Welcome to the web archive of the SA Historical & Philatelic Association.
We hope you will enjoy reading the articles and information on Salvation Army history and
heritage that will be published here over the coming months.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Salvation Army Instrument Making - A Short History by William H. Scarlett

In the 1880s and 1890s the Salvation Army, under the guidance of William Booth, started a number of shops in a variety of fields including match making, brush making, basket-making, carpentry, tin smith shop, tambourine making, wood carving, mattress making, bakery, chair making, sign writing, tailoring and others. A brass instrument shop seemed to be inevitable.

Starting around 1884 the Trade Department in London sold other makers' brass instruments, which were listed in the first SA Tune Book in 1884. By the late 1880s the SA had almost 400 bands which could use repair services. Consequently, Commissioner John Carleton, of the Trade Department, suggested that the SA open a brass repair shop in London. This was opened in 1889, under the supervision of the Trade department, in a basement room of the IHQ at 96 Southwark Street. The shop began with two experienced brass workers and one 16 year-old apprentice. The apprentice, Jack Furness, later became head of the factory and also the bandmaster of the St. Albans Corps Band.

After the brass shop opened for repairs in 1889, it was natural that the Salvation Army should eventually become the maker of instruments as well. In 1890 the new edition of the Tune Book had a whole page of SA instruments available from the Trade Department. These first instruments from the shop were made from parts, if not whole instruments, purchased from other makers. The first complete instruments made in the SA shop were produced in 1893 and were proudly called "Our Own Make". From the business point of view, the SA production of instruments was an instant success, especially after the General, in his Orders to Field Officers, required that all SA bands buy their instruments from the SA. Orders poured in and production increased so that by 1894 there were 17 workers employed and this increased to 60 workers ten years later.

From 1890 to 1896 the Trade Department and the brass shop were located at 98/100/102 Clerkenwell Road, London. In 1896 they moved to 79/81 Fortress Road, London which was the location of instrument making until 1901. Instruments made during this Fortress Road period were the first ones stamped with the address on the bells. A few instruments still exist from this period including an Eb bass recently for sale on Ebay with the serial number of 5049.

In 1901 the SA opened a factory for instrument making in St. Albans.. a northern suburb of London. This factory, called the Campfield Musical Instruments Works, was near the SA printing facility, called Campfield Press. The factory produced all the instruments of the brass band including the early pocket cornet and G trombone. They even designed and patented an Eb bass trombone with a slide going forward as usual and one going backwards as well, both working together with ropes and pulleys. Some SA bands in England between 1909 and 1922 started to use saxophones. The SA did not make these instruments.

Several attempts were made to produce a less expensive instrument line for small corps and youth bands. Each attempt ended abruptly because ways could not be found to produce a cheaper instrument. Some of these model lines were called Herald, jubilee, Reliance, Endurance (imported from France) and Congress. Other names for limited production or speciality instruments were Special Congress, Festival, Fanfare and Deluxe. The main model for senior bands in the early years was called Gold medal, later changed to Triumph or Triumphonic models being added in 1914. The Triumphonic line was made until the factory closed.

From the beginning, brass bands in England were built in "high" pitch, (A=452), sometimes called "philharmonic" pitch. Most of the rest of the world used "low" pitch (A=440), sometimes called "continental" or "international" pitch. The Campfield Works made both as far back as 1926, indicated in the oldest remaining factory records. It is likely that both high and low pitch instruments were made before 1926 as well. In 1964 Boosey and Hawkes, the other well known brass band instrument maker, decided to cease making high pitch instruments and the SA agreed to do the same. The St. Albans factory was in operation until 1972 when it was sold to Boosey and Hawkes. By the terms of a seven year agreement, Boosey and Hawkes continued to make for the SA only the top of the line Bandmaster cornet and the Triumphonic tenor horn, until the agreement ran out and all SA instrument making came to an end.

The last instrument made by the SA in 1972 was a Herald cornet with the serial number 34283. By then the machinery was getting so old that accurate parts were difficult to make. Some of the equipment still in use was bought as war surplus after World War One. The SA decision makers in London decided not to fund the modernisation of the SA factory because of the huge costs and because it had been losing money for several years.

The Campfield Musical Instrument Works had a vibrant history of serving the needs of SA bands. Instruments were made with thicker metal and heavier silver plate to meet the needs of active schedules and sometimes hostile street corners! Several designs and patents attributed to the "Works." include the previously mentioned Eb bass trombone, the first trombone slide lock and a special drop-end lyre for trombone that did not have to be removed before the instrument was put in a case. The factory kept pace with its competition too with compensating valves for lower brass.

Even though only 34,000 instruments were produced in 83 years, these instruments were produced to serve the Lord, and to meet the needs of ever expanding bands in the Army world. From the beginning, many of the workers in the factory used their skills to make instruments and to play them too in corps bands. Today we pay tribute and give thanks to those dedicated men and women, who gave so much to the history of Salvation Army bands.

NB: The Salvation Army Repair Shop No. 2 was opened in February 2001 in Kingston, Jamaica, where each week unusable instruments are being returned to playable status, both for Caribbean SA bands as well as other bands.

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