57. A Suicide in the Family
The year 1907 was to prove a dark period for the Allan family of New Shildon, but it seemed to have begun ordinarily enough. With the summer contesting season some way off George Allan would have been able to invest free time into composing music and working on a new piece entitled ‘The Gale’ for publication later in the year.
His first brass contest engagement came on the 29th of June at Shotton Colliery, to the east of Durham and towards the coast. Available records suggest that it was the first time a brass band contest had been held in this particular mining community, and it was certainly the first to be organised by the Shotton Colliery Brass Band, but a prize pot of fifteen pounds still managed to attract a field of nine competing bands to perform the test pieces which, according to different accounts, was entitled either “Prairie Queen” or “Prairie Flowers” with another test piece title given as “Winter Roses”. As usual, the contest was held as part of another wider event, this being the Shotton Colliery Band’s first Annual Sports, with races and other sporting events taking place in parallel. An ‘ambulance competition’ saw a tied outcome between teams from Hetton, Murton and Wingate, while local lad J Kent of Shotton Colliery won the schoolboy race.
Having heard all the bands renditions of the test piece from within his adjudicator’s tent, George Allan awarded the first prize of £8 to the band from Hetton Town and their conductor, Mr J Bennett. The Willington Silver Band lived up to their reputation by coming a respectable second for prize money of £4, with the Sunderland East End Band and Sunderland Temperance Band coming third and fourth respectively. Bands from Birtley, Hartlepool, Seaham, Wingate and Sunderland Borough were the ‘also-rans’ on the day. In the march
The July 1907 issue of Wright and Round’s Brass Band News contained George’s latest small advertisement introducing the banding community to his latest work. Unlike his advertisements the previous year that had run for several months, this was a one-off and gives the impression that George had posted it just to remind people that he was there. Perhaps something had been going on in his life during this time that made it harder to get on with the business of composing music. The advert read “CONTEST MARCHES – These still lead the way!! “Senator”, “La maestro”, “Battle Abbey”, “Bravura” and “The Gale”. Another ready shortly. – GEO. ALLAN, Publisher, New Shildon.”
George Allan’s parents, James and Hannah, continued to live at 65 Adelaide Street in New Shildon, with their two youngest sons Ralph and Edwin. Ralph had carried on the family trade of tailoring, working with his father. Very nearby, at 68 Adelaide Street, one of George’s other brothers, John Robert Allan, had set up home with his wife Jane Ann (neé Ross) and by 1907 they had brought three sons into the world; George William, John James and Robert Ross Allan. Like his older brother, John Robert was in the employment of the North Eastern Railway at the wagon works, only as a joiner and wagon builder rather than a painter of wagons.
On Sunday the 21st of July 1907 John James Allan and his wife Hannah were downstairs at home at around ten o’clock at night when they heard their son Ralph come into the house, take off his coat, and go straight upstairs to his room. Hannah had been preparing supper so had called upstairs to Ralph for him to come down. There came no reply. Sensing something was amiss with their son, the couple went upstairs and entered the bedroom, to find Ralph on his knees with a deep gash in his throat. He had cut his own throat. Immediately the couple called out for someone to summon a doctor, but in minutes Ralph’s life ebbed quickly away and by the time the doctor arrived there was nothing to be done. Ralph Allan, the young 29-year-old tailor of New Shildon, had taken his own life.
The next morning, Monday the 22nd, an inquest was quickly arranged and overseen by a Mr Proud. Evidence was presented that Ralph had been suffering from ‘delusions’, had been depressed for some time prior to the
The Allan family gathered at All Saints Church on the 24th of July for a service and burial to say farewell to Ralph yet we can’t say for sure whether the funeral followed standard Christian protocol, or whether it was simply a burial. Though attitudes to suicide had softened somewhat by the early twentieth century, it was still then considered a crime to attempt to take one’s own life. Following a law that was established in the mid-13th century, it had been practised up until 1822 for the Crown to take all of the possessions of any man that had committed suicide. Even though this was no longer the case, there would still have been a stigma for the Allan family over Ralph’s tragic end.
Only a few weeks later, George, who would highly probably have been deeply touched and saddened by his brother’s death, was called to adjudication duties yet again. This occasion would take him to Grangetown near the industrial town of Middlesbrough for a contest that had been arranged by the Cleveland Steelworks Band who had managed to offer fifteen pounds in prize money for the main test piece, an unknown arrangement of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” that had been published by Wright and Round, plus a small prize for the sideshow of the
Five bands had entered this contest, which had been limited to bands that had won no more than £10 in prize money since 1905, the adjudication notes from which were published in the Sep issue of Brass Band News for all to read. The band from Dorman and Long’s Redcar works suffered from tuning and timing issues that saw them finish outside the top three, while Guisborough Priory gave “a very good finish to a very fine performance; good tune and intonation.” A few issues in their performance and being outdone by the other bands led to them only being placed third. South Bank merely offered “a nice performance.” to see them share the fourth prize with Dorman and Long. Skinningrove Band shone on the day with their cornet player’s work being at times “very artistic, just right” and overall rendition being “capital” to earn them the top prize of £8 and a cup; while Middlesbrough Borough Band, of whom George said “a very good rendering indeed; band well in tune generally.” before awarding them the second prize. Guisborough Priory Band fought back in the
Later that month, Saturday the 24th of August to be precise, George headed out to Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast for yet another band contest organised
This contest is possibly the first case we have seen of George Allan judging a band at contest playing one of his own marches. This, of course, was an experience with which Thomas Edward Bulch was very familiar. It may well have happened before, however, the British newspapers and band press made very little of the march element of band contests, considering them very much secondary to the main selection test, and rarely mentioning which pieces were played. George could have forgiven himself, though, for taking satisfaction in the fact that as accomplished a conductor of band contests as William Holdsworth, who regularly advertised his services quite boastfully in the Brass Band News alongside a count of his contest wins, considered “Senator” to be a great choice of contest march for a band as capable as the Barton Cycle Works Band.
As we move into 1908, as usual, evidence of George’s life seems scarce during the cold dark winter months. Then we see him again emerge in the spring, as though from hibernation, in the press. The first thing we see is him again advertising ahead of the band contesting season. “CHAMPION CONTEST MARCHES. – “Senator” (the topper), “La Maestro”, “Battle Abbey” (2nd edition), “The Gale” and “Bravura.” All worth playing: no waters. Price 1/3 per set. Publisher Geo. Allan, New Shildon.” George ran this advertisement every month right through to August, probably the last issue likely to sell anything for that year’s contest season.
You get a sense from this that he knows he’s on to something with his contest march, “Senator”. We have no idea what feedback he was getting from the bands that had bought it, but as we have seen, he had seen at least one very top band perform it at a contest sufficiently well to be impressed. It can’t be denied that there is something special about The Senator which has caused it to endure right through to today. It has an audible appeal, and there is evidently a joy in the paying of it, that transcends time. Not long after we started the group to uncover the story of Allan and Bulch I was contacted by the representative of a high school marching band in California, desperate to obtain a copy of “Senator”. That band being comprised of instruments that made them more like a military band did not deter their admiration of the piece, nor put them off arranging it to suit their band’s format.
Spring brought with it another bereavement in the Allan family, as Hannah Allan, George’s Aunt and wife of George’s Uncle Ralph passed away. Ralph himself, a shoemaker in life, had passed away over a decade and a half before at the family’s the home on Magdala Terrace in Shildon. Hannah had moved away to Crook with her sons, who were working as masons, following her husband’s death; but later moved with her eldest son to Bishop Auckland which is where she saw out her final days.
May of 1908 sees the first contest adjudication engagement that we are aware of in that year, which required George to travel to Brotton-in-Cleveland near the north-east coast between Redcar and Staithes. This was on the 30th of May for a contest that was the second to be organised by the Cleveland Brass Band Association. There were two sections competing at this contest, a first and second. For the first section, the test piece was “Truth in Marchera” which was played each in their turn by Charlton’s Brass Band, Guisborough Priory Band, Grange Town, Skelton Old and Skinningrove Miner’s Bands. Of these there was so little difference between the playing by both Guisborough Priory Band and the Skelton Old band that when George’s points were totalled there was a tie for first place, resulting in those top two placed bands splitting the combined prize money for first and second place. The Skinningrove Miners’ Band came third.
For the second section, there was a smaller field of entrants, with only four bands to give their best rendition of “Songs of Wallace”. It was one of the two hosting bands that emerged triumphant on the day; that being the Brotton Temperance Band. Their near neighbours, Brotton Old Band, came second, with North Skelton third and Lingdale in fourth place. The Whitby Gazette, published six days later, states that the contest was well attended and that the bands played well. Otherwise, the press found little remarkable about the occasion to report upon.
In June we see evidence of another development. That month’s issue of Brass Band News included a solo cornet sample from a waltz composed by George Allan entitled “Queen of Society” which had been published by Wright and Round as part of their Liverpool Brass Band (& Military) Journal. Thus it appears that while George was concentrating his efforts on his own published line of contest marches, he also seems to have been selling compositions to Wright and Round at least during this period. It would have been interesting to understand his strategy; whether he was deliberately keeping back pieces that he considered to be his best in order to build up his own publishing business, or whether perhaps Wright and Round felt his contest marches to difficult for the mass market. Perhaps George didn’t feel that Wright and Round were offering enough to justify his selling them the best of his marches.
For George, and all his fellow workers at the Shildon Railway Works there was uncertainty during June. It started down at York where at the beginning of the month an announcement was made by the management that owing to a scarcity of work they intended to lay off men in batches over a number of weeks until several hundred had been dismissed. As you’d expect this caused a nervous tension among the workers. There were 3,000 men employed at the carriage works in York none of whom, in an era before the Welfare State, would relish the prospect of unemployment. The North Eastern Railway’s statement indicated that it had similar plans for Shildon.
Hot on the heels of that news, in July of 1908, it was announced that the “Dabble Duck” colliery, which George’s house on Pears Terrace looked out over, was to close, having been deemed unprofitable by its owners. The colliery had been trying to negotiate with the NER to mine beneath land they held where it was understood more coal was to be had, but that negotiation had been fruitless and the decision to lay off 200 men and close the mine after 40 years of operation was taken. Residents of New Shildon feared the negative effect on the town’s trade.
Saturday the 5th of September brought a slightly different format of band contest for George to adjudicate. This was held in conjunction with the Tursdale Colliery Annual Show. Nine bands came together on the show field to offer, not an intricate test selection, but first a march each, and then a set of waltzes. Among the bands were many that George was familiar with, some of then one-time former fellow members of the Wear Valley Band League, such as Pease’s West and the Willington Silver Band. It was the latter of these two that took the prizes on the day for both march and waltzes, with Pease’s West and Chester-le-Street being the other two placed bands in both categories.
In November a one-off advertisement was printed in the Brass Band News. “The “Popular” Christmas Number – Now Ready. No samples; they are unnecessary as the music is guaranteed good. Send 1/3 for a set (20 brass) Extras 2d. – GEO ALLAN, Published, New Shildon”. It’s not made clear what pieces were published in that Christmas Number, but with it being ‘Now Ready’ we assume it was something new. Not offering samples was a bold move, but might also keep down costs.
