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Slaithwaite Notes Past and Present (Linthwaite & Meltham Bands & Edwin Swift)


Brass Bands

As promised, we make reference to the Meltham and Linthwaite Prize Bands, which were two of the best of their kind in their day. It was marvellous what they could do, to what perfection they attained, and how formidable they were to all comers, as well as against each other, when entered in open competition, which was very often. Very likely this keen struggle between them had much to do with their perfection. Mr. John Gladney, with "Elijah," for Meltham Mills, and Mr. Edwin Swift, with "Tannhauser," for Linthwaite, were two of the remarkable factors in the fight. The latter piece was arranged by Mr. J. S. Jones, the honoured conductor of the Harrogate Corporation Band - a warm and constant friend, whose young life was often warmed by the success of this band, then and now so ably conducted by one of my oldest friends, originally from the loom, who was an apt pupil of Jones's, and developed into one of the first bandmasters of the day. Not only this, but he has arranged some of the popular pieces for contests, and written other pieces for brass band journals. This is a threat compliment to the natural genius, and one that will not turn his head by reciting, or mar his future usefulness.

He has had some good men to help him at Linthwaite - not only natives like the clever Baxters, but in such wonderful performers as Charles Auty, Mr. Monk, Mr. G. Raine, and others. I must not forget H. Oldham on the tenor horn, J. Fisher on the bass, Brierley on the trombone, and last, but not least, among a lot of other good men, J. Beaumont on the euphonium. This latter was the stay of the band, and it was marvellous the way in which he played his part in " William Tell '' when Linthwaite beat Meltham with this piece at Edinburgh for a prize of £60 on April 14th, 1877. These sums were worth going for, as compared with the inadequate money offered to-day, which does not pay first-class bands, and no doubt in the end will be the cause of decay in competition.

It was not only the members of the band who worked, but the labour was largely shared by the committee. I have seen the day when my dear old friend, Mr. Tom Kamsden, did not think it beneath his dignity to go round with the band collecting subscriptions; Mr. Fred was a warm supporter; Mr. Robert Lewis was a devoted slave; and the late James Bailey and others did much in their time. The yearly meetings then were held at the Coach and Horses, and were well worth going to. They are pleasant times to remember. They give a glimpse of pas! labours which brought forth joy; and this spade work had to be done, otherwise how impossible it would have been to compete with Meltham Mills.

Mr. Edward Brook, at the head of that eminent firm, was" a prince to them. Money was no object. This gentleman would double a prize which they might name and win. The very best talent was engaged in Mr. John Gladney, the king of conductors, the father of most of the others in this line, and the man to whom brass bands owe very much. All this would not have been enough if it had not been for the very good men on the spot. The Steads were wonders. Whoever beat Richard or Edwin in their best clays, or worked harder for any cause? They were both artistes on their instruments, and born musicians. Then there was good old John Berry, Wright Stead, also able and true men from Holmfirth, together with such leaders as Mr. Paley, Mr. Berkenshaw, and Mr. Alec Owen. No wonder they were formidable, and the surprise to me now is how it was that ever Linthwaite was able to beat them.

When one remembers that "Elijah" was the piece of the period, while many of the judges used to condemn "Tannhauser" as before the age, their success was remarkable. But Linthwaite did not mind; they persevered and made popular in these parts one of the great* composers of the age. They also had this advantage over Meltham: they could practise on a Sunday. What a change since then ! Both these bands have fallen from their high degree. Meltham has done nothing much; but Linthwaite has persevered under much difficulty, and has had various degrees of success, yet nothing like its former glory, though under Mr. Swift, his sons, the hard-working Mr. Needham, and others, they have large hopes of soon being at the top of the tree again. We shall see, and they have my best washes. Both bands practised hard when in full swing, sometimes six days a week; few, if any, were paid. It was true brotherly devotion, and not as to-day, when one fears that money is the root of all the evils with which modern bands are afflicted. However, be this as it may, these two bands deserve well of their respective towns. They were honoured in their day, and their deeds are well remembered. The money won by Meltham - though no patch on that which they richly deserved - was about £3,130, and Linthwaite made the near approach of £2,930. The former have done nothing much since, and the latter have added over another £1.000.


