March 0005

 

THE BAND OF MENACE


The Band Of Menace, as depicted in the Illustrated London News of February 1896. 


How would you feel if you saw this bunch marching down your street? Pretty scary, huh? Well, that’s precisely what a lot of Victorians had to put up with. The Band of Menace was a grotesque parody of the marching bands that were so popular in the nineteenth century, and as with marching bands you were supposed to give them money. However, if you didn’t give them anything, or if you didn’t give them enough, things could turn nasty. 

The Band of Menace was undoubtedly one of the best forgotten phenomena of Victorian London.  

Here’s their favourite song, as recorded by the Reverend Harbold Harbold – Pewtin, who unsuccessfully attempted to carry out missionary work with them: 

 

The Band of Menace we are

The Band of Menace we are

We’re down from ‘oxton

Which is very far

Which is very far 

 

We’re very poor,

We’re very poor

Don’t want to be no more

Now we’re at your door

Now we’re at your door 

 

Give us all your lolly

Give us all your lolly

We need it more than you

Or you’ll be very sorry

Or you’ll be very sorry 

 

The song may have been short and repetitive, but it was calculated to appeal to all the deepest fears of the prosperous Victorian mind towards the poor and towards the East End. 

The origins of the Band of Menace are shrouded in mystery, but a popular legend has it that it was founded by Ikey Solomon, the probable original of Dicken’s Fagin. If this is true, Solomon must have worked fast, for the name is an obvious parody of the Band of Hope, which was founded in Leeds in 1847, and campaigned for sobriety and teetotalism among the young, while Solomon died in 1850. Whichever criminal actually invented the Band of Menace, he was evidently a mastermind. The story of the Band of Menace is fairly well known from the mid – 1860’s, as a horrified albeit short account of it was included by Mayhew in the fourth volume of his London Labour and the London Poor, which was published in 1861. From this date, there are frequent references to it in the London press, notably the Illustrated London News, and sometimes also the national press. 

The Band’s claim to have come from Hoxton was deliberate misinformation. They actually lived in the foul slums of Seven Dials, which is not far from Trafalgar Square, and therefore much better placed for forays into the West End, where the richest pickings lay. 

One of the band’s favourite tricks was to pick a nervous-looking individual and to leer at them, and then suddenly to parp their trombone, with terrifying effect. The progress of the band was invariably marked by a trail of broken windows and gas lamps, trampled top hats, and wailing children. These malicious acts were not carried out by the Band itself, but by fleet – footed confederates, so it was never possible to prove a connection. 

The depredations of the Band of Menace came to an end in the early years of the twentieth century. It seems that they had collected so much money over the years they were able to retire in comfort and respectability.

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