There are two photographs of the band in 1910. In the first, with the band posed for a usual formal picture, there is a man, not in uniform, sitting on the right of the conductor.
In the second photograph, which was clearly taken just before or just after the first – looking at the various minor differences in gaze or posture of some of the band – his face has been replaced by that of another man. The original person could have been the colliery agent, John Henry Bacon Forster (1870-1950) who was later to become Chairman of South Durham Iron & Steel Co Ltd and Deputy Lieutenant of Durham.
We can only surmise why this person’s face was replaced by another. There does not appear to be any reason in the historical record (so far) which indicates a rift in the colliery or the band to cause this – the agent Forster was still in place until at least 1919 when he moved on to bigger and better positions. Perhaps it was a means to add a new band member to the image without removing an existing player? Perhaps the original image was damaged and this was an attempt to “fix” the photograph?
The man sat to the left of the conductor is Matthew Barrass (1862-1933), the mine manager from 1902 to the 1920’s when he became the mine’s agent (or senior manager). The conductor at this time was probably E. Chapman.
The colliery operated almost exactly 100 years, the mine being opened in 1869 and the pit finally closing in 1968. Situated between Thornley and Shotton in County Durham, the modern village is largely located to the south-west of where the pit was. Wheatley Hill Colliery had its share of troubles. A flooding incident in 1871 left 5 miners dead, and a local revolt, following a wider industrial dispute about pay reductions in 1874, led to miners being evicted from their houses.
Wheatley Hill Colliery Band was formed in the early 1890’s. Their conductor was M. Charlton in 1894 when they entered their first contest at Newcastle. Robert Walker was the bandmaster in the 1920’s and he received an ebony and silver baton from the Wheatley Hill Workman’s Social Club in 1922. Subsequent conductors included William Straughan (1931-1934), Richard Walker (1935-1936), W. Forrest (1939-1952), W.F. Buckley (1953-1954), Harold Strong (1955-1960), N. Buck (1960-1961), J. Rutter (1961-1965), and Derek Scollard (1966-1968).
There is an account of two incidents involving the band’s drum – the first being in the early 1900’s when the band was playing away somewhere, and some of the bandsmen had too much to drink and the drummer and his drum got separated. The drum landed up at Thornley Police Station for the night. On the second occasion, the band went to the Durham Miner’ Gala and the drummer lost his drumsticks. As the band could not begin its march home without a drummer, someone suggested using a beer bottle, so thanks to a beer bottle the band played its way out of Durham City and back home.
In 1919, Edward Kitto, the Wheatley Hill bandmaster, wrote accepting the invitation for the band to play in the procession on Peace Day; he promised the loan of his mother’s copper tea urn and requested that the band should not be placed near the pit ponies in the procession as they had injured some of the band two years previously.
The band folded shortly after the closure of the pit in 1968.