Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Man on the Horse at the Market Tavern

The Market Tavern is in the centre of Durham City is a gourmet bar nowadays, serving quite upmarket meals for tourists. I have seen it advertised on American holiday and travel websites. Of course, it was a real down-to-earth miners' pub in the old days, a right old dump where a rough-house barney and a clip round the ear were more likely to be on the menu. In fact, the first Durham Miners' Union was formed there in the mid-nineteenth century, when such "combinations" were still against the law.

It's all the more surprising that, given its background, a statue of one of the miners' worst enemies should be plonked firmly outside its front door. The Man on the Horse is Castlereagh (pronounced Castle-Ray), who owned many of the local pits and was so hard on his workers that he earned their undying hatred. My Grandad used to spit if he were ever obliged to say the name.

Even fair-minded men of the upper classes were shocked by his heartless behaviour, so that the poet Shelley penned the following lines when he saw the statue:

"I met with Murder one fine day, he had a face like Castereagh
His eyes were dark, his lips were grim, and seven bloodhounds followed him.
Aye they were sleek, as well they might be in the very prime of life,
For one by one and two by two, he cast them human hearts to chew."

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