Early in 1923, members of the band at Bletchington (a village a little way north of Oxford) decided to organise a band contest. The Band Secretary – Fred Foreman – offered to donate a cup, but in order to attract the best bands the group felt that something special was needed as a trophy for the open section.

The MP for Oxford then was Mr. Frank Gray, a charismatic and rather unusual character, who lived in the Manor at Shipton-on-Cherwell, a few miles across the fields from Bletchington. So Fred Foreman and the others from Bletchington walked to Shipton Manor and Frank Gray offered his support to their proposals by agreeing to donate a large Challenge Shield, but also asked that an Association be formed of the bands in the area. As a result, the Oxfordshire and District Brass Band Association came into being in April 1923. The first contest was held in the sportsground of Worcester College in Oxford on 25th April 1923. Membership was originally restricted to bands within a 25 mile radius (“as the crow flies”) of the Carfax crossroads in the centre of Oxford and it was some years before this was withdrawn, although in more recent years it has been reinstated with Associate Members from outside the 25 miles being welcome to join.

The annual Summer Contest was the mainstay of the Association’s activities and it was a grand event. Involving parades through the city, fun fairs and side shows at the contest ground, and two (brass) bands were asked to play for dancing in the evening. To ensure fair play, a constable was hired to guard the adjudicator’s tent during the band contest!

All was going well until the war years when all activities were suspended. Membership peaked at about 50 bands in 1950 but gradually the smaller village (and town) band closed down.

A dedicated youth policy with instructed classes emerged, pioneered particularly in the Oxford area by “Nobby” Challis and the City of Oxford Band, and in the Newbury area by the local milkman Desmond Webb with the East Woodhay Band. Members were encouraged to partake in the annual Solo and Quartet Contest organised by the Association. The event became known as the Brass Festival and now also caters for senior members of the bands. With enthusiasm growing a youth band was formed and in 1966 a tour of Holland was undertaken. This was repeated in August 1970 with a two-week tour to Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The popular entertainment contests commenced in 1977 at the Abbey Hall (Abingdon), and ran in addition to the established “test piece” contest.

Massed Band Concerts for various anniversaries and charity fundraisers have always featured highly in the year’s banding activities with many being held at the Tingewick Hall at the John Radcliffe Hospital; the Oxford Town Hall and the Playhouse Theatre.

After a concert in 1986 by the National Youth Band of Great Britain, the Association youth band, dormant for many years, was reintroduced and conducted by David Williams. They achieved 3rd place in the Youth Section of the London and Southern Counties Area Contest in 1987 and 2nd place in 1988 winning through to the Youth Band Finals of that year at the Wembley Conference Centre. The Band continued to perform concerts well into the 1990s but had “petered out” by the turn of the century.

A few “lean years” followed where contests (except for the Solo and Quartet contests) were difficult to maintain. A new policy of Members and Association Member bands was agreed in 2014 resulting in bands from the Midlands, Forest of Dean, South Wales, Southern England and the London area attending. This continues to the present time with bands having the opportunity to play their respective Regional test pieces at the Winter Contest and to display their audience appeal at the Entertainment Contest held in the Autumn. All events, including the Brass Festival, were held at the Marlborough School (Woodstock) until this year when rebuilding works meant that other venues had to be found.

The dreaded Covid pandemic had its effect on us all, but with the initiative of the Secretary, David Roberts and the Committee, the Brass Festival was held online in 2021 with recorded entries from all around the world including from Singapore and Norway. An entertainment contest was also organised in the Exeter Hall (Kidlington) in October with restricted entry and limited public admission.

In June 2023, a massed band concert was held to celebrate 100 years of the Association, and featuring a programme of talented local composers and arrangers. Conducted by Paul Norley and compered by BBC Oxford’s Sophie Hall, it was great to see that the Association is going into its second century in fine fettle.