Bandstands are circular or semi-circular structures, erected in public parks or outdoor spaces, to provide a venue for live artistic performances. The apparent simplicity of bandstand designs is often countered by ornamentation and aesthetic embellishment.
Bandstands were first introduced in the UK in the 1700’s. They were then encouraged during the industrial revolution as urban populations grew rapidly and open spaces were built on, and it was realised that the working classes were spending their recreational time in pubs. This led to the creation of municipal parks for the public to relax in while listening to music or watching plays and other sorts of performance.
The first bandstands were built in London, Leeds, Rochdale and Sheffield. Seaside resorts such as, Eastbourne, Great Yarmouth and Brighton quickly followed suit. It is estimated that around 1,200 bandstands were designed and completed between the 1860s and the Second World War. Each bandstand was unique with each new design attempting to outdo its competitors.
Bandstands became the focal points of public parks and other open spaces and provided a stage for a variety of acts, most notably live music and brass bands. During their heyday in the Victorian era, bandstands drew vast crowds, sometimes ranging from ten thousand to fifty thousand people.
Inventions such as the wireless and television, and the increasing popularity of cinema, contributed to the decline of bandstands, with local communities slowly losing their connection to these once popular constructions. During the late 20th century, many bandstands became neglected and disused, derelict structures that only offered memories of times gone by.
In 1997, the Heritage Lottery Fund began raising funds for, amongst other things, increasing investment in public gardens, parks and public spaces. This promoted the rebirth of bandstands being used to display and promote the arts, such as theatre, drama and many genres of live music, including opera. Bandstands were viewed by the fund as important community assets that had the potential to bring people together in an enjoyable environment. Over a hundred bandstands were restored and around 350 original bandstands are still standing.
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