Voices in the Coalshed: Durham Miners’ Gala
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Voices in the Coalshed: Durham Miners’ Gala

For many years the Miners’ Demonstration and Gala played an important part in the life of this country’s mining communities.

They were times when miners and their families came together to celebrate their industry. Miners from different collieries marched behind their Pit Banners, and their colliery bands, and came together in a local park to listen to speakers; take part in competitions and share a drink with their comrades. On occasions the banners were hung with black ribbons to show respect if miners at their pit had been lost at work.

By definition, they were political meetings and the speakers often represented trades unions and the Labour Party.

Now, they are all but gone. One which remains is “The Big Meeting”, the Durham Miners Gala.

First held in 1871, the gala went from strength to strength, reaching a peak in the 1960’s when over 300,000 people attended. Crowds would line the streets to see the banners go by on their way to the racecourse where they would be displayed around the perimeter of the field. Families would picnic whilst the children would enjoy themselves at the funfair.

This gala, The Big Meeting, continues today, long after the collieries it originally celebrated have gone. Today, it celebrates the communities and their memories and the part they played in making this country great.

2024, the 40th anniversary of the 1984 strike makes the gala even more poignant.

You can read an account of the 1958 gala in the July edition of Coal magazine which is available on the museum’s website.

Written by Volunteer Nicola