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Farnworth And Walkden Band
During 1848 the celebrated Shapcott Family Brass Band came to Farnworth to give a series of three concerts at Queen Street School. Employees of Barnes' Mill who attended these concerts were so impressed by the music that they implored Simeon Dyson, the then Manager, to approach Thomas Barnes with the view to starting their own band. The Barnes family was well noted for its generosity to the people of Farnworth (one act being the gift of Farnworth Park to the people in 1865). Thomas favoured the idea of a band, most likely as a way of keeping his employees from the lure of the pub! Mr Barnes commissioned Dyson to collate a list of the required instruments and associated costs, which is believed to have been £120. After discussing the pro's and con's the instruments were purchased. These were deposited at Rose Cottage in Church Street, the home of Simeon Dyson, whilst the band was organised and satisfactory rehearsal rooms could be readied. The band took the name 'Band of the Farnworth Cotton Mills' owing to the membership being restricted to the employees of the firm.
As few of the men had any practical knowledge of music the Barnes family kindly donated operatic arrangements for the use of the band. Musical arrangements for brass bands where few and far between at this time, more professional bands like Bolton Old Band at this time sent their Chairman as far as London once a year to purchase musical arrangements for the following years concerts. Practises were conducted twice weekly in the evening in the 'Breakfast' room at the mill. The band seems to have broken up after some years due to lack of interest, but was quickly reformed by Mr JR Barnes, who took a deep interest in the welfare of the band. He engaged a Mr J Irving to conduct the band in the rudiments of music. This 'second' start to the band is were possibly the name was changed to Barnes Band.
Nothing is recorded of the bands progress until around 1860, when it was engaged to play under a second guise as the regimental band for 'Tapps Rifles' (who later became the 27th Loyal Regiment Volunteers). During this period the regiment would camp at Lytham for exercises in the summer, the band members being allowed 5s a day and 1s 8d for playing on Saturday afternoons.
There was another band going at the same time, conducted by a Mr Halliwell, from Darcy Lever, and he offered his band's services to play for the Volunteers at lower rates than those quoted above, his terms being 3s 6d for camp and 9d each when on Saturday afternoon parade. One Sunday when Barnes' band was assembling in Bamber's yard, Albert Road for a parade to Farnworth Parish Church, the officers came to Barnes' Band and informed them that their services would no longer be required. On ascertaining the cause, to their astonishment they found that a flute band was waiting to head "D" Company on the regiments parade. In the words of John Wallwork, a member of Barnes' Band, "If ever there was a time in history when Barnes' Band looked soft it was on that particular Sunday morning. Most of us did not go to church, and something different to prayers was said!" With the end of the association with the regiment the band made the decision to convert to all brass instruments
By the early 1860's the band had got into a low ebb again and although the band did not cease it came very close. The situation was greatly improved when several members of the St John's band (Farnworth Parish Church) decided to join, by 1862 it is said that the band was regarded as one of the finest in the country.
In around 1866 the band was in low waters again and had dealings with another local group, the Dixon Green or William Owen's Band so named after the conductor and founder who lived at the King's Arms (known to us now as The Canary on Plodder Lane). Dixon Green Band had a series of falling outs over the division of the proceeds from their engagements and eventually several of the principal players including William Owen left and joined Barnes' band. This influx of players was again to rescue the band. Thomas and James Barnes continued to support the band in various ways, notably purchasing in the early part of the 1870's replacement instruments and new uniforms at a cost of £300 and £120 respectfully. The bandsmen were required to "sign their hand" as a guarantee that this money would be repaid. Strenuous efforts were made towards this end, as much as £46 being cleared by a concert in 1876. There is no record whether the whole of the amount was ever cleared.
The earliest newspaper article involving the band is from the Bolton Evening News of 19th May 1873, the band leading the procession of "cutting the sod" for the construction of St Gregory's Church. The next mention is in 1876 when an 'impromtu band from Barnes' Mill' arrived at Moses Gate as the clock turned midnight. They played 'Auld Lang Syne' to celebrate the removal of the toll gate, and thus serenading the first free traffic to pass through the town.
Although I could not find any reference to the band, it is probable that in 1865 Thomas Barnes would have had his band playing at the opening of Farnworth Park. The tradition of the band celebrating events in the town is one that has continued to this day.
