In 1833, the Select Committee for Public Walks was introduced so that ‘the provision of parks would lead to a better use of Sundays and the replacement of the debasing pleasures.’ Music was seen as an important moral influence and ‘musical cultivation … the safest and surest method of popular culture’. The eventual introduction of the bandstand became a significant aspect of the reforming potential of public parks.
However, music in public spaces, and the history and heritage of the bandstand has largely been ignored. In their heyday, there were over 1,500 bandstands in the country, in public parks, on piers and seaside promenades, attracting crowds of over 10,000 in the case of the Arboretum in Lincoln. Up until the beginning of the Second World War most of London’s parks held regular weekday and weekend concerts.
Paul Rabbitts tells the story of these pavilions made for music, and their history, decline and revival. He discusses their evolution as ‘orchestras’ in the early Pleasure Gardens and the music played within them, as well as the growth of the brass band movement; he examines the intricate and ornate ironwork of the bandstand and the great foundries that produced it; he looks at the worldwide influence of the bandstand, from their great decline post Second World War to their subsequent revival in the late 1990s.
Illustrated throughout with contemporary and archive images, drawings and postcards, this is a thoroughly engaging study of an often overlooked aspect of British architectural, cultural and entertainment history. Paul Rabbitts’ unique historical perspective is complemented by a gazetteer of all extant and demolished British bandstands.
Historic England is the public body that champions and protects England’s historic environment, from the prehistoric to the post-War. For further information go to HistoricEngland.org.uk
4 The art and architecture of the bandstand
Despite the popularity of the ‘orchestras’ in the early pleasure gardens in Vauxhall and Cremorne, by 1851, as the catalogue for the Great Exhibition demonstrates by their absence, bandstands were still not commonplace enough for them to attract the attention of manufacturers. In fact, where a bandstand was required, it was often adequate to erect a temporary structure for the occasion. As previously referred to, at a fete in Mount Boone Park, Dartmouth, South Devon, in 1852, the band was placed in a ‘rustic orchestra’, and on Woodhouse Moor, Leeds, West Yorkshire, in 1856, the orchestra had been fixed in a hollow near the cricket ground. At Basford Park fete in Nottinghamshire in 1859, the band was performing upon an orchestra raised for it in the grounds. In South Park, Darlington, County Durham, the winters of the early 1890s were extremely hard and the ornamental lake in front of the park’s first bandstand – ‘a little wooden structure with a canvas top’ – froze solid for seven weeks.
The earliest inspiration for the design and development of the many new public parks and the facilities within included buildings such as lodges, shelters, boathouses, band houses, pagodas, monuments and sculptures and such inspiration came from the many private parks and pleasure gardens of the 18th century. Palm houses and winter gardens were developed in the early years of the 19th century before public parks even came into being and were found not only on the many grand estates throughout the country, but within the many pleasure gardens. As described, the early forms of the bandstand primarily had their precedent in the pleasure gardens in London.
Simultaneously, the early advent of bandstands in North America followed a similar path to the United Kingdom. Bandstands there were often perceived purely as functional pieces of civic architecture, usually placed within civic squares. However, a fresh current in landscape architecture caused North Americans to increasingly view bandstands and similar structures as vital links between people and nature. This new sensibility dictated that the bandstand should fit picturesquely into a pastoral landscape. This bucolic conception of the bandstand had been set forth by landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. ‘There is scarcely a prettier or more pleasant object for the termination of a long walk in the pleasure grounds or park than a neatly thatched structure of rustic work.’ The gazebos he contrived to fill this function were in fact prototypes for a new form of rustic bandstand that followed the decadent Chinoiserie style of the pleasure gardens.
Strangely sat in my living room whilst listening to some early Oasis and Wonderwall comes on. I am sure they would have come across really well on a bandstand built just for music and entertainment. Indeed some great musicians have performed on bandstands over the years, from Bowie to Pink Floyd to Mungo Jerry and the Bay City Rollers. My favourite would have been Thin Lizzy on the Harlow bandstand…
These people are helping to fund Bandstands: Pavilions for music, leisure and entertainment.