“That Minutes of Last Meeting Pass as Read”: Helmshore Prize Band’s Committee Meeting Minutes, A Case Study of ‘Life as Normal’ and ‘Moral Contracts’ in the First World War

“That Minutes of Last Meeting Pass as Read”: Helmshore Prize Band’s Committee Meeting Minutes, A Case Study of ‘Life as Normal’ and ‘Moral Contracts’ in the First World War

Dr Stephen Etheridge

Helmshore Prize Band, with committee and supporters,  taken at Sunnybank,  Helmshore, c.1906. (Permission Gavin Holman, http://www.ibew.co.uk)

Helmshore Prize Brass Band were formed in the 1870s and were active in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley in the late nineteenth century and throughout the First World War and beyond. They could not be considered a ‘crack’ band, but they were ambitious, entering the majority of local contests and employing trainers and players that would help them win.[1] This was the experience of most bands from the 1860s onwards. Like other bands in the regions surrounding Manchester Helmshore were driven by the need to raise money for the purchase and upkeep of instruments, uniforms and music. In addition, they had to maintain and run a bandroom where they could not only rehearse but also hold social events. [2]

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Indicative Brass Band Bibliography


Indicative Brass Band Bibliography

Dr Stephen Etheridge: Follow me on Twitter @DrGtrombone

The blogs I have written about brass bands, and other subjects, on this site have been driven by an interdisciplinary approach to research. The approach taken bridges a gap between musicology and social history. It is worthwhile examining this approach and listing some of the canon of work that deals with the research surrounding brass bands as the interdisciplinary nature of this approach only began to reach fruition in the 1990s. Moreover, as Patrick Joyce has argued elsewhere, the industrial areas surrounding Manchester, and the city itself, are a region that historians have studied to understand the nature of class that emerged from industrialisation. (Joyce, P. Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (Brighton, 1980, this edition, London, 1982) As such the concentration of brass bands and other musical groups in the region are not just an expression of music-making but they become the agency to explore the social networks that emerge as a result of increased leisure time. Recently this has given musicology and social history a distinctly Northern hue. As musicologists and social historians the more we move away from the printed score and the accepted narratives of class the more the waters become muddied, yet this is where we can find some good fishing.

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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.
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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]

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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)

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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 http://www.ibew.co.uk



Foden’s Motor Works Band, 1913: Permission, Gavin Holman, http://www.ibew.co.uk


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.

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Brass Band Repertoire in Manchester’s Public Parks in World War One: Tradition and Patriotism

Permission from Gavin Holman -www.ibew.co.uk

Brass Band Repertoire in Manchester’s Public Parks in World War One: Tradition and Patriotism, By  Dr Stephen Etheridge


1913 was a watershed year for the brass band movement. Labour and Love, Percy Fletcher’s tone poem, was performed at the Crystal Palace Contest.[1] The winning band was Irwell Springs who came from East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley. Labour and Love was significant as it was composed music of some substance that was available to all bands.[2] It was the first test piece that was composed for the standardised brass band line-up and that the sources can account for fully. As Paul Hindmarsh wrote, ‘it was not part of a local ‘bespoke’ repertoire […].It stands like a solitary beacon in the writing for brass band in the early twentieth century[…].’[3]

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Bandsmen & the Rush to the Colours: September, 1914

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Horwich Old Prize Band, who took part at Belle Vue in 1914, pictured in 1916.

Bandsmen and the ‘Rush to the Colours’: The First Month of World War One: Convergences of Tradition, Class and Gender.

By Dr Stephen Etheridge, GLCM, MA, PhD

 From 1914-1915 there was a swift and unparalleled expansion of Britain’s land forces. As Peter Simkins has written, this ‘was a gigantic act of national improvisation which helped to create not only Britain’s first-ever mass citizen army but also the biggest single organisation in British history up to that time.[1] These first months of recruitment and mobilisation are the subject of this blog and the ones that follow. They describe how the editors and correspondents of band periodicals reacted to civilian bandsmen becoming soldiers. How did bandsmen react to the ‘rush to the colours’ that gripped the nation? How did the bands and bandsmen in and around Manchester react to a conflict that, due to enlistment, could have destroyed a well-established working-class cultural tradition? Answering these questions not only reflects the national picture of the brass band movement but also embraces older Victorian values that illuminate aspects of tradition, class and gender found in the brass bands of the Manchester region.

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Introduction to Brass Bands in and Around Manchester pre-1914

phot7366 (3).jpg
The 4th Lancashire RVC 1859 (Bacup) Volunteer Regiment Band, most likely taken in in 1863. (Permission from Gavin Holman, ibew.co.uk)


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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