The 132nd Durham Miners Gala

More than two decades after the last pit closed in the Durham coalfield the Miners Gala or the Big Meeting as it is known locally remains as popular as ever with over 150,000 expected to attend this year for the 132nd gala. The gala forms part of the culture and heritage of the area and represents the communal values of the North East of England. The gala sees traditional colliery bands march through the city ahead of their respective pit banners and pass the County Hotel building where union leaders, invited guests and dignitaries gather on the balcony before then heading to the racecourse area for a day of entertainment and political speeches. Beginning in 1871 the gala is now the biggest trade union event in Europe and many thousands of people continue to attend each year.

Here’s a few from today…

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The real Northern Powerhouse

More than two decades after the last pit closed in the Durham Coalfield the Durham Miners Gala or the ‘Big Meeting’ as the event is also known remains as popular as ever. The Gala forms part of the culture and heritage of the area and represents the communal values of the North East of England. The 131st gala held today saw the traditional colliery bands marching through the city ahead of their banners before passing the County Hotel and heading down to the Racecourse. In the early years of the meet those attending left their villages early in the morning and then made their way on foot to Durham from all directions but these days people either drive or arrive on buses.

Beginning in 1871 the Gala is now the biggest trade union event in Europe and many thousands of people still meet up in the market place of the city to follow their banner and pass the County Hotel on Old Elvet as they walk past union leaders, invited guests and local dignitaries who greet the march from the hotel balcony.

Once all the bands have passed through speeches are held on the racecourse. Amongst those speaking this year or joining to march with the procession (and shown in some of the pictures below) were Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall. Tosh McDonald, the president of ASLEF – The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen – and Owen Jones, a columnist with the Guardian newspaper and political activist and many more.

The contemporary artist Grayson Perry also attended. Visiting the gala as part of a documentary he is making and the actor Alun Armstrong, the son of a miner and originally from Anfield Plain in County Durham stood on the County Hotel balcony.

More importantly though than all of these guests and trade union speakers and their rhetoric are the men, women and children who attend the miners gala each year without fail and who make the event the occasion that it is. These people and the pride in the mining heritage of the region is where the real northern powerhouse is to be found: The group of ladies who arrive very, very early each year to secure the same place on the steps near the market place who start the day with strawberries and pink champagne.

To Nora Newby, a wonderful 81 year old from Chilton who has attended 60 out of the last 61 gala’s who arrives at around 6am on the morning of gala day to stand in the same spot each year. The missed year was so that she could attend her granddaughters wedding! An unfortunate tongue-in-cheek fact that she reminds (scolds) her granddaughter of often.

Former miner Billy Raine, 89, from Easington is a regular who entertains the crowds outside the County Hotel wearing his orange coveralls and miners hat as he dances and salutes as the bands perform and of course the thousands more who attend but especially the colliery bands and the former miners and miners wives who make this occasion what it is and who help create an event that continues to bring well over 100,000 people back year after year. Long may it continue.

CLICK to listen and recorded today: Gresford – The Miners Hymn

To keep the Durham Big Meet going any contributions and support are welcome through the Friends of Durham Miners Gala website.

 

Some of the pictures that I shot from the day are below. Enjoy Marra.

 

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Strawberries and pink champagne0004

Nora Newby, 81, from Chilton0005 0007 0008 0009 0010 0011

Grayson Perry0012 0013 0014 0015 0016 0017 0018

Former miner Billy Raine, 89, from Easington0019

Alun Armstrong (centre)0020 0021 0022 0023 0024 0025 0026 0027 0028 0029 0030 0031 0032 0033 0034 0035 0036

Labour MP Liz Kendall0037 0038 0039 0040 0041 0042 0043 0044 0045 0046 0047 0048 0049 0050 0051

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn0052 0053 0054

Tosh McDonald, the president of ASLEF – The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen 0056 0057 0058 0059

Owen Jones0060 0061 0062

 

 

See more of my work on my website and blogs…  HERE

Images copyright Ian Forsyth /  Getty Images

No usage without arrangement.

All rights reserved

Tapestry of Tradition

From early morning on the twelfth of August in 1871 groups of miners and their families made their way steadily towards the City of Durham. Like small conquering armies they headed towards the cathedral city along the small roads and tracks that snaked through the countryside marching behind heavy canvas banners held aloft by those at the head of the column. Many travelled by foot but some rattled their way towards the city on horse drawn wagons. The pitmen, whilst a little apprehensive about the welcome they might receive from the city folk, marched proudly and with purpose.

The city people were not happy that these pitmen were making their way towards their city. They were, in the eyes of those who lived within the relative comfort of the city, a race apart. Living hand to mouth in small isolated villages they eked out a meagre existence. These pitmen who lived constantly within earshot of the clatter of the winding engines and who were always covered by the ever present black dust that permeated everything they owned. Living in their small homes engulfed with the sulphurous fumes that spewed from the ventilation furnaces they were, to the city dwellers, like marauding clans. Coming to their city and taking their pleasure in ale-houses, gambling at pitch and toss or wagering on cockfights. On their way to town they poached the squire’s pheasants and game and stole turnips from his fields and if all of this wasn’t bad enough it was their smouldering discontent, which could erupt at any moment into riot, that was feared most.

 

These days the Durham Big Meeting is a little more sedate, if no less lively or busy. Still open to the odd pint or two being swilled and in its recent past even the odd fight or two has been known to break out. But generally speaking the Durham Miners Gala, or ‘Durham Big Meeting’ as it is called locally, is a little less violent. The winding engines have slowed to a halt. The black dust has now settled. The sulphurous fumes no longer rise into the air. Where once a hundred mines made up the mighty Durham coalfield, today, none remain.

 

Today, events began with many hundreds of people meeting up in the Market Place of the city. the main assembly point for the start of the parade through Durham. The colliery brass bands and banners, followed by those with allegiance to those former great colliery villages start to march from there to the cities Racecourse. As they pass the County Hotel on Old Elvet they walked past union leaders, invited guests and local dignitaries who greet the march from the hotel balcony.

The procession can take three to four hours to pass the County Hotel due to the huge numbers of people attending and the frequent pauses at the hotel. However, an amazing atmosphere of street theatre is created making the occasion more a fiesta than a march.

The bands pause beneath the balcony to play their musical ‘party piece’ before marching on the rest of the distance to the Racecourse where a platform waits for the speakers to address the crowds. There are food stalls, funfairs and rides offering excitement and thrills to those willing to have a go. Their banners, carried with pride through the city are now all secured to the surrounding fences in a tapestry of tradition and working class history that remains a source of pride and sadness for an industry lost to the people of the Durham coalfield.

 

 

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