The First Recorded Contest
Extract from the Stalybridge Reporter, 1884
That attempt which was made to get up an impromptu band contest on Whit Friday does not appear to have been a great success. Judging from the complaints made at the time and from the letter by a Saddleworth correspondent we have received since, the decision gave anything but satisfaction to many of the people concerned. The difficulties arose from the arrangement or want of arrangement. There had been no time to prepare a proper programme of the order in which the bands should play.... Still the notion is a good one, and with a little more care, might be made a really great success next year. The promoters of the affair, if it is continued, will no doubt take care that a proper list is prepared and that each band plays in it's appointed order so that when any band is referred to by the judge, there may be no mistake as to which is meant .... Several fights are reported to have followed the decision.
Reproduced from 'Hail Smiling Morn' by Alec Greenhalgh with kind permission of Oldham Leisure Services.
In fact, there were two other Whit Friday brass band contests in 1884 - one in Mossley and one in Uppermill. These three contests seem to have arisen simply through local individuals putting up small sums of money to whichever band could perform the best march. The Stalybridge contest was won by Stalybridge Borough Band; the Uppermill contest by Wyke Temperance Band; and Mossley was a tie between Meltham Mills and Mossley Brow Bands.
There were other brass band contests but these were the first known to take place on Whit Friday,
Since 1884 ...
It must have been a success because these three locations ran contests almost every year to the end of the century and on into the 1900's. Some years there were just the three. Greenfield occasionally ran a contest. Mossley sometimes ran two - one in Top Mossley, one in Bottom Mossley. The '20s and '30s typically saw 7 or 8 contests. It all stopped during the war years but then resumed.
Now there may be two dozen contests across Tameside, Oldham and Saddleworth. The original three are still going. And some of the bands who competed in 1884 are still to be found among the present day prize-winners.