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: <manchesterhistory.net>accessed 20.07.2016)

Why Was it Written? Answer: A Growth in Retail Trade

From the 1840s onwards brass bands in the North of England had been growing in number. In 1903, the band commentator ‘Shoddythorpe’ estimated that there were at least two-hundred and fifty bands in West Yorkshire alone.[1] On the Southern Pennines’ Lancashire side the brass band historian Arthur Taylor illustrated the density of brass bands in this period by saying the whole area of Saddleworth ‘could almost be designated a national park for brass bands, with Dobcross as the centrepiece.’[2] Higham’s, based in one of the largest retail centres, prospered when there was a demand for a new working-class hobby, and instrumental sales also reflected the growth in retail trade.

Joseph Higham’s ‘Finishers’ Room’ from Algernon Rose, ‘Talks With Bandsman’. Own Collection.


From the late 1850s the cost of musical instruments began to fall. This was partly due to the removal of protective tariffs through such measures as the Cobden-Chevalier treaty, and partly to increased trade volume and increased levels of competition amongst domestic manufacturers.[3] Cyril Ehrlrich has shown how the price of woodwind and string instruments fell in the second half of the nineteenth-century and a similar picture is reflected for the sale of brass instruments. Dave Russell noted that brass bands were using hire purchase agreements as early as 1855, and that this credit may well have been available earlier.[4] This hire-purchase formed only part of a complex system of cash, cheques, deferred payments and discounted offers. In 1895 Algernon Rose stated that ‘the credit system has become the very basis of brass bands. Given a body of steady, industrious young men, the acquirement of a set of first-class instruments is by no means difficult.’[5] Together with the trade in new instruments there was also the availability of second-hand instruments. It is reasonable to say there must have also been a huge market for second-hand instruments as many bands started up and then folded within a few years, and, given the durability of even the cheaper instruments, it is possible many of them stayed in circulation.[6]

In the second half of the nineteenth century most of the instruments for brass bands were made by the larger manufacturers – those that were capable of mass production, such as Boosey, Hawkes, Besson and Higham. Imports of cheap models still continued but included some good quality models such as the Viennese instruments used by the Cyfarthfa Band, together with the Courtois instruments imported by S.A. Chappell.[7] Makers had a vested interest in promoting their instruments by giving them as contest prizes.[8]In August 1868, for example, Todmorden Old Brass Band, from the West Riding of Yorkshire, hosted a contest including a euphonium solo contest in which six players took part. R. Marsden, of Bacup, won the contest and was presented with a euphonium. There was also a solo tenor horn contest and a solo cornet contest where a tenor horn and cornet were prizes.[9] In 1870 the Preston Guardian was listing the players that would enter the cornet and euphonium contest at the Preston Brass Band Contest that was to be held on the 30 July.[10] By the 1890s manufacturers filled the market with ephemera such as band lamps for dark nights, oils to lubricate slides and valves, music stands and other goods on a scale that that had not been known before.[11] Local music retailers became abundant. In 1894 a relatively small community, such as Sowerby Bridge (pop. 7092 in 1891), possessed two such dealerships while Bradford had no fewer than 46.[12] In addition to technical innovations a combination of promotion techniques, cash and credit methods of payment, affordability and durability of brass instruments all helped standardise the brass band.

In What Context Was It Written?

Military Influences

Note the picture of the bandsman in military-style uniform and the emphasis on how the firm supplied the armed forces.

Nationally brass bands drew contest judges from the ranks of military bandmasters, reflecting a reliance of brass bands on military musical orthodoxy and style. From the first edition of the British Bandsman, in 1887, the standard of military bands was seen as what brass bands should strive to achieve. Many military bandmasters judged contests and arranged brass band contest pieces, as well as taking payment for training volunteer regiment bands. In Talks With Bandsmen, Rose listed thirty-two bandmasters from cavalry regiments, three from artillery regiments and one from the Royal Engineers. From the infantry regiments there are three from the guards’ regiments. From the Irish, Welsh, Scottish and English county regiments, including the West India Regiment, there were two bandmasters each totalling one-hundred and thirty eight.[13] Significantly military bandmasters had close links with the brass band periodicals, the majority of London publications being edited by them and they also contributed articles to other musical periodicals in the country. London based military bandmasters were in a position to understand styles and repertoire that had recently become fashionable in the capital.[14] Therefore, the emerging professional civilian band trainers that bands engaged had set orthodoxies to copy from military bandmasters.

