2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the last shift worked on the Durham coalfield, yet, interest in the coal mining heritage of the area is increasing with attendance at the annual Durham Miners Gala reaching a record 200,000. 2018 was also the 134th Gala and the continuation of the tradition of miners’ banners representing the lodges of the National Union of Mineworkers in the Durham area paraded through the city and assembling at the old race course on the outskirts of the city. The day consists of political and trade union activism and many banners feature overt, even radical or revolutionary political messages. The main aim of the day however is fun, socialising and drinking. Political speeches take place on the race course in the afternoon before the banners are marched back through the city and returned home to the villages from which they came.
I have been attending the Gala for the past few years and my interest in how mining shaped the area I have lived all my life has increased with each visit. I do not remember the pits as I grew up as they had all closed, however, I have always had a vague sense of where each colliery stood. As I learned more about my local history, photographs of the mines closest to me held a powerful punctive charge – I felt a strange sense of recognition looking at scenes both deeply familiar and completely changed. I decided to photograph the sites of the six pits that were nearest to me and was instinctively drawn to do this at night – somehow photographing in the dark helped me imagine what it could have been like underground and lent the scenes a sense of melancholy. These images are contrasted with pictures from the 2018 Gala, a bright sunny day with a carnival atmosphere that was helped by the soaring temperature. These pictures are a snapshot of the different aspects of the Gala with the tradition of banners, brass bands and activism sitting side by side with a good day out.
(In memory of my Grandfather Tom Millmore who worked at the Morrison Busty Colliery up until closure in 1973)