Leighton Salvation Army Band’s 125th anniversary celebration

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Faith Matters by Robin Gurney of Churches Together Leighton Linslade...

For much of the last century, each Sunday morning and evening, the streets of Leighton Buzzard resounded to the strains of the local Salvation Army band as they brought their Christian message to the town’s citizens. 

Sunday shop opening and the general increase in traffic has put paid to that old tradition. Nevertheless the band is still thriving and this year is celebrating its 125th anniversary. 

Formed in 1889, soon after the corps opened, the band of nine players began under their first bandmaster, Jesse Kipping. Jesse was a Methodist who was christened in the Eaton Bray Methodist Church but at the time of becoming bandmaster of the new SA band was a member at the Hockliffe Street Methodist Church. That church building was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the inner by-pass. Jesse was born in Slapton in 1836. How do I know? Well he features in my own family history and at one time I owned his cornet!

For Leightonians of a later era, the frequent sight of bandmaster George Reeve cycling around the town collecting weekly insurance payments put that gentleman in public view. Mr Reeve held the position for 48 years and on his retirement in 1960 a BBC television crew arrived at the Market Square to film the handover to his successor, Bramwell Evans. 

The Market Square features prominently in the history of the band for it was there that a service was held every Sunday evening before the band and followers marched to the evening service in the Salvation Army hall in Lammas Walk. Still the present meeting place of the Leighton SA Corps.

In the 1950s the Leighton Rotary Club invited the band to accompany an evening of carol singing in the High Street on Christmas Eve. About 100 people attended the first event and no-one there could have guessed that such an evening would have survived to the present day.

That Christmas Eve tradition sees the High Street closed for a couple of hours as upwards of 3,000 people attend come rain, snow and wind to sing the traditional melodies. For some, Christmas would not now be Christmas without that family gathering.

The band is also visible in the town on Remembrance Day services in November and is often invited to provide music for other civic events.

A special weekend is being planned for November 22-23 to recognise that 125 years of unbroken service. All former members of the band who are known to the present leadership have been invited but if LBO readers know of someone who has not received an invitation then John Quick on 01525 376518 would love to hear from you.

A leading Salvation Army officer, Commissioner William Cochrane will front the weekend. Two guest brass soloists will also be featured - world renowned euphonium player from the famous International Staff Band, Derek Kane, and the outstanding cornetist James Fountain. The Saturday evening festival of music will begin at 7 pm in the Salvation Army hall in Lammas Walk. All are most welcome.