The beginning of December brought a dispute between wagon builders at the North Eastern Railway works over the rates paid for piece work which resulted in the wagon builders standing idle for the first week of the month. If wagons weren’t being built, they also weren’t being painted, which meant that George Allan and his family faced a bleak Christmas and New Year, falling back on any savings they had, or income from George’s composing work. The dispute ran right through until Tuesday the 12th of January 1909: seven weeks without pay when management and workers negotiated a settlement and agreed work would recommence the following Monday with a new piece work rate of 24s and 6d as well as equivalent facilities at Shildon to those that had previously been granted at York.
58. Nellie Melba, Dismissal and a Quiet Wedding
At the beginning of February of 1908, the town of Albury was bristling with excitement at the prospect of a planned visit by one of Australia’s brightest celebrities of the day. Dame Nellie Melba, who derived the surname as a shortened form of her home city of Melbourne, was probably Australia’s first classical music star and a huge sensation. In a remarkable career spanning from 1887 right through to her death in
Dame Nellie, whose name at birth was Helen Porter Mitchell, had been booked to give a concert in Albury on Thursday the 6th. The newspaper reports estimated that around 2,000 people gathered at the railway station just to witness her arrival. Thinking ahead, the stationmaster at Albury had erected a barrier at the station platform to prevent an excited crowd from pressing forward and crushing the opera singer. This foresight proved it’s worth when the singer arrived, stepping down from the observation car at the rear of the Sydney Express, as the “crowd surged like waves of the sea”. At the entrance to the station, our man, Thomas Edward Bulch, awaited with the Albury Town Band to “welcome the prima donna with musical honours” while she waited to get into the car that was to whisk her away to the Globe Hotel where she would spend the night ahead of her concert at the Albury Mechanics Institute the following evening. Part of the reason for her coming to Albury was to inaugurate the new stage that had been built there. It took a few minutes to get Nellie to the car for as she left the station it had become obscured by the crowd, with some members of the throng clambering onto it so as to get a better view of her arrival.
Whether Thomas attended the concert is something we don’t know, though it’s hard to imagine that a music aficionado such as he, with a penchant for arranging operatic works for brass bands, would have let such an opportunity pass him by. He may well also have felt it a great honour for the band to be part of the welcoming celebrations for so distinguished a singer.
In early March 1908, Thomas appears to have taken yet another brass band under his wing, that being the Jindera Brass Band, based in the small town of that name that lies on the road between Albury and Walla Walla. The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express of 6th March tells us how that band had been practising, under his guidance, ahead of a concert to benefit the Jindera Bush Fire Brigade which was scheduled to take place on the 18th of March. This was an event that had been postponed from the previous year, but when it came around was deemed in press reports to be a huge success. The band, conducted by Thomas, was thought to be “at its best”, the hall full and the band and singers loudly applauded after each part of the programme.
Not everyone, however, was pleased with Thomas’s work. While he had been spending time putting the Jindera Brass Band through their paces in preparation for the benefit concert, the committee of the Albury Town Band met on Wednesday 25th March and, for reasons not published at the time, decided to dispense with Thomas’s services as bandmaster. In his place, as a temporary measure, they appointed another member of the band. The outcome of that meeting was published in the Border Mail and Riverina Times on Friday 27th March, who questioned the wisdom of the decision. “It seems a pity, after the undeniably valuable work the late conductor has put in, that the band should lose the services of Mr Bulch, whom we feel certain that committee will have much difficulty in suitably replacing. The frequent successes of the band in competitions are in the main due to his skill and painstaking instruction. He is also a composer of no mean order, and even the famous Besses of the Barn Band do not scorn to include his compositions and arrangements in their repertoire.”
It appears that rumours circulated quickly, particularly with there being another significant brass band in the town of Albury. The secretary of that band was quick to attempt to pour water on them three days later via the pages of the same newspaper. “CORRESPONDENCE. THE CITIZENS MILITARY BAND (To the Editor.) Sir,—We wish to contradict a rumour that is current re Mr T E Bulch and the Citizens’ Band. In fairness to Mr Bulch we wish to state that there is no communication whatever in the rumour that Mr Bulch is to take over the conductorship of the Citizen’s Band, as there has not been any arrangement of any kind before or since when Mr Bulch severed his connection with the Town Band, nor has Mr Bulch ever approached the Citizens Band on the subject, Any negotiations that may occur with Mr.Bulch and the Citizens Band will be given publicity. Thanking you for your valuable attention – Yours. HARRIS and WITTMER, Hon. Secs. A.C.M.B Albury, March 28”
The letter suggests that the severance between band and conductor was at Thomas’s instigation, however, the committee in multiple newspapers maid plain that from their perspective it was their decision to terminate the agreement. The dialogue, through the medium of the press, did not end there. The day following the letter from the secretaries of the Albury Citizens Band, a further piece of correspondence was published having been written by a person under the pen name of Annual Subscriber. “Sir,- I hear Mr Bulch has been given no reason as to why his services were dispensed with by the Committee of the Town Band, beyond the bare words “on account of the condition of the band.” Also, that Mr Bulch’s first intimation of his dismissal was a paragraph in a certain paper, and that the letter of the president dispensing with his services did not reach him till after he had read the news in the public press. This method of dealing with Mr Bulch is so like that adopted with the previous bandmaster (Mr Drury) that I want to know if all the actions of the Town Band Committee are on a par with the way in which they treat their bandmasters. I want to ask the band committee a few questions, and if it does not answer then I hope Mr Bulch will satisfy my curiosity. They are -(1) Is it a fact that Mr Bulch, within the last few weeks, removed his business of a music-seller and phonograph dealer to Dean Street, in the block between Olive and Kiowa Streets? (2) Is it a fact that an annual collection of subscriptions for the Town Band was made in September last, and that the next annual subscription was made early this month – an interval of only six or seven months intervening? (3) If, had Mr Bulch been dismissed before taking up this latter annual collection, said collection would not have been less than half, hence the bandmaster was not got rid of till the public subscriptions were safely in hand? (4) If the reason why a band contest was not included in the Musical and Literary Festival programme for the coming Easter was because some of that committee, who are also members of the Town Band Committee knew that they would not have Mr Bulch to win the prize for them this time, and so could not bother about what was the greatest feature of their previous competitions? (5) If the matter of commission on band instruments (which is always a
There was definitely an element of controversy in what had taken place, yet the Albury Town Band Committee chose not to respond publicly and the newspaper debate ended there. Within days a new bandmaster named Cunningham was instated. Thomas’s newspaper adverts for his music store quickly confirmed that he had indeed moved the business to new premises at Dean Street and within days it was clear that Thomas had again indeed taken an appointment as bandmaster with both the Albury Citizens Band and the Jindera Brass Band. He got straight to work with the former of these, organising a benefit concert for the afternoon of Sunday the 12th of April to raise money to enable the Newtown Orphanage to a have a telephone installed. Neighbours of the orphanage had provided the necessary telephone poles, so all that remained to be funded were the cables and insulators. This was to be the first concert by the Citizens Band under the baton of, as the Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times put it, “one of the most capable conductors in Australia.”
As always the concert was a hit with a large crowd assembling to hear the band play their programme of music, which naturally included a number of Thomas’s own compositions. This would not be as out of place as it might sound given that a great many of bands in Australia at the time would have one or two Bulch pieces in a programme of music, and it’s probable that the Citizens Band had been playing his works for years. On this occasion, notable inclusions were “Gigantique”, the waltz “Flowers of Australia” and “Torchlight Parade”. The Border Mail highlighted that “it was remarked generally that already there has been a decided improvement in this playing of the band since Mr Bulch took charge.”
Though Thomas was no longer engaged to the Albury Town Band his advertisements in the Albury Banner took some time to reflect this change, perhaps owing to the fact that he had paid up front to run the advertisements for a pre-set period of time.
On the 15th of May Thomas attended a public smoke social in honour of Dr Irmer, which had been organised at the Albury Hotel by the German nationals of Albury. With over 100 people present it was deemed one of the most successful functions of its kind ever held at Albury. Toasts were proposed to the honoured guest, the King, and the Kaiser, after which Dr Irmer gave an eloquent speech in which in one part he “referred at some length, and in especially impressive terms to the happy relations now existing between Germany and England, and pointed out that this was only natural in view of the blood relationship existing between the Royal families of the two nations. If that continued there would be no fear of war as the two powers could defy the world.” After the speeches, some the multi-national company gave renditions of songs, accompanied by Thomas Bulch at the piano, terminating at 11 pm with “Auld Lang Syne” and “Der Wacht
On the 22nd of May the band relocated briefly to Jindera for a concert and dance at which Thomas acted as Master of Ceremonies; then two days later, on Empire Day, so chosen as having been the birthday of the late Queen Victoria, Thomas led the Citizens Band, with local military forces on a musical procession from the drill hall to St Matthew’s church for a special service. The Town Band also attended. Reports of Thomas’s activities through the Australian winter months are few, suggesting that his time was probably quietly invested in rehearsing the Citizens and Jindera bands for the spring months. The band did, however, offer a concert at the Newtown Orphanage again in the first week of September.
On the 18th of September, there was a wedding in the Bulch family. Thomas’s eldest son, also named Thomas Edward of course, married Miss Ivy Veronica Cozens, daughter of R B H Cozens of the town. Curiously it was described as a “quiet” wedding in the Albury Banner, the marriage service being taken by Reverend Canon Bevan at St Matthews Church, Albury. Whether there was a reason for the wedding to be quiet other than perhaps the shyness of the couple, or perhaps an aversion to crowds, we’ll never know.
On Monday the 12th of October the committee of the Albury Citizens Band held their annual meeting at the Albury Town Hall, with Thomas in attendance. The report of the year’s progress commented on how the band had successfully secured Thomas’s services as bandmaster and how the band had made good progress under his leadership and that expectations were that they could rise to a high standard of efficiency. The number of players was 31 and average attendance at practice 24. The band’s finances were also deemed satisfactory. Then on Sunday the 28th of October the band took part in the last local military church parade of the season at St David’s Presbyterian Church.
The month of October ended with news relating to another member of the Bulch family in Albury, and unsurprisingly it relates to musical achievement. Examinations had been conducted by Mr Schilsky of the Trinity College of Music, London, on the 23rd of October. Among the successful students listed in an article in the Albury Banner under the category of Junior Pass was Miss Alice Bulch, a student of Mr P L Gray. Thomas’s daughter was taking her own tentative steps into the world of music.
Thomas’s band started November with a concert on the afternoon of Sunday the 1st at Bowna, to raise money for the band’s funds. Later that month, on the 13th, we see that Thomas was again in need of raising some funds himself. He had appeared in the Small Debts Court with respect to a claim by John Carew and Son for £5 12s for goods sold and delivered. The court found in favour of the plaintiff with costs. It appeared as though history was repeating itself somewhat.
