Holt, Hoyland and Old: The ‘Unsurpassed’ Trombone Section of the Hallé Orchestra


By Dr Stephen Etheridge

 The Royal Manchester College of Music’s (RMCM) student records reveal two graduates who would become members of the Hallé Orchestra in a period when the trombone section built a reputation for excellence. When we examine the lives of these players what emerges is that the RMCM was the agency that gave them access to self improvement and status. 

Samuel Lomas Holt (1887-1968)

Early Life

The 1911 Census shows that Samuel (Sam) Lomas Holt was born in Rochdale, in about 1887, but, apart from his army service, he lived in Oldham for his lifetime. In 1911, the year of his entry to the college, Holt was living at 57 Ripponden Road, Oldham. His father, Samuel Henry Holt, aged 51, was also a musician. His mother, Eliza Ann Holt, aged 42, was a shopkeeper. He had two step-siblings, Harry Illingworth Bradshaw, aged 11, and Marjorie Bradshaw, aged 10.

 Brass Band Connections

kingston 1899
Kingston Mills Brass Band, Accrington, 1880s.  Permission Gavin Holman: http://www.ibew.co.uk

In June, 1895, at the British ‘Open’ Championship, a Sam Holt was listed as the first trombone player of Kingston Mills Brass Band.[1] This was Holt’s father. It is worthwhile examining the arena in which Holt the elder played to understand the early influences surrounding Holt the younger.[2] The structure of the family in brass bands has been explored elsewhere on this site. It is reasonable to say that at some point in his youth Holt played in a brass band and was influenced by the environment his father played in.

Kingston Mills was a ‘crack’ brass band in the Manchester region and, in the last decades of the nineteenth century; the band was often in the top three bands at the Belle Vue Contest. From 1885-1887, under the leadership of John Gladney, they celebrated the hat trick of three wins in a row.[3]

Gladney was one of an influential group of conductors, brass band music arrangers and trainers which consisted of John Gladney (1839-1911), Alexander Owen (1851-1920) and Edwin Swift (1843-1904), often referred to as the ‘great triumvirate’. This triumvirate of trainers was significant because their influence upon the brass band movement in the final decades of the nineteenth century was overpowering, particularly from 1875 to 1895. J. L. Scott points out that there were few major contests in this period when one, two, or all three of them did not conduct one of the winning bands.[4] At the height of their most productive period, the status of these trainers was clear to the band movement. In 1895, the year when Holt the elder was the first trombonist with Kingston Mills, an author in the Cornet wrote ‘bandmasters there are by the thousand, but band teachers, oh! How few! He must be at least an Owen or Gladney in embryo.’[5] Gladney’s success was influenced by the fact he surrounded himself with expert players. Holt the elder was one of these.

Marriage and Army Service

 The college records show that Holt was an honours student so he was successful. From midsummer 1913-December 1913 it is unclear how he earned his living, but he was clearly secure enough, or at least confident enough, to marry.

Holt married on the 20 December, 1913, at St Mark’s Church in Oldham. On the marriage certificate Holt listed himself as ‘professional musician’. His bride, Sarah Heaton, aged 24, was also listed as a ‘professional musician’. Heaton’s father, William Heaton (deceased), was listed as a musician.[6] Not only was Holt graduating from the RMCM, but also, he was surrounding himself with professional musicians. He was moving into middle-class areas of employment (and status).

As shown in other blogs Harold Perkin argued that professional society since 1880 relied upon examinations and the formation of societies for acceptance and status.[7] Through a framework of training, education and examinations musical culture had a well-defined framework of acceptance within middle-class Manchester’s cultural elite. Through the RMCM Holt had become, however adjunct at this time in his life, part of this elite. The Holts took up residence at Heaton’s childhood home at 4 Villa Road in Oldham.

On the 12 December, 1915 Holt joined the 4th Manchester Regiment as a private in the army reserve.[8] What drove Holt to enlist is unknown and, as we can now consider Holt was on the way to being securely middle class, there was no economic reason for him to resort to low pay and dangerous conditions. We should consider Holt’s background when looking for a motive. It was that brass bandsmen like his father were considered conservative in nature and not driven to extremes or radicalism. They were, put simply; the respectable working class who had a tradition of working-class self respect and, through musical performance, class collaboration. Home, family and empire mattered. Jay Winter provides a possible explanation:

Unemployment did not fill the ranks of Kitchener’s Army; popular sentiment did. The protection of ‘little Belgium’, the defence of the empire, the need to be seen doing one’s military duty alongside the men, of one’s district or village: these may sound like outworn clichés today, but in 1914 they had a force and substance in the minds of ordinary people[9].

