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.

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