A further pride of Leiston is its own Royal British Legion Band
The Early Years
It is a surprising fact that the Leiston Band, like many others, owes its origin to the foreign policy of Emperor Napoleon III in the 1850s.
Many thought war with France was inevitable and the call went out for Volunteer Rifle Corps to be raised to defend the realm. Consequently the earliest mention of a band in Leiston is in a copy of the Suffolk Chronicle dated 1859. The band was associated with the Leiston unit of 9th Suffolk Rifle Volunteer Corp and was most likely to have been a fife and drum band.
The Garrett family who owned the engineering works in the town and manufactured their world renowned steam engines using the pioneering “Long Shop” production line, were keen supporters of the unit, providing money and free use of the Works Hall for drill practice.
The Brass Band
In 1886 Frank Garrett headed a list of donors who helped to buy the band a set of brass band instruments for the total cost of £110 ! They were “served out” on 14th October and the band had mastered them in time to play for Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebrations the following year.
The bandmaster from around this time was Robert Peskett, a much respected leader who ran the band in military style for almost 50 years.
Throughout the 1920s the band maintained its connection with Garretts and played as the Leiston Works Band. Having engaged the services of Joe Kyle, a Black Dyke Mills euphonium player, they enjoyed a successful period winning many contest prizes and in 1931 travelled to the Crystal Palace where they took part in the National Championships.
In February 1932 disaster struck the town when the firm of Richard Garrett and Sons was taken into receivership and the works had to close for a time. The band’s association with the Garrett family finally came to an end and they had to find another practice room to continue their music making.
Fortunately the Leiston branch of the British Legion came to the rescue and the band has played under their banner ever since. The addition of Royal to the name was granted in 1979, the Legion’s 50th anniversary year.