.jump-link{ display:none }

Friday, 29 June 2018

On Parade with Earlston Clown Band: Sepia Saturday

 This week's prompt photograph from Sepia Saturday shows a band in 1910.  I have the ideal match courtesy of my local heritage group Auld Earlston with photographs and press reportsfrom the early 20th century of Earlsotn Clown Band. 

Earlston Town Band at Melrose Cycle Parade, 1923 

This was a major three day event to raise funds for Melrose Football Club and comprised a bazaar, a concert, a cycle parade/fancy dress parade and a dance at which the Clown Band opened the evening with a Clown Waltz.


It is only recently that I have searched online British Newspapers at www.findmypast.co.uk to find many reports on Earlston Clown Band who performed at events across the Scottish Borders,  However I have so far been unable to trace the background to the organisation and to its distinctive theme and costumes.  

The earliest report found appeared in "The Berwickshrie News" of 28th August 1906 and referred to a village picnic at Cowdenknowes House, near Earlston, where the band was the star performer in  the entertainment.
"The famous Clown Band was unanimously considered, nay acclaimed  as the most striking and most original performance of the day..........  The performer on the big drum would be marked for distinction,  for never before "throbbed the war drum" under such handling as it got from he wielder of the drum sticks."
This photograph of Cowdenknowes House is not dated, but, judging by the costume, this could well by the picnic event in 1906.  
The Clown Band at Galashiels Cycle Parade, 1916

On 14th January 1919,  "The Berwickshire News"  reporter waxed eloquently in a colourful account of a school concert where:
The finale  was the performance of Earlston Junior Clown Band . trained by Miss Gil, one of the teachers, and her pupils did her infinite credit.  This  was thought to be the crowning performance of the evening and caused a great sensation.   Their grotesque garments and equally grotesque musical  performance  made the bandsmen the heroes of the hour, the observed of all observers, the cynosure of every eye.  Their contribution to the evening  was a veritable  triumph  and was rewarded with tremendous applause. "
You do wonder what their "grotesque musical performance" sounded like! 
The Band at Galashiels Peace Parade, 1919 

1923 was a busy summer for the Band, for they appeared  at many events across the Borders, including  a fancy dress parade to aid the funds of Earlston Bowling Club.
"The streets along which the procession passed were crowded  with spectators, with over 100 adults and juveniles taking part. The local Clown Band, attired in fantastic dresses,  brought up the rear.
In October 1923 the band  opened the celebrations at Mellerstain House following the marriage of Lord and Lady Haddington and returned in 1934 to mark the birth of a daughter, where: 
"With the  bonfire well alight, and the surroundings brightly illuminated, Earlston Clown Band entertained the workers and those who congregated around the blazing bonfire.   Liberal refreshments were served and the night was one of gaity."

Mellerstain House - June 2018

May 1937 saw the Coronation celebration in the village, with the  fancy dress pageant
"Headed by the familiar Clown Band,  Mr. J. W, Murdison, attired in clerical garb acting as drum major.  

The last report found on the  band was  in "The Berwickshire News" of 13th July 1937 when the band took part, with great acclaim  in a fancy dress parade in Lauder.
 "Much of the success of the parade was due to the efforts of the Earlston Clown Band,  which led the procession through the streets of the Burgh .  The antics of the band, who were all in character,  and its leader Mr. John Murdison roused peals of laughter from the many spectators who had gathered to watch the procession.
At the presentation of the prizes, an extra vote of thanks was given to Earlston Clown Band, who had kindly given their services free, and to Mr. J. Murdison and Ian Macdonald who were instrumental in bringing the band to Lauder." 
No further press reports were traced after that date. Did the outbreak of war bring an end to the Clown Band activities,  which had delighted its followers down the decades?  


Today Melrose Pipe Band leads the fancy dress parade in Earlston Civic Week


Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity 
to share their family history through photographs.
To discover more tales of bands  from Sepia Saturday bloggers, click HERE


  1. Oh what a fun sounding band! I would love to see one of our local parades have such a group perform. It does make you wonder when they stopped playing, did the members put away their costumes and instruments, or maybe still gather for fun rehearsals occasionally.

  2. Great research! I've never encountered British bands like this but I have a few similar American bands from the same period 1900-1925. They were often called "Rube Bands" and the members dressed up as country bumpkins or clowns.

    I can see a strong element of the blackface minstrel show combined with the circus clown band. It may have a connection to the Carnivale, Mardi Gras, Fasching, Mummer local entertainments too. They were also popular with fraternal societies. Lots of masonic lodges in the US still have clown bands that participate in civic parades.

  3. Wonderful pictures and information about the bands - past & present - in your area. That is one BIG drum in the first photo. Love the photo of the Melrose Pipe Band. I swoon over the skirl of the pipes! Love that sound! :)

  4. Interesting post! When I was looking for a photo of a band in 1880s Kansas, I came across a clown band as well. Didn't get included in my post, though.


Thank you for your comment which will appear on screen after moderation.