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Altofts and Normanton Brass Band
The Altofts and Normanton Brass Band was founded in the 1880's by a small group of mine workers at the local , privately owned, colliery Pope and Pearson where it used the First Aid Room for it's band practice sessions.
In 1890 the band was formally registered with the Friendly Society and changed it's name to "The West Riding and Silkstone Band". It was not long before the band became well known throughout the district and it's membership continued to increase.
Sponsorship was secured in 1936, the then Sir H. Middlebrook and Viscount Halifax each donating the grand sum of £1.00 per year towards band funds, which in those days was much needed and appreciated.
Due to an amalgamation of the local privately owned collieries the band then continued as "The Altofts and Whitwood Collieries Band" and became part of the coal industry's Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO).
In 1953 the band sought financial assistance from CISWO towards the cost of new instruments and, on the 1st May that year, Messer R.R.Kitchens of Leeds supplied instruments to the sum of £1488.15.3d which arrived on the 20th of June 1954. Many of these instruments are still used to this day for tuition purposes.
The band has been known by several names in it's history but after an arrangement with the Lee Brigg WMC came to an end the words "Lee Brigg" were dropped from it's name and the band is now Known as "The Altofts and Normanton Brass Band".
In 1998 the band was granted the princely sum of £45,453 by the National Lottery for new instruments. Supplementary funds were also raised and new uniforms purchased.
Over the most recent years the band have performed for several charitable causes (including Age Concern, Cancer Research UK and, more locally, The Alice Bacon Trust) raising over £3000, to date, with more charity events organised for the coming year. This is the band's contribution back to the community.
By John Forrester
My earliest recollection of the band is one of going with my Dad (a bass trombone player) to band concerts and contests. I particularly remember Belle Vue, Manchester (possibly more for the Zoo!), and for some reason I recall a concert in Batley Park, and hearing the overture Pique Dame. Many times I was taken to rehearsals held in the Colliery First-Aid room. At the time the most interesting thing about these visits wasn't the music, but the skeleton in the cupboard!
There was always a Flugel Horn stored at home, which I used to play with, but I never had any serious tuition. As my Dad was a Deputy at St John's Colliery working on the night shift any disturbance during the day whilst he slept was banned.
Until 1952 my association with the band was confined to collecting money when they played in the parks, and more importantly at Christmas when they played around the village. They started at 9am on both Christmas Day AND Boxing Day, playing until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, finishing at a pub or club. The money collected was divided up as one share for each player, and one share for the band. (This was almost certainly illegal as since 1895 the band had been registered with the Friendly Societies Register, and all payments should have been recorded in the accounts). The Band eventually had an affidavit sworn by a solicitor to be de-registered to avoid the hefty fees levied by the Society.
When I joined the band it was all male, and all mineworkers, and like me many sons followed their fathers. At one time there were FIVE fathers with sons in the Band. Most of the players were like my Dad and had been with the Band from its re-start after the First World War. The Conductor was Cyril Wilkinson, who was a cornet soloist with Stourton Band at the age of 10 or 11 he had to stand on a box for his solos. He lived in Kippax, and this caused a great deal of competition and antagonism between Cyril and Norman Morley, who conducted Kippax band at that time, especially if a player moved from one band to the other!
As I worked as a clerk I was soon appointed as librarian. The music was kept in a store cupboard in the bandroom, all in large brown envelopes (standard NCB stationery). In those days there were no photocopiers so extra or replacement copies had to be ordered by post from the band suppliers (at that time Kitchens of Leeds), or alternatively, hand-written. The Band secretary was Wilf Bednall (nick-named Toodle), one of the original band members, and as I assisted him in committee work, i.e. notes & minutes, etc, I then became cashier. Accounts were in the usual form, but these had to be provided in an official form to the Friendly Societies Organisation for approval.