Success of Linthwaite Band: Presentation of the Crystal Palace Trophy

By carrying off the Daily Telegraph Challenge Cup at the Crystal Palace Contest on September 27th, the Linthwaite Brass Band grained what is regarded as their highest distinction. The band have secured dining an existence of nearly fifty years hundreds of prizes, but all these are eclipsed by their recent success, which is highly gratifying to all lovers of instrumental music in the district, and particularly to those residing in Linthwaite and Milnsbridge. The band's previous reputation was by no means a low one. For years it has occupied a premier position in this neighbourhood, and in recent times perhaps the only combination which has vied with it is the Lindley Band. Of course, success has not at all periods attended the efforts of the members. The band has occasionally fallen into comparative insignificance for a short time, owing to circumstances over which no one connected with it had control. But now it may safely be said to be on the high road to such success as the most sanguine supporter could hardly have wished for it. It is interesting to note that the only achievement of the band which at all approaches their recent success was that which was secured at Edinburgh in 1877, when a prize of £60 was awarded.

Congratulations such as the band deserved were given to the members last night, when a meeting was held in the Baptist schoolroom, Milnsbridge. The promoter of the Crystal Palace Contest, Mr. J. Henry lies, was present for the purpose of publicly presenting the cup, and the proceedings were of an enthusiastic character, a crowded audience evincing the liveliest interest in the ceremony and in the splendid performances of the band. To many the event was of a dual character, for the Crosland Moor Handbell Ringers also gave some excellent items, and this was the first occasion on which a proper opportunity had been given the public of congratulating them. Needless to say, they met with a hearty reception, and the audience were immensely pleased with the duty of congratulating both combinations.

Mr. A. J. Haigh (Milnsbridge) presided, and he was supported, in addition to Mr. lies, by a number of prominent gentlemen residing in the district, including Councillor H. A. Whittell (Huddersfield), Councillor A. Hanson (Milnsbridge), and Councillor J. W. Freer (Linth- waite). The Chairman explained that he occupied that position in place of Alderman J. Sugden, of Huddersfield, who was prevented from attending through indisposition. Mr. Haigh also read letters of apology for non-attendance from the Mayor of Huddersfield (Alderman E. Woodhead), Colonel E. H. Carlile, Mr. Charles Armitage, Mr. Barrett (Leeds), and Mr. Joshua Marshall and Mr. B. Stocks (Huddersfield). Each of these gentlemen heartily congratulated the band on its success, and the Mayor expressed the hope that the members would stick together and practise until they were able to take the principal prize at the Crystal Palace Contest. The Chairman added a few words of congratulation, and was sure everybody residing in the neighbourhood was proud of the success which the band and the handbell ringers had attained. He hoped the latter would be successful next year at Belle Vue, and that the former would gain even greater distinction than that which had already fallen to their lot. (Applause.)

Mr. Mellor Addy read a letter which had been received by the secretary (Mr. H. Needham) from Mr. Edwin Swift, who has acted as conductor of the band for many years. Mr. Swift regretted that he could not be present, but congratulated the band on their success. Considering the instruments which the band possessed, the past season had been a remarkably successful one. He, however, trembled to think of what their prospects might be if a new set of instruments were not secured. Mr. Swift went on to say that it would be fifty years next February since the band was formed, and he hoped something would be done in the matter of providing new instruments in the jubilee year. If something were done in this direction, then they ought to go in and carry off the 1,000 guineas cup at the Crystal Palace. (Applause.)

