Ken Loach to give address at Thomas Hepburn Memorial Service 2023

(Photo Ken Loach: credit Paul Crowther)

Ken Loach will speak at the memorial service for the leader of the first miners’ trade union.

The acclaimed filmmaker will give the address during the Thomas Hepburn Memorial Service at St Mary’s Church, Heworth on Saturday 14 October. The service begins at 11am.

Thomas Hepburn spent his life working to improve the lives of miners and their families, and founded the Colliers United of Durham and Northumberland in 1825. He is buried in the churchyard at St Mary’s.

Mr Loach’s latest film is set in a former Durham mining community. The Old Oak was filmed in Murton and other locations in the North East, including at the Durham Miners Gala. The film will receive two red carpet premieres in the region – in Newcastle and Durham – later this month.

Mr Loach said: “Thomas Hepburn is an important and heroic figure in the working-class history of the North East. His life of struggle and sacrifice holds vital lessons for working people today. It is an honour to speak at his memorial service.”

The service will also feature music from North East folk singer Bill Elliott, grandson and the legendary Jack Elliott and member of the famous ‘Elliotts of Birtley’

MP for Easington Grahame Morris will give a reading, as will Mayor of Gateshead Cllr Eileen McMaster. Following the service, wreaths will be laid at Thomas Hepburn’s grave.

The Durham Miners Association Brass Band will play during the service, before performing Gresford, the miners’ hymn, at the graveside.

Alan Mardghum, Secretary of the Durham Miners Association (DMA), said: “We are proud and delighted that Ken Loach is joining us for this year’s service. We thank him and everyone else who is taking part. It is important that we keep our history alive and that we remember people such as Thomas Hepburn. I urge the banner groups to bring their banners and the public to turn out in numbers in honour of Tommy.”

Thomas Hepburn was born in Pelton in 1795 and began his working life at Urpeth Colliery at the age of eight following the death of his father in a mining accident.

He went on to work at Lamb’s Colliery in Fatfield, Jarrow Colliery, then in 1822 at Hetton Colliery. The same year, he became a Primitive Methodist and a lay preacher. At Hetton, he founded the first miners’ union and became its leader.

In 1831, the union led a successful strike, winning a reduction in the working day from 18 to 12 hours – for children under the age of 12. Following this, the colliery owners organised to destroy the union and Hepburn and other leaders were blacklisted.

Hepburn remained an active Chartist throughout his life, and dedicated himself to working-class education. He died in December 1864 at the age of 69. His portrait features on several Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) lodge banners.


Service details:

Thomas Hepburn Memorial Service

Saturday 14 October 2023

11am (church open from 10am)

St Mary’s Church, Heworth, Gateshead, NE10 0PA

Following the service and laying of wreaths, people are welcome to join the DMA and the Follonsby–Wardley banner group for refreshments at:

The Wardley Club, Palmers bank, Sunderland Rd, Wardley, Gateshead, Newcastle NE10 8AU