British Open Brass Band Championships

Established 1853

The Open

Harry Mortimer
The British Open Championships, which began in 1853 at Belle Vue Manchester, is we believe the oldest music competition in the world. In 1853, the owner of Belle Vue John Jennison, agreed to stage a brass band competition in the grounds of the Zoological Gardens.
The first British Open Brass Band Contest was held on Holiday Monday 5th September 1853 as "A Grand Musical Contest with 8 Brass Bands". John Jennison, the garden owner was primarily concerned with keeping the place going as a place of general entertainment from Easter to autumn so the band contest was only one of many interests as the bear pits, polar bear cage and the Paddock were built.
The event attracted an audience of approximately 16,000, and the competition became a source of new music for the brass band movement, written by established composers, which lifted the profile and appeal of brass band music.
It also established a reputation for the commission of new test peices which continues to this day.
1886 Belle Vue Management introduced a July Contest restricted to bands who had NOT won a prize in the September British Open in the previous four years. Over 40 bands entered but the management halved the numbers to make the contest more manageable. The winning band in this contest was invited to take part in the September British Open.
1921 - The July invitation contest became the ‘Grand Shield'
1922 - The Spring Festival was held.
The programme was headed,- First Annual May Brass Band Contest Saturday, May 6th 1922. Open to Amateur Bands that have not won a prize at the July Belle Vue Contest during the past five years.
Free trade Hall Manchester
In 1982, following the sale of Belle Vue, the Open moved to the free Trade Hall, Manchester, where it remained until 1996.
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
The 1996 British Open was staged at the Bridgewater Hall, before moving on to the Symphony Hall, Birmingham the following year.
Symphony Hall Birmingham
In 1997, the Open moved to the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Margaret Mortimer's brave decision proved to be an inspired move. Here the competition has thrived, with excellent acoustics as well as fine facilities for the bands and audience alike.
Today, the British Open continues its tradition as the premier competition for the best bands in the UK., attracting an audience of all age groups.
Symphony Hall is a 2,262 seat concert venue located inside the International Conference Centre (ICC). Symphony Hall's acoustic is widely considered one of the finest in the world; the unique acoustic canopy suspended above the stage is a large sound reflector weighing thirty two tonnes. It's function is to match the visual and acoustic scale of the performance in the room. An acoustic test carried out during the commissioning period demonstrated that a pin dropped onto the stage could be heard from the auditorium.

Spring Festival Timeline

Margaret Mortimer
The Grand Shield came into being in 1921 and has a history and heritage that is inextricably linked with the British Open Contest and the Belle Vue Gardens in Manchester.
1819 - A lease is granted to John Walker on a tract of land adjacent to Hyde Road formerly used for the digging of lime.
1834 - The lease on the property is taken over by William Crisp who advertises it as "Belle Vue Tea Gardens".
1836 - John Jennison takes over the lease and following a 6 month trial takes out a 99-year lease.
1843 - A small lake, a Natural History Museum, and an entrance at the Longsight end of the property are opened as Belle Vue is extended by 13 acres.
1850 - The Hyde Road entrance was built.
1851 - The building at the Longsight entrance was built and above the gateways was a ballroom capable of accommodating 500 people. The scenic artist designer of the backdrops for the firework displays George Danson came to work at Belle Vue.
1853 - The first British Open Brass Band Contest was held on Holiday Monday 5th September 1853 as "A Grand Musical Contest with 8 Brass Bands". John Jennison, the garden owner was primarily concerned with keeping the place going as a place of general entertainment from Easter to autumn so the band contest was only one of many interests as the bear pits, polar bear cage and the Paddock were built.
1859 - The British Open Brass Band Contest was cancelled when only Three Bands entered. Black Dyke, Dewsbury and Holmefirth.
1863 - The Belle Vue Contest was spoiled by pouring rain when the contest rules incorporated the change that all cornets were to be in Bb
1869 - John Jennison Snr. died on September 20th
1871 - The classic contest band format emerged with Meltham Mills Band under the direction of John Gladney and this was initially 24 players (with 3 top cornets.)
1885 - Belle Vue started to generate its own electricity.
1886 - Belle Vue Management introduced a July Contest restricted to bands who had NOT won a prize in the September British Open in the previous four years. Over 40 bands entered but the management halved the numbers to make the contest more manageable. The winning band in this contest was invited to take part in the September British Open.