The bands calendar included many marching engagements, concerts and – at that time – contests. These required the Registration of players (done by the Daily Herald when I joined). Contests normally included Regional Heats, leading to the National Contest – I believe that at some time in the past the Band played at The Crystal Palace. When entering the Coal Board Regional & National Contests there had to be a minimum number of mineworkers playing in the band to qualify. In my time we won two regionals (held in Sheffield), once beating Kippax, and unsuccessfully played in the finals at Blackpool. We played at various Band Society Contests, including Harrogate & District, but there were many others that I can't remember. In those days money was short so any paid engagements involved sharing the income – one share for the Band and one share for each player, no matter how small the amount.
At the Miners Demonstration a band was allocated to lead a number of collieries from their area. The union branches of these collieries paid a share of the fee – on a Demonstration Day for our area Bill O'Brien, Branch Secretary of Glasshoughton Pit (and later M.P.) was the “Paymaster”, and I had to follow him round whilst he collected contributions from the individual pits. Then I would share it out. On the earliest occasions as Altofts Band we led the Castleford Area Pits. We would start the Procession on Wheldon Road, in Castleford, march to the railway station, go by train to Barnsley, and then march from the station to the starting point of the Demonstration Parade. Then we would march to the park where the speeches were made – we were then free to do what we wanted, and make our way home!
The main local bookings were two park engagements involving a two-hour afternoon performance and two-hour evening concert. The payment for these jobs went wholly into the band coffers. The R.C. Whitsuntide Procession started from the Sacred Heart School on Castleford Road – but for the Band it started earlier, from the nearby Union Hotel. I had the job of driving them out of the pub, finding their music, and finding someone with enough stuff to help those without to fix their false teeth in! Many times the procession would be ready to go, with the priest and altar boys, complete with banners, waiting for our lot to appear! It was a long, uphill march. (Our drummer wore a fake leopard-skin, and white gauntlets, but he only joined us for parades, as at that time there was no percussion used in contests.) Marches were played until stopped by the conductors whistle. When we reached the top of the hill, opposite the Black and White Swan pubs, there was a toilet. At this point the volume of sound from the Band diminished as many players had to answer the call of nature. We then led the parade into the Market Square, and continued to play as the procession wound around the square. It was a huge procession, involving hundreds of adults and children, and many hundreds more lined the streets. It became so big that a second band, Acton Hall Colliery Band, was employed to lead the second half. Once everyone was in the square we played 2 hymns and the National Anthem. Then we would march again, this time to the R.C. Club, where we played around the billiard table. I recall that Shamrock Land was a perennial favourite. As I lived nearby the Band would often come to our house. I don't know how my wife Brenda coped, but we “fed & watered” them, and then there would be an impromtu concert in the street, much to the delight of the neighbours.
The C of E annual procession, usually two weeks after the R.C. one, always involved a lot longer march. The Parish Church was in Normanton but there were two other C of E Churches, one in Loscoe and the other in Dodworth. Both were on the extreme outskirts of our area, so these were included on alternate years. The Loscoe march started near the Town Hall, & then out to Loscoe, approx 1½ miles, where we would play 2 hymns, then march all around the town, & back to the Parish Church, where we had tea. Then we would play for two hours on “Pringle Fields”, just off Snydale Road, while the children held their sports day. It became a feature of this C of E day that we always seemed to have thunderstorms and rain. On one occasion, nearing the end of the Town march, we were on Church Lane and playing Slaidburn when the rain started – we kept playing but at up to 180 beats per minute we were a bit like one of those Alpine Bands playing at the run!
In those early years we were a contesting band, and the first contest of the year was the March one for the Coal Board, held in Sheffield. We would find out in October/November the previous year what the contest piece was, & so from then on most rehearsals concentrated on that test piece. We often worked in sections, and would often only play the piece through as a complete band immediately prior to the contest. For the Sheffield contest we could book a coach to take us there and back, as the NCB & CISW paid for it. Because our members were scattered around the area (Castleford, Airedale, Methley, etc) the bus would start its trip as early as 5am in the morning, initially taking us to a WMC or hall in Sheffield that had been booked for a pre-contest rehearsal.
