Quadrille Bands and String Bands

Quadrille bands were popular throughout Britain, Europe, North America, and elsewhere during the nineteenth century, the first ones appearing in Britain shortly after 1816, when Lady Jersey introduced the quadrille into British high society. A quadrille is a square dance performed by four couples and it comprises a series of between four and six contradanses, which were French court dances that owed their origin to English country dances from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Typical English dance evenings at the beginning of the nineteenth century, whether village dances or aristocratic balls, comprised reels, jigs, hornpipes, cotillions, and country dances, perhaps with the occasional strathspey or allemande included. The first half of the nineteenth century saw major changes as successive crazes for the waltz, the quadrille, the polka, and the schottische swept through not only fashionable society but also middle-class professionals and tradespeople, and ordinary country folk. All of these social classes tended to refer to the dances they held as balls. By the mid-century, the majority of the dances performed in a typical ball were waltzes, quadrilles, polkas, galops, and schottisches with a few country dances and other older dances included.

There was a tradition within the Yorkshire Dales and elsewhere that a ball would commence and finish with a country dance: the opening dance was usually The Triumph, but sometimes The Keel Row, while the closing dance was almost always Sir Roger de Coverley. However, this practice died out during the early twentieth century. The only twentieth century traditional dance musician in the Yorkshire Dales who was known to have had all three of these tunes in his repertoire was Sam Fawcett from Baldersdale.

Where groups, rather than solo musicians, played for balls and village dances in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these groups did not have any generic name. By the nineteenth century, however, a fashion emerged to call these groups of musicians ‘quadrille bands’. Despite the popularity of other dances, terms such as ‘waltz band’, ‘polka band’, and ‘schottische band’ were almost never used.

Hull and Arnold’s Quadrille Band, Kalamazoo, Michigan c.1875

Among the earliest quadrille bands in England were Mr. Paine’s Quadrille Band, which performed at a ball in Reading Town Hall in December 1818, and the Quadrille Band of the York Winter Assemblies, which was performing regularly in that city by 1819. The size and composition of quadrille bands varied according to the number of musicians available locally and the instruments they played, but bands in and around the Yorkshire Dales tended to have three or four members and to be led by a fiddle player.

Quadrille Bands in the Yorkshire Dales

The earliest quadrille bands known to have been operating in the Yorkshire Dales were Robert Forster’s Richmond Quadrille Band and William Wrigley’s Leyburn Quadrille Band. Five reports of balls in Richmond and one in Leyburn that appeared in the York Herald and the Yorkshire Gazette between 1835 and 1839 all refer to music being provided by the Richmond Quadrille Band, led by Robert Forster who died young in the summer of 1839. It is not known whether this band continued under another name after Forster’s death.

The first mention of Leyburn Quadrille Band was in a report of a dance at the King’s Head and Commercial Inn, Leyburn, for which the band played on 31 December 1839. No mention was made at this time of the composition of the band or the name of its leader, but an obituary written for Willie Wrigley, an impoverished road-mender, agricultural labourer, musician and instrument-maker, who died in August 1843, aged 74, described him as the leader of Leyburn Quadrille Band. Although the only mention of the Leyburn Quadrille Band during Wrigley’s lifetime occurred in 1839, it is likely that the band began playing several years earlier than that.

The term ‘quadrille band’ remained popular until the end of the nineteenth century, although by the 1880s some groups of musicians were beginning to call themselves string bands instead. With a few exceptions, the use of the name ‘quadrille band’ had died out by the First World War. The latest mentions in newspapers of quadrille bands in the Yorkshire Dales were in 1909, when John Sayer’s Quadrille Band from Kirkby Stephen played for a dance at Ravenstonedale and George Tomlinson’s Quadrille Band played for a Territorials’ Ball at Ingleton. Leyburn Quadrille Band took the accolade for longevity, having begun life sometime prior to 1839 and remaining in continuous existence until at least June 1906, when it played for a wedding reception at Constable Burton Hall.

The following table, compiled mainly from newspaper reports, provides an alphabetical list of the 39 quadrille bands known to have operated in and around the Yorkshire Dales, with their earliest and latest known dates, their location, and the number of dances, balls and other events at which they played for which reports have survived. This represents only a small percentage of the total number of engagements for which they will have played, and the figures are skewed socially, because the balls of the country gentry and the wealthier townsfolk were more likely to be reported in newspapers than the village dances of their social inferiors.

