Hospitality is the fertiliser of the soul

In 2002, when the organisers of the Golden Jubilee Party in Regency Square (of which this blogger was one) invited the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Dieppe to play, they did not realise that they were following a long tradition.

In 2002, when the organisers of the Golden Jubilee Party in Regency Square (of which this blogger was one) invited the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Dieppe to play, they did not realise that they were following a long tradition.

The visitors in 2002 were accommodated in the homes of members of the Brighton and Hove French Circle and the Regency Square Area Society.  After being met at Newhaven and settling in with their host families, they gathered in the rooftop Chartwell Room of the Metropole Hotel for a formal welcome by the Society.  On subsequent days, they were regaled with fish and chips, thanks to the generosity of the Regency Restaurant and a buffet lunch in the French Church in Queensbury Mews.  Their grand departure party was held in the now-defunct basement bar at No. 5 Regency Square. 

The Orchestre played valiantly in the square.  Their lightweight summer uniform was little protection against the buffeting, chilly winds coming up from the seafront. It was altogether a very modest affair despite being attended by the Mayor of Brighton, the French Honorary Consul for Sussex and a representative of the Mayor of Dieppe.

Almost exactly 100 years previously, the welcome afforded to a visiting French band in 1904 was very different. This was, after all, the year the French and the British signed the Entente Cordiale. The orchestra was that of the Casino de Dieppe.  The Journal des Débats waxed lyrical about the event referring to the reception grandiose received by the visitors.  The orchestra played two concerts, one in the afternoon on the (sheltered) lawns of the Royal Pavilion, one in the evening in the Dome Theatre. The Mayor of Brighton and the Corporation had offered a lunch to the participants, and then in the evening, a banquet in the Royal Pavilion attended not only by the Mayor of Brighton and several other Sussex worthies, but the Mayor of Dieppe, two of his adjoints (deputies) and Directors of the Brighton Railway Company.

In 1900, France was nearly half-way through her Third Republic (1870-1940). Compared to the Mayor of Brighton who would have worn his ceremonial chain and gown at the evening concert, the French mayor, as a good republican, would simply have worn the tricolour sash with a formal suit and top hat.

It would seem  that the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company (LB&SCR) was not only instrumental in setting up and partially funding the whole event, but also were not averse to using the event as publicity by promoting a range of special offers:  a first-class ticket on the fast train from Victoria at 12.15 pm would set you back a mere 5/- (a week’s wages for a semi-skilled craftsman in 1904).  The return train would leave at 10.45pm from Brighton Station.  The station itself was part of the festivities:

The French guests were accommodated, at the town’s expense, in grand Royal York Hotel (now the YHA Hostel in Old Steine).  On their first evening they were entertained at the Hippodrome where “The Marseillaise was played soon after their entry.”  The following day they were taken by tram, newly established in 1901, to see such sights of Brighton as Elm Grove and Beaconsfield Road.  Of more interest to them was perhaps a ride on Volk’s Electric Railway and a visit to the French Convalescent Home near the eastern terminus of the little train line.

The Brighton Gazette was pleased to note that: “They (the French musicians) do not offer their patrons the wretched trash which, alas, one hears so much nowadays, but only music of the highest class.”  But above all, the same newspaper emphasised that the visit had a deeper meaning than just entertainment:

It is likely that French bands of many kinds had visited Brighton before 1904, but the first visit that has been well documented was in 1878. 

In October of that year, two bands from Boulogne, the Orphéon and the Société Musicale could not have been more prompt in offering their services for a benefit concert in Brighton.  Sad to say, the concert was to raise funds for the families of the victims of two British disasters:  a mine explosion in Abercarn (268 dead) and the sinking of the pleasure boat Princess Alice in the Thames (600 or more dead).

The reporter from Le Progrès de la Somme referred to Brighton’s “birdcage” bandstand as une élégante rotonde and that the audience was un auditoire d’élite qui leur fait un chaleureux accueil [a select audience who gave them (the musicians) a warm welcome.]

Source: Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove

The warm welcome had not changed by the 21st century.  But practical matters had.  When the Dieppe band arrive in 2002, they were met at Newhaven by their local hosts in private cars.  In 1878, the Boulogne bands’ arrival from London (along with the band of the Belgian Grenadiers) was greeted at Brighton Station by two British military bands.  The procession set off down Queens Road – the British at their head – naturellement – but with the French proudly waving their Tricolore flagAnglo-French relations must have been good at the time.  The reporter from Le Progrès continued:

Even more astonishing is the fact that another municipal band visited the town less than five weeks later.  In December 1878, the band of L’Orphéon de Dieppe sailed over to Brighton specifically to play at a charity concert in aid of the Home for Foreign Governesses (most of whom were French) which at that time was in 8 Sillwood Place.

Brighton has never been famous for having a town band.  There seems to be no evidence (so far!) of a band from our city visiting France.  But if one did, it would be good to know of it.

One thought on “Hospitality is the fertiliser of the soul

  1. I read this interesting account of the 2002 musical visit and its nostalgic echoes of past similar events with interest. It is to be hoped that once the upheavals caused by Covid-19 and Brexit have died down, such socially and artistically important events can be renewed.

    I understand that the bandstand has been refurbished and already put to its intended use. It stands as an invitation for history to repeat itself in this agreeable manner.

    I take to heart the amusing but wise words of the writer of the “fertiliser” article in the Brighton Gazette. It is by such visits and exchanges that we learn to understand one another and to accommodate one another’s differences.

    May it not be too long before the streets of Brighton echo once again to shouts of “Vive la France!”


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