Hebburn man takes place alongside Winston Churchill and other historical figures in national book

Robert Saint.
Robert Saint.

A Hebburn man has taken his place alongside historical greats after being added to a national dictionary focusing on people who have shaped Great Britain.

A biography of Robert Saint, who is best-known for penning the hymn Gresford, is now included in the latest update of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), which was first published in 1885.

Robert Colls

Robert Colls

Gresford – also known as The Miners’ Hymn – was written to commemorate the 265 Welsh coalminers who were killed in the explosion at Gresford Colliery in 1934.

Mr Saint, meanwhile, who lived between 1905 and 1950, was also a coalminer at Hebburn Colliery, a top bandsman and an animal welfare inspector who in the latter years of his life working on behalf of the country’s thousands of underground pit ponies.

His biography was written by Robert Colls, from South Shields, who is Professor of Cultural History at De Montford University, in Leicester.

He used the book The Pitmen’s Requiem, which was written by Peter Crookston and included much information on Saint, to help him with the piece.

The dictionary is stuffed with the great and good

Robert Colls

Mr Colls said: “The dictionary is stuffed with the great and good, including the likes of Winston Churchill and William Gladstone.

“To have someone like Robert Saint in it is a bit special. It’s not exactly full of people from South Tyneside, so it’s important. Robert was a very interesting person who achieved great things in music, with Gresford one of the best-known tunes in the brass band world.

“It is a great piece of music, which has given the mining community all over the world the chance to say what is not possible to say in words.

“Robert was just an ordinary bloke, however he 
fully deserves his place in 
the book. He was a bit special.”

Tom Cooke, lead cornet with Westoe Band, said: “Gresford has lovely chords, really simple, just three or four notes rising to what we call a top F climber, the high point of the piece.

“When you play it, it’s hard to explain but you feel some sort of responsibility beyond the music.

“Even though we’ve played it hundreds of times, you can always sense the emotion in the band, and all around, even in a crowded shopping centre. What it is is difficult to say, but we all feel it.”

To buy the print copy of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, it costs £1,575.

l To view the online version, visit www.oxforddnb.com.

Robert Saint was born at The Square, in Hebburn in 1905, and is best-known for writing brass band classic Gresford.

At 14, he followed his father and grandfather down the pit at Hebburn Colliery, where he worked as a putter until the colliery closed in 1932.

He was also a talented musician, and as the public inquiry into 1934’s Gresford Colliery disaster stalled before the final report, he wrote Gresford.

In recent times, the hymn has marked colliery closure and the end of a way of life often associated with old Labour.

Mr Saint was also an animal welfare inspector, who worked alongside his wife Doris in the last 10 years of his life at an animal refuge centre.