Old King Coal (21st April)

Today I was back in costume for the intriguingly named ‘Old King Coal’ event.  I was given a detailed information sheet for the day and from this found out that this event marked the culmination of the Museum’s Great War Festival of Transport and would focus on celebrating the contributions made by the pit villages in the North East to the War Effort.  Specifically, inspiration for the event came from a fundraising parade that was held by the residents of Sherburn Hill.  Colliery villages sent many hundreds of men to fight in France, whilst still producing as much coal as possible for the war effort.  Fuel was a key component for the War as it powered not just the country itself but its shipping, industry and munitions production.  The Sherburn Hill District Workingmen’s Horticultural Society dedicated proceeds of their annual show to the work of the Red Cross, in France.  They also made and sold miniature flags to sell to raiser further funds.  To sell the flags there was an accompanying float with actors on the back, simulating the work of the Red Cross.  Also in the procession was a band of costumed cyclists – one of whom was dressed as a pirate with his bike decorated like a ship (of course!).  A retired pit pony, pulling a tub was used to collect the villager’s donations.  Residents also made up boxes of comforts for the troops including items such as; socks, mittens, cigarettes & tobacco, tea and chocolate.

I made my way to the town to greet the various school groups that had come along to take part in the parade.  It was great to see all the effort that had been made; from costumes to school banners that pupils carried with them.  We handed out tins, pans and wooden spoons to encourage them to make as much noise along the walk as they could. We had a pit pony and even a pirate – just to keep things as authentic as possible!  As we all walked up towards the pit village lots of visitors stopped to cheer us on or just to watch and take photos and you really got a bit of a sense of what the parade would have been like; gathering crowds and bringing the community together in support of the troops.

The afternoon gave the schools the chance to experience some other activities; from meeting the Pit Pony, to learning songs together and having a go at some games of the period like Quoits.

It was great to see how young people engage with the Museum and are able to find out about their history in a way that is fun and engaging and I couldn’t help but smile along with them as they got involved in everything.