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Yorkshire and Humberside Brass Band Association

The first contest held in 1881 was organised by a committee of "publicly spirited people about Hawes". At that time the Scaur and much of the surrounding land was owned by the Earl of Wharncliffe who was very supportive of the contest. A contemporary writer describes the great rock indenture as providing a ready-made battleground for bands, and an auditorium capable of holding 30,000 people, producing sounds comparable with our greatest cathedrals.

The bands competed on a stand perched on stilts, no chairs provided. This bandstand was washed away by a great flood on the 12th July 1899. Choirs also competed, performing on the banks of the stream above the Fall. These were test piece contests; in 1898 the band test piece was Donnizetti's "Overture to Lucia di Lammermoor" and the male voice choirs were required to sing Blumenthal's 'What Care I?”.

The early contests were always held on the last Saturday in June and attended by thousands of people many of whom made the weekend their annual holiday. They would travel by train from Middlesborough to Hawes for a return fare of one shilling and sixpence (about 8p in modern money but allowing for inflation, equivalent to about £5.50). A contributor to the “Dalesman” in the 1950s recalled his father saying "Now lads, bi sharp an git all done, weal go ti Hardra efter dinna in t'hoss an t' shandra" and hearing Black Dyke, Besses o' th' Bam and Whingate Temperance competing. Every railway siding from Leyburn to Moorcock station was full of trains transporting crowds to the contest. The women folk of Hawes would gather for a whole week before a contest in order to make sufficient refreshments to feed the many thousands of visitors.

The late eighteen-nineties saw a virtual whitewash by Besses o' th' Barn and they are thought to have been barred from the contest in 1900. Nevertheless, only three bands entered the 1900 contest, one reason given for this poor turn out was that the Railway Companies had withdrawn the concessionary fares previously given to competing bands. However, fifteen choirs turned up for the same event. After playing their main test piece each band was required to play a quickstep for which there were two prizes of £1 and 10s. Again in 1904 only four bands competed, and this seems to have been the last contest to be held until 1920.

It was in 1920 that Mr Edmund Blythe bought the Green Dragon Inn and grounds and laboured with great enthusiasm to restore them, hoping to bring back the bands and large audiences. One of his joys was to build a new bandstand the base of which is still in use today. Alas, Edmund's time, efforts and money to make the revival succeed came a disappointing end; contests, mainly of local bands, were held over the next few years until 1927 when only two bands competed.

1976 saw a further revival of the Contest. The contests were run mainly for bands located in the Dales by a group of Kirkby Lonsdale Band members. The last Contest they organised in 1987 took place in the Hawes Auction Market, apparently because of a difference of opinion with the landlady of the Green Dragon at that time.

The Contest was again revived in 1989 by the Yorkshire & Humberside Brass Band Association under the guidance of their President, the late Fred Bradbury. When D. Mark Thompson became the Innkeeper of the Green Dragon Inn in 2002 he proved very much a 'hands on' supporter of the contest and like Edmund Blythe in 1920 has spent much money and time in restoring the Scar grounds to their former glory. During this series of contests many more bands have competed each year than it would appear did in those early days. Visitors no longer come in thousands, but there are many loyal supporters who turn out come rain or shine. One of the highlights of this last series of seventeen contests took place in 2000 when Besses o' th' Barn returned to their old hunting ground, not to compete but to perform a concert on the Saturday evening prior to the Sunday contest.

The musical content of the contest in recent years has changed to meet the demands of the bands and the audience alike. No longer do bands play set test pieces and quick steps but are required to perform an own choice twenty minute concert programme of generally popular music. However, the grand tradition of the massed band finale has not changed. This takes place at the end of the contest whilst the results are being evaluated and involves players from all competing bands coming together to perform a mini concert of marches and hymn tunes. In 2005 a further item was added to the concert programme in the form of a song entitled "The Old Bandstand". Hand written on manuscript and found 'in a box in an attic', its origin and age is a mystery.

The above is based on material published in souvenir programmes over the years

In Wensleydale for many years,

By Hardraw Falls I understand,

Brass music has set the Dale ablaze,

Like sunrise bursting through a haze.

Refrain: There is no greater sound heard in the land

As what comes from that famous old bandstand

In Wensleydale, both rich and poor,

By Hardraw Falls I understand,

Do hear trombones and big tubas roar

And golden comets, horns galore.

In Wensleydale as you pass by,

By Hardraw Falls I understand,

The cornets play all their notes so high,

 Like little larks up in the sky.