Whit Friday: Introduction and Background
On Friday 13th June 2003 one of the most celebrated brass
band extravaganzas takes place in the villages of the West Pennines
namely the Oldham & Saddleworth Whit Friday Brass Band Contests.
They are often described as 'the greatest free show
on Earth’ and they take place every year on the afternoon
and evening of Whit Friday. Whitsuntide, the feast of Pentecost,
is tied to Easter.
Whit Friday is always the eighth Friday following Good Friday and
is therefore the Friday following Whit (or white) Sunday. This is
so called because of the white clothes people wore for the many
baptisms that used to occur on Whit Sunday.
In the Mossley and Saddleworth areas schools and factories would
be closed and in the 1800s people stirred early in the morning,
as early as 4am, to prepare for the day and with the absence of
any licensing laws the doors of pubs and shops would open at 5.00
am to begin the day.
Led by a band in a Procession of Witness people would walk on a
tour round their local area with the church officers, vicar, the
cross and children carrying baskets of flowers or ribbons attached
to their Church banners.
Whit Friday was the Church's Annual Day known as the "Scholars'
Walk" when the girls would have a new dress and the boys would
have new trousers. Neighbours, friends and relatives would line
the streets to witness the procession having often given a penny
or two towards the new clothes.
The earliest recorded contest took place on the 6th June 1884 when
three unconnected events in Uppermill, Stalybridge, and Mossley
(when it is understood seven bands took part) were held in the Pennines
and this inadvertently launched the now internationally renowned
and unique brass band occasion. By the millennium year 2000 it is
recorded that over 300 bands participated in these contests.
As described the walks where led by brass bands, many of which
were not of the local area and had been employed to play at the
walks. It's recorded that Black Dyke played for the Mossley walks
Through the years the Whit Friday walks took place all over the
area and this tradition remains today with the Whit walks taking
place on Whit Friday morning, however growing out of it has emerged
these Whit Friday Brass Band Contests. Now, every year, the Whit
Friday contests have become firmly placed in the brass band calendar
attracting thousands of people, whether musicians or spectators,
to listen to brass band music when a bands' discipline, stamina,
and organisational skills are tested to the limit.
The bands include famous names like Brighouse and Rastrick, Fodens
Richardson and once more this year Black Dyke. Navigation Brass
is a one-off band formed every year for Whit Friday by the Navigation
Inn. The band is made up of mainly ex-championship players and the
aim is to make money for charity and conducted by Les Beevers these
like their Championship counterparts compete against all- comers.
These open–air contests have become a major event in the
calendar with bands travelling from all corners to participate.
Being open to all-comers lower section and youth bands get to match
their skills against the top bands of the country and for the bands
the scurry from contest to contest makes for a heady evening.
The brass band contests have spread throughout the area, including
Ashton and in 2003 they will take place in twenty-five locations.
Thirteen in Tameside and Oldham District and twelve in the Saddleworth
area. This year Scouthead & Austerlands are celebrating their
Silver Jubilee Contest. Tameside Metropolitan Borough who are fantastic
supporters of the brass band movement are backing the event for
the 14th year with Oldahm Metropolitan Borough and Manchester Airport
are sponsoring the Saddleworth & Oldham Area. Bands play two
marches, one on the road on the way to the contest stage when they
may well be awarded marks for deportment and then their well-rehearsed
contest march on whatever passes for a bandstand.
Adjudication is closed i.e. “blind” with the adjudicator
hidden in some nearby darkened room or caravan and at one of the
busier venues over 50 bands could perform before the winners are
announced as the event closes late in the evening.
Each contest is organised by local volunteers with the running
costs and prize money raised by local donations and through fund-raising
events. Each contest sets its own rules with an entry fee of £1
coin per band. Bands are required to play a published Contest March
with an unmarked copy handed ont the Contest Steward on arrival
at the signing-in point. Normally, no more than 25 players may play
the contest piece, plus the conductor.
It is possible to travel around and call in at several contests
during the evening but with mega busloads of bandsmen also driving
about and many local diversions or roads closed to traffic and unavoidable
parking problems it pays not to be too adventurous. Millbrook Contest
that ran for many years is no longer involved but two new venues
are included Bush Inn, roylsden and at the District Centre, Hattersley.
The Stalybridge Celtic contest has been re-established after four
Saddleworth & Oldham Area
The Station, Ashton-under-Lyne
Traffic Delays (2003): (Information as accurate as possible
at time of printing)
There will be a contra-flow on the A670 at roadworks near Greenfield
Station. This is likely to cause delays if you are approaching Uppermill
from the Mossley & Ashton-Under- Lyne direction; Delays could
interfere when travelling between Uppermill or Greenfield to Lydgate
and may be possible when travelling between Uppermill and Greenfield
There is currently a contra-flow on the A62 Between the Delph and
Scouthead contests however this might be removed before the evening
contests start. Coach drivers are warned to be extra careful at
Lydgate crossroads this is a very tight junction and needs careful
driving and negotiation.
3th June 2003
Future Dates for the Whit Friday Contests
2004 4th June
2005 20th May
2006 9th June
2007 1st June
2008 16th May
2009 5th June
2010 28th May