Mr. Iles then made the presentation, which he considered a very pleasant duty. He heartily congratulated the band upon its magnificent victory at the Crystal Palace. He was convinced that the band were deserving of greater praise than he at first thought. It had been greatly handicapped, having had to compete against some of the finest bands in the country with comparatively inferior instruments. He was sure, therefore, that it reflected the highest credit on the band to have, notwithstanding these great difficulties, carried off the Daily Telegraph cup. They were, no doubt, all very proud of the band, and would, he was sure, do their best to support them. He did not think anyone could estimate the importance of the series of contests at the Crystal Palace, and he believed there was nothing better to induce bands to keep on the steady road of improvement. He intimated that Linthwaite would have to compete in the first section at next year's contest, and as they would be opposed by some of the finest bands in the world, they would need all the support and encouragement which could be afforded them. He hoped they would be able to go into the contest field with an up-to-date set of instruments second to none. The reputation of the band was something to be proud of, and nothing would give him greater pleasure than that they should outshine their present success and obtain the much-coveted cup valued at 1,000 guineas. Mr. Iles referred to the presence of Mr. Richard Stead, of Slaithwaite, one of the judges at the contest, who was amongst the audience. There had been, he stated, certain statements flying about the country as to the qualifications of the judges, but he considered their decisions were honest, straight, above board, and altogether beyond suspicion. He then handed the cup to the Chairman, and after once more congratulating the .band, expressed the hope that this success would stimulate them to greater efforts in the future. (Loud applause.)

The Chairman accepted the trophy in a few appropriate words. The new instruments have been secured, and in the order of merit at the great coming contest referred to, Linthwaite was seventh on the list.


General Observations

For the fifty-first annual contest at Belle Vue there has been a keen struggle between the great bands of the North, the South being mostly out of it; at least until very lately, when at the Crystal Palace, at the end of September, a great contest has been held during the last few years, and here most of the principal prizes have been brought North. Last year Black Dyke and Linthwaite secured the two principal prizes respectively in the order named. What these men have to do, the distances they have to travel to and from practice, the natural abilities required, and the devotion necessary, is something of a study to those who understand these things. Without drawing an unkind comparison, how easy it is to attain fame in football if strength, speed, and courage be there! But it is not so in music; it takes years and years to accomplish, and yet how popular the former, and how badly paid and patronised the latter. It used not to be so in the early days of contesting, when Meltham and Linthwaite were neck and neck; then, as each band returned home with their prizes, the inhabitants at each village used to turn out to welcome them, even if it were midnight when the return journey was accomplished. Then it was a great fight with Lancashire, tins county being often beaten down to the lower prizes - Besses o' th' Barn in those days were low down, Kingston Mills came up pretty well, Rochdale Old was not bad, Stalybridge had a good band, Mossley was coming on, Accrington was all there, Pemberton Old, as to-day, was good, and this year for a wonder got the first prize.

This was all after the great time of the Bacup Band, which had carried all before it for a long time, and this old band has a history all its own with regard to winning at Belle Vue in the days of a long time ago.

The fight between the Roses was just as keen as is the battle in cricket, and to keep prominent there was something to do for Yorkshire. Linthwaite was fortunate in getting the valuable services of that great musician, Mr. Sidney Jones, who in his turn did much to bring out Mr. E. Swift, one of the oldest and best bandmasters of the day. If he were to reckon up the scalps he has taken they would be a formidable array, and do credit to his great worth in the brass band world, not only as a great teacher, but also an equally eminent writer of selections which have ever been popular with brass bands.

This year (1903) Linthwaite is his only band at Belle Vue. What a lesson to go back to 1869, when this combination begun to contest! Since then they have taken many good prizes at this great musical carnival, from the first on September 7th, 1874, down to nothing at all, as the Irishman would say; and, what is worse, the latter very often.

Charles Auty was a long and well-tried leader, who did some good things in his time. John Beaumont was a born artist. H. Haigh was a good and tried friend of the band. J. Taylor, in 1882, won the euphonium solo competition (£18 18s.) at Belle Vue. H. Kaine was a wonderful acquisition, and in his time did many great things. Monk was a good player, but did not stop long. Then, whoever was better than H. Oldham on the tenor, or Fisher on the bass, or Garside on the trombone? One is only remembering a few of the (so-called) old fossils, while the rest of the band were no less efficient, and not daring to mention the young race both in and out of the band for fear of causing jealousy, because in music (as in other things) there is much more trouble with success than in the ordinary course of things.

