Bowburn Banner Group History
The story so far.........MEMBERS of the Bowburn Banner Group were beaming from ear to ear in February 2005 when not one but TWO original Miners Lodge banners returned to the village.
Various attempts had been made in recent years to get back the last Bowburn banner. Unfurled in 1959, it was acquired by the NUM COSA (the Colliery Officials and Staff Association) after Bowburn Colliery closed in 1967. Then news came that a return was possible in time for the village's Centenary in 2006. So the Banner Group was formed to raise money for its repair and conservation, and to produce a new banner for the village. A steering group was formed in the autumn of 2004 and its public inaugural meeting was held in January 2005.
A ’phone call from Mansfield
On 17th January 2005, the Banner Group held its inaugural meeting. Then, less than four weeks later, Ken Hollingsworth, COSA’s General Secretary, ’phoned to say the Racecourse Banner was ready to be collected. Plans were immediately made for transport. David Hopper, General Secretary of the NUM (Durham Area) offered a minibus and driver; Julie Hawthorn, Durham County Council’s Community Heritage Officer, promised special packing material to protect the banner in transit, and seven members of the Group duly went down to Sutton-in-Ashfield, in Nottinghamshire, on 16th February. They drove back triumphantly with the treasured 1959 Bowburn Miners Lodge banner – though it now had the words “Colliery Officials and Staff” painted on it – and returned it initially to its formal owners, the Durham Area NUM. A permanent loan agreement was drawn up between the NUM and the Bowburn Banner Group and plans for its repair and conservation, and display, started to be prepared.
The Banner Group’s delight was even greater,
however, than that resulting from this long-sought
return of Bowburn miners’ last banner. For
just three days before COSA’s phone call, an even
greater treasure had been donated to the Group,
quite out of the blue. The famous “Edith
Cavell” banner, described as “one of the most
important banners in Durham Miners history”, was
believed to have been destroyed many years
ago. But a phone call on 5th February from
Mr. W. A. Moyes, author of the classic 1974 book
on Durham Miners banners (“The Banner Book”),
invited the Banner Group’s secretary, Mike Syer,
to visit him. “I've got something you might
like to see”, he said. When Mike arrived the
next day at Mr. Moyes’ home, he was stunned to be
presented with what remains of this historic
banner. The Banner Group met immediately and
two large fragments of the banner were proudly
admired by members and trustees, only a day after
its very existence had been revealed.
This banner has portraits of First World War hero Nurse Edith Cavell on one side and of miners’ leader John Wilson MP on the other. Much of the surrounding background is missing and the portraits themselves have suffered with the passing of time. Members of the Group carefully wrapped the banner in tissue paper and tyvec, a special material supplied by Julie Hawthorn. It was taken the next day to the County Durham studios of Caroline Rendell, one of the few textile conservators in the country able to deal with such treasures. Caroline set about seeing what work needed to be done to conserve the banner for long-term care and display. She also put the Banner Group in touch with specialist paint conservator Ian Davenport, of Northumberland, who was also to find himself being a major player in the project.
The Centenary Banner Project developed
With not just one banner but two now in their
possession, both in need of repair and conservation,
members of the Banner Group realised that an
opportunity now presented itself to make this a
truly historic project. Other members of the
local community, and many well-wishers from
elsewhere, quickly responded with help, advice and
support. Members of the local Christ the King
Church, which had closed in September 2004, offered
pews from the church to make cases for the permanent
display of the banners. A local retired miner,
Jackie Johnson, stepped forward with an offer to
make these cases. Not just his cabinet-making
skills but his extraordinary ingenuity were revealed
when he set about designing a unique case that could
swivel within its own structure, so the banner
inside could be turned to show either side without
the fabric itself being touched (and potentially
damaged). Bowburn Community Association, which
manages the local community centre (which was first
built, in 1961, as the Bowburn Miners’ Social
Welfare Centre) welcomed the idea of housing these
cases, and their banners, in this most appropriate
setting. Caroline Rendell and Julie Hawthorn,
in particular, offered invaluable advice on how the
construction and location of the cases would best
provide a suitable environment for the long-term
preservation of the banners, once they had been
It was clear that neither of these two historic banners could themselves ever again be marched in an outdoor parade. So the Banner Group were by now planning the creation of a totally new Bowburn Banner, as well. This too would need a case, for display when not in use, so three banner cases in total were to be produced and erected in the Community Centre.
Plans developed for the new community banner to be marched into Durham on Miners’ Gala Day in July 2006. This would be in Bowburn’s Centenary Year, as Bowburn Colliery began to be sunk in 1906, and preparation for a whole series of events to celebrate this and the three banners arriving in the village began to take shape.
The enthusiasm was there. The banners were there. The basic materials for the banner cases and the skills to produce these were there. Lots of ideas were there, about how best to build up a wider interest and awareness of Bowburn’s history and mining heritage, and how this project could help regenerate the community that had lost its reason for existence with the pit’s closure nearly forty years before.
All that was needed... was funding!
