Colne - Wallace Hartley Heritage Walk
Volodymyr Pravyk is not a name that easily trips off the tongue but perhaps it should be. He was the 23 year old fire fighter who with his crew was first on the scene after Reactor Number 4 at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station exploded and caught fire in the early hours of 26th April 1986. As squad commander he quickly assessed the seriousness of the fire and signalled the highest level of alert summoning all the fire crews in the area. Between them in a highly radiated zone they were able to extinguish the fire which was the immediate consequence of the explosion but at a huge personal sacrifice. In the following weeks nearly all the first responders died of radiation poisoning – Pravyk on 11th May. While the situation could not have been worse – the damaged reactor spreading highly harmful radiation over a wide area of the then USSR – at least the fire fighters were able to impose a modicum of control on the disaster which allowed others to come up with long term solutions. 

I learned of Lieutenant Pravyk in Serhii Plokhy’s excellent “Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy” (Published by Penguin Books 2018). Reading it I was reminded of another disaster that occurred almost three quarters of a century previously – the sinking of the Titanic. Built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff to capitalise on the lucrative trans-Atlantic passenger market RMS Titanic was promoted as the “unsinkable” ship. The story is well known – on its maiden voyage the liner hit an iceberg and sank with a great loss of life. As with Chernobyl where the designers and operators believed that a nuclear accident was impossible the Titanic has become a modern symbol of hubris – that excessive pride that comes before a fall.

Numerous personalities emerge from the story of the Titanic but perhaps none more so than Wallace Hartley’s. As bandleader of the ship’s orchestra he and his fellow musicians played music to keep the passengers calm as they loaded onto the lifeboats – lending a modicum of control to the disastrous situation. A newspaper at the time observed, “the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank amongst the noblest in the annuls of heroism at sea.”

As with the Chernobyl firemen not one member of the orchestra survived – duty was put before self – but remarkably Wallace Hartley’s body was recovered and brought back to his home town – Colne. The walk described below traces his last journey from the Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel (where Wallace was a member of the choir and played the violin while his father was choirmaster) to the Keighley Road Cemetery – his final resting place. In between there is a considerable wealth of heritage - much of it would have been familiar to the young musician growing up in the town.


Next weekend sees the start of Heritage Open Days England’s biggest celebration of history and culture. (See for details)These offer a good opportunity for us to plug into the past and remind ourselves how our forebears lived, worked, raised families and died. Look out especially for events in places not usually open to the public.

Start: Colne Railway Station.



Fact file:

Distance: 1 ¼ mile

Time: At horse drawn funeral cortege pace it will take 40 -45 minutes but much longer if you are intent on a more than cursory look at the features described below.

Grade: Easy

Map: Hardly necessary but OS A-Z street atlas for Lancashire Pages 85 & 86


 Map by kind permission of Johnston Press

Directions: If arriving by train turn right out of the station to view the Bethel Methodist Chapel where Wallace and his family worshipped. It is about ¼ down the hill on the right. While of no great architectural merit what may come as a surprise is its size. Whether it could accommodate the 1000 mourners who reportedly attended his funeral on 15th May is another question. Return to the station and continue walking up Albert Road passing the Crown Hotel on the left (a favourite with the Dotcom Walkers for its pensioners' special menu.) Also on the left 90 Albert Road,


the Hartley family home. Moving up and easy to miss close to the town's war memorial is a commemorative bust of Wallace Hartley


which is tucked in behind an attractive floral display with its model of the Titanic.


The nearby Municipal Hall opened in 1901 at as technical school. Today it serves as a venue for Colne's famous Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival held each August. Features now come thick and fast - next up the old Co-op building now called Norway House.


It was the first building in the country to be constructed with reinforced concrete - the same technology that saw the development of skyscrapers in Chicago and New York. At the top of Albert Road stands the Town Hall.


This was the creation of architect Alfred Waterhouse in the style known as Gothic Revival. Outside the Albert Street entrance is the largest paving stone in the country


laid when the Town Hall was built in the 1890s. Beyond the Town Hall is Shackleton Hall another fine example of late Victorian architecture.


For proper Gothic the Parish Church of St Bartholomew provides it


- the oldest building in Colne. On the opposite side of the road you will not help noticing the Wallace Hartley pub. The name is recent - this was the old Kings Arms Hotel. It is doubtful its namesake ever drank a drop in there. The cemetery is another ¼ mile further on. Hartley's monument is to the left of the main path about 100yds down from the chapel.


Below the inscription are the opening bars of "Nearer my God to thee" a hymn widely reported to have been the last tune to have been played on the Titanic.