History: The 1930s and Controversy over Grading and the Extension of the SPBA into Ireland

The following article was by Donald McIntosh and early advocate for the then SPBA. It appeared in the November 1935 issue of ‘Piping and Dancing’ Magazine…controversy over grading and proposed extension of the SPBA into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The above picture is of Stonehouse Pipe Band from Lanarkshire, winners of the first Grade 1 contest Cowal for civilian bands in 1909. We are grateful to Alan Chatto in Australia for supplying this and the article.

Considerable interest has been raised by the Editorial suggestion in the October issue that the SPBA should stretch forth its arms and include pipe bands of all countries in its scope and membership. The Editor is forced to this conclusion by comments from the Dublin Correspondent and by a letter from an anonymous correspondent from Belfast.

The suggestion is one which is bound to excite a great deal of discussion amongst all bandsmen and their committees, and also in the inner circles of the S.P.B.A.

So far as the S.P.B.A. is concerned, the problem is a complicated one, and the first question which naturally comes up is an all-important one, namely, is there a demand amongst the pipe bands of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland for such an extension of the S.P.B.A.?

Without such a demand it would be quite impossible for the S.P.B.A. to make such branches successful. In addition, is there enough enthusiasm to keep active and live branches in existence? By these words I do not mean to throw cold water on the Editor’s suggestion, but merely to make certain that such branches are earnestly and clamantly [sic] required by the bands.

It would be futile and hopeless to endeavour to bring into existence organisations which would not be certain to be assured of the wholehearted support of the vast majority of pipe bands in the countries affected.



I observe that a correspondent has raised the matter of grading of bands, and asks ‘by what right does the S.P.B.A. grade bands?’ Let me explain that previous to the days of the S.P.B.A., all bands were in one grade. The only exception to this ruling was at Dunoon [Cowal] where the Sir Harry Lauder contest was open to all bands except the winners of the World’s Championship (Argyll Shield), during the previous five years, and to all Territorial Bands.

One of the first duties of the S.P.B.A. was to divide the bands into three grades, and to use their influence for the introduction of contests confined to the bands in Grade 2 and Grade 3. Quite a large measure of success has attended these efforts, as is evidenced by the number of contests held during the last two or three years confined to the lower grade bands.

Without a doubt the grading is one of the very best things which has come out of the S.P.B.A. nest, and how anyone can question the wisdom of such a step is to me incomprehensible.


And from the same magazine…
On Saturday, November 9th, for the fourth year in succession, the Dagenham Girl Pipers marched the sanded streets of the cities of London and Westminster, in the Lord Mayor’s procession.

Members of the Dagenham Girl Pipers band in the 1930s

They are, in fact, the only girls’ band that has ever appeared on this historic occasion and they received a great ovation from the many thousands of spectators who lined the long route. It was evident that the centre of attraction was the bass drummer, which might have been due to the fact that the previous evening this seventeen-year-old girl had broadcasted a talk on the B.B.C. National programme. The Lord Mayor’s Show was the band’s farewell appearance before leaving for a tour of Scotland, which will have commenced by the time these notes appear in print.

The date of the Annual Dinner of he Scottish Piping Society of London has been fixed for Saturday, February 15th, 1936. The guest of honour for this, the second dinner, will be Pipe Major William Ferguson, late of the 7th H.L.I., and of the 52nd Divisional Band. The Honorary Secretary of the Society, Mr D. C. Miller, would like to get in touch with any piping enthusiasts, both players and non-players, in the London area, who are not yet members of the Society. He will be pleased to supply all particulars if they write to him at 42 Trinder Rd., Crouch Hill, London W.19.


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