PROUD ex-miners will see their banner flying high at Durham Big Meeting this weekend.
The Washington Glebe Miners’ Banner has not marched at the Durham Miners’ Gala since the event’s centenary in 1983, but will return this year thanks to the efforts of the community.
The new banner – replacing the damaged 1963 copy – was unveiled at a celebration at John F Kennedy Primary School by Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson.
“It’s a fantastic banner,” said Derek Sleightholme, chairman of the Washington Glebe Miners’ Banner Group. “It will be there next Saturday, and at subsequent years without a doubt.”
The new banner was commissioned last year after ex-pitmen retrieved the 1963 standard from its display case in The Galleries Library – and found it unfit for action.
“We got it out of the display case and it had passed its sell-by date, really,” Mr Sleightholme said. “We couldn’t have marched with it – it would have ripped.”
Artist John Foker and his colleagues at Bear Park Artists Co-op painstakingly recreated the banner from the original.
Mr Foker said: “It takes a long time. We have to order special fabric, which takes a long time to arrive. Then we have to prime it.”
The banner, which features a portrait of NHS founder and former miners’ leader Nye Bevan, along with four shields bearing the Washington coat of arms, was painted in sections which had to be left to dry.
“It was great using oils rather than acrylic. You get much deeper, truer colours – but it does take longer,” said Mr Foker. “It varies depending on the colour. Silver takes two-to-three weeks to dry, brown takes a couple of days.”
The banner will be stored in the school when not in use, to keep it secure from danger and sunlight which would damage it.
The unveiling ceremony featured performances by the school pupils, who have worked with the miners’ banner group on heritage projects – including the new banner, which will be blessed at Durham Cathedral after this week’s march.
Mrs Hodgson said it was vital that young people in Wearside grew up with a knowledge of the area’s mining heritage.
“I think it’s very important that projects like this happen in schools,” she said. “I think it’s so important that children learn about the heritage that was such an important part of the area – and still is.”
Coun Sleightholme, Mrs Hodgson, and David Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Area of National Union of Mineworkers, made speeches at the event on the importance of mining to Wearside and Durham.
The 1963 banner will be displayed in The Galleries Library after it is returned from the artists’ studio.
The original pre-1963 banner is expected to be moved to the Bridge Project premises across the road from the school.
The new replica banner was funded by the Washington Area Committee, Durham Miners Association, Washington Pride, and donations from the sale of key ring miners’ lamps with a contribution from Banner Housing makers.