Brass Bands And Mining


What was life for miners really like?

Many people still associate the word ‘mining’ with images of dirty factories or miners trapped underground. However, this was not always the case, and in a period of just 40 years from 1850 to 1890, England experienced a mining boom. This was fuelled by the demand for coal to heat homes and factories, iron ore for steel production, and other raw materials such as lead and tin. Coal mining had existed since medieval times and there were small mines in almost every county. This period saw an unprecedented number of new mines opening, that transformed entire regions into industrial clusters associated with mining.

The work was incredibly hard, dirty and dangerous. How did the miners cope with this? One answer lies in workers banding together to compete against each other through the creation of Brass Bands. Let’s explore further…

The Rise of Brass Bands in the 19th Century

Brass bands have a long history, dating back to the mid-19th century when they started to become popular in England. In the 1850s and 1860s, there was a parallel growth of band music and brass band clubs as well as the professionalization of music. Economic prosperity, the growing middle class, and new leisure activities like the promenade concert contributed to the development of brass bands. It was during this time that the first competitions emerged, and the popularity of brass bands was also due to their association with community celebrations, such as May Day and Christmas, and local events such as sporting events.

They were also a relatively cheap way of entertaining people, at a time when money was short.

How Brass Bands Changed The Lives Of Miners

The Industrial Revolution was a time of great innovation, but it was not a time for compassion. The coal mines were one of the most dangerous places to work, with men dying from suffocation, roof collapses and explosions every year. The work itself was also incredibly monotonous and unpleasant, with miners regularly suffering from black lung disease as a result of breathing in coal dust.

Miners were often required to work in shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The need for miners to work in such gruelling conditions created a great deal of stress and anxiety, with many miners suffering from physical and mental health problems as a result. To combat the monotony and alleviate some of the stress, workers turned to music and formed brass bands.

The colliery band movement helped to alleviate the isolation and monotony of mining, and it is estimated that the bands were a source of comfort for around 50,000 miners and their families. Men often played several instruments including drums, trumpets, trombones and saxophones, and they performed at sporting events and in pubs. They also held concerts and marched through towns on a Sunday – a day off for miners – to collect donations from the townsfolk. These funds were used to buy musical equipment and maintain the bands. Mining families often lived in hard conditions, so the funds raised by bands were put to good use in helping to improve the living conditions of wives and children.

Lessons from England’s Past

The colliery band movement teaches us that culture and leisure can be extremely powerful forms of identity creation, particularly in fragmented industries where workers are expected to move around often. The colliery bands were a great example of how different collieries could create a sense of belonging and pride among their workers. The colliery bands were the glue that held workers together, and allowed them to make a living through their passion for music. The colliery band movement also teaches us that the best way to build a strong identity is often to follow your passions. The best bands were formed by individuals who had a passion for music, and these individuals were able to create strong ties and identities through their shared love of music.


The colliery band movement was a very important part of industrial history, and it is fascinating to examine how a love of music created strong identities and ties among fragmented workers. The industry has changed dramatically since the 19th century, and although many colliery bands folded with the closure of so much of the coal industry, the importance of leisure and culture in the workplace has remained ever since.

Ultimately, the rise of the Brass Band in England was a way for workers to demonstrate their mastery of an art form and show how hard they worked for their money. Despite the industrialization of the country, England still had a strong appreciation for the arts. Once the miners found a way to demonstrate their artistic ability, they did so with gusto, and it gave them a sense of pride that would help them endure the hardships of their daily lives. And in the end, the rise of the brass band helped towards better labour/management relationships (sadly sometimes short lived) which helped increase production.