On the 19th of May 2017 Orangeism, the massive marching band community, and indeed Loyalism, lost a stalwart from the ranks. Lurgans Victor Stewart was an iconic figure within the Northern Irish ‘Loyal family’. A constant within that broad fraternity for decades, for many an Orangeman their first sash came from Victor. For many a band their first uniform came via his doors. The thriving business, more a service some would say, that Victor established remains; and no doubt will continue to thrive via wife Susan, daughter Vicki and son Greig. Nevertheless, his passing truly does signal the end of an era.
The following few words were penned after an interview with Victor back in 2012…….
Victor was born in Queens Street Lurgan in 1948 in a family deeply entrenched in the loyal orders; indeed his grandfather had been the County Lecturer of Armagh Royal Black Preceptory. In the late 1950’s he joined his first band, the now long defunct Queens Street Apprentice Boys Flute, known locally as the ‘Blough’. In the turbulent 1960’s the Queens Street band became the basis of a new band, Craigavon Protestant Boys, the beginning of a new style of Ulster bands, Blood and Thunder.
Formed in 1966, Victor was a founding member of the Craigavon band, and was heavily involved in running the outfit. Contrary to what many believe, the band was not actually named directly after the new City of Craigavon. As Victor explains “actually the band was named after James Craig, Lord Craigavon. We even had a portrait of him on our bass drum”. He has fond memories of the early days and recalls not being able to attend their first parade because of work commitments, as he recalls “The bands first outing was Easter Tuesday. I remember it well because it was snowing and I also had to fly to London to do with my new job, but watched them that morning before leaving.”
In those early days he had to try and source instruments and uniforms for the band, little knowing it would become his future career. He bought the first set of drums from Billy Hewitt in Belfast, with them actually coming from St Pauls Flute Band in Newry! Soon Victor found himself purchasing drums and other items from different suppliers at the request of friends and acquaintances, many of whom were in Scotland. Travelling to watch Rangers Football club since he was a child of 8 had left him with many close ties to the Country, and a wide network of contacts. He estimates he purchased as many as 30 bass drums at this time, delivering them to bands himself.
How the future was to be was decided for him, when his employer in 1984, Goodyear, closed down. Along with his wife the decision was made to open a shop. Victor had realised that there was no outlet where a band could source everything it needed, and he aimed to provide that. In September 1984 the first Victor Stewart shop opened in High Street Lurgan. Business included regalia for the Loyal Orders, but very quickly band uniforms and instruments became the bulk of the trade.
Eventually the premises were simply too small for the growing business, so a move took place in 1993 to a larger shop in Queen Street, not far from Victors home. Ever expanding, Victor Stewart Enterprises was now supplying full band uniforms, polo shirts and importing and exporting many other items. The shop became a central dealer for Andante and Premier drums; Miller Wicks, Miller Browne and Crossett flutes; and for a time even his own bass drum as made by Tommy Holmes. It wasn’t a stranger to the ongoing troubles either, with several attacks taking place. In the most severe in 2000, a significant section of the shop was destroyed along with a large amount of stock. However there never was even a thought of quitting, and everything was rebuilt bigger and better.
The success and popularity of the business is well illustrated by some of Victor’s clients over the years. People have dropped into the shop from throughout the world, and he has made friends from America to Africa. One of his fondest memories is travelling to Canada to outfit a band, “Whitby True Blues Flute in Ontario wanted a new uniform. They wanted it to be in the style of bands here and couldn’t source it at home, so they actually flew me over and measure the whole band!” Another unique client he has at the minute are the Togo and Ghana Grand Orange Lodge, for whom all the regalia is supplied.
This year being the 45th anniversary of the formation of Craigavon Protestant Boys Flute, Victor is involved in forming an Old Boys Band (all former members are welcome, and should contact him or the shop for more information), and he still makes a point of getting to parades and band events.
Today the shop is still going strong. Son Greg is now shop manager ensuring that the family business will carry on for many years; however Victor is still working away and intends to keep doing so. Very much a living business and still a well known part of the band and wider loyalist community, the name Victor Stewart will be around for many years to come.