* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Slatesite * * * Gwynedd Archives Service The AGOR Consortium The Welsh Site *
* *
The Slatesite Home Page * Industry * * Communities * Slate * Art * Gallery * Site Map * External Site * About Us *
* *

Culture - Bands 

bands drama  
eisteddfodau music  

Brass bands.Nantlle Vale String Band 1900-1910

The brass band played a central role in the cultural life of the community, not only in the quarrying villages, but beyond. The band was without a doubt one of the status symbols of the quarryman. Just by taking the area from the Carneddau to the Eifl, this is an approximation of the number of bands in the area.


Town/Village No Town/Village No
Garn Dolbenmaen 
Y Groeslon 
Dyffryn Nantlle 

Y Felinheli 
Nant Peris 
Y Waunfawr 
Sarn Mellteyrn 

By 1888, brass bands were big business with around 40,000 of them in the countries of Britain. By the 1920's, their number had decreased to 9,500.  The number decreased further to around 4,000 by 1988.

True, many of them were small in number, varying from eight to fifteen members. But in the end, a band is a band. Wherever there was a procession, the local band would lead the way. 

We can be fairly certain that the earliest band to be formed in the region was the Llanrug Band in 1830 and closely followed by Deiniolen Band in around 1835. It must be remembered that over the years bands changed their names. The Deiniolen Band, for instance, went under the names of Llandinorwig, then Ebenezer, then Llanbabo, and then Cynfi at various times. And then there was the Nantlle Vale Band that started off in 1865 as the Penyrorsedd Band.

In the slate quarrying areas, the quarry owner would usually buy the instruments, and it was not unusual for a resident bandmaster to be given employment by him. Indeed, by the 1890's some of the bands in the area had been given the prefix Royal and competed regularly at Belle Vue, Manchester, as well as other competitions including the National Eisteddfod and the North Wales Championships. For major competitions professional tutors would be called in as well as a number of experienced players, usually from England, to boost the ranks.

But it must also be remembered that the fortunes of the bands was closely linked to the economic success of the slate industry.

The Royal Bands

Beddgelert Band, 1909The Penrhyn Band became the Royal Penrhyn Band following Queen Victoria's visit to the castle in 1862.

The Oakeley Band was invited to Bala in 1889 for Victoria's Royal Visit. Shops in the town displayed the Royal Warrant and the band became the Royal Oakeley for their valued service. When the band went to compete at Llandudno that year, 1,200 supporters came from Blaenau with them.

Belle Vue was visited for the first time in 1904.  After a famous victory at the Swansea National Eisteddfod in 1907, the Royal Oakeley band were hailed as the 'Champion Band of Wales.' Similar successes were also experienced during the 1920's and 1930's. During the 1939-45 War, the band was known as the 'Home Guard Band.' Re-founded after the war much of the former success has been revived.

Nantlle Band was invited to play selections on board an anchored ship for the amusement of the Prince and Princess of Wales, during their visit to the Caernarfon National Eisteddfod in 1894, as the royals sailed gaily by on the royal yacht. That day the Royal Nantlle Vale Band came into being. 

During the Dinorwig strike of 1885-86, the Llanrug Band came to play for the strikers. G.W.D. Assheton Smith had been their patron since 1871.  He had presented them with new uniforms, together with busby hats, a practice room at Gilfach Ddu in the quarry itself, as well as a new set of silver instruments worth £400. They were also given a new name, The Royal Vaynol Silver Band.

Bands and Strikes

But after leading a march of striking quarrymen to 'Craig yr Undeb' (Union Rock) in 1885, they were ordered forthwith to return their instruments to the band room at Gilfach Ddu and to leave them there until further notice. Marching back, they were persuaded by some of the onlookers to play a couple of marches. They obliged, and in so doing gave Assheton Smith the excuse to confiscate their instruments permanently.  He then took the opportunity of presenting them to a newly formed band in Llanberis and employed a conductor and tutor from England in 1886.

The instrument-less band was forced to borrow a set to compete soon after, and even though they won, they were disqualified for not using their own instruments! 

The red-letter day for the bands of course was May Day, and it was not unusual to see as many as eight marching in the main procession. In 1892 the festival was held at Caernarfon. Since Lord Penrhyn and E.A.Young as we have seen did not look favourably on any form of trade unionism, and that Penrhyn owned all the instruments, a warning was sent out that the band was not to use the instruments at any cost. However, the union happened to own the bass drum. Consequently, the Royal Penrhyn Band marched to the drumbeat alone.

Rivalry existed between many of the bands. Llan Ffestiniog Band, founded around 1864, never became 'royal.' But between 1883 and 1895 they won prize money to the value of nearly £300. Local brass band competitions were regular events, and Llan Ffestiniog were very successful in competitions in Porthmadog, Barmouth, Dolgellau, Llanrwst, Llanfairfechan, Corwen, Rhyl, Bala and Caernarfon.

Gwynedd Council
Welsh Slate Museum, Llanberis
Cynefin Consultants
Enrich UK - Lottery Funded New Opportunities Fund
© Copyright Gwynedd Council 2003