THE FIRST BANDSTAND in London was probably the 18th-century twostorey circular pavilion in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Musicians playing to the promenading public from the upper gallery would have nodded to Louis-François Roubiliac's sculptural tribute to a stillliving commoner, his 1738 statue of Handel as a latter-day Orpheus in the Grand South Walk.' This rococo pavilion was replaced in 1758 by a neogothic structure. A century later, in 1861, the first two British examples of bandstands as we know them today were designed, in cast iron with a wooden dome, by the Royal Engineers' Captain Francis Fowke (1823-65) for the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens in South Kensington. After the gardens closed in 1888, the stands were bought by the London County Council and re-erected on Plumstead Common and Southwark Park.1
With the passing of the London Council (General Powers) Act 1890, the one-year-old LCC obtained the power to fund and provide music in its parks and open spaces. Before its acquisition of Fowke 's structures, there were only three other bandstands in London, one erected by the previous Metropolitan Board at Finsbury Park, and two, at Victoria Park (Tower Hamlets) and Battersea Park, established by Her Majesty's Office of Works. By 1901 the LCC had ordained the building of no fewer than 22 bandstands and the same number of temporary stands, and had established four bands to give summer performances in them during daylight.
In addition to the four bands, the members of which are engaged direct by tbe Council's musical adviser, and who are all first-class musicians and mostly drawn from the best London orchestras, several volunteer and other bands are regularly engaged each year. All bands other than the Council's own have to receive the approval of die musical adviser before being allowed to play, even gratuitously, at places under the Council's control, the provision of music being looked upon by the Council from an educational as well as from a merely recreative [sic] point of view.'
The LCC's first musical adviser was Warwick Williams (1846-1915), best remembered now by collectors of illustrated Victorian sheet music covers as an arranger, particularly of 'lancers' and quadrilles, from popular shows and melodies.4 His services were retained by the Council at the end of 1893 for a fee of 100 guineas, and he was voted a budget of £5,000 for the provision of music in the parks.5 Under his direction 'A concert called a dress rehearsal,' as The Times reported it,
was given at the Queen 's-hall on Thursday afternoon for the purpose of exhibiting the efficiency of the combined bands, consisting of 92 players, engaged by the County Council to play in various parks and centres of public recreation. The programme does not call for comment, as it was mainly made up of those fantasias of which the great charm appears to lie in interminable cadenzas ??t such favourite instruments as the cornet, the euphonium, and the saxophone. [...] The encouragement of such music as this is, perhaps, a valuable part of the County Council's functions; but it requires to be supplemented by a far more important duty - that of repressing the intolerable nuisance of street music of all kinds. '
The Council's progressive policies on music for the people had already run into political trouble, as The Musical Times reported in 1893. The local vestries, lobbied strongly by 'musicians, artists, literary and medical men, and others who earn their living by the higher kinds of brain work', called on the Council to join them in representations to the Home Secretary 'to mitigate the nuisance' being caused to these sensitive classes by street musicians. The main offenders were the organ grinders, 'of whom the Italians alone number 920, according to recent statistics'. Next came 'the German bands' and after them 'hundreds of mountebanks, singing beggars, fiddlers, cornet players, performers on the harp, clarinet, tin whistle, and other instruments'. …