By Derek Rawlinson
The Brighouse and Rastrick Band's first rehearsal room in the 1880's was within a cabinet-makers works on Lower Bonegate, probably owned by T. Greenwood & Sons. At the beginning of the 20th century the band move into accommodation in Atlas Mill Road, located between Messrs Thompson & Walton Engineers, and The Building & Monumental Stone Co. Ltd. The secretary at the time was Mr. H Sykes of Rastrick, who was later succeeded by Mr. James Squire of 11, East Street, Rastrick.
During the 1920's the band moved to the premises of the Wheeler's Club, in Huddersfield Road. They used these facilities until the early 1940's when their rehearsal room became unavailable. The committee of the time wrote to many organisations in Brighouse requesting the use of their premises for rehearsals. They were fortunate in receiving help from a few. These included J. Blakeborough & Sons Ltd. for the use of their Bradford Road Social Club, the Rastrick Steam Laundry, the Auxiliary Fire Service for the use of the Mill Royd Street Fire Station and also George Turner & Co. Ltd. The latter charged the band at the rate of 20 guineas per annum and but immediately returned the money as a donation to the band. At one rehearsal in the Fire Station on Sunday 3rd, May 1942, Harry Mortimer took his first rehearsal since being appointed the band's professional coach. About 70 people attended and Band President Mr. Herbert Wood said in his welcome speech that he hoped the people present would make a contribution towards Mr. Mortimer's fee. In all £13 was collected. It isn't known how much of this was paid to Mr. Mortimer.
On the 19th December 1945, the Band Secretary, Mr. F.J Roberts wrote to the secretary of Order of Odd Fellows stating that he understood that “the Odd Fellows Hall is being derequisitioned by the Corporation,” and applied for permission to use the building for rehearsal purposes. In his reply Mr. Henry Hall, secretary of the Peace Lodge, commented, “It is just as the Military have left it and nothing can be arranged until the assessors have come to a decision regarding damages.” A delegation from both sides met on the 7th January 1946 and negotiations started, but it was not until early March that an agreement was reached.
The President and Vice-Presidents were called to a special meeting and the facts of the transaction were put before them. It was then decided to purchase the property at a price of £2,500. A building fund was set up and a series of concerts were given in the Savoy Picture House in aid of the fund. It was reported to the 1952 A.G.M. that the mortgage with the Halifax Building Society of £2,500 on the bandroom property had been further reduced and now stood at £573.16s.2d.
In 1966 Brighouse Corporation put plans forward for road improvements including the Ludenschied Link Road, which was to go through the middle of the Odd Fellows Hall. Eventually a compulsory purchase order was served and alternative accommodation had to be found by the band. This was eventually achieved with the purchase of St. Martin's Parish Hall in Church Lane in 1970. A great deal of renovation and preparation work had to be carried out. In a report of the official opening of the new facilities, the ‘Brighouse Echo’ picked out a few names of volunteers who had helped - Messrs Lakey, Lord, Merrifield, Murray, Noble and Smith, as well as members of the Brighouse Light Opera Society. The Mayor of Brighouse, Coun. W. Stanley Firth, carried out the official opening of the new bandroom – now named ‘Rydings Hall’, on 25th September 1971. The proceedings concluded with a concert given by the band with contributions from members of the B.L.O.S. This hall provided not only rehearsal facilities but an auditorium that could seat almost 500 people. The band could now promote its own concerts in its own hall, and several other local organisations benefited from this facility. Many fine recordings we made in the hall by B&R and some other bands including the Virtuoso Band of Great Britain, which was a combination of players drawn from all the top bands in the country. (These recordings have recently been re-mastered and re-issued on CDs).
In the late 1980's problems began to occur with the building and its management. The handful of people who looked after the hall for the band were not getting any younger. Some lived locally but others lived out of town and were not often readily available at short notice. Most regrettably, vandalism was on the increase. It was therefore decided by the committee and to sell the property and look for suitable smaller accommodation elsewhere in the town.
In 1989 agreement was reached for the sale of Rydings Hall to a local doctor's practice who were wishing to expand their services. The agreement included a proviso that the band could use the rehearsal room for a further 12 months, giving them a breathing space to find new facilities before they were required to move out. Searches continued around the districts of Brighouse and Rastrick for a suitable building but without any success. As a short-term measure the band moved across Parsonage Lane from the Rydings Hall into the old canteen building of the Brighouse High School (formerly the Girls Grammar School). In May 1991 they finally said goodbye to Rydings Hall when they played at the official opening of new surgery. Their former home had now undergone major refurbishment in order to serve its new function in the town and was to be known as ‘Rydings Hall Surgery’.
Several buildings and locations were explored by the band committee around this time, but nothing suitable came to light, and so the band continued to be based in Parsonage Lane. However in early 1992 the possibility that some land may be available on the campus of the new Brighouse High School at their Finkil Street site was investigated. Discussions took place and these led to plans being drawn-up and planning permission sought from Calderdale Council. It must be said that there was some strong local opposition to the scheme for the proposed construction of a purpose-built band headquarters on the site. Planning permission was granted and the land bought from Calderdale Council, but a much stricter building specification being put on the building. Of course this increased the cost considerably. An appeal was made to the Band's Patrons, friends, local industry and the town in general to help raise funds towards the cost of the new building. This building fund finally totalled £7,800, which was of great benefit in view of the additional costs.
A major setback came two weeks prior to the commencement of construction. The band were ‘instructed’ by the local authority-planning department that four 22 metre deep boreholes should to be drilled on site to test for any possible old quarry workings! These were duly carried out – fortunately no voids were found. Work could start at last! The first ‘sod’ was cut at Finkil Street on 24th April 1994 by the band's oldest member, and Treasurer, Eddie Noble. The construction crew moved in. Work started. On the second day, the earth-moving machine broke through an unknown 4ins. water main passing through the site. This was not recorded on any plans provided by Yorkshire Water or Calderdale Council, which was surprising since this pipe supplied the High School's fire hydrants! and so had to be re-routed around our property. Building work then continued steadily without any further major crisis.
At last the Brighouse and Rastrick Band were able to move into their new property in January 1995. The official opening of the new headquarters, named ‘West Ridings’ after the band signature tune, followed later in the year on Saturday 25th April 1995. It was carried out by the Rt. Rev. Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Wakefield, in the presence of large numbers of Patrons, invited guests, donors, ex-players and friends. Due to the large numbers of people witnessing the event, a celebration buffet and concert followed in the Ritz Ballroom.
Since that time, ‘West Ridings’ has more than proved its worth. The low-maintenance, purpose-built facility with its large rehearsal room, music library room, uniform/instrument store, committee room, recording room, with easy access for people, their cars and coach transport, have led to many visitors, from home and abroad saying that “we have the best in the country”.
Recently an archive has been assembled of historic items associated with the bands long and successful history. Many items have been framed for display throughout the facility and in secure show cases in the archive room.
In July 2006, the band held a bandroom ‘open day' for all its many Patrons, former players, friends, supporters and the general public as part of its 125th Year Celebrations drawing over 500 visitors.
Brighouse and Rastrick Band rehearsals are usually open to visitors, providing there is no disruption to the players and their concentration. So if you are in the Brighouse area on a Tuesday or Thursday evening (usual rehearsal nights, 7.45pm), you may want to call in and see the band and its superb headquarters - a facility it is exceedingly proud of to show to visitors.