Wallace Hartley
Wallace Hartley

A Lancashire orchestra linked to the Titanic disaster is celebrating 125 years of making music for the public to enjoy.

Colne Orchestral Society – usually known simply as Colne Orchestra – was formed in 1891 and performed in public for the first time in February 1892 at the town’s Cloth Hall.

One of the players in that concert was Wallace Hartley, a promising young violinist who went on to turn professional and became leader of the little orchestra that courageously kept on playing after the ill-fated White Star liner hit an iceberg in the Atlantic and sank in April 1912.

We do not hesitate to say, one of the best concerts ever held in Colne

More than a century after that maritime disaster, Hartley is still fondly remembered as a hero in the town of his birth. He is buried in the town’s cemetery in Keighley Road, there is a bronze bust of him on a memorial outside the town’s former library in Albert Road, and the revamped 1960s shopping parade in Market Street has been renamed Hartley Square. The town’s Wetherspoon pub, formerly the King’s Head, is now the Wallace Hartley… even though Hartley was a Methodist and abstained from alcohol!

The Hartley family attended Bethel Independent Methodist Church in Burnley Road, where the orchestra first got together, and where it still rehearses in the former Sunday school. Next to it, a Wallace Hartley memorial garden stands on the site of the grand church which was demolished.

Members of Colne Orchestra were part of the Bethel contingent that proudly walked in Wallace Hartley’s funeral procession in May 1912, when some 30,000 people thronged the streets of the town.

The seeds of Colne Orchestra were sown in 1891, when an advertisement appeared in the local press and a group of six people formed the nucleus of an orchestra. Violin teacher Edward Peretz became its first conductor, and it was able to field 27 players for the first concert.

The local newspaper’s report of that debut concert 125 years ago was somewhat equivocal in its praise.

The unnamed writer in the Colne and Nelson Times of February 5th, 1892, observed: “Occasionally some of them wandered both from time and tune, but speaking generally excellent attention was paid to the conductor (Herr Peretz).

“Now and then there was an objectionable harshness, and some of the violins were decidedly screechy, but these are faults which training and care will do away with.” Perhaps the newspaper was being over-critical of a group of amateur musicians, but one the other hand these ‘amateur’ players have always striven to attain near-professional standards through times when membership has fallen and risen again.

Colne Orchestra
Colne Orchestra in 1905 outside The Park, family home of conductor James Lascelles Wildman

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