Our Journey Back to the Championship

Meltham Mills Band is first mentioned as a reed band in about 1843, but was first formed as a true Brass Band in 1846, and came about through the interest and support of Messrs Jonas Brook and Bros. mill owners at Meltham Mills.  It will be noticed that on the breast pockets of our Black uniform jackets, the band tie and our stand banners, there is a Rams Head depicted. This is the bands continuing connection with its roots of over 160 years ago, it was the emblem of Jonas Brook and Bros.  Meltham and Meltham Mills. The original stone carving of the Rams Head can be found positioned about 20 ft. up the wall on a red brick building on Meltham Mills Road, one of the still existing buildings that was part of the Meltham Mills complex.


From its founding in 1846, until 1871, the band, apart from playing in the village and surrounding area, entered contests with varying degrees of success. The conductors during this period were Mr. Cyrus Lunn,  Mr. Henry Hartley, Mr. John Brook and Mr. Alfred Jackson.


In 1871 Meltham Mills Band were recognised as one of the best and most promising bands in the district and it was at this time that the services of the noted conductor Mr. John Gladney were secured.  From this time the fortunes of Meltham Mills Band really looked up. Records show nine contest placings from 1st to 5th in that year.


In 1872, John Gladneys second year in charge, records show the first result for the band at Belle Vue, a 3rd,( 4th prize shown in our printed 150th book seems to be a misprint) as well as several prizes at other venues, including four 1st prizes and Baritone, Trombone and Bombardon prizes.


1873 records show a 1st place at Belle Vue in the British Open Contest playing Dinorh (Meyerbeer, arr. C Godfrey), plus a further seven 1st prizes, among many others at other venues, including Cornet, Trombone and duet prizes, that year.


1874 shows a 2nd prize at Belle Vue ( our neighbouring village band, Linthwaite, conducted by Mr. E. Swift, winning the first prize that year), with once again many other prizes won throughout the north of England including prizes for Baritone, Eb Bass and Bb Bass, a total of 24 various prizes that year.


Also in 1874 the Band entered the first Brass Band contest held in the Paloma Palace in Paloma Palace Gardens, Manchester with prizes to a total value of £300 on offer.  Seventeen bands entered and played the Grand Selection from Balf’s opera ‘Satanella’ The first prize was awarded to the Meltham Mills band. The Band records show a first prize of £50, a ‘Bombardon’ prize of £27, a ‘Baton’ at £12 / 12s / 0d and 24 silver medals at a cost of £25/4s/0d for the players. We have one of these medals, presented we think to a member of the Preston family, in our possession. It was also at this contest that it was decided that a maximum of twenty four brass players would be allowed to play in  this and future contests.


1875 there was another 2nd prize at Belle Vue, ( this time the first prize was awarded to Kingston Mills Band---conducted by John Gladney ) and more than twenty prizes at other venues.


1876, 1877, and 1878, apart from many prizes won throughout the north of England, the Band won 1st prize in the British Open at Belle Vue each year, becoming the first band to gain the elusive three consecutive wins.  Only five other bands have achieved this feat since, these are, Black Dyke Mills, 1879, 1880 and 1881,  Kingston Mills Band in 1885, 1886 and 1887 (conducted on each occasion by John Gladney!), Fodens Motor Works in 1926, 1927 and 1928, Brighouse and Rastrick in 1932 , 1933 and 1934 and Fairy Band in 1961, 1962 and 1963.  Black Dyke Band also did it for a second time in 1972, 1973 and 1974.


During these three years over sixty prizes were won throughout the north at venues as far a field as Rhyl, Chesterfield, Middlesborough and Edinburgh.


At this time, 1878, Meltham Band were awarded 23 gold medals to commemorate the three 
consecutive wins. We also have one of these medals in our possession, presented to Mr. Richard Stead (euphonium) on that occasion over 130 years ago, which was recently presented to the band by Muriel Stead, a descendant of Richard Stead, who lives only a short distance from our bandroom, together with other items which are also on display in the Band room.


1872 to 1878 were the ‘golden years’ of Meltham Mills band with four 1st two 2nd and a 3rd prize in the British Open Contest at Belle Vue. It was reported that the trophy presented to the Band on it’s three consecutive victories was given to the band at that time and a replacement obtained for future years. Sadly there appears to be no trace of where this trophy is now. We would be proud to have it in our band room, it being such an important part of our, and Brass Band, history.


The down side of this trio of first places was that the Band was not allowed to enter the Belle Vue contest for the following two years, maybe to give other bands a chance, who knows, but the result of this decision was to encourage some of the best, and more ambitious, players at Meltham to move to other bands.Mr. Edwin Stead, trombone player, and brother of Richard Stead, left the Band after the 1878 contest and joined Black Dyke Mills Band, who then went on to win the next three British Open Contests. This put Edwin Stead in the unique position of having played and won in Six consecutive British Open Contests. He was presented with a medal to commemorate this and we managed to borrow this medal, also from one of his descendents still living in Meltham, and photograph it for our records.


The third member of the Stead family who also played with the Band was Wright, who played soprano. He apparently had quite a reputation for celebrating after a big concert or contest and it is said that on many occasions he didn’t arrive home until several days after the event!


