During the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth centuries, there was a national campaign to control the excessive drinking habits of country and towns folk alike throughout the land. This campaign was actively supported by the newly formed Temperance societies, Methodists, Free Churches, Calvanists and The Salvation Army.
The hamlet of Roke and the neighbouring villages of Benson and Berrick Salome with Roke Marsh in between had no less than fourteen Inns, Public Houses and established beer retailers in 1882. With a total population of less than 1800 the availability of alcohol presented a great temptation.
It appears from local information that a Coffee House was opened opposite the Chequers public house in Berrick Salome, near Benson Oxfodshire, to give an alternative meeting place for those opposed to alcoholic drink. Among those frequenting this "new" coffee house were a number of local farm workers including Thomas and George Wells, Thomas Alder and his three sons: these locals decided to start a bugle band which led, after a short time and the purchase of some instruments, to the formation of the Roke Temperance Band. Practices were held every Tuesday and Friday in the coffee house ( interestingly practice nights are still Tuesday and Friday, 128 years later).
This was a truly rural Village Band with some of the members leaving practice early on occaisions to go "larking" on suitable nights after harvesting time. They would go in three's to drag fine mesh nets across the surrounding fields, one at each end and one to gather the catch. These larks were sold to Colleges in Oxford for 7s.6d. (37 pence) per gross. Larks nest and sleep on the ground, never in trees or hedges, and will only fly in daylight. It is said that there were so many skylarks in the area that at certain times of the year ( probably when the birds were assembling for migration ) the sky would be black with flocks of many thousands.
It could be said that these instances of Larking were the first in a whole series of fundraising events which continue today and allow the Band to support itself. The first instruments to be purchased from these funds were purchased on extended credit from Messrs. Browns of Haymarket London; from that original purchase a Bass Drum remains in our possession today.
From Berrick to Roke
When the Coffee shop in Berrick closed, the Band used a room above the Post Office in Roke (now a private house) until 1922, when the members were able to purchase a plot of land in Chapel Lane, Roke. The cost of this plot in September 1922 was £10.00 with legal fees of £1.6s.8d. A member of the band at that time, Mr William Aldridge, a builder from Crown Square Benson, undertook the erection of the first Band Hall to stand on the site, which was completed in 1923. The total cost of the building was less than £300. That construction of corrugated iron and wood provided a home, Practice Hall and meeting place for the Band and its members for the remainder of the 20th Century. Throughout nearly 80 years it is impossible to calculate the number of new players that have been introduced to the joys of making music. They will have all gone forward to a life enriched by banding in all its forms.
Conductor, Bandmaster, and Father of the Band since 1980, Mr Ray Hewett, had for many years treasured and promoted the dream of a new Band Hall on the site. As a result of his untiring efforts, the new century has heralded our New Band Hall. It has been purpose-built in Cotswold stone with Practice rooms, a kitchen and main Band Hall complete with Minstrels Gallery. It stands as a fitting tribute to Ray, his dedication and unstinting efforts over 30 years.
Photos taken throughout the Band's history
Philip (Phil) Coggins 1928 - 2013 Vice President and lifelong member of Roke & Benson Brass Band
Philip was born in Benson in May 1928. He attended Benson Church of England School when he was 4 years old and left when he was 14.
His first job for a short time was on a farm in Brook Street, Benson, where he helped the cowmen. A variety of jobs then followed, tree felling, furniture removals, a store man’s assistant at Walter Wilders in Crowmarsh and helping to load coal lorries. When 16 years old Philip worked for a local builder doing painting and labouring. He was first tasked with cleaning the Church clock, and from this he learnt to bell ring.
Phil joined the Army in September 1946 aged 18. He was put in the military police for 2-3 months then in January 1947 into the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. After one year he was transferred to the Oxford & Bucks 1st (4th Battalion). He was stationed at Minden in Germany and Luneburg, Nr Hamburg as a Driver. Philip was demobbed in Hull in 1948 and came back to Benson where he met his wife Dorothy and they were married in 1951 in Benson Church. The family home was (and still is) in Benson where they lived with their two children. They have two children, five grandchildren and two great-children.
Phil always enjoyed music – he played the Bugle in the Army Cadets when he was 14. Aged 16 he joined Roke and Benson Brass Band and even at age 84 still attended band practice each week.
He was a lifelong Reading Football Club supporter although it is not certain whether he went to watch the football or listen to the band at half time! He still attended matches as recently as the last season.
A great passion of Phil’s was working with wood, having a lathe and various tools with which he made many beautiful things for the home. His garden, since retirement, was a great source of pleasure to him and Dorothy.
Philip was a gentle man and a gentleman, always very happy & contented enjoying his family life with his dear wife Dorothy.
Ray Hewett, BEM 1931-2012
Bandmaster, Conductor and lifelong member of Roke and Benson Brass Band
Ray Hewett was a member of the Roke and Benson Brass Band for 42 years; Band Master for thirty-two years; Trustee for twenty years.
As Band Master Ray provided the musical direction which gave the band an extensive repertoire enabling it to fulfil a wide range of diverse engagements including Village Events, Fetes, Concerts, Garden Parties, Flower Shows and Special Church Services.
Under Ray Hewett’s direction the band became, and still is, a thriving community-focussed enterprise, not only in the engagements it undertakes, but also in the free musical tuition it offers to the residents of South Oxfordshire, as well as the substantial support it gives both musically and financially to local and national charities.
Around the time Ray became Bandmaster, the Band was going through a very difficult period and Ray was instrumental in keeping things going and rebuilding the Band.
Ray oversaw the tuition of beginners. Under his direction beginners learnt the rudiments of music before moving on to practical classes for individual instruments. Ray’s outstanding work in teaching young people was recognised by the Oxfordshire Brass Band Association which made an Award to him in 1997. Our Junior Band still thrives today and is run by members of the Senior Band.
Ray initiated and fostered links with local schools, village organisations and business groups, helping to enhance local events and functions with musical entertainment and introducing the benefits the band offers, such as free tuition, to a wider audience.
Ray moved next door to the Band’s premises in Roke during the late 1960s and took on the responsibility for maintenance and upkeep with the help of other members.
In the late 1990s it became apparent that, after over seventy years of constant use, the Band-owned Practice Hall had become uneconomical to maintain. It was clear that it would have to be replaced if the band was to continue its contribution to the community. Ray vigorously applied himself to the task of raising the capital required and spent some years sourcing monies from Local Business, Councils and Patrons.
Ray was successful in raising sufficient funds to build a new, dedicated band hall. He was intimately involved in all stages of the project; firstly in design, then project management of the building work, as well as eventual commissioning. A magnificent new Band Hall and Practice Rooms now stand on the site of the original Practice Hall. It would not have been possible without Ray's inspired leadership and personal effort.
Ray Hewett fulfilled both roles of Bandmaster and Conductor for 30 years. In short, without him, the Roke and Benson Brass Band would not be the thriving organisation it is today.