The Salvation Army’s first church brass band in the world has been awarded a blue heritage plaque, placed on The Salvation Army hall in Sherburn Terrace.
Consett Band was formed in 1879 and celebrated its 140th anniversary in December when the Lord Lieutenant of Co Durham (Sue Snowdon) unveiled the blue plaque, awarded in association with the county’s Cultural Partnership.
The international Christian Church and charity is known throughout the world for using brass bands in worship services and outdoor marches, and it all began in Co Durham. Local man Ned Lennox was inspired by the Fry family of musicians who accompanied the church’s Founder, General William Booth, on his evangelism tours of the UK. Ned decided to teach some of the Consett Salvation Army church members to play from his home on Puddler’s Row (a row of houses where many of the town’s ‘puddlers’ – workers producing wrought iron by heating iron compounds to remove impurities - lived).
His house became a hive of musical activity for the early band practices as many of the musicians worked in the local steel industry. Today, musicians in the band come from a variety of backgrounds, including students, retirees, teachers, mortgage advisers and even a police inspector. However, the message and mission of the band is unchanged.
Bandmaster Phil Baker said: “Consett Salvation Army has much to celebrate in its heritage, yet we are focused on the future and how we continue to bring a message of hope to everyone we meet.
“The band has been very much a part of community life since it first played carols in the town 140 years ago. Our musicians have been alongside people during the good times and the tougher moments, too, such as when the local iron works closed. Throughout, our musicians have held fast to the message of transformation and hope that a relationship with Jesus can bring – and this is the message the members continue to share today through their music-making.”
The historic band has faced adversity through the years, with the decline of industry in its community as well as opposition in its earliest days. To play in the band required courage and faith, not to mention the ability to juggle rehearsing and learning to play an instrument with 12-hour shifts in local factory jobs.
However, the band playing outdoors was not always well-received. At Gateshead in the 1880s Captain Polly Barber led Consett Band in an outdoor church service only to receive complaints from local tradesmen. Having sought permission to conduct the meeting, Captain Barber refused to leave. Eventually, the police arrived. When the captain still refused to move on she was arrested and taken to the police station, with the band marching behind the policemen, playing tunes. When her release was secured they marched her back to the hall for the evening meeting. The band was also once banned from the town’s cemetery after it took part in the committal service of a church member and residents of surrounding houses complained to the town council.
Today in Consett, the band is a vital part of community life taking part in a myriad of events and taking the Christian music and teaching to other towns and cities. The band has recorded a CD and its former bandmaster, Jeff Baker, was awarded the British Empire Medal for Services to the Community in the New Year Honours list.