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Whitworth Vale & Healey Brass Band
The band came into being due to the amalgamation of the former Whitworth Vale and the Healey Hall Bands. It is doubtful if more than a few records exist of either band prior to amalgamation but as far as we can tell, Whitworth Band was founded in 1853 and is one of the oldest Brass Bands in the country. Healey Hall Band became defunct on 25th. August 1884 and presumably the amalgamation took place fairly soon after this date. The roots of both bands take us back over 150 years and Whitworth Vale and Healey Band have a fine and proud history.
Whitworth Vale band had their bandroom at the former "Masons Arms" on the site of the present premises of J Taylor and Sons, Coal Merchants. The Healey Hall Band was connected with the woollen mill in Healey Dell. The mill owner lived at Healey Hall, and the band rehearsed in the building between the hall and the farm. It is on record that Healey Hall band won Third prize at the Belle Vue September contest in 1866. They must have severed their connection with the mill as latterly they met for rehearsal in an old barn-like building at Tonacliffe, which was demolished around 1940.
The newly formed band acquired a cottage at Bridge Mills Whitworth, a part of the village, which was known as the "Hole Bottom". This is the present Bandroom and Band Club. The two upstairs rooms were made into one large room and the ground floor used as a licensed club.
Contests at that time were mainly held in the open, and Whitworth Band had an outdoor platform on the side of the mill lodge of Dura Mill, in order to rehearse in outdoor conditions.
In those early days, band uniforms were bought quite cheaply, and were second hand from the British Army. As will be seen from old photographs, this meant a great variety of dress in different bands. Some are shown with the old "Pill Box" hats, and others with more elaborate headgear depending upon the regiment from which they came. It must be mentioned here that money was exceedingly scarce in those days. The players were either quarry men or mill workers in the cotton trade. There was no dole in the wintertime and quarry men could be frozen out for weeks on end with no pay from either their employers or any other source. The cotton trade was always subject to fluctuating periods of trade with low wages for long hours of work. These conditions are difficult to understand by the present generation.
The band throughout its history appears to have been a regular competitor at various band contests, maintaining this tradition up to the present day. One notable success was 1st prize at the Belle Vue May contest in 1934, the conductor being the leading professional of the day, Mr. William Halliwell of Pemberton, Wigan. About the same period 1st. prizes both for playing and deportment were won at Rochdale contest. In 1966 the band again won 1st. prize in their section at Spring Belle Vue Contest, and the most astonishing thing about this was that the Solo Cornet player on both occasions was Mr. Joe Furness, whose career should certainly appear in the Guinness Book of Records. Whilst the writer cannot vouch that our Whitworth is the same band, it is recorded in the annals of the famous St Hilda Colliery band from the Durham area; extracts from their contest history show the following
Newcastle on Tyne 15th October 1887 - 4th prize Whitworth Vale Conductor Mr. George Raine
Haydon Bridge - 1st prize (Selection) Whitworth Vale Conductor Mr. Fred Durham
It would appear rather far afield in those days for the band to travel, but the reference to the conductor (Mr. Fred Durham) appears significant in view of the reference to this gentleman in these notes. Also we must remember that in those days rail travel would have been quite cheap for parties. Also the name of Whitworth Vale in the Newcastle contest appears significant. Assuming there is another Whitworth in the Northeast, it seems rather long odds that having a band, it should also be named Whitworth Vale.
We do know that the band struggled to reform after the First World War, but around this time the band succeeded in securing the services of Mr JH White. The band had lost a number of members in the Great War. The Institute Band disbanded shortly after the cessation of hostilities, and a number of their players came to Whitworth Vale. The conductor at that time was Mr. James Butterworth. Success came quickly and the band won a first prize on Whit Friday, beating such bands as Irwell Springs and St Hildas Colliery. On this occasion, Mr. Herbert White "son of JH" was Principal Cornet. It seems that the band had much success in the next 12 years at least. Around this time Herbert Barlow was Solo Euphonium with the band. It is said he was awarded the prize for the best euphonium at Darwen contest. The prize was a HAM! The band in recognition of this feat, had a medal struck to commemorate the occasion. Mr White was building a band that was ultimately going to win in 1934 although we do not know why Mr. Halliwell was conducting. We do know that William Halliwell and Johnny White were good friends, and at times conducted each others band. Joe Fitton was the bandmaster at the time, and it is possible Mr. Halliwell was engaged for this one contest. Possibly JH had left the band by this time, but his good work had paid off. In 1933 Chadderton Band and Busk Congregational Boys Band, both figured at the May Belle Vue contest. I can well imagine that JH was involved with both these bands and would have been too busy with his own bands to conduct Whitworth. The photograph in the band club of the 1927 band shows JH as conductor, but we do not know what the contest was. It was most certainly not Belle Vue, but must have been a contest of some note as the band has gone to the expense of having a photograph taken, not an inexpensive thing in those days.
