Our Tameside reporter and magazine editor, Bob Alston has lived in this area of Greater Manchester since he got married in 1978 and is also fascinated by his local history.
Walking through Stalybridge one day, he saw that a bronze statue of a soldier looking over the shoulder of a civilian with what looked like a sheet of paper in his hand had been placed outside the Civic Hall on Trinity Street.
At the time, he did nothing more than read the plaque attached to a rock that these two fellows were mounted on. The inscription read:
Accompanied by a WW1 soldier
Inspired to compose the famous marching song
“It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”
He was the first to sing it publicly in 1912
At the Grand Theatre in Stalybridge,
the town of its conception.
Unveiled 16th December 2005
by Councillor Frank Robinson
Recently, Bob got around to researching the history of how this so famous war song came out of Stalybridge, and who was responsible for this fine bronze commemorative sculpture. Here is what he found out.
The song, “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary”, was adopted by the 7th Battalion of the Connaught Rangers Regiment of the British Army during the Great War, but it was born out of a bet between its creator, Jack Judge, and a friend who challenged him that he couldn’t write a song in a day and then perform it.
The 7th Battalion, and Jack Judge for that matter, had no connection with Tipperary Town, but it was sung on the battlefields of France & Belgium from 1914, and it is reputedly still being sung today.
Jack Judge was born in Oldbury, Worcestershire, on 3 December 1872. He was originally a fishmonger and took to the stage after winning a talent contest. He had a stall on the local fish market during the day and was an entertainer in the evenings.
On 30 January 1912, Jack Judge was performing at The Grand Theatre, in Stalybridge, with his younger brother Ted. After the performance, they went to a local club and this is where he accepted the bet of five shillings to write a song. At this point, he had no idea what he was going to write, but on walking back to his digs in Portland Place, Stalybridge, he overheard part of a conversation between two people, where one was giving directions to the other saying “It’s a long way to ….”, but didn’t catch the rest. This phrase stuck in his mind as a possible song title and he added the word ‘Tipperary’ to it. About why he chose this word nobody knows.
Jack had intended to start to write the song before he went to bed, but decided instead to sleep on the idea of having just the title, “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, to go on. The following day he went to The New Market Inn, in Corporation Street, Stalybridge, where he wrote the complete song in no time at all. One of his friends, Horace Vernon, wrote the music by listening to him singing the song, and Horace just happened to be the Musical Director of The Grand Theatre, where Jack was performing. That evening, 31 January 1912, Jack performed the song at the theatre for the very first time, therefore winning his bet.
Soon, “It’s a long way to Tipperary” became a favourite of Jack’s repertoire, and this very catchy tune caught the imagination of theatergoers and the public in general. Mr. Bert Maden of Stalybridge offered to buy the copyright of the song from Jack, but it was actually purchased by music publisher Bert Feldman of London for just £5.
To commemorate this event a bronze statue was commissioned by Tameside Council, and it was unveiled at its permanent site in Lord Pendry Square, Trinity Street, Stalybridge on 16 December 2005. The statue’s sculptor was John Cox (1952–2014) and it was produced at Escar UK Bronze in Suffolk.
This fine bronze shows Jack Judge sitting on a granite rock, studying the song sheet, while a First World War soldier leans over his shoulder playing the song on his mouth organ.
Artist Julie Wilkinson produced the sketches above that John could work from. She had a unique ability to take John’s ideas for the sculpture and commit them to paper. She admired John’s ability to create these in 3D and he was a great admirer of her work as a 2D artist.
John Cox’s wife, Joy, now runs Escar UK Bronze with her daughter and she said: “John loved the countryside and for most of his adult life he lived in Suffolk. He was asked to design a statue, which depicted Jack Judge with a connection to the army as the song “It’s a long way to Tipperary” ended up as a famous marching song during WW1, not only for the English but for other nationalities too (including the Germans). It is pertinent to Stalybridge because history reports that in 1912 Jack was bet five shillings that he could not have a new song written ready to perform the next day, he did and it was first played at the Grand Theatre on Corporation Street.
“As Jack Judge did not serve in the Armed Forces it was not politically correct to show him in uniform, so John devised the idea to show him with the score in his hand and a WW1 soldier reading and playing it looking over Jack Judge’s shoulder. As John’s grandfather served in the forces during this time and played the mouth organ, this is in fact the person depicted with Jack Judge.”
John Cox was commissioned for a number of bronze statues around Tameside and Bob will be doing a follow-up article on these in the future, so watch out for it.
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