Thorne at the Stereo Society
Thorne at the Stereo Society
Bertram Thorne: A short memoir
Born in 1901, my grandfather Bertram Thorne was just too young to serve in the First World War, which would kill his brother John (among millions of other awful statistics). Bertram was a boilermaker who lived his whole life in Rotherham, Yorkshire, even working the whole time for the same company a ten minute walk away from home (Jenkins’). My father used to call Rotherham the ‘Garden City of the West Riding’ [of Yorkshire]. The steel mills and coal mines are completely gone now. Trees and flowers used to have a hard time in the prevailing chemical climate. They’re coming back, but the distinctive, self-invented social life won’t.
Bertram Thorne married Fanny Evers just a few yearsbefore the crippling and (at the time) mystifying economic depression of the early thirties, the fallout from which provoked life-threatening decisions, from Jarrow marches to Wall Street suicides. Reacting to the tough economic situation, and out of sheer necessity, the industrial north of England would develop a self-sufficiency supported by, and supporting of, the new Socialism. Although Communism was establishing itself in Russia at the time, this new British social movement was about grass-roots resilience, certainly not about a top-down organized state structure with its restrictions on personal freedoms and expression. We elected people. Socialism was a product of democracy. The Labour Party would eventually make the life of the average British citizen far better than it had been in the devastated trail of the industrial revolution of the previous century. For the working classes, it was clearly understood that education was the route to a better control of personal destiny. Evening classes were very popular, and a self-taught society of very resilient people developed as a result.
Both high- and low-brow music thrived in this new social environment, without much distinction between the pleasures to be had from either. Cultural snobbery wasn’t a part of it. My grandfather had several Bruckner and Mahler symphonies in the revolutionary new 33rpm LP format. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Three Billy Goats Gruff were retained on 78s for us younger element, along with Beloved Be Faithful, a piece of transcendental schmaltz that the young grandsons could never hear enough times. Although partly deaf, thanks to his lifetime’s work environment on the shop floor of the boiler-making factory, Bertram Thorne would play and listen to music every evening. Both grandparents outlasted their only son, my father Peter (above right, in uniform towards the end of the Second World War), who died in 1965 from failure of a heart weakened by rheumatic fever when he was a child.
This blue-collar personal and political development resulted in a clear geographical tradition of practical music-making which still extends in a broad band across the formerly industrial North, from Hull and Grimsby in the east through Sheffield and Leeds to Manchester and Liverpool in the west across the Pennine mountains. Like all grand children of all generations, we were spoiled rotten. But the local social legacy still embraces his and others’ of his generation’s love of music and a long-standing enthusiastic, generous and unselfconscious participation in politics and the arts.Bertram Thorne was a capable amateur carpenter, often excusing himself for ‘goin’ up to t’attic t’mek a mess’. Marquetry is made by gluing small, contrasting pieces of wood together to make a picture. Shown above slightly over life-size (which is about 5″x2″) is a piece he made around 1948, depicting his acoustic horn gramophone in ‘the front room’ This became the symbol of the Stereo Society, and inspired its logo. His spirit endures.
His wife, my grandma, used to kiss him goodbye every morning as he left for his morning shift at the boilermaking factory, Jenkins and Sons. Her grandson’s reconstruction of the moment is a big, sincere effort. Maybe she would have understood, two generations later.
Three Thorne grand-children with company in their Sunderland backyard.
From left: Stephen, Anthony, Michael, Ruff the mongrel.