Marian @ Krysan


Planting Golden Seeds in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, and Durham






Draw Back the Curtain



  • To:   Kindred Spirits (everywhere) 
  • From:   A North East Storyteller
  • Date for Your Diary:   Saturday 11 July 2015

Dear Friends


Today, as yet another DURHAM Miners' Gala draws near, I speak to you as a Durham miner's daughter. Here, I will share a piece of still popular prose and a poem from the early days of the Krysan website.  

This is an accurate historical perspective on times past, times now long past when the values of loving hearts permeated every social structure - our homes, education, politics, economics, philosophy, public health, even life itself. People had compassion for their fellow man.  Britain led the world.

So, without further ado, I proceed.  Humility and humanity required. I tell a tale of times which (as Catherine Cookson said) 'ought not to be forgotten'.  These are stories by and about my kind of people. I begin with 'the poem' written by a Durham miner.

  • Sincerely yours
  • Marian Moore (2015)




I see them invade our fair city, their coloured banners high.

I hear the martial music, as each lodge goes marching by,

My heart is filled with northern pride that all we miners know,

And I, with teaming thousands more, reflect an inner glow.

Oh! Come you Durham miners, come across the River Wear,

With many a laugh, and many a song, and many a hidden tear.

With banners fluttering in the breeze, and many a head held high,

Each Lodge comes gaily into view, and then goes marching by.

As I pass the County, each band outplays the rest,

For there the miners' leaders stand, with many an honoured guest.

I wonder what our leaders feel, like generals, as they view,

The best shock troops of Europe were never quite as true.

They must be proud, Sam Watson, Jimmy Kelly, and the rest,

To know that passing years have proved they really stood the test.

Above the River Wear so proud, erect, serene,

The beautiful Cathedral lends its grandeur to the scene,

As it has done through all the years the miners rallied here,

A monument to all their hopes, and to their God so near.

So yearly let it still unfold, this pageantry so dear,

And let the miners' lodges march across the River Wear,

And, we'll be there, we Durham men, to give a Durham greeting,

To welcome all the miners as they come to their BIG MEETING.



A miner of the Morrison Busty Colliery, Annfield Plain.


C O A L   M I N I N G 






A Durham miner's daughter 


Calling Durham Past.

Only those who have toiled in the depths of the earth know the true price of coal. This link to COALMINING is my tribute to a much loved father, Mr Joe Bell (Jnr), and also to a dear friend, Mr Laurie Moran. Both were Brandon men who began their working lives as screen hands at the nearby Browney Colliery. This job entailed screening out the stones as the coal passed by on a conveyor belt.

This was at the beginning of the 'hungry thirties' when they were fifteen-year-olds.  After this initiation, they entered the cage to work underground. Laurie worked first as a pony driver and a putter and then as a  hewer, working three-shifts and in the wet to mine coal from the very shallow seams typical of this area.  Later on, he worked as a shotfirer at Brandon's C Pit.  My father rose through the ranks to become an official, an overman at Pit House Colliery.  

Despite the hardship, the responsibility and the ever-present danger, both men were always glad to be in work and both were well-known, well-respected and part of the mining community of Brandon.  When their respective pits were abandoned in the 1960s, they retrained for other work outside of the coal industry.  Idleness (which is what they called it) was never an option for either man.  Brought up before the cushion of the Welfare State, this was just the way they were made. 

Laurie reached the end of his long life in early 2008; my father died in 1985. We all shared a love of County Durham,  My father gifted to me my precious life and Laurie gifted to me the precious rights to a book which he wrote and published himself after he retired from mining. 

A labour of love. The book is named, 'The History of Brandon Colliery 1856-1960', Brandon being the place where my father, Laurie and I were born and raised.  Laurie Moran's book is now out of print and difficult to buy, but not impossible. I rather think its author would be quite amused to learn that this history book, sold for a time from a stall in Durham City's Market Place and elsewhere (usually with some difficulty), is now fetching around £30 to £120 per copy and is a collector's item on Amazon - or it was the last time I looked.  The glimpse I will give you here of this portrait of a colliery and its people is necessarily selective, but I hope it will be enough to help you better understand the lives of brave men who did extra-ordinary jobs under the ground.  And, now having dipped the proverbial toe in the proverbial water and with every likelihood that I will open the proverbial can of worms, I proceed.  

This is a story of how men lived and died. Just as an aside, there's a tie-in between Laurie's description of the 1863 Rocking Strike which follows and the much reported 1984 Miners' Strike.  The more recent dispute precipitated the demise of the Great Northern Coalfield of Northumberland and Durham.  It also saw the crushing of the once great and powerful National Union of Mineworkers.  Like many of you, I was there.  I was a young school teacher working at the chalk-face and engaged in preparing young people for the world of work.  I was not alone in trying desperately to pick up the pieces when old jobs, old skills and old industries disappeared forever.

The Technological Revolution.  In the mid- to late- 1980s new computer-based technology, new ways of delivering information, and even brand new subjects flooded into our schools  It all happened in what seemed to be the twinkling of an eye.  In 1984, we teachers watched from the safety of our staffrooms as an unequal battle between Labour and Capital was fought out on our doorstep and were equally horrified as unemployment in Britain peaked at 3.2 million.  The brunt of this was born by the North East of England and was to blight the lives of young and old alike.  But, whilst we witnessed the sad demise of traditional jobs and expectations, we educators rose to the occasion and officiated at the birth of the new enterprise culture.  The trappings of same were dispatched with great haste to our little outposts in the suffering north east.  They came carrying the seal of government approval at the highest level; the mission was to save us all.  And it did (I think) until now when the greed of individualism seems to have overtaken the whole world. 