The 19th of November brought the second day of the Albury Racing Club’s Spring Meeting, and despite the weather being perfect for the occasion only a moderate crowd gathered to watch the Hurdle Race, Trial Stakes, Spring Handicap, High Weight Handicap and Farewell Handicap, with Thomas and the Albury Citizens Band providing “spirited” music between. The remainder of the year fizzled out with relatively little event of significance for Thomas other than his birthday which always fell on the day before New Year’s Eve. The thirtieth day of December 1908 saw Thomas turn 46 years of age.
The beginning of 1909 was almost as quiet as the end of 1908 had been in terms of evidence of activities of Thomas and of the Citizens band. It appeared that one of the reasons for this might have become clear in the Border Morning Mail of 4th of March 1909. The article tells that at a meeting of members of the Albury Citizens Band, Thomas has complained of the poor attendance of bandsmen at practice, and he tendered his resignation there and then. It appears that the band had failed to meet his exacting expectations, and certain of the bandsmen had failed to show the amount of passion for the music and quality of the band that Thomas demanded. The members discussed the matter before accepting Thomas’s resignation and to seek a successor at a future meeting. To anyone reading that article it would seem that with both the Albury Town and Albury Citizens band now all but alienated, and only the income from the Jindera band to supplement takings from the music store, the viability of Thomas staying in Albury was now questionable.
However, only two days later a letter from Thomas himself appeared in the same newspaper. “To The Editor. Sir,- having read a paragraph in your issue of Thursday last, re Citizens Band Meeting, I might state that I did not tender my resignation as bandmaster, neither do I intend doing so. It is no doubt a fact that my complaint of irregular attendances of members is quite true, as I hold a copy of the roll call. It has been said to my own knowledge that the said paragraph was a mild way of getting rid of my services so as not to injure me in any future application I might make for a similar position. neither band in Albury, nor any other in Australia, can accuse me of sending in my credentials to secure a position as bandmaster. Holding now a unique position as Hon. Sec. and Bandmaster, as I do, you would not expect me to write my own death warrant. Yours etc. T E Bulch. Hon Sec. and Bandmaster, Citizens Band, March 5.”
Was Thomas, then, still in the employ of the band? Whatever the case it certainly seems as though not everything was well with either his relationship with the
Toward the end of the month, Thomas again provided piano accompaniment to a social evening hosted by the German community of Albury. This time it was for Dr Muller who was leaving Albury for a trip to Germany. As previously there were toasts to the King and the Kaiser, followed by songs.
In May, at a meeting of the Albury Town Band the secretary sang the praises of their new bandmaster, Mr Cunningham, stating that the band had progressed as well under him than it could have under Mr Bulch or any other bandmaster. Might this have been put on record for the benefit of Thomas, or other critics of the decision to dispense with his services?
The winter months continue to be scarce of news of Thomas’s life, punctuated by only the odd appearance at the occasional social evening where he would round the night off accompanying the singers of the company at the piano. In July it was the annual social of the military forces of the local Battery at the Drill Hall. In October, the twenty-fourth annual meeting of the Albury Deutscher Verein, the German community. While the newspapers were sprinkled liberally with reports of bands across the continent playing his compositions with constant frequency as if they were part of the lifeblood of Australia itself, it would seem to the casual onlooker as though Thomas’s own star was fading.
He continued to receive support
Hot on the heels of that piece of opinion, a further letter appeared the next day in the same column; this time from Silent Worker. “Sir,— l feel pleased that someone has voiced the opinion of the public re Mr Bulch’s ability as a bandmaster. Having been a bandsman under Mr Bulch I can safely say that the majority of bandsmen are of the same opinion, The band never was up to the same standard before or since Mr Bulch was conductor, which was then a credit to the town. If Mr Bulch is given full power to control the band as his musical ability warrants, and not to be hampered by non-musical committeemen who have no knowledge of running a band, the public, more especially the bandsmen, I feel sure, will not regret it. I hope my brother bandsman will give it serious consideration.—Yours etc.”
These appeals, doubtless not helped by the general tone, appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Thomas was not reinstated. Whatever rift there was between band and committee was beyond repair. Things were no better with the Albury Citizens’ Band. As the year drew to a close it seems an agreement was reached that the band was no longer viable, and arrangements were made to disband and dispose of the band’s assets.
On the 30th of November, the Albury Citizens Band advertised that they were selling 14 instruments, a drum and sheet music. They invited tenders for purchase of the lot. Prior to the sale, the instruments were displayed at the secretary, Mr L V Harris’s cycle shop. A tender was received from Mr York of Melbourne for £35 which surpassed that of rival bidders, and at a meeting on the 6th of December, it was agreed that everything would be sold to him. The proceeds were distributed among worthy causes in the area by the band’s former President, John Wilkinson. Albury District Hospital, Newtown Orphanage and the Albury Benevolent Society were among the beneficiaries.
The Albury Town Band remained without a bandmaster into January of 1910, though arrangements were made to appoint one Mr Percy Pogson who was at that time in the employ of a band in America. Pogson would not be able to come to Albury until Easter at least, so, concerned that the band would deteriorate in the meantime a correspondent named Subscriber voiced their thoughts in the Border Morning Mail. They concluded that “The band must have a bandmaster – and one now. I notice it was suggested recently that Mr T E Bulch, who did much in bringing the band to the high position I referred to, should be reappointed. Perhaps because Mr Bulch did not favour reed instruments in the band, for which the band recently went to some expense in procuring, it might not have had consideration. I do not write this with any favour towards Mr Bulch, but simply say that, if the band is to have a bandmaster, that one should be appointed, and which should not be a difficult matter. Yours etc.”
One has to wonder whether this letter reveals any of the truth about the original falling out between the Albury Town Band Committee and Thomas. Was it connected to an intention to start to include reed instruments in the make-up of the band’s instrument set? If so it seems odd that it would cause a problem for Thomas as he had composed many pieces for this combination and had worked with military-style band such as the Melbourne GPO Band.
Almost immediately afterwards Thomas responded in through the same medium. “CORRESPONDENCE – THE TOWN BAND CONDUCTOR. (To The Editor.) Sir. – Noticing a letter in to-day’s issue re above band, I would suggest that the committee appoint permanently Mr W J Lester as bandmaster. He is as good a man as I am for the position, in
59. Passing of a Tailor and the Rising of The Wizard
The cold winter months between the end of 1908 and 1909 brought no cheer to the Allans of New Shildon. Not only had the dispute at the NER wagon works brought hardship, but on 30th January 1909 the family patriarch, John James Allan, still a working tailor and draper, died from heart failure whilst at a property on nearby St John’s Road. The death was reported by George’s younger brother Edwin, who at that time was resident at Pearl Street on the outskirts of Old Shildon. He was buried three days later in the churchyard at All Saints Church, with family and friends in attendance. He left an estate valued at £771 19s and 10d to his wife Hannah, and to George.
This would have been a terrible shock for George’s mother, who now found herself living alone in what was once a bustling family home at 65 Adelaide Street, though it would have been some comfort to have had family members at houses nearby. George’s house at Pears Terrace was only a few hundred yards away, and he and his wife would be able to visit easily, as would her grandchildren Lillie, Beatrice and William. Her other son, John, was also quite nearby with his family, and another brother, James, only a few doors away from that. Nonetheless, it’s possible to imagine that Hannah may still have had the memory of her son Ralph’s suicide in the same house, which can’t have been easy to handle.
As spring approached, it was clear that George had been working hard over the winter months, and found some moment fo extreme inspiration. The April issue of Brass Band News contained another of his discrete little advertisements toward the back page, which announced the publication of what was to prove one of his best brass band contest marches; arguably one of the greatest brass band marches of his era, if not of all time. The notice read
It’s worth taking a moment to note here that even George himself knew he was on to something with this one. To state that in a small advert was more than just sales pitch and bravado. At that time the march was a real departure from the standard fare on offer. It’s difficult to play well unless you have a really capable band at your disposal. This raises a particularly interesting question, which is, given George was now not attached to any brass band in Shildon, how on earth did he know how well his compositions would turn out? Was it simply that he had an incredible ability to visualise the music? Was he working with a brass band in some unrecorded partnership? If the latter it would have to be a band of no mean ability. We’ve been informed of a suggestion that at some point he worked with the Leasingthorne Colliery Band, not so much as bandmaster, but in providing music. It’s a difficult matter to prove, one way or the though.
On Saturday the 10th of July 1909 an annual charities carnival, in aid of the Newcastle Infirmary and local Nursing Association as well as Nurse Wood, was held at Bishop Auckland, only a stop away by train from Shidon and within walking distance for many from there. This reportedly attracted many thousands of visitors to the market town. A carnival procession was formed, featuring decorated horses, decorated cyclists (ladies and men), tableaux, pit ponies, individuals and groups in comic costume among other things. The parade got off to a dubious start as the heavens opened to bring a downpouring of rain until almost the end of the procession. From there, though, things cleared up considerably and events continued in the Bishop’s Park, the grounds of Auckland Castle which was the home for centuries of the Bishops of Durham. Among those events was a band contest, the adjudicator of which was George Allan.
Four bands entered. Houghton-le-Spring and District Silver, St Helen’s and West Auckland, Auckland Park and Brandon Colliery Silver. The test piece for the occasion was “Garland of Roses”. The band from Brandon pulled out all the stops to win, according to George’s judgement, both the test selection and quickstep prizes. Houghton-le-Spring came second and St Helen’s and West Auckland Band third. Auckland Park’s soprano horn player picked up a medal for their part in the test piece. Typically the outcome was marred by the other three bands having some issue with the Brandon Colliery Silver Band resulting in them lodging a complaint disputing their entry. The cause of this was not published, alas, nor was the outcome.
In July it was off to Penshaw to judge another contest of which very little is known, except that it was an own choice test selection contest, that was won by Murton Colliery Band, with the South Moor Band coming second. This result was reversed in the
We learn, in September of 1909, of something we hadn’t previously seen in George’s story which is that on Saturday, September the 4th, George attended the Coxhoe Flower Show, not as an adjudicator, but as a conductor; and not of brass band music, but of the Old Shildon Male Voice Choir.
Throughout George’s musical career the Old Shildon choir had existed, but it had been the task of Henry Gibbon to conduct. On this particular occasion, it was George Allan. Under his baton, the choir provided a concert of sacred music. It is possible that Gibbon and Allan were acquaintances and that George may have been asked to step in for an occasion when Henry Gibbon had been able to fulfil the duties.
As we head into 1910 George’s involvement with music seems to quieten a little. there are no reports of him having adjudicated at contests during that year. There is a sense that the banding community has changed since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, become more introspective in its quest for ultimacy in determining which are the nation’s finest bands. Where once the bands appeared to have been there for a social purpose in the absence of other forms of music to grace community occasions and to bring communities together; the brass movement in Britain had by this point seems to have formalised and repeatedly reformed the contesting protocol to the point where it mattered far less to the public and press than it did to the bands themselves. The more formal contesting structure of leagues and associations came to depend upon a narrowing pool of professional adjudicators whose small advertisements for their services had long dominated the brass music press and whose names appeared in the reports of brass band contests with increasing frequency.
