The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks


The 1914 Belle Vue ‘British Open’ Contest Programme – Permission, University of Salford Archives and Special Collections


 The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks

Dr Stephen Etheridge

Link to the Bandsmens’ Names and Addresses

 During the First World War ‘The Belle Vue Champion Challenge Cup’, more commonly known as the ‘British Open’, and which was known colloquially amongst bandsmen as ‘Belle Vue’, was the only large national contest to keep going from 1914-1918. Each contest had a programme printed –cost 1d each, and 1 ½ d by post – that held the names and addresses of all contesting bandsmen. (A downloadable copy is in the link shown above.[1]) These programmes are an important and overlooked source for genealogists. There are, however, several anomalies in this list that need to be examined, not only because of the need for accuracy for the family-history researcher, but also because they shed light on interesting aspects of musical networks as social history.

The General Regulations: More Guidelines to Be Ignored

It should be recognised that general regulations were often broken, ignored and circumnavigated with skill. Almost all contests, both local and national, had in place, by the later nineteenth century, more or less, the following regulations that the 1914 contest had. In 1914, they stated that:

Amateur bands only allowed to play. All performers must be members of the particular Band in which they are entered, and must not be selected from other Bands; the names and addresses (in full) of the performers, and also of the Secretary and Conductor must be inserted on the Form of Entry provided for the purpose; the name and instrument upon each performer will play must also be inserted; and no performer will be allowed to play during the Contest except upon the instrument entered opposite his name on the form of entry. All the players must have been members of the band for three months previous to the contest.[2]

Names and Addresses

The first problem we encounter is that many of the names and addresses are unclear and not full. All the bands listed the full name and address of the conductor, but not one listed the secretary as required. Hebden Bridge Brass Band listed an A. Hirst, a BBb bass player’s address, as ‘Fairfield’. Linthwaite band listed several players addresses as just towns. Bass trombonist, R. Whitwam’s address, for example, was given as Milnsbridge. Other players are shown to be from Slaithwaite and Lindley. These are small to medium size towns in the Southern Pennines with growing populations and, in spite of being asked for them, there were no full address details given.[3] Foden’s Motor Work’s Band, from Sandbach, in Cheshire, lists the conductor’s details and gave the soprano cornet player’s address as ‘Elworth’. None of the other players have an address. (Was this a tactic to avoid the forthcoming distance from the band’s home-base regulation?)

 Family Connections

Hebden Bridge Brass Band, c.1911-1912: Permission Gavin Holman


A number of bands have several family members in the same band. Many bands in this period did. In Hebden Bridge Brass Band, for example, R. Townsend (1st baritone) and an S. Townsend (solo euphonium) are from Townfield View in Heptonstall. When we consider the insular and mentor-driven way that bandsmen learn to play their instruments then family connections are significant. A bandsman, when starting out, would seek out a mentor to teach them, and this could often be a family member, often a father or a brother. It is a trait that brass band periodicals encouraged. In 1909, ‘Hic et Ubique’[4] wrote in the British Bandsman that:

Bandsmen of forty years ago were to a great extent the fathers of the bands of yesterday, and they in turn of those of today; any man who has spent his life in teaching the gentle art of “blowing” will agree with me that it is far easier to make an instrumentalist out of a lad whose father, or better still, if both his parents were musicians, therefore hereditary tells![….].[5]

Hebden Bridge Band also had a number of players who lived in Townfied View in Heptonstall. This shows us that neighbourhoods were close in both work and leisure. To be a bandsman was to be joined with wider family, social, religious and work networks. The bands of the factory towns reflected the towns’ neighbourhoods in their composition. As Patrick Joyce argued:

If the family was of central significance in the social changes that led to the acceptance of the social order of the mechanised factory industry, then, because of this symbiosis of work and community, so too was people’s own sense of communal identity involved in that identity.[6]

In short, when a person joined a brass band they were undertaking a commitment to take part in a particular, and incredibly observable, form of working-class leisure. They joined a band that represented one aspect of the wider working-class experience of work and community.

