Parklife: Victorian Bands and their Role in Parks, ‘The Green Lungs of the City’

Parklife: Victorian Bands and their Role in Parks: A historical response to the Heritage Lottery Fund closing its Parks for People funding programme

Dr Stephen Etheridge, GLCM, MA, PhD

One of the ‘Recreation Grounds’ in Bury

My attention was drawn to an open letter in the Guardian, ‘In austerity Britain, people need parks’. The authors write in their opening paragraph that:

The quietly announced news that the Heritage Lottery Fund is closing its Parks for People funding programme comes as a shock. It should be a matter of huge concern, not only to the 90% of families with children who visit their local park at least once a month, but to all who care about the wellbeing of our towns and cities. Since it was set up in 1996, the programme has transformed hundreds of urban parks from no-go areas to thriving community assets, paying not just for repairs to bandstands, lakes, paths, gates and other features but also for new cafes, toilets, play areas and funding for new staff.

This is my response to this disappointing news. It is a great loss, not least for many community brass bands that enjoy playing in the parks in the summer, often in refurbished bandstands. Indeed, brass bands have been a part of life in public parks since their inception. Many bands that play in parks now have a history of park performances that go back to the beginnings of the brass band movement.  To lose them from ‘the green lungs of the city’ would be a denial of our shared Victorian heritage, and a further eroding of the work done to bring parks back to their former glory and civic use.

Victorian Funding and Contemporary Funding

Contemporary bands are living musical history. They are a direct link to the civic identity of Victorian public parks. Indeed, many of the Victorian  values, such as donations to charity, are still practiced by modern bands.

The rhetoric of the Parks for People Programme mined ideas of Victorian philanthropy in their funding guidelines. They wrote:

Local residents will have a better quality of life and overall the area will be more attractive. As a result of improving the appearance of heritage sites or of the opportunities you have provided for local people to visit, use, get involved with, and enjoy heritage, residents will report that they feel greater pride in the local area and/or have a stronger sense of belonging.

Community is difficult to define. Joanna Bourke has argued elsewhere that the term itself has 94 different definitions, and is mostly viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, ignoring the rougher elements of community life. Yet, in-spite of interpretive problems, the notion of community is important in funding. The point is that even though Victorian funding came from a different source the overall values were similar to the values found in contemporary funding sources.

The Victorian Example of Bury’s Recreation Grounds

Summer was when brass bands gained most public exposure. From May to the end of September local bands played in the public parks.[1] They played an eclectic mix of summer events: balls, flower shows, Grammar School and police sports days and charity events. Park concerts were the most regulated.

The Public Park Movement started in the 1830s, developing from a desire to improve the health of the Victorian towns and cities’ populations. Parks became symbols of civic pride, providing locals with fresh air and attractive surroundings. Parks were places to encourage rational recreation and attractions included music, sports facilities and horticultural displays. Often the park was linked with a museum or art gallery.[2] Parks, together with the town hall, library, museum and art gallery, articulated a particular sense of identity and civic pride. They were important places for the bands to play, resulting in a top down control from the Town Clerk’s Office.

Bury, for example, had three ‘recreation grounds’, and Mr J. Haslam, the Town Clerk, held control over  which bands played in them. Two of the most important things to Haslam and his committee were what programme the bands played and where the money made from the performances went. Park Concert programmes had a formal structure; the bands would play two programmes, one from 3 pm to 5 pm, and another from 7 pm until dusk.[3] The programmes usually had the same order. They started with a March then followed with an Overture. The overtures were usually Italian opera, including the ubiquitous William Tell, but Beethoven’s Egmont and Mozart’s Don Giovanni were also popular. There was then a number of waltz tunes. These were followed by lengthier arrangements of selections of the Master’s works, usually arranged for brass band by Edwin Swift, John Gladney or Alexander Owen, again Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and Weber were popular. After these there would be a cornet or euphonium solo. Cornet polkas and Theme and Variations arrangements for euphonium were common. These pieces were followed by a selection of ‘show’ music – Gilbert and Sullivan gaining ascendancy from 1903, and ending with another March.[4] Standardisation was important to the Town Clerk’s office but it also gave the bands commonality of performance in a public arena.

In April 1899, J. Hulton, the Secretary of Bury and District Bands Organisation, wrote to the Town Clerk about Sunday concerts writing, ’on behalf of the Bury and District Band Organisation, I have been instructed to apply to you in respect to giving Sunday Concerts at the Recreation Grounds Bury, in aid of the Infirmary.’[5] The bands in this organisation were linking themselves with charitable work and hence respectability together with ensuring that health care in the area was supported. The joint fund-raising power of the bands meant that groups of working-class bandsmen came together to form their own philanthropic gesture. Through these bands’ financial contributions, larger community concerns could be supported by working-class people as well as wealthier philanthropists.

Moreover, this was used as a lever to gain exposure in the parks. Haslam replied that, ‘your letter was considered […]. Resolved that the matter should stand over for one month, enquiries: how many bands, in what grounds, on what dates, and what amounts are to be handed over to the infirmary authorities? Please supply details’.[6] Hulton replied, ‘there will be four bands a fortnight between each concert. A turn in each piece of the recreation grounds, say Heap Bridge at Rochdale Road and so on. After the advertising in the Bury Times, and paying carriage for bands, the surplus goes to the infirmary funds.’[7]

Haslam replied on 7 July 1899, and granted the request, but only provisionally; the committee had not yet approved the musical programme and the performance times.[8] It had taken over two months to get this far and the process was still not completed. Every band supplied their performance times and programme, and how the proceeds of the concert were to be distributed, all were subject to approval by the committee before the band played. In the park the bands had to adhere to the times they were booked to play; if they did not a reprimand was swift. In a letter to the secretary of Walshaw Brass Band, Haslam wrote:

There is complaint that your band leaves the recreation ground at 8’o’clock. As you will be aware your band tendered to play from six till dusk, I must ask you in future to observe these conditions and not leave the recreation grounds until dusk.[9]

The secretary of Walshaw Brass Band agreed to make sure the band stayed until dusk in the future. Warth Brass Band were not so fortunate, they wrote to the Town Clerk explaining that they left the grounds early on Saturday because they had another appointment.[10] Haslam responded vigorously writing, ‘they had chosen the date they wanted, and they did not attend.’[11] Haslam cancelled all Warth Band’s future engagements. Warth Band replied offering to play for two evenings free of charge, and said ‘it was a first offence, and we hope you will overlook it.’[12] The committee did overlook it but fined them one guinea.[13]

Bury Town Council expected high standards from the bands that performed in the recreation grounds. The visiting bands were considered temporary employees of the Council. During their time in the grounds they were not only an expression of their own communities but they were also the public face of Bury Council. Thousands of people could attend these concerts; it was usual to see crowds of five thousand and more there to watch and listen to the band.[14] In the public gaze, the parks were where bands matured the notion that music was an improving use of working-class leisure time.

The Sunday promenade concerts were a prop in sustaining the respectable image of a working-class day out. The bands were reminded repeatedly that a Sunday park performance should contain two things: a contribution to a charity, and that they wear their uniforms, something that the superintendent of Farnworth Park in Bolton received regular reports about, telling him exactly how many bandsmen were in uniform, how many people attended and the approximate amount of money had been raised for charity.[15] These were staples in the support of working-class respectability. For the promenader, Sunday did not last forever and the temporary respectability of the park was no protection against the lure of the pub. For some of the working class the Sunday suit could be surrendered to the pawnbroker on Monday morning without shame.[16] As Robert Roberts suggested, ‘the possession of Sunday best clearly became an important ongoing test of status and identity’.[17]

The brass bands did not go to the pawnbroker on Monday morning. Their uniforms were their ‘Sunday best’, bought and paid for, and were in constant use. Warth Brass Band’s letterhead proclaimed that they were available for ‘concerts, fetes, garden parties, athletic sports, flower shows, demonstrations, friendly societies etc, they have a divine selection of classical, dance and other music, twenty-four performers, uniform dark blue navy, with silver facings.’[18] The bands could transfer the respectability of the park concert to any day of the week. Bands, made up of working-class members, were a highly visible agency in showing the respectability that could be achieved through music as a rational recreation.