It is hard to ascertain with any degree of accuracy when the band left the umbrella of Barnes' Mill. The rehearsals were changed to the Bridgewater Arms in 1875, the year the company became Limited. By 1884 the name Farnworth Old (Barnes) Band was in regular use. Whether the ties were still there or nostalgia left the Barnes' name in brackets, we may never know. There is some confusion as to when this name change actually took place as the Leigh Chronicle refers to the band as Farnworth Old in 1884, yet a photograph of the band in 1896 calls them Barnes' Band still. In these cases you have to take a balanced guess and I would be more inclined to trusted the Newspaper article as the photographer would most likely have been local and used the local name for the band rather than their official name. Farnworth people still referred to the band as 'Barnes Ale and Bacca Band' right into the 1950's. Their reputation went before them!
The early 1990's saw many changes within the band. Farnworth Old Band was a strong band but did not have satisfactory rehearsal rooms owing to the loss of the Mortuary, which had subsided slowly into Farnworth Park! However Eaton Works Band, a truck component business on the border of Farnworth and Walkden, had excellent rehearsal facilities provided by the Company but was short of players. A merger seemed to make sense to everyone. This took place in 1990, the name of the band being amended to Eaton Farnworth Brass Band. The merger was a great success from the start, marked with the band making the National Finals at London in 1991, for the first time in nearly 40 years. They were placed a healthy seventh.
The conductor at the time, Robert Taylor, with whom the band had had excellent contest results, chose to move on at this time and to keep the momentum going a replacement Conductor was needed quickly.
Auditions were held in early 1992 and the winning man was Stephen Booth, a fine baritone player with Black Dyke. Although young and with little conducting experience it was clear from the start that his ability to inspire the band was second to none and the results would soon back this up. The first contest entered with Stephen was the North West Regional Area at Blackpool; a fine first prize was achieved, meaning a return visit to London. A second place at Pontins, Southport, secured the band had made the Pontins final for the fourth year in succession.
October of 1992 was to provide many a sore head! The band felt confident it could improve on the previous years result and was in high spirits. Rehearsals on the day of the contest went well and the band was relaxed.
While waiting on the coach before the contest at the back of the Wembley Stadium it was decided that a lottery should be run as to the position the band would be drawn for the order of play. Everybody put a pound into Chris Barrett's infamous flat cap and chose a number, as it came to my turn I chose number nine, whereupon Alan Hobson said that this was his lucky number and could he have it. I saw no difference in what number I had so I changed to eight, Roy Farnworth came back after about half an hour and told us the draw result. Number eight! I was presented with the cap containing £34. That paid for my beer for the weekend!
By mid afternoon the band had played and according to our supporters and other bands our performance had been excellent, all that was left was for the results to be given. I don't think the pride we felt from the results being read out that day will ever be matched. On hearing that Eaton's Farnworth had won we ran down to the stage and crowded around the conductor and cup, what an experience! It may only have been the Fourth Section, but that is still the best of over a hundred bands who entered the regional contests.
Later that same month it was the Pontins Final at Prestatyn, a win here would mean completing the Brass Band's equivalent of the treble, being the Regional, National and Pontins titles. Band morale was unstoppable and again the victory was ours.
A professional air exuded the band now, and the added press coverage brought the band a variety of extra concerts to play, even being asked to play in the land of the big bands, Yorkshire! For the next Whit Friday contests it was agreed within the band that no drinking should take place until the eighth village had been played, a great sacrifice on the part of the band for this normally social event! The results once again proved the class of the Conductor.
Sadly in 1994 Stephen Booth decided to move to another band. This put an end to a successful partnership, the band never being placed lower than 4th under the baton of Stephen, until the last contest at Preston.
Eaton Farnworth and Walkden Bands merge
The 1990's had brought a wealth of experiences to the band. The merger with Eaton Band had sustained the growth within the band and brought a National title. It is still early days but a new decade, another merger with Walkden Band and new finances could be the catalyst for more successes on the contest stage.
Although Eaton's Farnworth and Walkden bands had worked together before the merger, completing concerts and playing on the contest stage together since March of 2003 (the remaining Walkden players having registered with Eaton Farnworth for contesting purposes). The merger was formerly completed at the AGM in January 2004, the band taking the name of Eaton F and W Band.
In 2007, due to the closure of the Eatons Transmissions factory and loss of sponsorship, the band again faced a change of name. The band are now the Farnworth & Walkden Band.