BBC History 2000 – Brass and Banners

On Sat October 30th a BRASS AND BANNERS event took place at Sunderland University Newcastle Community News was there. Click here for sounds and pictures from the event. N.C.N. had been collecting related stories relating to coal mining in the North of England. Even now, weeks after the event items are still coming in so we will continue to add to this archive and Brass and Banners will live on at the N.C.N. website.

Are you interested in history? Do you have a family link with coal mining? Did your grandfather work down a local pit? Do you want to know more about the history of the region? Do you want to know how your family came to be living and working in the north? Do brass bands bring a tear to your eye and a lump in your throat? If you have answered “Yes” to at least two of these questions, then “Brass and Banners” is for you.

bbcHistory 2000 is a BBC Education Millennium Project to encourage audiences inspired by BBC programmes to find out more about history. It starts in the north with a special event called “Brass and Banners” on Saturday 30 October 1999 from 10am – 4pm, at the University of Sunderland, St Peter’s Campus, Prospect Building.

Did you know that even down the pit there were fashions and trends? Brian Brown, Durham sculptor, used to work down the pit and remembers, young men, about to start their shift, walking down the streets like cowboys. Brian says that you were out of fashion if you didn’t wear a cap with the brim cut off and a white muffler belonging to your dad. Brian sculpts and paints scenes from his work down the pit. Come to ‘Brass and Banners’, see Brian’s work, and listen to him cracks on about donkey races down the pit, fashion, fights and fury. He has a story for each sculpture and a poem for each painting.

The National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers archive is based at the University of Sunderland, and some of the material will be on show at “Brass and Banners”. The collection includes records of membership, minute books, financial, technical and medical reports, the documentation of advisory committees, government papers and legislation, plans of subterranean workings and accident reports, accounts relating to membership benefits, manuals and other training materials outlining the duties of overmen, deputies and shotfirers. There will also be a banner on display and coal mining artefacts such as clock-in cards, lamps and bait tins; material which will be of interest to the majority of people in the region. There aren’t many people living in the north east whose family aren’t connected in some way with coal mining and working down the pits. Your memories will be like mine, proud of our tradition, saddened at the hardship and tragedy experienced by many down the pit, touched by stories of people working together in trouble and still finding time to have a laugh, sing a song or play in a brass band.

cdEveryone in the region is invited to the celebration of our local heritage. As well as the NACODS archive, there will also be two young people’s brass bands, the South Tyneside Brass Band Scheme and the Houghton -le -Spring Youth Band, playing traditional marches at the event. A theatre company brought together for “Brass and Banners” will perform extracts from “Close the Coal House Door”, and Sunderland school children will exhibit some poetry and art work based on coal mining. Tom McGuiness, who was a miner and now paints pictures of mining and miners will attend and exhibit some of his work.

Several history and heritage organisations are also attending. Beamish Open Air Museum and the Tyne and Wear Museums Service are exhibiting photos and coal mining artifacts, and Monkwearmouth Museum staff are organising activities for children. Redhills, the NUM centre in Durham, have been contacted and are bringing along some of their collection of mining banners. We are hoping to have with us the last four presidents of the miners unions in the north, who will open the event and exhibition. The University Information Services Library has contacted book shops and publishers who are bringing books and CDRoms on coal mining and the north east heritage. Local history organisations are also preparing stands and exhibitions.

If you want to know more about our past then come to “Brass and Banners”. If you want to find out about your family history and how you fit into the coal mining tradition, then come along and talk to learning centre representatives about courses and research opportunities either at colleges or learning centres in the area, or find out how to use the internet to research your family tree.

The BBC History 2000 web site was launched in September 1999. The site address ( contains information and links to existing BBC history programme sites. It also contains Alert, a useful feature which enables users to access a database to find out what history programmes are being broadcast in a given time period. You will be able to find out about internet links and BBC history broadcasts for the year 2000.