Durham Miners’ Gala 2023: rain doesn’t dampen spirits as thousands enjoy brass bands and mining heritage

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Around 200,000 people descended on Durham for an event which remains a huge date on the north east calendar 

The second Saturday in July is a date which many around the north east and beyond know for one event. The Durham Miners’ Gala returned to the streets of the city for its 137th edition, and with it was the colour, history, culture and sounds which the iconic event has become known for. 

People descend on the city early, with many in place hours before the first of the many brass bands and banners make their way through the streets. The early hours of the day were radiant, with the hot summer sun beating down on musicians, banner holders and city visitors alike. 

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Even after all these years, having the sound of brass band music being carried through the streets of this old cobbled city. Band’s alternated from renditions of pop songs including ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Delilah’ to classic songs which brass music makes sound that bit better. 

A popular spot for spectators is the Magdalene steps, just up from the Elvet Bridge. By 730am these were almost full and the numbers grew in the lead up to the first band. One of the most special moments of the day is when you hear the sounds of this first band. The sound cuts through the quiet morning air, and is a timely reminder that the day is underway. 

Once the first couple of bands and banners trickle through, the pace quickens up to a point where a steady stream of bands bass through for what seems like hours. If the brass bands bring the sound of the gala, the banners bring the sights. Colliery banners from right across the Durham coalfield fly high and proud, carried by members of each community. 

The banner parade is also the first example of how the gala has widened its appeal over the years. The colliery banners still of course dominate proceedings, but mixed amongst them are banners and displays from many other walks of life. Trade unions representing workers from an assortment of industries proudly carry their colours side by side with mining banners in a show of working class strength and unity. 

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The waves of colour and music march through the city and to the Racecourse, where the speeches take place from 1pm. Many significant names from Labour’s political history have taken to the stage at the Miner’s Gala, with Nye Bevan and Keir Hardie being amongst the stand-out names. 

The General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Paul Nowak and Sarah Bryson of the Tyne and Wear Citizens took to the stage this year. Durham Miner’s Association Secretary Alan Mardghum used some of his speech to make a call to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to attend the gala in 2024- the leader of the Labour Party is always invited to the gala but Starmer told the DMA he couldn’t make the 2023 event due to a prior engagement. 

The final speaker of the afternoon was Labour MP for Coventry South Zara Sultana. Her speech involved her taking pride in being a socialist and that this was something which “wasn’t fashionable” in the party at the moment. 

Some of the many banners at the Durham Miners' Gala 2023 (Photo: North and News Pictures)Some of the many banners at the Durham Miners' Gala 2023 (Photo: North and News Pictures)
Some of the many banners at the Durham Miners' Gala 2023 (Photo: North and News Pictures) | North and News Pictures

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was in attendance at the gala and he was joined in the seats on stage by filmmaker Ken Loach. The man behind important films such as ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and ‘Kes’ was at the gala to present a trailer to his new film which will be out later this year. 

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Chair of the Durham Miners Association Stephen Guy summed up what he would say to someone who is considering coming along to the gala in the future. He said: “Come and experience for yourself and once you’ve been you’ll be sure to return. It’s a kind of injection of energy and inspiration. We also appeal - because it is an expensive event, the entire city closes down and we have that new infrastructure on the racecourse- to people that if they are not a friend of the Durham Miners Gala to join up. It’s a safe event, it’s a family event and it is open to all.”  

The Durham Miners Gala remains an event which feels unique. Around 200,000 people filled the streets of Durham to take in the day and despite the weather- spirits were high. The gala is an event which reflects on the region's rich mining history whilst also looking ahead to how working class people can come together in strength and unity.  

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