Next weekend marks an anniversary milestone for an event that has become part and parcel of the folklore of Northumberland. For 150 years the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic has drawn together mining families from right across the county to enjoy a great day out as well as giving them the chance to demonstrate their pride in their industry in one of the most enduring shows of solidarity that has outlasted even the industry itself.
As someone who comes from a mining family and background, I have to confess more than a little bias towards the Picnic that I have not only attended from my childhood onwards, but played a central part in organising during my time as General Secretary of the Northumberland branch of the National Union of Mineworkers.
Next Saturday – June 14th- I will be at Woodhorn Museum to join in the anniversary celebrations of this great event being organised by Northumberland NUM, Northumberland County Council and Woodhorn. As well as our Miners’ Memorial Service a terrific day of events, music and activities is being planned, and I would recommend people to go along and join in the celebrations.
Interestingly, there has been a slight element of doubt that 2014 is indeed the 150th anniversary of the Picnic. Old Picnic programmes going back for nearly 100 years have asserted that the first Picnic after the election of Mr Thomas Burt as secretary of the Northumberland miners, was held in 1866 at Polly’s Folly near Blyth.
The key words are ‘after the election’ of Mr Burt which happened in 1865. However, further checking up on the history of the Picnic with the aid of old cuttings from early copies of the Morpeth Herald, reveal that the first picnic was actually held in 1864. The edition of September 10th reported on a ‘Monster Miners’ Pic-nic’ and a cutting from two years later was recording events at the third Picnic.
Putting any assumptions over the date aside, what is undisputable is that the Picnic went on to attract generations of miners and their families to the event and was also attended by the leading politicians of the day, keen to address a mass gathering in a way that simply does not happen today. In the past we have had Prime Ministers Lloyd George, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and Tony Blair all speak at Northumberland Miners’ Picnic as well as people like Keir Hardie, Hugh Gaitskill, Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone along with our union leaders Joe Gormley and Arthur Scargill.
It has also been my privilege to address many Picnic gatherings as National President of the NUM and as Wansbeck MP.
Thomas Burt, of course, was also a Picnic regular, especially after he wrote his name in Parliamentary history when he became the first mining MP after being elected to represent the Morpeth Constituency in 1874. The name of our constituency may have changed to Wansbeck, but I regard it as a great personal privilege to be following in Thomas Burt’s footsteps to represent the people of Morpeth in the House of Commons.
Since I was elected four years ago, I have spent a considerable amount of time getting to know Morpeth better and to understand the needs, the aims and ambitions of not just individuals but groups and organisations across the town. In that time the receptions I have received from so many people have not only been heart warming, but have convinced me of the terrific job being done across so many different sectors of life in Morpeth.
For instance, I have visited most of the Morpeth schools including most recently Stobhill First School, and have been so impressed by the standards of education being provided by committed and dedicated teaching staffs as well as the support given to their children by parents who care passionately about making sure their sons and daughters get the best possible start in life.
Most recently I visited the DAWN and CAB office to talk to staff and volunteers about what they are doing to help people overcome personal problems in their lives such as fuel and food poverty. From what I learnt I would encourage anyone trying to cope with such problems, to seek the sort of help which is readily available to them.
I also had the pleasure of officially opening the new splendid clubhouse and pavilion facility that has been provided at Mitford Cricket Club, as well as enjoying the Northumbrian Morpeth Gathering which continues to be such a popular weekend of events and activities celebrating all that’s best in local culture, music and the arts.
It was pleasing to be invited to Coca-Cola Enterprises on Coopies Lane to learn about the company’s £3.5m plans to invest in the plant to produce a new bottle water product there where Schweppes Abbey Well is also produced. This new investment will not only secure jobs and give current staff training and career development opportunities, but also hopefully lead to the creation of more work through well-paid and skilled job opportunities.
This investment is testament to the quality of the job being done by Coca-Cola Enterprises in the town.
Over the next few months I fully intend to make myself available to visit more people, groups and organisations in Morpeth and I am readily contactable through my Constituency Office on (01670) 852494.
Finally, on a personal note can I say how sad I was to learn of the death of my good friend Jim Rudd. Jim was a Labour Party stalwart, but was also someone who put politics aside to give of his utmost for the good of Morpeth and its people. His legacy and achievements will long in many people’s memories and I would take this opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to his family on their sad loss.