Picnic is going back to its roots

Ian Lavery MP at the Northumberland Miners' Picnic at Woodhorn.'Picture by Jane Coltman
Ian Lavery MP at the Northumberland Miners' Picnic at Woodhorn.'Picture by Jane Coltman

Throughout the working life of the Northumberland coalfield the Miners’ Picnic was one of the most eagerly anticipated days in the year.

In its early days, dating back to the first picnic in 1864, there were few opportunities to travel far from our mining villages so it was often a once-in-a-year treat for mining folk to get together, let their hair down and have a great day out.

Times have changed and sadly deep mining is no more in Northumberland. But the Picnic is still alive and well as a fun day out for all the family, as this Saturday will prove at Woodhorn Colliery.

Largely thanks to Woodhorn and Ashington Town Council, the tradition goes on, and I do hope for fine weather this weekend so thousands of people can enjoy a day out reliving memories of our great industry in the setting of a contemporary event that matches the changing times we live in.

In its heyday the picnic was also a chance for politicians and trade union leaders to address the crowds long before the mass media of today, giving them a chance to speak live.

Many of the biggest Labour Party names and NUM leaders were welcome, including Kier Hardie, Lloyd George, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair, as well as trade unionists Thomas Burt, Robert Smillie, Tom Holliday, Joe Gormley and Arthur Scargill.

Wansbeck Labour Party is re-introducing the Eve of Picnic Lecture, which will take place tomorrow (Friday), at the Miners’ Pub in Ashington, at 8pm. Tickets are £3.

I will chair the event and welcome speakers Barry Gardiner MP (Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade), Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird and Unison Northern Regional Secretary Clare Williams.

It promises to be a lively debate so I hope people join us, then go to the picnic on Saturday, which starts at 11am with the Miners’ Memorial Service and wreath-laying at the Woodhorn Memorial.