Some writers covering the history of the brass band movement have expressed that in the late Victorian era it was thought by many influencers of the brass movement that there were too many contests; inconsistent in quality and format. After that period ended we start to witness a reduction in the ‘village band contests’ held in conjunction with the local agricultural or horticultural
The pinnacle of achievement for bands was to achieve success at the National Band Festival, instituted by Sir Arthur Sullivan and J H Iles in 1900, which
One might forgive George for looking on in either envy or admiration at the achievements of those men who had started out as and when he had, but who had been afforded the luxury and opportunity, or taken a gamble even, to become professionals in their field. The calibre of brass band marches George Allan had begun to produce since the turn of the Twentieth Century stand well alongside those of his more illustrious brethren, yet there would be no room at the top table for this ‘gifted amateur’, this simple blacksmith turned wagon painter from New Shildon.
In this though, there was an element of choice. Thomas Bulch had shown that had George Allan had a strong enough desire to do so he could have attempted to follow a professional path with his music. Bulch had certainly been helped in his own quest by the fact that there was a deficit of the necessary drive and talent in an underpopulated Australia, and he surely recognised that as working in his favour. To have attempted the same in Britain would almost certainly have proved far more difficult.
Whether it was a life-choice imposed upon George Allan, or one willingly embraced, he settled into a pattern of working as a part-time writer and publisher of music for brass bands. From the demise of the New Shildon Saxhorn band
This makes it harder to determine much of what George spent much of his time doing during this upcoming period much is hidden. One thing we are able to ascertain though is that the spate of tragedies that had been befalling the Allan family continued into 1910.
On August 18th 1910, George was present as another of his younger brothers passed from this life. This time it was James, who at the time had been living close to their mother on Adelaide Street. James and his wife Elizabeth Jane (neé Donkin) lived at number 42, also not far from the Bulch family, with their three children Walter Donkin Allan, William Edward Allan and Alice Mowbray Allan. The family had also taken in Elizabeth’s mother Jane Donkin (neé Mowbray) but she too had passed away before 1910. James had been a labourer in association with the railways for most of his working life and at the time of his
For whatever reason George did not advertise any new compositions for sale during 1910. It’s almost as if his attentions were diverted by other matters, some of which will be revealed when we look at 1911.
60. To Geelong and Silent Movies
The events in Albury during 1909 left Thomas Bulch in something of a limbo. He was resident in the town and still had a music shop business there, but doubtless could not be happy without a band to take charge of. Across the continent, bands were still playing his music, so he was still a name to be reckoned with for the Australian brass banding community. The organisers of the South Street Competitions in Ballarat had even selected his march “Pile Arms” to be the piece performed when all the bands at the contest massed under a single conductor. In July of 1910, as part of an article in the Mount Alexander Mail, the Thompson’s foundry band, in celebrating 25 years of their history, cited Thomas as one of the best bandmasters in the state of Victoria to have conducted their band. However, Thomas may well have wondered what is a bandmaster without a band to lead?
The answer, it would seem to have lain in the coastal town of Geelong, on the other side of Port Phillip Bay to the west of Melbourne. We don’t know when Thomas made a move to Geelong, but the first hint that he had done so lay in an article in the Geelong Advertiser on the 17th Sept 1910 which promotes a forthcoming King’s Clock Concert to complement a film “Incidents in the Life of the Late King Edward” at which the Geelong Town Brass Band had agreed to occupy the orchestra and provide pieces by Mr T E Bulch that included “Gems of Meyerbeer”. the article isn’t explicit that Thomas was involved and present but there is something implicit in the use of the phrase ‘provided by’ that suggests he may have been in charge of the band on that occasion.
The situation is clarified in a follow-up article that appeared in the Geelong Advertiser on the 24th September “GEELONG TOWN BAND. The vast improvement in the playing of this band has been frequently commented upon. Under the baton of Mr T E
So it seems that the Geelong Town Band had been the next brass band to secure Thomas services and that the family had made a move there during the antipodean winter.
Thomas wasted no time in showing off his talents, not just as a bandmaster, but as a musician in his own right. At a musical and dramatic entertainment at St Mary’s Hall in Geelong on the 24th of September 1910, Thomas accompanied a drum solo played by Mr G F Twentyman to provide bugle and piano effects to what was a “Descriptive Battle March”. Interestingly he was described in a write-up, again in the Geelong Advertiser, as being “of Ballarat” despite his having been resident elsewhere on a number of occasions.
On the night of the Kings Clock Concert, which was being held in aid of the King’s Clock Fund, His Majesty’s Theatre in Geelong was packed. The Geelong Orchestral society rendered ballet music from Rosa Munde, followed by a concert of various songs from the assembled cast of characters of the Geelong Operatic Entertainers. Then the Town Band offered their rendition of the Meyerbeer arrangement. A commentator in the press wrote “The band has made striking progress, and its performance last night under the baton of Mr T E Bulch was appreciatively applauded. More songs followed as well as a pantomime ballet by Miss Parker’s pupils; a dozen tots in striking costumes. Then came the film, with accompaniment by the Geelong Orchestral Society, before the National Anthem completed the night.
On Monday the 17th of October the band offered a concert at the Geelong Mechanics Hall to top up the funds they had been raising to defray their expenses for attending the South Street Competitions in Ballarat. They were joined in this by members of the Operatic Society. This and the Kings Clock Concert format suggest that the various musical societies of Geelong were considerably integrated and adept at cooperating to put on a rich show. Miss Parker’s pupils again gave their popular pantomime ballet and Chamberlain’s Orchestra also contributed as did the owners of Sculthorpe’s Bioscope which was used to project a comedic moving picture about tightrope walking and another about a clergyman trying to uplift an abandoned woman.
Since its inauguration, the South Street Competitions in Ballarat had become huge. The year 1910 saw what was then a record entry of brass bands with 10 entering for the Cass A section and 17 for classes B and C. The Ballarat Star hailed it as the greatest band competition ever held in the southern hemisphere which was quite likely correct by then. It must have thrilled Thomas Bulch to see, after having organised the first ever brass band contest in Victoria shortly after his arrival on the continent.
The mammoth occasion of the South Street Competitions concluded with the final instalment of the band contests as a grand finale on Saturday the 22nd of October. The band Thomas had formed in Ballarat, now the Ballarat City Brass Band were competing in the A Grade contest where they finished fourth in the test piece and third in the quickstep. Thomas’s Geelong Town Band, however, finished 12th from 14 in the B grade test piece but fared better in the quickstep where they came fourth. Geelong Town Band were also represented in the C Grade contest where they finished fifth from eight in the test
Little is mentioned of Thomas’s other movements in 1910, though the Geelong Advertiser does reveal that on Saturday the 16th of December 1910 some solo competitions were arranged to encourage players in connection with the IOR Band. Thomas played the part of adjudicator.
However, as we move into 1911, with Thomas settled into Geelong with his first few band contest results under his belt, he once again rebuilt his name to become a known figure among the community. It would not, however, be as the bandmaster of the Geelong Town Band.
He had ended 1910, on New Year’s Eve, as he had intended to go on in 1911, with a Municipal Concert in Johnstone Park at Geelong. Commencing at 10 pm the concert saw the band play a mixture of pieces by Bulch, including “Sandhurst” and “Canterbury Engineers” and pieces by others, all to a background of projected films. The concert also featured a local singer Bert Johnston, who gave a number of songs among which was Thomas Bulch’s “Adeline” which we are told by a writer in the Geelong Advertiser “was particularly enjoyed”. The conclusion of that concert saw the bringing in of the New Year of 1911, with whatever it held in store for all present, for Thomas Bulch himself, and for faraway George Allan in Shildon.
Within days the Geelong Town Band had been rebranded by its committee as the Geelong City Band, “by virtue of Geelong’s improved status municipally.” Then, on 26th January 1911, an article in Punch of Melbourne explains that the return of a local figure was to see the end of Thomas’s tenure of the band. “Percy Jones, the orphan boy who created the almost unrivalled large brass band of St Augustine’s Orphanage, Geelong, has just completed three years study in
Percy Jones would become a music teacher at Geelong Grammar School and Geelong College, and later be the father of Percy Jones Jr, a monumental figure in the development of Australian church music and music education. His achievements with the St Augustine’s band were highly rated and more recent than Thomas’s own moments of glory in Ballarat. It appears that Thomas’s reputation had been trumped and subsequently he had been ousted by his band. It’s possible that this had always been the intention and that Thomas’s appointment was deliberately temporary, or it may have been sprung upon him. In any case, he retained control and conductorship of the Geelong City Band until early April whereupon Percy Jones picked up the reins.
The Geelong band gave a repeat, and well attended, concert in Johnstone Park the following Saturday, this time with James Moore of Melbourne exhibiting his vocal prowess. On this occasion, Thomas included “The Young Recruit” in the band’s programme. Once again bioscope pictures were projected. The concerts appear to have been a regular Saturday night entertainment through the warm months, with a variety of singers joining the band, such as Frank Peachey and K H Collins.
On 23rd February 1911, a small article appears in the Geelong Advertiser that opens a tiny window on one moment in the life of Thomas Bulch; it reads “LOST – Cheque, drawn in favour of T E Bulch; payment stopped. Return “Advertiser” office.” One can only imagine the circumstances surrounding that notice.
Thomas also found musical engagements away from the band. The Mechanics Institute in Geelong would hold citizens concerts and
You’ll possibly have noticed that these occasions, though involving the showing of moving pictures, weren’t taking part in cinemas. The moving picture industry was even by 1911 relatively young. Though the first screening of a film in Australia was thought to have been in 1896 the year after the Lumiere Brothers showed the first film in Paris, films were not made in Australia until 1906 when one was made featuring “The Story of The Kelly Gang”; and this was also the year that T J West erected the first purpose-built hall for showing films. In the early
Another example of a Citizen’s Concert, from September 1911, where Thomas displayed his improvisation skills and versatility at the Mechanics Institute, saw Thomas at the piano to accompany “Hero Track Walker”, a railway drama; “His Honour Saved”, a military drama and “Two Brothers”, a western ranch drama. Another event in the same month, held in conjunction with the Corio Bay Anglers Club saw a film about “Trout Breeding” that had been brought from Sydney for the occasion and a comedy entitled “The Two Fishermen”. This probably made a refreshing, if
On Thursday 28th September, another citizens concert was hosted at the Mechanics Institute, featuring a silent picture “The Spanish Gypsy” but also a singer, Mr Cuthbertson, introducing a song entitled “Black Watch” arranged by Thomas with drum effects being provided by Mr Twentyman, whom we have seen collaborating musically with Thomas on previous occasions. It is noted that the band on this occasion was not the Geelong Brass Band by the Artillery Band, though Thomas does not appear to have been conducting. Advertisements for subsequent events continue to feature Thomas on Piano and the Artillery Band separately as the consistent features.
October saw Thomas involved in a movement to start a new brass band, as reported on the 17th of that month by the Geelong Advertiser “BAND FOR GEELONG WEST – An enthusiastic gathering of bandsmen was held at Geelong West last night to discuss the formation of a brass band in the borough. It was mentioned that several leading residents had promised to support the movement and after a long discussion on the scope of the organisation it was decided to form the band. Mr T E Bulch, late of Ballarat, who was present by invitation, was appointed bandmaster. It was decided to convene a meeting of citizens at an early date to launch the movement.”
