Picture courtesy of Stalybridge Old Band
The Whit Friday Band Contest is one of the most important events on Tameside’s social calendar. Not just because it is a well attended and enjoyable family event, but because it plays an important part in our areas cultural heritage.
Locally the competing brass bands are synonymous with the whit walks but what many people may not realise is that the association is, for the most part, a local phenomenon. Although music was always a common feature of the Whitsun processions Tameside and Saddleworth are unique for incorporating band contests into the festivities.
The Whitsuntide celebrations stem from the Feast of the Pentecost - an important date for the Christian church - and gradually lost their importance in many areas at the beginning of the 19th century as industrialisation moved people from the countryside and into the growing mill towns.
It was precisely because of the stress of the new industrial life however that the people of the North West tried to keep the celebration alive in places such as Stalybridge. The walks themselves were intertwined with the work of Sunday schools, which thrived amongst the deeply religious working classes and in the absence of formal education.
As well as being an opportunity to get a break from the stresses of the mills the Ministers and Superintendents of the Sunday schools saw the walks as an appealing alternative to another Northern tradition of this era - the annual horse races on Kersal Moor - which came to be marked by a tendency towards drinking and gambling.
In 1870 the first Band Contest was held in Stalybridge to coincide with the Whit Walks and they have formed an important part of the areas cultural heritage ever since. The events - spread throughout Stalybridge and Saddleworth - have attracted thousands of people from across the world and even featured in the hit 1996 film ‘Brassed Off’, which starred the late Pete Postlethwaite.
Events like this are important, not just because they ensure things are going on in our towns, but because they allow us to consider what makes areas like ours what they are. In the Band Contest the people of Stalybridge definitely have something we can call our own, and I am delighted to give it my full support.
The Stalybridge Contest takes place on Friday 13th June from 4.30-10.30pm at Stalybridge Labour Club