The outbreak of war, patriotism and music

With the outbreak of world war one in the summer of 1914, you would expect a severe effect on the music and theatre business, but how severe was it?

Whilst critics were claiming that ‘Musical Manchester’s’ reputation was already on the wane, this seemed to have turned around in the months leading up to the outbreak of war. In April and May 1914, three separate articles were written in the Manchester Programme claiming that the critics were wrong as both the Carl Rosa opera company and the O’Mara opera company had filled the house every night. There was also an increase in the number of opera companies performing at this time, as well as the two already mentioned, the Castellano opera company performed at the Princes theatre in May; the Moody Manners opera company returned to Manchester in April for the first time in five years; and the D’Oyly Carte opera company performed at the Theatre Royal in both March and April.

However, even though opera seemed to be on the increase, war inevitably had an effect on the stage business. The Manchester Programme was cut shorter, from 20 pages down to 16, and one article reported that the theatre business was suffering the most. One of the lead columnists for the Manchester Programme, Strephon, wrote that people should not be down and should continue going to the theatre to keep spirits high. In the same article he talks about the many young men who are enlisting but points out that those who are staying home and continuing to work are still doing their patriotic duty and should not be criticised. This could indicate that one of the reasons there was less theatre goers at the outbreak of war was due to them not agreeing with young men staying behind to perform on the stage.

Another factor that affected the theatre business was the war breaking out during the summer vacation period, meaning European stage performers and orchestral members were out of the UK and struggled to return. One such person was Michael Balling, the German conductor of the Halle. In his absence the Halle enlisted a number of conductors to take his place, however only two were mentioned in the Manchester Programme. The first was Woof Gaags who led two concerts with approximately half of the orchestral members. It wasn’t until the end of November when Thomas Beecham took the role of conductor that the Halle returned with the full orchestra in the usual weekly spot at the Free Trade Hall.

Katrina Ingram

A Call For Bandsmen

From the Manchester Guardian, 18 October, 1915 

A Call For Bandsmen

A military band for the 3/8th Manchester Battalion Regiment, stationed at Southport, is in the course of formation, and bandsmen are required.

The band of the 2/8th Manchesters is also in need of a flautist. Applications are to be made to Captain Higham, officer commanding the depot of the 8th Manchesters at Ardwick Green.

Dr Stephen Etheridge

Dive straight down this research rabbit hole.

Hi all! I’ve finally managed to get the index of students relevant to this project up on here.

Roll of Honour

The first table below is the names of all our students on the College’s Roll of Honour, which can be found in our Annual Reports. They started including this in their first Annual Report during the war period as quite a few alumni enlisted to the war effort straight away.

The table is a digital copy of the student registers showing their student number, name, age upon entry to the College, main instrument, address, parent/responsible body, date of entry, date of leaving and any notes I’ve scraped together from the annual reports and indexes.

Have a look!

Continue reading “Dive straight down this research rabbit hole.”

Women at Brass Band Contests in the First Year of World War One: Challenging a Traditional Homosocial Arena

Women at Brass Band Contests in the First Year of World War One: Challenging a Traditional Homosocial Arena[1]

Dr Stephen Etheridge: Follow me on Twitter, @DrGtrombone


Belle Vue Contest Programme, 1914: Permission, Salford University Archives & Special Collections


The brass band contest was a popular and male dominated working-class leisure pursuit. Contests were well-established in the industrial areas surrounding Manchester by the 1840s,[2] and, by the time of  the first Belle Vue Contests, they had become, in the bandsmens’ minds at least, a place where working-class men could push the boundaries of their (encouraged) respectability when taking part in music as ‘rational recreation’.

It was not uncommon for reporters to highlight the more bawdy and drink-fuelled elements of the brass band contest as an example of working-class leisure. As a result brass band periodical editors countered this reportage with denial; explaining that the rougher elements – who were always and without fail admonished by the editorial – were in the minority and middle-class editors were at pains to point out that the majority of working-class bandsmen were ‘gentlemen.’ Nevertheless, as Peter Bailey recognized, in this period the consumption of alcohol, with certain exceptions, became less of a total experience and more of a social lubricant.[3] Drinking and making noise seemed natural accompaniments to popular recreation and bandsmen were not immune to them.[4]

Continue reading “Women at Brass Band Contests in the First Year of World War One: Challenging a Traditional Homosocial Arena”

Higham’s of Manchester: Brass Instruments, Retail & Military Imagery in an Empire-Building Society

Joseph Higham’s Catalaogue, 1896


Higham’s of Manchester: Brass Instruments, Retail & Military Imagery in an Empire-Building Society

Dr Stephen Etheridge: Follow me on Twitter, @DrGtrombone

This week I thought it would be useful to reflect upon  Joseph Higham’s Instrument Catalogue that was published in 1896, some 18 years before the outbreak of hostilities. Higham’s provided most of the bands in the Manchester region with instruments. Using the reflective method of ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘in what context’ will help us understand the Victorian and Edwardian mind-set in the years leading up to the Great War. On one hand militaristic imagery inferred that all things moral, stable and reliable were reliant on an Empire-building society, but, on the other,this self -assured dominance could only be usurped by modern warfare.

