The Blaydon Races
The Blaydon Races, 1862, Geordie, (George) Ridley, 1835-1864, Air: Brighton

First Performed by Geordie Ridley-June 5, 1862

First Published In: Allan, T., George Ridley's New Local Song Book, c.1863.

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Blaydon Races-Lyrics



Aw went to Blaydon Races, ‘twas on the ninth of Joon,

Eiteen hundred an’ sixty-two on a summer’s afternoon,

Aw tuek the bus frae Blambra’s, an’ she wis heavy laden,

Away we went alang Collingwood Street,

That’s on the road to Blaydon



O lads, ye shud only seen us gannin,

We passed the folks upon the road just as they wor stannin;

Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smilling faces

Gan alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races


We flew past Airmstrang’s factory, and up to the “Robin Adair,”

Just gan doon te the railway bridge, the bus wheel flew off there.

The lasses lost their crinolines off an’ the veils that hide their faces,

An aw got two black eyes an’ a broken nose in gan te Blaydon Races


Chorus—O lads, &c.



When we gat the wheel put on away we went agyen,

But them that had their noses broke, they cam’ back ower hyem.

Sum went to the dispensary, and uthers to Doctor Gibb’s,

An’ sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken Ribs.


Chorus- O lads, &c.


Noo when we gat to Paradise thor wes bonny gam begun,

Thor wes  fower-and-twenty on the bus, man, hoo they danced an’ sung;

They called on me to sing a sang aw sung them “Paddy Fagan,”

Aw danced a jig an’ swung my twig, that day aw went to Blaydon.


Chrous—O lads &c.


The rain it poor’d aw the day an’ myed the groond quite muddy,

Coffy Johnny had a white hat on, they war shootin’ “who stole the cuddy.”

There wes spice-stalls an’ monkey shows, an’ aud wives selling ciders,

An’ a chep wiv a happeny roond aboot shootin’ now, me boys for riders.


Chorus—O lads, ye shud only seen us gannin, &c.

-Ridley, George, George Ridley’s New Local Song Book, T. Allan, Dean Street, Collingwood Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, c. 1863 (earliest known publication of the song)


About the Subject of the Song

The song lists events of a coach journey from Newcastle to Blaydon. The Blaydon races were held on an island in the middle of the River Tyne at Blaydon. In 1862 the races were canceled due to a bad storm which kept the horses from coming across to the racecross. The storm is mentioned in the last verse of the song.  Most of the events in the song occurred in 1861. The Blaydon races were held for the last time on September 2, 1916. The race was canceled following a riot caused by the disqualification of a winning horse.

-The Farne Archive,

Newspaper Accounts of the Races

Announcement of the Races

Bells Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, May 25, 1862



Account of the Races

Newcastle Courrant, June 13, 1862

Results of the Races

Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle June 15, 1862

Cast of Characters

Doctor Gibb

When we gat the wheel put on away we went agyen,
But them that had their noses broke they cam back ower hyem;
Sum went to the Dispensary an' uthers to Doctor Gibbs,
An' sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken ribs.

-The Blaydon Races

-Gale, Joan, The Blaydon Races, 1990, P.24.

“In 1839 the Dispensary was moved to Nelson Street into a building erected by Grainger. It remained there until 1928… The Infirmary was on the Forth Banks beside the Central Station. Dr. C. J. Gibb was probably the berst known doctor in Newcastle at that time.  He had played a prominent part in fighting the Cholera epidemic in 1853.”

-Blaydon Races Festival Committee, The Blaydon Races Heritage Trail, 9th of June, 1962.

“Dr. Gibb lived in a fine house at the foot of the Westgate Road. It was known as Gibb Chambers (owned by the Refuge Assurance Company) Doors surmounted by carved bunches of grapes in wood. Staircase was of wrought iron and mahogany. Photo of Dr. Gibb- flowing beard and side whiskers was in the house but was destroyed. The house had doctor’s speaking tubes to allow patients to talk to the doctor. In 1862 the infirmary was at the end of the Scotswood Road near Newcastle Central Station; part of its red brick wall still stands.  The infirmary was endowed by George Stephenson (inventor of the steam locomotive) The dispensary was in City Road, Newcastle.” - Gale, Joan, The Blaydon Races, 1970, pp. 25-26.

