Composer John ‘Jack’ Thomas Judge was born on the 3rd December 1872 in Oldbury in England to Irish parents. By 1888, he had 7 siblings. He entertained on the music-hall scene and also wrote songs. He is best known for writing the popular song It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.
His life nearly ended prematurely in tragedy when at just 4, he had to be rescued from the local canal after he fell in. Life was often hard for the family, with his father having to take what work he could, often poorly paid. After losing his job in 1877, they all moved to Moseley in Birmingham. Here, he attended St Anne’s School. However, when the Iron Works started looking for labour, the family moved back to Oldbury. Judge was only 12 at the time, but as he was tall in stature, he managed to convince them he was older and he too, was given a job there! His father decided to leave the Iron Works after only 2 years and set up his own business as a fish monger. Sadly, in 1888, Judge’s father contracted Tuberculosis and died later in the year aged only 38.
Judge was still working at the Iron Works at the time of his father’s death, but did help keep the business going by selling shellfish in the local music halls and pubs. He grew the business by buying an old hand cart and took fish from the market; this was all before he then went off to his own job at the Iron Works. Tragically, in 1891, 2 of his younger siblings died from measles. Judge’s mother did go on to remarry, to a man called William Henry Withey. Sadly, she was widowed again in 1897.
Love came for Judge in the form of Jane Ann Carroll, who he married in the June of 1895 and went on to have 4 children in total. He left the Iron Works to put more attention into the fish business. He was awarded a certificate for bravery in 1904 for rescuing 2 children from, ironically, a canal!
Judge’s interest in entertainment came after he started frequenting the music halls and he entered and won a talent contest, so he decided that performing on stage was for him. He began to win more prizes and could work the audiences, who enjoyed his humour, songs and verses. He was still only in his mid-teens, but captivated his audiences and by the latter half of the 1890s, became locally well-known. He started to branch out to music halls further afield, while still supporting the family business. He wrote his own songs, but had to ask other people to write down the notes, as he could not read music. From 1900 to 1910, he built up a bank of jokes and songs that he used. He even went on annual entertainment camps.
1910 saw a big break for him, when he came 3rd in a variety competition. Many favourable reviews were written about him and he became highly sought after in theatres and music halls around Britain. Because most of the family were helping with the fish business, he felt that he could break away and follow his dream.
It was on the 30th January in 1912, while doing a stint at The Grand Theatre in Stalybridge, that Judge wrote the song It’s A Long Way To Tipperary. This was apparently to win a 5-shilling bet! The inspiration for the title came while he was walking home early one morning and he overheard a conversation in which someone asked for directions and the other person replied, “It’s a long way to….” Judge simply added the Tipperary to the end. He sang it the very next night at The Grand and won the bet. However, the facts of this have been disputed and it is also alleged that he did in fact, write it in his home town. The rights to the song were sold for £5 to Feldman, a publishing company based in Britain.
It gained much popularity when John McCormack made a recording of the song in 1914. It has been sung the world over and still remains popular to this day. The song was assumed by the British Army’s 7th Battalion of the Connaught Ranger Regiment, that mainly consisted of Irishmen. It was popularly sung during the First World War. In 2018, it was arranged for brass band by James McFadyen.
1915 saw Jack Judge record the song The Place Where I Was Born. It was one of a minority of his serious songs about struggles during the difficult times. Also in 1915, he wrote Paddy Maloney’s Aeroplane, a nod to his parents’ Irish heritage. Furthermore, taking inspiration from his team West Bromwich Albion, he wrote football songs as well. He continued to record his songs through the 1920s era.
Judge died age 65 on the 25th July 1938 in West Bromwich in England. In his honour, there has been a statue erected in Lord Pendry Square, Stalybridge. There is also a library named after him in Oldbury.