This page is part of an archive of historical details from existing or defunct brass band websites. This is being maintained to provide a record of this information in the event of a band folding, its website disappearing or other loss of the historical record. Where possible, and appropriate, the information cached will be updated from time to time - and any corrections or updates are welcome.
Stanhope Brass Band
The files of the "Hexham Courant" of around 1930 give a concise history of Stanhope Brass Band, written by Mr. E. E. Milner. It was founded by Joseph Fettes, a well-known clarionet player in the North, who gathered together a number of musicians and named it the Peat Hill Band. A hill at Westgate, called Peat Field Brow, is the place where pests were formerly dried for winter fuel; possibly Crawleyside at Stanhope was the scene of similar work. The first band meeting was held on May 29th, 1824, when the name Stanhope Saxhorn Band was given. The word Saxhorn suggests that instruments of wood were used, with the exception of bugle, French horn and trombone, the wooden instruments being supplanted later by brass. With a Mr. de-Lacy as conductor they competed in July 1860 at the Crystal Palace, being placed fifth out of 115 bands.
An incident (which might have had serious consequences) occurred one night when the Stanhope band was returning home by special bus from an engagement. When between Wolsingham and Frosterley, a stone seven pounds in weight was hurled through the window of the vehicle. The bandsmen immediately searched in the darkness for the assailant, but without avail. The luck of the bandsmen was greater than the accuracy of his intentional aim but he had the luck in never being found out.
From that date on to 1881 the band declined almost to extinction, then public interest rallied and new instruments were purchased. William Morley Egglestone was secretary, John Maddison treasurer, Ralph Walton, a noted euphonium player, teacher, and C. F. Tinkler leader. John Askew, noted violin maker, was a player ; great progress was made and the band became famous in the country. From 1895 interest again fell away and public support waned, but with the introduction of young and new blood a change for the better set in. The old name of Saxhorn passed, as had the wooden instruments, and it was henceforth known as the Stanhope Silver Band.
From 1930 to 1935 were the band's most successful years. With Jack Woodhall as their youthful conductor they won, in 1934, the Iles Shield in Section Six at the National Festival at the Crystal Palace and the following year were placed second in a higher section. Is it any wonder that the whole dale was proud of the band, re-named the Stanhope Silver Prize Band, and it is not strange that Stanhope Show should engage bands at high prices when a prize band of national fame was in their midst? A tragic incident (which might have been taken as an ill omen occurred at the final rehearsal of the band the evening before they journeyed to the Crystal Palace for the National Contest. An old member of the band, G. Robinson, then long retired but still a great enthusiast, came forward at the close and, patting the conductor on the back, said, "Jack, the band that beats you will be first." Turning away and leaving the room, he fell dead at the door, a great shock to the band but not an ill omen, for they wen and brought back the shield.
Proud is Stanhope that the conductor who led them to fame was not an expert from afar with high standing in the world of music, but one of themselves, popular Stanhope-bred-and-born Jack Woodhall. His late father was a veteran of the band, sharing its ups and downs for over half a century, and married into a Westgate family whose female members were noted for loveliness of song. An elder brother, Joe, honoured his family and town by becoming an active member in the then premier band of the country, Black Dyke. An uncle, William, was a member of the band for many years while his nephew, Clyde, carries on the musical traditions of a truly wonderful family.
It may be true to say that while a conductor may be born with an ear for music and have all the technical and practical training required, unless he has a knowledge of character, patience, tact and geniality as well, in a word unless he is one of themselves, a comrade, he will never be a perfect leader. These are the qualities Jack possesses (he would be the last to admit it) and are the secret of his success.
To conduct a band already established and bring it to the highest honours in the land and at the same time to create an average band out of the rawest material, is an achievement which speaks for itself. Generations yet unborn will in due time honour him as the greatest of Weardale's artists in the history of its brass bands.
Here is a true story of the conductor's grandfather, Joseph Woodhall, whom the generation at present below the fifties would never know, a tall, athletic, loose-limbed type of man, one of Stanhopes bygone characters well known beyond its neighbourhood. He was no saint, but one of the roughest of Stanhope's rough diamonds, so numerous at that time, neither was he a hypocrite, for he made no pretence of being anything else than what he was.
He was a cricketer of the old team. If the wicket was dry he would bat bootless, so that he could both manoeuvre and run quicker, and his batting was daring if not reckless, as he was wont to be in life. He is still known for a record hit he made on Stanhope ground. Batting from the south wicket and facing the castle grounds. with a tremendous drive he sent the ball out of the field, over the river Wear, into the castle grounds, an incredible feat, told here for the batsmen of today to wonder at, and if possible repeat.