Whit Week 2014: The Greatest Free Show on Earth

Stand by for The Week of Weeks

It has survived depressions, two World Wars, Thatcherism, industrial unrest, torrid weather conditions and bus deregulation. Hopefully it’ll survive any attempts to get the Delph, Denshaw and Diggle contests finishing too early, or prospective Late Night Levies. Tomorrow sees the start of The Week of Weeks. The greatest week, bar none.

As said on numerous occasions, my typical Whit Friday involves both Mossley and Uppermill Whit Walks, rushed tea, first few minutes of the Stalybridge Labour Club and/or Stalybridge Celtic A.F.C. contest, then the train to Greenfield. Plus a few drinks, maybe a pork pie. Sometimes a post-contest trip to the chippy.

Our area east of the M60 is not only well blessed with a number of brass band contests, it proudly upholds the Procession of Witness. The traditional date for the Whit Walks was either Whit Monday or Whit Friday instead of Whit Sunday. Crowds would line the streets to see local churches walk to a central point. Walkers would be dressed in their finest clothes and bystanders would give walking children a penny, in appreciation of their smart clothes. Thousands would line the streets.

Today, it is more likely to be hundreds lining the street. Churchgoing dwindled; as few people were able to get time off from work on the Monday or the Friday, Oldham and Tameside churches opted for Whit Sunday. Dukinfield’s walks switched to Sunday in the early 1980s along with Ashton’s Whit Walks. St. John’s Church, Tame Valley and the Alban Mission upheld the Whit Friday tradition with St. John’s Church still doing so to date.

Stalybridge’s Whit Walks took place on Whit Friday till 1988, opting for Whit Sunday afternoons the following year. However, the Mossley and Saddleworth churches still hold their Procession of Witness on Whit Friday. By sticking with the original date, their processions have continued to thrive.

The Whit Walks in a Nutshell

  1. Churchgoers assemble at their place of worship, often an hour or two earlier than the church’s typical start time.
  2. Each church is led out by a brass band, within its locality.
  3. The first walkers would be seen carrying the church’s banner.
  4. Hardier walkers would often be seen carrying the banner by its poles, supported by about 6 – 24 others holding onto ropes or ribbons.
  5. Behind the main banner would be a number of walkers carrying minor banners or other iconography including flowers or a cuddly lamb (the Lamb of God).
  6. Sometimes, members of the church’s Cub Scouts, Scouts, Beavers, Brownies and Girl Guides would be seen in full uniforms.
  7. In recent times, older members have been ferried along the Whit Walks route in minibuses.
  8. All churches would assemble at a point central to the town centres. In Mossley, it is the Market Ground in Top Mossley, Dukinfield with its town hall, and Grosvenor Square for the Stalybridge walks.
  9. On return to their church, they would round off the event with tea and – a traditional – raspberry bun (the ones at Dukinfield Baptist Church are always on great form). The band would be suitably fed and watered with a buffet lunch before finishing for the day or doing an afternoon walk.
  10. (With the Saddleworth and Mossley Whit Friday walks today) there would be a Sports Day for younger walkers.
  11. A typical Whit Friday would be rounded off with the Band Contest. Its traditional venues being Uppermill, Greenfield, Top Mossley and Stalybridge (at one time, the Open Market).

Seen below are this year’s contest venues, of which there is no change to the Tameside and Saddleworth venues. For brass band enthusiasts who wish to drive, note the postcode if you have a Sat Nav device.

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Oldham and Saddleworth Contests:

  • Denshaw: Oddfellows Club, Huddersfield Road, Denshaw OL3 5SD;
  • Diggle: Huddersfield Road/Sam Road, Diggle OL3 5PU;
  • Delph: Gartside Street, Delph OL3 5DW;
  • Dobcross: Church Fields, Dobcross OL3 5AN;
  • Scouthead and Austerlands: Dawson’s Field, off Huddersfield Road, Scouthead OL4 4AS;
  • Uppermill: High Street, Uppermill OL3 6HY;
  • Greenfield: Chew Valley Road/Cricket Ground, Greenfield OL3 7DB;
  • Friezland (Sections 3, 4 and Youth only): Friezland Parish Hall, Oaklands Road, Friezland OL3 7LQ;
  • Lydgate: White Hart Inn, Stockport Road, Lydgate OL4 4JJ
  • Grotton: Station Road, Grotton OL3 5SF;
  • Lees: High Street/Thomas Street, Lees OL4 5DA;
  • Greenacres: Dog and Partridge [PH], Constantine Street, Greenacres OL4 3HE.