The contemporary brass band concert will reflect many of these themes, a contribution to charity, a pastime that is considered educational and respectable, and, perhaps most importantly of all, bands provide a backdrop for communal life in an important civic space. Many bands that play in pubic parks wish to contribute to their local communities. To be in a position to lose these things is a nonsense.

Notes and References:

 Copyright Stephen Etheridge 

[1] See the Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes (1903 -1920), Huddersfield Local Studies Library.

[2] Harriet Jordan, ‘Public Parks, 1885-1914’, Garden History, 22/1 (Summer, 1994), p. 1.

[3] Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes (1903 -1922).

[4] Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes, also see, Bury Archive Service, Correspondence re Bury Recreation Grounds, ref,  ABU2/3/7/1 (1895 -1905).

[5] Bury Archive Service, Correspondence re Bury Recreation Grounds (24 April, 1899), ref 23/7/1.

[6] Bury Archive Service (2 June, 1899).

[7] Bury Archive Service (7 June, 1899).

[8] Bury Archive Service (7 July,1899).

[9] Bury Archive Service, Correspondence re Bury Recreation Grounds (17 July , 1895), ref ,ABU 2/3/7/1.

[10] Bury Archive Service (25 July, 1895).

[11] Bury Archive Service (27 July, 1895).

[12] Bury Archive Service (31 July, 1895).

[13] Bury Archive Service (31 July, 1895).

[14] Bolton Archive Service, Superintendents Reports on Bands, (31 July, 1913), ref, AF/6/125/2.

[15] Bolton Archive Service, Superintendents Reports on Bands (30 May, 1912-31July,1913).

[16] Gareth Steadman Jones, ‘Working-Class Culture and Working-Class Politics in London, 1879-1900: Notes on the Remaking of the Working Class’, Journal of Social History, 7 (1974), p. 47.

[17] Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century (Harmondsworth, 1973), pp. 22-24.

[18] Bury Archive Service, Correspondence re Bury Recreation Grounds (26 June, 1895).



Merry Christmas All: Here’s a Victorian Bandsman’s Yorkshire Tale

Birstall Brass Band, 1911, mentioned as ‘Burstal’ in the Tale


Mungoe’s Christmas Adventures’: A Brassy Victorian Seasonal Tale (From the Cornet, 15 January, 1900, p. 3.)

This time a vaary owd friend ov mine, Billy Blowtop, came to spend a few days with us. Billy ewst to play t’ cornopean in t’ band in t’owd days,when ahh yewst to play t’ buzzoon.  He turned up this time reight enuff at Kersmas Eve. We gav him a warm welcome, en after we’d hed a good meeal en toosted wer knees in t’front ov t’fire en tawked aboot t’owd times oover a glass ov toddy, we tewk a walk into t’taan. We called at two or three haases, en Billy met a few own friends that he hedn’t seen for many a year. Ov course we’d to hev a glass with ’em all, en there wor soa much to talk abaat wol it wor turnin’ aght time afore we fairly knew where we wor….

We wor up in good time in t’morning, en when t’band came to play at Aah’r haase we wor sittin comfortable in front of a good fire; we were feet on t’fender, wer glasses ov toddy at t’side on us, an we woor smookin real Have Hannahs. They played us a few nice tewnes, en Billy seemed sewted wol his een fair dazzen led….

After t’ dinner we made it up to hev a walk en hear some of t’other bands in t’district, soa we made wer way to Burstal, where we fan em in good form, en knockin on en makin brass fast. We had a liquor up with em en then wemade wer way to Drighlington, en we walked abaat a good bit, but could hear nowt of t’band, soa we called at a pub to mak enquiries….(More drinking with bandsmen.)

After another haar or two of fun t’ landlord came in and said he’d a conveyance at t’door ready for us. There was a flat spring cart covered wi straw en plenty ov rugs to lap us with, so we gat on an laid daan en covered us en we must have fallen asleep…. [When we got home] Just then t’door opened, en t’wife came en said, “Helloa, what  hav we here?” but t’driver jumped on his cart, an hes he wor drivin off he shaated, “You’ll find ’em all theer, missis, sooart ’em aght for yorsen.”

Merry Christmas to my followers and friends. 





Brass Band Contests and Railway Travel: Mobility, Audience Support and Sporting Comparisons

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway track, closed in 1964

Dr Stephen Etheridge

Monday found me on a walk on the closed Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, a line that was used to transport bands to contests in Manchester in the 1850s. It made me think about the link between the growth of railways and the growth of the brass band movement, particularly in the North and the links with the annual Belle Vue Contest.

Enderby Jackson, Brass Band Contest Promotion and the Use of the Railway

In March 1837, The Musical World recommended that to improve the standard of playing in bands, ‘prizes for competition should be given, as they did in France.’ Sir Clifford Constable arranged the famous brass band competition at Burton Constable in 1845, after his sister-in-laws had seen a competition in the south of France.[1] The Burton Constable Contest was part of a rural Magdalen Feast; it featured falconry displays, archery contests and a grand mythological costume ball. Sir Clifford Constable’s bandmaster, George Leng, offered a twelve-pound prize for the best band, and drew up a set of rules, he appointed Richard Hall, an organist from Hull, the job of adjudicator.[2]

The importance of the Burton Constable competition was its influence on Enderby Jackson, an eighteen-year-old flute player, in one of quadrille bands, booked to play in the evening dances.[3] Enderby Jackson was born in 1827, in Mytongate, Kingston upon Hull, the son of John Jackson, a tallow chandler soap-boiler.[4] He distinguished himself at Hull Grammar School; nevertheless, they did not teach music at the school, so he had to take private lessons. He became fluent on flute, French horn, piano and in singing.[5] He soon became a professional musician playing in bands touring northern towns.[6]

Jackson was to become an entrepreneur and impresario, mostly making his mark on brass band competitions.[7] Jackson met James Melling, from Stockport, and Tallis Trimnell, from Chesterfield, in 1851, at the Great Exhibition.[8] Jackson noted that they were ‘both noted Midland young musicians, full of ardent zeal in spreading the love of music broadly amongst the operatives and miners surrounding their central districts’.[9] After discussing the popularity of fairs and carnivals in the East Riding, and the popularity of giving out cash prizes, they decided that:

[As] rail facilities were rapidly progressing, it would be wise for deputations from the bands to visit the railway managers, seeking their co-operation in bringing distant bands to a suitable centre, by arranging convenient times and fares. Also, that the bandmasters assist by drawing up a stringent code for the bands’ guidance in preparing for and during their attendance at competitions: so widening the area for bands available for bands meeting…. Creating wide circles on the successful lines adopted in East Yorkshire. Mr. Melling undertook to visit Mr. R Jenninson, of Belle Vue Gardens, Manchester, and talk the subject over with him, on moneymaking principles. I [Jackson] undertook to personally visit the railway managers, seeking from them concessions on mutual terms for the Midland, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Towns; and Mr.Trimnell promised assistance in doing his best to work up efficiency amongst his district bands.[10]

In later life Jackson probably over stressed his influence on the start of the Belle Vue contests.[11] There was a lot of circumstantial evidence that Jenninson, of Belle Vue, and Melling, were more active in providing Jackson with ideas.[12] His biographical writings were full of self-confidence and self-opinion.[13]. He was ambitious in trying to add an international aspect to the brass band contest; visiting many European countries, attending musical festivals and congresses, however, he never fully developed his vision of a ‘Music Unity of Nations.’[14]

The Belle Vue Gardens opened in 1837, and as early as Whitsuntide 1850, was advertising, ‘ amongst its attractions, three efficient brass bands in order that dancing may continue during the day, without interruption.’[15] In 1852, encouraged by Melling, Jenninson arranged a competition at Belle Vue, for drum and fife bands to see how popular a band competition would be: the experiment proved a success.[16] The next year, on the 5 September, the beginning of the Gorton Wakes week, Jenninson advertised, ‘A Grand Musical Contest with Eight Brass Bands.’[17] The logistics of the day were not a success, many supporters arriving late, because of problems with late running trains, nevertheless, the event itself was popular. In all, around sixteen-thousand people attended the contest.[18]

