Brass Bands And Cotton Mills


How Brass Bands Made life Bearable For So Many Cotton Workers

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were more than 1500 cotton mills in Britain. The Industrial Revolution had left many people without work, and so these new mills were a godsend for thousands of impoverished people and their families. However, the working conditions in these mills were extremely harsh. A usual working week was 66 hours, and most employees had to work an 11-hour day on Monday through Saturday with no breaks. If they missed their shift on any given day, they would be fired or fined. There was also very little ventilation and lighting in these old mills — something which led to eye strain and exhaustion among workers. This meant that staff turnover was very high; it’s been estimated that over half of all workers left their job every year. But because of their poor economic situation, most of them didn’t have many other options but to go back to another mill as soon as possible.

What they needed was a sense of solidarity and achievement, coupled with entertainment that they could afford. For many mill workers a brass band was the answer to all of these.

The Development of the Brass Bands Movement

The first cotton mill brass band may have been created in 1810 in the small village of Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire. Because of its proximity to the cotton mills, many Ashton residents worked in these factories, and the band was initially created as a way of entertaining them on holidays. However, brass bands soon became an important part of the social life of the entire area, thanks to the increase in the number of mills. The brass band movement grew rapidly and soon spread to other parts of the country, with each town having its own band. The local competitions were extremely popular and their quality improved significantly over the years.

The popularity of these bands was such that at one point, nearly every town in Britain had a band. With their colourful costumes and spectacular performances, the bands were a very visible part of the social life in Victorian Britain.

The Role of Brass Bands in the Cotton Mills

Although the brass band movement was centred mostly on entertainment at first, it soon became a regular part of the daily life of the workers in the cotton mills. The bosses of the cotton mills noticed how effective the bands were in creating a sense of community and improving the morale of their workers. As a result, they started to use the bands to improve the general mood in the workplaces and keep their workers happy and productive.

Because of the long working hours, most employees didn’t have the energy or time to study. However, the bosses encouraged the bands to hold regular concerts and to play classical pieces, so that the workers could improve their musical skills as well as have some entertainment.

How Music Helped Improve Conditions for Workers

Apart from being a source of entertainment, the brass bands also became an important source of social mobility and helped many workers improve their lives. Because there were no proper schools in the mills, the brass bands were the only opportunity for an education. The bands not only taught the workers how to read and write, but also gave them knowledge about history, geography and music. For many people, this was the only chance to get an education, and many went on to become prominent politicians, musicians and engineers. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier who fought in the First World War. Patch, who was born into a poor family and had to work in the mills from the age of 11, joined a band at the age of 19. He studied music and history, and was able to become a teacher at the age of 26.


One of the common misconceptions about the Industrial Revolution is that it was completely negative for workers. While it’s true that many people suffered and lived in terrible conditions, the revolution also provided benefits and opportunities to millions of people. One of these benefits was the brass band movement, which brought music and education to areas where they had previously been inaccessible. It’s thanks to these bands that so many people were able to improve their lives and build a better future for their families.