs (which may possibly be the subject of future blogs). Now there isn’t a great seal of information available on the band’s activities, but such as there is gives a vivid picture of the social life in Pensnett at that time. To illustrate this, after reviewing the band’s activities, I will present two verbatim reports of occasions when the band played, that show how at least some in the Black Country enjoyed themselves at the time.

Procession and carnivals

But first to the general activities of the band. We read about it being involved in the Temperance movement – leading Temperance societies to a large gathering of several thousand people at Aston Park in 1863, and playing at some public Temperance lectures in the New Connexion chapel schoolroom (St James’ Methodist) in 1865. A regular venue seems to have been the grounds of Pensnett Vicarage where they played on the evenings when the grounds were open to the public and at the Annual Horticultural and Flower show in the late 1860s. The band played for other church events – the Sunday School “treat” in the Parsonage grounds in 1868, and the Sunday School Christmas Party in the Bell School Rooms in 1870. They also played at celebrations after weddings, such as the one organised by the manager of Himley Fire Brick works when his son was married at the Stag’s Head in Wall Heath in 1868, and other fetes and carnivals – Dudley Fete in 1869; Wordsley Institute Flower Show and Glass Exhibition at Prestwood Hall in 1870; Cradley Heath in 1871 and Droitwich in 1872. On the last occasion the Pensnett Victoria cricket team was also in action, playing (and losing to) Droitwich C.C. Sometimes they were referred to as the Pensnett Brass Band, and sometimes as the Pensnett Brass and Reed Band. The Director of the Band is named occasionally as Mr. S. Smith. The only possible match I can find in the1871 census for Pensnett is for a Samuel Smith, born in 1820, who lived with his family at a house on the High Street. His profession is given as an (unreadable) Engineer. For the 1861 census he lived in Tipton and is described as an Iron Roller. So perhaps here we have a skilled industrial worker with a passion for music. It would be nice to know more about him.

Opening of the Pensnett Parsonage Grounds to the Public

As noted above, some of the press mentions of the band are of interest as much for what they show about the nature of Pensnett life as much as for what they tell us about the band itself, and I will present two here. The first of these is from the County Express of July 13th 1867.

It affords us much pleasure in stating that the energetic and deservedly popular incumbent of Pensnett, the Rev C J Atherton, has generously thrown open his beautiful grounds to the public, under certain restrictions. The parsonage grounds are open every alternate Tuesday evening, and the public of all denominations are admitted by ticket. The grounds were opened for a second time on Tuesday evening last, and, judging from the number of respectable people who attended, the parsonage grounds bid fair to become an “institution” in the locality. The Pensnett Victoria Sax-horn band has been “specially retained” to play on the nights the grounds are open, and several members of the excellent choir also kindly add to the entertainment of the visitors. The grounds occupy a most picturesque situation, and are laid out in a most beautiful manner, nature and art being most judiciously blended. The visitors have the option of listening to the dulcet strains of the band, indulging in innocent pastimes on the lawn, or, if they choose, they may ramble at will under the foliage of the park trees, or luxuriate in the many convenient rustic seats in the dell. We are sorry to learn that some thoughtless young people abused their privileges by dancing on the lawn, a mode of amusement which had been forbidden by the incumbent, while others behaved even worse, and wantonly destroyed many beautiful flowers by pulling them up at their roots. Such conduct of course ill repays the kindness of the incumbent and it is the duty of all who visit these delightful grounds to do all in their power to check such reprehensible practices. We perceive that the annual Cottage Flower Show and Horticultural Fete will be held in the Parsonage grounds on the 23rd inst. As the grounds are a great attraction in themselves, the show cannot fail to prove successful.

Charles Atherton was later to be at the centre of a major scandal in the parish - see here. . At this point he would have been in his first few months as the Perpetual Curate of the parish. The report gives some details of the Parsonage grounds – which would have been very different from the rest of the area which by this time was becoming quite heavily industrialised. On the rather verbose prose used in the report, I make no further comment, other than to say that I for one am hardly surprised at the reprehensible actions of the Pensnett youth of the 1860s!

In the County Advertiser of 7th August 1869, the advert shown above was prominently placed. It gives details of an extensive choir / band trip to the seaside, with many concerts and performances packed into the three days. There were obviously sufficient numbers from the locality who wished to travel to make it worthwhile to hire a special charter train. Clearly the contacts, friends and family of the various performers were quite numerous. and widespread in the area. The route the train took is interesting to railway nerds (i.e. like me)- it would have travelled from Dudley to Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury and Gabowen, and then onto the long-vanished GWR line to Lllangollen and Corwen, before taking the (similarly vanished) LNWR line through Denbigh to Rhyl. There, the Pensnett Victoria band were well occupied indeed – it is to be hoped that the band members managed to have a little relaxation!

This is a revised version of the post that first appeared on Chris Baker's website in March 2021.

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