At today’s Big Meeting, a banner that has been missing since 1964 will be joining the parade through the streets of Durham City

IN the summer of 1964, the Hole in the Wall colliery was winding down. Men were being laid off and, although there had been no official announcement, test borings for a new seam had been poor, so the writing was on the wall.

Therefore, the local union officials decided, reluctantly, that their dwindling finances would be better spent looking after the men facing an uncertain future rather than sending their banner to parade through the streets of Durham in the Gala.

It was a tough call, but it meant that for the first time since a lodge had been formed 24 years earlier, the colliery would be unrepresented at the Gala.

However, the night before the Gala, local secretary Fred Smith, sensing the miners’ disappointment, unofficially organised a ten man party to “borrow” or even “pinch” the banner and drive it to Durham. Brandon lodge let their Crook counterparts into the parade and there, for the last time, the banner of the Crook Drift Lodge – the pit’s Sunday name – was seen in the streets.

However, at the end of the day, there were no vehicles to take the Crook men home so, with their precious banner, they returned on the bus. They claimed no expenses – usually the banner party was paid £2 10s – and no action was taken against them.

The inevitable announcement about closure came in October 1964. The Northern Echo, under the headline “Crook’s last pit to die”, said: “There was a partial closure in April, when the oldest section finished as coal reserves had run out. Now, the 167 men have been told it will finish in November.”

Thirty were offered jobs at Mainsforth, 30 at Fishburn and 20 at Staindrop Field House, and Crook’s last pit closed on November 21, 1964.

The pit had been opened in 1935 by the Crags family, and its peak during the Second World War, it had employed 370 men.

In 1943, to celebrate the Durham Light Infantry’s bravery on an African battlefield, they tried to raise their output by 100 tons in a week – they actually managed 166 tons above their average.

The Northern Echo:
Hole in the Wall Colliery, on the north side of Crook, on January 3, 1964

On closure, the Hole in the Wall banner went to the miners’ union headquarters at Redhills, in Durham City.

“Attempts were made several times to get permission to take it to the Durham Gala, but because of its poor condition, it was refused,”

writes Evelyn Thompson, from Crook.

In 2009, a replica banner was made and, as The Northern Echo reported on July 1, it is going to make its debut at today’s Gala – the first time the Hole in the Wall has been represented since 1964.

“I hope the people of Crook are able to see the banner before it is taken to Durham, and perhaps they will reminisce about the good old days when Crook really was a thriving pit and market town,” says Evelyn.

The Northern Echo:
The Hole in the Wall banner is paraded on Elvet Bridge in 1964. John ‘Bonner’ Thompson, one of the party who ‘borrowed’ it for the occasion, is third from left in the front row

She has kindly sent in this brilliant picture of the original banner on Elvet Bridge in 1964 as her late husband, John “Bonner” Thompson, was one of those heroes who purloined it for a last parade.