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[personal profile] shewhomust
I first attended the Durham Miners' Gala in 1972, by accident: returning to Durham during the university vacation, we discovered that we would not be able to house hunt as we had intended, because we had chosen the Saturday when the city closed for the Gala. "Of course, it's not what it was," they told us in the pub that Friday evening. But the shops were closed and their windows boarded up - not against deliberate damage, but simply to protect them from the crush of people who crowded into the city from the surrounding villages. Only the pubs, exceptionally, were open all day.

The day begins with a procession through the streets of Durham:

Chopwell banner and silver band

Once each lodge would walk behind its band and its banner from its own village, starting off as early as was necessary to join the procession down to the Racecourse in time for the speakers, entering the City by more than one route, but all pausing in front of the Royal County Hotel to play for the invited speakers gathered on the balcony. Now there are no working pits in the North East Area, there are fewer banners, and some belong to other unions and other regions.

Then on to the Racecourse, where the funfair is already doing good business. The platform party take their seats, and after the playing of the Gresford, the solemn tune known as the miners' hymn, the speeches begin:

Dave Guy introduces the platform party

The banners are displayed all around the boundary of the racecourse, the musicians remove their warm uniforms and wander off to listen to the speeches or find a beer. This banner, showing a a white robed weakling of a philosopher breaking a single twig, while a brawny athlete fails to break twigs which have been bound into a bundle, belongs the the Trimdon Grange lodge of the Miners' Union:

Banner of Trimdon Grange Colliery

Let's not think of tomorrow,
Lest we disappointed be;
Our joys may turn to sorrow,
As we all may daily see.
Today we're strong and healthy,
But how soon there comes a change.
As we may see from the explosion
That has been at Trimdon Grange.

Men and boys left home that morning
For to earn their daily bread,
Little thought before the evening
They'd be numbered with the dead;
Let us think of Mrs Burnett,
Once had sons and now has none -
With the Trimdon Grange explosion,
Joseph, George and James are gone.

Trimdon Grange Explosion, Thomas Armstrong



The banners are all different, and new ones are still being made. Some are allegorical, some depict hospitals or retirement homes run by the union for its members, some show portraits of political or industrial leaders.

Banner of Chopwell Colliery

The village of Chopwell had a reputation for radicalism which earned it the nickname "Little Moscow"; its banner shows Marx, Lenin and Keir Hardie, above a quotation from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass
"We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!"

Music and entertainment continue all afternoon, as do the bouncy castle and "hook a duck and win a prize" stalls, for those who have the stamina to enjoy them. But at 2.30 the banners and bands leave the Racecourse for a service at the Cathedral;

Brass band

The music is as varied as the banners; as well as the Gresford there are Sousa marches and pop songs. This band was preparing to climb to the Cathedral trying to drown out the amplified clamour of the funfair with The Shoop Shoop Song.

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