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Saturday, July 08, 2017

England - Durham Miners Union Gala Festival

Colliery Bands
900 year old durham Cathedral

We just enjoyed a visit to Mecca for anyone that calls themselves a Coal Cracker. For over 100 years Durham has been the center of coal miner's unions and organized labor in general. Even though the mines have closed down over 30 years ago - the world's largest organized labor gathering still takes place every July here.

We got up at 5:30 this morning - were out of the apartment at 6:30 - and our train for Durham left Kings Cross Station at 7:30. It took us a little under 3 hours to cover the 275 miles north. Our Virgin Express stopped at just 2 cities on the way. When we got off the train in Durham - we just followed the crowd to the downtown parade site. It was bright - clear - sunny - and it barely broke 70 degrees. There were a lot of pale white people there with light red sun burns.

Durham is a very old city. Its early settlers trace their roots back to 2000 BC - and the Durham Cathedral is over 900 years old. The town was the center of the Coal Regions of England. Today - the mines are closed. The area is diversified. But the miners still parade. The rest of the labor unions in the UK have joined in. It is a hot bed of socialism - not communism.

Our long running favorite play - Billy Elliot - was set in Durham. It is the story of a coal miner's kid that wanted to join the ballet. He leaves the little village to dance in the Royal Ballet in London. We have seen the play countless times.

At the downtown crossroad is an old Marriot Hotel. The dignitaries stand on a balcony there - and the bands parade by. In the old days - each town and/or colliery had their own band. Today - the bands still exist and many of them march from their village directly to Durham. They come into town from all corners of the region - taking turns to parade by their leaders at the Marriot. This is the same Marriot that Dick and Jan Davis used when they went to the parade about 5 years ago.

During these times I think of my Dad. He was a coal miner for 25 years. He also belonged to the Coaldale Victory Band. He played the piccolo. They used to parade at the United Mine Workers Union conventions in Cincinnati and other cities.

After the parade - all the bands and their banners go to the University of Durham's race track and parade ground. They display their banners - and the national labor speakers address the crowd. We had some lunch there from the food stands - and then we scurried up the mountain to the Durham Cathedral.

At 2:30 - three honored bands marched into the cathedral - carrying three banners to be blessed. We got there early for good seats. The last time we visited we were shut out. This is truly one of the most memorable moments.

Durham Cathedral is so massive and old. It has been around and active for 900 years. The University of Durham is housed in the castle adjacent to the cathedral. This university is ranked in the top 100 of the world.

The church service took about an hour - maybe 20 minutes longer if you count the bands marching in and out.

England is a Protestant country. Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church when he wanted to divorce one of his wives. The Pope said no - and Henry said England would quit the church. Ever since then - all the monarchs have been Protestant. The service reminded me of my youth - being brought up in the Bethany Church in Tamaqua PA.

Ever since the movie Chariots of Fire - and our attending the 2012 London Olympics - I have enjoyed the hymn - Jerusalem. Many consider it the unofficial national song of England. In that song they imagine that Jesus spent the "missing years - ages 12 to 30" in England. They promise to work to make England the new Jerusalem.

Jerusalem by William Blake/Sir Hubert Parry

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear - o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

We are now in our hotel room in Donington Park. We are tired because we woke up early - did a lot of walking - and I had to carry our backpack everywhere. We took two separate trains about 3 hours to get here from Durham.

The older you get - the more your realize - you probably are seeing a place of the last time. I was really glad to see this today. It reminded me of the hard work my Mom and Dad did to take care of us. They both were Union.

Miner's Union Festival

Union Banners

Many colliery bands

100,000 people

The bands are getting older

Red coat band

Miner disaster banners

Speaker at the race grounds

Union speakers address the crowd

Sunny and 70 - beautiful day

Kids rides

Lots of bands playing patriotic music

Ceremony inside Cathedral 

At 6:30 - we had the subways to ourselves

Our Virgin Express to Durham - 275 miles

Pretty banners

Town Square Durham

Bands Que Up for passing in review

Womens group
Marchers and banners

1 comment:

Cynthia Putman said...

I hope to visit there one day to see the cathedral and the remains of Hylton Castle. My ancestors may have come from there to the United States of America.