This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Band at Scarborough Spa

18 May 2012

Men once considered a hat to be such a necessary fashion accessory, that they would sooner leave the house without their trousers than without a hat. A hat style defined a man's uniform, his class, and even his profession. And at the top of this haberdashery pyramid was the top hat. It was the mark of a gentleman, a professional man, an artist.

So it is with the gentlemen of this band, two dozen musicians arrayed in fine suits and all wearing top hats. I believe they are members of one of the musical ensembles of Scarborough Spa in North Yorkshire, England from around 1895. This fine large format photo (make sure to click the image to enlarge it) was never mounted and has no identification but it was in the same lot as two other photos of the Scarborough Spa Orchestra from the 1920's. The musicians are standing on the stone steps of some kind of promenade. The sign on the stone wall behind them reads:  Smoking is not permitted on the Colonnade or in the Grand Hall.

The distinction between bands and orchestras was often blurry in the 19th century. Bands might include some strings, especially lower strings such as the cello and double bass in this group. The same musicians who played in the afternoon band concert might also play in the evening program of the orchestra.

Two bits of trivia here. Note the bandleader standing front row center. That is not a cane he is holding but a conductor's baton. Conductors and leaders of this era used a very heavy stick, perhaps better suited to marches and quick steps.

The other interesting note is that a horn player, mid-row right, has an instrument with only two valves, instead of three which was the common number for all brass instruments in the 19th century, (whereas four or five valves are now part of modern horns). This rare horn was used mainly in Britain from the mid 1830s to 1880s, it used the valves only to change keys while the player still used an old fashioned right hand technique to change the notes. It was fine for popular music tunes, but by the end of the 19th century, composers made such demands on brass players that most horn players had switched to three valved horns. A second horn player stands beside him but his instrument is unfortunately hidden except for the mouthpiece. 
I have another photo postcard of a similar top hat band which I posted back in 2009. They called themselves the Imperial Orchestra, Military Section from West Riding, Yorkshire. They are the same number and nearly same instrumentation. They date from a little later, around 1910 perhaps.

Many of these men might have received their training in one of the many British army regimental bands, and then returned to civilian life as professional musicians playing in theater orchestras and festival bands like this. Much of the work was seasonal and taken up in the schedule of the increasingly popular holiday spots like Scarborough Spa. 

Scarborough Spa Complex

The Scarborough Spa is a seaside community that developed into a destination for health-minded tourists in the 17th century when a natural spring was discovered that had supposedly medicinal powers. To better understand what it was like in earlier times we need a guide.

A search of vintage books in Google Books produced this title:

A Picturesque Survey of the United Kingdom and its Institutions
translated by Henry Frith

published in 1887.

"The principal occupation of the 30,000 inhabitants of Scarborough consists in letting lodgings and in amusing the 200,000 visitors who come there every year. Like ants they lay up an ample provision for the winter; so living is very dear there, as it in all other fashionable watering places. In the months of August and September season is in full swing - the hotel keepers are intractable, rooms are at a premium, and everything is very expensive.

"The best hotels, the museum, the aquarium, and the promenades are upon the South Cliff, where we also find the Spa Saloon, for Scarborough possesses two somewhat what celebrated springs of ferruginous waters. The South Cliff is connected with the town and railway station by a wide avenue and a bridge, which crosses the Ramsdale Valley 80 feet below. It contains some very beautiful shady walks and tastefully laid out gardens. The favorite promenade is the esplanade. Between this and a terrace overlooking the bay is the saloon – a vast stone building, containing a concert room, a theatre, a lecture room, and a restaurant – in a word, the casino, which is incumbent on every watering place which has any self respect. The interior decoration in the Renaissance style is very elegant embossed gilding alternating with brighter colours. The principal hall is capable of containing 1,500 persons. A terrace supported by small cast iron columns runs round three sides of the saloon, thus forming, according to circumstances, a balcony to the first floor, and a covered promenade to the ground floor. Besides concerts of vocal music, which are given in the hall, the casino orchestra plays twice a day on the terrace, which is thronged night and day by a well dressed crowd.

The aquarium, which is claimed to be the most beautiful in the world, is enclosed in the ravine that cuts the cliff into two parts, which are united by the cliff bridge that passes over this establishment, whose Moorish architecture is not particularly attractive. Within the building are twenty six tanks, containing a number of specimens of sea and river fishes, alligators, tortoises, and the inevitable seals, whose evolutions so greatly amuse children of all ages. There are also grottoes arranged with chairs and tables, wherein one can read the papers, or chat while listening to the harmonious strains of the orchestra, which constitutes the great attraction of the aquarium.

"We descend to the beach by an ingenious tramway which saves bathers the trouble of walking up and down the steep cliffs. This is an immense boon to invalids, and there are a great number of bathing places in England and France which would do well to imitate Scarborough in this respect – Biarritz for example.

"Sandy, soft, and firm, the beach is covered with bathing machines. According to English custom, ladies bathe on one side and the gentlemen on the other. Children play on the sand, construct redoubts, and fortifications, on which they plant the British flag. A considerable number of equestrians, some mounted on hired hacks, others upon the modest donkey, plunge through the sands in every sense of the word. In this respect Scarborough does not set an example worthy of imitation, the presence of these riders a source of danger to the children, and an annoyance to the promenaders."

Scarborough continues to be a popular resort with much musical and theatrical entertainment but according to the Wikipedia entry, the Scarborough Spa waters were declared unfit for human consumption and sealed off in the 1930s.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more vintage top hats and fancy dress.


Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

Wow, that's a nice looking group of guys in the the first photo and a lot of top hats! They all looked quite spiffy in those uniforms.

Bob Scotney said...

Scarborough is less than 50 miles from where I live and we go there often. The first holiday we had with our two boys was in a Scarborough hotel. I have to admit however that I've never seen or hear an orchestra there. I shall be looking for one the next time we go. The top hatted band is impressive.

Wibbo said...

That's a superb photograph! I spent many happy childhood holidays in Scarborough during the 1950s.

barbara and nancy said...

What a wonderful post. Those top hatted musicians! How handsome.
I loved reading about the spa. I felt I was there enjoying the rousing band music while viewing the fish in the aquariam.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

You have given us some amazing top hat pictures and a great history lesson to boot! Thanks for your hard work on this post.

Kathy M.

Kat Mortensen said...

An absolutely fascinating post - made all the more interesting because of your keen knowledge of music. The photos are fantastic, and the histories absolutely captivating.

I've added you in to the Sepia Saturday blog-list in my sidebar; for some reason, I was missing your excellent blog.


Wendy said...

I for one am glad they wore their trousers as well as their hats. Very interesting about the band vs orchestra. I never think of bands as having strings.

Food Smarts said...

Imagine having live music while gazing at the aquariums. I enjoyed reading about all the music details.
Very informative and fun to read.

Postcardy said...

Interesting post and a fine collection of top hats.

Karen S. said...

I do believe that top hats are my most favorite hats for men!

tony said...

Oh I Would Have Loved To Hear That Band Play! (With or Without Trousers!)


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