1898 - John Henry Iles, who was destined to play a major part in the development of Brass Band Contests at Belle Vue, attend the British Open. The winners at that contest were Wyke Temperance conducted by Edwin Swift.
1910 - The Kings Hall was built (in fact, the final event at the Kings Hall was the North West Amateur Brass Band Competition in February of 1982) and the format of the brass band contests was changed. The July contest became a second division of 20 bands and in May a lower section of 18 bands was commenced. The winner of each progressed up the ladder. Belle Vue now had a three-section contest. A winning band at the third division in May was invited to the July contest the following year. The British open was still held in September, to which the winner of the second July section was invited.
1921 - The July invitation contest became the ‘Grand Shield'
1922 - Belle Vue added another Junior Section Contest to the calendar to be held in May. Until 1930 these were called ‘The Belle Vue May Contests' at which time the top prize was fifteen pounds!
1925 - The Jennison family sold the park to Belle Vue (Manchester) Ltd. John Henry Iles had persuaded a group of backers to take over Belle Vue Gardens and Zoo with him as Managing Director. He now controlled both the National Brass Band Championships and Belle Vue Contests
1931 - The third division contest held in the May was named the ‘Senior Cup' with the Junior Section assuming the mantle of ‘Senior Trophy'
1937 - John Henry Iles resigned.
1940 - With the advent of war the July Contest was dropped and the rules of the May Contests were changed to allow borrowed players. From this time until 1951 they were known as the ‘Belle Vue Championship Festivals'. The British Open carried on through the war without readjustment.
1945 - The calendar of events was reviewed. The May Contests and the British Open were continued and the July competition was revived.
1952 - The British Open continued in the September whilst the other competitions were settled down to become ‘The Spring Brass Band Festival' held on one day in May. The Grand Shield remained the most important of the graduated contests. The other contests held on this day were the Senior Cup, Senior Trophy, Junior Shield, Junior Cup, Junior Trophy and the Primary Section. (The Primary Section was only held in 1952 & 1956).
1958 - A fire broke out on the 17th January 1958 that totally destroyed the Great Ballroom.
1963 - Charles Forte gained control of Belle Vue.
1968 - 48th ‘Spring Brass Band Festival' Saturday May 25th . H.F.B.Iles (son of J.H.Iles), Chairman Belle Vue (Manchester) Limited presented the prizes.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Alex Mortimer ; Senior Cup John R. Carr ; Senior Trophy George Thompson ; Junior Shield Rex Mortimer ; Junior Cup E. C. Buttress ; Junior Trophy W. Relton
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Les Preludes ; Senior Cup A Devon Fantasy ; Senior Trophy Snowden Fantasy ; Junior Shield 2nd Little Suite ; Junior Cup Four Little Maids ; Junior Trophy Partita Piccola
1970 - Golden Anniversary 50th Spring Brass Band Festival - Sponsored by John Player and Sons
Grand Shield Winners Desford Colliery Welfare Band
1971 - 51st ‘Spring Brass Band Festival of Great Britain' Saturday May 8th again sponsored by John Player and Sons. Contest Manager Alan Hopwood
H.F.B.Iles, Chairman Belle Vue (Manchester) Limited passed away ending the Iles Family association with the contest.
A new contest was introduced to Belle Vue on Sunday November 28th 1971 Granada Band of the Year Festival.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Alex Mortimer ; Senior Cup Geoffrey Brand ; Senior Trophy Rex Mortimer ; Junior Shield John R. Carr Junior Cup Kenneth Dennison ; Junior Trophy Albert Chappell
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Lorenzo ; Senior Cup Themes from the New World ; Senior Trophy –Mexican Fiesta ; Junior Shield The Seasons ; Junior Cup St. Michael's Mount ; Junior Trophy A Rural Suite
1972 - 52nd Spring Brass Band Festival Saturday May 6th . Contest Manager Brian Kennerley. Harry Mortimer presented the prizes. Concordia Band from Holland took part in the Grand Shield.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Major H. A. Kenney ; Senior Cup Kenneth Dennison ; Senior Trophy Trevor Walmsley ; Junior Shield John Carr ; Junior Cup Rex Mortimer ; Junior Trophy Cliff Edmunds
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Academic Festival Overture ; Senior Cup A Victorian Rhapsody ; Senior Trophy Rufford Abbey ; Junior Shield The Gay Delavals ; Junior Cup Little Suite For Brass (No1) ; Junior Trophy The Rising Generation
1974 - James Cook Circumnavigator' was the chosen test piece for the British Open as contest rules were changed to allow the use of percussion.
