Durham Miners’ Gala 2022: tens of thousands line the streets of Durham as Gala returns after three long years

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The Gala has been a huge day in the North East summer calendar almost every year since the 1870s. Patrick Hollis went along for its big return

A three-year wait for something will always bring out an expectant and excited crowd, and that’s exactly what happened in the city of Durham last weekend.

The 136th Durham Miners’ Gala was held following an extended absence due to the pandemic, and it’s fair to say those attending made up for lost time - and then some.

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The Gala was once the crowning celebration and gathering of coal miners and their families when coal was king in this part of the UK.

Brass bands from all over the country gather to march and play through the cobbled streets of Durham, accompanied by the banners from some of the many collieries in the County Durham coalface and beyond.

With the coal industry now all but gone, the day has become a way of celebrating the rich mining history of the north east, as well as a gathering of trade unionists from all walks of life.

 Musicians from colliery bands perform as they march through the city during the 136th Durham Miners Gala on July 09, 2022 in Durham, England Musicians from colliery bands perform as they march through the city during the 136th Durham Miners Gala on July 09, 2022 in Durham, England
Musicians from colliery bands perform as they march through the city during the 136th Durham Miners Gala on July 09, 2022 in Durham, England | Getty Images

An absolutely scorching day in the city started at 8am for my dad and I, getting off the bus and walking over to the Magdalene steps located just off the city’s market square.

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The first of the dozens of brass bands made their way down past us at 8.15am, and the atmosphere built quickly as the numbers of people on the streets of the city grew.

We stayed on the steps until shortly before midday, keen to make our way to the Racecourse - the location of the culmination of the Miners’ Gala later in the afternoon.

Finding a shortcut away from the procession of bands going through the city centre, we passed over a bridge located just up from the bustling city streets. The faint hum of brass band music was easily audible, as it probably was for miles around.

We passed through quiet streets, which wouldn’t stay quiet for long, and walked towards the Racecourse following the stream of people, banners, and flags.

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The Racecourse is a cricket ground, home to the sides of Durham University Cricket Club, but on Saturday it was the site of the biggest Trade Union gathering in the UK.

Colliery banners are carried through the city  on July 09, 2022 in Durham, EnglandColliery banners are carried through the city  on July 09, 2022 in Durham, England
Colliery banners are carried through the city on July 09, 2022 in Durham, England | Getty Images

A variety of speakers took to the stage, calling on unity and solidarity from working people and reminding those in the ground of the rich history of the Miners’ Gala.

In recent years, the main focus of the speeches has normally been political, with Labour MPs, councillors and, in 2017, party leaders.

However, in 2022, the Gala was dedicated to key workers and other speakers were people who were on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic. A fitting tribute to those who did so much during a dark time for the nation.

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The crowd, aged from the very young to the very old, soaked up the atmosphere and the fantastic weather which the Gala had been blessed with.

Amongst the speakers was Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT who led his union out on strike for three days last month.

Mick Lynch on stage at the 2022 Durham Miners’ GalaMick Lynch on stage at the 2022 Durham Miners’ Gala
Mick Lynch on stage at the 2022 Durham Miners’ Gala | NationalWorld

The speeches came to an end, and right at the very end former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took to the stage.

The crowd called out for him to make his way up to the microphone, and he did so to greet those who had gathered in the city.

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The speeches wound down at around 3pm, leaving the attendees to the Gala to filter back onto the streets of Durham. Many, like my dad and I, lined the streets and heard the brass bands make their way back to the various meeting points around the city.

The Durham Miners’ Gala is an event steeped in over 130 years of history. It may have evolved since the fading of the coal mining industry in the UK, but it remains a key day to both remember the past and to look forward to the future.

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