By November of 1911, we see in newspaper advertisements that Thomas Bulch was also fulfilling his duties as the improvising pianist for moving pictures at His Majesty’s Theatre in Geelong. The showing of films was also becoming an increasingly regular event, with multiple evenings starting to be scheduled for different films throughout the week. Whilst Thomas’s name was still scattered widely throughout the pages of newspapers across the nation on account of brass and military bands playing his life’s catalogue of band compositions, the personal mentions of his own appearances are now more frequently shown in respect of his duties at the piano bringing added life to the flickering images on the big screen.
Not that Thomas was yet ready to be done with the world of brass banding. On Wednesday the 8th of November twenty-five musicians, men and boys, met at the Geelong West Fire Brigade building to form the new Geelong West borough brass band. Officials were appointed, and Thomas was then confirmed as bandmaster. The new secretary, Mr Kinkaid, urged those in attendance to “pull together and attend practices regularly.” The band were encouraged to strive to do well in competitions, particularly in Ballarat. Thomas declined to give a lengthy speech, stating that he would reserve his talk for band practices.
That first meeting was followed on Monday the 13th by a further meeting at Geelong West Town Hall convened by Mayor Dickins, to further the movement to establish the brass band. Just before, the fledgeling band assembled outside to play selections on Pilkington Street.
The Mayor proposed not just a band for the borough, but also a park for them to play in, and favoured the Council buying the land required for it. He commented that at that time those citizens looking for somewhere to spend their evenings would be required to stray outside the borough to find such facilities. He saw the founding of the band as the forerunner to many other things. A write up in the Geelong Advertiser reveals a little of the financial arrangements. “Mr Bulch had taken up the band on liberal terms: each of the bandsmen paid 6d. per week into a band fund from which he would be recouped for his services. It would not be their fault if next year they were not at the top in Ballarat (laughter).” The new band had debts of £100 for instruments acquired from the IOR Band, but also had uniforms to the value of £80 and music to the value of £50. The Mayor felt that a good working committee would soon see the £100 debt paid off. Councillor H J D’Helin proposed that the band be named the West Geelong Municipal Band and pledged to pay off a tenth of the band’s debt himself, to much applause. He also quickly gathered a collection from those present on the evening to the value of £6 and found himself as one of three Councillors assigned to the band committee. Before a final vote of thanks by the Mayor, the band title was amended to become the West Geelong Municipal Brass Band.
The first practice by the band took place on Monday 27th November 1911 at the band’s centre of operations, and site of the first meeting, the Geelong West Fire Brigade Hall. In seemingly no time at all, they were fulfilling their first public engagement under Thomas’s baton by rendering selections of music between the ladies swimming races at a carnival of the Ladies Western Club in the Gentlemen’s Baths in Geelong.
As the year drew to a close, with Thomas’s forty-ninth birthday followed by New Year’s Eve the Geelong West Council announced in their summation of the year’s achievements that they had purchased land at the intersection of Upper Autumn and Pilkington streets from Mr W J Reid, upon which to build the promised park for West Geelong. It appeared that the people of West Geelong had much to look forward to.
Back in the town of his
61. Soldiers at the Station
One person still living on Adelaide Street, at number 68, was George Allan’s mother Hannah, now aged 73. Her own children had either moved on with families of their own or, as we have seen, died like her husband John James Allan. Adelaide Street and Pears Terrace, where George and Elizabeth lived with two of their children, Beatrice and William, are only a short walk away from each other and it’s highly likely that they would be regular visitors to each other.
The 1911 census shows that their other daughter Lillie, by then aged 22, had moved to Elizabeth’s mother, Hannah Willoughby’s, home at Vyner Street, Close House, about a mile away from New Shildon, to look after Hannah as a housekeeper. Hannah is documented in the census as being a widow of private means.
While George continued his day to day duties painting new and repaired wagons at the North Eastern Railway wagon works, his son William had commenced work as a house painter for a local builder.
In terms of composing music we don’t see George adding anything new to his self-published portfolio during 1911, though he does advertise through a small advert in The Cornet of April 1911 that a number of his existing compositions are still available for purchase, including “Battle Abbey” which is now issued as a third edition and of which he had only a few copies remaining; “The General”, which he describes as “a treat”; “Senator”, “always winning”; “The Wizard”, “this is splendid, grand effects”; and two easier contest marches “Bravura” and “The Gale”. The implication is that sales of his music have been steady and this would have allowed a little more financial stability for the family.
Broadly speaking the brass bands in the mining communities of the North East of England were struggling to get together enough bandsmen to band practice as a consequence of the Mines Eight Hours Act which meant that the mineworkers had begun to work in a three or four shift rotation pattern, making it difficult for them all to be available at the same time for rehearsal. With no band to mentor, though, this wasn’t of direct concern to George Allan.
He might have been more directly concerned about the condition of the Mechanics Institute just over the railway track on Station Street at which he was, of course, a member. In February of 1911, it was clear that the Institute building on Station Street was worn and tired and past its best. At a prizegiving speech on Weds 8th Feb, Alderman J W Pearse was goaded by an attendee, Mr J D Rider over promises of a “beautiful Mechanics Institute” that had been long promised to replace the present building.
Later that year the North Eastern Railway company gave the go-ahead for construction to begin on a new Railway Institute building at a site belonging to the company on Redworth Road, on the same side of the railway lines to Pears Terrace. However, events would take over progress on this that would mean that it would not be completed for another two years.
In 1911 a National Railway Strike occurred, the first of its kind involving railway workers across Britain. There had been a series of disputes between railway workers and their employers leading up to this event, generally over pay and conditions.
Localised industrial action on the North Eastern Railway had taken place centred on Newcastle during July 1910, triggered by the transference of a shunter, with signalmen, porters, drivers, guards and other grades of workers from Gateshead and district not showing up for work on the 19th of July. The strike action spread throughout the North Eastern Railway area, with Shildon and Darlington railway workers quickly joining those withdrawing their labour in support. This action was ended when the company management promised to investigate the grievances of workers, yet discontent was still rife. A movement emerged within the union men to campaign for an eight-hour working day for the railwaymen. A separate movement among the trade unionists aimed to eliminate workers that would not become part of the unions with strikes threatened unless the company desisted from employing non-union staff. In February tensions were stoked up further by the dismissal of six NER company employed fish porters at Hull. The Shildon workers resolved to hold a vote on Sunday 5th February on whether to join a strike in support of their Hull branch colleagues. Strike action was averted when the company agreed that the case of the fish porters would be heard at the next meeting of the Conciliatory Board.
A further strike, centred on Shildon this time, was averted in May 1911 where after the closure of rail facilities at Tebay and Wear Valley Junction a number of locomotive drivers and firemen had been transferred to Shildon. After a number of the drivers consequently retired, being older than the firemen, it was found that there were too many firemen and not all the resulting driver vacancies had been filled resulting in not enough work for the firemen. The strike was averted through the intervention and suggestions of one George Tully, a driver and former chairman of Shildon Urban Council who suggested ways to run more trains staffed by the Shildon men.
Yet another example of the localised disputes leading up to the national strike, an article in the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail of Tuesday 11th July 1911 shows that the North Eastern Railway and the General Railway Workers Union had disputed and finally reached an agreement over improved pay for the various professions at works across the region, including Shildon, revealing that painters of wagons would receive a basic pay rate of 21 shillings per week, three shillings less per week than the basic pay rate for an apprentice blacksmith of the time (which was where George started) and quite a lot less than the basic rate for a qualified blacksmith. Though additional money would be gained for ‘piece work’, in terms of equivalent value the basic weekly wage of 21 shillings in 1911 would compare to earning just over £98 a week at the time of my writing this.
The railway workers unions were keen to provide a demonstration of their unity and strength nationally, particularly over their discontentment with the formation of, and activities conducted by, conciliation boards that had been set up to negotiate between railway workers and the companies, rather than have the companies deal with the unions. Unofficial industrial action commenced in July and August of 1911 and this seems to have triggered a convening of officials of the main rail unions in Liverpool to coordinate national action. The four main unions jointly issued an ultimatum to the railway companies to accept direct negotiation with their representatives or face a national strike.
To avert the strike the Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, informed the rail companies that he’d deploy the police and troops to keep the trains running. Winston Churchill, as Home Secretary, suspended the Army Regulation which would otherwise have meant that the companies themselves would have had to request military deployment. This enabled the government to order troops out to 32 towns in England and Wales; of which Shildon was one. The national industrial action took place on Friday the 18th and Saturday the 19th of August 1911, this latter being the scheduled day of the annual Shildon Show which was disrupted by the strike in terms of the inability of visitors and exhibitors alike to reach the town by train.
On the night of 18th August railway workers from both Shildon and Bishop Auckland held demonstrations, marching through the streets in the now time-honoured fashion with their union banners flying high headed by brass bands.
A settlement was reached quickly on the national strike action, but this did not extend to resolving the disputes between the employees of the North Eastern Railway and its directors. While the men from the rest of the country returned to work, those NER employees from Newcastle, South Shields, Tyne Dock, Gateshead, Darlington, York, Ferryhill, Hull, Shildon and Middlesbrough stayed out on strike, holding out for their terms to be met. The company’s station in Leeds was barricaded.
The number of troops at Shildon was scaled back to 130 or 200, according to different reports, guarding the signal box, station and approaches to the railway sidings by the 22nd August, but there were further disturbances. A crowd attempted to set away some trucks that were standing on a siding but they were driven away by the soldiers. A mineral train that had been set up to make a run to Tees-side was overcome by a crowd of demonstrators who saw off the strike-breaking driver and fireman by throwing stones. The military and police presence increased as the day went on. A young miner was captured throwing bricks at the locomotive of the military train, but released after giving his name and address. The various reports number the estimated quantity of Shildon strikers at between 2,000 and 4,000. By Wednesday the 23rd of August, the strike was declared to be over, but the town of Shildon was felt through its conduct to have blotted its copybook through the behaviour of the strikers there. The Jarrow Express of Friday 25th August 1911 read “With the exception of Darlington and Shildon the North Eastern men have been a pattern to others. No unseemly conduct has placed a black mark against them. Throughout all the week they have acted in an honourable and gentlemanly manner.”
In the midst of all this chaos, much of which was happening within earshot of the Allan household at 2 Pears Terrace, the Allans had their own personal tragedy to manage, one which would almost certainly have meant that George was not involved in the
Elizabeth Allan, George’s wife, and the love of his life had been struck by the effects of a cerebral tumour which had would have caused her suffering and to enter into a coma. In the absence of a National Health Service and all the marvels of a modern
The death was certified by Dr Smeddle and a funeral was arranged to take place at All Saints Church in New Shildon on the 25th August; with the service being performed by Picton W Francis. She was laid to rest at a depth of 7 feet in a plot that would await George for the remainder of his life. It is thought that he never sought another in his life and we know he never remarried. Throughout this moment of ultimate grief, the National Railway strike must surely have been the last thing on the mind of George Allan. An announcement was published on the Darlington and Stockton Times dated the 26th of August. Elizabeth’s personal estate of £328 10s and 6d was passed to George and their eldest daughter Lillie.