1975 - 55th Spring Brass Band Festival Saturday May 10th took on a ‘new look'. It was decided to combine the six contests into three. Retaining the Grand Shield along with a Senior Section and Junior Section (Cup and Trophy were dropped from the title). Twenty five bands were accepted in each section. Harry Mortimer presented the prizes. Contest Controller Samuel Mason.
The Granada Band of the year was held on the following day, Sunday 11th May 1975.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Eric Ball ; Senior Section Kenneth Dennison ; Junior Section Albert Chappell
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Tournament for Brass ; Senior Section Scheherazade ; Junior Section 1st Rhapsody on Negro Spirituals
1977 - The gradual decline of Belle Vue had started when the Zoo closed.
57th Annual Spring Brass Band Festival incorporated the 7th Granada Band of the Year and Harry Mortimer acted as Consultant and Advisor for the Festival.
Four Sections were held Grand Shield, Senior Cup, Senior Trophy & Junior Cup
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Trevor Walmsley ; Senior Cup Frank Bryce ; Senior Trophy Albert Chappell ; Junior Cup Denis Masters
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Land of the Mountain & the Flood ; Senior Cup Promenade ; Senior Trophy Suite in Eb ; Junior Cup A Holiday Suite
1978 - 58th Annual Spring Brass Band Festival adopted the same format as the previous year.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield George Thompson ; Senior Cup Peter Wilson ; Senior Trophy John Berryman ; Junior Cup James Langley
Test Pieces : Grand Shield 2nd Rhapsody on Negro Spirituals ; Senior Cup Little Suite For Brass (No2) ; Senior Trophy Mexican Fiesta Junior Cup Own Choice
1979 - 59th Annual Spring Brass Band Festival again incorporated the Granada Band of the Year but due to reorganisation of the Belle Vue (the amusement park was sold) the competition was confined to three sections Grand Shield, Senior Cup & Senior Trophy. The winning band in each section received a "Sovereign" cornet and case. Contest Controller Christina Lawton
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Gordon Langford & Peter Wilson ; Senior Cup Denis Carr ; Senior Trophy Dick Arrand
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Sinfonietta (Langford) ; Senior Cup Sinfonietta (Horovitz) ; Senior Trophy Sirius
1980 - 60th Annual Spring Brass Band Festival adopted the same format as the previous year.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield David Read & Peter Wilson ; Senior Cup Alan Street & George Thompson ; Senior Trophy Denis Carr & Phillip McCann
Test Pieces : Grand Shield The Crusaders ; Senior Cup Rococo Variations ; Senior Trophy Music for the Royal Fireworks
1981 - Leyland Vehicles under the baton of Richard Evans won the Grand Shield and qualified for the British Open held on Sept 5th. Contest Controller Christina Lawton
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Roy Newsome & Denis Carr ; Senior Cup Kenneth Dennison ; Senior Trophy Allan Street
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Tournament for Brass ; Senior Cup Force of Destiny ; Senior Trophy Doon Valley
1982 - It was anticipated that the 62nd Spring Brass Band Festival, reduced to two sections both held in the Cumberland Suite, would be the last brass band event to take place on the Belle Vue site. The Grand Shield was won by Brodsworth Colliery Welfare and Senior Cup by Newcastle Brown Ale Band. The Daily Mirror sponsored the contest. Contest Controller Christina Lawton
The British Open moved to the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on Saturday 4th September 1982.
After 1982 the Senior Cup was discontinued.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Arthur Butterworth & Kenneth Dennison Senior Cup David Read
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Festival Music ; Senior Cup Entertainments
1983 - The Spring Brass Band Festival now consisted of solely the Grand Shield. In 1982 the Granada Band of the Year Contest moved away, the British Open found itself a home in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester and the Grand Shield, now homeless as well, moved away. The contest moved to the Champness Hall in Rochdale for this one year but it didn't work out and Harry Mortimer with the help of the owners of the remaining halls moved it back to Belle Vue.
