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Bearpark and Esh Colliery Band
Although there was a colliery band in Esh Winning before the 2nd World War, the present band was formed in 1950 by eight men who each initially contributed £8 to start an instrument fund.
The next two years were spent raising money so that, with the help of the National Coal Board, they were able to purchase a set of second-hand instruments and thus form the Esh Winning Colliery Welfare Band. At this time the Cornsay Colliery Band folded, this enabled the newly formed band to fill the vacant instrumentation.
Immediately the band started the trail to success, which culminated in 1956 in an appearance in the finals of the Daily Herald National Brass Band Championships 4th Section held in London. To the immense surprise and jubilation they gained 1st place in this prestigious competition at their first attempt. Now promoted the 3rd Section they gained 1st place in the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) area contest in 1957 and two years later returned London take 1st place in Section 3 of the Championship.
By this time the second-hand instruments were suffering from "old-age" and in 1961 the Coal Board provided the band with a new set of instruments. During the 60's the band continued to win success after success in the North-East competitions and to play the Esh Winning Colliery Banner into Durham on Durham Miners Gala Day. During the whole of this time the Band was ably supported by CISWO and the local miners lodge.
In 1968 disaster struck with the closure of Esh Winning Colliery, losing both financial support and the rehearsal hall in West Terrace. The band decided to "go it alone", they found rehearsal premises in a small backroom in the Stags Head Hotel in Esh Winning, and increased their concert work load to raise money to cover running costs. After awhile they were allowed a concession by the Coal Board to return to the rehearsal hall in West Terrace, where they still remain today. In 1984 the band purchased the Old Chapel in West Terrace, Esh Winning. In order to survive much effort was placed on concerts to raise money, along with various other functions such as dances, sales of work and fayre's, leaving less time to work for success in contests.
Despite this, the band reached Belle Vue Manchester twice – winning 4th place and then 1st place in the 4th Section bringing home the Daily Mail Challenge trophy in 1975, they also qualified and attended the National Finals in London on 2 occasions but failed to win a prize on either occasion.
In the 1970's the band began to change its image. On the 17th May 1970 the band changed its name to Esh Colliery Band and earlier that year the old maroon uniform was replaced by the more serviceable black and grey combination you can still see today. In August 1971 the band commissioned a set of stand drapes, which are still in use today. Throughout all this period many people, too numerous to mention, supported the band in its quest for success.
It was also in the late 70's early 80's that the band began to play the Bearpark Colliery Banner into the Durham Gala. A special relationship began, not only with the colliery, but also with the people of the village. As a result of small financial support from Bearpark Colliery, on the 8th April 1979 the band changed its name again, this time to Bearpark & Esh Colliery Band.
Unfortunately the Bearpark Colliery closed in 1984 and the band found itself once again totally "self supporting".
Throughout the 80's the band progressed – the uniform was updated again in 1985 and from 1983 through to 1991 they gained creditable success in the CISWO, Leagues and National Contests. In 1993 the band won the local National Contest at Darlington and traveled to London for the first time since the 70, they failed to make an impression on the day, but it was a memorable trip not least for a unique Tour of London conducted on the Sunday morning by one of the players!
As with any organisation the band suffered some heartfelt occasions. The first airing of the band's new look uniform way back in January 1970 was on the occasion of the funeral of one of the founder members, Richard Harbisher. It was a freezing cold day, so cold the values on the instruments froze, but the band played a fitting tribute to the man who had worked so hard to establish the band. His widow Bella, who now lives with her daughter in Pontefract, she played a leading role in the women's committee, which helped raised funds to support the band.
Again tragedy struck the band in 1994, when one of its bass players, Alan Hutchinson, died of cancer. The band felt his memory should be remembered and presented the League with Alan Hutchinson memorial Trophy that is presented annually to the best bass section in the 3rd/4th Sections of the League (now the Durham Association) Contest.
During the last 50 years it has become more and more difficult to maintain a "self supporting" band. Once again, the band found themselves playing on old worn out, tired instruments, and the chance of obtaining a new set seemed like a pipe dream. However, with the opportunities being put forward by the National Lottery Commission it was decided we should apply to make the dream a reality. In May 1997, the band learned the bid had been successful and were awarded £41,210 for new instruments.
The band, as a result of the Lottery grant, has gone from strength to strength. In 1999 they were North of England Champions 4th Section, and qualified for the National Finals held in Nottingham, in which they gained 9th place out of 20 bands. The band also won the 4th Section of the Hartlepool Council contest held in December 1999. In 2000 they gained 3rd place in the North of England Championships 4th Section, missing out on going to the Royal Albert Hall London by one place, and this time round the band came 3rd in the Hartlepool Council Contest. 2001 saw the good times return even after their Musical Director left just after Christmas. After a bad showing in the League contest at Spennymoor where they came 9th, the band went onto the Area Championships in Darlington and took the runners up position, making the National Finals for the second time in three years. In the Finals, which took part in Preston, the band were placed 8th out of 19 bands, this was one better than two years ago.
2002 started with the usual disapointment at the League contest in Spennymoor where they were placed 7th out of 9 bands.
The band has now actively embarked on a scheme of refurbishment of the band hall to include new toilet facilities and access for disabled people. This is to be totally self funded and they had received no offer of outside help in the form of grants etc. until April of this year when they were presented with a grant of £500 by the North Eastern Co-Operative Society toward the provision of disabled facilities.
Over the years the band have played at many varied function, from marches, village fetes, garden parties to the more unusual such as fashion shows and weddings. Some of the members have helped record songs with a local folk band called Whiskey Priests.
For many years they were active on Christmas Eve playing in fancy dress which became a great source of entertainment not only for the public but for all those who took part. The band helps other organisations at functions to raise funds for such things as saving villages halls, cancer research, schools and various local charities.
The year 2000 sees the band celebrate its 50th Anniversary, helping to take the Brass Band Movement into the new Millennium. They hope to complete the recording of a CD, update the uniform once again, and incorporate music that appeals not only to the older generation, but which also appeals to the youth of today by playing arrangements of many "rock & pop" songs that are available.