Durham's mining history celebrated in new art exhibition ahead of the Miner's Gala

'The Big Meeting' painting by artist Tom McGuinness is among those going on display. Credit: Tom McGuinness

Ahead of the return of Durham Miners' Gala next month, an exhibition has opened celebrating the region's mining history.

'Unity is Strength: Durham Miners’ Gala' is on display at Bishop Auckland’s Mining Art Gallery.

The exhibition includes works from lenders across the North East with pieces by artists such as Tom McGuinness, Norman Cornish and David Venables.  

The Gala - also known as the Big Meeting - has been a huge event in Durham since its inaugural gathering was hosted in Wharton Park in 1871. 

The exhibition celebrating the event's history will include the earliest known image of the Durham Miners’ Gala, Racecourse at Durham (around 1880), by an unknown artist. Other notable works in the exhibition include Big Meeting by Norman Cornish (1942); The Years of Victory (1947), by John Bird; and Durham Big Meeting (1968) by Tom McGuinness. 

Anne Sutherland, assistant curator at The Auckland Project, which operates the Mining Art Gallery, said: “The Durham Miners’ Gala remains an important reminder of the proud mining communities of the North East and we are honoured that the Mining Art Gallery can play a part in marking its return. 

“Mining artists used art as a means of expression and communication, as well as a social documentation and record of the day itself.  

During its proud history, the Big Meeting has grown and evolved to include political speeches, an iconic procession of banners through the streets of Durham, and the Miners’ Festival Service at Durham Cathedral.  

The past two years have seen the Gala cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

This year’s event - which takes place on 9 July - will recognise the efforts of key workers who kept society functioning throughout the pandemic. 

Ross Forbes, director of the Durham Miners’ Association said: "The Durham Miners’ Gala is the largest event of its kind in the world.  

“On the second Saturday in July tens of thousands of people take their banners and bands to the streets. They celebrate the strength of community and unity which has bound the people of County Durham since the Gala was first staged in 1871. 

“The Gala may have been paused for two years but it will be back stronger than ever on July 9.

"It is an annual reminder of the resilience and dignity of working people who cherish their collective values in the most spectacular way.”