One has seen in companies shareholders quiet for years without a dividend, but let the same company be more than successful, then the "music" begins, and from the directors, the manager, the workers, and the .shareholders there conies an ugly rush, a sort of avalanche, which, if not stopped in time, will crush all before it. The moral in bands, men, and companies is always to be reasonable and just, then all will come right in the end. But what has all this to do with Belle Vue contest? Well, let us come back to the subject.

Monday last was a great day. Thirty bands entered, nineteen were selected, and each played a selection - "Caractacus," selected and arranged by Charles Godfrey, R.A.M., Lieut, and B.M., Royal Horse Guards. It is a difficult piece, calculated to test every member of the band, but so great have our bands become that they seem able to tackle anything no matter how great or difficult. The playing was simply wonderful, and every band deserved a prize. The contest begun a little after one o'clock. Of the nineteen bands, A. Owen had eight, John Gladney three, Edwin Swift one, William Rimmer three, and the rest divided between men less known. The first prize was £50 in money and cup; second, £30; third, £20; fourth, £15; fifth, £10; and sixth, £5. To these prizes were added musical instruments, etc., by the various well-known makers. What a record Mr. John Gladney has at these contests! No matter which band, he is almost sure to win. Often above six prizes he took first, second, and sixth. Mr. A. Owen, with eight bands, only managed to get fifth - Lea Mount, Halifax, together with a consolation prize for Lea Mills. Mr. Rimmer took third with Irwell Springs, and a consolation prize with Wingates Temperance. Mr. B. Lodge, of Primrose Hill, Huddersfield, happily took fourth prize with Lindley - Mr. Gladney's old band. But Mr. E. Swift is to be sympathised with very greatly for missing to win with Linthwaite. They played magnificently - tone, tune, ensemble, smartness, and finish were marked features - everyone declaring it was a fine performance, which only took nine minutes (less time than any of the other bands), but they were badly drawn between some good bands, and third in the order of going in, while Pemberton and Lindley were very much more favoured by coming in later on and between some poorer bands. Indeed, Linthwaite never was very fortunate at Belle Vue, and had their merit to depend on their success here, they would never have had much success. Their renown has all been known outside these contests. It is thirteen years since they ever got a prize at these gardens. Indeed, they have ever been unfortunate here, but this year it is a double misfortune, because they have just got their new instruments, were in great need of the money, and had gone so well prepared and confident. Their friends must sympathise with them the more and rally round them with that support which they so richly deserve. If it is some consolation to the band and their numerous supporters, it is to know they are in good company, for neither Besses o' th' Barn or Kingston Mills (two of the best bands there) got one penny.

Batley Old, another good Yorkshire band, was unfortunate, so that company in distress should make the trouble less for poor Linthwaite, who will do better next time, and, what is more, have better luck - let us hope to be renewed at London again when they go to the Crystal Palace.

There were the usual crowds from all parts of the country, the shouters for the popular bands, the old musicians, and those on pleasure bent. Each one here had his or her turn, and right well did they score. All had prizes, and there were no blanks. Fortunately, there was less drunkenness than ever before. Better order and great good humour, only marred by the terrible rain which set in just after five o'clock, and made everybody miserable, except those who had won the day.

The judges were Mr. Manuel Bilton, bandmaster 17th (Duke of Cambridge Own) Lancers; Mr. J. O. Shepherd, musical director, Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool; and Mr. J. W. Beswick, Manchester; and it is no mistake to say their decisions gave general satisfaction, although, indeed, they were much in the nature of a surprise to a good many there.


Death of Mr. E. Swift: A Friendly Appreciation

On Tuesday morning died one of the best of our well-known citizens, Mr. Edwin Swift, at his residence, Roadside, Milnsbridge, Linthwaite, at the age of sixty years, honoured and respected by all. The deceased gentleman leaves a widow and an up-grown family to mourn his irreparable loss, and a district to be all the poorer through his departure to the "Better Land." For a long time it has been seen that Mr. Swift has not been very well. About four years ago he had a great shock by the death of his favourite son Fred, a lad beloved by all, a great acquisition to the Linthwaite Band, and possessing a talent almost equal to his father, with more favourable opportunities of developing- the name, and had at the time of his demise won not only honour at home, but a great position in Scotland. This great loss told and hurt, but still Mr. Swift did not lose head or heart, but went on with his work to drown his sorrows.