Travelling Supporters 

Large numbers of people travelled from their towns and villages by train to support their bands. By 1850 Wales, Scotland, the north, the midlands, and the east of England, Devon and Cornwall, together with the south coast of England were all linked by rail with London.[19] A fully-formed railway network helped the brass band movement grow and become popular. The railways brought large numbers of working-class people together, magnifying the rituals, habits and customs of the working class.  Rail travel gave thousands of band supporters’ mobility within the north and beyond. A clear example of this mobility was when a large proportion of east Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley travelled to the 1857 Belle Vue Contest to support Bacup Band. The trains stopped at each station along the Rossendale Valley and took on significant numbers of passengers. Isaac Leach wrote:

The excitement of the neighbourhood was intense, and for days before the contest the fate of the band at Belle Vue was almost the sole topic of conversation. The practice of the band in the mill yard at Broudclough, on the Sunday previous to the fateful day, was attended by thousands of persons. On the morning of the contest, the Belle Vue excursions from Bacup were packed with people, and most of the mills were obliged to stop. Two special trains were run, the local bookings being as follows: Bacup 1093, Stacksteads 200, Newchurch 519, and Rawtenstall 323.[20]

Hugh Cunningham argues that ‘brass band contests […] were possible only because of cheap rail fares; by 1888 there were 50 excursion trains for the Belle Vue contest in Manchester.’ [21] It is perhaps the journal, the Yorkshireman that has the last word to say on the mobility that brass bands gained from the railway. As with many working-class excursions developing in the railway age a ‘day trip’ was a festive event, a holiday that should be enjoyed, the train journey itself being part of the day’s festivities. An observer commented on a contest train passing by in 1878, they wrote:

I was at a railway station the other day as a festive train passed through. A brass band occupied one of the carriages, and the trombonist, not having room for his motions inside performed the sliding operations of his instrument out of the window. I never saw an instrumentalist so “played out” before.[22]

Band Contests and Sporting Imagery

Supporting a band was, as Jack Williams has argued about cup finals, ‘an expression of a town identity, an association with others from the town that asserted a collective geographical allegiance.’[23] As with sport the band contest gave a sense of class and cultural uniformity. The same rules and organisation that were carried forward to different areas meant that supporting a town band ‘reinvigorated town identities, and expressed a source of social differentiation between towns.’ This, like sport, led to town bands becoming a source of community pride, like sport, local dignitaries were keen to herald the success of the town band in band contests, enhancing the reputation of a town within the North.

Horwich RMI Brass Band, with Crystal Palace Trophy, 1922

The notion of community identity can be brought together with the success of the Horwich Railway Mechanics Institute Band’s win at the National Contest at Crystal palace in 1922.  Writing  in September 1922, the Bolton Journal saw the railway station as a gathering point, a terminus of success. The railway had transported the image of a northern community to the South and brought the North back triumphant, they wrote:

As the time for the bands arrival from London approached, the streets became alive with people, and soon dense crowds had gathered outside the station and lined the approach to the platform. It appeared that the whole of Horwich had had turned out en-masse to give the champion band a rousing reception. The band was met and entertained to tea in Manchester by Mr George Hughes C.B.E. Chief Mechanical Engineer of The London and North Western Railway. The train…was gaily decorated with bunting and evergreens, and on the front of the engine was the device’ welcome home.’ Loud cheers were given, fog signals were exploded on the line, and The Horwich Old Band played a lively air as the train steamed into the station.

Headed by Horwich Old Band, and loco workers carrying torch lights, the band drove in a charabanc passing cheering spectators…cries of ‘Bravo Horwich’ could be heard above the din… Mr Bath said ‘It is only possible for men who have music in their souls to play like that.’

The railway, then, not only transported bands and their supporters around the country, but also increased the working-class attendance at contests. In this way largely middle-class commentators on this new ‘banding’ phenomenon drew comparisons with sporting contests in their analysis of working-class leisure and culture.

Notes and References:

Some of this came from my PhD thesis, as always, cite me when quoting:

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[1] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 33.

[2] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 33

[3] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 33.

[4] Trevor Herbert, ‘John Enderby Jackson (1827-1903)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, 2004), <> accessed 7 December 2009, p. 1.

[5] Trevor Herbert, ‘John Enderby Jackson (1827-1903)’, p. 1.

[6] Trevor Herbert, ‘John Enderby Jackson (1827-1903)’, p. 1.

[7] Trevor Herbert, ‘John Enderby Jackson (1827-1903)’, p. 1.

[8] Enderby Jackson, ‘Origin and Promotion of Brass Band Contests,’ Musical Opinion and Trade Review, 20/232, (January 1897), p. 232.

[9] Enderby Jackson, ‘Origin and Promotion of Brass Band Contests,’ p. 232.

[10] Enderby Jackson, ‘Origin and Promotion of Brass Band Contests, ’p. 232.

[11] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, pp. 36-37.

[12] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 37.

[13] Trevor Herbert, ‘John Enderby Jackson (1827-1903)’, p. 2.

[14] Trevor Herbert, ‘John Enderby Jackson (1827-1903)’, p. 1.

[15] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 37.

[16] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 37.

[17] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 38.

[18] Arthur R. Taylor, Brass Bands, p. 38.

[19] Charles Moore, The Industrial Age: Economy and Society in Britain, 1750-1995 (London, 1997), p. 419.

[20] Duncan Bythell, Water, A Village Band 1866-1991 (Water Band, Rossendale, Lancashire, 1991), pp. 6-7.

[21] Hugh Cunningham, Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, (London, 1980), p.159.

[22] Yorkshireman, Volume 16, No. 126 (14 December, 1878), p. 371.

[23] Williams Jack, ‘One Could Literally Have Walked On The Heads of The People Congregated There.’ Sport the Town and Identity, from, Leybourn Keith, Ed, Social Conditions Status and Community, 1860-c.1920. p.123


‘To Encourage Kindness between All Classes of the Community’: The Philanthropic Links between Bramley Brass Band and the Bramley District Nursing Association, 1907-08

Dr Stephen Etheridge 

Bramley Prize Band

Today was a cold day and on my way to work I had an hour to spare. I was drawn to the Local History room at Leeds Central Library. One of the joys of this local history collection is that much of the material is catalogued by towns that surround Leeds. As such, and in my hunt for material for Bramley Brass Band, I came across a volume of the 1907-1921 Annual Reports of the Bramley District Nursing Association.[1]

The archival evidence shows that two pillars of community life had a synchronous relationship that centered around a belief in philanthropy. Paraphrasing the Oxford English Dictionary the Nursing Association and the Bramley Band were practitioners of a ‘practical benevolence’ that was ‘charity on a large scale’.  What is of interest here is the similarities and differences between the band’s working-class wish to do good in the larger community and middle-class philanthropic compassion found in the Nursing Association, not least in the way, as Elaine Denny has argued, that middle-class women used voluntary nursing as a way to escape the cult of domesticity and work towards a ‘calling’.[2] In other words the band had many reasons to raise money for a labouring population; not least for the band’s own needs. The band had roots in their own their own working-class environment. The Nursing Association was focused on providing relief for the poor from a top-down perspective. They had an external view of the working class. Where did these causes conjoin in an industrial community, and was the  working-class philanthropy of a brass band that far away from middle-class values of benevolence?

Bramley the (Philanthropic) Industrial Community

Bramley is five miles to the West of Leeds in West Yorkshire. The East of the area still contains much nineteenth-century housing and architecture. Bramley is listed in the 1086 Domesday Book as Brameleia and Bramelie. The heart of the village was most likely sited at Stocks Hill, and it developed in a linear fashion along today’s Town Street. [3] As with many towns and villages in the North of England the population expanded rapidly in the nineteenth century due to industrialisation. The initial increase was due to the woollen textile industry, but boot making and engineering soon followed. By 1871 the population of Bramley was 9,882 mirroring the population numbers found in other industrial settlements in the North of England.[4]

As an industrial community the population of Bramley was well-placed to practice communal generosity. We have the benevolence of the large employer, but we also have groups such as the band and the Association that operated within benevolence, or ‘gift giving’.  In the industrial heartlands, industrialists often wanted to be seen to be supplying support for a worthy cause. The large employer’s influence was generated in the factory, its locale and magnified in the arena of the town.[5] Most employers conceived their economic duty solely in terms of supplying employment to alleviate a core of endemic poverty found in the towns and cities. Nevertheless, after mid-century, the large employers’ view of themselves as the creators and custodians of urban civilisation became sufficiently grandiose to permit a considerable involvement in the control of urban poverty.[6] It was reflected in the foundation of orphanages, almshouses, homes for the aged and Ragged and Industrial Schools that sprang up in this period.[7]

A Subscription Ethos

 By 1907 it was noted that the Association had published its 14th report, meaning they were formed in 1891.[8] The Nursing Association and the Bramley Brass Band both relied on subscriptions to meet their day-to-day expenses. Both the band and the Nursing Association shared the commonality that they had to prove their commitment to helping the community to attract– and be morally worthy of –receiving financial assistance from the public.

