Celebrating 150 years of a county mining tradition

A 1950s Picnic at Bedlington  from Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn.
A 1950s Picnic at Bedlington from Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn.

A huge celebration is being lined up to mark the 150th anniversary of the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic.

The first event was reported by the Morpeth Herald in 1864 when mining families from across the county turned out at Blyth Links.

And for many years the picnics were held in Morpeth, with Prime Ministers and prominent union leaders in attendance.

In recent years Woodhorn Museum near Ashington has kept the tradition alive with a day of music and dance, while the National Union Of Mineworkers has held a Memorial Service. This year, both will take place at Woodhorn and Northumberland County Council is joining in to help stage one of the biggest miners’ picnics in years.

Council Design and Cultural Services Manager Nigel Walsh said: “This milestone anniversary provides us with a chance to celebrate a true Northumberland tradition. We hope that as many people as possible will come and celebrate with us.”

The picnic is one of the oldest workers’ gatherings of its kind in the country and the only interruptions were during wartime, national strikes and the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The Herald’s report of the first picnic states that the object of the day was recreation and amusement, and to build a stronger union. There were quoits, dancing, games and a large marquee for tea, which went ahead even though the roof was blown off.

It states: “On Monday, the usually quiet town of Blyth was the scene of unwonted animation, the cause of which was a monster picnic, under the management of the committee of the Northumberland Miners’ Mutual Confident Association, which was held on the Blyth Links.

“Hundreds of pitmen, their wives and children, from the colliery villages in the district, arrived at the Links during the forenoon, and continued to arrive in groups throughout the day, until they numbered several thousands.”

NUM Secretary and former Wansbeck MP Denis Murphy said: “The picnic is part of the mining folklore of Northumberland.

“It was a great day out to be enjoyed by miners and their families.

“Sadly, the pits may all have gone, but the spirit of the picnic still exists and we are delighted that in this milestone anniversary year people will get the chance to remember and celebrate with us a tradition that meant so much to the miners of Northumberland.”

The picnic will take place on Saturday, June 14. A full programme of events is to be announced and admission will be free.