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Fanfare for Pit Plaque Unveiling

The memory of a world famous brass band will play on after a commemorative Blue Plaque was unveiled in South Tyneside this week.

The plaque pays tribute to former St Hilda's Colliery Band, which won the World Band Championships five times in 1912, 1920-21, 1924 and in 1926.

It was unveiled by the Deputy Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Norman Dick, during a community open day celebrating a key milestone in the restoration of St Hilda's Pit Head in South Shields. He was joined by the Deputy Mayoress, Jean Williamson.

As a former miner himself, having worked at Harton Colliery in the early 60s, and at Westoe Colliery from 1976 until it closed 1992, the plaque unveiling was particularly poignant for Councillor Dick. While at Westoe, he also ended up working a few shifts at St Hilda's - helping to keep the fires burning to prevent the shaft freezing in the winter.

The Deputy Mayor said: "With the mining industry very close to my heart, it was a real honour to unveil the blue plaque commemorating the famous St Hilda's Colliery Band. They were a dedicated group of highly talented musicians who brought great success to the area.

"This plaque is not only a lasting tribute to the band members and their achievements, but recognises the important role they played in the rich industrial and cultural heritage of the Borough. The plaque is also a memorial to the men and boys who perished in the disaster of 1951 and all other miners who worked there over the decades of coal production.

"It is also fitting that the plaque is sited at the iconic St Hilda's Pit Head as it begins a new chapter as a vibrant new community space while continuing to celebrate its mining past."

The achievements of St Hilda's Colliery Band, which was made up of local miners, were never equalled by any other brass band. Funding for the band involved an agreed deduction from wages and collecting 'points' when playing in the parks. Their performances, including those in South Marine Park bandstand, brought great pleasure and civic pride to South Shields and fame across the world.

The Blue Plaque was unveiled under a new scheme in South Tyneside in which members of the public were invited to put forward nominations for the recognition of individuals or structures and their importance to the history and heritage of the area.

John Taylor nominated St Hilda's Colliery Band. He said: "My own grandfather and father played in the Hilda Colliery Band and I am proud to own one of those world championship medals. There are many descendants of the band members still residing in the Borough and I know they value such a tribute to their family members."

Grade II Listed St Hilda's Pit Head has been renovated by the Tyne and Wear Preservation Trust and transformed into a vibrant accessible centre for the community, with funding support from South Tyneside Council and the National Lottery's Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and others*

This key milestone was celebrated with a community open day, which included performances by Westoe Colliery Band, a pit pony, pop choir, ukulele and art workshops and performances, as well as the Blue Plaque unveiling.

Notes to Editors:

*Sir James Knott Trust, Joicey Trust, Sylvia Waddilove, Headley Trust, Garfield Weston, Trusthouse, Catherine Cookson Foundation.

St Hilda's Pit Head comprises a pumping station and winding house and is all that remains of the large complex of the original pit buildings, which were demolished after St Hilda's closed in 1940. The building was retained to provide ventilation and services for the newer Westoe Colliery, but fell into serious disrepair after Westoe itself closed in 1992.

The terrible explosion at St Hilda's Colliery in 1839, which killed 51 men and boys, was the mine's darkest day. However the report written after the accident helped to raise the issue of miners' safety and improve conditions in Britain's mines, saving many thousands of lives. This included a requirement for collieries to have at least two shafts for the second means of egress.

For further information about Blue Plaques in South Tyneside visit: www.southtyneside.gov.uk/blueplaques 

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