The Nursing Association’s and the Band’s Commitment, and Moral Duty, to Public Good

As a philanthropic group the Nursing Association’s Governors  clearly spelled out their commitment and moral worth to the community in the Association’s rules, writing:

As the object of this Association is to provide as many skilled nurses as be required for the efficient nursing of the sick poor of Bramley Parish in their own homes, and thus by the example, teaching, nursing, and general influence of the nurses, raise the standard of nursing and encourage sympathy and mutual kindness between all classes of the community […]. [9]

As a subscription band Bramley Band was also under a similar ethical contract in order to receive public subscriptions. The band was formed as a brass and reed band in 1828, by 1836 they were a Temperance band and by 1859 they were regularly taking part in contests in the North.[10] In 1860, a year when The Times referred to brass bands as a movement, they entered London’s Crystal Palace Contest.[11] The link between rational recreation and musical performance is well documented elsewhere on this blog, and it was an ethos  that bands such as Bramley relied upon when they appealed to the public for funds. Such moral contracts inferred that the bands should be part of charitable community events. Writing in 1895, Algernon Rose published Talks With Bandsmen: A Popular Handbook for Brass Instrumentalists (London, 1895). In this book was a guide on how subscription bands should apply for funds. One of the answers is telling:

Why [is a band] desirable[for the town]?

  • Because there are a number of young men who wish to become musicians
  • Because there are many of our neighbours who would welcome outdoor music in this town
  • Because the existence of such a band would be invaluable by affording help at charitable and local entertainments[12] 

There is  evidence that Bramley Band used this ethos when they asked for funds .Sadly, the date of the citation is unknown. They wrote:

The band would be grateful for subscriptions to the band fund, which is upheld by voluntary subscriptions and proceeds from entertainments etc [….] Many can help one when one cannot help many.[13]

Working-Class Philanthropy?

 Subscription bands, then, were in competition for public subscriptions with other groups. Yet Bramley Band became one of the key contributors to the Association’s funds. They had a special committee that arranged fundraising concerts. This suggests that the respectable working class of Bramley, represented here  by the band, were raising money for parts of the population that had less than themselves. By 1908, and together with other high profile contributors – the Bramley Board of Guardians (£10.00) and the Leeds Workpeople’s Hospital Fund (£50.00) – they had raised Sixteen pounds, seven shillings and four pence.[14] What is more significant is that the band organised benefit concerts by other musicians to raise funds. They are mentioned in the Association’s Annual reports as a ‘special performance arranged by the Bramley Band Performance Committee’.[15] These concerts often featured military bands such as the Guards’ Regiments.  These contributory patterns remain the same until 1921 when the Association’s record ends. It does indeed seem that Bramley Band did believe that ‘many can help one when one cannot help many.’

There is more research needed, and this blog is an outline of themes to explore. However, a working-class band that relied upon public subscriptions was in a position to be a significant contributor to an organisation based in top-down philanthropy. Philanthropy, then, as a desire to promote the welfare of others, especially by generous donations of money to a good cause, crossed class boundaries. Being working class did not mean to be always on the receiving end of benevolence. Moreover, top-down philanthropy relied on working-class contributions.

Notes and References:

[1] Bramley District Nursing Association, In Affiliation With The Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute for Nursing the Sick and the Poor in their Own Homes, Annual Reports, 1907-1921 (Leeds) Leeds Family and Local History Department, Leeds Central Library, Catalogue Ref: LBRA36Z   

[2] Elaine Denny, The Emergence of the Occupation of District Nursing in Nineteenth-Century England (PhD Thesis, University of Nottingham, 1999), p. 6.

[3] Wikipedia<,_Leeds >accessed 8 December, 2017

[4] The Bramley Almanac and Historical Year Book for 1878 (Leeds, 1878) In 1851, for example, Bacup, in East Lancashire, had a population of 10, 315 (Source: Official Census)

[5] Patrick Joyce, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (Brighton, 1980, this edition, London, 1982), p. 168.

[6] Joyce, p. 168.

[7] Joyce, Work Society and Politics, p. 168.

[8] Annual Report, 31 March, 1907, p.2

[9] Ibid, p. 22

[10] The development of the brass band is too lengthy for this blog. Bands emerged from the 1820s from a mix of woodwind and brass instruments, influenced by military bands, through a number of phases, to, by the 1870s, the standard band instrumentation seen today. Key stages were the invention of the keyed bugle (1820s); the invention of the piston valve (invented no later than 1814 and was developed through 1827-1850). The development of the saxhorn, invented by Adolph Sax in the 1840s and 1850s, was also significant. The saxhorn was later promoted by the Distin Family whose popular concerts showed it to be a melodious instrument. Key texts for the development of brass bands are T. Herbert, ed.The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford, 2000); E. Mitroulia, ‘Adolphe Sax’s Brasswind Production With a Focus on Saxhorns and Related Instruments’ (unpub. Ph.D. Thesis, Edinburgh Univ. 2011) and A. Myers, ‘Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands’, in, Herbert, ed. The British Brass Band, pp.155-186.

[11] J.E. Hesling-White, A Short History of Bramley Band from Its First Inception to the Present Time, with Glimpses of Old-Time Life and Doings in Bramley (Bramley, 1906), pp. 5-8.

[12] Algernon J. Rose, Talks With Bandsmen: A Popular Handbook for Brass Instrumentalists (London, 1895), pp. 309-311. The fact that this author wrote a guide on ‘how to’ ask for money from both employers and subscribers suggests that bands were using the rational recreation ethos to their own ends.

[13]  Hesling-White, A Short History, Inner Cover of Volume

[14] Annual Reports, 13 March, 1908, p. 5.

[15] Ibid, p.5.

Reflections on Brass Bands and Christmas Carols: A Continuation of Victorian ‘Banding’ Traditions

Water Prize Brass Band, picture taken in Rossendale before a trip to Southport in 1880 (Rossendale Free Press, 14 May, 1916)



As Christmas approaches the streets are alive with the sound of brass bands playing Christmas carols. Indeed, a friend from my days in the Staffordshire Youth Brass Band, who is now playing with the Co-op Funeralcare Band, said that they had ‘done 2 [caroling] sessions, and had 14 more to go.’ A Cursory glance at any band’s website shows that outside the contest season caroling is possibly the bands’ busiest of times.

It is accepted that the ‘golden age of brass bands’ dated from 1860-1900. In this period brass bands expressed a highly visible working-class pursuit. It was a period when brass band contests attracted crowds in their thousands, and park concerts were key events in the communities where bands thrived. Bands were an important presence at many civic events, such as the opening of Mechanics’ Institutes, Sunday Schools and libraries.  Christmas caroling was an important year-end event for Victorian and Edwardian bands that added to their presence  in the community.  A glance at this period shows us that contemporary bands are carrying on a tradition of playing Christmas carols that is as old as bands themselves.

Finance and caroling

The archival evidence in this blog comes from the Southern Pennines, a region that was well-known for the density of bands in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, one defining element that united bands on a national level was the need to raise money for the day-to-day running of bands, and especially the need to buy uniforms, instruments and music. Much finance came from employers and, in the case of subscription bands, the local community. This finance, however, was mostly in the form of unsecured loans. Many bands spent much of their time raising money to repay these loans. Christmas was a time when bands could secure a significant amount of income. In 1898, for example, Shipley Brass Band collected their bandsmens’ subscription fees of £2 for the year after the Christmas money had been collected.




