The Beloved Vagabonds on holiday c.1902
Bridge (born in Brighton, on 26 February 1879) came from a musical family. His father, originally a lithographer, turned to violin teaching in later life, and travelled round to the local boarding-schools both in town and further afield at Seaford and Eastbourne, to coach his pupils. He also became the musical director of the Empire Theatre, a music hall in Brighton. Bridge's father began teaching him the violin when he was six, and, when his playing was sufficiently advanced, he was allowed to perform in the theatre orchestra. Subsequently Bridge arranged some of the music for the orchestra and even conducted when his father was indisposed. The regular rehearsals of the Bridge family quartet laid the foundation for Bridge's life-long love of chamber music.
In 1896, Bridge's violin playing had reached a high enough standard for him to be accepted as a student at the Royal College of Music in London where he remained until 1903. His violin teacher, Achille Rivarde, instilled in Bridge a distrust of any type of affectation or mannerism in either the technical or interpretative aspects of performance. As well as playing in the College orchestra, leading the second violins from 1899, Bridge began performing in the College chamber music concerts where he switched to the viola, his preferred instrument in chamber music from then on.
Composition lessons with Stanford also began in 1899, and although Bridge was often irritated by Stanford's conservatism, he undoubtedly benefitted from his professionalism and emphasis on complete practicability. Two years later, Bridge was awarded the Arthur Sullivan Prize for composition, and in 1903 the Tagore Gold Medal 'for the most generally deserving pupil'.
While at College, Bridge was a member of an informal music club called 'The Beloved Vagabonds', founded by Audrey Alston, where musical performances, both serious and amusing, were accompanied by friendly discussion. Other members included the three players who, together with Bridge, were soon to form the English String Quartet - Thomas Morris, Herbert Kinsey (violins) and Ivor James (cello) - and also the violinist Ethel Sinclair. She was born in Elmore, near Melbourne in Australia, and had won a scholarship enabling her to travel to London in April 1899 and study at the College. She shared the first desk of the second violins with Bridge in the College Orchestra, and in 1908 Frank and Ethel were married.