By Tony Mansell
It may well be that many folk are unaware of the historical connection between Camborne Town Band and the great manufacturing company of Holman Brothers Ltd.
Nicholas Holman founded Holman Brothers Ltd in 1801, in Camborne, and although its name is forever linked with mining and mining equipment, it also manufactured armaments and many other products. It was a major international company employing between three and four thousand men with iconic and architecturally important buildings across Camborne. Sadly, these buildings have given way to more modern edifices in what is glibly referred to as progress. In its heyday, at the end of each working day, the mass exodus of men heading for home was extraordinary and more akin to a scene from the industrial north of England than a Cornish community.
By 1881, John Henry and James Miners Holman had taken over the business from their father and began manufacturing what became known as the “Cornish Rock Drill”. Within a year the machine was at work in Cornish mines and by 1896 more than a thousand were in use in South Africa. That product was a major success story and Holman Brothers went on to build a family of machines, including its famous range of compressors, which made it a household name across the mining world.
In 1968 the company merged with Broomwade to form CompAir Holman. More success followed but sadly, all connection with Camborne ceased in 2003 when the company announced that it was to close its factories there.
Camborne Town Band has never been a works band but for decades its name was closely linked with Holman Brothers Ltd: the support it received from the company was considerable.
Many events were held on company premises and this brief list is but an indication of the association that existed for many years.
1936 – Rehearsals held in Holman’s small canteen near No. 1 works (now at the rear of Tesco).
June 1946 – J Carah Roberts chaired a concert at Holman’s Canteen, A W Parker conducting.
April 1971 – Nearly 700 people crowded into Holman’s Canteen for a concert by Camborne Town Band under its new conductor, Derek Johnston.
An early photograph of a choir and orchestra on the stage of Holman’s Canteen
April 1972 – Camborne Town Band and Four Lanes Male Voice Choir combined for a concert at Holman’s Canteen.
October 1972 – Pre-Albert Hall Concert held at Holman’s Canteen.
February 1975 – Concert at Holman’s Canteen.
Even the portable stage was transported to various venues by the company, but all things come to an end and at the band’s annual general meeting in 1976, members heard of the loss of the venue due to fire regulations.
But it was not just the use of company premises that linked the two organisations; many players and at least two musical directors were provided with jobs and this extract from the band’s minute book shows what a blessing it was. “The Committee is happy to state that through Mr Parker having obtained employment with Messrs Holman Bros Ltd, the expense of retaining his services will not be anything like the financial burden it has hitherto been”. Fred Roberts, Mr Parker’s successor, also worked for Holman Brothers and former player George Ansell recalled meeting him there for an interview for a position in the band. A few years ago, Gerald Fletcher, euphonium player from 1946 to 1962, said that he worked there and had to leave the band to move to India to help set up a factory for them. Fred Waters, too, recalled his time there and said, “Unlike most top bands we did not lose players to the war as most of ours worked at Holman Brothers in reserved occupations”.
In 1973 there was a name change when musical director, Derek Johnston, announced that in future the band would be known as the Camborne (CompAir-Holman) Band. Despite this change it would not become a sponsored works band, they were simply associating their name with that of the area’s main employer. It seems that the decision was a surprise to many people. Some did not like the idea at all and when Derek Johnston resigned just three years later, the band reverted to its original name of Camborne Town Band.
Back in 1945, there was a problem with a certain entry in the test piece for the second section (now the first section) National Championships. To overcome this Mr Parker changed his style of conducting to give a beat to each note and to ensure that everyone remembered, he wrote it down and stuck copies on the windows of each railway compartment on the upward journey. The test piece was “Kenilworth” and knowing that a large number of players worked at Holman, Mr Parker had a recording of the piece by Foden Band’s broadcast over the works’ tannoy system for a few days prior to the contest. It must have worked because they won the championship.
Joe Trounce played in the band for many years and in 1968 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for his work with the young band members and with the apprentices at Holman. Despite his obvious pleasure at receiving the award, Joe could not be persuaded to travel all the way to London to receive it so a compromise had to be found: his brother drove him to Bodmin where the High Sheriff of Cornwall undertook the presentation.
I will finish with an assumption which may or may not be wide of the mark. Could it be that the Joe Holman in the 1887 photograph of the 2nd Company Camborne Volunteer Band (The Rifles Band) was a member of Holman Brothers and if so, was he the same J T Holman who was President of Camborne Town Band in 1955? If he was then it may further explain the strong link between the two organisations.
The name of Holman Brothers will remain on the minds of Camborne folk for many a year and rightly so, but we should not forget the part the company played in the success of Camborne Town Band over so many years.