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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 in 1888.

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 years absence.

Saddleworth & Oldham Area


Tameside Area

Hurst Village
Stalybridge Celtic
The Station, Ashton-under-Lyne
Upper Mossley

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.

Whit Friday
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


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