NameLocationEarliest ReportLatest ReportNumber of EventsComments
Thomas Beckwith’s Quadrille BandRipon188018822Thomas Beckwith (1847-1928) was a bricklayer and builder in Ripon, who in the early 1880s was bandmaster for the 2nd North Riding Rifle Volunteers.
Bedale Quadrille BandBedale186418946Formed in 1864. In 1881 it was led by William H. Brown (1831-90), a Bedale blacksmith who had become a ‘gas manager’ by 1881; in 1893 Robert Nevison (1867-1914), a tailor from Aiskew, was its leader.
Mr. Brandon’s Quadrille BandBarnard Castle186018632Thomas Brandon (1831-1914), a professional music teacher, lived in Barnard Castle, but had moved to Gloucester by 1871.
Messrs. Bouwell (a mis-spelling of Baul) & Fryer’s Quadrille BandKirkby Malzeard185618561John Baul (1815-89) was a farmer at Azerley, near Kirkby Malzeard, and John Fryer (1806-81) was a farmer at Kirkby Malzeard.
Messrs. Brown and Burnley’s Quadrille BandRipon / Bedale188218872/3Began life as Mr. Burnley’s Quadrille Band; Brown’s name was added by 1885. George Burnley (1867-1945), born in Birmingham, had moved to Ripon by 1881, where his father was landlord of the Yorkshire Hussar Inn. In 1891 George’s occupation was described as ‘musician’ and by 1911 he had moved to Surrey. The identity of Mr. Brown is uncertain, but he is likely to have been William H. Brown, the Bedale blacksmith who led the Bedale Quadrille Band.
Mr. Buckle’s Quadrille BandBedale184618461This band comprised Mr. Buckle – first violin; Mr. Copeland – second violin; Mr. Hird – double bass. George Copeland (1800-62) was a farm labourer at Hackforth, near Bedale. There were too many Buckles and Hirds in and around Bedale to identify these men.
Carperby Quadrille BandCarperby, Wensleydale186318642
Messrs. Foster and Simpson’s Quadrille BandRichmond184218421Mr. Foster was probably William Foster (c.1811-18??), a shoemaker who married Mary Ann Bates in 1833 and appeared in the 1841 census for Richmond, then disappeared from the records. Edmund James Simpson (1800-1854), was an army officer.
Mr. Foster’s Quadrille BandRichmond185618582Thomas Foster (1828-1918), a Richmond born violinist and teacher of music, was a ‘professor of violin’ in London in 1851, but taught music in Richmond from 1853 to 1859, when he moved back to London.
Gunnerside Quadrille BandGunnerside, Swaledale187818792Associated with Gunnerside Quartette [sic] Society
Mr. Hilton’s Quadrille BandBarnard Castle184018401Alexander Hilton (1778-1842) was a farmer from Gainford, near Barnard Castle.
Hopkinson’s Quadrille BandRichmond185518551
Mr. King’s Quadrille BandCatterick184118411Andrew King (1791-1855) was a dancing master living in Catterick, but he had moved to Norton-on-Tees by 1851.
Ingleton Band / Thomas Moore’s Quadrille BandIngleton1843186013Thomas Moore (1821-95), shoemaker, dancing master, fiddler and multi-instrumentalist, formed the band in 1843.
Leyburn Quadrille BandLeyburn, WensleydaleBefore 1839190655Led by Willie Wrigley until 1843, by William Sanderson 1854-77, and by John Bacon 1887-93. Willie Wrigley (c.1769-1843) was a road mender, farm labourer, music teacher and instrument maker in Leyburn. William Sanderson (c.1817-91) was a saddler in Leyburn. John Thomas Bacon (1842-1930) was a schoolmaster in Leyburn from at least 1881 to 1893. He was also a sergeant in the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment and in the 1890s he was the secretary of Leyburn Brass Band. By 1901 he had left Leyburn.
Marrick Quadrille BandMarrick, Swaledale186918691
Masham Quadrille BandMasham185618632
McKay (and Hurworth’s) Quadrille BandRichmond1868189354Sometimes called the Richmond or Richmondshire Quadrille Band. Led from 1868 to 1872 by John McKay (1827-93) and Thomas Hurworth (1824-1894), both tailors, thereafter by John McKay alone. Composition in 1875: John McKay, violin; Thomas Johnson (1817-92), violincello; John Hunter (1835-1916), first cornet; John Atkinson, (1842-1929) second cornet. Thomas Johnson was a stoker at Richmond gasworks. John Hunter was described as Bugle Major of the North York Militia in 1871 and as Bandmaster of the regiment in 1881 and 1891. By 1901 he was a professor of music in Burnley and in 1911 he was a music teacher in Darlington. John Atkinson was recorded as a bugler with the North York Rifle Militia in 1871 and 1881, a gardener in 1891, and had moved to Scorton by 1901, where he was a postman.
