Glimpses of Foden's Past

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 20 December 2010

It is quite remarkable how rare gems from the past very occasionally turn up. In this case not just a gem which was thought to be lost forever, but a gem which, as far as I was aware, ever existed. A gem of writing started in 1909 and continued uninterrupted until 1974.

 So what is it? Well it is a hand written record, in a ledger 8” x 13”, of every prize, and its value won by Fodens band, and of every engagement, and the associated fee, fulfilled by the band.
 
Who started it? I wish I could say with confidence. It certainly wasn’t either William Rimmer or William Halliwell, the professional conductors. I suspect that initially it was Ted Wormald who was Bandmaster, and part time trombone player. If so he started it first with an entry which read ‘April 10th 1909 – Brierfield Contest – 3rd Prize - £5-0-0. That is about £300 in today’s reckoning.
 
Initially named Elworth Prize Silver Band in 1900, and, under the patronage of Edwin Foden, then Fodens Motor Wagon Works from 1902, the band had modest ambitions. Then in 1908 Edwin decided that he wanted a top quality band so set his two sons, Billy and Edwin (Jnr) the task of recruiting a line up of the finest players.
 
They had all the necessary attractions to make for an easy recruitment exercise. What was going to be a very fine band; a new instrument, a top professional conductor in William Rimmer, a job in Fodens factory, and, where necessary, a Company house to rent. It was no wonder, then, that the start of the 1909 contesting season saw them launch into the prizes.
 
No first prize came their way at the beginning, but a second prize at Belle Vue, Manchester, on 10th July 1909 was of immense significance. The prize, as recorded in the ledger, was £28-16 shillings, cash and a cornet. This contest, like today’s Grand Shield, was the passport to the September Belle Vue; what today we know as the British Open Brass Band Championship. In those days it was played on a Monday to coincide with the local Gorton Wakes. I wonder if all the bandsmen had a ‘sickie’.
 
On 6th September 1909, Fodens won the Belle Vue contest for the first time, for which they received the Challenge Cup, (to be returned), a cornet and three Gold Medals with a total value of £128-16 shillings. Why three medals I don’t know; maybe the Professional Conductor, the Bandmaster and the Principal Cornet. If so that would have been William Rimmer, Ted Wormald and Edwin Firth. I wonder where they are now.
 
That set up great excitement in the village as an invitation to the National Championships nineteen days later at the Crystal Palace, London, followed. A fairy tale would have had them winning that too, but it was not to be, the band having to be content with second prize for which they received the Daily Telegraph Cup and instrument and £100. Using the RPI today, that would approximate to £7,000..
 
1910 saw first prizes won at Abergavenny and New Brighton, and then, on 5th September, a repeat of their success at Belle Vue. The cash prize was £50, a cup valued at £20, a Hawkes cornet and three more medals.
 
Two weeks later they contested at Colwyn Bay and only got second prize. They can’t have had open adjudication!
 
On 1st October the National Championships provided the first prize and the elusive double. The cash prize was £40, a Boosey’s cornet valued at £26, medals (no quantity mentioned) at £3-5 shillings, the Trophy, to return of course, valued at £1,050 and a Bandmaster’s prize of one guinea. By now William Rimmer of Southport had stood down and been replaced by William Halliwell of Wigan; Mr Halliwell as everyone called him.
 
1911 was a very successful year with first prizes at Abergavenny, New Brighton, Douglas on the Isle of Man, and Manchester White City, all leading up to the two major contests in September. No double this time, unless two second prizes counts as a double.
 
On 11th April that year, the band played at 2.00 pm for the official opening of the Bandstand in nearby Congleton Park. This was followed by a concert in the Town Hall in the evening, the combined fee being a princely £16. 
 
2nd September 1912 was the Diamond Jubilee of the Belle Vue contest, and the organisers celebrated by providing 27 medals for the winners, each with a diamond mounted in the middle. Fodens won, and to this day there are a number of medals still proudly shown by some family descendents in the village. They were valued at £5 each.
 
