Banding together over the years

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There’s something quintessentially British about listening to a brass band.

The music speaks of summertime in the park or at a village fete, watching the world go by as you take in the tunes.

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The Mid Sussex Brass Band are particularly good to hear – and they have a history which stretches back to the 1800s. The band was formed in May 1986 following the amalgamation of the Haywards Heath Town Band and the Burgess Hill Brass Band. Both had been running short on numbers so, rather than allow the music to die, they joined forces.

These pictures were shared by band secretary Paul Homewood, who joined the Haywards Heath band in 1969 when he was 21 and has been playing the trombone for them ever since.

The father of the Mid Sussex Brass Band was a gent called George Hilton, a furniture store manager and a member of the Brotherhood Chapel, in Haywards Heath. In the late 1800s, George founded the Haywards Heath Brotherhood Brass and Reed band, which would practise behind the chapel; and he paid for all the instruments and the uniforms.

Even after George was long gone, generations of Hiltons continued to play in the band.

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The outbreak of the First World War saw the band break up, as the musicians answered the call to fight for King and country, but it reformed in 1922 as the Haywards Heath Town Prize Silver Band.

The history of the Burgess Hill Brass Band is not so simple to fathom. FM Avery penned a history of the band in 1996 in which he suggested it had been around in the 1850s.

Mr Avery wrote: “One of the country’s top brass bands, the Black Dyke Mills Band, started with new instruments in 1855 and, in the Sussex Express dated July 16 1859, there is mention of an ‘excellent band’ playing at the prize-giving at St John’s schoolroom, where almost 800 people were in attendance.

“This suggests that our band would also have been formed in the mid 19th century and probably about 1850 – when the schoolroom was built – or soon after, perhaps within five years or so which, coincidentally, compares favourably in time span with one of the best brass bands in the country!”

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The 1960s were tough for the Haywards Heath band, with numbers falling to such a level that only 10 musicians regulalry played.

Then, after an appeal in the Mid Sussex Times, Lawrence Burtenshaw, who was a JP and bugle player with the Royal Marines Band, stepped up to offer his services, becoming band sectretary.

Within two years he had rebuilt the band. Sadly, he suffered a stroke two years after that and was unable to continue in the role.

Over in Burgess Hill, things were going well until 1982, when seven of the band’s most accomplished players left to form a new band at Handcross.

Mr Avery wrote: “This seriously affected the band’s ability to play at bandstand performances during 1983. Rehearsals were poorly attended and the musical director resigned.”

With support also dwindling in Haywards Heath, merging was clearly the sensible option.

And the band played on...

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