If brass bands found orthodoxy from military bandmasters, can it be said that demobbed militia, or military musicians, playing as amateur bandsmen, reinforced military orthodoxy when they practiced in the bandroom? Britain in the nineteenth century was, despite its reputation for Liberal retrenchment in military matters, a remarkably militarised society. Joanna Bourke has noticed that at the start of the twentieth century 22 per cent of men between 17 and 40 years of age had some military service.[15] In 1896, the Magazine of Music gave an outline of the number of military bands that were active, the correspondent wrote:

In the service there are one hundred and forty-six infantry bands, of which three belong to the Foot Guards, one each to the Artillery and Engineers and the remainder to the infantry of the line. The cavalry, including two household regiments and Royal Horse Artillery, number thirty-two. These figures do not include the Militia, Volunteers and Royal Marines. Taking all the bands together, it is reckoned that there are six-thousand musicians in the military service of the Crown.[16]

Moreover, the Magazine of Music recognised that because of the short service system, introduced by Edward Cardwell, the then Secretary of State for War, in 1870, military bandsmen would only stay in the military for six years.[17] Thus, it is reasonable to say that there were likely to be a large number of ex-military personnel playing in amateur brass bands. This is reinforced by Dave Russell who suggested the financial burden of buying brass instruments could be eased for amateur brass bands by demobbed musicians taking instruments into the community.[18]

The number of demobbed military bandsmen active in brass bands is difficult to calculate. This is partly because of the rhetoric of the brass band movement, which concentrated solely on the working-class membership of bands did not account for ex-military musicians as amateur bandsmen. Apart from the trainers and conductors that led the bands military background or training is neglected in the sources as soon as demobbed military bandsmen became workers. Given the orthodoxy and influence of military music within the brass band movement it is valid to argue, however, that, although the numbers are unknown, demobbed bandsmen reinforced and supported military orthodoxy within amateur brass bands because of their experiences in military service.

Whitworth Vale & Healy Band: Permission http://www.ibew.co.uk


In the early days of the band movement bands bought military uniforms because they were cheap, purchased second hand from the army. When Stephen Lord wrote about Whitworth Vale and Healy bands, in the Rossendale Valley, he noticed that ‘some bands in the valley had basic uniforms and some had very elaborate uniforms depending on the regiment.’[19] The regular army did not approve of this. Speaking in 1932, Tom Beckwith, of Rothwell Temperance Band, remembered:

When we got the band together, we picked up a set of second-hand Lancer uniforms – black tunics and white fronts, with white stripes down the trousers. We looked smart I assure you, but one day an army officer saw us and it was all up with our uniform.[20]

It was not just Rothwell Band that were criticised. Objections to bands using old military uniforms meant that parliament passed the Uniforms Act in 1894. It tried to prevent civilians wearing military uniforms. The act stated:

It shall not be lawful for any person not serving in Her Majesty’s Military Forces to wear […] the uniform of any of those forces, or any dress having the appearance or bearing any of the regimental or any other distinctive marks of any such uniform.[21]

Nevertheless, as long as brass bands did not copy military uniforms exactly, they could continue to have the military style.[22] The Musical News commented:

It is stated that the Uniform Bill will prohibit the purchase of old military uniforms by civilian brass bands. Such bands must chose uniforms unlike those of the army […]. On the other hand, the custom of wearing showy military uniforms by civilian bands is universally prevalent in the United States, and such uniforms are constantly advertised in the American musical papers, some of them being very smart, not to say gorgeous. There may be more under the proposed regulation.[23]

Military Imagery as a Retail Sales Method

Uniforms, then, became central to the identity of bandsmen in the public space. One commentator wrote about bands in the north, ‘after wandering for many months through their haunts…it seemed to me a labyrinth of trombones in uniform, euphoniums in gold facings, and cornets with tassels galore’.[24] The British Bandsman, as well as other periodicals, carried regular advertisements for firms that supplied band uniforms. It was a business with a huge demand. For example, Gisbourne’s sold the latest military style belts and pouches (Bandoleers).[25] Hodgeson’s of Huddersfield  put great emphasis on the fact that they supplied uniforms to the military, ‘our army and colonial troops’, the Yorkshire Yeomanry Volunteers, the police force and the fire brigade, as well as every competing band in the Huddersfield area.[26] In spite of the 1894 Uniform Act brass bands relied heavily on military imagery in their choice of uniform.