For last September - Belle Vue contest - he had doubly prepared the Linthwaite Band, and with their new instruments he was expecting great results, and when the two first prizes were given to one eminent conductor, and again in London, a month after, the first and second prize to another who had failed at Belle Vue, it was a case of fairly putting out Mr. Swift's pipe - food for reflection, and a cause of great disappointment to many good supporters of bands - but Edwin opened not his mouth; still it told, and he was greatly disconcerted.

Only few knew of Mr. Swift's illness; indeed, he did not know himself, for only the other Sunday, when the writer went to see him for the first time, he jokingly remarked that he was going to cheat the doctor and hoped to be soon well again. But, alas ! the hopes of man are often doomed to failure, and when Dr. Macgregor saw him on the Monday he could offer no cheering hope, and after this the spirit of the subject of our notice drooped to hopelessness. On the Wednesday early in January he took to his bed, on which he peacefully lay until death stole his gentle spirit away, as above stated.

Mr. Edwin Swift was a great honour not only to the sons of toil, but to every class. A lad from the loom, who, mostly self-taught, had climbed to the highest rung of musical fame in the brass band world. No one was more popular at the welcome concerts in the park during the lovely summer months each year with Wyke and Linthwaite. What he has done for the latter can never be forgotten.

In the "Slaithwaite Notes" these things have been told with glowing enthusiasm by a friend from youth upwards, who has been true till death, and now mourns for him as a verra brother.

During his time Mr. Swift has clone many things - commencing a boy as a flautist (under the late Mr. Thornton, of the New Street Temperance Hotel), a member of the Linthwaite Drum and Fife Band, then a woollen weaver, and when at home studied music. He soon discarded the flute and took up the horn, became a good player, and then joined the Linthwaite Band, which was just becoming popular, under Mr. J. S. Jones, the Harrogate bandmaster for so many years - the father not only of bands in Yorkshire, but the proud paternal father of sons and daughters of musical geniuses. From this gentleman Mr. Swift learnt much, became second conductor of the - band (under Mr. Jones), and when the latter retired became first, a position he has retained to the time of his lamented death. It is no exaggeration to say that nearly all the first-class bands of the day and yesterday have greatly benefited by his wonderful teaching - Leeds Forge, Golcar, Holme Mills, Mossley, Mirfield, Dewsbury, Wyke, Linthwaite, Todmorden Old, Cornholme, Lindley, Honley, Oldham, Rifles, Kingston Mills, Denton Old, and hosts of others too numerous to mention - not only this, but his masterly compositions and clever arranging of music for bands in contesting and otherwise. He was self-taught, had great natural abilities, which brought him to the top of his profession. He was ever liked as a judge, because he was fair, able, and honest, and when contesting the same. And what fights they were in the long time ago, especially between Meltham and Linthwaite ! No complaining when he had lost, as was often honestly the case, nor even when (as was sometimes though) he had been cruelly robbed of a well-earned prize. This latter kind of thing has always told adversely on bands and their supporters, and if too often indulged in would seriously endanger contesting, and will lose many friends. So that to-day we have not the rosy morn of bands, which are still the proudest products of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and may they long retain their pre-eminence, and young men rise to fill up the wide gap created by the removal of this faithful friend and brother, and that those who struggle so hard to be first may always get that place honestly then bands will come back with all that place of honour and position to which they are so eminently entitled by their great merit and ability.

