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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The early war period, the patriotism of the theatre business and the first links between Thomas Beecham and the Royal College of Music

In the early war period the theatre business struggled and seemed to grow more and more patriotic as the months went by. In an article about the upcoming performances from the Moody Manners opera company in December 1914, the columnist wrote “The programme is a popular one, and , naturally, none of the German operas will be done, it is a pity but we shall have the pleasure of seeing them on a more suitable occasion”. It was not just in the performances themselves but also the performers in which we see a pull away from Germany, and the continent in general. In the first 6 months of the war the Halle, The Brand Lane and the Harrison concerts consisted mainly of British performers. The only exception that i can see is Ada Crossley, an Australian singer who performed with the Brand Lane orchestra in December 1914. This is a far cry from the usual mix of nationalities that performed with these orchestras on a regular basis before the war.

There was also a cry for patriotism from the critics and columnists in the Manchester Programme. In December 1914, Strephon, lead columnist, said that footballers should be signing up to go on the front line not “in the pursuit of an inflated bladder”. He claims that other sportsmen were already engaged in battle on the continent and footballers should be no different.This seems a little hypocritical since only a short time before he was claiming that those staying behind and continuing to work were still performing their patriotic duty. In the same article he had also been encouraging people to continue going to the theatre, is football not also a form of entertainment? He added to his argument that sportsmen were strong and therefore ideal as soldiers, however the following month he claimed that endurance and spirit was the most important thing, which actors have in abundance. He said this is response to a critic claiming actors were not suitable for war since their job requires them to live in a fantasy world.

In February 1915, Strephon wrote another article slamming those he deemed to be unpatriotic, this time it was the ‘greedy shipowners’ who he believed were at fault for the rising cost of bread. There was a shorter article following this explaining that the government were giving out war bonuses to help with rising cost of living. This shows another in which the theatre business was affected by the war. Not only were the usual audience numbers reduced by men going to war, but also by the rising cost of living making it more difficult for those at home to continue going. The lower audience numbers were commented on by another critic when discussing the last Harrison concert of the season. He cries “where was musical Manchester?” His criticism is not only harsh considering the rising cost of living but also due to that concert not being advertised. How can the public be criticised for not attending an event they probably did not know about!

It was in this period of chaos that Thomas Beecham first working with the Royal College of Music by holding a competition. He wanted a new baritone for his orchestra and let the Royal College of Music run the competition and choose the winner. One of his stipulations was that the entrants must be a current or past student of the college. This competition was won by Hamilton Harris from Droylsden, Manchester and he performed with the Halle in their final concert of the season.

Katrina Ingram

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!

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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: <>accessed 20.07.2016)

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The Game Changer?

After the First World War the government gave grants out to returning soldiers to go back into education, including music.


It’s 1919, right? You’ve just finished a war that took four years to end when you thought it was going to take four months. The country is shaken and an incredible number of people, families and livelihoods are destroyed.

You need to rebuild. You need infrastructure.

I know! Musicians. That’s what we’ll do.

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