Read The Band That Played On Online

Authors: Steve Turner

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Historical, #Nonfiction, #Retail, #Titanic, #United States

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BOOK: The Band That Played On
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The Black brothers knew that they were to supply the musicians for this much-talked-about ship. They would also have known that besides the traditional five-piece band for the main first-class restaurant, there was to be a trio for the ship’s nearby Café Parisien which, as the name suggested, would have a Continental flavor and would appeal to those who looked to Paris as the arbiter of taste in food, fashion, and art. It was a knowing touch of sophistication that allowed passengers to move from Pall Mall to Montmartre in a few easy steps.

Everything on the
had to be the best that money could buy, and the onus on the Blacks was to look through the lists of musicians they knew or had worked with and find the best quintet and trio it was possible to come up with. The men needed to be experienced, versatile, smart, and able to converse easily with the wealthy and powerful.

Key to building a successful band was an inspirational bandleader. The ideal person would be someone who commanded respect among musicians, had an outstanding moral character, and was used to playing for a well-traveled, sophisticated, and international clientele. It also helped if this leader could recommend players, because a good band worked when the musicians gelled both personally and musically. They found their man in Wallace Hartley, a thirty-three-year old Lancastrian who was currently bandmaster on the
, the ship that had taken the Blue Riband from the

“A M

allace Hartley was an obvious choice as bandleader. Five feet ten inches tall with dark hair, blue eyes, and a winning smile, he’d had extensive experience as a musician both on land and on sea and had worked with many of the best players in the business. He was also a man of fine moral standing. Raised as a Methodist, he exhibited the diligence, honesty, and sobriety characteristic of a Christian denomination that had transformed working-class life in Britain. His first employers at a local bank found him “steady, attentive and capable.” John Carr, a cellist on the White Star liner
, said that he was “a man with the highest sense of duty.” Another fellow musician spoke of his “commanding stature.” A Colne friend called him “one of the nicest and most gentlemanly lads I ever knew.”

Wallace Hartley.

Other than the few photographs that we have of Hartley, the best physical description of him comes from an interview given to the
Dewsbury District News
by his friend John Wood. “I seem to see him now in a characteristic attitude when seated—half reclining in an easy fashion in the armchair. Two long, white fingers of his left hand held along his chin, and two supporting his head—a long, lean face, dark-brown eyes, long hair, blackish, with a rich brown lustre—not overlong, but I never saw it short.”

By the time Charlie Black invited him to lead the band on the
he had been at sea for almost three years working his way up from second violin on the
to bandmaster of the
. Each Atlantic crossing at this time took between five and six days. There would then be four days at the port for refueling, maintenance, replenishment of essential goods, and the taking on of cargo and passengers. It was during these times that Hartley came to know and love New York with its vibrancy, optimism, and range of new entertainment.

When Katherine Hurd arrived there with her husband, Carlos, in April 1912 to board the
, these were her initial impressions as conveyed in a letter to her mother: “New York is tremendous—something like I expected it to be only a thousand times more so. And with all its size it is so beautifully clean.” Although New York was large and bustling, it was still far from the densely packed city bristling with skyscrapers that we bring to mind today.

Often described as a Yorkshireman because his last address was in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, Hartley was born and spent his formative years in Colne, Lancashire, five and a half miles north of Burnley. It was close to the Yorkshire border but the historic rivalry between the two counties, which had started on battlefields and continued on cricket pitches, meant that you belonged to one county or the other regardless of geographical proximity.

Hartley’s roots on both sides of the family were deep in the Lancashire soil. His father, Albion Hartley, was born in Colne, as were Albion’s parents, Henry and Mary. Albion married Elizabeth Foulds, also from Colne, whose parents had grown up in the area. All of them worked with cotton, the town’s primary industry. Henry Hartley had been a cotton weaver and Mary a dressmaker. Elizabeth was a worsted weaver (a person who worked with worsted wool), and Albion started as a cotton-sizer (a worker who applied a gluelike substance to prepared cotton to make it easier to work with) and eventually became a mill manager.