Understandably the remainder of 1911 offers up little evidence as to how George spent his time. One would imagine that he would have spent much of it seeking comfort in the company of close family and the distraction of hard work at the works, setting aside his passion for music until the pain of loss receded.
62. The West Geelong Park Standoff!
Through 1912, Thomas Edward Bulch continued his practice of accompanying the movies being screened midweek at the Mechanics Institute in Geelong; those being the usual mix of comedies, war dramas and wild west adventures. interspersed by the odd thought-provoking piece such as “The Life of a Deported Convict”; which was shown on the 11th January.
Occasionally there was the opportunity to do the same at a different venue, such as the evening of Monday 22nd January when a grand concert was held in aid of the Geelong Fire Brigade in Johnstone Park. On this
On Saturday the 17th February Thomas mustered his Geelong West Municipal Band band for a grand open-air entertainment to mark the formal opening of long-promised Geelong West Park, organised by Mayor Charles Dickins. The grand opening consisted of two elements; an afternoon ceremony and separately an evening entertainment at the Geelong West Theatre.
The afternoon of Saturday the 17th consisted of a reception and garden party for 2,000 in the grounds of the new park, greeted by the mayor and mayoress as they stood in a floral bower at the entrance to the bunting strewn and gaily bedecked park. Thomas and the band entertained as the guests partook of an afternoon tea in the open air. The boys and girls of the Ashby State School gave maypole dances and demonstrated wand exercises under the supervision of Mr George Clayton. The refreshments were followed by the formal opening ceremony, with the Hon W H Edgar MLC doing the honours. Speeches followed, explaining costs and forecasting the addition of tennis courts and a bowling green. Mayor Dickins commented that “It rested with the people to appreciate the benefits of the park and make the concerts there a success. Children shoul be encouraged to play in the park but it should be enjoined on them that they were not to touch the flowers or walk over the beds. The entertainments to be provided would be clean, and parents could safely let their children come.”
On the evening, there were, again, bioscope pictures shown using Marchant’s “recently imported
On the evening of Wednesday 21st of February, the band assembled once again at the Geelong West Theatre for a concert from which proceeds, being 6d per adult and 3d per child, were to be added to the band’s funds. Mayor Dickins once again presided, and Thomas worked twice as hard, not only conducting the Municipal Band but also providing piano accompaniment to the now obligatory showing of short films, among which on this occasion were “Babes in the Wood” and “The Branded Indian”. The event was reportedly well patronised, with gate receipts totalling £12, though the evening wasn’t without incident. In those days, unlike today, the small Geelong West Park was enclosed by fences, outside which a small boy had apparently been “a source of annoyance to patrons by blocking the way, and the absence of the police, whose presence would no doubt mitigate this nuisance, was commented upon.” Then, the following night it was back to the Mechanics Institute for Thomas as he accompanied an Irish picture drama entitled “Rory O’Moore” which was billed as the “most thrilling picture ever screened.”
The pattern of cinematic concerts continued with increasing
We never hear whether Thomas’s own family, though his children were now far from being ‘small’, attended the concerts and cinematic displays, so we are left to wonder whether Eliza Ann Bulch and the three young ladies and four young men of the family were among those often 2500 persons sat back enjoying the display and admiring their father conducting his band in their smart uniforms before adding drama to the moving pictures through his skill at the piano. Unlike today’s two hour blockbusters, these films were short and conveyed condensed stories. There seemed to be an almost endless stream of them appearing “Captain Kate”, “Ranger’s Stratagem”, “The Baron”, “The Miser’s Heart”, “The Wheels of Time”, “The Siege of Calais”. A report of the Thursday night concert of 14th March boasted that the projectionist had run 5,000 feet of film that evening. At the next concert on the 16th, there was an extra item on the bill, the presentation of a gold watch to the cricketer A E Diddicutt to celebrate his cricketing prowess for the Australian side having seen off the English cricket team.
Throughout the Easter weekend in 1912, Thomas, on his own at the piano, or with the Municipal Brass Band was engaged almost every night in the services of municipal entertainment. You would think that being in such demand he might be doing well, but a point of intrigue during 1912 is that on Thursday the 13th of April a concert was arranged at the Geelong West Open-Air Theatre with proceeds from the 6d adult and 3d child entry fee to benefit him personally. As usual,
We are advised by the Geelong Advertiser that the benefit had been arranged by the concert committee and that all the contributors to the spectacle gave their services at no charge. Also, we are told that tickets for the event were sold by the bandsmen and Thomas’s friends. The total taken on the gate that evening amounted to £14. Was this simply a tribute as a mark of respect to their friend and bandmaster, perhaps to mark the end of the traditional concert season, or might it have been an act born of concern reflecting that he might have, once again, been in financial difficulty? Were that the case, how much difference might £14 make? Whatever the case the concert was reported beyond Geelong with news reaching across the bay to Melbourne where Thomas had also once resided.
As a brief aside, the Cootamundra Herald of New South Wales of Friday the 10th May 1912 contains an interesting letter which though odd, and unrelated directly to Thomas’s story, still demonstrates the high regard in which Thomas continued to be held among brass band circles. It appears that a journalist in the same newspaper may well have misattributed a piece of music played by one of that area’s brass bands to its bandmaster Mr C J Davis. Mr Davis has written to the paper to request a correction, saying “Sir, – allow me space to correct your announcement re the opening number played by the band last night. It would ill become me to allow my name to remain as the composer of such a fine piece of band music. The writer is Mr T Bulch, Australia’s most prolific composer and arranger of band music, and for some time conductor of the Albury Town Band. My qualifications as a musician are small pumpkins indeed placed alongside such an eminent man, and I will be glad if you will make this correction.”
Being printed in a newspaper away from Geelong it is doubtful that Thomas Edward Bulch may have seen that small tribute to his musical prowess, though most likely that he would have been heartened by its sentiments.
One thing we find from scanning the newspapers of Geelong is that at least one of Thomas’s sons continued their interest in playing football that they had seemingly started back in Albury. We don’t know which but there is a player named in the Ashby Star squad on Saturday 20th July 1912. It’s most likely to have been Thomas Edward j
Thomas senior continued his duties at the piano throughout the winter, accompanying the films shown at the Geelong Mechanics Institute. Though it had been quite some time since he had been called upon for his skills as a brass band contest adjudicator, his compositions and arrangements were still employed in sorting out the cream from the milk at band contests. At the Scottsdale Competitions in Tasmania that year, for example, his cornet solo “Swanee River”, euphonium solo “Faint and Wearily” and bass solo “Bizarre” were all selected by the organisers to be the test pieces for those specific instruments.
In September of 1912, Thomas took yet another band under his experienced wing alongside the Geelong Municipal Brass Band. This time it was the Geelong Artillery Band of which he had intimate knowledge having seen them so regularly at the picture house concerts at the Mechanics Institute. The move was prompted by the resignation of Sargeant C Hobday. The Geelong Advertiser cited Thomas’s experience of working with a military band in Ballarat as being reflective of his suitability but went on to point out that the running of the band would not be easy as older experienced bandsmen were dropping out meaning a fresh intake of younger players needed to be recruited. The prospect of additional income from running the band would have been an opportunity for Thomas, yet we have seen in his story so far that when expected to spread his talents thinner problems often followed.
If there was any doubt as to that broadening but thinning spread consider too that Thomas was also in that year conducting the orchestra on occasion at His Majesty’s Theatre in Geelong, such as on Saturday the 7th of September when he took up the baton over the theatre orchestra for a production of “Wedded but No Wife”, a play concerning one Desmond McCartney, the offspring of Lord Illingworth by a clandestine marriage and his journey toward inheritance of that peer’s estate.
Saturday the 5th of October saw a smoke night in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Geelong Garrison Artillery at their orderly rooms, with between 150 to 170 present including a number of veterans returned for the celebration. The current serving men greeted the arrival of the old warriors with a hearty three cheers, whilst a placard displayed at the end of the hall read “Welcome to our old comrades, 1862-1912”. Toasts were raised and speeches offered, praising the efficiency and speed through training of the Australian forces generally. One veteran, Colonel Hall, has been a schoolboy when the battery was founded in 1862 but had enlisted but four years later. He reminded those present that they were “units of an Empire that traced its military traditions back to the Norman conquest.” Little did any of those realise that in little more than two years time that Empire would be fighting again with Australian troops sent to the same country from which those Normans had emerged. Lieut-Col Garrard estimated that some 2500 men had made up the battery since its founding. He went on to say that it was between the ages of 14 to 18 wherein it would be determined whether the young men would make good or bad soldiers and spoke of encouraging the young cadets of the battery. Sergeant W H Searle declared that he had learned since enlisting in 1859 that Australians were best at everything, swimming, soldiering or football. Mr G Read Murphy gave an address on “Armies and Fighters of the Past, Present and Future” comparing the capabilities of the Australian aboriginals to the Zulus and the ancient Egyptians, then on through the Greeks, Romans and European armies of the Middle-Ages to the then modern world. He predicted that Germany with a small navy might keep the British Navy confined to the North Sea leaving Australia to fend for itself; and predicted Australian without a strong navy being overrun by Japan in a short space of time. Gradually the speech-making gave way to songs and humorous recitations, with Bandmaster T E Bulch acting as accompanist. The Artillery Band, under Thomas’s baton also rendered a programme of music.
Though the men and veterans of the Geelong Artillery were correct to predict that trouble of a military sort was indeed on the horizon, it was still some way distant. For Thomas Bulch trouble of a more domestic nature, concerning the affairs of the West Geelong Municipal Brass Band, was brewing and it didn’t take much longer to emerge. When it did, the Geelong Advertiser was there to report upon the details. The issue on Saturday the 26th of October contained the following on page 4.
