And the Band Played On; History of Music from the British Royal Navy

Someone once asked me why I write posts about the navy when my blog and book were entitled Nothe Fort and Beyond.

 ‘Beyond’ maybe gives a clue because the Victorian fortifications weren’t built as a stand alone defence. They were not only designed to protect our south coast from invasion but to protect the naval fleets that moored within the nearby bases, Portland Roads was one such base.

Like the resident military, when these men of the sea arrived in port their musical services were swiftly snapped up to entertain the local population and tourists alike in the nearby bandstands such as Alexandra gardens shown below and in local theatres.


I came across this interesting article written in The Navy & Army Illustrated magazine of 1899 and added it here because I thought some might enjoy this snippet of naval history.


Everyone who has served on board ship will testify to the value of a good band, or even of an indifferent one rather than none at all. Sailors appear to have  a natural turn for music; there are few ships in the navy, even of the smaller ones, which are not allowed  band, where some sort of attempt is not made at a “squeegee,”  as described in a former number.

1.4 mb title band of the caledoneon army and navy 1899 1All large vessels are allowed a certain proportion of bandsmen as part of their complement, and flag-ships are very properly accorded a greater number. The pay allowed by the Admiralty instructions is not always liberal enough top secure the services of first-rate me, but a large number of lads are now qualified as band boys in the training ships, and are rated as bandsmen when they attain a certain age, provided they are proficient, and its possible for them to obtain eventually the rank of bandmaster.

Ships’ bands like those of regiments are usually looked after by one or more officers, elected as band president, or band committee; and small sum is subscribed monthly by each member of the ward-room mess to provide music etc., and to supplement the pay of some of the men, and especially of the of the powerful army and navy 1899In former days-and not so very many years ago-very meagre provision was made by the authorities in this respect, but some ships especially in the Mediterranean, had very “swagger” bands, maintained by the officers at considerable expense. The flag ship in China, thirty years ago, had a band of about forty performers which would have put many a military band in the shade.

Small craft which are not allowed bandsmen, are, however, permitted to carry a “musician” a distinction which appears at first sight somewhat invidious!

The band usually assembles on deck a few minutes before the colours are hoisted in the morning, and plays “God Save the Queen” as they go up, all on deck respectfully uncovering. Some lively airs, marches, etc., are played before and during morning inspection.

In the evening there is always music during dinner, the bandmaster bringing down the programme to the mess president, and being frequently invited down to have  glass of wine after playing “The Queen.”1.1 band of the impregnable frameless army and navy 1899 3The training ship “Impregnable” has, as will be noticed, a very numerous band, chiefly consisting of aspiring young musicians, and the “Caledonia” stationed at Queensferry, in the Firth of Forth, went so far as to organise a small band of youthful pipers, greatly to the delight, no doubt, of the Scotchmen.

Weymouth and Portland of course had its own resident naval training vessel, H.M.S. Boscowen moored in Portland Roads.


(For further information on these vessels above moored in Portland Roads click on the link below)

In January of 1892 the Boscowen band was summonsed into action upon the death of H.R.H Prince Albert Victor.

The whole of Portland, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis was in mourning, tradesmen were requested to shut up shop by 2pm on the day of his funeral, many of them having boarded their windows in black.

St Mary’s rang out it’s mournful toll with muffled bells, joined by those of St John’s and Holy Trinity churches.

Every organisation was represented that day, the Army and Navy, Civil Service, Oddfellows, Foresters, Good Templars and Rechabites to name but a few.

The principle contingent was furnished from H.M.S Alexandra and Boscowen, about 250 officers, men and boys representing the Royal Navy, who arrived in launches on the quay shortly after quater-past two, and to the music of the Boscowen band, marched to church.

Not only did their band have the honour of leading in the naval procession but they also played  a major role  in the church service.

Mr H.A Hurdle, A.R.A.M organist of St Mary’s, [presided at the organ with great ability, being assisted by the band of H.M.S Boscowen.



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