Writing in 1892 it was the Magazine of Music who highlighted the community nature of caroling, writing, ‘at Christmas the bands turn out in great force to go the round of their subscribers; and we hear that in spite of the intense cold last Christmas, some bands played before the houses of over a hundred […] members, notwithstanding benumbed fingers and frozen valves […].[1]  The bands’ subscribers would often give the players money for playing carols, which would not only assist the bands in their day-to-day expenses, enable them to give a contribution to charity, but also give the bandsmen a source of extra cash at Christmas.

On December 3, 1888, for example, the committee of Cleckheaton Christian Bretheren Brass Band agreed ‘that we go out during the night at Christmas; busking with collectors. That half the money be given to the band and the other half to be equally divided [between the players].[2] By 1892 the band were looking to raise money for uniforms, asking bandsmen to contribute money from their Christmas takings. The committee wrote ‘That if we can get J Beever of Huddersfield to get us a new uniform ready for Christmas. That each member of the band shall leave 10 shillings out of the Christmas money. If not each member shall leave five shillings each. That suits shall be like Batley Temperance.[3]

 A few words on money and working-class independence

Together with other seasonal and occasional payments Christmas money gave bandsmen an element of security when a man’s independence depended on how much spending money – or ‘spends’ – he had for himself. As Dave Russell has argued elsewhere bandsmen were, in spite of varying levels of income, the respectable working class. The economy of the working-class household was rooted in the collective earnings of father, mother and children. Jose Harris has highlighted the importance of the financial contribution of the wives and children to the household, as social surveys of the period recognized that how much the man contributed from his wages could vary wildly. Indeed, the management of the household fell to the wife, and in what were considered the more respectable households the man would hand his wages over and the wife would often give the husband his ‘spends’ after the essential items – food, bills and so on – had been budgeted for.  In spite of observers disagreeing about the significance of the amounts the husband gave, one thing that all observers agreed on was that it was the wife’s skill, or ineptitude, in making ends meet that determined the comfort or neglect of working-class homes.[4]  

Bramley Brass Band, known locally as the Bramley Beer and Bacca’ Band


Christmas was a time when bandsmen could have a significant amount of disposable income. As working men this income increased their independence after essential bills had been paid. They had ‘spends’ for beer and tobacco. Some of this is shown in how Bramley Old Band would ‘do the rounds of the better-class houses in Bramley at Christmas, and be rewarded with food, beer and tobacco. This caroling gave Bramley Band the nickname the Bramley Beer and Bacca Band.’ (Recollections of Bramla’ Band: Pauline Kirk, Ed. p. 6)

Caroling as a social event

At Christmas Victorians and Edwardian bands were not unknown to play for long periods of time, and this often including playing throughout the night of Christmas Eve into Christmas Day.  James Law Cropper (1864-1974), remembered ‘going out’ as a teenager at Christmas time with Water Prize Band (Rossendale):

We covered the whole neighbourhood. We’d meet at the Commercial on Christmas Eve, at twelve o’clock the Church bells used to ring out. We always blasted off with Old Glory, then up the road as far as Culvert, we played about every three houses, and they all came out to listen to us, and treat us, they used to bring beer out to pass round, and cups of tea or coffee. We used to do the front, back and cellar dwellings of Culvert, and it would take us until four o’ clock in the morning to get back to Water and go home. We’d turn out again at about nine o’clock on Christmas morning going round Dean and Water. We played Christmas Carols […]. All the old ‘Laycock’ tunes, always the old tunes they’d had for generations. As a rule, our music that we played for Christmas was hand written.[5]

It’s interesting to note that this band was using hand-written arrangements, that were most likely bespoke for the instruments they had in the band.

Cropper did allude that bandsmen drank during caroling, writing Folks from Dean, although they were mainly Baptists, took an interest in the Band, and the right old ones didn’t seem to have anything against the Band, and of course, we played their tunes at Christmas… but as it became very strong anti -drink, the Baptists and the Band did not mix. Eden didn’t connect so much with the anti-drink, dancing and gambling lot. [6]

This sounds quite romantic: Bandsmen playing carols for the community and socialising with tea, cakes and beer. Yet, these sessions had their detractors and critics. It was caroling, and the disturbance it caused, that created comment, one member of the public venting their spleen to the Yorkshireman, in 1881:

If we have not had sufficient music this Christmas, I am no judge of it. From midnight on Christmas Eve to the dawn of Christmas Morn, I lay on my downy bed, a long-suffering Christian …. A monstre double bass would begin business with a grand bang that nearly smashed the windows, and completely awoke every living thing in the house. I like sacred music, but I object to it strongly, when there is an obbligato of howls from old Towser, and, a series of cadenzas from that ancient Thomas, in the next back- yard mingled with it. It would take St Cecilia all her time to draw an angel down with such music as I heard, and when the angel did appear, I am sure it would not be able to stay long amidst such a hubbub.[7]

In the final analysis bands relied upon caroling to raise funds to run the bands, contribute to charity, and to supply extra income for bandsmen. Yet, the social side of caroling should not be underestimated. It brought communities together in one Christmas event. When contemporary bands ‘go out’ at Christmas it is an expression of a tradition that started with nineteenth-century brass bands.


[1] Magazine of Music, 9/4, (April, 1892), pp. 62-63.

[2] Minute Book of The Christian Bretheren Temperance Brass Band; Cleckheaton. West Yorkshire Archive Service Kirklees ref KC131

[3]  Ibid

[4] Jose Harris, Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870–1914 (London: Penguin: London, 1994), 72–3. For a wider discussion on working-class masculinity see,  Stephen Etheridge, ‘Music as A Lifelong Pursuit for Bandsmen in the Southern Pennines, c. 1840-1914: Reflections on Working-Class Masculinity ‘in,  Catherine Haworth and Lisa Colton (Eds.) Gender, Age and Musical Creativity (Ashgate, 2015)

[5] James Law Cropper, Memories, typewritten transcription of interviews (n.d.) Rawtenstall Local Studies Library, ref RC942WAT,   29-30.

[6]Cropper, Memories,   28-29.

[7] The Yorkshireman, January (1881), 4.

Black Dyke Band’s Tour of America & Canada, 1906: Cocktails & Philanthropy

BDM 190
Black Dike (sic) Mills Brass Band, c. 1906

It can be argued that Black Dyke Mills Brass Band were one of the most successful and influential brass bands of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is certain that they were what was known as a ‘crack’ band. In 1906 they undertook a tour of America and Canada. An analysis of this tour gives us a glimpse of industrial philanthropy and its influence on how the distinction between work and leisure became blurred in this period.

The Foster Brothers and Black Dyke Mills Brass Band

John Foster was one of the directors of John Foster and Sons Ltd, Black Dyke Mills, Queensbury, producer of alpaca, mohair and worsted woollens. He was a French horn player in a brass and reed band, which was formed in 1816 by Peter Wharton, the publican of the Old Dolphin Hotel at Queensbury. Foster was a musician and he loved playing the French horn.[1] John Foster was not only a musician: he and his brothers were philanthropists. The mill supported many local causes. They gave £100 to help extend Bradford’s Deaf and Dumb Institute.[2] They gave £250 to help build an extension to Bradford Infirmary.[3] In addition they donated £100 to help reduce the outstanding debt at Bradford Children’s Hospice.[4] It was not out of character for them to consider giving financial assistance to a local band.