Jackie Broon

 We flew across the Chain Bridge reet into Blaydon toon,
The bellman he was callin' there, they call him Jackie Broon;
Aw saw him talkin' to sum cheps, an' them he was pursuadin'
To gan an' see Geordy Ridley's concert in the Mechanics' Hall at Blaydon.

-The Blaydon Races

“Jacky Brown the Bellman was the town crier at the time of the 1862 Blaydon Races.  He was also the verger at St. Cuthbert’s -Church.  He died in 1901 and is buried in Blaydon Cemetery.”

---Blaydon Races Festival Committee, The Blaydon Races Heritage Trail, 9th June, 1862, Gale, Joan, The Blaydon Races,1970, p. 4..

“Jacky Brown the bellman acted as verger at St. Cuthbert’s church, Wesley Place….Mr. Pickering owned an old wall clock which once belonged to Jacky Brown, the Blaydon Bellman. When Jacky Brown the father died in a little house in Wesley Place Blaydon, his son, another Jacky Brown sold all the old furniture including this clock to my father….explained Mr. Pickering..…Jacky Brown the Bellman was related to Mrs. Hall (Mrs. Martha Ann Hall of Greenfield, Ryton on Tyne born 1877) She described his residence in Wesley Place, Blaydon: There used to be a shop that sold tripe and white pudding, with a second hand clothes shop next door. It was near to the Salvation Army…He was town crier at Blaydon at the time of the first Blaydon Races 1861-62. His son, also named Jacky Brown took over the job. He was born in 1855. George Ridley must have paid Jacky Brown a fee to advertise his race-night concert. Jacky Brown II was the last town crier in England. He died at Middlesborough in 1935. His brass bell was presented to Dorman Long Museum at Middlesborough.Its ownership has been disputed over the years.  The original Jacky Brown the Bellman died in 1901 and is buried in Blaydon cemetery. It lies just about twenty paces beyond the chapel, in the old part of the cemetery.”


 - Gale, Joan, The Blaydon Races, 1970, p.37.-50.


Coffy (Coffee) Johnny a.k.a. John Olliver

Coffee Johnny from Gale, Joan, The Blaydon Races, p. 38.
The rain it poor'd aw the day an' myed the groons quite muddy,
Coffy Johnny had a white hat on - they war shootin' "Whe stole the cuddy."
There wes spice stalls an' munkey shows an' aud wives selling ciders,
An' a chep wiv a hapenny roond aboot, shootin' "Noo, me lads, for riders."
-The Blaydon Races

Coffy Johnny was a famous local celebrity. He was a blacksmith at Winlaton.  He appeared at all local festivities wearing his white hat.  He died in 1900 and is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetary at Winlaton. - The Blaydon Races Heritage Trail, 9th June, 1962.




Facts about John Oliver AKA Coffee or Coffy Johnny


John Oliver was born, resided and was buried in Winlaton. Born: April 19th 1829. A son, John to Thomas and Margery Oliver. Noted in the Parish register of St. Paul’s Church Winlaton.

He was a Bare Knuckle Boxer and horse racing enthusiast. There are two explantions of his nickname, one from his youth when he was known to ask his friends to wait before going to school so he could finish his cup of coffee and the other that he always drank coffee when doing business. Tom Oliver was the grandson of Coffee Johnny.      His crony was Raggy Harry. Winlaton, Johnny’s place of residence was a mile up the hill from Blaydon. He was a member of Winlaton Band.  Coffee Johnny worked at the Winlaton ironwork as a blacksmith. He is described public records as:  “smith, blacksmith, oddware smith and journeyman.”


Local historian John W Bilcliff suggested that in his later years he was a bit of a roamer and an idler, although he worked for a while in a forge at Swalwell.