“GEELONG WEST BAND DISPUTE – MR BULCH QUARRELS WITH THE- COMMITTEE. HOLDS THE INSTRUMENTS. Trouble has arisen between the park committee and Mr T Bulch, conductor of the Geelong West Municipal Band, over the latter’s remuneration. On Tuesday the committee wrote to Mr Bulch, requesting him to return the instruments, &c. to the Geelong West Town Hall by noon of yesterday, but this was ignored. On Monday a meeting of the park committee is to be held to further consider the position. Cr. H F Christopher, secretary of the park committee, made the following statement to an “Advertiser’ representative yesterday:- “When it became known that the I.O.R. band was to disband, steps were taken in Geelong West to accept the band’s liability of over £100, and take over the instruments. A committee was appointed, and guarantors were chosen: arrangements were made with a bank to provide the money required. Three signed the guarantee, but the others neglected to do so and this proposal consequently fell through. It was intimated to the committee that the park committee was willing to take the responsibility and this course was eventually adopted. A document was drawn up between the band committee and the persons owning the instruments, which became the property of the Mayor for the time being. Certain
The bandmaster, Mr T E Bulch said that in connection with his benefit concert, he had to practically work it up himself, and the £15 he received did not come out of the committee’s funds. He had been paid 10- for playing the piano at each concert: he had sought to get a definite understanding in regard to his remuneration as bandmaster, and the park committee had shut him up by demanding the return of the instruments &c. Since the close of last season, he had not received a copper, although he had given a good deal of his time to bringing the players on. The bandsmen were not paid a penny for their services, and it was high time some arrangement was arrived at. It was not a fact that he had sent a letter to the park committee couched in insolent or aggressive terms. His letter was as
“31 Candover-street. Geelong West 21/10/12H. F Christopher Esq., Sec. Park Committee. Geelong West. Dear Sir. As bandmaster of the West Geelong Municipal Band, I regret to state that your treatment of us has been anything but satisfactory. We are in the same position to-day financially as 12 months ago. I cannot see my way clear to act the part of a philanthropist any longer, and unless some amicable arrangement
He received the following reply, dated 22nd inst.:- “Your letter of yesterday was duly considered at a special meeting of the park committee this evening, and the following resolution was carried unanimously:- “That Mr Bulch be informed by letter that the band instruments, uniforms, music and any other property belonging to the Geelong West Municipal Band be returned to the Town Hall at Geelong West on or before Friday the 25th inst. at the hour of 12 o’clock noon” C. W. Dickens (chairman and trustee). H. F. Christopher(secretary). P.S. Also be good enough to return the keys for the pavilion and gate to Cr. Molyneux at once.— H.F.Christopher, secretary.”
Despite the action or the park committee said Mr Bulch. he was determined that the band should not be broken up. He only wanted fair play and decent consideration.”
As uncomfortable as it might have been for Thomas to have had details of this affair, and of his earnings, publicly aired in the local press; for the reflective historian, this gives an excellent insight into the politics of running a brass band in Geelong in the early Twentieth Century. It also reveals where Thomas and his family lived at that time, a small typically Australian bungalow on Candover Street, where a similar, if not the same, building still stands today. It also explains the context of the benefit concert that we revealed earlier, and why the bandsmen and friends of Thomas had put in so much work themselves to sell tickets.
Two days after this first article was published, further details emerged, once again in the Geelong Advertiser but this time in the form of an account from the band secretary.
GEELONG WEST BAND DISPUTE. Sir,- With, your permission I wish, to give a few facts with reference to the treatment by the park committee of the band and bandmaster. When the band was formed about twelve months ago, it was decided by a meeting of citizens, held in the: Town Hall, that Mr T E Bulch be appointed bandmaster. It was also decided by the players of the band that each and every member should contribute 6d per week towards the bandmaster’s salary. We, as bandsmen, were quite willing to do that and did it until the park committee took over the control of the band. At the opening ceremony of the park Mayor Dickins, in addressing the citizens, stated that they had secured “a splendid’ asset in the band, and they pledged their support, and it was their intention to allow the band the park free one night each week for their own benefit. Before the first concert took place under the management of the band Mayor Dickins informed the band that the park committee had withdrawn the use of the park to the band to run concerts for their own benefit, but would allow the band 20 per cent of the net profits of each concert held. When the park committee communicated their intentions to the band, we as a band agreed to their proposal; but the 20 per cent was never paid over by the park committee to the band. When the park committee took control of the band at the latter end of last season Mayor Dickins, with a number of councillors, came to the bandroom. Mayor Dickins then told the band that the 6d per week they had contributed towards the bandmaster’s salary was to cease from that date, 18/3/12. I asked the Mayor how the bandmaster was to be paid, and he said they (meaning the park committee) would pay him a salary. He did not state what that salary would be. Continuing, he said what a paltry thing 6d a week from a few men was’to pay to a man like Mr Bulch. But, sir, paltry as the amount seemed to Mayor Dickins then, it is not quite so paltry as the amount received by Mr Bulch from the park committee since then. The only consideration that the band received from the park committee was a benefit concert tendered to Mr Bulch, which amounted to £15, and for which most of the tickets were sold by bandsmen. When you come to facts, sir, Mr Bulch has fulfilled the important position of bandmaster to the West Geelong Municipal Brass Band for 12 months at a salary of 5/9 per week. The former secretary, Mr D Kincaid. wrote to the park committee asking for some definite understanding regarding the bandmaster’s salary, but no definite arrangement could be arrived at. When Mr Kincaid resigned his position as secretary to the band I was appointed to act as secretary for the time being. I wrote to Mayor D’Helin on September 5th, asking for a conference between the council and band committee for September 6th. Mayor D’Heliu wrote stating the notice was too short. I again wrote to Mayor D’Helin on the 11th September asking him to appoint an early date for a conference. I received no reply to that letter, but when the park committee fixed the date tor the opening of the concerts Mr Bulch gave him to understand that something: would have to be done before starting the concerts. The park committee then arranged a conference in the bandroom for Saturday night, October 12th. At that conference, it was agreed that the band should have two Saturday nights during the forthcoming season to run concerts for themselves. The band committee and Mr Bulch were quite satisfied with that arrangement. But during the week following the opening night this season, Mr Bulch was informed by Cr. Molyneux that the park committee wanted all the Saturday nights for themselves, and as we were issuing tickets for concerts we could have any week-night other than Saturday. Therefore we concluded that the park committee were again breaking their promise to the band, as they had done with every promise they had made to the band. Hence Mr Bulch’s letter to the park committee of October 21st. I interviewed Mr Christopher, the secretary of the park committee, on Tuesday, October 22nd. and asked him if there was anything in what Cr. Molyneux had told Mr Bulch. He said the park committee thought that week-nights other than Saturday nights would do for the band. He also informed me that the park committee had decided at their meeting on Monday night that any bandsman who came to the park concert, in uniform or with his instrument would be admitted free of charge, but if the said bandsman brought Iiis wife or lady friend, such wife or friend would have to be paid for. I think the least the park committee could have done would have been to admit a lady friend or wife of each bandsman, when they were receiving their services gratis. If the park committee had to pay for the services of a band the same as Geelong Municipal did for their concerts in Johnstone Park, it would have cost four guineas per night. which would have amounted to about £70 for the season, and instead of showing a credit balance on last year’s concerts there would have been a deficit of about £10. Re your insertion in ‘Town Talk” of Saturday’s issue. referring to instruments, music, etc. not being returned to the Town Hall as requested by the park committee, I think the request by that committee is very unreasonable – to expect Mr Bulch to spend hours in collecting the property, more especially as he is not a paid servant. The drastic measure taken by the park committee was uncalled for, inasmuch as they have completely ignored Mr Bulch’s letter, and directly insulted the band. Neither Mr Bulch not the band committee
The park committee, far from swayed by this account by the band’s secretary, decided to initiate legal proceedings. Thomas was served with a notice from the borough solicitors demanding the return of the instruments and accessories. Failure to comply would result in the commencements of legal proceedings. the band committee, without Thomas Bulch, met in a meeting at the St George Hotel, Geelong, behind closed doors to deliberate over the notice. The decision of the band committee did not emerge until Monday the 4th of October when the Geelong Advertiser explained that the band had decided they would rather disband than obey the park committee. The Advertiser had stated on the 31st October that a number of bandsmen were willing to return their instruments, but in a letter to the newspaper R H Symonds explained that the band had passed a resolution “That the members of the Park Committee be asked to meet representatives from the band in conference so as to try to settle the dispute and that an independent chairman be appointed.” The park committee refused to comply until all the property was returned. As a consequence, the band resolved in its entirety to hand over their instruments with notices of resignation in protest rather than see their bandmaster further persecuted and harassed with legal proceedings. They stated they would do so immediately after playing a final benefit concert for the aged people of Geelong on the afternoon of the 16th of November, but placed one important caveat on the whole offer, which was that the park committee must first pay twelve pounds, that being 20
Whether that caveat was designed to make the band appear amenable whilst launching one last attack at the park committee of not, it was not well received by that body and immediate summonses were brought against Thomas as well as Messrs Symonds and Kincaid, the latter being the former secretary. They were to produce the musical instruments, or else £110 5s and 6d, the alleged value of the goods. The newspaper followed the affair closely. The band committee telephoned the solicitor at midnight on the 4th October to request a stay of the legal proceedings until noon of the Saturday to give the band a chance to collect the instruments for return. The Geelong Advertiser interviewed Messrs Dickin and Christopher who remained adamant that they would not stop till the instruments had been returned.
By Thursday the 7th of November it was clear that any delay was not acceptable to the park committee, and they commenced summons for Thomas Bulch and R H Symonds for an appearance at Geelong County Court on the 10th of December, claiming the instruments, uniforms and stands valued at £111 and a further £10 for damages. The court hearing, however, did not take place. On the evening of the 16th of November, the band returned their instruments to the park committee at the Town Hall in a move that led to the eventual settlement of the legal proceeding out of court. At the same time, an intention was declared to attempt to form a citizens committee to relieve the park committee of the liability for the instruments etc.; the intention being to keep the band going but freed from the control of that committee.
Despite the fact that band across Australia were playing his music, news of Thomas’s mistreatment by the park committee of West Geelong was reported nowhere other than in Geelong itself.
The dispute between the bandsmen of Geelong West and the park committee was resolved in late November through the intervention of one Robert J Coxon who approached the committee. The committee agreed to part with the instruments and equipment for the cash sum of £80, thereby enabling a reincarnated West Geelong Band to continue. They also promised payments to the new band of £1 1s per concert held in the West Park. Five trustees were appointed to take possession of the instruments on behalf of the ratepayers of West Geelong, and a number of subscriptions were quickly raised towards the £80. Furthermore, Thomas Bulch was reinstated as pianist for the bioscope concerts at His Majesty’s Theatre at an improved rate of 15 shillings per concert. Fundraising commenced in earnest, with a benefit night for the band being held first on the 27th November at that very theatre.
On the 9th of December, Thomas attended a smoke night of the Geelong Bicycle Club to celebrate the opening of the club’s new rooms at the old Sailor’s Rest building. Toasts and speeches were made, one of which proposed by Thomas himself, whilst he also fulfilled duties at the piano culminating in a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” to bring the night to a close.
The Geelong West Band, still being reported as ‘municipal’ were present once again for the first time since the disruptive dispute at the Geelong West Picture Theatre on Saturday 14th of December, with Thomas wielding the conductor’s baton. The appreciative crowd enjoyed the selections by the band as well as the 7,000 feet of
The following week, Thomas switched back to conduct the Artillery Band at the annual Christmas entertainment of the Artillery Club. The band provided selections, whilst other contributions to the merriment came in the form of songs from Messrs Larsson and
For now, the band’s future appears to have stabilised and despite a difficult year Thomas’s prospects looked to be a little more secure.
63. Beneath the Gathering Clouds
A world away in New Shildon the landscape as seen from the George Allan’s front window was changing. By February of 1911, it had become clear that one of George’s favourite haunts, the Mechanics Institute building on Station Street was worn and tired and past its best. At a prize-giving speech there on Weds 8th Feb, Alderman J W Pearse was goaded by an attendee, Mr J D Rider over promises of a “beautiful Mechanics Institute” that had been long promised.
