Friday, January 27, 2006

"Weel may the keel row"

'Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight', by William Turner 1835, depicts keelmen on the River Tyne transferring coal from barges, or keels ( a word believed to be derived from a type of Anglo-saxon boat known as ceols ) to sea going vessels.

The Tyne keelmen were first recorded in 1516 and had a proud and militant history; they had their own community in the Sandgate district just outside the old city walls of Newcastle and their jobs were handed down from father to son.

In modern times the Tyne has been navigable for about 10 miles up to Newcastle but in earlier years, big ships couldn't get up the river as it was too shallow, so the Keelman's job was to ferry coal from mines up the river to the harbour mouth at North Shields, from where collier sailing ships would take their cargo down the East coast to London.

The Tyne keel was a type of barge typically holding about twenty tons of coal and was rowed in all weathers, day and night. The keelmen men would row down the river on the ebb tide, assisted by a sail if the wind was favourable, and after off-loading the coal would row back to Newcastle on the flood tide.

Coal was the lifeblood of Tyneside for centuries and Keelmen were first recorded as a fraternity in 1539. In 1697 they organised a charitable fund and established the Keelmen's Hospital in 1701 and the building survives to this day:

Keelmens Hospital. Newcastle upon Tyne

When the Swing Bridge replaced the old, low arched, Tyne bridge in 1876 it meant that larger vessels could then sail up stream to load coal from mines up the river and this was one of the final blows to the keelmen's trade

The Swing Bridge from the London Illustrated News.1876.

As steam power took over, keelmen began to carry less coal and more general merchandise. Keelmen helped found the Tyne Watermen's Association in 1870 and there were still 480 union members working on the river by 1892 but by 1910 the union was reduced to 310 members but remained independent until amalgamation with the then Northern District of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers in 1936. Ironically, coal is nowadays  imported to the Tyne

All that remains of the vibrant keelmen community of Sandgate is a collection of folk songs of which the `The Keel Row' is the most famous:

"As aa came through Sandgate,
Through Sandgate, through Sandgate,
As aa came through Sandgate
Aa heard a lassie sing:
Weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row
Weel may the keel row
That ma laddie's in."

The 1881 census lists Great Grandfather George as a Keelman at a time when technological and other changes had pretty much destroyed the traditional role of the keelmen. The Matriarch of the family says George was to become an Inspector in the City Lighting department in the days of gas lighting. Town gas in those days was produced from coal so in a way he had transferred from one end of the supply chain to the other, and it was the Newcastle upon Tyne City Lighting Department that brought the Gordon and Bell branches of the family together, so William Armstrong, who designed the Swing Bridge, has a lot to answer for.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Beatles and Newcastle United

Younger daughter, like her siblings, has a very catholic taste in music, ranging from hip-hop to jazz through rock to Sinatra so it should have come as no surprise when she recently began raving about some old Beatles tunes from their "No.1s" CD. She however was very surprised indeed to learn that a family friend she had visited in Sweden several years ago was a close relative of one Albert Stubbins.
Those of you who are familiar with the cover of Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band may know that Albert Stubbins appears on the cover wearing a red shirt and standing next to Marlene Dietrich's shoulder

The red shirt is that of Liverpool FC a club for which Albert scored 83 goals in 180 appearances after joining the club in 1946. His goals included 24 goals in 36 games when Liverpool won the First Division title in the 1946-47 season. Despite his success at Liverpool many believe that Albert's peak years coincided with World War Two when the regular leagues were cancelled. During the 1945-46 season before regular League football was restarted, Albert scored 39 goals in the Northern League for Newcastle when, by comparison, the second-highest Newcastle scorer was Jackie Milburn with just 14 goals, yet it was Milburn who went on to become a legend on Tyneside scoring 200 goals for the club, a record only recently equalled by Alan Shearer.
programme for Aston Villa v NUFC 1945/46 Albert Stubbins at Centre Forward. No.9
Freddy Shepherd, the current chairman of Newcastle United, once suggested that Alan Shearer was the greatest player in the 110-year history of the Tyneside club. When Sir Bobby Robson, former Newcastle and England manager, was asked whether he agreed he replied: "Well, there was Albert Stubbins, you know." (Stubbins scored 245 goals in 199 games for Newcastle)


Albert Stubbins. 13 July 1920 - 28 December 2002


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Wherefore art thou Faustino?

