Band History

As Oxfordshire’s longest established brass band we have a rich and varied history.

Timeline of news and events: 1849 – 2016.

The band celebrated its 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries on the basis that the band started in 1887 when AJ Taylor, his sons John, Dan and Fred and eight of their friends came together to play as the Headington Brass Band. However it is now known that a band of that name existed in 1849, and that Alfred Taylor and his brothers were all members of it in 1857. 1887 was a jubilee year and many bands formed or reformed to take part in the celebrations. It is possible therefore that 1887 saw some form of reorganisation but for now, the exact origins of the band remain something of a mystery.

In the 19th century the band’s activities included playing at village feasts, horticultural and livestock shows, Friendly Society gatherings, processions and marches. In the summer of 1887 the band played at celebrations to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and in 1894, at the Oxford Waterman’s regatta, the band played from the Varsity barge. Headington was just a tiny village outside of Oxford at the time and members of the band were also involved in other local activities; some played with Headington United Football Club (now Oxford United ) founded in 1893, and Headington United Cricket Club (now Oxford Cricket Club ).

The Headington Subscription Band in 1912
The M.P. for Woodstock and also band patron Alfred St. George Hamersley is pictured standing in the back row.

The band has been known by a number of other names since its formation as the Headington Brass Band in the 1840s. In 1886 the Headington parish magazine refers to the Headington Uniform Brass Band, then from about 1893 it was known as the Headington Temperance Band. The assistant bandmaster in 1911 – retired police constable Charles Clinkscales – was also manager of the Headington branch of the British Workman, the name for temperance public houses closely associated with the Church of England Temperance Society (CETS). The band rules from 1911 show that the temperance requirement was strictly enforced for many years but the name was dropped in June 1912 in favour of the Headington Subscription Band.


Later names were the Headington Silver Band, reflecting the purchase of silver-plated instruments in 1914 and Headington Silver Prize Band, to capitalise on having won the first Oxford and District Brass Band Association contest at Kirtlington Park in 1923. In 1925, when the band had largely severed its links with Headington, and having moved its headquarters to the Cape of Good Hope public house on The Plain, nearer the centre of Oxford, it was proposed to remove Headington from the name, this did not actually occur until November 1951 when it took its present name.


The silver-plated instruments purchased in 1914 from J. Higham of Strangeways, Manchester.
The instruments were presented at a concert held at the field school. The event was reported in the Oxford Chronicle.


—-A successful concert and dance took place yesterday evening at the Field Schools, Headington, when Mr. A. St. G. Hamersley, K.C., M.P., presented the Headington subscription band with a set of silver-plated instruments. The services of several artistes well known in Oxford had been obtained, and the evening proved very successful. Mr. Hamersley presided, and on the platform were also Mrs. Hamersely, Colonel J. Hoole, Capt. R.R. Henderson, and Councillors H. and E.B. Lewis.

Mr. Hamersley, in making the presentation, said that it seemed to him only a short time ago that they started to provide this new set of first-class instruments. He and many other people thought that they had taken in hand a big task, but they had really been a very short time in obtaining enough money for the purpose of equipping the band. They all knew the help that a good band was to any neighbourhood. Some places in the past would not be known at all if they were not the possessors of a good band, but that of course did not apply to Headington. The inhabitants had responded very loyally, and he was sure they would find pleasure and credit in having created so good a band. He regretted very much that he had been away when they were trying to provide a recreation group at Headington. He hoped they would take up the project again and carry it through, for a good sports ground, like a good band, was a most valuable asset. Too much could not be said in praise of the work of their secretary, Mr. C. E. Clifton, and he was sure that but for his energy and determination to carry this matter through they would not be enjoying this delightful concert.
They had begun remarkably well, but they had still a debt on the instruments to discharge. He appealed to all the residents of Headington to give a practical support by subscribing towards the fund. He had very great pleasure in making this presentation, and he wished especially to congratulate the secretary and the bandmaster. He wished them all success-they had good instruments and still better men behind them. He saw no reason why they should not in time be competing at the Crystal Palace with the best amateur bands in the country. (Applause.)


