Saturday, 27 March 2010


Previously on this blog there have been references to the minstrel pitch. It was an area of the sands cleared for use by street entertainers (possibly to stop them wandering the streets). In early days it was a tradition for performers of this kind to be ‘blacked-up’ (as above) and sometimes the public referred to them cheerfully as ‘the niggers’. They performed several shows a day, with the accent on comedy and music, while some members of the troupe or helpers moved among the audience collecting money.

This photograph of Tom Wood’s Merry Men is from the collection of Gaynor Williams. Their instrumentation seems odd: close inspection of the photo reveals a cornet and flute; a harp and double bass are clearly visible and – according to Bill Ellis – there was a harmonium in the band. In the background is the ill-fated Grand Pavilion, a concert hall built of wood at the shore end of the pier. The Grand Pavilion opened in 1891 and was destroyed by fire in 1901.

Comfortably, we could declare the photo to date from c.1895.