It's not only journalists who have an opinion on ethics and who enjoy the privilege of a ring-side seat on history.   And, I was not just an observer.  In the 1980s, I was an active participant in the process of changing the face of business education forever.  There was no other choice; the tide had turned; transformation was radical.  Old King Coal had died.  

The enterprise culture was born. Although never so rapid as the Technological Revolution of the 1980s, change has always been with us.  Laurie Moran's book about a small mining community in the North East of England is about change when 'there was no other choice'.  It is important as there are few, if any, works of such detail in existence.  Laurie, an ordinary working man all his life, was attempting to keep alive the memory of a remarkable community of people that has all but disappeared.  The miners of the Great Northern Coalfield were good, decent folk, deserving of a good, decent write-up.  This is why a decision has been taken (by me) to make a selection of Laurie's writings freely available on the world wide web for everyone and anyone who is interested in times past.  As author Catherine Cookson said, Laurie wrote of 'conditions that should not be allowed to be forgotten'. 

That you have even found your way to this particular webpage on this particular website, makes me rather suspect that these are your sentiments exactly!  And, if not now, when?  It is not just mental illness that is the product of man's inhumanity to man (and woman).

The Rocking Strike of 1863, described in some detail below, was to my reckoning the very first major strike of miners in the Northern Coalfield.  As you will find, it ended in defeat of sorts for the miners and untold hardship and misery for their wives and families.  But, this sad fact is only touched upon in the his-tory books.  These were the very early days of the British Trade Union Movement and unions, then as now, were not popular in some quarters.  As someone from mining stock, and a long-time champion of the rights of working people, I had often wondered from whence came this passion for fairness and justice.  Now I know.  It's maybe in the genes, but much more likely an abiding sorrow deeply felt, passed down through generations.  This is based on a tradition of oral history, my mother's stories of times and people past. 

But to get back to the business in hand, there is a new section on the website which is a Glossary of Mining Terms.  This is to be found in the ARCHIVES and might well come in handy for those who are strangers to these parts.  Alternatively, it might be useful to those who wish to have just simple reminders of the Old Durham dialect and, thus, of days gone by.  PIT TALK serves the same purpose. 

Gone, but not forgotten. For quick reference, I have added 'KEY WORDS' under the dates of the narrative which follows.  Explanations for most key words are to be found in the archives mentioned above.  In relation to the Rocking Strike of 1863,  I think the key words of discontent, smallpox, depression, slack tubs, check weighman and strike just about sums everything up.  Being thrown out of one's tied cottage at Christmas and watching belongings being piled high in the street must have been a catastrophe beyond our comprehension.  I know from the oral history of my own family that many made shelters with their meagre sticks of furniture in the hedgerows and some were even forced to emigrate because they were blacklisted for being active in the new union. 

One pregnant woman died. The menfolk were no longer welcome in the so-called 'Great Northern Coalfield', the Great Northern Coalfield where babies died of cold and hunger and women wept silent tears at the futility of it all.  Meanwhile, and as the century progressed, the workhouses flourished throughout the land as did the lunatic asylums built to house their overspill.  Some of the old asylums linger on as 'the institutions on the hill' - out of sight but never quite out of mind.  Unused now, perhaps, but what an inheritance!  It's enough to break the heart of old Durham all over again. But, on a lighter note, I did appreciate a Daily Guardian reporter's words written at the time under review. He said this of the Brandon Colliery strikers who he encountered on the road from Durham to Willington in 1863,

"I found these pitmen - whose decent Sunday dress, perfect cleanliness, and general appearance of sober and careful habits belied the common notion of character in the mining districts of the country - as well informed set of workmen as any I have met in a gathering of the same number."

Bravo!  That the strikers 'triumphantly sent off a pigeon to  spread good news' when they obtained support from an unexpected quarter is something which I visualize with some merriment!  On this occasion, assistance came from members of the Durham County Constabulary.  This is another fact which I applaud.  Bravo! Whatever your political persuasion and whatever opinions you hold on a host of other things, all this comes to you in good faith from a miner's daughter who became a police wife and thus someone with a tender foot in both camps over many years.  I hope you find what you're looking for.  If not now, when? 

It's now over to Laurie Moran,  but first I would mention a letter containing a few lines of encouragement sent to him when his book was first published in 1988.  They came from no less a person than the world-famous author and champion of the working-class, Catherine Cookson, a woman who knew more than most about how to spin a good yarn.  By today's standards, Laurie Moran's work is not glossy or polished.  However, it is based on hard facts most taken from newspaper reports at the time.  Laurie tells of a time when love, compassion, respect and understanding (community) were not just empty words.  Finally, we do not change as we grow older, we just become more of ourselves.  

I am proud that I will ever be a Brandonian and forever a part of a great mining community which served Britain in peace and in war. We are all 'family' and this is A History of Everyman.

Marian Moore (2008)




MORAN, LAURIE (1988), The History of Brandon Colliery 1856-1960, Durham, pub Laurie Moran 




Click on link below to access webpage from which my narrative was drawn.  Marian




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