Coal miners dig deep to bring back unusual pit tradition
Former coal miners who toiled for decades down the region’s pits will revive one of their industry’s most unusual and heart-warming traditions this week on Yorkshire Day.
Lotherton estate will be the setting for a special parade on August 1 led by retired miners carrying banners and memorabilia commemorating those who lost their lives down Yorkshire’s mines.
And central to the parade will be the eye-catching spectacle of a “Josh wedding”, a ceremony which began almost a century ago as a novel way of supporting injured coal workers.
The tradition, documented in Lotherton’s current Mining Memories exhibition, saw two miners, one dressed as a bride, the other as a groom, take part in a music hall style wedding service while donations were collected from “guests.”
Josh weddings were originally held in Yorkshire villages in the early 20th century to collect food for the poor.
In the 1920s, before the National Health Service came into being, they became a way of raising money to fund a bed at Leeds General which could be used by anyone needing care after being injured down local mines.
According to those who attended, a laundry basket was always used to collect donations and Josh weddings were held every year until the NHS began and the tradition gradually died out.
Former miner Bill Heszlegrave, 79, who worked at Peckfield in the 1950s and other mines across the north of England, has once again joined forces with his fellow miners including Dennis Best, 72, to organise the parade and put the Mining Memories exhibition together.
He said: “I can still remember the old Josh weddings- they had a bride and a groom and even a vicar and a horse and cart. In the old days people used to donate buns and food, then it was money for the bed at the LGI. It was fun but also a really nice gesture for other miners and it definitely brings back a lot of memories.
“The camaraderie down the pits was second to none- everyone watched one another’s backs and you’d lay down your life for your fellow miners.
“It’s really important to us to be celebrating miners on Yorkshire Day. Britain and Yorkshire were once built on coal mining and it’s something that should never, ever be forgotten.”
Miners will be joined in the Yorkshire Day parade by local charities and groups including The Elderberries of Swillington, St George’s Crypt and Garforth Art Group.
As well as the parade, the event will include tents showcasing the private collections of local miners who will be there dressed in traditional gear and telling some of their stories.
Also on the day, the estate will be hosting more than 50 stalls, craft, food, drink and Drighlington Brass Band as well as the Lotherton cake challenge with Sandy from The Great British Bake Off who will be judging cakes decorated with a mining theme.
A programme of entertainment will also be available in the estate’s Walled Garden.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “The mining industry and those who worked down the pits made an immeasurable contribution to our county and our nation and their efforts should always be remembered.
“It is fitting on Yorkshire Day, a day when we celebrate the best of Yorkshire’s past, present and future, that they should lead the way in an occasion which honours their traditions and showcases their extraordinary legacy of endeavour, sacrifice and determination to the next generation.”
Currently on display at Lotherton, Mining Memories explores the history local of pits through the experiences and stories of miners and their wives from the Leeds area.
Exhibits include a silver tea set presented to a miner who saved many lives during flooding of the Gascoigne’s Sisters Pit in the 1800s, the Micklefield colliery banner and a case of mining memorabilia donated by local miners and their families.
Also on display are a series of painting by local artist and ex-miner David Newbould, who sadly died earlier this month.
The Yorkshire Day event at Lotherton begins on August 1 at 10am and finishes at 4pm. The Josh Wedding will start at 2pm.
For more details on Lotherton including admission prices, visit: https://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/lothertonhall
For information on Mining Memories, please visit: https://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/lothertonhall/mining-memories
For media enquiries, please contact:
Leeds City Council
Tel: 0113 378 9182 (please note my new number)