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This story is from Spennynews, Issue 147 - 25th July 2009

'Big Meeting' continues growing

Durham Miner's Gala, traditionally known as 'The Big Meeting', drew what seemed to be the biggest crowds seen in years to celebrate its 125th meeting on 11th July 2009. For trade unionists the day may be about the speakers on the platform and their socialist message, but the rhetoric has little or no meaning for more than a small portion of the crowds who line the streets leading to the Royal County Hotel, and from there on to the Racecourse. They are drawn to Durham by the spectacle of colourful banners, and to hear good music played by fine musicians, and they very happily show their appreciation. The Gala, once threatened by extinction, due to the closure of the collieries that paraded their banners on the big day, continues its resurgence. Of the many banners paraded this year, seventy were mining banners, and this is in spite of the fact that the last coal workings in the region ceased years ago. As lodges lay up their venerable old banners, often because time and the elements have taken their toll on their fabric, communities have reunited around the new standards produced to replace them. The Big Meeting is still about the banners, and about the communities they represent. This year offered a great deal to celebrate the 125th Miner's Gala, and the 100th anniversary of the Miner's Festival Service held annually since 1896, and only interrupted by two world wars and two major strikes. It is a tradition that new banners are blessed on ALL TOGETHER NOW Andrew Smith, Stephen Hughes, Helen Goodman MP, Rodney Bickerstaff, Dennis Skinner. On the extreme right is Ernie Foster and Councillor Jim Graham. this occasion, and this year it was the turn of banners from South Hetton, Boldon and Westoe. The Spennymoor Heritage Banner, unfurled on the eve of the 2006 Miner's Gala, and blessed in the magnificent Durham Cathedral that same year, also had something special to celebrate. The three 'faces' on the banner, Stephen Hughes MEP, trades unionist Rodney Bickerstaff and Dennis Skinner MP, had been fated to never be able to accompany the banner on the same day. That changed this year, when for the first and quite possibly the last time, the three were able to stand together beneath the banner that bears their images. It's times like this that mark Durham Miner's Gala as being something special: that give it an important place in our heritage. Long may they continue.

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