The Funeral

Many were the signs of regret and sorrow on the occasion of the late Mr. Edwin Swift's funeral, which took place at the Wesleyan Chapel, Linthwaite, on Friday afternoon last. The weather could scarcely have been more wretched, as rain fell incessantly during the whole of the afternoon; but, despite this, an immense number of people either witnessed or took part in the mournful procession. The funeral cortege was formed at the deceased's house at Milnsbridge, and wended its way along the plain and unsheltered Manchester Road in the blinding rain. Heading the' procession were the members of the Linthwaite Brass Band in uniform, with whom were many members of the Wyke Band, and other musicians from the Lindley, Almondbury, Gainsboro' Britannia, and Gainsboro' Volunteer Bands, in ordinary mourning. With muffled drums the large body of instrumentalists played Handel's '"Dead March" all along the route, and lent a very melancholy air to the proceedings. Following the hearse came the carriages, in which were the widow, three sons, and three daughters of the deceased, and other relatives. Several members of the Linthwaite Brass Band Committee were in attendance, and old players in the band were represented by Messrs. John Beaumont, Henry Oldham, Oliver Pogson, and James Garside, together with an old secretary, Mr. B. Holroyd.

Amongst well-known conductors, bandmasters, and representatives of bands were Messrs. John Gladney (Manchester), T. Valentine (conductor of Harrogate Borough Band), Albert Gray (conductor of the Northern Military Band, Manchester), Fenton Renshaw (Brockholes), B. D. Jackson (Dewsbury), John Paley (conductor of Shipley Band), John Riley (Gainsboro' Volunteer Band), J. Bromley (Batley Old Band), Harry Bower (bandmaster of Black Dike Band). William Lumb and P. Turner (Wyke Band). Cooke (Gainsboro' Britannia Baud), Ashworth and Rushton (bandmaster and secretary respectively of Eagley Mills Band), and John Brook (bandmaster of Thornhill Band), Messrs. Richard Stead (Slaithwaite), and Edwin Stead (Meltham), former members of the old Meltham Mills Band, were present. Mr. T. Slatford also represented the well-known firm of Messrs. Besson and Company, London (who supplied the Linthwaite Band with their new instruments), and Mr. J. Eaton represented the Cornet, whilst a deputation attended from the Milnsbridge Liberal Club, of which the deceased was a member. Councillors Lawley and J. Milnes, Messrs. A. J. Haigh, J. Wadsworth, and A. Broadbent joined in the procession. Blinds were drawn at many houses along the route, and the knots of people assembled to witness the procession, whilst many followed the cortege to Linthwaite. The Rev. S. C. Hall met the mourners at the chapel, and was joined by the Rev. J. Short, of Milnsbridge. The coffin, upon which were placed the family wreaths, was laid in front of the communion rails. The Rev. S. C. Hall read the opening sentences of the service, and Mr. J. T. Bramley played on the organ Mendelssohn's "Rest in the Lord." The hymn "Rock of Ages" was pathetically sung by the congregation, and the two ministers read portions of Scripture, after which Handel's "Dead March" was played by Mr. Bramley. The coffin was then borne to the grave, where the rest of the funeral service was conducted by the two ministers, and the augmented band played "The Last Wish" twice through. The coffin, which was of solid pitch pine with brass mounts, bore the inscription: "Edwin Swift, died February 9th, 1904, aged 60 years." A sorrowing look into the grave, where other departed members of the family are also interred, was taken by the mourners, who then departed. There was a very large number of floral tributes, and in addition to those sent by relatives of the deceased, wreaths were sent by the Linthwaite Brass Band Committee, Wyke and Eagley Mills Bands, Mr. John Taylor (Ball Royd, Longwood), Mr. and Mrs. Holdsworth (Middlesbro'), Messrs. Besson and Company, Mr. lies (proprietor of the British Bandsman), Messrs. Hodgson and Company (Huddersfield) and Mr. W. Rimmer (Southport). The messages of condolence received, which were very numerous, included letters from the Contest Committee, Abergavenny, South Wales and Monmouthshire Brass Band Association, Ferndale Prize Band, Mr. G. T. H. Seddon (London), and Mr. John Dixon (representing Messrs. Boosey and Company, of London), all of which were handed to the family by Mr. Richard Stead.