Only one person in the Band had a car in those early days, so attendance at concerts or engagements meant using local bus services. Transport of basses, music, and stands, etc. was done by Harold Lee's taxi, an old Rolls Royce! At least I had a ride to the jobs. (Incidentally, with the kindness of John Gilmartin & John Geary I am once again transported to concerts as a passenger, now that I am in my 84th year). The Band did occasionally pay for a coach, usually hired from a Methley firm which had some connection to our then Chairman, Walter Flintoft, a decorator. Our longest trips were when we played for the Durham Miner's Gala. A less organised affair than the Yorkshire one, we would set off on a Friday afternoon, collecting some players from the pit gates where they had just finished work! We were to march play for the Trimdon Grange colliery workers. We arrived at Trimdon, (a bit late the first time, after the coach broke down), and were fed in the Colliery canteen. We then played and marched down into the village, where we then played in the street by lamplight. Then we were split up to stay with local families who had volunteered to put us up. Our host (my Dad and me) was a colliery official, who had come out of the mine to see us to his house, & then went back down the pit to finish his shift. It was here that we had our first sight of the leek-growing process, and our first encounter with pease pudding. We had to be up early on Saturday morning to play again before getting on the coach to the outskirts of Durham. To our surprise there was already a huge crowd from Trimdon. Unlike the Yorkshire galas, here every colliery had its own traditional starting point. We formed up and as we started marching there were people dancing in amongst us. The procession went into Durham town centre, where the celebrities gathered on a hotel balcony to watch the parade pass. (Another difference here was in the continuity – in Yorkshire the band keeps going to the beat of the drum, even when the piece of music finishes, but in the north-east when the music stops so does the procession.) From the town centre the parade went down to the racecourse by the riverside, with Durham Cathedral on the hill on the other bank. Then, just like in Yorkshire, the Bands have to play their people out. After playing the hymn Gresford (in memory of the miners who died in an explosion at Gresford Colliery) we started to play Colonel Bogey and kept play it until we had found a way up the hill from the river. 16 times we played that march, and then as we reached the top we started to play Imperial Echoes. After 16 times through we eventually reached the bus to take us home! Then, as if that wasn't enough, we gave a concert in the local club that Saturday evening, and played hymns outside the Old Peoples' Bungalows after an early breakfast on Sunday morning!
A regular Autumn event was the Harvest Festival celebrations. Our principal job was marching the Colliery Union officials and Miners with their Colliery banner from the pit gates to Altofts Church. We then had to march them back after the service but by the time the service was over it was always dark. We had rehearsed 2 marches, anticipating a night-time parade by trying to play the pieces without music. It wasn't very successful! As we passed a streetlamp (gas lit at that time) the volume went up, and in the interval between lamps it decreased so that only 2 or 3 players could remember their parts.
Eventually the Coal Board wanted the First-Aid room for offices so we moved to a near-derelict pay office at Whitwood, and for a time this worked OK, and some younger members joined. But winter was cold & eventful – there was a pot-bellied stove which exploded and filled the room with green smoke! The Tenor Horns sat on a form in front of the stove and when the lid started to lift the shout went up to “lift their feet” as a blast of smoke erupted from the bottom of the stove. Some time later we found out that someone was living in one of the offices – my Dad couldn't find one of his pieces of music, & it turned up after being used as toilet paper by the “lodger”! Dad wasn't amused when it was suggested that the lodger had only used it after he had heard my Dad playing it!
Unfortunately the severe cold conditions discouraged players to such an extent that Band numbers fell to only four. For a short time we used a room at what was then Normanton Modern School, but as the room was only available during term-time it didn't work out. We were then offered the use of facilities at Lee Brigg WMC, and it was here that we had one of the most successful periods for the band. We started off with many of the older members and eventually age took its toll. Cyril retired, and my Dad played his last march, in the new uniforms, when he was 72.