1984 - The Cumberland Suite remained and was used for the Grand Shield Contest although Belle Vue was much changed from its halcyon days when it staged seven contests all being played off simultaneously in the various halls around the extensive grounds as in 1952. This Grand Shield was the last brass band event to take place on the Belle Vue site. Contest Controller Christina Lawton
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Major Peter Parkes & Peter Wilson
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Le Roi d'Ys
1985 - The Grand Shield was held in the Free Trade Hall however for the first time two bands were promoted to the British Open. Forty-one bands applied of which twenty-six gained a place in the contest. The Daily Mirror sponsored the contest for the fourth time. Compere Alec Greenhalgh ; Contest Controller Christina Lawton
Adjudicators : Grand Shield James Scott & David Read
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Journey into Freedom
1986 - 66th Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Free Trade Hall on the 10th May where again two bands, Lewington Yamaha Brass and Solent Brass were promoted to the British Open. Compere Jim Rainford ; Contest Controller Christina Lawton
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Bram Gay & David Read
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Wand of Youth
1987 - Blackburn & Darwen were joined by Kennedy's Swinton Concert Brass from the 67th Festival. British Coal sponsored the contest. Compere Jim Rainford ; Contest Controller Christina Lawton
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Bram Gay & Denis Carr
Test Pieces : Grand Shield The Accursed Huntsman
1988 - 68th Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Free Trade Hall on the 7th May. Compere Jim Rainford ; Contest Controller Christina Lawton.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield James Scott & Dennis Masters
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Un Vie de Matelot
1989 - 69th Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Free Trade Hall on the 6th May. Compere Jim Rainford ; Contest Controller Christina Lawton.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield James Scott & Bram Gay
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Trittico
1990 - The 70th Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) continued its history at the Free Trade Hall on the 5th May with a decision to promote three bands to the British Open whilst the last-placed three bands from the September Contest would compete in the following Grand Shield. Contest Controller Christina Lawton.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield James Scott, Bram Gay & Frank Renton
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Ballet For Band
1991 - 71st Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Free Trade Hall on the 6th May. Compere Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller Christina Lawton. Harry Mortimer now 90 years old oversaw his last Grand Shield in which 21 bands competed.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield – David Read & James Watson
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Le Carnaval Romain
1992 - Harry Mortimer died before the 72nd Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Free Trade Hall on the 2nd May. Philip Biggs became the coordinator of the contest that continued with the three band promotion format at the Free Trade Hall. Compere –Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller – Christina Lawton.
Adjudicators : Grand Shield David Read & Denis Carr
Test Pieces : Grand Shield The Essence of Time
1993 - Held on 8th May the 73rd Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was again held in the Free Trade Hall. The May contest reverted back to the 1985 format of two bands being elevated to the British Open. Compere –Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller – Christina Lawton. ; Contest Coordinator Philip Biggs
Adjudicators : Grand Shield James Scott & James Langley
Test Pieces : Grand Shield The Year of the Dragon
1994 - For the 74th Grand Shield Philip Biggs was joined by Keith Hollinshead as fellow Contest Coordinator. The Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Free Trade Hall on the 2nd May. Compere Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller Christina Lawton. ; Contest Coordinators Philip Biggs & Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield James Langley & James Langley
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Spectrum
1995 - 75th Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was the last to be held at the Free Trade Hall on the 13th May. JJB Sports plc sponsored the event. Compere Robert Kerwick Contest Controller Christina Lawton. ; Contest Coordinators Philip Biggs & Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Bram Gay & William Relton
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Pageantry
1996 - 76th Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open), sponsored by JJB Sports plc, was held for the only time at the Albert Hall, Bolton on the 13th May. For 75 years the Grand Shield had a spiritual home in Manchester – at Belle Vue and then the Free Trade Hall. The contest now moved to the Albert Hall in Bolton with two bands promoted to compete at the British Open at the New Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 7th September. Compere Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller Philip Biggs In charge of Registration Frank Hodges ; Contest Coordinator Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield John Berryman & Roy Newsome
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Variations on a Ninth
1997 - Another new venue for the 77th Grand Shield was used when a Methodist Mission, the Victoria Hall in Bolton became home to the contest. The contest was held in the Main Hall, a part of this Mission complex on 10th May. Sponsored by JJB Sports plc. Two bands were promoted to compete at the British Open at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham on 6th September but that contest was postponed for the first time in its history due to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The 1997 British Open was actually held in January 1998. Compere Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller - Philip Biggs ; In charge of Registration Frank Hodges ; Contest Coordinator Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Derek Garside & Geoffrey Whitham
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Festival Music
1998 - JJB Sports plc continued to sponsor and the 78th Grand Shield was again held in the Victoria Hall in Bolton. Garry Cutt and Peter Parkes adjudicated but for the first time they were asked to omit the awarding of points but simply place the 22 bands in order of merit. The "promotion" and "demotion" of bands was unaffected as this was decided by placing and not points. The contest was held on May 9th . Compere Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller Philip Biggs ; In charge of Registration Frank Hodges ; Contest Coordinator Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Garry Cutt & Peter Parkes
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Partita
1999 - 79th Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Victoria Hall, Bolton on the 8th May and adopted the same format as the previous year and was sponsored by JJB Sports plc. Compere Robert Kerwick ; Contest Controller Frank Hodges Contest Coordinator Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Roy Newsome & Gordon Higginbottom
Test Pieces : Grand Shield A Comedy Overture
2000 - The Grand Shield now reached its 80th year Spring Brass Band Festival (Grand Shield qualifying Contest for the British Open) was held in the Victoria Hall, Bolton on the 6th May in its current pattern. Compere –Robert Kerwick Contest Controller Frank Hodges ; Contest Coordinator Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield James Scott & David Read
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Variations on the Shining River
2001 - 81st Spring Brass Band Festival.
