Sunday, 15 April 2012

For all you Titanoraks

                       Of all the stories of bravery and courage told about the sinking of the Titanic, perhaps the most enduring is that of the band that played on.

The story is that, in spite of the inevitability of their situation, the orchestra on board the ship ‘… continued playing to sooth the anguish of their fellow passengers until the ship sank into the deep’, (words from the Titanic memorial plaque, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall).

The ‘orchestra’ was made up of eight professional musicians, and was, in fact, a quintet and a trio, not a single band. The bandleader was Wallace Hartley.

Wallace Hartley
Wallace Hartley was born on June 2nd 1878, at Colne, Lancashire. His father, Albion Hartley, was choirmaster at the Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel, Colne. Wallace’s musical education began there as a choirboy, and Albion encouraged his son to take additional music lessons after school. Albion worked for the Refuge Assurance Company, and after a series of promotions, the family moved to Huddersfield in 1895. Wallace joined the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra and played with them whilst working as a bank clerk. In 1903 he moved to Bridlington, where he began his professional career as a musician as first violin of the Bridlington Municipal Orchestra. In 1909 he took a position on board the Cunard liner Lucania, before moving to the Lusitania, as second violin. In 1910 Wallace was offered the post of bandmaster on the Mauretania, and he accepted the position on October 29th. The Mauretania was the fastest, most luxurious liner in the world, carrying the most affluent people of the day on the trans-Atlantic crossing. At the end of 1911, due to a gale, the Mauretania was damaged and was laid up for repairs for two months, leaving Wallace unemployed. At the same time, the Cunard and the White Star lines negotiated a deal with the Liverpool music agents CW and FN Black, to employ their musicians through a contract at a much cheaper rate than the same musicians had previously been paid. The musicians and the musicians’ union protested, but Blacks held complete control of the contracts. Wallace, now officially employed by Blacks, sailed for New York on the newly repaired Mauretania on March 23rd 1912, and arrived back in Liverpool on April 8th. His new employers told him that he was to go immediately to Southampton and take up the position of bandleader on the new White Star liner RMS Titanic.

On April 10th the Titanic left Southampton on her maiden voyage. Wallace led the quintet on the Upper Decks, providing music for the first class passengers. The trio of piano, cello and violin played in a reception room outside the a la carte restaurant and Café Parisien. Just after midnight on April 14th passengers began to assemble in the First Class Lounge, in response to the alarm raised when the liner struck an iceberg, and Wallace gathered the musicians and began to play. As the passengers started to file to the lifeboats, Wallace moved his musicians to the Boat Deck, beside the Grand Staircase, and continued to play. His aim was to maintain a calm, orderly mood amongst the passengers as they left the liner, but his actions may have led to some underestimating the seriousness of the situation because of the band’s composure. Two hours later the liner sank; Wallace Hartley and the seven other musicians perished with over 1500 others. His last words were reported to be “Gentlemen, I bid you farewell.”

Almost two weeks later Wallace was recovered from the sea as body 224 (of 333), by the Canadian cable ship Mackay-Bennet, and from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was transferred to the White Star liner Arabic II and transported back to Liverpool. From there, his body was returned in a horse-drawn hearse to Colne. He was buried there on May 18th 1912; one thousand people attended the funeral, with an estimated 40,000 others lining the route to the cemetery.

The Funeral of Wallace Hartley

In 1915 a memorial was raised by public subscription and sited on Albert Road, Colne, outside the Bethel Chapel. Wallace also features in the 2000 Millennium mural on Parliament Street, Colne, and in 2008, the former King’s Head pub, Colne was renamed the Wallace Hartley after him, (the irony of naming a pub after a Methodist obviously missed by the new owners).
Wallace Hartley Memorial

Millennium Mural (detail).

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