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Horden Colliery Band
The village or township of Horden was a community born to tap the rich coal seams of the coastal belt. The colliery was completed in 1904 and within 25 years it had a community of 1400 pit houses and 10,000 people. By 1951, 15,000 people lived in the village, the colliery employing in excess of 6,000 people. At one time Horden was the largest pit in Britain.
Horden Colliery Band was formed in January 1908 by the men at the colliery who paid a levy of ½d per week for its upkeep. The band was originally called the Horden Silver Prize Band, which related to the silver plating on the instruments. This was considered rather grand and many bands incorporated it into their name.
Horden was known as a good prize winning band and between the years of 1908-1947 the band won a total of £3,500 prize money, 281 cups, 9 shields, and 10 bowls. The major prizes included first prize "The Grand Shield" at the Crystal Palace in 1930. A year later they returned to the Crystal Palace and won second prize after playing the test piece "Honour and Glory". There is an unsupported story surrounding the result. It states that Horden actually came joint first with Wingates Temperance Band, so to decide a winner they flipped a coin, Horden lost the toss and thus came second! The band came second again in 1945 in the Daily Herald National Championship Challenge Trophy.
The band was due to attend a contest in Clacton on the 9th of September 1939 but the contest was cancelled due to the outbreak of war.
In October 1941 Horden Band became a member of the Durham County Brass Band League (D.C.B.B.L.), an organisation that holds contests and looks after the present and future interests of the Northern Brass Band movement.
In June 1946 Mr F Young, a player in the band, sold a cornet which was the property of Horden Colliery Band and the police were informed. Mr Young was brought up at Castle Eden court and was fined the sum of £6/6s and the police recovered the cornet. This information was gained from the minutes of the Annual General Meetings dated 1939-1983. May this act as a warning to any band member considering cashing in!
In May 1949 the band received a set of new uniforms at a total cost of £481 11s 10d. The present uniforms cost around £250 each.
In November 1954 Horden Colliery Band were given permission by the pit management board to attend the first National Coal Board Contest, which was held in Easington. At the time the band were under the control of the coal board management board and had to request permission to do things such as buy new instruments, attend contests, pay travel expenses and retainer fees to players. The colliery owners and managers operated a kind of feudal system whereby the musicians were given safe non-demanding jobs in the pit so that they could get together as often as possible to do they had really been hired for, to create a successful band!
There is a story about a miner who played for Horden band and wanted to transfer to Easington band. When the management board found out, they informed him that if he wouldn't play for Horden, he wouldn't be playing for anyone, and they put him on permanent day shift!
In 1984 the mining dispute began, and by 1986 Horden Colliery was closed. By this time Horden Band had almost folded, down to 6 players and no conductor. The late Frank Smallwood was appointed Musical Director and over the course of the next few years he gradually began to bring back success. Bandsmen came out of retirement to play and help teach young players which were recruited from the local schools, and membership gradually increased to 34 players.
In the late eighties/early nineties, the band played at various events, including the Gateshead Garden Festival, Beamish Museum, and in 1992 at four NUM protest marches in London, as well as many concerts in the local community. The contest record until the time of Frank's resignation in February 1994 was: contests entered: 41, prizes won: 29.
After the departure of Frank Smallwood, Vaughan Evans, conductor of Billingham Silver Band, stood in as temporary bandmaster and in 1994 took the band to the Boosey and Hawkes Brass Band Championship Contest at the Dolphin Centre in Darlington, competing in the fourth section. After many years of not entering the contest, Horden became the North of England Regional Champions, winning with Ray Steadman-Allen's "The Journeymen".
Horden had reached the prestigious final for the first time in over 30 years. It was held in September of the same year at the Wembley Conference Centre in London and under the musical direction of Alan Morrison, the band finished 4th out of the 19 bands competing.
The band have also played at Durham Cathedral's 900 years celebrations, played on a promotional CD called "Banners" for the Easington district, and have also made a documentary for Tyne-Tees Television showing how the band has survived since the colliery closure.
After Frank Smallwood left the band they became unsettled and unable to find a permanent replacement for Musical Director, until 1996 when Wilf Beddell took over the reigns. Wilf had for many years been principal cornet with the Ever Ready Band and had on numerous occasions played for Horden. With little conducting experience he began to work with the band and slowly the players began to respond.
The band has since been promoted three times in the National Grading Contest and are currently competing in the first section. The band has also received a grant from the National Lottery Arts Fund in order to purchase new instruments and establish a youth band, teaching children from the surrounding area to play brass instruments with the foresight of them one day joining the senior band.
Horden Colliery Band was founded as a miner's band in a mining community and grew to be one of the best bands in the country. The colliery no longer stands, but the band plays on as a reminder of one of the most important industries of the 20th century in this country.
Within the brass band tradition the playing members and supporters establish many friendships. You learn to become a good loser as well as a good winner. It has wide social appeal, a bandsman could be a dentist, accountant, solicitor, scientist, factory worker or student. Within the band it's the expertise on an instrument which is important, not your social status. Many enjoy the social life and the experiences it brings and will play throughout their life.
You cannot begin to understand the brass band movement today without some knowledge of the past. Horden Colliery Band is only a small part of what is arguably the greatest tradition of amateur music-making in the world.