In 1833 a new band called the Queenshead Band formed in Queensbury, and the Foster Brothers gave it some financial assistance. In 1855 the band was close to falling apart and at this point the Foster Brothers stepped in and joined the band to the mill. Reflecting the experiences of other bands, they gave the band a practice room, in Wellington Mill, a new set of instruments and a set of uniforms. The tone of Jonas Foster’s letter to his brother suggested that the appearance of the band was important to them:

We have got the dress for the band which is universally admired. Green coat, trousers and cap, silver buttons with crest on them, coat with white braid round the collar, and small white braid down the front and down the trousers. German silver epaulettes, and silver lace around the caps and white sword belt, leader with gold round his cap, and three cornet piece players, gold stripes on the arm.[5]

The fame of Black Dyke Mills Brass Band spread quickly. In 1860 they won first prize at the first Crystal Palace Contest, winning a silver cup for the Bandmaster, a champion contra bass in Eb, worth 35 guineas, and £30 in cash.[6] The 1860 band was 18 members strong, all employees of the mill.[7]  The band’s success grew rapidly; the British ‘Open’ Championship results from 1856 to 1906 are an evidence of their ability. They were rarely out of the top three and they came first twelve times.[8]

The Tour

In 1906 the band undertook a five-month tour of Canada and America. The company paid for all passage fares, rail travel and board and lodging.[9] While they were away the company also agreed to pay the band members wages of two pounds a week, with the band members receiving fifteen shillings a week, with the balance paid to the bandsmens’ wives or nominated persons.[10] It is interesting to note that the bandsmen complained to the periodical the British Bandsman that their spending  money was not enough, and I have explored this in terms of their masculine independence in a  published chapter. It was agreed that if the tour made a profit the band members stood to receive a share as a bonus but if the tour made a loss then the band would have to reimburse all travel, and accommodation expenses.[11] The tour did indeed make a loss of £2000. However, the company agreed to defer two thirds of this as long as the band paid the remaining amount back from engagement fees.[12] Four months later the band had still not cleared the debt and the company decided to write off £500 of the outstanding £850.[13]

This financing suggests that band funding was not a totally altruistic or philanthropic gesture as it was funded by an unsecured loan from the company. Yet, in the industrial heartlands, industrialists often wanted to be seen to be supplying support for a worthy cause. The large employer’s influence was generated in the factory, its locale and magnified in the arena of the town.[14] Most employers conceived their economic duty solely in terms of supplying employment to alleviate a core of endemic poverty found in the towns and cities. Nevertheless, after mid-century, the large employers’ view of themselves as the creators and custodians of urban civilisation became sufficiently grandiose to permit a considerable involvement in the control of urban poverty.[15] It was reflected in the foundation of orphanages, almshouses, homes for the aged and Ragged and Industrial Schools that sprang up in this period.[16] Employer provision can be interpreted in terms of the gift relationship. As Patrick Joyce has argued:

In the sense of deference as a mode of social interaction, the gift was one of the most valuable means of managing the tensions of identification and differentiation that characterized deference. The gift celebrated and reaffirmed the bond of master and man.[17]

The rhetoric of the reporting of the tour suggested that the band was fully funded by philanthropy. Despite the speculative nature of the tour, and its eventual financial loss, the tour created a lot of excitement in Queensbury and Bradford. It is within this excited rhetoric that we should view the unsecured loan – which was largely written off. The Fosters had paid for the band to be seen as theirs. All reporting gave the impression that the Fosters had fully-funded the band’s tour. The Fosters did not have to supply the loan or write off the balance. The band did receive a tour and other benefits but the Fosters also received exposure.  ‘To Messrs John Foster and Sons Ltd, belongs the distinction of sending such a combination on a novel and successful venture,’[18] opined the Halifax Daily Guardian, when the band returned. In spite of the fact that the band had clearly undertaken the tour to make money and promote itself, the overriding inescapable theme was that the band was part of the mill; they were John Foster and Son’s band, made up of working-class mechanics, which was to be a common refrain throughout their tour. As such, the Fosters inferred the gift relationship between master and employer. In spite of the nature of their funding the band was one part of the Fosters’ contribution to the improvement of the community.

There was a large turnout to see the band set off. The town hall bells were chiming and the band, to some people’s disappointment, wore mufti rather than the new uniforms that the company had bought them for the tour. The band had lunch bought at the Great Northern Victoria Hotel and Fredrick Foster warned them about the dangers of America saying:

Be careful of what you eat, and also of what you drink, American cocktails are very nice and seductive, but they are not quite as innocent as you think they are. Americans are almost offended if you refuse to drink with them, but I think I can rely on you to use your own judgement.[19]

Foster emphasised that the company had spared no expense in equipping the band for this tour. He said, ‘their instruments could not be better, and they had the best selection of music.’[20] Even before they had left Bradford it was being driven home that this band was the public face of John Foster and Sons. It was expected that their behaviour should reflect this, as they were on a tour promoting the mill’s business interests. The Bradford Daily Telegraph reported that:

The firm felt certain they were doing the right thing in sending the band out, and they hoped the conduct of the men would be the same as it had always been, and they would remember they were the Black Dyke Band, and connected with the firm of John Foster and Sons[…]. I hope you will not forget that this firm is well known, not only in Canada and the States, but throughout the world.[21]

The firm saw themselves as having a global reputation: the band was the public expression of this reputation. The Fosters made it clear that without their support the band would not have been successful.

The American and Canadian press viewed the bandsmen as ‘mechanics abroad’. Wherever the band went in America and Canada the press were there and the Fosters collected the newspaper reports of the tour in a scrapbook.[22] The commonality in all the reports was that they promoted the mill and its products, and, significantly, they stressed that the band membership was working class. The Metronome wrote:

A British Amateur band is to visit America. Americans will soon have the opportunity to hear a band, which is peculiarly British. The band owes its existence, and its approaching tour, to the generosity of John Foster and Sons, who are great manufacturers of dress fabrics in Yorkshire, and in whose mills the band are employed. Although the band is an amateur band, let it not be though that they need any indulgence from even the most refined and cultivated musicians. On the contrary, we predict they will astonish all who hear them.[23]

The Peterborough Daily Evening Review said, ‘this distinguished organization […] owes its formation to John Foster and Sons, manufacturers of alpaca, mohair and other wools.’[24] The Montreal Daily Star stressed the working-class membership of the band and their interest in schemes that would help the working class:

Black Dyke Band Concert in aid of Poor Children

The famous Black Dyke Band will give a special concert in the arena on Saturday afternoon. For the purpose of helping, enlarge the fresh air fund. The interest taken by the members of this band in the fresh air movement will not be wondered at, when it is considered, that the object of the society is to give generously to the children of the working classes the benefit of a summer outing, and that the members composing the Black Dyke Band are every one of the skilled mechanics.[25]

The band returned to Bradford in November 1906. The return was a quieter affair that the departure; the Fosters were away on business, and the crowd that greeted them at the station consisted of wives, sweethearts, relatives and friends.[26] Even though the tour was well promoted what was significant was that the social network of the band that greeted them consisted of close relations. These networks highlighted the working-class nature of the band movement and the people that supported them. Industrialists could supply all the equipment and facilities they wished but the bands also relied upon stable social networks for support.[27] Industrialists supported the bands rehearsal space, music, uniforms, instruments and tuition, paid time off work, finance for travel and board and lodgings when the band was away. In return industrialists received advertising for their company and its products. If, like Black Dyke, they were successful, this exposure could be almost constant. The expense of running a band could result in financial loss. Nevertheless, for the industrialist the promotion and support of a band was to be accepted, if not expected, of a philanthropic employer who supported other benevolent projects in the community. For the industrialist these philanthropic practices could exert a force for influence in the region. This meant that there was little demarcation between the towns – mixtures of deliberate and ad hoc development – and the urban factory. [28] Therefore, through the agency of the brass band, the space between leisure and work was brought closer.

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[1] John H. Clay, Black Dyke, An Inside Story (Stockport, 2005), p. 2.                                                             

[2] West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford, John Foster and Sons, Directors’ Minute Book, 1891-1920,  Catalogue Reference, 61D9521/1 (August 28,1895), p .61.

[3] John Foster and Sons, Directors’ Minute Book, 1891-1920 (November 26, 1895), p. 65.

[4] John Foster and Sons, Directors’ Minute Book, 1891-1920 (November 26, 1895), p .65.

[5] Letter cited in, Clay, p .3 (August 30, 1856), no source given.

[6] The Times (11 July, 1860)

[7] John H. Clay, Black Dyke, p .5.

[8] Violet and Geoffrey Brand, Brass Bands, pp. 224- 227.

[9] Queensbury Historical Society, Legal Agreement, re the Canadian and American tour of 1906 (1 June, 1906), cited in, Clay, Black Dyke, p. 19.

[10] Queensbury Historical Society, p. 20

[11] Queensbury Historical Society, p.20.

[12] John Foster and Sons, Directors’ Minute Book, 1891-1920 (December 12, 1906), p. 188.

