On June 22nd 1911, the date of the Coronation of George V, when all other bands were booked to serve their own communities, a plea went out in Wicken for any instrumentalists to come forward in the hope of forming a make shift band to lead the village parade to the church.
Along came the owners of one cornet, one euphonium, two piccolos, one tin whistle, one flageolet, one bass drum and one violin, all claiming some degree of musicianship. Leading them was to be a harmonium with an experienced organist to be pulled along in a cart drawn by three tough lads.
The impromptu players made a day of it, playing selections on a sports field and then on this occasion they decided to keep together to form a permanent band. Once this was known a collection was made to start them off and after another meeting it was decided the band should be called Wicken Coronation Band.
There were twenty two players from the start along with the promise of practical support from the vicar, the Reverend Ernest Dibben, who offered to lend £35.00 to purchase the first set of instruments.
After two years of successful playing under their bandmaster, Walter Bishop, the members were able to pay back the loan. The vicar then advanced £32 and 10 shillings for the first set of uniforms in 1913. After another eighteen months this money had been repaid and the band was complete.
Those were days of hard work for minimum pay for these bandsmen who were mostly farm workers. They sacrificed a great deal of their leisure time not only practising and playing but travelling long distances on foot carrying sometimes heavy instruments, for transport was a constant problem.
The band was kept very busy serving nearby communities at a time when Hospital Sunday Parades were popular and essential before the days of National Health Service. They also entered the East Anglian Band Competitions and the 'Big One' at Crystal Palace in 1933 and began to accumulate prizes. The first was a third placing in a 'march' contest at Soham on 19th June 1923. In the 1930s they were privileged to receive tuition from the gifted bandmaster, Mr. F. J. Talbot.
There were no contests between 1939 and 1947 but once their ranks had been restored after the war, Wicken's band achieved remarkable success for a village of fewer than seven hundred inhabitants. They won seven first prizes, culminating in The Championship of East Anglia (Norwich 1955). One member, Roland Avey, whose father and two brothers were founder members of the band and who at one point played in the band with six brothers, was awarded the gold medal at the Norfolk Band Festival at Fakenham in 1948 for the best solo trombone player.
In 1989 Wicken Youth Band was formed and this is functioning with great enthusiasm and success today. Such successes include first place in the youth section at the East Anglian Brass Band Association Contest in 1993 and 1995. The youth band were awarded second place section 'C' at the East Cambridgeshire Brass Band Championship in 1992, 1993 and 1995 and the BBC Radio Cambridge Trophy at the same contest in 1995 for the set test piece. In the youth section, the band received the Riverside Music Trophy which is awarded to the youth band obtaining the best overall position in 1992, 1993, and 1995. The youngsters have been successful in various solo and quartet contests held in the East Anglian region.
Very few villages the size of Wicken in East Anglia can boast about the size and success of their local band and are proud to do so.
The last few years have been very difficult for the band losing many players for various reasons. Down to very few players at practice and no permanent bandmaster on several occasions the band nearly ceased to exist.
Thanks to Robert Peacock’s determination to keep going and hours on the telephone Wicken's dedicated few were supported by members of other bands.
A new book telling the story of Wicken Coronation Brass Band 1911-2011 - it has a detailed history of the band with many illustrations.
A bargain at only £9.99 if you would like to order a copy please contact:
Laurence Finlayson on 01353 721863
Robert Peacock on 01353 968170