140 Years and the Band Still Plays On!
Cockerton Band was formed in 1863, when James Hoggett, the music teacher who lived at Beethoven House, in Northgate, Darlington, first brought a number of young Cockerton men together to form a band.
The Cockerton Saxhorn Band's first gig - although they probably didn't call it that in those days - was on August 22, 1864, in the grounds of Cockerton Hall, and they played largely on borrowed instruments. Until 1880, the band struggled to find a decent rehearsal room, but then the Cockerton Cocoa Palace opened in Forcett Street, a workingmen's club without alcohol, and the band moved in.
Properly rehearsed, they began to gain a reputation beyond Cockerton - but still they needed decent instruments. In 1889, they teamed up with the Shildon Temperance Band and raised £100 with a three-day musical bazaar in the Skinnergate Mechanics Institute.
This enabled them to buy new instruments and patch up others, and in 1905, when the Rise Carr Rolling Mills Band disbanded, Cockerton bought its set of silver-plated Besson instruments for £250.
For a couple of years, Cockerton had it all - instruments and rehearsal room. But then the cocoa revolution went cold and the Cockerton palace, like all the others in town, closed - the HSBC bank is now on its site.
The band were out on the streets. For a while, they rented a room in the Dr Syntax Inn on the Green. Then they built a large wooden shed behind the Drovers Inn. But in 1912, the Dr Syntax Inn (it was named after a 19th Century fictional character who was the Andy Capp of his day) closed, and the bandsmen clubbed together to buy it for £350. On November 23, 1912, they reopened it as the Cockerton Band Musical Institute. But they only stayed here until 1921 when they bought Cockerton Garth, a large house in its own grounds near the Drovers Inn (the Drovers Inn was demolished in 1965 and its site at the gateway to Cockerton has until recently been used as a petrol station). They converted the Garth's coach house into a bandroom and joined the Club and Institute Union. Confidence - and reputation - was now so high that they called themselves the Cockerton Prize Silver Band.
In 1928, they signed a contract with Darlington FC. On match days, the band collected in the Market Square and marched in uniform to Feethams playing their arrangement of "Henry the VIII, I am, I am". Each bandsman got a £5 match fee, plus free admission. Sadly, the contract was not renewed in 1961. Because Cockerton Band is a village concern, a handful of Cockerton families have been intimately associated with it throughout its history. These include the Pawsons the Shutts, and perhaps most notably, the Harrisons.
Dickie and Charlie Harrison are the fourth generation to have played with the band, and they are still going strong.