Coffee died at Blyth, Northumberland. April 8, 1900,  at 75 years of age of pneumonia. He died at the home of his daughter Mary Ann. He is buried in the new ground in the churchyard pf St. Paul’s, Winlaton in grave 107, North West Sector, without a headstone. “The burial records show that he needed a seven foot plot bury him, which was the biggest plot recorded in the parish records.”


"Coffee Johnny’s funeral the 7th April 1900 memorable.His body was brought to Blaydon station to be met by the Winlaton Brass Band who marched him up the hill to St Paul's cemetery. At his request they played "When Johnny comes marching home."


There is some dispute about the music: “Grandson Joe Oliver claimed the Band played the tune as they left Blaydon station. This is disputed by John W Bilcliff who claims they played the Dead March on the way to the cemetery and "When Johnny comes marching home" after the interment.”


On June 10th 2000 a gravestone was placed on his burial spot in site 107 in the NW sector of St Paul's Church.


Memories of Coffee Johnny

“Whole stole the cuddy?” from the song  “The Blaydon Races” refers to the fact that due to a bad rainstorm few horses were able to cross over to Blaydon Island on the day of the race. In dialect “cuddy” means donkey.


According to Colonel J.A., Coffee Johnny went to every meet of the hounds. The Colonel’s mother and father knew him well. He was a sporting man. “Fifty to a hundred years ago men were not turned out of one mould as is the tendency today, and there was much more scope for individual characters to develop on their own lines. “


Coffee in his old age assisted “Lord Ravensworth, the third earl into the saddle.  Lord Ravensworth was getting near the end of his hunting days and the business of mounting was not accomplished without a certain amount of effot.  yer getting’ au’d ann stiff, like mesel mistor Ravensworth Coffee tod his lordship.”


A story from Mr. Pickering: “Coffee was drinking with some of his pals in a public house when a farmer came in, called for a glass of beer, and rashly pulled out a pile of notes.  In conversation, the farmer mentioned that he lived at Hamsterley some ten miles away up the Derwent Valley. His new-found friends were interested, and so was Coffee.  He knew that the men were going to follow the farmer and rob him on his way home, explained Mr. Pickering.  Coffee waited till the farmer was at the door of the inn, then he stood up and said- I will walk with you to Hamsterley-you lot can all go home. As Coffee was a noted man with his fists, and of uncommon size, the farmer was assured of a safe passage home, with such an escort.”


 Mrs. Martha Hall of Greenfield, Ryton on Tyne observed : “I remember the sack racing- Coffee Johnny was in that. A very tall man, he was. We children used to stand watching, all eyes.”


“Mr Pickering gave him a lift on the boot of his open carriage on race days.”


Mr. Richard Hurst noted: “He was a smith and a decent sort of chap. I remember he went to every funeral there was in Winlaton. Coffee Johny was always at the end of the procession.  He was a very tall man, and he used to wear a top hat, of a kind. He used to fight for prize money at Hedley, on the borders of Northumberland and Durham. Hands like a leg of mutton, he had, but he was not a fighter by nature, more of a kindly sort of man. Coffee had a grandson named Mr. Joseph Oliver.Coffee had two sons Joseph and Tom


 Joseph was the eldest son of Joseph who said of Coffee:

“My grandfather died when I was only a few years old s But he was very well known, and I used to hear tell of him often from the chaps that remembered him. Once he was follyin’ the hounds- he was a great one for follyin’ the hounds- and this day Lord Ravensworth’s daughter had jumped a gate and her horse got into a bog.

Can you help me, John? She cried. I will try, my lady.

Then Coffee got his back under the horse’s belly, and heaved her and the horse out of the mud When Lord Ravensworth saw Coffee Johnny after that he would give him a sovereign for saving his daughter and her horse.  He was a great favorite with Lord Ravensworth. Coffee would tell his lordship: I will be a bigger landowner than you some day”  “How’s that?” asked his lordship- “Because when I die, it will take seven foot of land to bury me, but less to bury you, so I will be the bigger landowner. Coffee told him. Coffee Johnny was six fot six in height.”


