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The Durham Miners' Gala (pronounced "gaila") is a large annual gathering held on the second Saturday in July in Durham citymarker, Englandmarker. It is associated with the coal mining heritage (and particularly that of miners' trade unionism) of the Durham Coalfield, which stretched throughout the traditional County of Durham. It is also sometimes called "The Big Meeting" or "Durham Big Meeting".

Its highlight consists of banners, each typically accompanied by a brass band, which are marched to the old Racecoursemarker, where political speeches are delivered. In the afternoon a Miners' service is held in Durham Cathedralmarker which may include the blessing of any new banners.

History - out of unionism



The gala developed out of the miners' trade unionism, with the first Union being established in 1869. The Durham Miners' Union organised the first Gala, which was held in 1871 in Wharton Park, Durham.

It developed into the largest unofficial miners and trade union gathering in the United Kingdommarker. At its peak the Gala attracted over 250,000 people - approximately 6 times the population of Durham city itself.

Banners would traditionally be taken on foot from its particular colliery into Durham, and the event was marked by large unions of men marching on the roads leading into the city.

The socialist, and often communist, nature of the miners' unionism found expression in the Gala. In particular, the banners contain several images of notable socialist/communist figures, and captions capture similar sentiments.

The Gala was cancelled from 1915-18 (due to the First World War), 1921, 1922, and 1926 (all due to strikes), and again from 1940-45 due to the Second World War. The effect of the 1984-85 miners' strike, which saw miners across the Durham Coalfield strike, also led to the Gala being called off in 1984.

The closure of collieries in County Durham, particularly after the Second World War, reduced the numbers attending the Gala. Nonetheless, even if a colliery was closed, the banner was often still marched.

The centenary Gala was held in 1983.

The banners



Most banners represent lodges of the National Union of Mineworkers in the Durham Area. However, other unions have also been represented, particularly in recent years, as well as Union banners from other parts of the UK, including NUM lodges of the Yorkshire branch, and South Wales.

They are made of silk, are rectangular, and hang from a cross member, from which guide ropes are held by those carrying it. They are draped with black cloth on significant anniversaries of disasters at the colliery they represent.

Many banners contain explicit socialist or communist references, having renderings of Marx, Lenin, and other prominent figures such as miners' leaders, or politicians. Chopwellmarker, often referred to as "Little Moscow", has the only banner (the 1955 version) that contains images of both Marx and Lenin (as well as the hammer and sickle). The 1935 Chopwell banner toured the Soviet Unionmarker and is thought to reside somewhere in Moscow today. Socialist expressions also take the form of captions - for example, "Socialism through evolution" and "Need before greed" (on Blackhall Lodge's banner).

Christian themes having a socialist resonance also figure on some banners.

More recently, residents in former pit villages have taken it upon themselves to restore, or even create, banners. This has involved the reintegration of collieries that had left the Gala. Some banners, such as Spennymoormarker's, represent a group of former local collieries rather than individual ones. These have received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Gala today

No deep mines remain in the Durham Coalfield, down from the over hundred that were present at the coalfield's peak. Despite this, the Gala continues to be organised.

The 122nd Gala, held in 2006, attracted over 50,000 people, making it one of the biggest political gatherings in Europe. During the morning banners are still marched to the racecourse with its tradition of speeches (recent notable speakers have included Tony Benn and Billy Bragg) then in the afternoon to the cathedral.

References

  1. Your View 22 - Moving on seamlessly
  2. /http://www.minersadvice.co.uk/yourview22_moving_on_seamlessly.htm
  3. Durham Miner Project - Banners of Durham Miners' Union 1869 to the present
  4. Roy Lambeth's Durham Miners Gala Banner Photographs. 1983
  5. http://www.pitwork.net/2003%20gala/chopwell.jpg
  6. Durham Miners Gala - Heritage Lottery Fund


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