Meltham Band played entirely on Besson instruments and in 1878 took delivery of a brand new set of Besson Prototype  instruments which included the first ever BBb Bass. These were presented by Madam Besson to Meltham Mills Band. It was her wish that these instruments should be played by the Champion Band of the time. The man with the honour of playing the new BBb bass was Jim Preston and there is an amusing story about him and his brand new instrument when he went with the Band  to London. There is also another very amusing story about John Gladney and what happened to him on one occasion when he was walking to Meltham  from Slaithwaite station for a rehearsal.  Anyone who has read our book ‘150 Years of Music’ commemorating our 150th anniversary, will remember these little stories and for anyone who has not read it,  it is still available. It is an interesting, and in places amusing little booklet,  with many pictures and a fuller and more detailed account of the Bands history of the first 150 years, mainly handed down by word of mouth through families and friends from the time.


Though still entering and winning contests over the next few years, only two more prizes were won at Belle Vue, a 2nd prize in both 1881 and 1883.


Though still a band of some note, (no pun intended) the contest successes seemed to dry up around this time. From 1871 to 1883 the band won almost 200 prizes totalling over £3,800.…a phenomenal amount when you consider the wages that families had to live on at that time.  The highest single prize was £50, more than 30 of the prizes were for £5 or less -- one, a cornet prize at Huddersfield, for only 10/- (-- 50p for those of you who are not as old as some of us at Meltham, and can well remember the 10/- note! )


We still have in our library a lot of the music played around that time and conducted by John Gladney. Much of it is handwritten, particularly scores, these we think were probably written by John Gladney. One has both a signature, and what was presumably his address at the time, hand written beneath it on the cover.


There was little recorded about the band in the earlier 20th century until 1939 when Meltham Mills closed down and the band came under the patronage of David Brown Tractors. Then around 1943/4, the Band  began to break up, possibly brought about by the shortage of players due to the war.  It was reported in the local paper dated 18 Aug. 1945 that at a public meeting held in the Carlisle Institute it was unanimously decided ‘to re-form a Brass Band in Meltham’.  This was entrusted to Jack Manchester and the late John Redfearn who were both players who had played in the Meltham Mills band before the war years. They were asked to help find and train new players and, with the existing players, put on a concert in the Village within 12 months. This was an important time in the more modern history of the Band as, at this time, the instruments, music and equipment were handed over and Meltham |Mills Band was re-formed as an independent Band.

A room for rehearsing was found in Meltham, and the band, now an independent subscription Band, was named after the two villages it represented -- Meltham and Meltham Mills.


In January 1948 a free concert was given in the ‘Alhambra Palace Picture House Meltham’ to a ‘large and appreciative audience’, where the first trophy won by the Band after being re-formed, at the West Riding Brass Band Contest  Cleckheaton the previous November, was presented to Mr. Greenhalgh (president) by Mr. Harold Swallow (conductor).

The Band returned to the contesting arena quite quickly, contesting at Belle Vue again in 1948, though not with the success shown some sixty years previously, but it was a massive step after re-forming only a short while previously.


After moving around the village in various band rooms for some time , and  after a proposition at the AGM in Feb. 1951, enquiries were made about the possibility of rehearsing within the Bent House building in Tinker lane, then owned by Mrs. Thomason. It was decided at a special meeting in April 1951 that the secretary was to obtain terms for use of the room in Bent House and if these terms were no more than £1 weekly for rent and rates, he had the power to accept the tenancy. This was apparently a successful move. Then in Jan. 1952 it was agreed to have the property valued. After repairs and decoration, the cost to purchase, £750, was agreed. This the band agreed to pay over a period of time. At a meeting in May 1960, Mr Edward Greenhalgh, the Band President, offered to hand over the deeds and free the band of any further payments for the Band room owed to him provided that the band operated with trustees and that the deeds were deposited in a secure place. This offer was gratefully accepted and from that time the Band has operated under trustees for the benefit of the people of Meltham and Meltham Mills.

Over the years modernisation has been carried out on the building and now the band owns what must surely be one of the most substantial and effective, dedicated band rooms in the country.


Meltham and Meltham Mills Band ventured into the Yorkshire Area Contest in 1953 in the 3rd section and from that time entered most years for the next 25 years or so, improving all the time. The most successful period at this time being 1958,1965and 1966, when the Band went to the national finals in London representing Yorkshire.


Since 1981 the Band has entered the Yorkshire Area Contest every year and has been placed in the top six 14 times up to the present time, 2011. The result of this success has seen the Band advance through from the 3rd section to the 2nd section in 1988, the 1st section in 1992, back to 2nd in 1995 then 3rd again in 1998 and back again into 2nd  section in 2000.


In 1996, the Bands 150th anniversary,  a celebration concert was held in Huddersfield Town hall. The near acoustically perfect venue gave justice to the bands performing and Meltham had as their guests the only other two Yorkshire winners of the British Open on three consecutive years, Black Dyke and Brighouse & Rastrick. As part of their performance Meltham played a piece called Triple Gold, specially commissioned for this occasion and written by Simon Kerwin. A ‘big’ piece was also requested from the two guest bands, and they obliged by Brighouse and Rastrick playing Pageantry (Howells) and overture Le Roi Dy’s (Lalo, arr Frank Wright) being played by Black Dyke. The finale, with all the bands was Procession to the Minster, Wagner. arr Snell ! What a way to conclude this unique concert!


In 2000 Stuart Fawcett returned to conduct the band where he learned to play in the 1950’s/60’s. This offered a period of stability, (almost half the band members at present have ten years or more service with Meltham,) which together with Stuart’s determination and energy helped get the Band promoted back to the 1st section in 2008, and again to the Championship Section from Jan. 1st 2012.


Stuart decided towards the end of 2010 to step down and retire from conducting in 2011. The promotion to Championship Section was confirmed in 2011 but Stuart decided his decision to retire would stand and regrettably he did not have the chance to perform on the Championship contest platform with the band which under his guidance, gained that achievement.


Quite a journey for a village Band!