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.

Double delight

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 repaired.

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!

Funding obtained

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.)