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Sunday, June 23, 2013

We Spent the Weekend in Durham at the Miners' Union Gala

Originally posted in July 2012.
A colliery band and their banner.

Each colliery or patch down had its own banner.

Ever since we first saw the movie Billy Elliot - I wanted to see the coal regions of England. Some of both Lulu's and my ancestors came from here - and I wanted to compare their mining culture to the Anthracite Coal Regions of Pennsylvania back home.

I like to call myself a coal cracker - but I am just a poser. I am a coal miner's son - Dad served his 25 years in purgatory for me - so that I could go to college and be a teacher. He worked in Coaldale Number 8 and belonged to the colliery band - the Coaldale Victory Band. Even though I was only 3 and 4 years old - I remember him going away to places like Cincinnati - Washington - and Pittsburgh to play at the United Mine Workers conventions. Mostly - I remember the smell of his Old Spice after shave lotion that leaked into his travel bag and piccolo case. I also liked wearing his round wool band hat around the house.

The center of the English coal country was in Durham County. The pits closed 25 years ago when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher nationalized the mines. The bitterness still lingers in the coal country from the famous strike of 1984-1985. Although no coal mining took place in the city of Durham - it is identified as the capital of the industry - even more so today than yesterday. Although Thatcher is suffering from dementia - people here still wear shirts that say things like - "I still hate Thatcher" - "Hurry up and die Maggie Thatcher!"

Every year - the miners congregate and parade in downtown Durham. Over 70 colliery bands march - with large hand painted banners unfurled - celebrating the history of their small coal patch villages and mines. The British labor movement has joined in the annual gathering making it the largest gathering of labor unions in the world. It was surprising to me that the labor unions in Britain lost their right to strike en masse. They still can go out locally.

We arrived in Durham Friday - walked from the train station to our hotel on the village market square. There were very few people around. We asked on the streets about the parade and they assured us - we will see plenty of bands and banners all day Saturday.

We woke up early Saturday morning - had a quick breakfast in our hotel - and headed for the streets - cameras in hand. The weather report said a chance of rain and a high of 57 degrees. As we climbed the steps from our hotel to the main street - the unmistakable sound of brass bands floated through air. I think I saw Lulu skip as she headed toward the music.

Bands from all over the Northeast - left their patch towns and villages - and headed for Durham - some coming by bus - some marching all the way. Bands were coming from all directions. Each street was a staging area for the respective bands. There were a lot of bands entertaining the crowds - waiting for their chance to pass in review under the balcony of dignitaries at the town's crossroads. We watched this from about 8 to 1 o'clock. At that time we hiked to the racetrack - a euphemism - for large field with beautiful green grass. A festival of food and rides was arranged there  - along with a stage full of dignitaries. We listened to union leaders talk about the mines and union history for about two hours. Finally - the member of parliament that leads the labour party - Tony Milliband - spoke to the crowd of maybe 30,000 people. This was the first time that a labour leader addressed the crowd - and estimates are that 200,000 came to town for this year's gala. Lulu's and my feet were sore from standing so much - we ended up being some of the few that sat down. We listened to many of the speakers while checking out an array of British footwear.

On the way back to our hotel and the train station - we had to dodge downtown where the parade was still going. At 6:40 our train left town on time - I had three hours to sort through 250 videos and pictures. The train has 220 volt outlets and wifi - maybe I can send a teaser home. We will be back in our apartment in London around 10 PM.

There were many things that surprised me about Durham. I expected it to be run down like the coal towns of Pennsylvania. It had a an extensive old downtown area full of thriving businesses. The Durham Cathedral - build around 1100 AD - may be more massive than Westminster Abbey or Salisbury Catherdral. It sits high on a plateau overlooking downtown - with a castle next it - surrounded by the campus of Durham University. Housing prices - although not as high as London - are getting there. We expected a lot of drunken miners and musicians over their limit - also the massive crowds were on their best behavior. The Miners' Gala has put this town on the world map.

Durham Miners Association banner.

National Association of School Masters Union and Women Teachers.

Over 100 large hand painted banners made their way through the narrow streets of Durham to the racetrack.

Durham kids watch the parade go by from a high window.

Folks listen to union speakers at the racetrack.

Tony Milliband is the first parliament labor leader to show up in Durham in 20 years.

Miners' mining lamps for sale at the festival.

Dignitaries judge and watch parade passing in review.

The Durham Cathedral from 1100 AD watches the parade quietly from the hill.

Harry and Lulu on hill lined with row homes in Durham.

The Durham Cathedral from the cemetery.

Organise - Negotiate - Agitate - The Teacher's Union motto.

At the racetrack getting ready for the union speakers.

No love is lost for Rupert Murdoch.

Our express train went through Dorcaster - York- Darlington - then stopped at Durham - on the way to Newcastle and Edinburgh. 250 miles in 3 hours.

Next week in Durham is the big MG Car Display.

Lulu at the Fighting Cocks Pub.

This memorial to the miners in is the Durham Cathedral.

Lulu in front of Big Jug pub.

Labor newspaper fights against Tory cuts.

70 Colliery Bands marched and played.

Beautiful colorful banners floated above the fray.

Lulu joined in with NUT - the National Union of Teachers.

This banner holder was very tall.

The people of each former mining village marched behind their band and banner.

The politics of rich and poor is similar to the USA.

This miner stuck out the 1984-1985 strike until the end.

In front of this old school were places to charge your electric cars.

Some bands wore kilts and played bagpipes.


The Spectator said...

Really like the photo of the two boys watching out the window.

The Spectator said...

Really like the photo of the two boys watching out the window.

Bill D said...

Great photos...

jbusterd said...

great coverage of an awesome event. Greatgrandfather died at Ferndale 1867 along with 176 others in the Rhonda valley, great grandfather JT Davis came to Tanaqua and worked his way through the mines as did my Grandfather Thomas Llewllyn Davis, my father Tom Davis. I believe I remember you from the P.M. Church, living in exile in Wales my homeland. Jack Davis Want to go nest Year.