During the war years, the band fell on difficult times, and a meeting was held at the Band Club. A proposal was carried to sell off the instruments and equipment. The band and it's instruments at this time belonged to the Band Club. The club committee wished to sell off the instruments to raise capital . The steward at the time was Harold Shaw, Harry Shaw's father. He was of course sympathetic to the band as he had been a player for many years. Jack Marsden received the tip off, and was advised of the times when it would be safe to remove the instruments from the club premises. This was done and the instruments and uniforms were hidden away. Because of this foresight and dedication by a few, the band survived. After the war, Fred Ashworth and Harvey Duckworth formed a committee to start up the band again. Frank Baron was also involved with the reforming of the band and was another of Alf's chums from the "Lancashire Fusiliers". He had played with Whitworth Band before the Second World War and went on to become the Secretary The band reformed in the early years after the war, and was back contesting by 1949. Mr. Harrop took up the baton and once again the Whitworth Vale and Healey Band filled the band club with music, and commenced engagements locally and further afield.
Players came from many sources. Mr. Harrop brought many players from his days in the services and the "Terriers" Band in particular. An advertisement in the local newspaper attracted hopeful youngsters who were taught by band members. The new recruits included Wilf Alletson, Tony Gooding, Harold Holt and Norman Salt amongst others.
Pupils were given theory lessons on a blackboard at the band club, and at times youngsters had to share instruments. Over the years players who had moved away returned to the band such as Joe Furness. The band has a history of engaging professional conductors, and this trend continued.
The first Musical Director after the war was Fred Garth. He was said to be one of the finest Euphonium players of the day along with the likes of Alex Mortimer. Fred went on to conduct our close neighbours, Goodshaw Band. They had a fine band and always produced excellent music and a quality sound under his guidance. Harry Cheshire succeeded Fred as Musical Director. Coincidentally, he was also a fine Euphonium Player and had played with Fairey Aviation Band. He resigned just about the time I started to play (no connection) and several years later Leonard Lamb took up the reins. I think we easily forget that Leonard was a most successful conductor with the Fairey Aviation Band. It was he who took them to a hat trick of wins in 1961/2/3, and again in 1965. It was customary practise for a band having won the contest three times in a row, to be banned from competing the next year, which is exactly what happened to Fairey Aviation. We were very lucky to engage his services.
In 1966 Bram Gay steered the band to first place in the Senior Cup at the Belle Vue May contest. Bram Gay was Principal Trumpet at the Halle Orchestra, and was, in his earlier years, Solo Cornet with the famous Fodens Motor Works Band. A fantastic day, and what a party we had at the club. Ernie Mills, Vic Driver and Harold Cronshaw had gone back to the club to organise the music, and met us on arrival back in Whitworth. The band played up the main road, with the cup, back to the band club for a most memorable night
The club was packed out. The little back room, with the piano and the smoky chimney, was buzzing. I remember that we had returned home, changed, and met again at the club for the evening's celebrations. The entire band and their partners came along. The Chairman of the Council and Arthur Fenton arrived. Arthur was Clerk to the Council and a great supporter of the band. Much beer was consumed and as usual a rendering of Cock Robin as well as all the other favourites was given.
It was always allowed for the younger members of the band to have a beer if we were in the company of the band elders. In fact most of the back row had sampled all the watering holes in Whitworth well before our 15th birthdays. I think the theory was that if you were able to hold down a position in the band in a sensible manner, then within limits it was permissible to have a "gill". However, my mother arrived at the wrong time, when I, along with Mick Briggs and Gerald Varley were caught with cigars in one hand and pints in the other. Oh happy days! How we all got in the club, I have no idea. This tiny room also included a tight stairwell up to the bandroom itself. Over the years we have had some wonderful hours in the "back room" with Alf and Shaw locked in verbal contest. Oh! for just one visit back on a time machine to a Friday night after practice. On a personal note I have to say that, despite having won the British Open Contest (Belle Vue), and the National at the Royal Albert Hall, 1966 was the best win of all.