Introduction to Brass Bands in and Around Manchester pre-1914

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The 4th Lancashire RVC 1859 (Bacup) Volunteer Regiment Band, most likely taken in in 1863. (Permission from Gavin Holman,


The Historical Background to Brass Bands and Music-Making in Manchester During World War One

By Dr Stephen Etheridge, GLCM, MA, PhD

During the First World War brass bands were an essential part of music-making in Manchester. Local bands were important to elements of life on the home front such as fund raising, entertainment, boosting morale and supporting the troops, not only in Manchester, but also nationally. Indeed, a study of bands in Manchester reflects many of the experiences of bandsmen throughout the country. The majority of brass band work took place in Manchester’s public parks, together with concerts, contests and events in the industrial towns and villages that surrounding the city, such as the Rossendale Valley, for example.[1] In addition, whilst the National Brass Band Contest was cancelled, the Belle Vue Open Championships struggled on. These contests kept the long-established traditions of the movement going. Writing in September 1914 ‘Pluto’, the Manchester and Region correspondent for the Brass Band News, stated that ‘some of our bands have been hard hit by mobilisation, but those of us staying at home will have to see to it that the ball is kept rolling […..] In fact we must.’[2]

With such a visible role in Manchester’s musical life it is important to understand how brass bands came to have that role. The purpose of this introductory blog is to provide a background to how brass bands developed and came to be part of Manchester’s musical life long before 1914. Manchester was a city that attracted performers from all over the North, many came to compete in musical contests at Belle Vue. These performers were largely working-class amateurs who played in an eclectic group of ensembles from choirs to accordion bands and hand-bell ringing groups, and, of course, brass bands. Moreover, the region’s population were regarded as being highly musical since at least the late eighteenth century. This musicianship provided an environment where brass bands could flourish. By the late nineteenth century external observers had noticed  how bands were present at any number of community events. In April 1892, the Magazine of Music illustrated the eclectic range of events bands took part in writing:

There is scarcely a public function of any kind at which there is not a band to dispense sweet harmonies. As one looks through the record of a month’s work, one sees social gatherings of all kinds-teas, suppers, dances, cricket or football matches, presentations, festivals, demonstrations, camp meetings and anniversaries. It would seem as if nothing human were complete without a band, for this week, a band has to play at a marriage and a funeral.

In this blog I will sketch out the development of brass instruments, the growth of brass bands and the importance of Northern bands. In this way this post serves as a foundation to the history of brass bands in Manchester in the First World War.

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