Cotton and the industrial revolution had turned Colne from a small hilltop village into a typical mill town of industrial buildings and back-to-back workers’ houses. An 1872 gazetteer summed the town up in numbers: three churches, five dissenting chapels, a mechanic’s institute, two endowed schools, a post office, a bank, and two inns. There were 1,357 houses and a population of 6,315. Twenty years later the population had tripled.

John Wesley, the great British preacher, visited Colne several times in the latter half of the eighteenth century and knew of its tough and violent reputation. Although still a minister of the Church of England, Wesley believed in evangelizing in the open air and he relentlessly traveled across Britain on horseback, preaching the gospel to those who would never enter a place of worship. His approach outraged traditional churchmen who believed it degraded preaching and removed the mystery and splendor from religion. George White, the vicar of Colne, was a vociferous opponent of Wesley and would organize drunken mobs to attack him when he visited the area. One of Wesley’s helpers was even thrown to his death off a bridge.

Wesley never left the Church of England, but his followers did. The breakaway denomination became known as Methodism and had a particular appeal to ordinary working people who found the established church out of touch with their needs—too much a church for the well-off and powerful. When Methodism gripped a community it had observable social effects because Wesley taught that followers of Christ should be thrifty, charitable, sober, honest, and concerned with developing their minds and bodies as well as their souls. The result was an increase in schools, music groups, orchestras, and benevolent societies, and a decrease in wasteful drunkenness, violence, poverty, and ignorance. Methodists believed not only in personal salvation but also in holiness, self-improvement, and charity. Communities became more law abiding and better educated. Husbands became more responsible. Workers became more eager to learn.

In this way the Colne that had once spurned Wesley became a beneficiary of his ministry. The first Methodist chapel was built in 1722 and by the time Wallace was born in 1878, there were eight chapels catering to different areas of the town and different stripes of Methodism (Free, Primitive, Independent, and Wesleyan). All of the buildings were funded by donations from benefactors (as Methodists improved their lives some became leaders in industry) and public subscriptions. Then the chapels built schools in the same way and the schools used their premises to found Reading Associations and Friendly Sick Societies, (groups who helped financially when someone was out of work due to ill health). Methodism affected Colne life at every level and produced many citizens who were the first in their families to make the transition from laboring to clerical work and eventually to management.

The remains of Bethel Chapel. The main building was on the right.

Albion Hartley was a prominent member of the Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel on Burnley Road. Since it was built in 1871 he had been its choirmaster and was also the superintendent of the Sunday school. When Wallace Hartley was born on Sunday, June 2, 1878, at the family home, 92 Greenfield Hill, the visiting doctor joked with Albion that he’d give him five shillings for the collection plate if the chapel choir would sing “Unto Us a Child Is Given” at the Sunday school anniversary later that day. Unbeknown to the doctor, the song was already in the repertoire and Albion replied: “Let me have your five shillings. We have been rehearsing it and will sing it today!” That day the collection reached £100 for the first time.

Birthplace of Wallace Hartley at 92 Greenfield Road, Colne.

Wallace was the second Hartley child but the first son. His older sister, Mary, had been born the year before and Elizabeth and Hilda would soon expand the family to five, but two more sons born to Elizabeth wouldn’t make it to their second birthdays. Hartley was seven when Ughtred Harold Hartley died and nine when Conrad Robert Hartley suffered the same fate. Both children were buried in Colne Cemetery.

In 1885 the mill where Albion worked burned down and many of the workers lost their jobs. Albion took the opportunity not just to get a new job but also to move and start a new career. At the age of thirty-four he left the cotton industry, became an insurance agent in the nearby town of Nelson, and moved the family from Greenfield Hill, which was an isolated row of cottages on the outskirts of the town, to a larger property at 1 Burnley Road, close to Bethel Chapel and not far from Wallace’s school.

Hartley had begun his education at George Street Wesleyan School. The building had been built as a Methodist Sunday school in 1869 but eighteen months later had become a day school capable of accommodating more than six hundred children. Emphasis was put on teaching the children to read, write, and do basic math.

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