[13] John Foster and Sons, Directors’ Minute Book, 1891-1920 (March 24, 1909), p .212.

[14] Joyce, Work Society and Politics, p. 168.

[15] Joyce, Work Society and Politics, p. 168.

[16] Joyce, Work Society and Politics, p. 168.

[17] Joyce, Work Society and Politics, pp.169-170.

[18] Halifax Daily Guardian (24 November, 1906).

[19] Bradford Daily Telegraph (29 June, 1906).

[20] Bradford Daily Telegraph (29 June, 1906).

[21] Bradford Daily Telegraph (29 June, 1906).

Newspaper Cuttings With Regard to John Foster and Sons, and Local Events in Bradford and Queensbury, West Yorkshire Archive Service , Bradford, Catalogue Reference, 6195/9/1/1.

[23] Metronome (July, 1906) Newspaper Cuttings, p. 37,

[24] Peterborough Daily Evening Review (n.d., 1906), Newspaper Cuttings, p. 39.

[25] Montreal Daily Star (13 July, 1906), Newspaper Cuttings, p. 40.

[26] Halifax Daily Guardian (24 November, 1906).

[27] The importance of these networks becomes apparent in the following chapters.

[28] Patrick Joyce, Work Society and Politics, p. 145.

Five Things Friday: Women’s Brass Ensembles in History from Brass Chicks Blog

This week, we’ve taken Five Things Friday to highlight some amazing women’s brass ensembles in history. These groups are as different as they come and range from famous to barely-remembered. Nonetheless, every ensemble on the list proves how women have been playing brass for centuries!

via Five Things Friday: Women’s Brass Ensembles in History — Brass Chicks

Northern Theatre Life

I was so excited to be cataloguing the programmes for the Ardwick Hippodrome. I had heard so much about it from my parents and my aunts and uncles. I was especially looking forward to seeing famous names on the programmes. I was surprised to see that it was originally called the Ardwick Empire and was […]

via Ardwick Hippodrome —

Bands, Beer and Adjudicators: Northern Brass Band Contests, Moral Economy and the Carnival Day

Accrington Brass Band
Accrington Brass Band, date unknown. Note the overalls

In the industrial areas of the North brass band contests had been popular from the 1840s. As such they became ways that the emerging brass band press could highlight the moral worth of the brass band movement. In February 1900 the editorial team of the brass band periodical the Cornet wrote about the importance of the contest in promoting the positive aspects of the brass band movement. Editorial comment such as this helped establish the way in which bands led to the incorporation of the working class into bourgeois norms, as a representation of the oft-cited ethos of rational recreation. It was each bandsman’s responsibility to see that they did not behave in a way that could upset a wide range of middle-class benefactors. In other words each bandsman had an individual responsibility to represent not only the town but also the movement. Yet, as this blog shows, and in contrast to the ethos of rational recreation, older working-class traditions and behaviour came to the fore in the carnival arena of the brass band contests.

For the editors of brass band periodicals the contest was the key area for promoting the brass band movement to middle-class observers. Moreover, it was the financial benefits that came from the sponsorship of people with significant disposable incomes that was important. Therefore, inevitably, the alcohol induced social side of the contest was viewed as a negative activity, they wrote:

This being a subject of importance to the whole “live” brass band fraternity, there is no need to apologise for laying a growl before the numerous readers of the “Cornet.” There is urgent need for improvement in the manner most contests are carried out […]. It is a fact that brass bands are placed at a low estimate by a majority of people occupying the best social positions, whose influence would be enough to guarantee the success of any band, and would undoubtedly be glad to subscribe to the funds. They are deterred, however, by the line of conduct adopted by many bandsmen in public, and especially on the contest field. It is no uncommon occurrence at band contests to find, after the decision, men who have drunk well, if not wisely, making all kind of insinuations against committees and adjudicators, and using language of the vilest description, because their favourite band has not been placed in the prize list. None will deny this, yet there are some that say, “Take no heed; they have had too much John Barleycorn, and are to be excused. No one not accept their opinions.” Perhaps not, but this kind of thing drives away many people, and also tends to keep them; and their friends away from the next contest; besides, they are likely to withdraw their influence and support from the village or town band. As the means of improvement it is in the hands of the bandsmen themselves, it is to be hoped the season of 1900 will show that much of this tendency to lower the standard of brass bands has disappeared.[1]

Yet, on the same page, the band commentator ‘Shoddythorpe’ celebrated the many toasts and congenial company of the Batley Old Band’s Annual Supper, writing, ‘of all the happy evenings in my life this was the best. Batley Band can play, and they also know how to hold an annual supper’.[2] This dual reporting is both the strength and the irony of the band periodicals. The editorials clearly condemned what they perceived as low behavior: yet, these social traits became celebrated in humorous and anecdotal sketches that reinforced the notion that bandsmen were working-class people who enjoyed drink as a social lubricant and on occasion to excess. Yet, making the writing humorous also meant that such behaviour was without threat. In the same month the Cornet featured the tale of ‘Mungoe’s’ Christmas Adventures’, in which Mungoe was visited by his friend, ‘Billy Blowtop’, who:

‘ewst to play t’cornopean in t’band in t’owd days, when Aah used to play t’buzzoon […]. We gav him a warm welcome, en after we’d hed a gooid meeal en tooisted wer knees[…] en tawked abaat awd times oover a glass ov toddy, we tewk a walk into t’taan. We called at two or three hasses, en Billy met a few owd friends, that he hedn’t seen for many a year. Ov course we’d to hev a glass with ‘em all, en ther wor soa much to talk abaat wol it wor turnin aght time afore we fairly knew wheer we wor.[3]

Two months later, the editorial voice of the Cornet was in a moralising tone again. The editorial condemned bandsmen when they drank, argued and made a great deal of comment over contest results, the rationale being that it would deter the people from subscribing to band funds. More importantly, such drunken behaviour would negate the positive work that the movement had achieved in bringing working-class musical performance to the fore. They wrote:

Bandsmen should learn to control their feelings, a great deal more than they are accustomed to do. There is not a bandsman I know (and I know a good many), who would like to be called “low” or “vulgar” and yet, to exhibit, so openly the uppermost feelings in one’s mind, is nothing short of the essence of vulgarity. The natural consequence of these exhibitions of feelings, is that the gentry and upper class people will have nothing to do with contests – not because they object to where bandsmen are -but because they are never safe to being a witness to one of these questionable scenes, which almost invariably take place at contests. No, if bandsmen only knew, it does not pay; and they are performing the peculiar feat of raising themselves with one hand, and knocking themselves down with the other.[4]


The brass band contest was an extension of older labouring-class traditions: as such the competition reflected communal holiday revelry. The middle-class dislike of bad behaviour at contests, and the suggestion of revulsion at this behaviour, indicated a clash of cultures. Hence, the band contest became an arena for working-class display.  It was this traditional revelry that the editors of the brass band periodicals were fighting against. When the bands played in public it was a festive event, and, as such, bandsmen could not avoid mixing with the wider working class, who some commentators saw as rough and detrimental to the band movement. In Wright and Round’s Amateur Band Teacher’s Guide and Bandsman’s Adviser, for example, the editor featured a letter from F. C. B., who wrote:

I have much to say in favour of our amateur bandsmen as musicians, and hope I may live to laud them as gentlemen. And why should they not be gentlemen? Of what value is the “divine art” to them if it does not refine their tastes, and subdue evil passions, and enkindle good passions? Next to hearing a band play well, I like to see a band behave well, and not indulge in rough horse-play and vulgar talk at every opportunity. Again nothing can be more fatal to a band’s interest than for the members to make to familiar with the clowns that always crowd around them when fulfilling and engagement.[5]

Often held in wakes weeks, contests drew upon traditions that were common in northern manufacturing districts. Particularly tenacious in Lancashire the wakes week was the culmination of a full calendar of traditional celebrations. The wakes was originally a religious festival, held on the saint’s day of the local church, which centred on the rush bearing festival.[6] This festival was part of the cycle of historical time. Individual and collective memory became essential in marking historical meaning and continuity.[7] The appreciation of brass band music, and its importance to local memory, depended upon a complex process of memory, recalling past events and experiences. Audiences did not enter an event that featured a brass band with an open mind but brought with them extensive musical and social experience. Much of the meaning of the event relied upon what happened in the past, the brass band taking on elements of older rituals.

