The origin of the Reading Spring Gardens Brass Band dates back to the nineteenth century when a ladies’ sewing circle at the Spring Gardens Mission chapel raised sufficient funds to purchase brass instruments for the Spring Gardens Wesleyan Mission Concertina Band.
Records show that the band became a brass band in 1903 entering ‘Redhill Contest’ in the second section on the 1st of June in that same year on the test piece ‘The Gondoliers’ by Arthur Sullivan. The band was placed fifth in a field of six bands.
In circa. 1933 the band severed its connection with the chapel, at this time, now known as the Whitley Hall Methodist Church. This was so, as the leaders of the chapel objected to the band selling scent cards and football tickets to raise money for the purchase or new uniforms and instruments.
Later in 1937, the band appointed George Watkins as their musical director who first joined the band on baritone in circa. 1926. At the time of his appointment band rehearsals were moved to The Cross Keys pub situated in Reading town centre.
As war broke out in 1939 many of the band’s members were called up to join the armed forces and so the band disbanded. The remaining members came together to form as a home guard band. A thirty strong band was based at Yeomanry House on Castle Hill in Reading under commanding officer Captain Millward who saw George reinstated as the band’s musical director.
At the close of the Second World War the Reading Spring Gardens Brass Band reformed. The band’s uniform referenced the home guard band uniform which members had previously worn: scarlet tunics complete with brass buttons, black trousers with a scarlet stripe and a peak cap edged with brass.
George Watkins conducted the band until 1976 when he retired. During this 38 year period the band won many contests and also qualified for the Second Section National Finals in the early 1950’s. Ted Watkins, George’s son took over as the band’s conductor, having been it’s principal cornet player and assistant conductor for many years.
Between 1977 and 1998 the band moved to many different rehearsal venues in around Reading until it secured a more permanent home at the Berkshire Young Musicians Trust Centre at Prospect School in 1998 and later in February 2013, Christ Church Woodley.
Ted Watkins died in 2000, aged 80 and the band had to appoint a new Musical Director for the first time in 25 years.
Since this time the band has had a number of Musical Directors including:
- Anton Gwilt (2000 to 2004)
- David Barton (2004 to 2006)
- Andrew Porter (2006)
- Louise Davies-Armstrong (2007)
- Lorraine Rogers (2008 to 2016)
On Thursday 29th September, 2016 the band was delighted to appoint the highly respected conductor and musician David Ruel as it’s new Musical Director marking a new chapter in the band’s history. David’s appointment saw the band enjoy a renewed enthusiasm and success under his baton.
It was with great shock and devastation that David unexpectedly passed away peacefully in his sleep at home on Monday 22nd April 2019 at the age of 68. David took the band to new heights and stretched its horizons to greater goals. The band will be forever indebted to him for his leadership, musicianship, friendship and generosity – he will be sorely missed and greatly celebrated.