Tom Oliver recalled:  “My father told me that his dad got the nickname of Coffee because he was so fond of drinking coffee” said Joe Oliver. He was a celebrated pugilist. There was a match arranged between Coffee and the landlord of a pub at Tanifeield, County Durham, whose name was Krisopp. Coffee won. Krisopp walked with his head tilted to one side until he died due to the fight.  Mr. Tom Oliver noted that he had many friends.  Oliver remembred one day he went out in his shirt sleeves to fetch a pail of water.  In them days, the only water was from a tap in the yard or the street- there was no water in the houses.  Well, Coffee went out in his shirt sleeves for this pail of water, and did not get back for a fortnight. ‘Wherever he had been….he must have met somebody he knew and that’s why he didn’t get home for a fortnight. He used to walk miles…”


Tom Oliver also noted- Coffee used to drink at the highlander publick house in Swalwell.  At a hopping week Coffee had come from Winlawton to visit his parents and attend the fair. His father was not at home. Johnny offered to take his mother Sarah to the hoppings. Passing the Highlander Johnny heard the voice of a Winlawton man speaking in the pub: “If I could get my hands on that Coffee Johnny, I’d break his neck.” “Sit thee doon, Sal, and get thee pipe” Coffee told his mother “I have a bit of an argument to settle in here,” and he went in. Later the man who was talking came out running.


Coffee was famous for fighting a pitched battle on Heldey Fell on

May 1850 against Will Renwick, another pugilist. Coffee won.


“On May 27th 1850 at the age of 22, fully-grown, well over six foot, with muscles developed by his work as a smith he fought Will Renwick on Hedley Fell. Renwick was a formidable opponent who had a reputation as a pugilist, a poacher and a man of violence. This was bare knuckle fighting, already unpopular with the authorities. The fights went on until the opponent could not stand up. Every round ended with a knock down. One minute later the fighters had to be on their feet ready to start again or the fight was over. The fight lasted for 36 rounds and 1 hour 10 minutes. At the end Renwick had to be brought home in a cart and was attended by Drs Brown and Callander of Greenside and Scott of Newburn. Coffee Johnny had a great reputation as a fighter and there are many local tales of his exploits.”


Mr Pickering observed: "My father owned a livery stable in Blaydon and each year he hired a landau to the race meeting. In 1891 when I was eighteen I began to drive the landau and used to take the race stewards from Blaydon to the race course at Stella. I often used to give Coffeee Johnny a lift on the boot of the landau. He was a great big fellow and used to get himself dressed up in a tall white hat."


Martha Ann Hall of Ryton, born in Blaydon 1877, said: "There used to be quoit throwing and foot racing in the streets at Harpers Ferry Inn at the times of the races. I remember the sack racing - Coffee Johnny was in that. A very tall man, he was. We children used to stand watching, all eyes."


Tom Oliver his grandson told the story: "I heard tell of the day he went out in his shirt sleeves to fetch a pail of water. In them days, the only water was from a tap in the yard or the street - there was no water in the houses. Well, Coffee went out in his shirt sleeves for this pail of water, and did not get back for a fortnight. He must of met somebody he knew and that's why he didn't get home for a fortnight. He used to walk miles. There were no buses then."


“Coffee Johnny was a long time follower of the The Winlaton Brass band but does not appear to have actually played in it. There was some confusion over this as a Gateshead man, a trumpeter, took over the nickname Coffee Johnny after the death of John Oliver and is shown in photographs with Tommy on the Bridge.”


Richard Hurst observed: "He was a smith and a decent sort of chap. I remember he went to every funeral there was in Winlaton. Coffee Johnny was always at the end of the procession. He was a very tall man and he used to wear a top hat.

