‘MY ANCESTOR WAS A MUSICIAN WHO LED A DOUBLE LIFE’
Colin Ward’s tree includes successful performers and composers, but unravelling the secrets of their double lives required some impressive detective work, says Gail Dixon
heir hunter contacted Colin Ward in 2011, following an intestate death in his mother’s family. “I was curious to discover more about this,” Colin explains, “and some musical royalties that my mother received from the Performing Rights Society. These were used to pay toward my education.” But delving into his family history opened a Pandora’s Box.
Colin was born in Ilford, Essex, in 1936 to Henry and Margaret Ward (née Bidgood). “Mum never talked about her father Albert, so that side of the family was a mystery. She knew that he lived in New Zealand, but the only contact they had was via solicitors.
“One ancestor she did speak of was her grandfather, Thomas Bidgood, in connection with a military march called Sons of the Brave. This turned out to be a pivotal clue.”
Colin recalled that his brother Roger was contacted in 2003 by a Dutch journalist, Jan Van Dinteren, who was writing an article about Thomas. “Jan had a wealth of detail about my great grandfather, and I was thrilled to discover that he had been a successful musician and composer.”
Following the paper trail
Thomas was born in Woolwich in 1858, to William and Jane Bidgood. William was a plumber, and there are no hints of musical connections at this point. Fortunately Colin’s mother Margaret had kept family papers that proved to be a gold mine of information.
Thomas showed a flair for music from an early age. He became a chorister at his local church, learnt to play the violin and regularly attended band concerts at the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. He joined the 9th Kent Artillery Volunteer Band when he was 14, adding brass instruments and the clarinet to his repertoire.
Although Thomas earned his living as a painter and decorator, music was undeniably his passion. Around 1870 he enrolled at the prestigious London Academy of Music (now known as the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), to study violin and musical harmony. Newspaper reports revealed that he won the academy’s gold, silver and bronze medals. The family has donated the medals to the Royal Military School of Music, at Kneller Hall in Twickenham, where Thomas is venerated as one of the original British march composers.
In his twenties he became conductor of the Beckton Gas, Coke and Light Company Band and bandmaster of the 4th Volunteer Battalion Essex Regiment. Both ensembles garnered awards for their performances.
The zenith of Thomas’s career came in 1898 when he composed the stirring march Sons of the Brave. “It was a major hit and was played in music halls, in concerts
Colin wrote Thomas Bidgood’s biography for this display at the Museum of Army Music