Money and Amateur Players: Or Not So Amateur?

The rules continued:

Any performer who, within six months of the date of the close of entries, has been engaged as a regular member of the Band of any Theatre, or other public place of amusement or resort, will be considered a professional; and every performer must be in a position to prove, if required, that he is in some business or profession from which he derives his chief income, apart from the playing of music [….] [Their emphasis] Every member of a Band must be resident in a town, or within a distance of four miles, or thereabouts, of the town from which the band is entered. Special remark must be made, and special permission obtained from Mr. Jennison, at the time of entry, before any member, whose residence is more than four miles distant, will be allowed to play. A player who is entered, and plays in a band at the July contest, will not be allowed to play at the September Contest. A Conductor may act for more than one band, but will not be allowed to play in a band. A Professional Musician may be engaged as a conductor.

The desire to win contests was significant for brass bands in this era. Many bands were professional in all but name, and minor bands would often employ competent – professional, or semi-professional, – players to help them win local contests The minute books of Helmshore brass band, in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley, showed that money was available for proficient players to perform at local contests. Soloists held, in their opinions at least, particular value for the bands. In June 1903, Helmshore band voted to enter the Rishton contest as long as they could get the same players that they had at the Ramsbottom contest.[7] In August 1903, they voted to have Hibert and Hoyle for the Goodshaw contest, and on August 31, they voted to ask J.P. Broadwood and John Heskey to play at Crawshawbooth contest.[8] The back pages of the minute books from 1889-1920 contain 33 names of players who could deputise for them, including the amount of money they charged for rehearsals and contests. Of particular note in the minute book of Helmshore Brass Band are Albert Lonsdale, Soprano Cornet, of 3 Albion Street, Wingates, who charged 12 shillings and sixpence for all expenses and the contest, as well as five shillings and five pence per rehearsal; E.J. Woodhead, trombone, 23 Lyon Street, Shaw, who charged fifteen shillings and fares for contests and Louis Wilson, cornet, who, reflecting his status as a soloist, charged one pound a contest plus train fares, and seven shillings and six a rehearsal.

Albert Lonsdale (aged 37) was a secretary and player with Wingates Temperance Brass Band. He was well-known and liked within the brass band movement. He was amongst the three members and four ex-members of the band that were killed in the Pretoria Pit Disaster, near Atherton in Lancashire, in 1910. He was so disfigured in the explosion that ‘his sorrowing wife was  able to identify him [only] by the peculiar formation of his fingernails.’ (Dave Russell, Popular Music in England, 1840-1914: A Social History, Manchester, 1987, this edition, 1997), p. 277.

Outside contests there were a number of avenues where bandsmen could play to earn money. In 1907, for example, the British Bandsman noted that members from the Bradford City Band played with the Carl Rosa Opera Company in Bradford.[10] In 1910 an editorial in the British Bandsman criticised bandsmen who were playing at the Bradford Roller Skating Rink.[11] The editor’s concern was that this stopped bandsmen attending rehearsals and working towards the greater good of contest success and the good of the movement. From the 1880s onwards there were a growing number of players, trainers and conductors linked with the ‘crack’ bands that were professional in all but name. When Black Dyke Mills toured America, in 1906, it was written into the contract that the majority of their salary, which was two pounds a week, was given to their wives and partners, leaving the bandsmen with fifteen shillings a week pocket money. Professionalisation of the band movement, however, from, the 1880s onwards, should not be confused with the fact that the majority of bands were composed of working-class men who undertook banding as a hobby.