Trevor Herbert maintains that the advertising of brass instruments and band uniforms used military imagery to conjoin anything militaristic with anything that was of sound moral value.[27] Up to the 1920s most instrument manufacturers used the military to endorse their products. S.A. Chappell was a typical brass music publisher and instrument manufacturer who used military references to endorse their products. They described themselves as, ‘Manufacturer and Importer of Every Description of Military Musical Instrument to Her Majesty’s Army and Navy.’[28] The foundation of the ‘Military Music Class’, at Kneller Hall, near Twickenham, in the London suburbs, in 1857,[29] had the aim of producing British bandmasters that would undermine foreign competition, whose bandmasters often had close and mutually beneficial relationships with manufacturers and publishers.[30]2

2. Military Imagery and Masculinity

Military imagery implied a close relationship with ideologies that were prevalent in this period. In short, masculinity was a cultural construct which placed importance on martial masculinity. This martial imagery was self-evident to commentators on brass bands when they noticed their uniforms. In 1892, for example, the Magazine of Music felt that uniforms helped bandsmen create an esprit de corps.[31] As David Gilmore has argued, ‘in Victorian and Edwardian England, a culture not given over to showy excess, manhood was an artificial product coaxed by austere training and testing’.[32] An imperial masculinity, inherently reliant on militarism, became significant in empire building.

From the 1840s to the 1930s the proper definition of manliness as a code of conduct for men was a matter of keen interest to educators and social critics. Emphasis was variously placed on moral courage, sexual purity, athleticism and stoicism, by commentators that ranged from Thomas Arnold, through Thomas Carlyle, Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes, to Robert Baden-Powell. Special attention has also been given to the manly precepts that were upheld in all-male schools, the Boys’ Brigade and the Boy Scouts. [33

A. Mangan and James Walvin argue that perhaps one of the most arresting features of Victorian manliness was that it was a philosophy which, through the printed word and via prestigious and proliferating educational institutions, developed a swift and ubiquitous influence through ‘Anglo-Saxon’ territories. Well before the Great War, on both sides of the Atlantic, proponents of the ideal had securely ensconced themselves in dominant positions in society: with the result that between around 1850 and 1940 the cult of manliness became a widely pervasive and inescapable feature of middle-class existence in Britain and America: in literature, education and politics the vocabulary of masculinity was spread forcefully. This ethos was not restricted to the privileged: through school textbooks, children’s literature, philanthropic agencies and the churches both the image and associated symbolic activities of both Christian and Darwinian ‘manliness’ filtered down to the proletariat through an unrelenting and self-assured process of social osmosis. For the working class, the Boys’ Brigade Movement – formed in 1883, in Glasgow – became a key movement in the spread of these ideals.[34] Middle-class martial manliness, the officer as gentleman, hero, and finally, a man who would sacrifice his life for empire was central to this imagery. As Calum McKenzie and J. A. Mangan put it, militarism was central to the identity of nation, the identity of social networks and shared conformity and values within groups, writing:

With some justification, it may be claimed, that the New Imperial Britain of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras attempted to socialize a young elite into attitudes fundamental to the ambitions of the respective political regimes. This conditioning involved values based on four interlocking spheres of sociopolitical consciousness: the need to establish an ideal of selfless service to the state; the need to establish a sense of racial superiority as a cornerstone of this selflessness; the need to establish and maintain an imperial chauvinism; and the need to engender uncritical conformity to the values of the group. A major purpose of this interlinked set of values, was to create a ‘‘martial middle-class’’ ready to serve the nation in the plethora of its imperial struggles in both societies.[35]

Bandsmen, then, when wearing militaristic uniforms, were not just conforming to the smartness required of them by the editorial rhetoric found in band periodicals, but also reflected masculine values that were spread to the wider working class through youth groups, literature and sport. Bandsmen, in other words, were conforming to the wider militaristic values that were inherent in Victorian and Edwardian empire-building society. Militaristic values would come to play a large part in the recruitment of the first years of the Great War.