We had a succession of conductors, leading to one of our own, George Howard, who lived in Pontefract. Along with his older brother he played regularly in the band, and I don't think he'd mind me saying that he was an awkward beggar at times. I was band secretary by now & as a player he was a bit of a character – he would often not wear his uniform when he should have, and was very independently minded. However he was a very good musician, with a great sense of humour. When he took over as conductor he immediately changed to being a devoted bandmaster, always starting promptly, regardless of how many players were present. He always used the first half of the practise for rehearsing, then actually 'playing' programme pieces in the second half. This was an important fixture as we had a regular audience of members of the WMC.
Because we were now based within the village we started to have more youngsters showing interest in the band, to such an extent that we had to have an extra rehearsal night for teaching the beginners. So we have learners on Wednesday night, and full band Thursday night, with a full band on Sunday at 11am, leading to what was in effect a concert for club members in for their Sunday lunchtime drink. This arrangement developed to such an extent that we had enough 'learners' to take on some local engagements, which I (uncomfortably) conducted. Although the youngsters were only 12 – 14 years old we had numerous jobs in local pubs and clubs, fielding a junior band of up to 35 players.
Unfortunately the club started to place revenue over the band needs, and often booked dances, etc. over our normal practise times, and so we moved once more to the Normanton Baptist Chapel Hall for our rehearsals. This room was originally a large concert hall, to the rear of the Baptist Chapel, but was at that time un-heated and basically used as a storeroom. We rehearsed in conditions that were liberated but not acceptable. We rehearsed wearing outdoor clothing, with hoods up, and it was not unusual on these occasions to find some of the younger learners not paying much attention to playing as they were listening to music via headphones!
From the Baptist Chapel we moved to the Woodhouse School Rooms – “perfick!” Our conductor now was Ian Hartshorne, who had been in our learner band, and had returned as an accomplished Euphonium & Cornet player. Unfortunately a fire in the boiler room at the end of 2009, and the subsequent discovery of asbestos in the building meant that we had to move yet again. We became temporary residents of the Sovereign Hotel, where we were nice & warm, but had to contend with a steep & narrow staircase, and poor lighting – we supplemented this with our own standard lamps, clip-on lamps, etc. Now we are back in our home village of Altofts, where we rehearse in St. Mary's Parochial Church Hall.
Any account of the Band would not be complete without a mention of Geoff White, his wife Merle and their daughter Kirstey. Geoff, with the help of Band members, constructed floats for the Town Carnival, winning First prize every time. A Stage coach, a Gypsy caravan, a Dinosaur, a Spaceship, and a Railway engine were all built onto his car. They organised children's parties, and for Gala day he would organise stalls, a barbecue, and catering. They are all greatly missed.
Afterthoughts . . .
Contests only allowed a maximum of 25 players (plus percussion when permitted). This meant that with a huge band of young players many younger members would turn up regularly to all the rehearsals, but not be allowed to play for the competition. It caused so much upset within the Band that it was decided not to enter contests where player numbers were restricted. We did however enter a lot of “entertainment” contests with much success. I can remember comments and jokes (and a newspaper article) about the Band “losing” the Bass drum from the luggage rack of the bus when it was returning from a contest in 1933. The drum was huge, and highly decorated, in the way of regimental drums. The skin was tensioned by ropes and toggles (in the traditional manner), and it was later reduced in size, and then sold on to a Cadet Band somewhere. I recall one contest, at Belle Vue, Manchester, because when we stopped at a pub on the way, (for a rehearsal(!)) one older member found he had left his false teeth at home, and had to be taken home to get them – he still got to the contest on time! Another disappointing occurrence was arriving at Manchester and finding that due to a mix-up two trombone players were missing. The Chairman and Secretary went off to see the officials, and got permission for us to play two borrowed players, but by the time they returned most of the other players had decided we weren't going to play and had dispersed to the local pubs.