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Cockermouth Mechanics' Band
Cockermouth Mechanics' Band
A fantastic biographical history of the oldest band in Cumberland, richly illustrated throughout.
'The Cockermouth Mechanics Band in its more expansive moments might claim to be the oldest surviving band in the country. This is probably not the case. However, the Mechanics’ are certainly the oldest band in Cumberland and theirs is a very proud record as well.
The stamp on the band’s old sheet music indicates a starting date of 1825, but the earliest reference that Geoff Hunter, the band’s leader and, now, historian, has been able to find is to 1874. That represents more than a 130 years of blowing your own trumpet.
In 1874 the band had graced the first working men’s picnic held at Great Broughton. “The Cockermouth Mechanics’ Band was present and played well, as was evinced by the members who delighted to trip the light fantastic toe.”
That light fantastic toe has been tripping ever since. In 1876 the band celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with an open-air concert in “their usual excellent style. Afterwards the band with their wives and sweethearts and a few friends sat down to an excellent supper provided by Mr Relph of the Bush Hotel.”
There was a lot of competition in those days. In 1891, for instance, there were three bands in Cockermouth – those of the Rifle Volunteers, The Industrial School and the Mechanics – and just down the road was the Lorton Temperance Band.
The winter of 1895 was particularly harsh. Men were out of work and there were soup kitchens in the town. As a charitable venture some of the unemployed men were given work building an ice-house by the River Cocker. The Mechanics’ band, like everyone else in Cockermouth, could not resist playing in this unique venue.
The Mechanics’ played on other occasions such as the town’s Wordsworth Day and the regular midnight New Year concerts. The concerts during the First World War were more sombre affairs as bandsmen remembered their fellows fighting in the fields of France. In fact in 1915 the Band “only just succeeded in mustering sufficient musicians from their depleted ranks to play the old year out”.
The band in the inter-war years was dominated by the Lindsay family, led by Edward ‘Ned’ Lindsay who was looked on as the father of the band. Jack Beattie took over the baton in the mid-‘30s. In 1953, a revived Mechanics’ Band was celebrating both the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the coronation of the prettiest girl in Cockermouth as their very own Band Queen. The regal honour was bestowed on such beauties as Marlene Skillen, Jean Rafferty and Ann Crone.
The band was revived yet again in 1974 under the encouragement of the new vicar, John Crawley, and under the baton of David Cain.
Today, Geoff Hunter wields the stick. They have played at concerts in France and elsewhere in England, but after 175 years they are still there to support the local carnival, play at the Remembrance Day and provide a joyous note or two whenever it is needed in Cockermouth.
It is quite a history. The band has inspired immense loyalty from its members throughout the years – one even chose to be buried in his uniform. It has become a Cockermouth institution.
Geoff Hunter’s history, with its painstaking research and numerous photographs – many of inflated cheeks blowing hard – should be an inspiration for the Mechanics’ next 175 years.' - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
'If, like me, you're fascinated by the nuts and bolts of local history you'll love this little book. There used to be nineteen bands in these local valleys. The Cockermouth Mechanics' Band is the only one of the nineteen to survive. You'll have to buy this book to find out why. And as you leave the bookshop don't forget to hum a rousing chorus of 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness' to welcome the survivors into their third century.' - Eric Robson.
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