Archive for the ‘Heritage Lottery Fund’ Tag

Historic bandstands make a welcome revival in London parks   1 comment

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I’ve got my own memories of children listening to a brass band perform classical music during a particularly windswept holiday, which ended with us all diving for cover when the heavens opened. That particular concert in a bandstand similar to this one wasn’t very full, but during their heyday in the Victorian era bandstands were enormously popular and drew crowds of up to 10,000.

Thursday night concerts at Myatt’s Fields, Lambeth were always packed, right up until the Second World War. This account by the writer Jack Donaldson was published in 1937: “I arrived on time but there was no room on the seats or the railings, so I leant against a tree and enjoyed the music. The children danced to it, played ball to it, sang to it and ignored it, The grown-ups, all listening, sat round on their wooden seats or leant against the green railings and were happy.”

Bandstands were first pioneered by local authorities in the Victorian era who wanted to attract people to their parks. The councils realised that worsening conditions in urban areas meant there was an increasing need for green, open spaces where the general public could relax, and the offer of free musical entertainment meant the crowds packed in to listen to brass, military and wind bands that were hugely popular in those years.

But the origins of British bandstands go right back to the great Pleasure Gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries. The most famous of these was Vauxhall Gardens, which were situated in New Spring Gardens, close to the railway station. It combined music, illuminated fountains, hot air balloons, tightrope walkers and firework displays for the rich and fashionable people. They were like the night clubs of their day and drew enormous crowds from all over the country, who loved the music pavilions, which hosted promenade concerts, where the audience could stroll about while listening to the music, and it was from these musical events that the bandstand evolved.

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The first were built in South Kensington’s Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in 1861 and when they closed the bandstands were re-erected in Southwark Park and Peckham Rye, but both were destroyed in the Second World War. They soon became so popular that nearly every public park and seaside resort had one by the end of the 19th century. They tried to out do each other in terms of their colourful and ornate design.

But the popularity of these concerts waned in the 1950s as other attractions, such as the cinema, radio and TV became increasingly popular and, as a result many fell into disrepair. There was a brief revival in the late 60s when groups like Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac played a series of free bandstand at Parliament Hill, but most parks were struggling and in the years between 1979 and 2001, more than half of the 438 bandstands in historic parks across the country were demolished, vandalised or fell into a chronic state of disuse.

However, the future’s become much brighter in the last 15 years, with the most significant investment of funding seen since Victorian times, brought about by the National Lottery and the Heritage Lottery Fund. More than 80 bandstands have been fully restored, including this one, or replaced and are now central to regeneration initiatives, making them once again central to their local communities.

For example, Bandstand Busking is now a regular monthly event that gives up-and-coming musicians the opportunity to perform in underused bandstands dotted around London’s parks, and the annual Bandstand Marathon aims to raise the profile of bandstands by staging simultaneous concerts arranged on a single weekend every year. Myatt’s Fields took part last year, holding a free music workshop in July that included percussion and stringed instruments. The bandstand also stages weekly concerts here every Sunday throughout the summer.

There’s also been changes in the way bandstands are promoted. Oganisations like Bandstand Busking use Facebook, Twitter and social media to spread the word about their concerts and a new iPhone App has been launched by a company in the Midlands that plays you stories about the history of its local bandstands.

A new wave of designers have also been creating striking new designs – here we have a picture of a sleek looking bandstand that was recently opened in Maidstone, and Bermondsey’s ultra moden More London Bandstand hosts a range of events throughout the year from dance and theatre to performance art.

This is a clear sign of a renewed interest in British bandstands and, after a period of neglect, they are starting to become a focal point of our parks and communities again and are also very much in the forefront of a new era of public music.

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