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


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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 The author of this thesis (including any appendices and/or schedules to this thesis) owns any copyright in it (the “Copyright”) and s/he has given The University of Huddersfield the right to use such Copyright for any administrative, promotional, educational and/or teaching purposes.

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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.

A Brass Band Contest at Manchester Dr Stephen Etheridge The following page comes from The School Music Review: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools, 1 October 1916. Like other London-based music journals the reporting is indicative of a style of writing that was anthropological in nature. In other words the brass […]

via A Brass Band Contest at Manchester — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

Conference Paper: 21 January, 2017 at Durham

Brass Band Reportage in Manchester During World War One


January the 21st will find me at the University of Durham where I will be giving a paper at the conference: A Great Divide or a Longer Nineteenth Century? Music, Britain and the First World War. This paper is based on research carried out for the Royal Northern College of Music’s project Making Music in Manchester during World War One. The paper will argue that the repertoire played in Manchester’s Public Parks during the conflict reinforced a Victorian ideal of nation and patriotism. The abstract is shown below:

Conference theme number four: In what ways did popular music—whether repertoire, performers, or the industry—change because of the war? In what ways did it carry on Edwardian and Victorian traditions?

 Brass Band Music, Contests and Entertainment in Manchester’s Public Parks in World War One: Reinventing Repertoire, Patriotism and Tradition?

Manchester was the gathering point for brass bands in the industrial regions surrounding Manchester. From the 1840s the growth of brass bands in the region was rapid. In spite of being a national movement, by 1914, the British Bandsman stated that ‘it could not be denied that the cradle of the brass band was on the slopes of the Pennine Chain.’[1] During the war years Manchester was significant for bands because the British ‘Open’ Contest at Belle Vue Gardens was the only large contest that kept going. In addition, bands played regularly in Manchester’s public parks.

1913 was a watershed year for the brass band movement. Labour and Love, Percy Fletcher’s tone poem, was performed at the Crystal Palace Contest.[2] Labour and Love was significant as it was composed music of some substance that was available to all bands.[3] It was the first test piece that was composed for the standardised brass band line-up and that the sources can account for fully. Composers such as Elgar and Bliss would soon follow.

In spite of the brass band movement moving away from its standard repertoire I will show that not only did older working-class traditions of music-making reinforce Victorian and Edwardian values in the public space, but also that public performance encouraged patriotism by reinventing patriotic themes found throughout British history.

.[1] British Bandsman (18 April, 1914), p. 349.

[2] Jack L. Scott, The Evolution of the Brass Band and its Repertoire in Northern England (unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, 1970), p. 267.

[3] Paul Hindmarsh,’Building a Repertoire: Original Compositions for the British Brass Band, 1913-1998’, in, Trevor Herbert (Ed.), The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford,2000), p. 248.

‘The Man Fro’ Lancashire’: Prisoners of War and Lancashire Musical Donations — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

‘The Man Fro’ Lancashire’: Prisoners of War and Lancashire Musical Donations Dr Stephen Etheridge Figure 1. French, Belgian and Russian Prisoners of War forming a band. Including, with the baton, ‘the man fro’ Lancashire’. (Rossendale Free Press, 3 June, 1916) On June 3, 1916, the Rossendale Free Press published this picture which included an unknown […]

via ‘The Man Fro’ Lancashire’: Prisoners of War and Lancashire Musical Donations — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

Holt, Hoyland and Old: The ‘Unparalleled’ Trombone Section of the Hallé Orchestra — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

By Dr Stephen Etheridge The Royal Manchester College of Music’s (RMCM) student records reveal two graduates who would become members of the Hallé Orchestra in a period when the trombone section built a reputation for excellence. When we examine the lives of these players what emerges is that the RMCM was the agency that […]

via Holt, Hoyland and Old: The ‘Unparalleled’ Trombone Section of the Hallé Orchestra — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: RMCM Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive? — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM) Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive? By Dr Stephen Etheridge Through an examination of the first Manchester Children’s Society Concert, which was held in 1916, this blog will show how the Victorian ethos of ‘Rational Recreation’ still existed, and, as an agency […]

via The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: RMCM Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive? — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks Dr Stephen Etheridge Link to the Bandsmens’ Names and Addresses During the First World War ‘The Belle Vue Champion Challenge Cup’, more commonly known as the ‘British Open’, and which was known colloquially amongst bandsmen as ‘Belle Vue’, was the only large national […]

via The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

The Whit-Friday Brass Band Contests: Continuation and Tradition — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

The Whit-Friday Band Contests: Tradition and Living History, by Dr Stephen Etheridge This Whit-Friday found me in the pretty Southern Pennine village of Diggle, near Oldham. The one defining element of the brass band movement is tradition. Perhaps this is shown in the persistence of the brass band contest from the earliest days of the […]

via The Whit-Friday Brass Band Contests: Continuation and Tradition — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

Taking It All Back Home: The Repatriation of Sound Recordings — The Oral History Noticeboard

British singer and song-collector Sam Lee explores how archives and institutions around the world are looking to repatriate sound recordings. In what sense can a sound be ‘taken back’? And what is the impact on the families and communities reacquainted with the voices of their past? Definitely worth a listen… BBC Iplayer (UK- only)

via Taking It All Back Home: The Repatriation of Sound Recordings — The Oral History Noticeboard