It was well known that Harry Mortimer dreamed of reviving the full Spring Festival and that the Senior Cup, together with the other contests, would again find their place in the contesting calendar. With the 81st Spring Brass Band Festival this dream began to take shape and further Her Majesty the Queen bestowed her gracious patronage on the Festival. One of the problems that faced the organising committee was that not all the bands wishing to compete in the Grand Shield could be found a place.
In 2001 Leisure Parcs Ltd. came on board hosting and sponsored the competition and that meant that the ‘Festival' could be moved to the larger complex of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
Martin Mortimer, and his contest committee, held the vision of presenting the Senior Cup on the same day as the Grand Shield with the two contests running side-by-side and the move to the Winter Gardens facilitated the re-introduction of the Senior Cup and the vision came to fruition.
Two bands were promoted to the British Open from the Grand Shield whilst the bands awarded First to Sixth places in the Senior Cup were invited to compete in the Grand Shield 2002. Frank Hodges acted as Contest Controller and Bob Kerwick, compere of the Grand Shield, was joined by John Maines as compere for the Senior Cup. Contest Coordinator Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Derek Broadbent & David Read
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Epic Symphony
Adjudicators : Senior Cup James Scott & Geoffrey Whitham
Test Pieces : Senior Cup Prometheus Unbound
2002 - 82nd Spring Brass Band Festival
Held in the Winter Gardens, Blackpool on the 11h May.
The level of interest from bands wishing to compete was so strong that in 2002, with Leisure Parcs Ltd continued support, a third contest was introduced and this was named the Senior Trophy.
The Spring Festival was now returned to its earlier 59th (1979) contest format when the Shield, Cup and Trophy were held. Best Soloist trophies were introduced for each contest.
The importance of the Festival to competing band seems to have been demonstrated over the last two years in the way that places in the contests have been readily filled and that a waiting list of bands wishing to enter the arena has been reported.
To quote Martin Mortimer in the programme of 2002 "Our intention is to ... continue our aim of expanding and raising the profile of the Spring Festival, whilst maintaining the atmosphere and tradition of the old ‘Belle Vue' Contests".
Compere Robert Kerwick (GS) David Atkinson (SC) Warren Coates (ST); Contest Controller Frank Hodges ; Contest Coordinator Keith Hollinshead
Adjudicators : Grand Shield Nicholas Childs & Robert Childs
Test Pieces : Grand Shield Checkmate (Three of the Four Dances)
Adjudicators : Senior Cup Dr. Roy Newsome & Malcolm Brownbill
Test Pieces : Senior Cup Le Carnaval Romain
Adjudicators : Senior Trophy Geoffrey Whitham & James Scott
Test Pieces : Senior Cup Un Vie De Matelot
2003 - The 83rd Festival takes place with 60 bands competing in the three sections Grand Shield, Senior Cup and Senior Trophy.
The major awards go to Carlton Main who win the Shield for the second time in four years, whilst they are joined back at the Open by the newly named Scottish Co-op.
The Senior Cup is won by Rothwell Temperance from Yorkshire whilst the Senior Trophy goes to another Yorkshire based band, Pennine Brass. 

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