Chorlton Brass

Andrew Simpson remembers Manchester’s first brass band.

Chorlton’s was one of the oldest brass bands in the country having been started in the 1820s. The Stalybridge Band is older and can claim to have marched into St Peter’s Fields on the day of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, but Chorlton’s had an almost continuous run until it agreed to wind up after the last world war.

This picture dates back to the 1920s and at least a few members, like William Mellor (on the extreme right) played in the 1893 band. It performed in many of the great (and not so great) events here, and went on to win prizes.

What makes this picture interesting is that none of the band are in uniform. Perhaps it was an impromptu photograph with at least one chap still in (what I think) is a Manchester Corporation tram driver’s uniform. But I wait to be corrected. Nor can it be the full band.

During the first half of the 19th century, Chorlton was a rural community and many of the band’s members had been born in the township and earned their living from the land. Some made their own instruments, and there is a wonderful story of one bandsmen who constructed his own drum – only to find it was too big to get through the door!

As Chorlton grew, it attracted new people who made their living from other trades, so the composition of the band changed. It was the chance discovery of a photograph of the band, dated 1893, which has revealed its story. It has been possible to track almost all of the men from that picture: clerks, warehousemen and only a few from farms and market gardens.

Like many bands, ours was a close-knit group with a few families supplying many of those who played, and again, like other brass bands, these men lived close together, concentrated off Crossland Road and Beech Road.

Going back to our photograph, the 1920s were a time when a photo shoot might still attract the curious and the vain. They often appear on the edges of a picture – always staring directly into the lens, but never really part of what is going on.

I would love to know more about three children peeping over the back wall. Were these early photo bombers related to the bandsmen or had they simply followed the photographer?

My guess is that the picture was taken in the schoolyard of the old National School, which could place our three interlopers in Number 1 Passage, which runs behind the old playground wall from what was once called Crescent Road and is now Crossland.

Andrew’s website is

Picture: Allan Brown