by Ted Taylor (ed. Gavin Holman)
Cast our minds back to the days before television when people would look towards providing their own forms of entertainment. None can be more interesting than the formation of the Bratley Brass Band.
When Bruce Bratley was a small boy the Bratley family was living at Great Coates, near Grimsby, having moved there from Scartho, as the Second World War started. It would appear that they lived in an area frequently visited by German bombers looking for dock-land targets and the area was surrounded by anti-aircraft batteries.
Mr Bratley senior decided the safest thing was to move away to the peace and quiet of the countryside far from industrial targets, they opted to live at the now deserted village of Dunstall, which lies a few miles West of Blyborough. Their haven of peace was put to the test. A string of very large bombs stretching from Dunstall to Southorpe, jettisoned by a German aircraft failed to explode, but caused considerable disruption to daily life for several weeks whilst they were being recovered by the military. A nice target was the group of tin roofed barns at the Bratley farmstead and these invited a stick of incendiary bombs resulting in a major stack yard fire.
Eventually the family moved to Grange Farm at Willoughton. It was at Grange Farm the story of the Bratley Band begins.
In common with the current practice at that time prisoners of war were used to assist with the farming tasks, several were allocated to Grange Farm. Their accommodation was fairly basic and they needed some bedsteads making, this was carried out by Mr Ernest Hinch, a carpenter from Caistor. Bruce became friendly with Ernest who told about his playing a cornet with the Caistor Brass Band. This interested Bruce and before long he was learning, from Ernest, how to play the second hand cornet bought for £1.
From this modest start Mr Charles Bratley encouraged the rest of the family and set about forming their own brass band. The location was ideal, as there was no near neighbours to be annoyed with practice sessions and it also kept all the family occupied through the long winter evenings.
Who was ‘The Band’?
As mentioned before it was all the Bratley family – mother and father with five boys, aged from around 9 to 17. Bruce was the solo cornet player having had moved on from his £1 starter instrument and also when 14 years old travelled to Scunthorpe for some music lessons; Frank played the euphonium; David the tenor-horn, Ken the E flat bass-horn; the youngest Ronald the second cornet. Bruce also mastered the art of the accordion. Mr Charles Bratley played on the bass drum and for very good measure Mrs Bratley, an accomplished singer joined in with the occasional song. Also Earnest Hinch still helped and would sometimes join the group.
The Bratley Brass Band soon became noted for their playing skill and was constantly requested to play for local functions, an activity that continued until 1952. The Band had no desire to make money out of their performances and asked only for transport to the venues, a little supper no doubt welcome, with all the money raised going to the various organisations. They visited many of the surrounding villages helping to raise funds for the Chapels and Churches and also gave support to the British Legion to name a few of those they helped. At Christmas, the band used to have singers from the churches, chapels and the British Legion making a group of around fifty people travelling about carol singing. The band was always invited to play for Mr Clifford Nicholson at Willoughton Manor, the mince pies and coffee was enjoyed.
After the band had been together for around five years, they joined The Britannia Brass Band, which was at that time had the use of the canteen at Marshalls of Gainsborough. In addition, every employee, there were around 1000, at the works contributed 1d (old money) towards the cost of the band, also each band member paid a small weekly subscription. Joining this professional band certainly helped the Bratley Boys to improve their musical skills. Their first competition success with The Britannia Brass Band was when it gained second place in a competition at Leicester.
About this time the reputation of the Bratley Brass Band had spread as far as the BBC Home Service no less! On a Wednesday in July 1951 presenter Eric Jolly invited the listeners to ‘Meet The Bratleys’ in a fifteen minute programme recorded at the family home, Grange Farm, featuring a band rehearsal. A notable success with Britannia Brass Band was achieved when they became the Lincolnshire Champions in a competition held at Cleethorpes beating off the challenge from the last year winners Grimsby by four points and also Brigg Town Silver Band who had been runners up for the previous two years.
Their association with Britannia Band continued throughout its change of fortunes following the changes of ownership of the Marshalls works, sponsorship was taken on by the Spiller Group but the loss of a suitable rehearsal hall and other factors eventually caused it to disband.