Mr. G. McKenzie’s / Catterick Quadrille BandCatterick186718838George McKenzie (1845-1904) was a builder from Catterick and a corporal in the 14th North York Rifle Volunteers.
Thomas Meldrum’s Quadrille BandRipon186118732Thomas Meldrum (1828-90) was a teacher of dancing in Ripon.
Middleham / Mallaby’s / Anderson’s Quadrille BandMiddleham, Wensleydale186118885It is not clear whether this was one band or two. Thomas Mallaby (1823-1901), a gardener and farm labourer from Spennithorne, was described as its leader in 1871 and John Anderson (1851-1913), a coach builder from Middleham, in 1872.
Redmire Quadrille BandRedmire, Wensleydale186318631
Reeth Quadrille BandReeth1858188821Although extant by 1858, the first mention of it as ‘Reeth Quadrille Band’ was in 1863. Thomas Hammond Snr. (1803-67), a lead miner and farmer who became an innkeeper in Reeth in the 1850s, played the fiddle and was the band’s original leader. By 1867, Ward Peacock (1839-1919), a shoemaker, was its leader and fiddle player; Thomas Hammond Jnr. (1842-98), a lead miner who became landlord of the Half Moon in Reeth, played the flutina (a precursor to the melodeon); Hornby Croft (1839-1922), a plumber and glazier, played the cello. The band broke up when Ward Peacock moved to Haworth in 1889, shortly before Tom Hammond moved to Oldham.
Richmond Quadrille BandRichmond183518396Led by Robert Forster (1776-1839), a labourer, who died at Aldbrough St. John, between Richmond and Darlington.
Ripon Quadrille BandRipon188418841Played a programme of 26 dances for the Yorkshire Hussars’ Ball at Bedale. This could have been Thomas Beckwith’s band or Messrs. Brown and Burnley’s, both of which were in operation in Ripon around that time.
Mr. J. Roy’s Quadrille BandRipon183218321John Roy (1802-67) played the violin and the 1841-61 censuses recorded him as a ‘musician’ or a ‘professor of music’.
Mr. Sale’s Quadrille BandRipon1838184821Led until early 1839 by John Gibson (1784-1839) and subsequently by George Sale (1803-78), this band was associated with the Yorkshire Hussars, for whom George Sale was the bandmaster. The 1841 and 1871 censuses recorded him as a ‘professor of music’.
Mr. J. Sayer’s Quadrille BandKirkby Stephen189819096John Sayer (1856-1929) was described in the 1901 and 1911 censuses for Kirkby Stephen as an organist, a professional teacher of music, a tax collector and an accountant.
Sedbergh Quadrille BandSedbergh186618661The band were members of Sedbergh Amateur Musical Society and were led by William Braithwaite (1842-1905), a farmer from Middleton, with Warwick Pearson Boustead (1838-1917) on the piano. Boustead was a landowner, who became a magistrate in Sedbergh.
Shaw Mills Quadrille BandShaw Mills between Harrogate and Ripon185818581
Mr. Sparrow’s Quadrille BandRipon1842187612John William Sparrow (1822-80) was a draper and a tailor who by 1861 had become the landlord of the Durham Ox and in the 1871 census was described as a musician.
Albert Speight’s Quadrille BandBedale186218621Albert Speight (1835-1909), a ‘professor of music’, played the piano in the band and was also an organist. John Braithwaite (1817-96), a draper, played the flute; George Anderson (1826-1902) of Aiskew, a solicitor’s clerk and subsequently an accountant, played the cornet; and ‘Mr. Anderson of the Leases’ (1821-88), a farmer, played the cello.
George Spencer’s Quadrille BandRipon186718752
Stanwick Quadrille BandStanwick, north-west of Scotch Corner187118711
Thornton Quadrille BandThornton Rust, Wensleydale186818681
George Tomlinson’s Quadrille BandIngleton190919091The 1901 and 1911 censuses described George Tomlinson (1879-1946) as a pianist and professor of music.
Mr. Walker’s Quadrille BandKirkby Malzeard185618561John Walker (1815-96) was a bootmaker in Kirkby Malzeard in 1851, a professor of music living at Bondgate near Ripon in 1861 and a teacher of music in Kirkby Malzeard in 1891.
West Burton Quadrille BandWest Burton, Wensleydale186818692
Mr. William Woodhams’s Quadrille BandStockton-on-Tees, then Richmond, then Barnard Castle1839187856William Ward Woodhams (1808-91), a professor of music, started his first quadrille band in Stockton, and moved to Richmond in the early 1850s. By 1871 he had moved to Barnard Castle, where he spent the rest of his life.