Despite the industrial unrest during 1911, the North Eastern Railway had commenced work on a new building on Redworth Road. The site of this new development was overlooked by George’s home on Pears Terrace. Despite this, and partly on account of the industrial action, the Institute members would have a long wait. It remained little more than a building site throughout 1912 and would take more years before the company fully delivered on this promise in an event we will return to.
The year 1912 had also commenced with another national coal strike; and as had been the case in 1894 the Shildons being at the heart of the South Durham Coalfield, and with an industrial backbone that depended upon coal, were affected. The strike had commenced in February, with the resultant coal shortage beginning to bit in early march reducing the availability of rail service. This time miners were seeking commitment to a minimum wage. The strike ran for 37 economically damaging days until the then Liberal Government pressed by MPs from the rising Labour Party intervened by introducing the Coal Mines (minimum wage) Act of 1912. This granted coal miners minimum wage protection for the first time in their history. In his April budget statement, Chancellor Lloyd George estimated that the coal strike had cost the nation £400,000; roughly equivalent to around £44.8 million at the time of writing in 2019.
Despite the personal tragedy that had befallen him during the previous year George had returned to dedicating his spare time composing music. the May issue of Brass Band News included the announcement of another new contest march. “Contesting Bands, get my latest Contest March, “Imperioso.” Fine test
By August, there was some considerable buzz around preparations for the annual Shildon Show as the part of the showground that played host to the merry go round’s and other fairground attractions
We are told that George played some part at the opening of the Shildon Recreation Ground (Hackworth Park) in 1912. Throughout the story of George Allan and Thomas Bulch we see so many parallels and coincidences so how apt that in the year in which Thomas attended the opening of West Park in Geelong, George attended the opening of the new Shildon Recreation Ground.
On Saturday the 28th September 1912 Central Parade was opened, in the presence of thousands of people by the Chairman of Shildon Urban Council, Cllr. John Peacock JP. The opening was followed by a banquet at the Masonic Hall at which speeches and toasts were given with predictions that yet more improvements would be introduced over time such as bowling greens and attractions for the children.
Though not a formal boundary change this act marked the point at which the modern town of Shildon as a single entity would be born. Though the two formerly separated towns still to this day retain some sense of individual identity particularly within the minds of residents, through this filling of the spaces between the two with a grand new recreation area and road the sum of the two parts was increasingly to be referred to simply as Shildon.
The council made appeals to individuals across the community for donation to the new recreation ground, which initial photographs reveal to have been quite bare in appearance; few of those citizens were initially forthcoming. In October though at least one was recognised, that being from Mr T Jennings who donated a cheque for £10 for new seats.
As the end of the year approached George advertised, in the small adverts at the back of the Brass Band News December 1912 issue his Christmas Number “GOOD CHRISTMAS NUMBER for Brass Bands. Two choruses, Three hymns, 1/10 for 24 parts. No samples. Money returned if not satisfied. – GEO. ALLAN, Publisher, New Shildon.”
The music printed and adverts posted you would have hoped that George might have been able to settle down to enjoy the oncoming festive season with his family. Again, though, tensions between the workers of the North Eastern Railway and their bosses reached boiling point, this time as a result of treatment of a Gateshead driver by the name of Knox. Nicol Knox was a mineral engine driver who, through allegations of drunkenness whilst off duty had been disrated to a lowlier responsibility as driver of a pilot engine. The company considered him to be a risk to the public if he could not control his drinking outside of work. Knox’s colleagues spoke of his 37 years of good conduct and experience with the company and argued that a man’s pastimes outside of work were no business of the North Eastern Railway. AS for the public, they were simply dismayed at the prospect of Christmas disruption.
The strike quickly reached coal distribution yard at Shildon where by the 8th of December workers agreed to support the fight to have their colleague reinstated. This created a log-jam effect in coal supply impacting the performance of the coal industry. The company, via its stationmasters, in response issued a notice that by taking this industrial action the strikers were effectively terminating their employment and should return their uniforms. It’s important to note at this point that though the Shildon railway workers of the General Railway Workers Union and the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants were all striking at this point, the men of the Shildon works were not. Though sympathetic to the cause and ready to “down tools” when instructed, the wagon workers were hoping that the company might see sense and reinstate the driver without they themselves having to join in the industrial action. Nevertheless, there were still 1,200 Shildon railway workers reportedly on strike by
With the blockage in the supply chain for coal, by that same
The outcome of this dispute was reported widely across the United Kindgom, and the following year, to strengthen their collective position the G.R.W.U and A.S.R.S. merged along with the United Pointsmen and Signalmen’s Society to become the National Union of Railwaymen.
Toward the end of 1912 and moving into 1913 George had been spending his time composing a new contest march for brass bands. Up until this point, it was felt that “The Wizard” had been his crowning achievement, though “Senator” and “Raby” were also undoubtedly up there among the best that brass bands had available to them. All of these endure even in present times and can be purchased. This new piece was to be named “Knight Templar”. Once the manuscript was finished and tested it was bundled up and sent by post to Oscar Brandstetter’s print works on Dresdener Strasse in Leipzig to be set and printed.
Many of George’s marches printed over his career had been printed lithographically, requiring every mark to be first etched onto a sheet of lead and tin alloy using a set of tools designed for the purpose. For example, the musical staff lines were created by dragging a five-clawed implement shallowly along a straight edge. Clefs and notes were punched into the metal, whilst the lined that denote the different note values and expression were gouged. Consequently, the appearance and quality of the sheet music displayed something of the ‘hand’ of the printer that had etched it. It was a skilled job. The Brandstetter works, rather than etching this particular march for lithographic printing,
With the new march submitted for printing, and railway industrial disputes concluded for the time being, George Allan would have been, on Saturday the 8th of February 1913, able to able to take a little time out of his available spare time to witness the opening of the brand new Shildon Railway Institute that had finally been completed by his employers, the North Eastern Railway, to replace his regular haunt, the old Mechanics Institute on Station Street.
The new building, visible from the Allan family home on Pears Terrace, was significantly larger than the old one. The library and billiard tables from the old facility had been transferred to the first floor. The roof contained living accommodation for a permanent steward and the ground floor of the
The Northern Echo of the 10th February 1913 reported upon the opening of the new building and narrates that after the doors had formally been opened the concert hall was immediately crowded with railway officials and members of various NER Institutes as well as the public. It is not reported whether George Allan was present but as a long-time member, it’s highly likely that he was. We do know from the report, though, that Dr Samuel Fielden and his wife Jane were present, both friends of George’s and whose Golden Wedding Anniversary he would attend in July of that year.
Vincent Raven opened the proceedings inside the new building by explaining that for some years the wagon works at Shildon had been growing, and consequently the town too. Due to that, and the condition of the old institute building from the 1860s, the NER directors had been approached with regard to a new Institute, which had led to the present gathering.
The silver gilt key to the building was then presented as a memento to Arthur Pease by Mr R W Wordsell, manager of the works. Pease then gave a speech noting that he was no stranger to Shildon and that there were five generations of his family present in the room, partly on account of prior generations being represented by portraits. He mentioned that if his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had not been in some way connected with Shildon their pictures would not have been hanging on the walls. He noted that though he was a director of the North Eastern Railway, there were a number of shareholders equivalent to two-thirds of the company’s workforce, and a balance had to be maintained between the interest of both groups. He noted also that he believed this institute was the oldest on the former Stockton and Darlington Railway route and hoped the building would be a very great blessing to the town, and there would be many pleasant social gatherings in it for many years to come.
In his speech, Vincent Raven highlighted that though he was more connected to the institutes in York, Gateshead and Darlington some of which were larger, but none better arranged or more comfortable than the new Shildon Railway Institute.
The June 1913 issue of Brass Band News finally declared the availability of the march that would, above all others, secure George Allan’s name as one of the leading composers of brass band music of his generation. In his own words, it read “Knight Templar” a Tip-top New Contest March; splendid, Also “La Maestro” (always in the prizes), “Senator”, “Battle Abbey”, “Wizard”, “Imperioso” &c. 1/3 for 20 parts – George Allan, Publisher, New Shildon.”
Through this handful of marches, George Allan, ‘gifted amateur’ though he was considered to be, had taken the brass band contest march into new territory. “The Wizard” certainly contained a good share of aural magic, but it would probably principally be the majestic and timeless stirring quality of “Knight Templar” that would ensure that even in the twenty-first century there would barely be a single bandsman in the British Isles that did not know the name of its humble composer. It was destined to become one of the favourite marches of some of the best brass bands in the country. We’ll never know the extent to which it was played by bands at contest as in reports of such occasions the march contest was always considered the poor cousin to the ‘main event’ that was the test piece. When you look, for example though, at the entries for “Knight Templar” on the website brassbandresults.co.uk, which has done a sterling job of becoming the definitive and most thorough reference guide to brass band contesting, you get a real sense of how significant this piece of music is. It has particularly been prevalent at the Whit Friday Contests that take place at 24 locations around Saddleworth and Tameside and which can trace their origins back to 1870. Casually browsing the list of recorded results which only seem to have been formally reported from the 1930s onwards, you see names like Black Dyke Mills, Besses o’ th’ Barn, Grimethorpe Colliery, Fairey and Brighouse & Rastrick winning prize after prize playing this march.
When it is played well by a skilled group of bandsmen, this march possibly above all others, despite being scratched onto paper in a lowly terraced two-up two-down house in Shildon by a man more familiar with the glow of the forge and the smell of wagon paint than the fashionable musical institutions and academies of this nation, arguably brings the sound produced by that band closest to perfection. It is a triumph among music of the working man, wrought during a tense and uneasy time for such folk nationally, and a painful period in the life of its composer still doubtless feeling the loss of his wife. It also strikes me as a shame that though it is still played and heard more frequently perhaps than any other piece by Allan, or indeed Thomas Bulch, and generally revered, so few know much at all about its composer.
Though George had lost his wife, he still had the company of their three children, now quite grown up. His son William had, like George, had become a bandsman. How this had come about is undocumented, though it’s quite likely that as Thomas Bulch had taught his sons and involved at least Thomas Edward Bulch junior in his bands, George had most probably done the same with William. In a time where families had no television to gather placidly and compliantly around through the long evenings, it would probably have been difficult to grow up in a household like that of the Allans or Bulches without music being involved somehow. Though it seems as though the world of brass banding was still almost exclusively the preserve of males, it’s likely that George’s two daughters would have had some musical instruction too.
That summer of 1913 saw the first of George’s offspring marry. His daughter Lillie had chosen a young man Thomas Edward Lewis, then aged 27, a Hydraulic Main worker associated with the coke works. The Lewis family lived at Binchester, the village outside Bishop Auckland after which George had written a brass band march many years before. They had moved there, though, from the village of Tottenham, which was adjacent to Coundon. Thomas’s father, also Thomas, was employed as a coal miner. It’s possible that Lillie had met the younger Thomas whilst caring for her grandmother at nearby Coundon Grange.