IT’S what you might call perfect timing. Just as one of the North-East’s oldest brass bands prepares to celebrate a proud milestone, a glittering piece of its history has returned home.

Cockerton Prize Silver Band has something special in common with The Northern Echo – both are 150th years old this year, and share a passion for banging the drum for Darlington.

The musical anniversary will be celebrated with a special concert in the Central Hall of the Dolphin Centre on the evening of May 16, and I’m honoured to have been asked to be the host.

However, in the meantime, the band has been busy making sure that a fascinating artefact from more than a century ago is back in safe hands.

Members sprung into action when they were alerted to “The Waltham Riverside Watch” coming up for sale on the Vintage Watch Company’s auction site, with the inscription on the back making fascinating reading:

“Presented to Mr Jno R Copping by members of the Cockerton Prize Band as a token of respect and esteem on his retirement from the honorary secretaryship of the band, 21st March, 1902.”

Band manager Simon Little informed the committee, and members agreed that a bid had to be made to bring the exquisite gold pocket watch back to Darlington.

However, to Simon’s horror, by the time he looked at the auction site again, the word “SOLD” was emblazoned across the watch.

“We couldn’t believe that we’d been beaten to it – we were gutted,” says Simon.

What he didn’t know was that the watch had been purchased by Neil Parkin, Cockerton’s baritone player, who had taken the initiative to avoid it being lost again.

It would have been nice to think he got it on tick, but he paid £165.

“It was such a relief and the price was a real bargain – it would cost more than that to get a dent out of an instrument,” says Simon.

The watch is now being looked after by John Park, Cockerton’s Contest Secretary, and his wife, Pat, has been putting her hobby as a genealogist to good use to find out more about John Copping, above.

Census records show that John, who signed himself Jno, was born in 1870 – the same year as the band and The Northern Echo came into being.

In 1901, aged 31, he worked as a sanitary inspector and, within ten years, had risen to the position of Chief Sanitary Inspector. By then, he lived in “Cliffville”, in Staindrop Road, Darlington. He was married to Matilda, was the father of six children, and died prematurely in 1929.

It remains a mystery how the watch ended up with the Vintage Watch Company, and where it had been, but Simon Little believes it was destined to come back to Darlington in time for the 150th anniversary.

“It was meant to be,” he says. “It’s a piece of our heritage and that’s so important to us. Thankfully, it is back in its rightful place.”

He also hopes the homecoming is an omen because the band is competing in the North of England Area Contest on Saturday, in the hope of qualifying for the National Brass Band Championships, in Cheltenham, in September.

The band came seventh last year and, throughout its illustrious history, has made the national finals 23 times, without ever being triumphant.

What a fairytale it would be if the Cockerton Prize Silver Band became national champions in its 150th anniversary year.

Perhaps, with the spirit of John Copping watching over them, the time has finally come.

Watch this space.

  • Tickets for the anniversary concert cost £8, with £5 for concessions, and are available now from the Dolphin Centre. Alternatively, call 01325 406000 or go to

BRIAN Rider has the honour of being chairman of Cockerton Prize Silver Band in the 150th anniversary year.

“These milestones don’t come round very often so it means a great deal,” says Brian.

“The band is full of brilliant people who share a love of playing music and it’s like a family. We might leave but we always come back.”

Brian, who plays the e-flat tuba, is a good example of that. He joined in 1954 and played for various other bands before rejoining Cockerton in 2004 and becoming chairman in 2016.

This is him, pictured below as a boy of 13, when he was the youngest Cockerton bandsman heading to a contest in Sunderland.

“I’m as proud now as I was then,” he says.

The Northern Echo:

ON a side note, vice chair of the band, Linda Steel, is an avid reader of my other Northern Echo column, Grandad At Large, and was eager to pass on an anecdote from when her daughter, Beth, was aged just three.

Beth, who is now the band’s drummer, had been taken for a routine check with the health visitor and was being tested for various childhood milestones. She had successfully constructed a tower of building blocks, drawn a circle, and was then told to “stand on one foot”.

She promptly walked across the room and stood on the doctor’s foot.

ELSEWHERE on my travels, a reminder of how The Northern Echo has proved to be useful in so many ways during its own 150-year history.

It came during a pleasant trip to York to be guest speaker for the Ebor Probus Club, at Dringhouses.

The audience included Michael Sargent, who told me of the time, in his younger days, when he was a linesman for a North Riding cup semi-final.

Scarborough were playing Whitby in an East coast derby, with Leslie Clarke officiating as referee and Colin Fawcett running the line opposite.

The ref booked no less than eight players in a bad-tempered affair, but it had been teeming with rain and his notebook, containing the names of the errant players, was sodden by the time he got back to the dressing room.

With an official report due to be sent to the league, Leslie Clarke wondered what he could do to save his embarrassment. Thankfully, The Northern Echo came to the rescue.

Michael Sargent popped out the next morning to buy a copy of The Great Daily of the North, which reported: “Semi-final ruined by atrocious weather, matched only by atrocious refereeing.”

The paper went on to list the names of every booked player, and the league officials duly received their comprehensive report.

“The Northern Echo saved the day and it went down in the annals of The Referees’ Association,” said Michael.

FINALLY, it was a pleasure to be after-winner speaker at the Tees Valley Law Society’s annual dinner on Friday night.

I’m especially pleased that the evening,  at Jury’s Inn, in Middlesbrough, raised £620 for the Teenage Cancer Trust.