Tameside Contests:

  • Top Mossley: Mountain Street, Mossley OL5 0EY;
  • Carrbrook: Carr Rise, Carrbrook, Stalybridge SK15 3NY;
  • Broadoak Hotel: Broadoak Road, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 8QD;
  • Ashton United FC: Surrey Street, Hurst, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 9EQ;
  • Heyrod (Sections 3, 4 and Youth only): John Street, Wakefield Road, Heyrod, Stalybridge SK15 3BW;
  • Dukinfield: Tame Valley Hotel, Park Road, Dukinfield SK16 5LX;
  • Audenshaw: Aldwinians Rugby Union Football Club, Droylsden Road, Audenshaw M34 5SN;
  • Droylsden: The Bush Inn, Moorside Street, Droylsden M43 7HL;
  • Stalybridge Labour Club: Acres Lane, Stalybridge SK15 2JR;
  • Stalybridge Celtic AFC: Bower Fold, Mottram Road, Stalybridge SK15 2RT;
  • Denton: Denton Cricket Club, Egerton Street, Denton M34 3PB.

Please note that most Whit Friday Brass Band contests begin between 1600 – 1700 and finish between 2230 and 2300. Sometimes, the finishing time may be extended depending on the number of bands registered.

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Please remember that scheduled bus services may be disrupted by both Brass Band Contests and Whit Walks. This will have a great affect on the operation of Saddleworth’s bus routes including the [Ashton – Mossley – Oldham] 350 and the 343 [Hyde – Mossley – Oldham].

If you wish to enjoy a disruption free Whit Friday experience, I fully recommend going to the Brass Band contests at Stalybridge (Labour Club and Stalybridge Celtic AFC, latter a 236/237 ride away from the railway station) and Greenfield. Both are linked via Northern Rail’s Manchester Victoria – Huddersfield stopping service. Expect busy trains owing to the popularity of Whit Friday.

Or, you could get the above train to Ashton-under-Lyne. From there, you could get a 331/332/333 to Broadoak Hotel or Ashton United FC, a 347 for the Denton contest, or a 216 for the Audenshaw one. The Bush Inn in Droylsden is served by the 168/169/231. If you wish to venture to the Tame Valley Contest in Dukinfield, get a 346 bus and alight at The Park stop, then walk along Park Road (failing that, get a taxi from Ashton).

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Whit Friday Contests for Absolute Beginners

I know I’ve mentioned this in last year’s preview, but it’s still a useful aide memoire.

  1. Brass Bands are graded in accordance to sections, a bit like football teams are. The top section is the Championship section. Then there is another five sections: sections 1 to 4 and a Youth section. Sometimes, there may be brass bands which are outside the sections. Results are announced shortly after the last band has played, usual 20 or so minutes afterwards.
  2. Each brass band is rated on performance on the street (deportment) march and a march piece that they play in the arena section of the contest. For example, Band 8 might play Royal Trophy on Chew Valley Road, then play Ravenswood in the arena, under the watch of the adjudicator.
  3. Most Brass Band Contests are aided with volunteers. Without them, there would be no Whit Friday contests. There would be no-one there to radio through from Chew Valley Road onto the arena. Nor youngsters walking in front of each band with placards displaying their name, section and arena march piece.
  4. Brass bands are rated by an adjudicator, who checks how closely each band performs their piece. A copy of the musical manuscript is passed onto him/her for inspection. The adjudicator is often situated in a caravan and persons standing by his/her caravan must keep quiet.
  5. The Master of Ceremonies can only announce the piece which the band is playing, but not the name of the band. The MC can only refer to the band by its number, given on registration.
  6. Most contests have prizes for different sections as well as the overall winner’s prize. Sometimes, a band could win the Best Open or Best Local title dependent on each contest. There may be prizes for Best Euphonium, Cornet or Soprano, or even Best Entertainment in the Village. Additional prizes are available for Best Deportment and for being the first entry to play at the contest.
  7. As well as individual contest prizes, there is also Borough-Wide prizes. Since 1990, Oldham and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Councils have had prizes for the Best Band throughout their respective boroughs.

