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Northumberland Miners' Picnic

2020 would have been the 156th Northumberland Miners' Picnic.

Traditions go hand in hand with life in a mining community.

1864 – The first Northumberland Miners’ Picnic held at Blyth Links. It was organised by the Northumberland Miner’s Mutual Confident Association and Richard Fynes gave an address to the crowds that gathered. Attendees had afternoon tea, played games and danced.

1866 –  The year of ‘Polly’s Folly’ picnic which followed the election of Mr Thomas Burt as General Secretary of the Northumberland Miners’ Association. Thomas Burt, a local miner, went onto to become one of the first working class MPs elected to Parliament.

1873 – The annual Miners’ Picnic is held on Newcastle Town Moor for the first time.

1875 – The annual Miners’ Picnic is held in Morpeth for the first time.

1898 – Lloyd George, British Statesman and later Prime Minister during World War I, addresses crowds at the picnic in Morpeth, thanking Northumberland miners for raising financial support for striking Welsh miners.

1909 – The Picnic is held in Tynemouth for the first time.

1913 – The Burt Challenge Cup was first presented to the Northumberland Miners’ Association by Morpeth Borough Council to be awarded to the winners of a band contest at the annual Picnic.

1914 – Keir Hardie, founder of the modern Labour party, addresses the picnic crowds, weeks before the start of World War I. His speech focused on issues of the day including Home Rule for Ireland and women’s suffrage.

1921 – A Miner’s Strike leads to picnic being cancelled.

1924 –Trade unionist William Straker delivers a speech to the picnic crowds.

1926 – The General Strike leads to picnic being cancelled.

1927 – The Deucher Challenge cup is presented as a trophy at the annual band contest.

1930 – The first recorded winner of the Burt Challenge cup is Backworth Colliery Band

1936 – The Picnic is held at Newbiggin for the first and only time.

1949 – Dudley Colliery Workman’s Band wins the inaugural Northern Divisional Coal Board Challenge Cup.

1952 – The picnic moves to Bedlington, its home for nearly thirty years.

1953 – Former Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party Clement Attlee addresses crowds at the picnic in Bedlington.

1956 – Aneurin Bevan, architect of the National Health Service, addresses crowds on picnic day.

1968 – Prime Minister Harold Wilson delivers the key note speech to picnic goers.

1975 – The picnic is held at Ashington for the first time.

1983 – Labour Party Leader Michael Foot addresses the picnic crowds and Jackie Grey becomes the last winner of the Northumberland Coal Queen title.

1984 – The National Miners’ Strike leads to the picnic being cancelled.

1988- Tony Benn, contender for the Labour party leadership against Neil Kinnock, addresses crowds gathered.

1992 – The picnic is held jointly at Ashington and Woodhorn.

1993 – Controversial trade unionist Arthur Scargill addresses crowds at the picnic.

2005 – The first Miners’ Memorial Service is held at the Holy Sepulchre Church in Ashington.

2014 – The Northumberland Miners’ Picnic celebrates its’ 150th Anniversary.

2020 – The first digital Miners’ Picnic held due to Coronavirus pandemic

Did you know?

During the picnic day parade, colliery banners were draped in black cloth if the colliery had experienced a fatal accident in the previous 12 months.

A miners’ picnic day has been held in Northumberland every year since 1864 except during the first and second world wars, the general strikes of 1921, 1926 and 1984, and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001.

The Northumberland Miners’ Picnic is one of the oldest and largest gathering of its type in the UK.

The Miners’ Picnic has been held at lots of locations, Blyth Links, Newcastle Town Moor, Morpeth, Tynemouth, Newbiggin, Bedlington, Ashington and now Woodhorn.

Some of the most important 20th century politicians have spoken at the picnic including prime ministers Tony Blair, Lloyd George, Clement Attlee, Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson. Other key figures include Keir Hardie, Neil Kinnock, Aneurin Bevan and Betty Boothroyd, the only female Speaker of the House of Commons.

Morpeth was a recurrent host for the Miners’ Picnic in the 19th and early 20th centuries due to its passenger rail connections. As many as 19 trains arrived at Morpeth Station on Picnic Day. It remains the most used venue for the picnic in history!

The Northumberland branch of the National Union of Mineworkers were key organisers of the Picnic in the mid 20th century. The Picnic is now organised by Museums Northumberland.

In 1866 the events and activities included listening to the bands, playing football, racing quoits, cricket and ‘Kiss in the ring’. Food stalls sold oranges and gingerbreads and beer tents allowed visitors to quench their thirst.

The most coveted picnic contest trophies were the Burt Challenge Cup and the Robt Deucher Challenge Cup.

Crookhall Colliery Band has won the Northern Divisional Coal Board Challenge Cup more times than any other band.

Ashington Colliery Band dominated the band contest on picnic day in the 70s and 80s wining the Burt Challenge cup 12 times in two decades.

The first picnic was described in the Morpeth Herald as the ‘Monster Miners’ Picnic’.