Wallace Henry Hartley was born on 2 June 1878 at 92 Greenfield Road in Colne, Lancashire, the eldest son and second child of Albion and Elizabeth Hartley. Wallace was educated at the Wesleyan School on George Street. Wallace Hartley's father Albion was a mill manager in the town and had strong links with the Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel in Colne. It was here that Wallace was introduced to music, joining the chapel choir and later learning the violin.
By this time, his father was working for a local insurance company. When it was time to leave school and find employment, Wallace became a bank clerk, as expected by his father. However, in 1895 Albion's work took the family to Huddersfield, Yorkshire. It was here that Wallace joined the local Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1901 Albion finally relented and allowed his son to pursue his ambitions of becoming a professional musician. Wallace joined the municipal orchestra in the Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington. By 1909 Wallace was employed through Messrs C W & F N Black of Liverpool, playing second violin aboard the new Cunard Line vessel Mauretania. In 1912, Wallace was transferred by Blacks to the post of bandmaster aboard the Titanic.
Shortly after midnight on 14 April following the Titanic's collision with the iceberg, passengers began to congregate as they were mustered by the crew. Wallace gathered the fellow bandsmen together in the Promenade Deck First Class Lounge, before moving out onto the Boat Deck. Together the band, led by bandmaster Wallace Hartley, played popular ragtime songs from the period.
Whether or not at the outset of the sinking the bandsmen appreciated the seriousness of the situation will never be known, but what is known is that they continued playing music likely until the situation, the slant of the deck as the Titanic sank beneath them, made it impossible to continue. All eight men died in the sinking. They had an average of just 26.
Wallace Hartley was 33 years old. He died leaving a young fiancé, Maria Robinson. The body of Wallace Hartley was returned to England aboard the White Star liner Arabic and interred in Colne cemetery, after his body was brought to Colne by horse-drawn hearse. Wallace Hartley is commemorated in his birthplace by a fine memorial.
The memorial is a bronze bust of Wallace Hartley, flanked by two smaller bronze female figurines holding a lyre representing music and a laurel wreath representing valour. The bust stands atop a tall, splayed stone plinth. The front face of the plinth carries a dedication, in raised metal serif-style lettering. The memorial stands on a wide, stepped square base of stone.
The memorial dedication reads "Wallace Hartley, Bandmaster of R.M.S. Titanic, who perished in the foundering of that vessel, April 15th 1912. Erected by voluntary contributions to commemorate the heroism of a native of this town."
The memorial was funded through voluntary subscriptions from the public. The memorial stands on Albert Road, west of the Providence Independent Methodist Church and Colne's war memorial to the men of the town killed or missing in action during First and Second World War.