String Bands in the Yorkshire Dales

As the name ‘quadrille band’ went out of fashion in the late nineteenth century, many groups of musicians began to style themselves as ‘string bands’, even when the band contained some instruments that were not stringed, e.g. concertinas, melodeons, or brass instruments. The term ‘string band’ was in use in the British Isles as a descriptive term from the 1820s, if not earlier, but did not begin to appear in the names of bands until the 1840s. However, it was several decades later that it made its first appearance in the Yorkshire Dales. The first mention of the name ‘string band’ in a local newspaper was in 1881.

The following is a list of the 19 string bands known to have existed in the Yorkshire Dales together with their location and the dates between which they were known to have existed. Five or six of these bands were probably a rebranding of quadrille bands from the earlier list at a time when the ‘quadrille band’ name was going out of fashion. The last time a string band was reported to have played at an event in the Yorkshire Dales was in 1911, with the exception of the Langstrothdale String Band, which remained active until the 1930s. It is possible that others in the area survived the First World War, but access to more newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s would be needed to verify this.

NameLocationEarliest ReportLatest ReportNumber of EventsComments
Askrigg String BandAskrigg, Wensleydale189718971
Thomas Beckwith’s String BandRipon188918891This may have been Thomas Beckwith’s Quadrille Band under another guise. Thomas Beckwith (1847-1928) was a bricklayer and builder in Ripon, who in the early 1880s was bandmaster for the 2nd North Riding Rifle Volunteers.
Bedale / Mr. Brown’s String BandBedale188518942Probably an alternative name for the Bedale Quadrille Band, led by William Henry Brown (1831-90), a Bedale black-smith, and, after his death, by Robert Nevison (1869-1914), a tailor from Aiskew.
A.J. Bolton’s String BandSkipton188918892Alfred James Bolton (1856-98) was recorded as a professor of music in the 1881 and 1891 census returns. The band comprised six members.
Mrs. Brockhill’s String BandKirkby Stephen189818981Mrs Margaret Ann Brockhill (1860-1946) from Kirkby Stephen led the band and played the piano.
Mr. Burnley’s String BandRipon188718871/2Almost certainly a successor to Brown and Burnley’s Quadrille Band. George Burnley (1867-1945), born in Birmingham, had moved to Ripon by 1881, where his father was landlord of the Yorkshire Hussar Inn. In 1891 George was described as a musician; by 1911 he had moved to Surrey.
Cotherstone / Messrs. Hall’s String BandCotherstone, near Barnard Castle191119112Jonathan Hall (1863-1934) and his brother Joseph William Hall (1875-1929), both carters, led the Cotherstone String Band.
Mr. Greenwood’s String BandEmbsay, near Skipton188918892The band comprised Joseph Greenwood (1839-1906), a farm labourer, on piano, Samuel Heaton (1866-1950), a textile designer, on violin, and James Roadley (1870-1945), a railway porter, on cello, all resident in Embsay.
John Hargreaves’ String BandSkipton188918891John Hargreaves (1847-1901) was a draper and secretary of the Skipton Sunday School Union.
Hawes String BandHawes188918895
Kirkby Stephen String BandKirkby Stephen189818982Led by Joseph Craston Parkinson (1855-1938), who was described in the 1901 census for Kirkby Stephen as a printer, parish clerk, bandmaster and musical instrument dealer.
Langstrothdale String BandLangstrothdalec.1900c.1930severalComprised three brothers: Peter (1881-1965) and Tom Beresford (1887-1960) on fiddle and Allan Beresford (1871-1919) on concertina, sometimes joined by another brother John (1876-1957) on fiddle and a sister, Mary (1866-1946), Ann (1869-1950) or Maggie (1878-1947) on piano.
Leyburn String BandLeyburn, Wensleydale189318942Led by James Arthur Burgoyne (1863-19??) who was an ‘organist and teacher of music’ in Leyburn from 1890 to 1894, but had moved to Brecon by 1901. This may have been Leyburn Quadrille Band under a different guise.
Low Row String BandLow Row, Swaledale188618861
McKay’s String BandRichmond188118834Sometimes called McKay’s Richmond-shire String Band. Probably McKay’s Quadrille Band under a different guise.
Mr. G. McKenzie’s String BandCatterick188218821Probably a renaming Mr. G. McKenzie’s Quadrille Band. George McKenzie (1845-1904) was a builder from Catterick and a corporal in the 14th North York Rifle Volunteers.
Mr. Racher’s String BandBarnard Castle191119112Robert James Racher (1862-1914) was a watchmaker in Barnard Castle.
Mr. F.T. Wheldon’s String BandBedale191119111Frederick Thomas Wheldon (1880-1960) was a watchmaker / jeweller in Bedale.
Mr. Wiggell’s Bedale String BandBedale188818916Albert Wiggell (1849-1922) moved to Aiskew from Hereford in the 1870s and left for Tredegar in South Wales in the late 1890s. He was a solicitor’s clerk and was described in an 1893 trade directory as a teacher of music.