Kneller Hall, the home of the Royal Military School of Music (RMSM) and Royal Corps of Army Music (RCAM) for almost 170 years, closed its doors for the last time on 31 August.
The building has served hundreds of musicians since 1857, but other facilities will provide more practical and functional spaces which are unavailable at Kneller Hall. RCAM will move to Minley in Surrey, while the initial trade training wing will be co-located with the Royal Marines Band School in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
In 2016, the then Defence Minister Mark Lancaster announced that Kneller Hall was one of a number of Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites proposed to be sold as part of an estate rationalisation, which allowed the Armed Forces to review its national estate footprint and ensure it was fit for purpose. In November 2016 the MoD announced that the site would close in 2020 and this was later extended to 2021.
The Royal Military School of Music was established by Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge, after a reported incident in the Crimean War. According to the war correspondent for The Times, W H Russell, a number of different regimental bands attempted to play God Save The Queen; "But not with the unanimity which would have been desirable in order to give a perfect effect to the noble strains of our national anthem”.
Soldiers attend the school to complete ‘trade training’, following a successful musical audition and the initial training which is delivered to all Army personnel. From there, they can choose from a variety of roles and genres such as ceremonial, symphonic, orchestral, quartets, quintets, brass, strings and jazz. RCAM delivers musical support as the public face of the Army and supports defence interests around the world with 14 Regular Army bands, 27 global training team deployments and over 750 serving Regular musicians.
Colonel Victoria Reid OBE, Corps Colonel of the Royal Corps of Army Music said: “Every Regular Army musician has been trained at Kneller Hall for over 150 years and there are so many fond memories, but it is time to move on. We’re going to Portsmouth to take advantage of joint training opportunities with our Royal Marine Band Service colleagues and we’re also creating a new Corps home in Minley. This will offer enhanced training facilities as our musicians progress through their careers and to help us to deliver musical excellence across a raft of tasks in support of defence and the nation.”
A concert to mark the occasion, which included playing the Last Post at Kneller Hall, was recently filmed and shown by the British Forces Broadcasting Service on 30th August. A piece specially composed for the concert by Tom Davoren entitled ‘Kneller’s Legacy, A Fantasy on British Military Themes’ encompassed many favourites as well as the ceremonial compositions which have given Army musicians their worldwide reputation for excellence.
The Kneller Hall chapel holds memorials to soldiers and musicians, as well as famous windows by artist George Kneller, so whatever the future holds these will remain as a permanent reminder of its prestigious link to the British Army.