Exploring the history of a forgotten Victorian orchestra

In March 1898, a group of musicians played their final concert, in a packed Grosvenor Hall in London.

It was the last performance of an orchestra once renowned throughout England but almost completely forgotten today.

The orchestra was called the Wandering Minstrels, and it had been entertaining audiences up and down the country for almost 38 years.

What made it different from other contemporary groups was its membership and its aims. It consisted of aristocratic amateur musicians: men (mostly) who gave concerts to raise funds for charitable causes and entertain their friends.

The Wandering Minstrels in 1871. Image: Public Domain

Between 1860, when it was founded, and 1898, the orchestra raised over £16,000 for good causes. However you try to calculate the modern equivalent, this was a lot of money. Using the Retail Price Index, it would be more than £1.7 million. In terms of per capita GDP, it would be over £11 million.

The Wandering Minstrels gave the very first concert in the newly-built Royal Albert Hall in 1871, to test out the acoustics. They also pioneered the ‘smoking concert’, where audience members (again, mostly male), smoked cigars and drank through the concerts.

This website is still a work in progress, but aims to tell the story of the Wandering Minstrels and capture some of the details of the music they performed in a pilot database of concerts.