The Durham Miners' Gala will return in 2021 for its 150th anniversary. Help ensure The Big Meeting is back bigger and better than ever by joining our Marras - Friends of Durham Miners' Gala here.
A number of people who have never been to The Big Meeting have asked us to publish on our website the time it begins, where to assemble and other details.
This is a simple request but requires a quite complicated answer because the Gala is not like a normal trade union march. In fact, it has no start time, no finish time and no one place of assembly.
Traditionally, the colliery bands would march though their villages starting early in the morning and the make their way to Durham from all directions and, in the main, that tradition remains today.
The main assembly point is the city centre Market Place and bands and banners start to march from there to the Racecourse from about 8.30am. Other assembly points are the Miners’ HQ at Red Hill near the railway station and the New Inn on the west of the city.
The focal point of the Gala is the County Hotel at Old Elvet where the two legs of the procession converge. Here, the union leaders, invited guests and local dignitaries greet the march from the hotel balcony and the bands pause to play their “party piece” before marching the short distance to the Racecourse where there is a platform for the speakers.
The procession can take three to four hours to pass the County Hotel due to the huge numbers attending and the frequent pauses at the hotel. However, a wonderful atmosphere of street theatre is created there making the occasion more a fiesta than a march.
On the Racecourse, the banners are strapped to the surrounding fences creating a colourful tapestry of working class history.
On the riverside, there are rides for the children and stalls selling everything from books to fast food.
In the marquees, there are many exhibitions and a place where tea and sandwiches can be bought run by the Durham Labour Party. And, on a field overlooking the racecourse, there is a fun fair with some scary rides for the more adventurous.
At 1pm, the platform party arrives and the Chairman opens the meeting.
After the speeches, four or five selected bands and banners march to the Cathedral for the Miners’ Service. Whether you are a believer or not, this is worth a visit for the sheer dramatic experience.
Back on the Racecourse, the banners are lifted when the various miners’ lodges decide it is time to go and march back to the County Hotel where they play another tune exuberantly but, sometimes, a little less professionally due to the intoxicating effects of the day’s celebratory atmosphere.
The centre of Durham is closed to traffic from 7.00 am but access is possible, for those who arrive early, to the multi-storey car park close to the Market Square. There are three large park-and-ride car parks. For a location map, click here. You can also park at Houghall campus.
Parties travelling by bus can alight on the main road, directly below the Market Square and their drivers will be directed, by the police, to a large coach park at The Sands on the riverside.
For those who want to make a weekend of the experience there are a variety of hotels in Durham and the surrounding villages. A particularly good deal is provided by Hatfield College close to the Cathedral Green.
Remember, it pays to book up well in advance.
We are sure you will have a great weekend.
We welcome you to our Gala!
The full programme for the day is also available in the official Gala Day brochure on sale throughout the march and on the Racecourse.