Our feature on Huddersfield’s hand-bell tradition has sparked a fascinating follow-up.

I was contacted by Alan Booth, of Lindley,, who said he had a Huddersfield medal – and it turns out to be a very special one.

Alan said he had never seen a photograph of his great grandfather, William Booth who was the secretary and a member of Huddersfield hand-bell ringers, and he didn’t even know he had a great uncle so it just shows what nostalgia can throw up.

Hand-bell tune ringing in the town is very ancient, probably going back at least to the 1700s and earlier, along with many other towns and villages amongst the Pennines.

Alan’s great grandfather William was also secretary of the Yorkshire Hand-Bell Ringers Association at its formation in 1903.

William lived at 7 Stile common, Primrose hill, and his house is still there. He was a weaver by trade and had been a member of the band since 1873. He also conducted the band at the British Open in 1900.

William’s brother, Lewis Booth – a hand-bell conductor – lived at Golcar.

The year 1874 saw Allen Hurst conduct Huddersfield at the British Open at Belle Vue Manchester.

Nostalgia: Huddersfield has rich hand-bell tradition  

For the next three decades they were in and out of the prizes in the British Open without actually ever winning it.

Two years later they entered the same contest as Huddersfield Albert for the first time and this was a name they would continue to use until they disbanded in 1908. In 1901 the band bought a brand new set of 164 bells.

In 1904 the champion band Crosland Moor United, having won three times in a row, were debarred and Huddersfield seized their chance as they had been in second place to their local rivals in both 1902 and 1903.

Commemorative booklet of the hand-bell tour of Australasia in 1911 and 1912
Commemorative booklet of the hand-bell tour of Australasia in 1911 and 1912
 

Huddersfield were conducted by resident conductor Lewis Booth and had also just won the new Yorkshire Championship under his leadership. This contest was held at the Hippodrome, Queensgate, in April 1904 and the test piece for this contest was L’Italian in Algeria by Rossini. Huddersfield won with 156 marks out of a possible 160.

The 1904 British Open was the Golden Jubilee of the hand-bell competitions held at Belle Vue. A special medal was cast by Vaughtons Ltd of Birmingham – a company still in operation – and this is the medal which Alan Booth had. The medal is in silver and gold is clearly a thing of great beauty and superb craftsmanship.

The jubilee competition had 16 bands in the line-up. The band brought in a paid conductor J B ‘Wick’ Lodge, whose ability to conduct hand-bells was renowned in the town. He was also a tower bell ringer at Huddersfield Parish Church and lived at 3 Commercial Place (next to the canal) on Commercial Street which runs from Huddersfield University to Firth Street.

The test piece was Verdi’s Rigoletto and this time there was to be no mistake. The band returned to Huddersfield and marched from the railway station to their headquarters in Battye’s Yard off the Market Place in triumph.

They had won the double – The Yorkshire Championship and the British Open.

There were 12 members in the band, but does anyone know the names of the members in the photograph?

In honour of the jubilee, I think every member of the band received one of the special medals, as an identical one was featured in the Examiner in the 1980s from the family of J B Lodge.

In 1906 Lewis Booth moved to Bradford, and his brother William then took over as resident conductor of the Huddersfield band until his death in June 1908, aged just 49. After this the band folded and the whole ringing outfit including the bells was sold to the new breakaway Crosland Moor Public ringers. But that’s another story.

* The Book Ringing for Gold contains many other stories of the districts famous hand-bell heritage. Copies can be had from Huddersfield Reference Library.

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