Oom-pah-pah! It’s the Bishopthorpe Brass Band

Did you know that, during the 19th century, the villagers of Bishopthorpe enjoyed the pleasure of being entertained by their own brass band?  An enquiry from Gavin Holman, who is researching the history of brass bands in local communities, set me seeking evidence for a similar musical group within our own parish.

Gavin tells us that the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the golden age for brass bands with, probably, up to 40,000 bands at their peak.  By contrast, there are only about 1,500 bands active in the U.K. today.  Many bands were associated with local industries while others provided a musical focus for small towns and villages.  These early bands left little in the way of information about their existence; Gavin, therefore, is trying to identify as many as possible by collecting material to enter on a central database.  (His website can be found at: http://www.ibew.co.uk)

This enquiry rang bells with me (if you’ll pardon the expression) and I soon discovered a couple of sources of information.  The first lies with Mr. William Camidge, a local historian from York, who wrote articles for the Yorkshire Gazette in the late 19th century.  In 1890, these were published in book form under the title, Ouseburn to Naburn Lock. In this, he referred to a band in Bishopthorpe:

A brass band consisting of 15 performers existed in the village for twenty years under the care of the late Mr. Thomas Carbert, and enjoyed considerable popularity for twenty or thirty miles around.  They played at most of the club anniversaries of the district and occasionally at York elections and other times.  The band still exists, but its character, composition and management are entirely changed.

Thomas Carbert lived in Bishopthorpe from about 1839.  He was a market gardener who raised a large family, but still found time to take on duties such as parish clerk and enumerator for the 1861 and 1871 censuses.  The Carbert family seemed to be talented musicians and held annual concerts in the school room under the patronage of the Archbishop. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that he led a popular brass band. Mr. Carbert died in 1886 and it is not known who succeeded him.

The Archbishop’s Extraordinary Homecoming

In his book, William Camidge also made mention of when Archbishop Harcourt (1807 – 1847) used to return to Bishopthorpe from lengthy duties in London.  These were occasions of festivity in the village when he was greeted with enthusiasm by large numbers of villagers. This is borne out by the second and earliest reference to the village band. On this occasion, it played a part in a remarkable story.

In 1846, the newspapers reported Archbishop Harcourt returning to Bishopthorpe after spending the summer at his family seat in Oxfordshire.  During his absence, a new school had been built for the boys, while the 18th century school (in School Lane) was refurbished and enlarged for the girls.  The wealthy Archbishop had paid for the building work as well as financially helping with the restoration of the church.

More than 400 parishioners greeted him like a hero.  They first gathered at the new school and, led by the village band, made their way to Middlethorpe.  When the 89 year-old Archbishop arrived, a large body of villagers removed the horses from his carriage, attached ropes to it, and physically drew Harcourt to the Palace.  At the entrance, a decorated triumphal arch bore the inscription, “God Save our Gracious Benefactor”.  The vicar, Rev. Canon Dixon, read an address to which the Archbishop responded warmly before entering the Palace amidst hearty cheers, and further robust playing from the band.

From the early twentieth century, it seems that the Bishopthorpe Brass Band faded into obscurity.  Village celebrations and gatherings relied, instead, on the services of military bands from Fulford Barracks or a band from Naburn.  What a pity that the stirring sound of a local brass band no longer entertains us or, perhaps, greets the return of Archbishops from their many travels!

Linda Haywood


Ouseburn to Naburn Lock, William Camidge, (York, 1890) pp343-344

The Morning Post, Sat., 19 Sep 1846.

The Standard, Sat., 19 Sep 1846.



RSWellman on May 10, 2011 7:03 PM

I am the great-granddaughter of the Thomas Carbert mentioned in your article and I live in Minnesota, USA. It is family lore that grandfather Arthur (Thomas’s son) played in a family band in Bishopthorpe, but have had no real proof of such. Thank you for the verification.

My grandfather immigrated to the US in 1887 and he was one of 21 children born to Thomas Carbert (a large family indeed, but then he was married three times).

I have a snapshot taken in Canada in the 1930s of my grandfather playing a tuba, but as far as I know he never continued with it. He did have a beautiful singing voice and in much demand for church solos.

I wonder if there are any photos of the Bishopthorpe Brass Band?



Linda on May 11, 2011 12:03 AM

Thank you for contacting us. I’m afraid that we don’t have any photographs of the Brass Band – I only wish we had! It’s interesting to learn that the Carbert talent for music spread across the Atlantic. Could you send a copy of Arthur playing the tuba via email? The address is: historygroup@bishopthorpe.net

According to the Carbert family tree I’ve put together, Arthur was born in 1871 to Thomas’s third wife, Mary Buckle. As you say, 21 children between three wives is quite a family!