Holt’s record reveals something of his appearance and constitution. It shows that he was never sick or injured; he was five feet six and a half inches tall and thirteen stone. He could expand his chest two and a half inches to a maximum of thirty-six inches. His eyesight was 6/9 in the left eye and 6/6 in the right. He had a weakness in his constitution, but what that weakness was is unreadable. Holt was mobilised on the 2 October, 1916 and posted to the 10th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 8 October, 1916. It seems he was not too constricted by army discipline. On the 25 July, 1917, he was confined to camp for seven days, and deducted one day’s pay by Captain A.A. Harrison, for returning late from a military tattoo and being late for duty. This type of punishment was common for small infringements of discipline. On the 22 April 1918 he was transferred to the King’s Liverpool Regiment (Drums), most likely the band. He left the army  in March, 1919 when the historical record shows he joined the Hallé [10]

The Medal Record of Sam Holt/ National Archives


In later years Holt was active with the Northern Wireless Orchestra, which was formed in 1928, and, on 1 April, 1932, became the Northern Studio Orchestra. Later he played with the BBC Northern Orchestra. All these orchestras contained Hallé  musicians. He became the professor of trombone at the RMCM and served on the College Council until his death. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he was a regular trombone soloist at concerts in the North. In 1931, for example,  he was active on North National Radio playing trombone solos with the Lancashire Military Band. His trombone sound was said to be ‘full, rich and telling.’[11]

 Harry Hoyland (1880-1952)

The student records show that Harry Hoyland, aged 24, from the Harpurhey and Rusholme region of Manchester, an area that was dominated by working-class housing, was enrolled at the college as a bass trombone student from January, 1905 –Christmas 1907. Like Holt, he appeared on the Honour Roll, so it can also be argued that he was a successful student.

Early Life

The 1891 census shows that he was born about 1880, in Silkstone in Yorkshire. His Father, Francis Hoyland, aged 28, was a coal miner and his mother, aged 22, was Mary Hoyland. The census shows that the family was living in Godley, near Stockport, in Cheshire. Hoyland, aged about 10, had four siblings, Emily (2), Emma-Annie (5), Faith-Hoyland (6) and Lefurne (8). By 1901 they were still in Godley and his siblings are now only listed as Emma, Emily and Charlotte.

The historical record shows that Hoyland was a proficient solo trombone player before he entered the college. In April 1903 Hoyland was booked as a soloist for an orchestral concert in Alfreton in Derbyshire. He was listed as ‘Mr. Harry Hoyland, the trombone soloist of the Blackpool Tower Orchestra.’ [12] For unknown reasons Hoyland could not attend the concert but it was noted that the concert would have benefited from his skill as a soloist. In this period Blackpool was the premier holiday destination for workers in the Southern Pennines and beyond. As such it attracted a large number of professional, semi-professional and amateur musicians, often from Manchester, to play in the many musical groups in the town.[13] Writing in 1915, for example, the Musical Times pointed out that before the war there ‘were three (or sometimes four) full orchestras in the town, and they played morning, noon and night.'(1 Sept, 1915, p. 556)It is unknown why Hoyland changed to the bass trombone, but it is logical to argue that the RMCM needed a bass trombonist.

By the time of the 1911 census Hoyland was living with his uncle, Lewis Hoyland, a publican of the Fox Inn, Regent Road, Salford. In 1903 (1 Oct), the Manchester Guardian noticed that Regent Road was ‘a populous area’. Lewis’s wife, Emily, ‘assisted with the business’. The census now lists Hoyland as (Musician, Orchestral).

When looking at the Hoylands It is worth considering that publicans were largely conservative in nature and many were active in local politics. Historians of nineteenth-century Conservatism have suggested that the Tories found their most vocal working-class supporters not in impoverished areas but among workers in more prosperous and skilled trades.[14] Jon Lawrence recognised that a significant group of Tory populists were publican-politicians such as Levi Johnson, Joseph Lawrence and John Griffiths, all of whom ran substantial public houses in working-class areas of Wolverhampton.[15] Hoyland’s political views are unknown, but the arena in which he worked and lived corresponds with one that historians recognise as representing upper working-class and middle-class stability.

The next reference to Hoyland comes in the 1919-1920 season of the Hallé Orchestra Concerts. This was when players were returning from the war and, together with Sam Holt, joined Ernest Old in the trombone section.[16] Like Holt, Hoyland later played with the BBC Northern Orchestra.[17]

Hoyland died in hospital on the 3 April 1952. He spent his final days in Rusholme, with his wife, Ruth, at 134 Parkfield Street.[18]

Ernest Albert Old (1873-1951)

We know little of Old as a trombonist other that he was active in the orchestra when Holt and Hoyland joined. The 1891 census reveals that he was born in Bath and his mother, a widow, was a needle-worker. They lived in a cottage – a common term for working-class housing – at 36 Ballance Street. He married Francis Winifred, in Bristol, in 1910. The 1911 census shows that they were living in Manchester at 1 Link Avenue, Stretford. The probate records show he died at 29 Lambden Road, Manchester on the 14 August, 1951. His probate was £3,742, 1s, 1d.

