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The First 50 Years - Jim Hamilton

It was during the summer of 1894, famed for the outstanding summer weather and remembered in the annals of coalmining as 'the year of the Big Strike' when the members were out for thirteen weeks, that the seeds of the band were sown. As well as whiling away their idle hours playing 'pontoon' for matches or going for ong walks, some young men began to practice on pipe chanters, among them being D.K Finlay who was to be the mainspring in the formation of the band.

It is not known where the first practices took place but presumably it would be in Bellfield School as most of the village activities were held there after its erection in 1876. Anyway, we have proof that by March 1897, practices were taking place in Bellfield School as the records of the Lesmahagow School Board show that Peter McMahon was being given lets for band rehearsals.

The first entry in a rather battered Minute book concerning the Coalburn Rechabite Pipe Band reports a committee meeting held in D.K Finlay's house at Myrtle Cottage (now the home of Coalburn Silver Band) and he was president. A review of the band rules was to be undertaken and notepaper was to be purchased to bear the names of the patrons - Dr Douglas of Auchlochan and Mr Walter Menzies, Liberal M.P. for the locality. The date was 12th March 1902 but the band had been in existence from September 1984.

Subsequent Minutes of that period mention that the balance of funds was 20:1:1 - and that an effort must be made to recruit new members. How often must recruitment have been mentioned in the subsequent years of the band's history. The Minutes were equisitely written by Thomas Forsyth.

One great disappointment when reading the Minute book is that the last page which contained the names of the band members has been defaced and part torn away, with only about a third remaining. (I wonder if a subsequent secretary was looking for a piece of paper to light his pipe and tore away part of the missing page for that purpose.) The names of the remaining pieces are as follows:

  • Robert Knowles - Pipe Major
  • James Brown - Pipe Sergeant
  • Charles Findlay
  • Peter Reid
  • Thomas Forsyth
  • William Pringle
  • William Carmichael
In 1904 John Brown was treasurer and D.K. Finlay was secretary. The meetings were held in the 'Braehead Studio'.

An important decision was reached in February 1905 to the effect that all band members must be members of the Rechabites. The insistence that band members must be teetotal, must have been somewhat restrictive to some who wanted to join the band. The band members at that time, may have obeyed the rules and refrained from touching intoxicating liquor but the same could not be said of some of the band supporters.

The first indication of the co-operation between the Pipe and Brass bands (the latter started in 1902) is minuted concerning their joint appearance at an open air concert in July 1905. 100 bills and 1,000 programmes were obtained from 'The Ayr Advertiser'. The concert was held in the green near Little Coalburn farm, a nice sward of grass with slopes rising from it suitable for spectators. A platform with a fence round it was erected by Jock Arneil, the local joiner for 16/-. Mr Goudie presented a display of what was minuted as 'fisical drill', with school children taking part and Davie Smith conducting his Juvenile choir. Both bands were to perform. The bands were provided with tea afterwards in Ritchie's Hall, and the children participating were to be treated to the value of 3d per head.

In 1905, Jimmy Broon (that was how we always sounded his name) took over as Pipe Major and held that post for many years. In his latter life when he had to retire from the band through declining health, the band would make an annual visit to his home at Middlemuir to play a programme of music for him. His funeral was an impressive one with the band in attendance and cortege being headed by the band with a lament played at his graveside.

The first mention of planning for a hall for band practices appears in the Minutes of the summer of 1906 and the committee, after asking for estimates from two firms, decided to accept the offer of local man, Jimmy Simpson of Porterhall.

Efforts had been made for months to have a site for the band hall on ground belonging to the Caledonian Railway Company near Coalburn Inn but it was not to be, instead a feu was granted on the piece of ground belonging to Bellfield estate between Gladstone Place and Lilyvale, provided that residents did not object, which they didn't.

Most of the business around 1906 was centred around fund raising for the hall to be erected in the time planned, with the official opening taking place on Monday 16th December 1907.

The opening of the Victoria Hall is therefore a great tribute to a willing band of workers who had the foresight to plan it and to know its erection would provide a practice place for the band and possibly ensure its durability. This has been proved by events as the band and the hall are still with us today.

A bazaar committee was formed in 1914 and various other ways of making money such as running dances, was started. Money was always scarce in those days, noting much has changed over the years. Without the fundraisers over the years there would be no Pipe Band today.

Jim Hamilton, Coalburn Chronicals

My Life In The Band - Bruce Shaw

As a raw laddie in 1942 during the war I decided I wanted to do something with my life. I was already a member of the Scout troop for many a year. However I had a great urge to be a drummer in the Pipe Baun. I got a pair of drumsticks and went off to the practices which at the time were held in the school as the soldiers had commandeered our hall. At that time they had taken over a lot of halls. I remember in the good summer nights the drummers practiced out in the skule shed.

