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The First Miners Picnic - 1864?


Alan Edgar (Eggy1948)
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On April 13th 2014 @Malcolm Robinson posted a topic - Last Miners Picnic 1989 :-

 

In the Official Programme is a list, starting at 1866 through to 1989, of where the picnic was held.

A photo of the 1937 picnic was posted on the Facebook sixtownships group and the comments eventually got around to -  when was the first picnic?

Was it 1866 at Polly's Folly,  as stated in the 1989 programme?

Extract from the Evening Chronicle story :- 

The event at Woodhorn Museum will mark The 150th anniversary of the historic Picnic.

Thousands of people from across the region and beyond are expected to flock to the UK’s former mining capital, Ashington, for a day of music and celebration.

The first Picnic was staged at Blyth Links way back in 1864. It quickly became a traditional yearly political rally and family day out.

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/northumberland-miners-picnic-celebrates-150-7235569

Owen Hunter  Commented :- The first picnic was reported by the Morpeth Herald in September 1864. Here's the newspaper cutting: 10th September 1864.

1864 Morpeth Herald.jpg

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Thanks for posting this interesting newspaper clipping from the Morpeth Herald reporting on the Miners’ Picnic held at Blyth Links in 1864. The person who opened the proceedings was Richard Fynes, who was the author of the book “The Miners of Northumberland and Durham”. The comments below are taken from his book as they provide some background to the reason this meeting would have been arranged. It was held on Monday 5th September 1864, organised by Northumberland Miner’s Mutual Confident Association (The name of the union). The date of the meeting is significant as the union had only just been established a few months before the meeting and this was probably the main reason for the meeting. This was the first time that the Northumberland miners had their own independent union and the key person in the establishment of the union was Thomas Burt who was at that time a “hewer” at Choppington Colliery and was their union representative. He was later General Secretary of the union, then MP for Morpeth. (Burt Hall, now part of Northumbria University is named after him.)

Fynes' book is mainly about two major concerns affecting the miners at that time.

The first was the unbelievably harsh conditions of employment – among other things, the owners could sack and evict at will. The other was safety. In the mid 1800’s, 1000 lives a year were being lost in colliery accidents mostly due to methane explosions. There is a reference in the article to a “candle and powder fund”. This was a bill introduced to government to prevent the use of candles and gunpower in fiery collieries. It was not passed. The 1862 Hartley Colliery Disaster that resulted in the death of 204 men and boys would have been still fresh in everyone’s mind and Hartley Colliery was only a few miles from Blyth Links. Due mainly to the pressure from the unions, the law was changed through various Acts of Parliament and most of the demands made by the unions was met.

The miners unions were also fighting for political rights. In 1864, when this meeting was held, to be entitled to vote, one had to own property so miners had no right to vote. This was changed in 1867 to allow those who rented property to vote. In Bedlington and other collieries in the Shire, because miners’ accommodation was free, they did not pay rent, therefore they were not entitled to vote. Fynes’ book describes how Dr Trotter (and others) fought against this interpretation of the law on behalf of the Bedlington miners to have this ruling changed - another reason why the people of Bedlington thought so highly of Dr Trotter that his monument was paid for by public subscription. (It used to have a prominent position in the town, now relegated to the verge!)

I recommend Fynes’ book for anyone interested in the social and industrial history of the area - it's available on Google Books.859819459_TheMinersofNorthumberlandandDurham.jpg.eac43087fd0eb7ce6f4245fc46c9b59f.jpg

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