Professional Trainers and Conductors

In any band contest programme it is noticeable that the same conductors show up repeatedly. In 1895 Algernon Rose drew attention to how many band trainers had emerged by the late nineteenth century. An appendix in his book listed 129 band trainers available for hire.[12] From this list eighty were from the north of England and forty-three came from the Southern Pennines. Eight came from the industrial towns of Lancashire.[13] There were twenty-three from the Manchester region. In Yorkshire, four were from Bradford,[14] two were from Leeds,[15] and finally, six were from Huddersfield.[16] This reflected what Trevor Herbert has highlighted: that in the Yorkshire and Lancashire textile districts, there were a plentiful number of brass band composers, conductors and arrangers, who mostly came from a working-class background, such as Edward Newton, for example, a textile worker, who wrote over three hundred marches.[17] In the 1914 contest William Halliwell (1864-1946) conducted a significant number of bands. A biography of Halliwell, by Alan Littlemore, can be found here. The point, however, was that in their attempt to be the best lesser bands would copy the style of the ‘crack’ bands, trained by a small number of ‘professionals’.  In the final analysis this created a uniformity of sound that contributed towards a northern convergence of a  musical working-class identity.[18]

The contests regulations, then, reflected social networks that had emerged through brass bands in the industrial heartlands. In their maturity what seemed like strict enforcements were only mirroring the parallel identities that had grown in work, in leisure and in the home. A small document reveals not only a genealogical source, but also a musical web of community connection.

Notes and References:

[1] I plan to add the full series in a downloadable form, up to 1918 in due course. If needed the full collection is available at the University of Salford Archives and Special Collections

[2] 62nd Annual September Brass Band Contest (Belle Vue Contest Programme, 7 September, 1914) University of Salford Archives and Special Collections

[3] Bacup in East Lancashire is an example of this type of town. In 1851, Bacup had a population of, 10,315; 1861, 10,935; 1871, 17,199; 1881, 25,034 and 1891, 23,498. (Source: Official Census, cited in, Jeanette Edwards, Ordinary People: A Study of Factors Affecting Communication in the Provision of Services. (PhD Thesis, University of Manchester, 1990), p. 22.

[4] It is worth noting that band periodicals’ correspondents were usually editorial constructions, using made-up names. The British Bandsman had other correspondents who had pen-names such as ‘Midlandite’, ‘Shoddythorpe’ and ‘Slow Worm’.

[5] British Bandsman (3 April, 1909).

[6] Patrick Joyce, Patrick Joyce, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (London, 1980, this edition, 1982) p. 56.

[7] Helmshore Brass Band Minute Book (June 18, 1903) Thanks to John Simpson, of Accrington Local Studies Library, for letting me access this source in his private collection.

[8] Helmshore Brass Band Minute Book (August 13 and 31, 1903).

[10] British Bandsman (12 January, 1907), n.p. Cited in, David Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914: A Study of the Relationships between Music and Society ( PhD Theis, University of York, 1979), p. 165.

[11] British Bandsman (7 January, 1910), n.p., cited in Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, p. 165.

[12] Algernon S. Rose, Talks With Bandsmen: A Popular Handbook for Brass Instrumentalists (London, 1895)  pp. 374 -377.

[13] J. Barker, Rochdale, J. Bedford, Salop, J.E. Birtwell, Sabden, T. Hardacre, Bacup, W.E. Holt, Rochdale, H. Lees, Delph, J Partingon, Bolton and J.C. Wright, Farnworth.

[14] J. Baily, Queensbury, H. Barker, Bradford, G.F. Birkenshaw, Great Horton and H. Cannar, Bradford.

[15] H.C. Docherty and G. Raine.

[16] F. Renshaw, Brockholes, R. Stead, Slaithwaite, E. Swift and F. Swift, Milnsbridge and T. Wheelwright, Huddersfield.

[17] Trevor Herbert, ‘Nineteenth-Century Bands: Making a Movement’, in Herbert (Ed), The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford, 2000) p. 63.

[18] See, Stephen Etheridge, ‘Working-Class Cultural Identity and Musical Performance: The Southern Pennine Brass Band and the Invention of Musical Traditions’ in, ‘Slate-Grey Rain and Polished Euphoniums’: Brass Bands, the Working Class and the North’ (PhD Thesis: University of Huddersfield, 2015), pp. 65-160.

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