Early in 1923 members of the band at Bletchington (a village a little way north of Oxford) decided to organise a Band Contest. The band Secretary – Fred Foreman – offered to donate a cup, but in order to attract the best bands the group felt that something special was needed for a trophy for the open section.
The MP for Oxford then was Mr. Frank Gray, a charismatic and rather unusual character, who lived in the Manor at Shipton-on-Cherwell, a few miles across the fields from Bletchington. (One of Mr Gray’s actions was to allow tramps and travellers to live in one wing of the Manor!) (Many years later Shipton Manor became internationally known as one of this country’s finest recording studios.)
So Fred Foreman and the others from Bletchington walked to Shipton Manor hoping for support for their Contest proposals – and perhaps the offer of a fine trophy. Frank Gray agreed to donate a large Challenge Shield, but also asked that an Association be formed of the bands in the area. As a result, the Oxfordshire and District Brass Band Association came into being in April 1923. The new committee soon worked out their competition rules, and the first Contest was held in the sports-ground of one of the Oxford Colleges in the summer of that year. Membership of the Association was originally restricted to bands within a 25 mile radius of the Carfax crossroads in the centre of Oxford (“as the crow flies”) and it was some years before this was withdrawn. More recently it has been reinstated, with Associate Members from outside the 25 miles being welcome to join.
The annual Summer Contest was the mainstay of the Association’s activities and it was a grand event. Involving parades through the city, fun fairs and side shows at the contest ground, and two (brass) bands were asked to play for dancing in the evening. To ensure fair play a constable was hired to guard the adjudicator’s tent during the band contest!
Membership peaked at c.50 around 1950 but gradually the smaller village (and town) bands closed down. The players until then had been almost exclusively men with the occasional boy learning on 3rd cornet or 2nd horn, but now a new youth policy with structured classes emerged, pioneered particularly in the Oxford area by “Nobby” Challis and the City of Oxford Band. Soon, with the large increase in birth rate in the ’60s and ’70s, several independent youth and junior bands were created, most of which now survive as adult bands.
Since 1946 this Association has organised a Junior Solo and Quartet Contest. There had been a Senior Contest (which later added a class for boys) but the new contest allowed for age groups in solos duets and quartets, and of course by the 1960s there were as many girls as boys! The Senior sections have since been revived, and ensemble sections added. Only one year has been lost in over 50 years and in 2017 the Association celebrated the 70th Contest.