How the long-suffering Toon faithful must have wished for someone with the maverick genius of Faustino Asprilla to rescue them from a dismal home defeat by Blackburn this afternoon.

Asprilla v Barcelona

Some may remember a snowy day back in 1996 when Asprilla arrived at St James Park wearing a fur coat after his transfer from Parma in Italy. His debut, at the Riverside, saw him play for only
twenty minutes but he ran the Middlesbrough defence ragged and helped turn a one goal deficit into a 2-1 victory. He wasn't everyone's cup of tea and his rubbery legs were known to trip over the ball on more than one occasion, but in full flow he was one of the most skillful players of modern times to wear the black and white, as witnessed by the hat-trick he scored against a mighty Barcelona side containing Figo and Rivaldo . Sadly these were his last goals for United as after 48 league appearances and 11 European games, in which he scored 9 goals, manager Kenny Dalglish sold him back to Parma for £6,000,000 in January 1998.

Asprilla v Barcelona

And wherefore Tino?

Now 37, he has recently announced his candidacy for election as Deputy of the Valle del Cauca department in Cali, the third largest city in his native Colombia which he represented 57 times at international level.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Swansea, the Luftwaffe and South Shields

A business trip to Wales' second city this week reminded me that it is by far from being a jewel in the crown of Welsh architectural heritage. The city centre, apart from a Georgian Church and the ruins of a 13th century castle, consists entirely of drab and dreary post-war architecture and is forlorn in contrast to the powerful, natural beauty of Rhossilli Bay and Worm's Head, less than one hours drive away on the Gower peninsular.

And for that, the good folk of Swansea have the "Three Nights' Blitz" of February 1941 and post-war reconstruction to blame, because intensive bombing saw Swansea town centre almost completely obliterated by Luftwaffe raids seeking out the strategically important docks nearby, and, as a Swansea born colleague told me, " what the Luftwaffe missed the Council finished off"

And in the old dock area, fortuitously missed that night by errant German navigators and bomb aimers, there are now smart apartments and a marina full of gleaming yachts and motor cruisers, and nearby, where old colliers and cargo ships abrim with coal, iron and copper would once have berthed, is the wonderful National Waterfront Museum: "Wales story of industry and Innovation" :


and there, amongst many interactive and computerised displays, is a ' virtual' tour of some properties surveyed in the 1851 census which recorded amongst the good folk of Swansea a gentleman from Northumberland and a lady from South Shields, both far from home but still in a land of coal.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Salmon, Trafalgar and Great Grandfather George

Now what links the three you may well ask, and the answer would be the coaly waters of the river Tyne.

According to the Matriarch of the family the waters of the Tyne are now so clean that it is the finest river for rod caught salmon in the UK. So much so that the Western Mail recently reported that the Tyne had the highest catch of any British river, 4,122 in 2004. Now this should come as no surprise to those of us who, at a friend's 50th birthday a few years ago, spied a seal near the new Millennium pedestrian bridge which links Newcastle to Gateshead, no doubt drawn by the mouthwatering prospect of some fresh Tyne salmon.

And Trafalgar and Great Grandfather George?

Well, one Cuthbert Collingwood was born on the banks of the River Tyne in Newcastle in 1748 and went to sea at the age of twelve; by the time of the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 he was not only vice-admiral of the British fleet but it was his ship, the Royal Sovereign, which was the first to engage the French & Spanish fleet and it was Collingwood who took command of the fleet and led it to victory whilst Nelson lay mortally wounded .

The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805: Beginning of the Action' Artist Nicholas Pocock circa 1808

As for great grandfather George, he was a keelman on the Tyne, and from an old Tyneside poem of 1820:

"Our keelmen brave, with laden keels,
Go sailing down in line,
And with them load the fleet at Shields,
that sails from coaly Tyne.

