King Cross band played at the Palace

Bandmaster: Arthur Oakes Pearce in his Black Dyke days - courtesy of Chris Helme
Bandmaster: Arthur Oakes Pearce in his Black Dyke days - courtesy of Chris Helme
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Last month marked 100 years since George V was crowned King in Westminster Abbey.

Today, I doubt whether many people recall Halifax’s famous King Cross Brass Band, which has its bandroom at Trafalgar Street; but a century ago it was widely known and respected.

Indeed, on the eve of King George V’s Coronation, the King Cross Band was invited to play at Buckingham Palace. At the time, the bandmaster was famous Arthur Oakes Pearce (1871-1951). Although a native of Alverthorpe, Wakefield, Arthur lived for many years in Halifax, and married his wife Lucy Harvey here in 1895. In 1911 Arthur lived in Armitage Road, Halifax; he was soon to go on to far greater things as Conductor of Black Dyke.

Accepting the invitation involved fulfilling, in effect, a royal command; this required the band to travel from Halifax by overnight train, accompanied by the Deputy Mayor of Halifax, George Taylor Ramsden, of The Jumples. Leaving Halifax Station at 9.15 p.m. of 20th June 1911, the men reached King’s Cross Station, London, at 3.15 a.m., where they were met, and taken to the Great Northern Hotel. Few got any sleep, as they were awaiting a telegram from the Palace to announce at what time they were to perform. By 11 a.m. the message arrived, detailing arrival at 1.15 p.m., the band to play for an hour from 1.30. At 12.45 p.m. they arrived at the Victoria Memorial, marching into the Palace forecourt shortly afterwards, to the cheers of many onlookers. The musicians were stationed beneath the window where the Royal Family was partaking of their lunch.

Unsurprisingly, the first item to be played was the National Anthem, which was followed by a programme from Gounod, Wagner, Verdi, and Sullivan, amongst others. At times, members of the Royal Family were seen to look out of the windows, enjoying the recital. The music concluded, Deputy Mayor Ramsden was summoned to the presence of the King and Queen. His Majesty pronounced himself delighted with the quality of the band’s performance, and was impressed to learn that all the bandsmen were workers, who had to be back in Halifax the following day. Lunch was then provided in a part of the palace for the band. In the afternoon, the band members had the chance to explore London. Another overnight train journey brought them home, arriving back in Halifax at 5.50 a.m. on Coronation Day. That afternoon, they were to play in a concert at Savile Park One wonders how they coped with such a strenuous schedule, and so little opportunity for sleep!

The Mayor and Mayoress of Halifax, Mr and Mrs Frederick Whitley Thomson, were already in London, and attended Westminster Abbey for the Coronation.

I am grateful to Chris Helme for information included in this letter.

David C Glover