This picture shows the Carrow Works Wind Band as it appeared in the early 1920s. Carrow Works was, an in a form still is, the factory of Colmans, the mustard makers of Norwich. Today mustard forms a small part of their business, and even a hundred years ago there were many other strings to their bow (so to speak). The Starch Department was particularly strong is musical matters for example. The band is seen in the garden of Carrow House. It was very much the personal preserve of bandmaster Walter Wright (centre, holding the baton), who had been appointed to the position in 1907, for after his death in 1928 the band folded. Before joining Carrow Works Band he had been a Royal Artillery bandsman at Woolwich and then bandmaster of the Royal Cardigan Artillery Band at Aberystwith for 16 years.


The musician standing at the back in the first picture, 4th from the left, is Albert Curtis and he is holding the baritone horn which the band won as runners-up at the Crystal Palace Brass Band Championships in the 1860s. In 1875 they won the Championship, being awarded prize of 50 guineas, presented by the popular Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. The Crystal Palace band competitions were still a major event in the country in 1913 when the Norwich Co-op won the first prize.  I have already touched on the early history of the Brass Band movement in East Anglia in my post BRASS BANDS and FIREWORKS (NOVEMBER 15 2011).

When W.J.Wright took over the string and military bands he was very much starting afresh, although in the past there had been a vigorous musical tradition as we have seen. The past glories had been with Brass Bands however, but the new musical groups were in a more orchestral tradition. There was another tradition too, that of a small group called the Carrow Minstrels. They probably blacked up as such groups were still doing in the early days of television. The heyday of the Carrow Minstrels was before the First World War. Although he did not work at Carrow (he was employed at Laurence Scott) my grandfather played string bass with them. What the other instruments were I do not know, although I should think a banjo was one of them. There would also have been singers in the ensemble. There is still a thriving band movement in Norfolk, although there are no more Minstrels.

Notice in the final picture that the double bass was the old three stringed variety. A hundred years ago this was the normal type. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the three stringed instruments were converted to four strings. Some were converted to five strings, although these were probably more often four stringed originals; the change from 3 to 5 strings may have put too great a strain on the instrument. My instrument was four string bass, although you could see that it had originally had three strings. Unfortunately it was not my grandfather’s 3 stringed bass. I do not know what happened to that, and I never saw it as he died before I was born. I did however inherit his violin which he played in the Norwich Philharmonic. (My father played cello in the Phil as a young man.) I do not play the violin although my wife Molly does (her own, not my grandfathers which I sold). Indeed we met through playing in the string section of a Norwich band.

The String Band at Carrow, 1909.




One response

  1. I am very much enjoying reading your blog about Norfolk’s (sometimes) forgotten history.


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