THOUSANDS of people flocked to Durham City for the 130th Durham Miners’ Gala.
Warm sunshine helped swell the crowds later in the morning.
About 65 banners from across the North East and elsewhere were joined by 50 bands for the procession to the Racecourse.
Banner numbers were swelled by mini-banners from several primary schools, including West Rainton, and banners from other unions.
Gala Day starts early for many with breakfast meetings in clubs and community centres in the outlying former pit villages.
There was an early start in Houghton for Pat Simmons and the members of the Lambton and Houghton Banner Group.
Their band for the day, from Elland in Yorkshire, was treated to breakfast at the Peppercorn Cafe in Houghton before accompanying the Houghton banner on the first of two processions.
“We processed the banner to the war memorial in Houghton before taking it to Durham,” said Pat.
“The band played the miners’ hymn Gresford to remember those miners who fought in the First World War.
“Houghton didn’t have a banner for a long time after the old one was lost in a fire in the 1960s.
“This will have been the first time for many years the banner has been taken through Houghton first before going to Durham.”
The Gala attracts not just former pitmen, but also people too young to have worked in the coal industry.
“I am only 22 so never worked down a pit,” said Robert Kitching, who was helping to carry the Silksworth banner.
“I’m interested in mining and heritage, and this is my fourth year with banner.
“If the Gala is to survive, we have to attract younger people.
“But it is difficult to get them involved.”
Richard Breward, 67, was parading the Easington Lodge banner.
“I lefdt school at 15 and worked at Easington for 27 years,” he said. “I did more or less everything there in that time, and I finished when the pit finished in 1992.
“I’m at the Gala every year, and I want to see it continue.”
Guest speakers this year included the ever-popular left wing MP Dennis Skinner, and the general secretaries of four unions.
Further entertainment for the crowds was provided by music, stalls, and a funfair on the Racecourse.
Those for whom the temperature proved too high could cool down with free bottles of water provided by Northumbrian Water.
The good weather was matched by the general good nature of the crowd.
Police reported few arrests by mid-afternoon, although one man was ‘in the cells, drying out’ after jumping into the River Wear.
By lunchtime many people were already heading home, or heading back into Durham for the afternoon Gala Service in the cathedral.
Dave Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, is determined there will be another Gala next year, and in the years to come.
“The cost is increasing each year,” he said. “For example, £26,400 is spent on subsidising the brass bands which are an essential feature of the day.
“The association no longer has subscriptions to its funds from working miners, and it is obvious we cannot fund the Gala indefinitely.
“But I am confident there are sufficient friends in County Durham and elsewhere who want it to continue.”
*Anyone wanting contribute to the cost of future Galas can do so online: www.durhamminers.org