For this event we get sight of the cost side of the balance sheet. Rail fare and food cost £9-12 shillings; Mr Halliwell’s fee was £10; 24 men were given £1 each, while poor Ted Wormald, the Bandmaster only got 10 shillings.
 
The 1912 National Championships only yielded 3rd Prize of £20 and a Highams cornet and case valued at 13 guineas. The expenses side makes for interesting reading, with hotel expenses at £35 and railway fares at £20. So, even then, modestly successful bands were out of pocket at contests. Plus ca change!
 
In 1913 the Band won second prize at Abergavenny of £6. The expenses were lumped together as £23, and notably it reads ‘including Mr Halliwells’. Another subsidised event!
 
Entering the New Brighton contest incurred fare expenses of £4-10 shillings, being rail fare from Crewe to Liverpool, and ferry across the Mersey. There’s a song title there somewhere.
 
An interesting engagement took place at the local Haslington Flower Show. The band was required to play ‘Selections’ in the afternoon and for dancing in the evening! All for £15.
 
The same year saw a booking at Hanley Grand Theatre. The engagement was for a week, twice nightly, for the sum of £80.
 
By September 1914, just after the Great War had started, there is listed, for the first time, two concerts where the proceeds were for the National Relief Fund
 
For the 1916 contest at Belle Vue, Mr Halliwell’s fee had gone up to £11. He also conducted Irwell Springs at the same event, so would have quite a profitable day.
 
Roland Seddon, a local salt baron, booked the band for two concerts at Middlewich for the War Effort. The fee was only £15, but it was only three miles away.
 
Many of the engagements were for the Red Cross, War Efforts and Hospital Committees. Sometimes they were on a Sunday, where the Christian conscience was eased by including a couple of hymn tunes and calling them ‘Sacred Concerts’.
 
In June 1918, Principal Corner player, Edwin Firth, was on a brief leave from the Front. He played at Chester Groves, by the river, and fatefully played Tosti’s ‘Goodbye’, much to the distress of his fellow bandsmen. Just days later, on his return to France, he was killed in action near to Varennes, and is buried in a Military Cemetery near to Albert. He was only 29. I was recently able to persuade the local Town Council to name a cul-de-sac near to my home in Sandbach as ‘Edwin Firth Close’.
 
The 1918 Belle Vue, where the band was placed 5th has ledger entries which read G Trombone player Lawrence, Bb player George Rogerson, 2nd Baritone J Sadler and Repiano S Wilkinson. It would seem that the wartime exigencies had hit even Fodens Band and they needed to include deputies.
 
The prizes at the Fallowfield (Manchester) contest included a baton and five medals. This latter seems to equate to the same proportion of life boats on the Titanic!
 
In September 1918, with the end of the Great War in site, the band fulfilled an engagement at Peel Park, Salford, where the occasion was the visit of Prime Minister Lloyd George. The Foden brothers, like the Prime Minister, wre Liberals, but they still charged the highest fee they could get.
 
Maybe the most significant of all concerts around this time was the one given free in the band’s own village of Elworth. It was on 19th July 1919, and was in aid of Elworth Peace Celebrations Committee. A month later there was a concert for the ‘Sandbach Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Comrades of the War’
 
On 12th June 1920 was held the Empire Solo Contest at Belle Vue, Manchester. The winner was Jim Thorpe, Principal Cornet of Fodens Bans playing ‘Pretty Jane’. Then, a week later, it was off to Scotland for the Glasgow Contest.
 
In 1921 the band secured second prize at the Crystal Palace, winning £50 and also completed a busy weekend by getting £10 for a Massed band Concert, £35 for a concert at Islington Empire and £60 from Edison Bell for a recording session. Expenses lists hotel and chara(banc). In all that year the band fulfilled over thirty engagements typically charging between £30 and £40.
 
For the Blaenau Festiniog contest in 1923, first prize returned £70, but the expenses included the cost of admission tickets! Mr Halliwell charged £3 per rehearsal.
 
In 1926 they gave a performance at Reaseheath Hall, near Crewe, for the visit of HRH The Prince of Wales.
 
