James Thorpe

JAMES  THORPE  -  Principal Cornet Fodens Band.




This giant of a man was born at Glossop, Derbyshire, in 1883. By the age of twenty five he had built up a reputation as a very fine cornet player, so it was no surprise that when the Foden brothers were building up a top class band, as charged by their father, their eyes and ears should fall on our subject and in 1909 he joined the solo cornet ranks of Foden's Band, sitting as Assistant Principal Cornet to the great Edwin Firth.  There he sat for nearly the next ten years.

As is now well known, Edwin was killed in the Great War in 1918, and at that point James Thorpe moved into his chair.

I once asked Hubert Shergold, Fodens flugel horn star, who sat behind him for many years, how he compared to Edwin. I distinctly recall his opinion. He said ‘Nobody compares to Edwin, and never will’.  However, he went on to say that James Thorpe was a very fine player, safe as houses, and with a lip of leather. In his career he was to win 160 Gold and Silver medals, and a number of Cups.


The  Empire  Solo  Championships

John Jennison was the owner of the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens at Manchester; they had been owned by his family for many years.

Jennison came up with the idea of organising a Solo Contest to outdo all previous solo contests.

The Great War had just ended, and the British Forces were being demobilised. Not only British but from all over the British Empire; what a gathering of the finest instrumentalists to invite to compete, and of course at King’s Hall, Belle Vue.

In the event, it took rather a long time to organise, so many had grabbed the first opportunity to return home, but even so, over one hundred competitors entered. Inevitably, located so close to Belle Vue, a number of the stars of Foden's Motor Works Band entered. There were three sections; cornet, euphonium and trombone.

The date was set for Saturday 24th May 1919; there was no time to waste.

There was going to be a preliminary round of the 41 cornet entries, with a choice from three test pieces; My Pretty Jane, Rule Britannia and My Old Kentucky Home.  James Thorpe chose to play ‘My Pretty Jane’.  The adjudicator was to be John Partington of Bolton. 

Contemplating the event, our hero realised that much more than rehearsing his choice would be needed. His solo presented a number of challenges to the soloist, but there was more than that; there would be the King’s Hall. Packed to the rafters; stifling atmosphere; thick with cigarette and pipe tobacco smoke, these presented an added challenge, and they had to be met. In later years I was to know his daughter Doris well, but it was only after she had passed way that I thought to have asked her about the event first hand, or at least second hand.

In the days immediately before the contest his private practice began by building up the fire to a maximum, then closing all the curtains and shutting all the doors in his house in Vicarage Lane, Elworth. Then he put on his waistcoat, his jacket, his scarf, a hat and his big overcoat. Was this, he wondered, what it would be like in the King’s Hall. He was soon to find out.

The Preliminary Rounds were held on the morning of Finals Day, with 41 entries in the cornet section, 33 in the euphonium section and 32 in the trombone section.

 I was later to discover that entrants were able to have a piano accompanist, but that discovery came much later, as a future story will reveal.

Accompanied by local pianist, Charles Salmon, the organist at the Sandbach Christian Science Mission, his performance of ‘Pretty Jane’ was faultless, and he was awarded First Prize in the Cornet Section preliminary round. This was against such notable players as Harold Pinches and Owen Bottomley of Black Dyke, and Charlie Dawson and Joe Brooks of Foden's, Another entrant was Master G Chappell of Foden's, of whom I must confess I know nothing. Another was teenager Harry Mortimer.

James Thorpe’s prize was £20 and a Gold Medal donated by Brass Band News .  Second was Arthur Laycock, who won £7, and third was Clifton Jones who won £3.

For the record, the euphonium section, with 41 entrants, was won by J A Moss of Wingates, 2nd J Hilly of Haworth and 3rd Fred Webb of Besses.  The great Arthur Webb of Foden's was very annoyed that there was no tenor horn section, so entered playing on a borrowed euphonium, but he did not figure in the prizes.