The contests were days of carnival and holiday, mill owners often giving the towns the whole day off.[8] On the 16 August 1868, for example, the Bacup competition, in east Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley, saw sixteen boys, doffers from Shepard’s Mill, who were keen to outshine their rivals from Smith and Sons take part in the competition. As Chris Aspin has shown, they were ‘dressed in fantastic colours, drawing a rush cart adorned with musical instruments and kitchen utensils.’[9] Boys pulled the rival cart ‘wearing white stockings with knickerbocker trousers, secured at the knee by coloured ribbons, and they wore crowns of coloured paper.’[10] In this way Wakes walks were a visible continuation of rural festivals such as rush bearing. The cycle of brass band contests acted as arenas that embraced a history of events that celebrated the lives of working people.[11] The fair, the festival and the holiday became one under the auspices of the contest.

On 5 April, 1867, for example, Accrington hosted a contest that reinforced the carnival atmosphere, the contest becoming central to the day’s events:

Yesterday the whole of the mills were stopped, and a general holiday observed by the work people, who being gaily dressed […] gave an enlivening appearance for the town. The streets were crowded not only from this, but also from distant towns, the facilities offered by the railway companies, being an inducement for many to enjoy the musical treat. The array of stalls laden with confections, and the roundabouts showed that the pleasures of young England were attended to[…]. Abbey Street presented a very attractive and business like appearance, one side of the street being lined with stalls, the articles on which found ready purchasers in persons that thronged the street.[12]

In 1868, the  day became even more carnivalesque.

This year’s exhibition had brought into the town visitors so numerous as to surpass the most sanguine anticipations, tradesmen made great preparations. The lovers of the marvellous too had ample opportunities of gratifying their tastes, for in Church Street, there were exhibitions of the most curious and rare freaks, that nature ever produced. At the top of Union Street, there was a boxing booth, featuring the thorough bulldog type of facial beauty […]. Photographic galleries were present and were no mean attraction for the fair […]. Blackburn Road was crowded with people from nine o’clock in the morning until noon, witnessing the arrival of the various bands, intending to take part in the days contest […]. There were over twenty-thousand people on the contest field, and £478 was taken at the entrance.[13]

From the earliest contests, police were in attendance to control dissent and possible violence towards judges.[14] Adjudicators were well aware that they were under scrutiny by not only the bands but also the supporters in the audience, they were also well aware that the crowd could turn argumentative and even hostile when hearing an unpopular verdict. In 1896, the Magazine of Music found that the contest judge was as sanguine, sober and sophisticated as they imagined, in this ‘chat with a judge’ the Magazine of Music revealed the authority of adjudicators, but also, they also found that the audience could have the potential to argue. The reporter began with the judge’s clear authority:

He sat in his tent, with a table well filled with papers and a closely marked score before him, while outside, preparations were busily going forward for the great contest….He was just the man I had pictured – tall, stalwart, with a clever-looking stern face; a man capable of weighing to a nicety the merits and capabilities of the various competitors, and whose decision no one would think it wise to question […]. I enquired as to the success of brass bands in other parts of the country, and was informed they were invariably popular. “English people love a brass band,” explained the judge…they are not always reliable critics, though, and it is no very uncommon experience for a judge in a competition like this to be told pretty plainly that his verdict is not the popular verdict.[15]


Disagreements over adjudicators’ comments were common.[16] Sometimes they spilled over into threats of violence. A brass band contest, for example, was held on Keighley Cricket and Football Club’s field, on the 30 May 1886. Around 10,000 people attended. The judge was Mr. E. Holland, bandmaster of the 1st Northampton Regiment. He gave first prize to Leeds Forge Band, second prize to Irwell Bank, third prize to Wyke Old, fourth prize to Wyke Temperance and fifth prize to Kingston Mills. He stated that there was only five marks difference between the first three prizes. Black Dyke Mills and Honley did not receive a prize: [17]

The judge’s decision gave a good deal of dissatisfaction, and a most unseemly disturbance followed. Dike Band behaved in an unruly and even threatening manner. One man suggested that they should play the “Dead March”, and this was no sooner said than several of the players struck up a dirge in front of the judge’s tent. It was found necessary for three police constables to escort the judge to a cab in waiting, and then police-constable Newhill proceeded with him to the railway station. When the cab drove off there was mingled hooting and cheering, and one enthusiast threw a stone after the departing vehicle, but no damage was done. Arrived at the station, Mr. Holland had to wait several minutes for a train to Preston[…] and in the meantime some of the members of Black Dike and Honley bands had come on to the platform and these began to taunt and hoot again. Mr. Holland was afraid that bodily harm would be done to him […] he was accompanied by a police constable as far as Skipton.[18]

The brass band contest day was a period of time when the working class attempted to challenge decisions made by people in authority, even though they had no impact on judges’ decisions. As central features of the local holiday day the bands represented a temporary suspension of deference to authority; nevertheless, this was only brief, as figures of authority quickly re-established order.  The editors of the band periodicals may well have been constant in their pleas for gentlemanly conduct, but when brass bands gathered together the joint force of the bandsmen and their supporters gave dissent a currency – however briefly – that was associated with groups of working-class people.  We can see in the audience the notion of moral economy, whereby, as E. P. Thomson argued, that in the eighteenth century:

The men and women in the crowd were informed by the belief that they were defending traditional rights and customs; and, in general, they were supported by the wider consensus of the community. On occasion this popular consensus was endorsed by some measure of license afforded by the authorities. More commonly the consensus was so strong that it overrode motives of fear or deference.[19]

These events meant working people, through their support of the bands, had cultural autonomy. The bands’ supporters, and the bandsmens’, displeasure at these results legitimized the culture of brass bands within the landscape of working-class leisure. Brass band contests were not the food riots of the eighteenth century that Thompson wrote about, nevertheless, grievances brought about by the actions of the crowd on the contest field highlighted what was expected of a judge within the social norms of the contest. The contest being the event of the day, any outrage against the moral assumptions of the crowd, which band should win, for example, was the occasion for direct action, from silence at the announcement of a result, to threats of violence.[20] Brass bands were central to festive events that had their roots in rural traditions; these traditions were part of the collective memory of the community. With the maturing of industrialisation, bands became a central point in continuing and celebrating these events.


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[1] Cornet (15 February, 1900), p. 4.

[2] Cornet (15 February, 1900), p.4.

[3] Cornet (15 February, 1900), p.3.

[4] Cornet (19 April 1900), p. 6.

[5] F. C. B., ‘Appearance and Behaviour of Bandsmen’, Brass Band News (N.D.), cited in, Wright and Round’s Amateur Band Teacher’s Guide and Bandsman’s Adviser (Liverpool, 1889), p. 75.

[6] Robert Poole, ‘Lancashire Wakes Week’, History Today, 34/8 (August 1984), pp. 22-23.

[7] Peter Borsay, A History of Leisure, The British Experience Since 1500 (Basingstoke, 2006), p. 208.

[8] Chris Aspin, The First Industrial Society, Lancashire, 1750-1850 (Preston, 1995), p. 229.

[9] Aspin, The First Industrial Society, p. 229.

[10] Aspin, The First Industrial Society, p. 229.

[11] Borsay, A History of Leisure, p. 202.

[12] Accrington Times (6 April, 1867).

[13] Accrington Times (11 April, 1868).

[14] John Hollingshead, attributed to Charles Dickens, Musical Prize Fight, p. 68.

[15] ‘Brass Band Contests: A Chat With A Judge’, Magazine of Music (October, 1896), p. 646.

[16] Rossendale Free Press (1 May, 1886).

[17] Manchester Times (5 June, 1886).

[18] Manchester Times (5 June, 1886).

[19] E .P Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, Number 50 (February, 1971), p. 78.

[20] Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the Crowd’, p. 79.

Marching, tradition and fancy dress: The Whit Friday Brass Band Contests, 2017

I recently wrote a piece for the ezine Northern Soul about the 2017 Whit Friday Contest. Here it is:

It was a grand day out.