The WEA North East Region's centenary celebrations moved to a new level at the historic Durham Miners' Gala last Saturday, with the unveiling, parading and formal Blessing of the Region's centenary banner.
Although the Durham pits are closed, the traditions of the mining communities remain strong and vibrant. Over 100,000 people attend the Gala each year to parade miners' lodge banners, other trade union and co-operative banner, and banners made by primary schools in former pit villages.
Brass bands lead the huge procession that takes several hours to pass through Durham City centre en route to the race course where trade union and political speakers - and, this year, representatives of the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for many days - address the crowd, amid marquees, a fun fair, a live music platform and numerous stalls. As usual Durham WEA Branch was among the Gala stalls, launching the Region's new part time courses for the coming year - with over 800 brochures given away.
The WEA banner (above right) was produced on one of the last pieces of banner cloth made by Tutills, the London weavers who produced many of the miners' and other trade union traditional banners. Generously donated to the WEA by the Durham Twelve Villages Group, the banner cloth depicts regional landmarks and a Right to Learn theme, as well as 12 stars symbolically representing the villages, on the rear panel, and WEA founders Frances and Albert Mansbridge on the front. Local banner artists, Lotte and Hugh Shankland of Durham Bannermakers, who make many modern or recreated banners used at the Gala, did the art work.
Following the procession and display on the Gala field, the banner joined six other new banners for a Blessing in Durham Cathedral by the Bishop of Jarrow. The event was moving and emotional as brass bands led the banners into the Cathedral for the hour long ceremony, and the huge congregation gave a loud round of applause as the WEA banner left along the main aisle afterwards.
Nigel Todd, North East Regional Director, said: 'It was a stunning and memorable day for the WEA. Our spectacularly attractive new banner received a lot of attention as we moved through Durham, and we were especially pleased that WEA colleagues from other Regions joined us during the procession. The Cathedral ceremony was just out of this world, and provided a sense of completeness for the Mansbridge connection. Albert Mansbridge often stayed near Durham when he visited the North East during the Association's pioneer days, and he would have felt quite at home among the union banners and the Church of England with whom he had a strong connection.'
Pictured above, are Hugh and Lotte Shankland of Durham Bannermakers. Read more about the family who made the WEA North East banner in the Newcastle Journal's Culture magazine.