“To the cheers of nearly 7,000 brass band enthusiasts. the Black Dyke Mills Band, composed of Yorkshire textile workers, won the Daily Herald National Brass Band Championship at the Albert Hall on Saturday for the second time” Daily Herald, 1948.
In 1948, Bradford-based brass band Black Dyke Mills secured their second consecutive national title in the championship section of the National Brass Band Championships. They would go on to win many more and remain one of the UK’s leading bands today.
At the National Science and Media Museum, this victory is recorded in a single photograph in the Daily Herald Archive. The image is, at first glance, unremarkable. Two men holding a large trophy and some other faces peer out from a dark background. I initially skipped past it when I started looking for pictures of brass bands in the Daily Herald archive, here at the National Science and Media Museum. As a former brass bander it’s a personal interest of mine, and I was thrilled to discover two folders dedicated to brass bands in the archive.
They contain many more striking and engaging images of bands than the one I’ve selected here, however, this photograph is notable for the links it makes between the National Science and Media Museum collection, Bradford and the wider history of brass banding in the UK.
The first point of interest lies in the trophy. It was only when I looked at the notes on the back of the photograph, that I noticed the prize was named after the Daily Herald. The trophy still exists today, and the contest was sponsored by the Daily Herald between 1947 – 1964. More specifically, this trophy is what bands in the Championship section have historically competed for. This is the top tier of the banding world.
As such, this photograph represents a long running relationship between the Daily Herald and the brass banding world. This national paper, which ran daily between 1912 and 1964, was an enthusiastic supporter of brass bands, sponsoring contests and prizes as well as covering the activities of musicians across the country.
The winners of the trophy are also crucial. Not only are Black Dyke Band still one of the leading brass bands in the UK and arguably the world, but they are based here in Bradford, only a short distance from the National Science and Media Museum. This photograph depicts the fruits of their 1948 victory at the championships, which they also won the previous and following years. In total they’ve amassed multiple victories since their first entry into the contest when it began in 1900.
Black Dyke’s history is typical of many established bands. A group of textile workers banded together to create music, and spent their leisure time building one of the country’s most successful musical ensembles. The band can trace its history back to the mid 1800s, when leisure time was much more limited. Even nearly a century later, in order to attend the 1948 contest, members of some bands reputedly worked double shifts in order to secure the necessary time off. Brass banding was, and still is, a serious business for band members.
According to the image, Captain R. A. C. Foster (pictured on the right) received the trophy on behalf of Black Dyke Band. This is significant because the band’s origins are attributed to John Foster, whose mill gave the band its name. Foster and his family were actively locally as politicians, businessmen and community organisers.
Black Dyke Band travelled to London to compete at the Albert Hall in 1948, and were conducted by legendary band conductor Harry Mortimer, who also conducted the Fairey Aviation Band, and several other of the competing ensembles. It was typical then for associate conductors to direct the bands on contest day, rather than the band’s actual leader. Black Dyke’s leader was Arthur Oakes Pearce, one of the band’s longest serving conductors, who had recently celebrated his 77th birthday, so the win must have been a wonderful present for him.
All of the bands in the Championship Section played Henry Geehl’s ‘On the Cornish Coast’ (1924), with Geehl himself named as referee on the day. Herbert Bennett and John Greenwood adjudicated.
One of the most famous contemporary reference to this long running brass band contest comes in the 1996 film Brassed Off, which is based on Grimethorpe Colliery Band, again once a workers’ band. In the thrilling final scenes, the band performs in the Albert Hall, just as Black Dyke have done for decades.
I’ve been unable to find any further images of Black Dyke Band in the archive yet. Many other bands are represented. Nonetheless, I like the one image we have for what it represents, and the connections it makes between our collection, Bradford and brass banding history.
If anyone wants to know more about this fascinating history, you are welcome to contact Insight: Collections & Research Centre, the National Science and Media Museum about viewing our brass band photographs. Black Dyke band also have their own heritage project, and the National Brass Band Archive is another excellent resource.