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Mining Review 1/5: Durham Miners' Gala (1948)


Main image of Mining Review 1/5: Durham Miners' Gala (1948)
Mining Review 1st Year No. 5: Durham Miners' Gala
January 1948
35mm, black and white, 5 mins
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorNational Coal Board

The 1947 Durham Miners' Gala, the first to be held since the coal industry was nationalised.

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The first of many Mining Review items covering annual miners' galas, this presented the largest and oldest of them all. The Durham Miners' Gala had been held every year since 1871, and despite the decimation of the local coal industry, it continues to this day.

This particular gala was held on Saturday July 26, 1947, at Durham Racecourse. It was the 64th gala (there had been interruptions due to war and the General Strike of 1926), but, as the commentary mentions, this one was historically important for being the first held since the coal industry was nationalised by Clement Attlee's postwar Labour government. The attendance was estimated at a quarter of a million, roughly six times the city's population.

The Durham gala was as much a political rally as a celebration, and the 1947 speakers included the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, future Labour leader Michael Foot (then a relative Commons newcomer), National Union of Mineworkers Secretary Arthur Homer, and Herbert Morrison, the Deputy Prime Minister and one of the chief architects of Labour's 1945 election victory. Mining Review filmed a section of Morrison's speech, and it is worth quoting part of it to give a flavour of the event and of the times in general:

"Now I want you men of the pits to come through. I want this great scheme of nationalisation to succeed triumphantly. The whole country is watching to see how this great new organisation, this new adventure, this new experiment, comes out. The great experiment of socialism in a democracy depends on you. The whole future we are trying to build up in our country is for all our people, and all our children, and it depends on you."

Other events caught by Mining Review's cameras include the traditional service for miners at Durham Cathedral, the parade with its distinctive, often explicitly left-wing banners, and the concluding funfair. According to the commentary, "the weather did its worst, but it takes more than that to spoil a miner's day out".

This was by no means the first time the Durham gala had been captured on film. Footage of the 1910 parade exists, and the newsreel Topical Budget covered it at least twice, in 1928 (884-1) and 1930 (987-2). Sixteen years after this Mining Review item was released, it was the subject of the documentary Gala Day (d. John Irvin, 1963).

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete item (5:25)
Complete newsreel (8:42)
Gala Day (1963)
Mining Review 1/5: Smoke Elimination (1948)
Mining Review 7/12: Tamworth Gala (1954)
Crown Film Unit
Miners Above Ground
Mining Review: 1st Year (1947-48)