 The ‘Unsurpassed’ Trombone Section of the Hallé Orchestra

 The trombone section came together with the 1919-1920 concert season. This was when Sir Thomas Beecham was conducting the orchestra. Beecham was ‘instrumental in revitalising the Hallé programmes […] with works by Delius, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinksy amongst others. Beecham took no fees throughout the war-time period and this generosity did much to help ensure the Hallé’s survival.’[19]

It was under the leadership of Sir Hamilton Harty (1920-1933), whose appointment was supported by Beecham, that the orchestra’s trombone section built a reputation for excellence. As the orchestra’s website highlights:

Under Sir Hamilton Harty the Hallé made its first commercial recordings, with Columbia, and its first broadcasts. Harty secured a contract from Columbia that allowed him to increase rehearsal times, and he re-approached the issue of municipal aid. He secured some financial support for a series of Municipal Concerts at Manchester’s Town Hall, which survived until 1940. His dismissal of the few women players who had joined the Orchestra during the First World War sparked controversy, as did his programming in the later years of his tenure.[20]

Nevertheless, Kennedy argued that as a conductor Hardy was beloved by his players, and that in this period the trombone section ‘has probably not been surpassed.’[21] Indeed, by 1929, the orchestra played for the Children’s Seventh Municipal Concert. The School Music Review spoke highly of the musicians, writing, ‘the performance by four trombones of Beethoven’s dirge-like “Three Equali” by Messers Sam Holt, Harry Hoyland, Ernest Old and Harry Barlow was remarkable for its nobility and pure blend of tone.’[22] Harry Barlow (1871-1932) was a well-regarded tuba player with the orchestra[23], so there is some confusion as to what he played at the concert. This review, however, gives us a glimpse of how the brass section sounded at this time, and a glance at local papers shows us that this piece was regularly played at concerts by this section.

In the final analysis it was the leap to the RMCM that gave these musicians the ability to move beyond their working-class environments and become part of an orchestra that was at the heart of Manchester’s cultural life. This gave them position and status in an age when class mattered.

 Notes and References:

[1] Musical Standard (supplement) 3/77 (22 June, 1895), p. 502.

[2] The fact that Holt the elder listed himself as a musician as opposed to mill worker or other occupation shows the grey area of professionalisation amongst bandsmen in this era. Kingston Mills was very close to their home. It is unlikely to be another Sam Holt.

[3] Trevor Herbert,. Gladney, John (1838-1911) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), <www.oxfordnb.com/view/article/48776> accessed 31.8.2016

[4] J. L. Scott, The Evolution of the Brass Band and its Repertoire in Northern England (PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, 1970), p. 248.

[5] Cornet (15 January, 1895), p. 5.

[6] Anglican Parish Registers (Manchester Libraries and Information Services) via www.ancestry.co.uk, accessed 20-24 August, 2016

[7] See, Harold Perkin, The Rise of Professional Society in England Since 1880 (Abingdon,1989)

[8] ‘Holt, Sam. L’, New Soldier’s Record: British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920 (National Archives) via http://www.ancestry.co.uk

[9] Jay Winter, ‘The Army and Society: The Demographic Context’, in Ian Beckett and Keith Simpson (Eds.) A Nation in Arms (Manchester, 1985), p. 197.

[10] ‘Holt, Sam L.’

[11] Hull Daily Mail (26 September, 1931) Also see, BBC Yearbook, 1932, p. 145. Wireless World 22/476 (1928) and the International Trombone Journal (31), p.18.

[12] The Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald (25 April, 1903)

[13] See, for example, John K. Walton, The Blackpool Landlady (Manchester, 1979) and Susan Barton, Working-Class Organisations and Popular Tourism, 1840-1970 (Manchester, 2005), p. 133.

[14] Jon Lawrence, Speaking for the People: Party, Language and Popular Politics (Cambridge, 1998), p. 105.A local history of the Fox Inn can be found here : http://pubs-of-manchester.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/fox-regent-road.html

[15] Lawrence, Speaking for the People, p. 106.

[16] Michael Kennedy, The Hallé Tradition: A Century of Music (Manchester, 1960), p. 291.

[17] Manchester Guardian ( 5 April, 1952)

[18] Manchester Guardian

[19] http://www.halle.co.uk/the-halle-family/the-orchestra/conductor-timeline/ accessed 23.08.2016

[20] http://www.halle.co.uk/the-halle-family/the-orchestra/conductor-timeline/

[21] Michael Kennedy, The Hallé, 1858-1983: A History of the Orchestra (Manchester, 1982), p. 16.

[22] The School Music Review: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools 37/422, (March, 1929), p. 355. An examination of the Manchester Guardian’s concert adverts shows that the Three Equali was a popular piece for the concert programmes throughout the 1920s.

[23] Trevor Herbert and John Wallace, The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments (Cambridge), p. 154.

6 thoughts on “Holt, Hoyland and Old: The ‘Unsurpassed’ Trombone Section of the Hallé Orchestra

  1. The fact that Holt’s enlistment wasn’t until December 1915 is probably significant. By that point it was fairly obvious that conscription was on its way, but the Derby Scheme (named after Lord Derby, the Director of recruitment) was still just in operation. This scheme meant you still had choice of unit, and those who did not attest for immediate service, were told that single men would be called before married. As Holt did not actually serve until October 1916 that seems to fit. The call up classes were based on age and marital status


  2. Are there any recordings that particularly underline the significance of the trombone section being unparalleled? I am intrigued to hear some.


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