Who Wrote It?

Answer: Joseph Higham’s of Manchester

Joseph Higham established his factory in 1842 near Strangeways in Manchester. Entries in the Slater’s Directory of Manchester and Salford describe the company as, “wholesale brass musical instrument makers to the trade and for export, electroplaters and gilders.”  Within ten years of the company’s foundation it was supplying musical instruments to the British Army and later they added the British Navy to their list of customers.  For much of the time Higham’s factory was located at 127 Great Ducie Street just across the road from the Assize Courts and the Prison. However, according to the various Manchester and Salford Directories, this wasn’t always the case.  In 1850 Joseph Higham, musical instrument maker, had premises at 73 Chapel Street in Salford. And,  by at least 1896, and probably before, we can see that they had a London showroom on Oxford Street. (Source: <>accessed 20.07.2016)

Continue reading “Higham’s of Manchester: Brass Instruments, Retail & Military Imagery in an Empire-Building Society”

The Belgian women at the College

By early 1915, there were more than a quarter of a million Belgian refugees in Britain. They had fled their homes after the German army had invaded Belgium in August 1914, an event which directly lead to the British declaration of war. After a chaotic start with refugees arriving in their thousands the newly-formed War Refugees Committee became more organised and more than 2500 local committees were set up to receive and assist Belgian refugees all over the country including the Manchester area. Here are the stories of two talented Belgian women who each contributed to the musical life of the Royal Manchester College of Music during the First War World and in its immediate aftermath.

Both were refugees from the town of Malines (or Mechelen) near Antwerp. Augusta Bertrand was the first recipient of the inaugural Will Pearce Memorial Scholarship for piano which she won in open competition in July 1915 aged 15. The 1915 Annual Report notes that there are three Belgian refugees attending the College. She went on to hold the scholarship for the four years that she was a student in the college. The Scholarship was endowed by Mrs Will Pearce a former student in memory of her late husband who was also a “distinguished student and Halle scholar of the College”. Augusta was taught by Ellen Arthan and was a regular perfomer at the open practices or students’ musical evenings. She also had Ensemble Classes with Dr Brodsky. She completed 12 terms at the College leaving at Midsummer 1919. As most Belgians returned to their country after the war had finished, Augusta probably did the same as I can find no record of a marriage or death in the UK. However, I can find no trace of her in Belgium archives either, so if anyone knows anything further about her, let us know.

Some Belgians remained in the UK like the second musician. Madeleine Vanhamme is mentioned briefly in the Musical Times of March 1915 “The Bolton Amateur Orchestral Society at a Relief Fund concert on January 13, had the assistance of Mlle Madeleine Van Hamme, a Belgian contralto.” She would have been 25 or 26 and probably would have had some singing training in Belgium. One month before the war finished on 7th October 1918, at age 29, Madeleine started her singing studies at the Royal Manchester College of Music under the famed soprano Miss Marie Brema. She completed eight terms at the RMCM until Easter 1921. The same year she married Percy Tankard in Bolton and they had one daughter Patricia Tankard in 1926. Unfortunately, as with many of the women who studied at the RMCM, the next piece of information is her death in 1975 in Merseyside.

What kind of music did they play and sing? Did they know each other? The answer to the second question is certainly yes as they were both in the College from September 1918 to Midsummer 1919 and both were from the same town in Belgium. They also performed in the same Annual Public Examinations of Friday July 18th 1919: Augusta performed the 2nd and 3rd movements of Schumann’s Pianoforte Concerto and Madeleine sang the Beethoven aria “Ah! Perfido”.

As a talented pianist, during her time at the college between 1916 and 1919, Augusta appears many times in the Open Practices playing solos and in ensembles. On Tuesday 10th July 1917, for example, she plays the piano in Beethoven’s Piano & Strings Trio Op. 1 No 3 in in C minor (2nd and 4th movements) with Gertrude Barker and Kathleen Moorhouse. A year earlier on Thursday 8th June 1916 Augusta performs Bach Partita no1 in B flat. In December 1918 she plays two Chopin Studies (Study in E major Op 10 No 3 and Study in A minor Op 25 No 11).