My first tutor was a man called Jimmy Reid. After Jimmy it was Wullie Jeffrey. By the way, Wullie is still drumming away yet, I meet him at most Pipe Band contents and I am hoping he is going to be at our Centenary Dance in September, along with a lot more former members. I think it was around 1948 Wullie moved to pastures new.

I was appointed leading drummer at that point under the leadership of Pipe Major Jimmy Findlay and held that post until I resigned from the playing side of the named after the last contest in 1987. It was a sad day for me when I gave up ad manys a time I had a gie sair heart when the band was playing and I wasn't participating.

Jimmy took over the band when he came out of the army. John Laird and Wull Aird had charge of the band when Jimmy was in the army. I lost a very good pal when Jimmy passed away.

I was called in the army in 1951. When I was stationed in Edinburgh I was fortunate enough to manage home for some of our engagements. I reckon I played at the Lanimers for abut 42 years and even managed to get home from the army to play in it.

When I came out of the army in 1953 we started competing seriously and I must say we did not do too bad at all. In 1956 I married Chrissie, that meant that there was another Shaw involved in the band. I don't know how she put up with it, trailing the weans on Saturday's to contests, hail, rain or snow (well maybe not snow). Jimmy and Margaret Findlay were in the same boat as us, for their two boys were at that age too.

Fund Raising

It was on the 10th October 1961 the band decided to hold the first Sale of Work. We got the ladies involved and had a meeting with them the following week. It all started from there, the first Sale was on the 25th November 1961. We'd made 194.00, after expenses were deducted we had a grand total of 170.00. I think I'm right in saying it was Isobel Banks who opened that Sale, being the Gala Day Queen at that time. We have been indebted to all the Gala Queens and her Court ever since for opening our Sale of Works. Every year from then on we had a visit from Santa Claus which was an added attraction. When it came near to the time of the Sale of Work the Joiners in the band would start making toys, sledges, blackboards etc with the women making cot sheets and the rest. I remember when we stayed in Pretoria Terrace, Chrissie had a jumble sale every Friday afternoon, we had one of those old fashioned pulleys and it was lowered and strewn with clothes, as well as a settee, table etc. That same year we had the bug for fundraising so we decided to have a New Year Dance. We had a great purvey, (all home baking,) we opened up the partition between the two anti rooms and had tables set with linen table cloths all ready for the big influx of folk, however it ended up a complete flop. We made the total sum of 2.3s3d, I was sorry for the ladies who had put so much work into it.

Moving On

In my lifetime in the band we had various Pipe Majors; John Laird, Jimmy Findlay, Jimmy Allan, Jim Imrie, Iain McIntyre, Donald Williams and current Pipe Major Colin Williams

Through the years we have had a very friendly and harmonious Pipe Band and am pleased to say still remains to be so today. In years gone by it used to be mainly miners that were in the band, but now a days the members are employed in a variety of careers. Our members come from far and wide and it says a lot for them coming to our hall twice a week for practices.

It's nice when former members keep in touch with what is going on in the Band and how we o it at competitions. Some past members have even joined our committee so as not to lose touch.

Going to contests creates a lot of interest, apart from competing in this country the band have competed south of the border as well as travelling to Belgium every other year and coming home with good results as well as having a good holiday.

We never ventured as far away as that in my young days, but still managed to have a good time.

I'd love to mention every past and present member by name, but it would take another magazine for that.

We are looking forward to our centenary year get-together in September and hopefully we'll meet some of our former members, sadly there are a few not with us any more but I am sure that they are never far from our minds when we are talking about the band.

We are very indebted to the public from our town and district and the surrounding areas, for all the support they give us at our fund raising events including Coalburn Miners Welfare and Lesmahagow Miners Welfare, who let us have the use of their premises for any functions we want to run in them.

We still wear the Red Fraser Tartan and have done for as long as I can remember. In the Pipe Band world that is how you are recognised, look at the tartan first and then the faces.

Over the years we have played or participated in many concerts, weddings, dances etc. I remember two past members coming home on holiday and the band played them round the village, then afterward we had a wee do in the Vic Hall. We have played at Hampden Football Park before an International Football Game and have also played a part in 'The Big Man' film which was filmed around Coalburn, starring Billy Connolly and Liam Neeson. The band hall was used by the film company and transformed into the interior of the house in the film.

In 1984 our Band received a cheque for 240.00 from a rock band called 'The Police'. The band had set up a fund called the 'Outlanders Trust'. This was set aside out of their income to promote the playing of music by young people, all over the country. Presentation was made by Dame Judith Hart who was M.P. for the constituency at that time. We have also had a grant through Coalburn Community Council, this enabled us to set up a Juvenile Band with Kurt MacIntosh as the Pipe Major. They won first prize in their first competition. At the same time Clydesdale District Council gave us a grant to buy 8 sets of bagpipes. Ramage Bros from Glespin kindly donated a set of drums to the band. All these gestures were very much appreciated by the band. We are indebted to all these people who have helped us through the years.

In completion it's just left to wish our band 'all the best' for the future and hope it will survive another 100 years.

Bruce Shaw