It was in 1728 that Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, suggested to the Governors of Christ’s Hospital in London that thirty boys at the school should be encouraged to take up music in order to provide a pool of talent for national choirs, bands and orchestras. But it was not until the summer of 1868 that the band was founded that now regularly accompanies the pupils as they march into the quadrangle and to the Dining Hall for lunch. Nevertheless, the modern band is still more than one hundred and fifty years old and now performs not only at the school at Horsham but also off site, especially in London on St Matthew’s Day in September and at the Lord Mayor’s Show in November each year. With one hundred or so players, and many others in training bands, the band is a quite remarkable unit which has become one of the leading school bands in the country, if not in the world. It is a major and traditional part of the school, a firm illustration and advertisement of the outstanding quality of education and ethos at Christ’s Hospital.
In 1872, the newly established band played in public for the first time, in front of the American Ambassador General Robert Schenck who was visiting the boys’ school then at Newgate Street in the City of London. As the band performed, boys paraded in groups with flag bearers out in front. The band was originally funded by the school’s Treasurer, William Foster White, until in 1873 the Governors realised just how valuable a part it contributed to the education of the pupils and they accepted the first Band Master, Richard Hopkins, as a full member of staff. Although girls at Christ’s Hospital, Hertford, began to learn to play musical instruments from at least 1875, it was more than one hundred years later before they were able to join the boys in the band, after the transfer of the girls to the school site at Horsham in 1985.
There has been since the 1860s not only a succession of highly qualified and enthusiastic Band Masters, but also many pupils who have excelled in music after leaving school. The most famous member of the band has been Sir Colin Davis, who started with a clarinet and later also played the bassoon. The original music school, now greatly expanded, with a band practice room, was completed in 1909. The first Band Master at Horsham after the boys had moved out of London in 1902 was Henry Bampton. He had trained at Kneller Hall and previously served as the Band Master of the Devon Regiment. A drum major was only introduced in 1931, by Frederick Stagg who was in post at Christ’s Hospital for twenty-three years. Under his leadership the band increased in size and regularly won cups in school band competitions at the Queen’s Hall in London.
The ceremony of Beating Retreat, an impressive mark of the end of every school year, developed from band concerts held in the main school quadrangle on Sunday evenings in July during the 1930s. In 1948 the programme was an attempt ‘to reproduce something of the Peace Time Ceremonial on a Barrack Square after Church Parade’. The first official Beating Retreat took place the following year and the band has not only performed this event at the end of the summer term ever since, but taken it elsewhere, such as to the Tower of London in 1997 to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone of the new school on farm land at Horsham in 1897.