In September 1859 a “Grand Village Band Contest” was held in a place called Loftus – a small moorland-village on the North-Yorkshire coast, not far from the house where I grew up. Music filled the air and crowds poured in from miles around to witness the spectacle. Among them was John Hollingshead, a London journalist and theatrical impresario who would later go on to produce the first collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan. At this point he was making his way in the business under the tutelage of Charles Dickens by contributing articles to Household Words and All the Year Round. His account of the “Musical Prize Fight” at Loftus appeared in the latter magazine in November 1859. It’s a delightful account of an outsider’s visit to the area and features a Dickensian cast of local characters.
119 years later, in 1978, my parents unearthed a copy of the article in a second-hand bookshop. My Dad (a historian) began to explore the history of the Loftus Band Contest, while my Mam (an artist) started illustrating some of the scenes from Hollingshead’s account. Her pen & ink drawings are fabulous. She’s far too modest to make this comparison herself, but the characterisation and delightful background details remind me of Cruikshank and Hogarth. The results were exhibited at a local art gallery, whose promotional materials incorrectly listed them as man and wife. Rather than re-print the posters, they decided they “should probably just get married” and went to a registry office a few days later! The artwork has been hanging in their hallway for years, but I think it deserves a wider audience. Hollingshead’s account appears below, courtesy of the brilliant Dickens Journals Online. Click on the illustrations to see them in their full-size.