In 1924, for the Crystal Palace contest, the bandsmen stayed for 2 nights at the Ascot and Rodney hotels all for £26; happy days.
 
The 29th May 1926 contest at Leigh, provides the first entry of Fred Mortimer as Bandmaster. Mr Halliwell got £3 and Fred received £2.
 
The band secured a hat trick of wins at Belle Vue in 1926-7-8. For the third success, Mr Halliwell was paid £10 and Fred Mortimer £6. His contribution to these successes was being recognised.
 
17TH January 1927 records a fee of £21 for probably the first ever radio broadcast for the BBC, Manchester. There were to be four other broadcasts that year.
 
The summer of 1929 set out a pattern for the next decade. August 3rd at Loggerheads, the 4th at Rotherham, the 5th at Belper, the 7th at Alfreton, the 8th at Alton Towers, 11th – 17th at Southend on Sea, the 18th at West Ham, the 19th – 25th at Tunbridge Wells, and the 26th at Kettering. This last would be on the way home! In September there was a week in Hastings.
 
The win at Crystal Palace in 1930 was the band’s second in the National Championships, so all of the players awards were upgraded from a bronze medal to a silver medal. The 26 medals cost £6-10 shillings. It was a busy weekend with the contest on the Saturday, Massed Bands in the evening (£10), and on the next day a recording for Columbia (£70), a BBC broadcast (£20), and a concert at Finsbury Park Empire (£40)
 
The 1931 Belle Vue contest records ‘No prize – Drawn No 1’. That didn’t stop John Henry Iles from booking the band for two separate weeks at a fee of £150 each time. In addition there were bookings of a week each at Scarborough, Southend on Sea, Bournemouth, Tunbridge Wells and two weeks at London’s Olympia. 
 
The 1932 Crystal Palace saw the third win in this event, and so each player was awarded a Gold Medal costing £3.
 
The most costly booking to date came in the summer of 1933. From 18th June to 15th July, the band played in Glasgow, Dunfermline and Edinburgh for £750.  That was followed by weeks in Southend on Sea, Hyde Park, Plymouth, and Worthing. Plymouth was where the players joked that it was possible to hear the band and see the Sound.
 
After the third win, and the Gold Medals, the 1933 win saw the players getting bronze medals with Gold Bars which had inscribed on them ‘Fourth Time.     I know this because I am the proud owner of one. In fact I own four Crystal Palace Medals which I bought at a coin and medal fair in the late 1970s. They had formerly belonged to Bob Shepley who played back row cornet in the band for around fifty years.
 
More of the same followed until the very significant entry of 4th November to 17th December 1936 when it records ‘Empire Exhibition, South Africa - £2,300’ My Google calculator says this would be the equivalent of £100,000 today. This provided for the players wages. Travel and accommodation within South Africa were extra.
 
After that even £755 for 29 days in 1937 in the Glasgow Parks was a bit mundane.
 
2nd September 1939 records ‘Hyde Park, London’, and then over written ‘Cancelled; expenses allowed’. The Second World War had been declared.   Things would never be the same again.
 
The diary for 1941 records a total of over 40 engagements bolstered by sixteen engagements for recordings for the BBC at their Manchester Studio. This was significant because former Principal Corner player, Harry Mortimer, had left full time playing for the Band and had taken up a position with the BBC in London as ‘Musical Advisor – Brass and Military bands’. It’s hard to beat having good friends in high places.
 
Remarkably the band played for a whole week in the Royal Parks during early August for every year throughout the War.
 
12th March 1944 was a memorable day for Music Director Fred Mortimer,.as he took his Band to his birth place of Hebden Bridge to receive the Freedom of the Town.
 
From 30th April to 23rd May, 1945, the band was engaged by a somewhat secretive entry, with a fee of £550, referred to in the ledger as BLA. This was, in fact, the British Liberation Army as the booking entailed crossing into France and travelling through the Low Countries in the wake of the Allied Army as they drove on towards Berlin. Memorable concerts and huge excited crowds led the way to Brussels Opera House for a celebration concert on VE night, 8th May. Being in Fodens Band had some great moments.
 
