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Bavarian Musicians in the Isle of Man

Posted on 30.10.2015

PG-8224-18-40

© Manx National Heritage (PG/8224/18/40)

The Lahmers family story: Jacob and John Lahmers were a couple of Bavarian musicians that came to the Isle of Man in the 1800s, they were both married to Manxwomen and their families were born and brought up on the Isle of Man. Unfortunately when WW1 broke out the by then elderly brothers were interned on the island as aliens.  Ironically their sons were serving in the British Army…one of their descendants  researching the family has created a website about the history of the family: www.gordonlahmers.com/family/  Gordon has also written a piece about his family in the Isle of Man Family History Society journal.  There are plenty of links within the imusuem website and within the online newspapers referring to the family.  Here is Gordon Lahmers description of the musicians playing to the hordes of visitors and day-trippers promenading along the Douglas seafront taking in the sea air and the melodious tunes or was it?

Douglas was a very popular holiday resort in Victorian times and with the visitors came entertainers hoping to make their money during the summer season. But the numbers and the quality of the entertainers soon became a problem.

Many German bands, as well as Italian organ grinders, hurdy-gurdy players and black faced minstrels, visited the Island as early as the 1840s, often including Italian children and German teenage boys. My relatives were in one of these German bands, Jacob and John Lahmers, eventually settling in Douglas and raising families.

On Tynwald Day, 1876, the Mona Daily Programme reported that there were a larger than usual number of itinerant musicians and caterers for the public amusement. There were bands of black faced minstrels, jugglers, acrobats, ventriloquists, German bands and Moody and Sankey hymn-singers, ‘whose medley of jarring sounds was as confounding as it was unmelodious’.

By 1877, there were so many entertainers visiting the Island that the locals began to complain about the noise and disruption, from early morning to the evening. There was concern that the crowds of entertainers, disturbing the peace and asking for money from the tourists, would deter the tourists from coming back the following year, in a time when the authorities were hoping to increase the respectability of the class of visitors to the Island.

A newspaper article in the Manx Sun from September 1888 said ‘it is to be hoped that something will be done to prevent a recurrence next summer of the horrible hurdy-gurdy piano organ and German band nuisance’.  It said of the piano-organs, ‘one or two might be stood, but when it comes, as is frequently the case, to half a dozen each playing a different tune, and all within a distance of 100 yards, the effect on a person with ordinary nerves is irritating in the extreme’.

In May 1884, the Manx Sun noted that another band had arrived in town, ‘A German band arrived by the Liverpool steamer on Thursday evening, and were awaking the sleepers in the upper part of the town before eight the next morning’.  In June 1891, there were calls for a superior Town Band to be hired to replace the visiting bands, employing high quality local musicians. They would play at stated intervals in different parts of Douglas to entertain the visitors without sending round the hat for donations.

In 1894 a law was passed to remove the street entertainers, requiring them to have a license issued by the Town Commissioners. The Manx Sun, July 1894, said ‘The town had simply to be over-run with German bands, barrel organs, and such like, or they had all to be swept away bag and baggage’.

Unfortunately, within a few weeks, Jacob Lahmers appeared before the High-Bailiff on two charges of playing his cornet in the public street without a licence. This was the first case to be heard under the new law and he was fined 2s 6d and fees or 4 days imprisonment in each case. This did not deter Jacob and as a Douglas resident he continued to play on street corners for the next twenty five years.

Cathy Clucas (Manx National Heritage Library & Archives Services Assistant)

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