Family Facts


On the April 14th 1852 in the Winlaton Parish records : “A wedding of John Oliver to Elizabeth Greener. Elizabeth had also been baptised at St Paul's on June 30th 1837, the daughter of John, a husbandman and Mary Greener. The marriage was soon followed by the baptism of a daughter Catherine on November 12th 1852, Mary Ann in 1854, Margery in 1856, Elizabeth in 1858, and Margaret in early 1862.


Mrs. Martha Willford was a granddaughter of Coffee Johnny. His wife was Miss Greener of Winlaton. He had two sons, Tom and Joe and six daughters: Kate, Mary Ann, Madge, Maggie, Lizzie and Sarah.


The Olivers were blessed with eight children, all of whom survived. After Margaret came Sarah in 1863, Tom in 1867 and Joseph in 1869. The 1871 census records the family as living in Church Road at Winlaton, presumably a misprint for Church Street….. In 1872 the baptism of Hannah is recorded and then her death aged 8 months. The baptism of John is recorded on August 27th 1873. On May 27th, 1875, the baptism of William is recorded, followed by the burial of Elizabeth on May 30th and then tragically the burial of William on June 10th aged 13 days. In the 1881 census Coffee Johnny is found at 12 Wagtail, Holmside, Durham, at the home of his daughter Margery, by this time married to Mark Young with three children of her own, Isabella, Thomas and Catherine. Coffee is registered as a widower and was living there with the three youngest children, Sarah, Thomas and Joseph.”


-, Elsdon, The Life and Times of Coffee Johnny, died April 5th, 1900 aged 72., Gale, Joan, The Blaydon Races,1970, p.32-41.




Geordie Ridley

We flew across the Chain Bridge reet into Blaydon toon,
The bellman he was callin' there, they call him Jackie Broon;
Aw saw him talkin' to sum cheps, an' them he was pursuadin'
To gan an' see Geordy Ridley's concert in the Mechanics' Hall at Blaydon.

-The Blaydon Races, (See; the song section for details)


Was a native of Gateshead, in which town he was born on the 10th of February 1835. At the early age of eight years our future rhymer was sent to Oakwellgate Colliery as a trapper-boy. (Ed. Note: The “trapper boy”- opened the doors to let the coal tubs through the mine workings)  After but a brief stay at Oakwellgate, he went to the Goose Pit, or, according to its more familiar name, "The Gyuess." There he remained ten years. He next went to Messrs. Hawks, Crawshay, & Co., as a waggonrider, and remained there about three years; an accident, which nearly terminated fatally, bringing his connection with that firm to an abrupt termination.

While riding, as usual, his train of waggons down the incline (upon which his duties principally lay), by some breakage or mishap, the waggons became unmanageable, and, being no longer under control, rushed at a great speed down the incline. To save himself as much as possible from the danger threatening, George jumped from his stand on the runaway waggons, but, in doing so, he unfortunately got himself severely crushed and injured.

For a long time he lay, incapable of work; and when at length he began to recover, it was only to find his strength so shattered that anything like regular work he was totally unfitted for. Being thus forced to seek a new means of earning a livelihood, he fell back upon his powers as a singer, more especially of Irish comic and old Tyneside songs (in which he excelled); and thus was forced by accident into the path which afterwards led him to such a widespread popularity in the North. His first professional engagement was at the Grainger Music Hall, where he brought out his first local song, "Joey Jones." This, with the humour with which he invested it, and the local popularity of the subject (Joey Jones having just then won the Northumberland Plate), was a great success. At the Wheat-sheaf Music Hall (now the Oxford), his next engagement, he was equally successful; and, when engaged at the Tyne Concert Hall (at that time just opened by Mr. Stanley), he produced perhaps his greatest success, "Johnny Luik-Up the Bellman." The subject of this song being so well known, and George, imitating his peculiarities, and dressing in character, his success was unbounded. It is needless to detail his engagements at

Ridley in his role as Bobby Cure

the various concert halls in the. North. Everywhere he was his songs were printed, and had a large sale; "The Bobby Cure" (said to be a hit at a member of the police force) and "Johnny Luik-Up" being especial favourites, the children singing them as they ran about the streets.

