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Durham Miners Gala, County Durham

Can what is in part a political gathering qualify as a folk custom? In the case of the Durham Miners' Gala surely it does, having gone way beyond a gathering of trade unionists ˆ still referred to by many as The Big Meeting - and developing into an eagerly awaited day of parades, music, events and encounters with old friends. Indeed because of economic changes, and the foolish decision in the 1980s to abandon so much of Britain‚s coal reserves, there are no deep pits in County Durham today, but the mining heritage there lives on
The Durham Miners Gala , held on the second or sometimes the third Saturday in July, dates back to 1871, when the first Gala was held at Wharton Park in Durham, with speakers from Glasgow , Barnsley , Staffordshire and Sunderland . The roll-call of speakers at the gala is a who's who of British trade unionism and leftist politicians, with the likes of Dennis Skinner and Tony Benn returning to the podium on many occasions.
Perhaps more important than listening to the words of the great and the good of the left are the traditions associated with the day: the brass bands marching through Durham to the racecourse, where the event has been held for many years; the magnificent silk banners of the various union lodges, mines, or districts, held proudly aloft and bearing political slogans, memories of past events including sadly mine disasters, and images of those dear to the left - Lenin and Marx still among them. There is a service at the beautiful Durham Cathedral too.
Mentions of Lenin and Marx can make the event sound rather dry and intense, but there is food, a funfair, and plenty of diversions for the tens of thousands who turn up on the day - though it is not likely the numbers will be returning any time soon to the quarter of a million once attracted.

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Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows. - John Betjeman
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