Mr. C. E. Clifton, in thanking Mr. Hamersley, said it gave him the greatest pleasure to think that his work had met with such gratifying success. Three years ago the band was entirely reorganised and placed on a sound business basis, and since then steady progress had been made. They soon found that a new set of instruments were necessary, and the secretary had been fortunate to obtain from Messrs. J. Highams and Co., of Manchester, the loan of nine instruments free of charge. During the latter part of last year the present scheme was decided upon, and the president and vice-president were approached for assistance. There was a very hearty response and promises of instruments were made by Mr. Hamersley, Dr. Massie, Col. Miller, Capt. Henderson, Mrs. L. May, and Miss. Davenport Hill. They had played at the city football matches, at which collections had been, and they had started a sixpenny fund at Headington. The instruments would cost £300, of which £100 had already been paid, and the makers were allowing them a year in which to settle the balance. The band was composed entirely of working men, and they were always willing to assist charitable enterprise or local institutions by their services.


He had one more thing to say. All the members of the band felt very grateful for all that their conductor, Mr. M. W. Bowen, had done for them. He had very much pleasure in asking Mrs. Hamersley to present Mr. Bowen with a silver-mounted ebony baton on behalf of the members of the band.


The concert proved most successful, and the large audience have a very hearty reception to the clever performers who had been secured. Mrs. Buttifant, Miss Horwood, and Messrs. L. Saxton and J. Lomas gave two delightful quartettes, and each of these singers gave solos, which were also very much appreciated, and also duets and trios. Mr. W. D. Duke gave some very clever humorous songs, which earned enthusiastic applause. Mr. and Mrs. H. P. Riley were as usual very delightful in two humorous sketches. Selections were played by the band, and Mr. C. E. Hawley gave a cornet solo. Mention must also be made of Mr. R. Newman, who proved an admirable accompanist. The proceeds were in aid of the new instrument fund. – Oxford Chronicle : 15 May 1914


An ebony and silver baton presented to bandmaster Monty Bowen in 1914

By the late 1920s, the silver-plated instruments purchased in 1914 needed to be replaced. The band negotiated a hire-purchase agreement with Boosey and Hawkes to purchase a full set of new instruments at a cost of £678 (about £37,000 in today’s money) and the old instruments appear to have been sold off. The band would struggle for the following years to pay off the debt which was not finally cleared until 1946. When war came in 1939 the band became so depleted by members leaving for war service that the decision was made to wind up the band for the duration. The instruments were then loaned to the Pressed Steel Band. When the war ended and the old members wanted to reform the Headington band they had considerable difficulty in securing the return of the instruments which delayed the reformation of the Headington band. Eventually this was achieved and the Headington Silver Prize Band restarted in 1947.


The Headington Silver Prize Band Summer 1923
The band were photographed outside The Manor, Headington (the site now faces the John Radcliffe Hospital) following success at the 1923 Oxford and Districy Brass Band Association contest.
Seated behind the Frank Gray Shield is band patron Alfred Hamersley M.P.

These programmes from 1924 and 1925, give an idea of the band’s repertoire at the time.



Success at Belle Vue 1930

Contesting began in 1922. Since that time there have been some great successes notably in the championship section of the National Brass Band Association in 1987, its centenary year, and, still in the first section, in 1994. 1997 was another peak, when the band under Nigel Taken scooped eight trophies in five months and became London Southern Counties Champions in March. In 1995 the training band came sixth in the regional qualifying contest of the National Brass Band Championship. Since the millennium, they have regularly entered the annual brass festival of the Oxford and District Brass Band Association as quartets, winning merits for their playing in 2003 and 2004.

In March 2013 we came third out of seventeen contesting bands in the fourth section and so qualified for the National finals in September 2013 where we came 9th in Section 4 out of 19. In March 2014 we came 2nd in Section 4 thereby earning promotion to Section 3 and another coveted invitation to perform at the National Championships at Cheltenham in September 2014.

As well as competing, from 1926 to 1970 the band held an annual brass band contest at Oxford Town Hall.

Contest Resuts

The City of Oxford Silver Band has been contesting since 1922. This page lists known results. Additions and corrections are welcome.

Date Contest Position Conductor

Results courtesy of


Touring overseas began with a visit to Holland in 1957 when COSB marched to the Airborne Cemetery at Arnhem. The band went on a tour of France and West Germany in 1973. It was on this tour that Heinrich Walter, band leader of Nordlingen’s brass band composed The City of Oxford Silver Band March for the visitors from Oxford. This piece is always in the band’s repertoire. In 1976, they ventured as far as USA and Canada. Later trips were to Bonn in 1987 and Wilitz, Luxembourg in 1988.


