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Middleton and Teesdale Silver Band
The first brass bands as we know them cannot have existed before 1815, when the system of three cylindrical valves was invented. In the same year the London Lead Company, which had opened its first mine at Newbiggin in 1753, established its Northern Headquarters in Middleton in Teesdale.
The company had Quaker origins and had a genuine concern for the welfare of its workers. By 1824 it had begun to develop “Newtown”, a complex of terraced cottages, each with a long narrow vegetable garden, some with a pig sty. It is perhaps significant that the opening ceremony in May 1824 was “accompanied by bands of music.
Anne E Metcalfe, in her research on the London Lead Company tells us,--
“The men were encouraged to use the reading room in the Baptist chapel (1829) at Hude and the purpose built library at Masterman Place. Lectures were given on gardening and smallholding. Good quality seeds were sold at reasonable prices. The company encouraged garden produce shows for which they provided cash prizes. Brass bands were supported by the company also. This kept the men busy and out of the public houses. Regular band concerts were given.”
From the above we can be sure that the origins of brass banding in Teesdale stretch back almost to the origins of brass banding in the UK, largely due to the benevolence of the London Lead Company.
A handbill for the Middleton Brass Band Annual Social Evening on 7th September 1883 announces “Dancing to commence at 8pm and close at 6am.” It must have been quite a lively occasion! The tradition of the annual social persists to this day, but it draws to a close at a much more sensible time.
The London Lead Company ceased operations in 1905, but a picture of the band in 1910 would suggest that the band continued to thrive after the departure of its long time benefactor.
In the early decades of the 20th century the dale boasted at least nine thriving bands.—Harwood, Mickleton, Eggleston, Bowes, Woodland, Butterknowle, Evenwood, Barnard Castle, and Middleton. Only the latter two survive.
Other pictures taken through the twenties and thirties suggest that Middleton Band enjoyed a full complement of players and smart uniforms with peaked caps, but the forties and fifties were a lean period. Many of the young folk of the dale were in the forces or drafted as “Bevan Boys. Practices were held in an attic in the old Lead Company headquarters at Hude. Harry Ebdon recounts that there were large holes both in the roof and the floorboards. Access was tricky too, via a dimly lit stone staircase.
The development of Middleton Band through to the modern era owes much to a remarkable character, Mr Wilf Alderson.
Wilf joined Butterknowle Band at the age of 12, in 1923. He was a talented musician, and soon became solo cornet. From time to time he played as a guest with Middleton Band from the 1930's, but remained loyal to Butterknowle till it folded in the 50's. Although his main interest lay in playing the cornet, he then became bandmaster of Evenwood band till it, too, folded in 1963. The same year he took up the baton at Middleton. The band, like many at that time, was struggling, but Wilf instructed young musicians at evening classes with a view to enrolling them in the band. Numbers were boosted also by members of Eggleston band which had ceased to exist a few years previously.
For 21 years Wilf led Middleton Band successfully and on his retirement in 1984 handed the baton to Mr David Nicholson. David led the band to success at the Hardraw Scar Band Contest in May 1985, and continued until ill health forced his retirement.
The nineties saw yet another dip in the band's fortunes, with insufficient members to take on engagements and a period without any official bandmaster. Half a dozen stalwarts turned up every Thursday night and enjoyed playing a few tunes together, not wanting to see the band disappear like so many others. Their persistence paid off, and gradually the band's fortunes improved.
Today the band's numbers and morale are high. The bandmaster, Mr Paul Krywszyn is an accomplished musician and teacher, who has led many of the younger members to distinction in music examinations, and leads the band to a standard of which the playing members can be justly proud.
In spite of striving to attain the highest standards, Middleton Band remains essentially a village band, enjoying giving concerts, playing at church services, and supporting local carnivals.