Durham Miners Gala - 11th July 1998It was a great day out....
We lived away from Seaham for a while in the sixties and seventies but we couldn't stay away. We were back several times a year. We had no proper holidays. We just came home. I remember vividly being in Durham for a Miners Gala having missed a few.
I'd forgotten how it felt as the brass bands made their way down Old Elvet towards the Royal County Hotel and its famous balcony. There had been some deaths in the Durham mines that year and several of the banners were draped in black. The tears welled up in my eyes as the Dawdon Colliery banner passed to the moving strains of 'Gresford'. My father and grandfather had been miners at Dawdon. Both had died in middle age their health undermined by working down the pit. The whole moving occasion was, and always will be a recognition and remembrance of the contribution and sacrifice made by them and thousands of miners like them. Dawdon and all the other collieries in Durham are gone now but the Durham Miners Gala continues to honour them.
Day, Saturday 11th July 1998.
We were in Durham's Market Square soon after 9 O'clock hoping to meet up with Vane Tempest Lodge for the march from Market Square, (where former coal owner Lord Londonderry "sits on his high horse"), to the Royal County Hotel and then on to the Race Course grounds where the speeches would be made. We soon met up with Seaham friends Albert and Margaret and their family. Young Margaret was "home" from Australia along with a contingent of Australian miners who were here for the Gala.
Things were already well underway. Murton Lodge had been the first "in". No sign of Vane Tempest yet but they were on their way from the Mill Inn by coach.
Sadly, Seaham Lodge wouldn't be marching because their banner was now too delicate to carry. A replacement banner was needed but the Lodge just hadn't the money anymore.
Dawdon was not expected to be represented this year. We'd been told that there had been problems in finding a brass band and something had gone wrong with the arrangements.
The Market Square was crowded and though Seaham had its lowest representation in memory, the Gala was once again going to be a huge success.
Banner after banner passed by into Old Elvet for the short but congested journey down the hill, across Old Elvet Bridge to the Royal County Hotel.
Around 10 o'clock the Vane Tempest contingent arrived in the Square and soon had band and banner well organised. Before too long we were all installed in the procession on Old Elvet.
Margaret shouted that the Ozzies had arrived in Market Square. We left our places and hurried back through the crowds to meet some of Albert and Margarets miner friends from Oz. It didn't cause problem. Progress down Old Elvet was slow anyway. Lodges from all over Durham County and indeed all over the country were pouring into Durham now but it was the Ozzies who caught the eye. No cork-strung hats for them. The Northern District Branch of the United Mineworkers Federation of Australia proudly held their new banner high as they marched out of Market Square on to Old Elvet led by a tartan clad Pipe Band with Busbies. We took some photos, met our new ozzies friends and returned quickly to our places with the Vane Tempest Lodge. They had scarcely moved.
we progressed down Old Elvet bands playing all the way. We had just reached
the bridge when there was a flurry of activity behind us. "give us a hand
to get the banner up,will you". Alan Kennedy and Ron Meir of the Dawdon
Lodge had arrived with their wives and the Dawdon banner. Before
long the Dawdon banner was proudly installed behind the Vane Tempest Lodge
with Alan and Ron holding the poles. Alan's wife Julie and Sadie took the
Alan had brought the banner to Durham in his own car. Heaven and earth had been moved to overcome the problems experienced by the Dawdon Lodge but at least they would be represented.
His actions illustrate the sense of belonging which ex-miners still feel for their Lodges and community. Alan lost his job when Dawdon Colliery closed in 1990 and now delivers cars all over the country. He loves his new job but it will never replace the loyalty to his roots.
It was almost an hour before we arrived in front of the balcony at the Royal County Hotel. It was crowded, as usual, with guests and officials.
I spotted Dave Guy (a Harbour Lad, and President of Durham NUM), Dave Hopper, General Secretary, speakers Wedgie Benn MP, Stephen Hughes MEP and his wife Cyndi,and speaker Alice Mahon MP.
The band defiantly struck up "The Red Flag" and the gathered crowds cheered and applauded. We moved off towards the Race Course.
The route was lined most of the way by appauding crowds. Bandsmen from some of the bands had deposited their instruments at the Course and returned to the pubs along the route for a well deserved pint.
We arrived at a well packed Race Course, dismantled the banners and retired to a marquee for a quick sandwich and cup of coffee. The atmosphere everywhere was impressive, the weather was fine and the Race Course was littered with stalls to feed and entertain the crowds.
Durham Miners Gala 1998 was a great day out for thousands of people and we hope it will be so for many years to come.
Ed and Sadie Mason