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Be the first to hear jaunty ‘pier’ music, played in public for the first time in 150 years

9:42 am, Tuesday, 5th September 2023 - 6 months ago

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There are few towns that can boast a fine Victorian pier but to have such an iconic structure that also comes with its own piece of music must surely be a rarity!

On Friday, 4 August, Cleethorpes Promenade Pier, as it was first named, celebrates its 150th anniversary.  Opened 10 years after the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR) Company officially opened the line to Cleethorpes in 1863, local people and officials all came to see the opening of their beautiful new pier, on 4 August 1873.  It was officially opened by Mr A.W.T. Grant-Thorold, Chairman of the Cleethorpes Promenade Pier Company, and just on that first day, nearly 3,000 people paid to walk on the pier!

During the festivities on that fine summer’s day, a special tune could be heard as the crowds flocked to see the spectacular new building.  Written by local resident John Dix Hopkins, ‘The Pier Galop’ is a jaunty piece of music said to have been created especially for the opening of Cleethorpes Pier.  Set in the key of G Major, the piece was originally written for the piano.  Lost in time, the score was later found in the Grimsby Local History Library by local historian Dianne Roberts, more than 100 years after the music was written.

Dianne commented: “I was astounded when I saw the picture on the front and set about finding out more about the piece and Mr Hopkins’ life.

“He was originally from Kettering, in Northamptonshire, and as a child belonged to and orchestra called ‘Dr Mark and His Little Men’.  A German, Dr Mark tried to find youngsters with a flair for music, touring the group around England for performances.  To join the ‘Little Men’ it is said that the youngsters should be orphaned or poor.  Based in Manchester, the travelling orchestra gave the boys somewhere to stay.

“John Dix Hopkins became a celebrated trombone player and even played at one of Queen Victoria’s birthday parties!”

The Pier Galop was dedicated “respectfully” to a Mrs Joseph Chapman, of Yarra House, Cleethorpes, although it is not currently known why.  By this time, J.D. Hopkins owned a music shop on Cleethorpe Road, indicating a very musical life indeed.  He met an unfortunate end in 1913 when he was knocked down by a train in Cleethorpes, but thanks to the perseverance of Dianne and the local history club, his work will live on.

To celebrate this most unusual piece of music, The Cleethorpes Brass Band were approached to record The Pier Galop for the 150th anniversary year.

Musical director Brian Harper said: “As the piece was originally written for the piano, I have turned it into a brass band arrangement.  It is a traditional, light-hearted piece, nothing serious but it will encourage some foot tapping!

“As a band, we are very excited to be recording it, not only for the musical and historical value but also because we very much enjoy celebrating the local community.  We are the town’s band so it is fitting that we are able to do this, and a great privilege.”

Cllr Hayden Dawkins, cabinet member for heritage, said: “To have not only an historic pier but a pier with its own, dedicated piece of music is delightful.  To have the opportunity to listen to a score that was created for and played on such a special day, it will certainly fire up the imagination!”

A further piece of music, the Cleethorpes Polka, was written by Edward Lawrence Hime in 1885 for the opening of the Cleethorpes improvements, which included the Pier Gardens.  Although the front of the score was found, unfortunately the music did not accompany the cover.  Perhaps this too is hiding in a box or attic, waiting to be discovered in time for the pier bicentenary, in 2073!

The Pier Galop can be heard for the first time at two-day exhibition taking place titled ‘A Prince, a Pier and a Castle’ at Cleethorpes Town Hall on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 September.  Take yourself back in time and imagine a seafront full of top hats, bustling skirts, and the excitement of a new future for the resort.  The exhibition is part of Heritage Open Days and supported by the Townscape Heritage Project.

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