By contrast Madeleine’s appearances at Open Practices seems to have been limited to one on Wednesday February 19th 1919 when she sang two songs by contemporary French composers: “Psyché” by Emile Paladilhe and “L’Ane blanc” by Georges Hüe. Madeleine also performed solos at the In Celebration of Peace concert organised by her teacher Marie Brema on Tuesday December 10th 1918 when she sang two Belgian songs and one French:  “Les Cloches de Flandres” by Paul Kochs, “Ik ken een lied” the most popular song written by the 19th century Belgian composer Willem de Mol, and “Chanson de Route”  by Paul Puget with words by the French writer Alfred de Musset, famous for a two-year affair with novelist Georges Sand, who was also Chopin’s lover.

For some interesting information about Belgian refugees in the Manchester area and where to find further information and

Katherine Seddon


The rise of Sir Thomas Beecham and the reputation of ‘Musical Manchester’

In 1913 critics were claiming that music on the stage was on the wane and the ‘Musical Manchester’ was merely running off its reputation. It was within this this slump that Sir Thomas Beecham began his rise to fame.

Critics had been claiming for months that music in Manchester was on the wane, this was cemented when Herr Denhof’s operatic festival was cut short due lack of attendance. It was due to run for 2 weeks at the Theatre Royal but the second week was cancelled with the lack of support. It was claimed the poor attendance was due to high prices, lack of advertising and bad timing, since many people were still away on holiday, however critics and columnists did not think these excuses were good enough. One columnist wrote “little miss Manchester is in disgrace and nurse Polymnia has sent her to the corner to contemplate her artistic shortcomings”. This same columnist claimed that ‘Musical Manchester’ was merely running off the reputation it had built in the nineteenth century. At that time Charles Halle provided the only orchestra in the north, however, even his shows were poorly attended by 1913.

It was at this precise time that Thomas Beecham seized the opportunity to take a step up the musical ladder. He had been the conductor for Herr Denhof and when the show was cancelled he invested £20,000 and in turn became manager of the orchestra. He extended the tour, even staying in Manchester for a further 5 nights and so began Beecham’s rise and Denhof’s fall.

Katrina Ingram

Gender differences on the stage in 1913

This week, during my research, I found 2 articles which give an insight into the views of women on the stage in 1913.

It seems that women felt the stage was an easy way to gain wealth and fame in 1913, however, whilst a few were earning a decent salary the rest were working for next to nothing. The usual wage for a women on the stage was a guinea a week, with long, gruelling days, and rehearsals sometimes lasting for weeks. Women were also expected to provide their own clothes to wear on stage (unless it was a specific costume) which also had to come out of their wage. It was usually men who were hiring these women, and assumed that they had some kind of financial support, be that a husband or a parent.

All classes of women were welcome to audition, they did not have to be specially trained, just have enough talent. Nell Gwynne from Drury Lane theatre, for example, was an orange seller before hitting the stage.

It also seemed to be quite common for women to play the role of the leading man, though this was not particularly well received. The columnist complained that he did not enjoy watching the brave, heroic male being played by a woman and it seemed to be quite common in Manchester. Arthur Collins of Drury Lane in London, however, was in agreement and always cast a man in the lead male role.

Katrina Ingram


RMCM WW1 student registers online at MDMA

If you haven’t been to the Manchester District Music Archive website, then you must absolutely nip over. Share some of your Manchester music history whilst you’re there and you should definitely have a look at the RNCM Archive’s account. In fact, there’s one particular online exhibition that may interest you…

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The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1915: The Creation of Musical Heroes on the Manchester Stage



belle vue 1915
The Belle Vue Contest Programme: Permission, Salford University Archives & Special Collections

The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1915: The Creation of Musical Heroes on the Manchester Stage, by Dr Stephen Etheridge


Irwell Springs (Bacup) Band, 1913:Permission Gavin Holman



Foden’s Motor Works Band, 1913: Permission, Gavin Holman,


This blog examines the creation of local heroes on the Belle Vue stage through reporting in the local press. The winners of the 1915 contest were Foden’s Motor Works, from Sandbach in Cheshire. One of the other contestants was Irwell Springs, from Bacup, in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley[1]. It is the press reporting of these ‘crack’ bands – especially Irwell Springs – that reveals how fierce local musical rivalries could be in the regions surrounding Manchester. Apart from Biddulph Brass Band, from North Staffordshire, and Harton Colliery, from South Shields, the contesting bands in 1915 came from, or very close to, the Southern Pennine manufacturing districts.[2] It was at the Belle Vue ‘Open’ Contest where northern musical rivalries were given public voice. In addition the Belle Vue Contest occurred when volunteer recruitment was at its height. What did this mean for the September Contest?

From 1914-1918 the Crystal Palace National Brass Band Contest in London was suspended. The only large contest left was the British Open Brass Band Contest, held at Belle Vue Gardens in Manchester. For the war years Manchester became a hub for the continuation of brass band identity.

Continue reading “The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1915: The Creation of Musical Heroes on the Manchester Stage”