Our annual outing to the Durham Miners Gala is one of the highlights of the year, if not the highlight! It’s such a marvellous celebration of the North East’s mining heritage with the banners and bands, speeches, fun fair, stalls from political, trade union, campaigning and community groups.
This year we were looking forward to leading the brand new replica Burradon and Weetslade Colliery banner as well as fulfilling our regular engagement to lead the Eppleton banner. However, things didn’t go quite to plan (see below). The Burradon banner has been saved and is being restored to hang in Burradon Community Primary School from September. The unveiling event will be a culmination of a Heritage Lottery Fund project led by local charity “Remembering the Past, Resourcing the Future”. Eppleton banner group have been fantastic in welcoming Burradon to join them in Durham, and gave a lot of useful help and advice.
Our involvement in the day started as we led the Eppleton banner around the streets early morning, before getting back onto the coach and heading into Durham City centre. Our route around Eppleton was a half mile shorter than previously and, as a result, we arrived in Durham Market Place at 8:30. Unfortunately the Burradon banner didn’t get to the Square until a bit later, by which time we had unexpectedly advanced at record speed onto Elvet Bridge! Unable to get through the crowds at the top of Saddler Street (the steps) the large Burradon banner contingent held back and eventually teamed up Easington Colliery Band and the Easington Colliery banner.
We continued to progress with the Eppleton banner group down Elvet Bridge, played “Hey Baby” outside the County Hotel to the assembled crowd and VIPs on the balcony (including Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn) and marched on the field, arriving by 9:20am! The Burradon banner didn’t make it down until 1pm, by which time they were tired and wet, and decided not to march off again. This year, the Eppleton banner went to the Cathedral, so we were not needed by them either, and instead we made our way back to the coach for an earlier finish!
This year’s Gala was widely reported as the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was speaking on the platform. The recent turmoil in the Labour Party following the European Union Referendum meant that there was a lot of media interest, and a big crowd on the field listening to the speeches. However, we missed Jeremy Corbyn’s speech as we had to head back just as he started speaking.
A very sad postscript to the Gala was that Davey Hopper, General Secretary of Durham Miners Association, died a week later. He kept the Durham NUM and the Gala going after the miners strike and the closure of the pits in the 1980s and 1990s. He will be a hard act to follow, and a big loss to the Labour Movement in the North East. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.