In the midst of this success, after a short public career of about five years, his health began seriously to fail. He had never properly cast off the deadly effects of the accident at Messrs. Hawks', the severe crushing he had received on that occasion undoubtedly being the cause of his illness, which rapidly began to assume a dangerous appearance. After a brief struggle of little more than three months, he died at his residence in Grahamsley Street, Gateshead, on Friday, September 9th, 1864, aged 30 years. On the Sunday following, he was buried at St. Edmund's Cemetery, a large number of his friends and admirers following his remains to the grave.

Ridley in his role as "Johnny Luik Up"

As a song-writer it cannot be said that his productions have the literary merit of the older Tyneside writers; but, considering under what disadvantages he wrote, his premature death, and how little fitted his early life was to foster literary inclinations, his songs are exceedingly good. And it must not be forgotten that they were written for his own purposes as a concert hall singer, and there they did sing. At the present time— eight years after his death— at social meetings and private parties, where his songs are often sung, they never fail to please. As a public singer he was highly gifted; he possessed a fine voice, and, having great powers of mimicry, he swayed his audience at will; and there is little doubt, if he had not fallen at the opening, as it were, of his career, he would have left a still more indelible mark as a Tyneside songwriter.

Sketch from 1872 Edition.

Joe Wilson, whose acrostics on so many of his contemporaries have already appeared, did not forget Ridley. In the following he touches upon Ridley's successes, and regrets his early death.



R eady wes he wi' the "Bobby Cure,"
I n Stanley's Hall, te myek secure
D elight tiv a' the patrons there,
L iked be them a',—but noo, ne mair
E nlivenin strains frae him ye'll hear,
Y e'll knaw ne mair poor Geordy's cheer.


George Ridley's Signature

-Allan, Thomas and George, Allan’s Illustrated edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings, 1891, p.446.

Ridley first performed at the Granger Music hall, Newcastle, singing his song “Joey Jones” about a local horse that won the Nothumberland plate at the Newcastle Races.  Ridley also worked at the Wheat Sheaf Music Hall and at the Tyne Concert hall, both in Newcastle. George Ridley never married and none of his relatives have any souveniers of his life. All portraits of Ridley were done posthumously. He left nothing when he died. The first performance of the Blaydon races was given at “Mr. Blambra’s Wheat Sheaf Music Saloon” for a concert to benefit Harry Clasper who was a boat builder and oarsman.


The Chronicle  reported: “a small boy danced remarkably well for a very long time with full orchestral accompaniment, Mr. G. Hoskins sang “Billy Patterson” and recited the curious adventures of Mr. Wm. Water.  A tasteful part of the programme consisted in imitations of classic statuary by a young gentleman whose name we could not learn…Messrs. Lamb and Kitchen performed a pantomimic interlude of the usual character and they were succeeded on the stage by Mr. G. Ridley, a noted singer of Tyneside songs.” Mr. Ridley adapted to a popular air a ballad descriptive of a journey (in prospect) by road to the ensuing Blaydon Races.  While the dialect is easily and naturally given, there is nothing coarse in the rendering of these songs but they are such as the most refined audience might hear and be amused withal.”


The Gateshead Observer did not print an obituary for Ridley.


 - Gale, Joan, The Blaydon Races, 1970, p. 7-28


Possible Source for the Song


Gyoztes Fustolt Sonka, writing for the blog Tyne Folk, has observed similarities between the Blaydon Races and an American song of the same period: “On the Road to Brighton.” There is no source given in the Blog Entry of November 2011. As the author notes, borrowing from one song to another was a standard practice of the time. Both songs may belong to a general category of song which may be termed “on the road to” songs, which list events of a journey in a linear way with a reflective “cheer” for a chorus.