[1] British Bandsman, XVI/64 (23 May, 1903), p. 264.

[2] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands (St Albans and London, 1979), p. 211.

[3] Herbert, ‘Making A Movement’, p. 43.

[4] David Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914: A Study of the Relationships between Music and Society (PhD Thesis, University of York, 1979), p. 38.

[5] Rose, Talks With Bandsmen, p. 305.

[6]Herbert, ‘Making A Movement’, p. 43.

[7] Myers, ‘Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands’, p. 176.

[8] Myers, ‘Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands’, p. 176

[9] Huddersfield and West Yorkshire Advertiser (8 August, 1868).

[10] Preston Guardian (30 July, 1870).

[11] Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914, p. 138.

[12] Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914, p. 138.

[13] Rose, Talks With Bandsmen, pp. 363-367.

[14] Trevor Herbert, ‘Nineteenth-Century Bands, Making a Movement’, in Herbert (Ed.), The British Brass Band, p. 63.

[15] Joanna Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain, Gender, Ethnicity and Class (London, 1994), pp. 176-177.

[16] Anon, ‘How Our Military Bandsmen are Trained’, Magazine of Music Vol 13.No. 3 (March, 1896), p. 175.

[17] ‘How Our Military Bandsmen are Trained’, p. 174. For a contemporary history of the lengths of military enlistment see John Adye, ‘In Defence of Short Service’, in, The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, Vol 32. No 187 (September, 1892), pp. 358-369.

[18] Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, p. 38.

[19] Stephen Lord, The History and Some Personal Recollections of the Whitworth Vale and Healy Band (n.p., 2005), The Rossendale Collection, Rawtenstall Local Studies Collection, Catalogue Ref: RC785WHI, p. 11.

[20] Robert Carrington (Ed.), The Centenary Chronicle of Rothwell Temperance Band, 1881-1981, A Tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before (n.p., 1981), p. 2.

[21] Uniforms Act 1894, Office of Public Sector Information, <http//www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1894/pdf/ukpga18940045_en.pdf> accessed, 3 January 2010, p. 1.

[22] Uniforms Act 1894, p. 1.

[23] Musical News, 7/184 (8 September, 1894), p. 189.

[24] Magazine of Music, 9/4 (April, 1892), p. 62.

[25] British Bandsman (4 April, 1903), p. 88.

[26] British Bandsman, p. 88.

[27] Trevor Herbert, ‘Selling Brass Instruments: The Commercial Imaging of Brass Instruments (1830-1930) and its Cultural Messages’, Music in Art: the International Journal for Music Iconography, 28/1-2 (Spring-Fall 2004), p. 222.

[28] Herbert, Selling Brass Instruments’, p. 223.

[29] Trevor Herbert and Helen Barlow, ‘The British Military as a Musical Institution c. 1780-c.1860’, in, Paul Rodmell (Ed.) Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Music and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Abingdon, 2012), p. 247. This institution acquired the name of ‘Royal Military School of Music’ in 1887. (Source, Herbert and Barlow, p. 247.)

[30] Herbert, The British Brass Band, pp. 62-64.

[31] Magazine of Music, 9/4 (April 1892), p. 62.

[32] David. D Gilmore, Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity (Yale, 1990), p. 223.

[33] Michael Roper and John Tosh (Eds.), Manful Assertions, Masculinities in Britain since 1800, (London, 1991), p. 1.

[34] J. A. Mangan and James Walvin (Eds.), Manliness and Morality, Middle-Class Masculinity In Britain and America, 1800-1940 (Manchester, 1987), pp. 1-4.

[35] Callum McKenzie and J.A, Mangan, ‘Duty unto Death’– the Sacrificial Warrior: English Middle Class Masculinity and Militarism in the Age of the New Imperialism’, The International Journal of the History of Sport 25/9 (2008) p. 1101.



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