As well as seeing brass bands from far and wide (Mainland Europe as well as the West Riding of Yorkshire), there are other fringe benefits of the Whit Friday Experience:

  • Barbecues and food stalls;
  • Opportunities for serious coach spotting;
  • Real ale: the King William also sell beer outdoors by the Greenfield Brewery (plastic glasses all round).

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Most Importantly…

Enjoy yourself! Whit Friday is an experience to behold, but secondary to the whole experience, is the annual post-Whit Friday brass band concert at the Uppermill Civic Hall. This usually comprises of one or more brass bands, often one which has travelled the farthest.

But Wait… There’s More!

International Brass Fest 4

Uppermill Civic Hall’s annual post-Whit Friday concert takes place at 7.30pm the following Saturday. This year’s bands will hail from Switzerland, Denmark and Stockport. They are the Risch-Rotkreuz Band, 2011 Danish National Champions the Lyngby Taarbæk Band and the world famous Fairey Band.

Tickets are priced £12 (£10 concessions) and are on sale from Uppermill, Delph, Diggle and Greenfield Post Offices and Saddleworth Tourist Information Centre. For more information call Phil Beckwith on 07976 165815. If you’ve never been to any of the International Brass Fest concerts in Uppermill, or indeed any event in the Civic Hall, don’t miss out. The 184, 350, 353 and 354 buses (all First Greater Manchester) stop near the Civic Hall outside NatWest Bank or the Hare and Hounds public house.

Another Contest!

On the Sunday after Whit Friday (Trinity Sunday), there is another brass band contest. It’s the annual Hymn and March Contest in Hebden Bridge. This takes place at St. George’s Square commencing at 1pm. This is the seventh Hymn and March Contest promoted by Hebden Bridge Brass Band and, having following the contest from the start, it has come on in leaps and bounds. Not only in terms of its tight organisation but also local support.

Hebden Bridge is pretty easy to get to from Rochdale and Oldham. Once hourly from Rochdale bus station is First Halifax’s 590 service to Hebden Bridge and Halifax (via Todmorden). Regular trains from Manchester Victoria call at Hebden Bridge en route to Leeds via Halifax and Bradford or Dewsbury.

Oh, and…

East of the M60 will be covering the Greenfield Brass Band Contest via Twitter. For updates on the Greenfield Brass Band Contest and more besides on Whit Friday, follow @Atlantean7001.

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At A Glance:

  • 08 June 2014 (Whit Sunday/Pentecost): Processions of Witness throughout Tameside and Oldham. Dukinfield walks between 9.15am and 12 midday (assembling at Dukinfield Town Hall, 10.30am).
  • 09 June 2014 (Whit Monday): normal Monday, one time traditional procession of witness day for some churches.
  • 13 June 2014 (Whit Friday): Processions of Witness throughout Mossley and Saddleworth from 9.30am to 12.15pm; also St. John the Evangelist Church’s Whit Walk (Vicarage Drive, Dukinfield). Also Whit Friday Brass Band Contests, from 4.30pm to 12 midnight (sometimes may be later).
  • 14 June 2014 (Whit Saturday): International Brass Fest 4, Uppermill Civic Hall, 7.30pm. Expect to see full list of results from Oldham, Saddleworth and Tameside contests by late afternoon.
  • 15 June 2014 (Trinity Sunday): Hebden Bridge Hymn and March Contest, St. George’s Square, 1pm.
  • 16 June 2014: full Oldham and Saddleworth contest results should be in Oldham Evening Chronicle.
  • 18/19 June 2014: details of Tameside contest results in Tameside Advertiser and Tameside Reporter newspapers.

S.V., 07 June 2014.


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