A loan was received from the Bowburn Local History
Society to cover immediate expenses. A
donation was promised by Bowburn
Village Celebration, the community group that
produces the village newsletter, “Bowburn
Interchange”. The Banner Group started to do
some low-level fundraising. But it was
realised that coffee mornings and raffles would
never raise all that would be needed in time for the
Banner Project to develop as hoped for in time for
the Durham Big Meeting in July 2006 – Bowburn’s
Centenary Year. So an application was prepared
for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
In this, again, Julie Hawthorn proved a font
of wisdom. Advisers from the HLF itself were
also wonderfully helpful. And, as networks
developed, other banner groups came up with helpful
advice as well. (Thanks are particularly due,
in this respect, to Mark Davinson, of Craghead, and
Bob Robinson, of Coxhoe.)
Finally, on 24th May 2005, a letter was received from the HLF announcing that a grant of up to £47,000 had been agreed to make the Bowburn Centenary Banner Project a reality.
Progress so far
Since May 2005, everything has so far gone to plan.
The 1959 “Racecourse” banner has now been
repaired and conserved (by conservators Jim
Devenport, Norma Johnson and Caroline Rendell) and
it now hangs proudly in its superb new “swivel”
banner case in Bowburn Community Centre. It
was unveiled jointly by Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP,
and retired Bowburn miner, Walter Hinton, on
Saturday 18th March 2006, during the interval of a
superb celebratory concert by the Reg Vardy Band.
Bowburn’s new Centenary Banner was produced by Chippenham Designs in Overstrand, near Cromer in Norfolk, using designs for the two sides produced by the Banner Group after extensive consultation in the village. It arrived in Bowburn in time to be unfurled on Friday 7th July 2006, before being marched through the village and then into Durham on the following day, Big Meeting Day. There it was dedicated by the Bishop of Durham during the annual Gala Day service in Durham Cathedral in the afternoon. It is estimated that some 400 Bowburn villagers went into Durham for this very special occasion.
The surviving fragments of the “Edith Cavell” banner were at that time in Burt Hall, which is now part of the University of Northumbria in Newcastle. There, postgraduate student Sarah Maisey was doing a project on the banner, including x-ray and cross-sectional analysis, to help establish its true history. Her superviser, paint conservator Jim Devenport, completed that part of the banner conservation, before Caroline Rendell, the textile conservator, took over. Caroline stitched the fragments into a very fine net and which now hangs in front of a full banner-sized back-cloth. The banner returned to Bowburn in September 2006 and was unveiled by banner historian Arthur Moyes (the banner’s saviour) during a further celebratory brass band concert, this time by the Fishburn Band, in Bowburn Community Centre, on Friday 8th September.
Finally, a fourth banner was also produced, this time by the Bearpark Artists Co-operative, with help from children at Bowburn Junior School, who worked with the artists to design it. This Children’s Banner also had pride of place at the 2006 Gala and is now also kept Bowburn Community Centre.
The overall Centenary Banner Project – including the repair and conservation of the two original miners’ lodge banners and the creation of the new one – was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, without whom none of this would have been possible. The Children’s Banner was funded by the Bowburn & Parkhill Community Partnership’s Community Chest, which was created by City of Durham Council.
... but the story is not yet complete...
Several events took place during Bowburn’s Centenary
Year, many of them directly connected with the
banner project and made possible by Heritage Lottery
Funding. News of these was covered in the
village newsletter, “Bowburn Interchange”, copies of
which can be downloaded from the “Interchange” link
at the top of this page.
2006 was a big year for the village in general and for the Banner Group in particular. However that was just the beginning. The Centenary Banner will be paraded again, through the village and then through Durham, on Big Meeting Day this year (2007) and hopefully every year thereafter. How this will be done will depend significantly on what funds can be raised, year in, year out, to cover the costs of insurance, bands, transport and road closures. All sorts of mementoes can be purchased from the Banner Group, to help pay for these, and a number of concerts and other events will continue to be organised. These will hopefully bring in more essential funds but will also help celebrate Bowburn’s mining community heritage.
A new complication arose during 2006, when plans were revived to refurbish Bowburn Community Centre. As this was the home of the three banners, their final display arrangements had to be put on hold till the Centre’s future was decided. The Heritage Lottery Fund very kindly allowed the project period to be extended till the end of 2007, instead of ending in 2006, to allow this to happen.
Meanwhile, there are also still many mysteries, and much missing historical information still being sought, about Bowburn Miners’ Lodge’s banners. What happened to the “middle banner”, for instance – the one that was unfurled in 1939 and was used until the “Racecourse” banner was unfurled in 1959? Was there perhaps a “home-made” banner, used by Bowburn’s first miners, between 1906 and 1920? More about these puzzles can also be found in the Banner Special Editions of the “Bowburn Interchange”, referred to above.
The Bowburn Banner Group will always be keen to hear from anyone with help or information, or who would like to support the project in any way. (Please see the “Links & Contacts” link at the top of this page.)