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Issue 7 - July 1972
The Big Meeting
Come all ye gallant colliers wherever you may be.
Whether you work the Rhondda or in the North country:
All ye who tunnel in the rock and dirt to earn your pay,
They say your time is nearly done and that coal has had its day.

Now we tunnel under mountains and beneath the salt and waves,
The slag heaps mark our victories, the rock falls mark our graves.
We wait in sealed off galleries and listen for rescue teams
And we scravel in the coalface in the lousy two foot seams.

Now we've fuelled the ships upon the sea, and the railway on the line,
And a hundred thousand factories grew up on every hand,
We gave the coal that forged the steel from which the tools were made,
And the world we live in, it was built upon the miners' grave.

Now the day of coal is ending, a new age must begin,
With the fuel cells and atomics there's another world to build,
And the men who built the old world; their kind will build the new,
For the world's not built by power alone, but by men like me and you.

(poet unknown)

Many moons ago I can remember Durham Miners' Gala as being a beautiful day out for all the family. Mums and dads, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins and not forgetting gran and grandad. Everyone would follow their particular banner through the narrow streets of Durham City and then onto the racecourse, where every banner had its own little spot to park. We'd leave them there and head for the large marquee next to the St John's Ambulance Brigade tent and wait for other members of the family who would come from all over the county and have a picnic, listen to the speeches, go onto the fairground etc etc.

Then it was beautiful. But not so now. At one time they reckon there was over a hundred banners. Now we're lucky if we see thirty. We see plenty of young people dancing through the streets but they come not for the family gathering but for a booze-up. Gone are the days where you could go into anyone of maybe 30 pubs and have a quiet drink with your uncle and cousin. This year we have only one, as far as I know, which will remain open after normal hours, because magistrates and landlords have clamped down on the drunkenness and fighting between gangs to try and give the miners their Gala back - the Gala that it used to be - the Gala that most people want it to be. Let it be, in this day and age of closing pits, that the Durham Miners' Gala be restored to its former glory. Let all the banners once more see daylight. Let them be carried through the streets once more. Let them watch over a Miners' Gala and let the day, and the peace which existed at the beginning, be restored.


- - -

Down the dark and dusty shafts
Durham Miners go
To mine the dirty tunnels
That no one wants to know,

they dig and tunnel underground
and far beneath the sea,
to get the coal that's needed
for folks like you and me.

What would we do without them
I wouldn't like to say
but they're worth every penny
that they get for pay.


- - -

For me, Durham Miners' Gala is a day of mixed feelings. I feel the day of the young dancing through the streets, the beauty of the banners and the sorrow for the miners killed and injured since the last Gala. I remember the days when no cars etc were allowed within a mile of the city centre. The only way people could enter the city was by following a banner.

I recall how one year I myself tried to force my way through the crowds to the Gala fields and received one black eye (the right one) by getting it hit by a drumstick. Also, I remember the old Baths bridge being divided into two sections - one leading onto the field, the other leading off. Queues two and three hundred deep formed either side; you had to stand in some queues for over an hour just to cross the bridge to get onto the field, so crowded was the area.

The grass was green, but you couldn't see it for people. The area where I come from, a few of the lads work for the fair and even they say it's getting to be a dead loss. I recall the year 1959 - that year I will never forget - as I was in Durham County Hospital and we made our own banner consisting of one bed pan, one bottle and a syringe, as me and the other patients were not allowed out. This was a very happy gala for me. I hope the miners' Gala will never die.


At this year's gayla there will be 28 lodge banners displayed on the racecourse in Durham City, representing the 30 or so working pits in the North East. 28 lodge banners compared with 68 in 1965! 40 banners, 40 closed pits. 40 pieces of North East history wrapped up and collecting cobwebs in the Durham Miners' Hall - kept to preserve the history of the pits and the men who mined them - kept. But never brought out, not even for the gayla; the gayla where miners have been coming year after year to show their unity and trust in each other, and to remember the miners of bygone years who worked and struggled to make the pits and the union what they are today.

Are they to be forgotten? The people of the towns and villages where pits have closed should carry the old lodge banners in the gaylas to come, to stop it from dying, as it has been slowly doing for the past few years.

The old banners should be carried in the following gaylas to preserve the tradition that has been going on for the past 101 years.

Let's have a Big Meeting
Not just a Gayla