LEE MOUNT BAND - HALIFAX WEST YORKSHIRE

LEE MOUNT BAND - HALIFAX WEST YORKSHIRE

Lee Mount Brass Band was highly esteemed by Halifax people and with good reason, for it had distinguished itself by winning the 1,000 guineas gold cup at the Crystal Palace in 1901 and numerous other contests. 

It was in August 1888 that the band was founded and Mr Cain Thornton was appointed its conductor.

In those early days the rehearsals were held in a greenhouse however it was not long after that a local smithy was engaged as a meeting place and the membership of the band doubled.

Later when a further move became necessary more comfortable quarters were found at Bank Top where the band continued to increase in membership and to improve its technique and a subscription list was opened which enabled it to buy better instruments.

Its first engagement was with the Bradshaw Church scholars on Whit-Monday 1889 and when the Sunday school jubilee celebrations were held in 1890 when the band accompanied Wheatley Wesleyans to the Market Hall.

It had become obvious by this time that a permanent bandroom was needed and a subscription list was opened once again. This resulted in the erection of a wooded building in Old Lane, which turned out to be its final home.

With the excellent instruments which it now possessed the band was beginning to cohere into a smooth working unit when the conductor Cain Thornton resigned. Fortunately the band was able to secure the services of Mr William Swingler and under his leadership the band continued to improve, so that in 1893 it was already to enter its first competition.

This first effort was only across the road in Ovenden where the band was unsuccessful but instead of being downcast the members redoubled their efforts and in the following year (1894) they took the fourth prize at Craven Lodge.

This was to be the first in a succession of prizes the band was to win. At Peterborough in 1896 they not only took the two first prizes (for selection and quickstep) but also carried away five special prizes for various soloists. This caused the judge to remark that with the exception of Black Dyke Mills he had never known any band sweep the board in such a way.

In 1897 for the first time they entered the prestigious British Open Championships at Belle Vue. On that day they drew the dreaded number one and no doubt those men from Lee Mount stepped out with their conductor William Swingler to perform the test piece ‘Moses in Egypt’ knowing they were competing against some of the finest bands in the country.

Although they were not placed on that occasion their performance would have served noticed that they were a band to watch for in the future.

A Belle Vue, Manchester the band played in two contests in 1899 and won a prize on both occasions. They were the only band in England to win two prizes at one contest that year. Without doubt the prize they were most proud to receive was third place in the British Open Championships when with their conductor William Swingler they performed the test piece ‘Aroldo’. Third prize behind first placed Black Dyke Mills and second placed Hucknall Temperance both bands conducted by the legendary John Gladney.  

On Saturday July 21st 1900 they were performing at the Crystal Palace national championships for the first time when they were drawn 12th out of fourteen contenders to perform the test piece ‘Beauties of Sullivan’. For a first time performance they were awarded a creditable fourth place and twelve pounds in prize money.

Without doubt Lee Mount reached the pinnacle of their success when on Saturday, September 28th 1901 they won the 1000 guineas gold cup at Crystal Palace. They were playing number 3 and were amongst twenty-seven contenders and with the exception of Black Dyke most of the big names were there to take part. They were awarded 127 points with Irwell Springs and the 1900 winners Denton Original placed second and third respectively. The band also won a £40 cash prize and a silver plated trombone. One the band’s soloists Mr C. Pearson received a gold tenor horn and gold medals were presented to the conductor William Swingler, Arthur Peel the band secretary and the bandmaster.

After the success of the contest amassed band concert was held where the participating bands played the Coronation March from Edward German’s Henry V111 and the Pilgrims Chorus from Tannhauser to a cheering 50,000 strong audience.

The news of the band’s success caused great excitement in Halifax where it was regarded as proof of the supremacy of local ability.

In 1902 and still with William Swingler conducting they were placed 6th behind Black Dyke Mills, Wyke, Luton Red Cross, local rivals King Cross and Irwell Springs. By the 1903 contest the legendary Alexander Owen was engaged to take them to the contest. Although they were not placed that day Alexander Owen conducted no less than six bands on the day and took Besses o’ th’ Barn and Rushden Temperance to first and second prizes respectively. He also took them for the 1904 contest but were unplaced.

In 1905 they were awarded £20 for third prize behind winners Irwell Springs and the Wingate Temperance Band with Alexander Owen conducting four other bands on that day as well as Lee Mount.

From available records it would seem that was the last time that Lee Mount took part in the national finals in London.

When the band arrived back at Halifax station early on the Sunday morning when it was greeted by its president Mr F. Walker and a cheering crowd of well wishers. The band formed into line and marched up the hill to Lee Mount playing on the way. Afterwards the musicians were received at Ovenden Hall the home of the president who had given a guarantee of £700 for the safety of the cup.

In later years the band’s achievements went into decline and its popularity diminished. When the Halifax Brass Band Festival was held in 1923 the Lee Mount Band entered for the local section but failed to win on that day. Although they did win a second prize the following year the Lee Mount Band was never to be the same force it once was.

During the Second World War the old band room stood empty, a silent reminder of past glories. The band never reformed and in 1942 or thereabouts the old timbers were pulled down and the site was levelled – a sad end to a once famous band.

The band gradually faded into obscurity but many local people – Lee Mount Band represented the eternal English summer of childhood memories with a gentle breeze wafting the pure notes of a melody across from the old wooden band-room.  

 Chris 

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