When Bonaparte the world did sway,
Dutch, Spanish did combine;
By sea and land proud bent their way,
The sons of coaly Tyne.

The sons of Tyne, in seas of blood;
Trafalgar's fight did join,
When led by dauntless Collingwood,

The hero of the Tyne.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Art, a large wooden shed and a birthday breakfast

Picture if you will, a very large wooden shed, or, for anyone short on imagination, see the one below:

Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No 2) 2005. Simon Starling.

I saw this piece of 'installation' art, whose 'artist' won this year's Turner prize, at Tate Britain yesterday. Now call me an old fashioned Philistine if you like, but when this shed, which was dismantled, converted into a boat, rowed down the Rhine and re-built, is described as "a kind of buttress against the pressures of modernity, mass production and global capitalism" I am reminded, more than somewhat, of Hans Christian Andersen's Emperor's New Clothes .
Much more rewarding was the exhibition, elsewhere in the gallery, which explores the works of, and relationships between, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Sickert and other contemporaries. Their work is not only interesting, visually pleasing and stimulating but also demonstrates great artistic skill and technique, rather than just an avant garde imagination. Judge for yourself at the wonderful Tate website:

A painting that stood out for me was CMS Reading by Gaslight by William Stott of Oldham (1857-1900) :

It is a portrait of Stott's wife and, being hitherto unfamiliar with Stott's work, I was interested to learn that he exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon and that Sickert described him as ‘one of the two greatest living painters of the world.’

As for the birthday breakfast, a special mention, and thanks, to younger daughter who prepared a fine one for me this morning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Geordies and Mackems

Growing up, as I did, in the Newcastle upon Tyne of the 50s and 60s, you always knew you were a 'Geordie' and that people from nearby Sunderland on the river Wear were, well sort of Geordies but not quite. There wasn't a special name for Wear-siders. Latterly the term 'Mackem' has described people from Sunderland and supporters of their football club but only really since the 90s, so a fairly modern development.

Last night's "Balderdash and Piffle" on the BBC sought to track down the earliest recorded written evidence of the word Mackem, and courtesy of the BBC and the Oxford English Dictionary: I reproduce below some extracts from the etymology & definitions of Geordie & Mackem. As for the innate superiority it is claimed Newcastle folk have over their brethren in Sunderland I shall leave it to readers to make up their own mind:

from the OED:

1. (yellow) Geordie: a guinea. (Cf. GEORGE 4b.)

2. a. A coal-pitman. b. A collier-boat. c. (See quot. 1881.)
1876 C. M. DAVIES Unorth. Lond. 353 A "Geordie", or pitman. 1881 RAYMOND Mining Gloss., Geordie, the miners' term for [George] Stephenson's safety-lamp. 1884 W. C. RUSSELL Jack's Courtship xliv, You thought..of the Channel aswarm with just such vessels as she Geordies deep with coal.

3. a. A native or inhabitant of Tyneside.

1866 C. NORDHOFF Young Man-of-War's Man iv. 69 The sailors belonging to the ports on the north-eastern coast of England are called Jordies.
1892 R. O. HESLOP Northumberland Words I. 196 The men who went from the lower Tyneside to work at the pits in South Tynedale were always called Geordies by the people there.

Mackem, n.

Prob. with allusion to phrase mack' em and tack 'em and variations thereof, said to refer to the shipbuilding industry of the region, the suggestion being that in Sunderland they make ships (mack 'em) so that others can take them (tack 'em), or, specifically, that the Geordies of Tyneside would then take them to fit them out.
A native or inhabitant of Sunderland or Wearside; a supporter of Sunderland Association Football Club. .
The good citizens of Newcastle are aware and proud of their h-fulness: they believe that this is another instance of their inherent superiority to the 'Mackems' (citizens of Sunderland).

The earliest written record found : 1988 Sunderland Echo 17 Oct. 6/4 Five children and seven grandchildren, all Mack-ems

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Welcome 2006. Happy New Year

Norman Rockwell's Do Unto Others (1961) Image courtesy of Carol L. Gerten

and Happy Birthday to D