In the coal mining districts of County Durham, England, in the 19th and 20th centuries, almost every colliery (coal mine) had a colliery band. Bands were sponsored by the local mining communities and were a source of great pride for the working men who played in the band and the community who attended their performances. These were brass bands with brass and percussion instruments. My father was about 15 years old when he joined the New Herrington Colliery Band in Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham in 1950.
Formed in the 1900s, the New Herrington Colliery Band became a military style band after the First World War.1 Financial support for the colliery bands came from the coal miners themselves. In 1934, the New Herrington Colliery Band was supported by subscription and a levy of a penny per fortnight from the Herrington Colliery miners.2
Although most of the pits in County Durham have now closed, there are some colliery bands in County Durham and other parts of England which still play on today. One of the most well-known is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in South Yorkshire. Formed in 1917, the band is one of the most successful and long-lived brass bands. They were the focus of the 1996 British film, “Brassed Off”, which showcased the bands’ struggle to survive after the closure of their pit.
And if you feel like getting your toes tapping, just click below and hear the Grimethorpe Colliery Band playing the William Tell Overture.