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Christmas on the Wolds 1887

Joan Shaw

Undated photograph of the Burton, Hoton and Prestwold Amateur Band
Left to right:
Back row: F. Abell, E.H. Walker, J. Bramley, T.W. Dickson
Middle row: T. Hill, W. Ironman, R. Hallam, W. Kemp, F. Draycott
Front row: F. Marshall, J. Clarke, H. Scholfield, H. Walker

In olden days, when Queen Victoria was still on the throne and the people of the Wolds villages relied on their own feet or the carrier's cart to get them from place to place, and were solely dependent upon their own resources for diversion and entertainment, Handel Schofield, much respected headmaster of the Burton board school, and himself an talented musician, set about forming a local band. With the aid of Mr Dickens, the brickmaker from Burton Bandalls, and the support of Mr Hussey Packe of Prestwold Hall, within a very short time he had aroused interest from a number of men from the three villages of Burton, Hoton and Prestwold. The band was soon up and running, and with their subscriptions and a little extra help they managed to purchase suitable instruments from a brass instrument maker in Rochdale named William Booth. Practices started immediately in the schoolroom and even though some of the bandsmen lived several miles away, there was plenty of enthusiasm and it was invariably a full turn-out.

Within a few months, the band had its first booking – the feast of the Oddfellows' Society at Walton, and from then on there was no stopping them: sports' days, garden parties, school treats and village feasts all required their services and requests were received from places as far afield as East Leake.

Not surprisingly, they were most in demand for the Christmas festivities when, in return for a small contribution, a glass of ale and a mincepie, they were only too happy to play for friends and neighbours. Christmas is a time for fun, and on one occasion a local farmer and well-known practical joker thought he would take advantage of their good humour. When the band came to a halt outside his house, the men were asked if they would like a sup of beer. Being by then quite parched, they were only too keen to accept his kind offer, and when the farmer came out with a couple of capacious jugs filled to the brim they rushed to quench their thirst only to quickly splutter and spit out the dreadful brew offered. "This tastes uncommon like rainwater", complained one man, at which the farmer collapsed with laughing, "that's exactly what it is", he replied with a loud laugh and quickly restored good relations with jugs of excellent beer and a plate of the inevitable Christmas pastries.

But Christmas 1887, just a year after the band was formed, was the Christmas to end all Christmases, the Christmas that those taking part would remember the rest of their lives, the Christmas that went down in history.

The band decided that on the night of Christmas Eve they would undertake a tour of the local villages starting at Prestwold, visiting Burton, Walton, Cotes, Stanford and Rempstone in turn, and finishing at Hoton. The route was about 12 miles that it would normally take something like four hours to cover, but since they would be entertaining the residents of each place with their carols and popular Christmas music as they went, they expected to take a little longer on this occasion.

Who first had the idea is not on record and that is probably the way they preferred it to remain.

At 6.30 on Christmas Eve, attired in their Sunday best, the band met at Prestwold Hall to commence their performance, determined to put on a good show for Mr Packe, who was, after all, a very important man and their biggest benefactor.

In those days it was not customary for Christmas Eve to be a holiday, so we can assume that most, if not all of them had already been at work since dawn. But spirits were high, and they played with gusto.

We can imagine them laughing and joking as they spilled out of Prestwold Hall, huddling excitedly round their leader to find out how much money Mr Packe has given them, and arguing about which path to take.

At each stopping place a big welcome awaited them. There was plenty of beer to be quaffed, along with warm homemade wine that tasted of the autumn hedgerows, and always an abundance of delicious food.

I dare say they had already lined up a straw-filled barn where they could get their heads down for an hour or two, but, if so, they will surely have woken up with stiff limbs and splitting headaches.

Our straggle of weary bandsmen finally trudged into Hoton at 11.30 on Christmas morning to give their last performance. It wasn't their best, but it was certainly played with feeling.

They were all absolutely exhausted and some could scarcely manage to stumble home. Comments from wives and mothers are left to the imagination.

The Burton, Hoton and Prestwold Amateur Band continued, with a few breaks, for well over forty years. Sadly, their Christmas Eve tour was never repeated!

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