Later the same year, in August, the band were booked to play for a week in Hyde Park, London for £285, plus a supplement of £305 to London County Council for VJ Day celebrations.
 
A radio programme named ‘Music While You Work’ was broadcast at lunch times. Fodens were booked regularly for these, and the BBC gen rously paid £100, which often included driving down to London for the recordings.
 
By 1947 a week playing for London County Council on the Embankment was worth £285, and a week in Worthing brought in £300.
 
A year on and, for a three day engagement at the Royal Ulster Show in Belfast, the Band charged £260. From there the band travelled directly to London, for a week’s playing on the Embankment, .and from there on to Plymouth for a further week.   It is little wonder the workshop foremen in the Foden factory were not too keen to have bandsman on their books; they spent too much time off work.
 
1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain on the South Bank of the Thames in London. They were there for a week in September which coincided with me and my family being there as visitors. £300 for seven days; London County Council got a bargain.
 
Typical concert fees were, by now, £60 - £70.
 
Fred Mortimer passed away in the summer of 1953 and the following year a Memorial Concert was held at the Free Trade Hall for which the band was paid £70.
 
A significant entry in February 1954 reads ‘BBC Television’. I think this was the band’s debut on this new medium, but there are no further details.
 
Holland was the venue for two weeks of concerts in April 1956 and Jersey in 1957.
 
In January 1959 the band travelled down to London to make a radio recording. What they weren’t told was that they were also going to do a television recording of ‘This is Your Life’ when the spotlight fell on band leader Ted Heath.  He was able to fulfil an ambition to conduct a brass band, and after all, Fodens were the National Champions. The combined fee was £150.
 
June 1963 saw a three day engagement at the Festival Hall, London, and then on the fourth day they were engaged by the BBC for the radio programme ‘Bright and Early’. It doesn’t say anything about it being a recording, so maybe it was live; and very early!
 
September 1964 brought success at the British Open at Belle Vue, Manchester and a prize of £200.
 
The calendar for 1966 lists 40 engagements, but by now the engagements for a week at the seaside or the Royal Parks had ended. Two days at the Cheshire Show for a fee of £140 was as good as it got.
 
In the autumn of 1972, Music Director Rex Mortimer received a telephone enquiry for the band to play in London. That was nothing strange, but it was when the caller said he was looking to engage the band at Annabel’s, a night club in London’s Mayfair.
 
Rex was very unfamiliar with London night clubs, but the caller persisted, explaining that Annabel’s was a very sophisticated and exclusive private members restaurant and night club. Rex was not convinced, so, to test out the authenticity of the enquiry, he said he would travel to London and check out the proposed venue.
 
He did and was astonished by what he found. A few weeks later the band played at this renowned venue and joined such famous entertainers as Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Ross who have played there.   
 
For the bandsmen it was unforgettable as the price of a small beer was many times what they would pay at home for a full pint, and there was no band subsidy, even though the fee was £500.
 
That did not put off the events organiser and the following year the band played at Annabel’s once more. This time Rex pushed the fee out to £825; it was their second and final appearance at this world renowned venue.
 
1973 was the time when Harry Mortimer’s Men o’ Brass were at their most famous, and in all there were nine bookings for the band which combined with Faireys and Morris Motors. Harry’s wife Margaret was the organising force for these events, and usually charged around £110 per band, plus Harry’s fee.
 
A fee of £500 for a Granada television appearance does not indicate what the event was.
 
The last entry records ‘18th December 1974; Northwich £105’.
 
At that point Rex Mortimer retired from the Fodens Motor Works Band, and 50 years of having a Mortimer at the helm came to an end. So the entries ceased. It fell to me to become the Band Manager but I did not know of the existence of this ledger or I might have carried on this wonderful record.
 
Allan Littlemore
 
Sandbach            2010
 
 
 
 
 
For any conductor and every audience, Foden’s Band is a musical Magic Carpet. It continually takes the listener to places that few other ensembles rarely even approach Howard Snell