The Trombone Section was won by J Challenger of Clydebank, 2nd E Boan of Bentley Colliery and 3rd Harold Moss of Wingates.

Finally there was Special Prize, a Gold Medal, for the best soloist of the day, donated by Boosey & Hawkes, and that too went to our hero James Thorpe.

He continued to lead Foden's Band until January 1925, when, aged forty one, he retired. So he could reflect that he was preceded by the Great Edwin Firth and succeeded by the Great Harry Mortimer.

For the next twenty years he coached and conducted local lower section bands.

Allan Littlemore   Sandbach   August 2018.


JAMES  THORPE – His  medals  and  his  Cups.

So the next piece of research was quite straight forward. His grand daughter lives in the village, while I know his two Great Grand Children.  160 Gold and Silver medals, including two from the Empire Solo Championships, and a number of Cups. This next stage, finding them,  was going to be easy. Oh no it wasn’t.

His family had no Medals or Cups, nor did Foden's Band. I figured that all those prizes must be somewhere, but where?

Then my luck turned. Foden's Famous Band was awarded a National Lottery Fund Grant to create a comprehensive Heritage Lottery website and publicised a request for any memorabilia.

Professor Nicholas Childs, Music Director of Black Dyke Band, and formerly the holder of the same post at Foden's, had a framed Gold Medal he had been sent many years earlier when he was at Foden's. He generously returned it to Foden's to feature among their Heritage Memorabilia. 

It was beautifully mounted and beneath it is written

Golden Cornet Medal

15th August 1919

Won By J Thorpe

Foden Band.

Then, on the obverse side of the medal, is engraved the following.


AUG 15TH 1919





Could this possibly be one of James Thorpe’s two Gold Medals from the Empire Solo Contest of 1919. Well maybe, but the date is wrong; it should have read 24th May 1919.

Then I did what any decent researcher should do; I took the back off the frame to see what inside revealed.

There to my excitement was a letter as follows:-         


 Mr T Berry

                                                                                c/o Glossop Band Club

                                                                                Wood Street



Dear Sirs,

The enclosed medal was won in competition by J Thorpe, a member of Fodens Band, in 1919.  The competition he won, was, I believe, known as the Golden Cornet.  Mr Thorpe then gave the medal to a Mr J Cooper, but I am not aware of the reason for him doing this.

However Mr Cooper, before his death, gave it to a cousin who in turn left it to her cousin Mr George Metcalf.  Mr Metcalf is now 87 years young, still active and dancing three times a week.

Hearing of the Girls in Brass Charity Concert at Glossop Band Club on 22.11.98, he asked me to enquire if any of the present Foden's Band were taking part and to ask if the medal would be of any interest to add to the memorabilia you may already have. If so he is very happy to present it to you.

If you accept the offer, I would appreciate an acknowledgement of receipt sent to Mr Metcalf at 131 Newshaw Lane, Hadfield, Glossop.

This would verify that I have passed on the medal to the right quarter.

Thanking You in Anticipation,

T Berry

Glossop Old Band Club.


So that moved me forward a bit, but having won it in May 1919, why should James Thorpe have given such a treasured medal to J Cooper in August 1919, and who was this Mr Cooper anyway?

That’s it, I am afraid ! 

Foden's Band has the medal; I have a report of the Empire Solo Contest; village folk lore tells me all about James Thorpe’s preparation for the contest; I have the letter donating the medal to Foden's Band.  Does that make me satisfied?  Not one bit.

 Furthermore, there were two medals; one for winning the cornet competition, probably this one, and one for being the best overall soloist.

Who was J Cooper and why did James Thorpe give him this treasured medal?  It must have been a great friendship or a huge debt. Is there anyone who can solve this mystery?

And where is the second gold medal?

And where are James Thorpe’s 160  medals and cups?  So far I’ve only done half a job?

Allan Littlemore

Sandbach      August 2018

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