The City of Oxford Youth Band tour the USA and Canada in 1976

Terry Brotherhood, Speaking on BBC Radio Oxford, describes the tour…


Training as a regular activity began after the First World War.  It was the brainwave of Charles Clifton, the band’s secretary of the time, who imported a coach, Tommy Wornall, from London to improve playing.  At the same time, a trombone player called Walter Coppock formed a group of twenty youths to start playing brass instruments from scratch, amongst whom was one Jim Alder who joined in 1918 and was a member, off-and-on until his death in 2004 – read his memories of the band.  After strenuous efforts, they were promoted to play with the experienced players, who had been much depleted and weakened by war service.  This approach to nuturing new talent flourished especially in the 1950, 60s and 70s under the leadership of Alder and Nobby (Cyril) Challis. Challis, who had first joined the band in 1936, and was especially interested in getting young people involved in musical training and oversaw a huge expansion in the organisation.

Nobby Challis recorded at the Pressed Steel Company in about 1974.

nobby-challis-1959-t.jpg jim-alder-1980s-t.jpg

Left: Cyril ‘Nobby’ Challis teaching Ivor Parker in 1959; Right: Jim Alder
(Courtesy of Oxford Mail)

ATV reporter David Lloyd meets members of the City of Oxford Junior Band being taught by Cyril “Nobby” Challis.
(Courtesy of MACE Archive / ITV)

Can you help us put names to faces?

The band hall

The Britannia Inn, Headington The Carpenters Arms, Hockmore Street cosb-hut.jpg

Left: The Britannia Inn on London Road, Headington; centre: The Carpenter’s Arms, Hockmore Street, Cowley (courtesy of Oxford Mail); right: The Milham Ford School hut used by the band in the 1950s

The band had no permanent home until 1966. Prior to that the band had rehearsed in a plethora of locations across the city. These include the Field School (Headington, now St Andrews CE Primary), a clubroom at The Britannia Inn, Headington; a hut at the Wingfield Hospital (Headington); The Cape of Good Hope, on The Plain, Oxford (from 1925); The Magdalen Arms, Iffley Road; The Carpenters Arms, Hockmore St, Cowley; The Cowley Workers Social Club; Bedford House, Cowley (The Cowley Community Centre); a hut originally built for Milham Ford School at Cowley Place and later used by Magdalen College School and subsequently dismantled and laboriously re-erected by band members in Cowley (1957); finally a canteen at the former Cowley Barracks (1963).


The Silver Band Hall

When Alderman Parker became Lord Mayor of Oxford in 1963, he chose the homeless musicians as his good cause for the year. The result was that in January 1966 he laid the foundation stone of the present band hall which opened in October of the same year.

More about our bandhall.

Friendship through music

Playing in public, whether for a fee or to support a charitable cause, has always been the core activity of the band. The Rules of the Headington Silver Prize Band of 10th March 1937 define its aims as ‘to promote and maintain in the district a first class Amateur Band, to foster the spirit of Good Fellowship among the Members and to obtain for all Members all possible advantages consequent upon organised combination.’ From the point of view of the band’s motto, ’Friendship through music’ or ‘Amicitia per musicam’ if you like it in Latin, probably the most important rule was ‘All are asked to refrain from commenting on the efforts of any other Member.’

Village feasts, playing for dances and the temperance connection are strands of the band’s life that have now vanished. On the other hand, women and girls are now playing members. In the photograph which accompanied the programme of the 75th anniversary celebrations in 1962, all the members were men and youths. By 1975, when the Youth Band broke the World Record for continuous playing by keeping going for 28 hours 45 minutes under Nobby Challis’s baton, girls were among those who took part.

In June 2011 COSB played at the 10th anniversary of Prime Minister David Cameron becoming MP for Witney.

Over the years of its existence, COSB has amassed a large library of music, running to at least 44 filing cabinet drawers, and a collection of brass instruments for members to use. It offers young people the chance to try to play an instrument their parents would never buy them on a whim, like the tuba or a bass trombone. Above all, it offers members the chance to play cheerful music regularly with other people, for other people.

If you know more about the history of the band or were a past member please get in touch.