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This is a band with a very chequered history and an existence in some form or other for over 125 years.
The band is best known as operating under the 'banner' of Harton Coal Company of South Shields. The first verifiable reference to a 'Harton Colliery Band' comes from 1873 when a band under this name participated in the Morpeth Brass Band Festival. However, after 1878, no further reference to this band can be traced and it appears to have become defunct by this date, the reason why is unknown. In 1911 another band emerged under the same title of 'Harton Colliery Band'. This seems to have been the Tyne Dock Temperance Band which, some years earlier, had been 'adopted' by the colliery for various engagements but then changed its name to enjoy the financial support offered by the colliery management. The Tyne Dock Temperance Band had itself developed from the Harton and District Band which in turn had started life as the Tyne Dock British School Adult Band.
The band emerged as a real force after 1913. In February of that year the well-known conductor, adjudicator and arranger George Hawkins, aged 36, was appointed conductor, and rapid progress was made. This culminated in 1919 when Harton Colliery Band won the British Open Championship playing a selection from Benedict's opera, "The Lily of Killarney" and in doing so became the first colliery band to win this premier award. The band maintained a strong contesting presence over the next thirty years but was perhaps better known as a concert band, touring widely throughout the United Kingdom under the musical direction of several conductors but in particular, Jack Atherton. Famous players of this era include Jack Macintosh, Norman Ashcroft and Maurice Murphy (then a boy solo champion of Great Britain and now principal trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra).
A bombshell came in 1950 when Jack Atherton was appointed bandmaster of the famous Fairey Aviation Works Band - the 'baby' of the great Harry Mortimer. This was a great honour for Jack Atherton as the Fairey Band had been Open Champions in 1941, 1942, 1944, 1947 and 1949 as well as National Champions in 1945 when another local band, Horden Colliery, were runners-up.
The departure of Jack Atherton was accompanied by the loss of many fine players which had a devastating effect on the remaining members. As a result, the 1950s saw the band in the doldrums but, in the mid 1960s, the band revived and maintained a fairly consistent standard until the miners' strike of 1984/5. The pressures of the strike, financially, socially and internally caused great difficulties for the band and membership dwindled to a handful of players. Faced with the imminent collapse of the band, one or two die-hards recruited children from local schools and a rebuilding programme began. Many of these players have remained loyal to the band and this, along with a stable committee, has seen the band start from the bottom of the ladder and re-establish itself as a competent musical organisation.
At this time the band was known as 'Harton and Westoe Colliery Band', a title adopted when both collieries merged in 1958. However, in 1985, as part of this new beginning, the band adopted the shorter name of 'Westoe Colliery Band'(Harton Colliery had closed in 1968 after 125 years of operation). A new uniform was purchased and steady progress continued until the surprise announcement was made of the closure of Westoe Colliery in 1993.
The band was faced with the task of finding new rehearsal facilities and financial support. Thankfully, after very cordial negotiations, both of these are now provided by South Tyneside Health Care Trust with whom the band maintains a 'healthy' relationship. In return, the band performs for hospital events including fetes, fashion shows, church services and patient welfare, and is a popular musical combination within the local community.
1873 - Harton Colliery Band participated in the Morpeth Brass Band Festival (first verifiable reference to band)
1878 - Harton Colliery Band appears to have become defunct
1911 - Harton Colliery Band re-emerged when the colliery management 'adopted' the Tyne Dock Temperance Band
1919 - Harton Colliery won the British Open Championship
1958 - Harton and Westoe Collieries merged and the band changed its name to Harton and Westoe Colliery Band
1968 - Harton Colliery closes but the band continues on at Westoe Colliery
1984/5 - Miners' strike led to financial, social and internal difficulties, membership dwindled to a handful of players
1985 - A 'new start' is made, children are recruited from local schools and re-building begins. Band changes name to Westoe Colliery Band
1993 - Closure of Westoe Colliery is announced. South Tyneside Health Care Trust who kindly agree to support the band and name changes to the present title
2000 - The Band competes in the National Finals at The Royal Albert Hall
2004 - Consistent successes see the promoted from the bottom of the Fourth Section to the Championship Section
In fact the first colliery band in the North East was formed at Harton pit, in 1842, albeit it's more likely to have been a small brass combination, not emerging as a 'band' until the 1860s.
By the beginning of the First World War it had absorbed a companion ensemble, Tyne Dock Temperance Band, and was starting to take away silverware from competitions. The band's subsequent progress – and the support it received – astonishes even now.
In 1919, thousands of people lined the pavements from the railway station in Mile End Road to the Town Hall, to see the band return victorious from the 67th British Open Championship – the first colliery band to bring the prize North. In the same year, in the absence of a Crystal Palace contest, they were also declared world champions.
Gifted soloists emerged, such as Jack Mackintosh and Tom Brennan. The band toured widely between the wars, and there were a number of recordings.
During the Second World War, Harton made more radio broadcasts than any other brass band – many of which went out live from upstairs in the Victoria Hotel (Winskells pub) at West Harton! Stars would emerge. Maurice Murphy, who played with the band between 1947 and 1951, would later become principal trumpet with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).
The band continued with relative success after the war, eventually changing its name to Harton and Westoe Colliery Band in 1958. The first female player, tenor horn player Annette Peters, joined in 1972. Yet by little more than a decade later, it has almost all gone. The band emerged from the 1984/84 miners' strike struggling financially and with numbers.
It was then that the decision was taken to drop Harton from the band's title and to set out to recruit new players through the South Tyneside Schools Brass Band Scheme. Foundations were relaid, the subsequent blow felt by the closure of Westoe Colliery in 1993, being ameliorated by South Tyneside Health Care Trust stepping in with support. It was to be a lifeline and the link with what subsequently became Westoe South Tyneside Healthcare Trust Band continues to today.
Now it's just known as Westoe Brass Band, in partnership with South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust. It performs, records and still takes a leading role at the Durham Miners' Gala, and will be taking part in this Good Friday's annual Procession of Witness in Shields. As they say, the band plays on....