Chorus from “On the Road to Brighton”

“O my, you had ought to see us going,

Two forty in the sand and the old horse a blowing

O my, you had ought to see us skyting

Three fast boys on the road to Brighton”


The blog author also points out that the tune for the “Blaydon Races” is often given as  “Brighton”


-Wood, William, K., On the road to Brighton, Boston, 1858? 1859? 



Further research has turned up one other similar song from the period:

ON THE ROAD TO BRIGHTON. AIR—”Rip up, Skittle me Jig.” Sung by Lew Simmons—Banjo Solo.

Me and my friends took a ride with a gallus horse and wagon,

First we stopped Cambridge, then we went to Brighton:
We passed everything on the road, you had ought to see us kiting,

Golly, we had a gay old time when we went to Brighton.

Oh, Lord, gals, you ought to see us going,
2.40 on the road, the old horse a-blowing;
Then, Oh! Lord! My soul! you ought to see us kiting,
Two gay sports on the road to Brighton…..


-Simpson and Company, The Canteen Songster , Philadelphia in 1866, p.113. 



Depicting the Event of 1862, 1903, “The Blaydon Races-A Study From Life,” by William C. Irving 1866-1943,

William C. Irving was born at Ainstable, Cumberland. His father was a farmer. The family moved to Tyneside when he was an  infant.  He attended the Newcastle upon Tyne School of Art.  When studies were completed, his teacher, Cosens Way, recommended him for employment as an illustrator for the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle. His work was published in the newspaper from c. 1890 to 1903. He worked on projects ranging  from illustrating popular news articles to portraits of famous local characters. He drew several popular cartoons for the Chronicle; his most famous character was Geordie Pitman, a comic Geordie stereotype who wore checked trousers. Irving received two commissions to paint portraits of Joseph Cowen, from the Chronicle and from Cowen, himself, which enabled him to pay for travel to Paris where he attended the Julien Studio studying painting. Irving returned to Newcastle and started painting in a new style which was widely acclaimed by critics and the public . His work was displayed at the Royal Academy, London, and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, as well as other places. Iriving also worked producing advertisements for local businesses, and illustrations for their carrier bags. William Irving died in Jesmond in 1943.






Cast of Characters

Billy Sup Up of Crawcrook

An Ovingham Worthy

Auston Dobson on Ovington Worthies, 1884

“Different in kind, but connected as closely with the country life, were his interest in, and attraction to, the strange characters of the neighbourhood—characters more common a hundred years ago than now, when railways and other facilities for intercourse have done so much to round off the angles of individuality. The winter-night tales of wild exploits in the huntingfield, and legends of the Border Wars, were a never-failing source of pleasure. By the woful "laments," such as those for the last Earl of Derwentwater, with whose death it was supposed prosperity had for ever departed from Tyneside, he was often affected to tears. Of some of the cottagers on the fell—poor men whose little store consisted of a few sheep, a Kyloe cow, or a flock of geese, and whose sole learning was derived from Holy Writ, old ballads, and local histories—he has left portraits which show how deeply they had impressed him. One of these was Will Bewick, a self-taught astronomer, skilled in stars and planets, upon which he would discourse, "pointing to them with his large hands, and eagerly imparting his knowledge . . . with a strong voice, such as one now seldom hears." Another was the "village Hampden," Anthony Liddell, who had formed himself entirely on the study of the Bible, finding in its precepts reasons for utter disregard of the game-laws, and exulting in the jail, to which he was frequently committed, since he gained the opportunity of reading it through once more. Liddell's ordinary appearance—judging from the description of it in the "Memoir"—must have been almost as remarkable as that of Fielding's "Man of the Hill "—

"When full-dressed, he wore a rusty black coat. In other respects he was like no other person. In what king's reign his hat had been made was only to be guessed at, but the flipes [flaps] of it were very large. His wig was of the large curled kind, such as was worn about the period of the revolution. His waistcoat, or doublet, was made of the skin of some animal. His buckskin breeches were black and glossy with long wear, and of the same antiquated fashion as the rest of his apparel. Thus equipt, and with his fierce look, he made a curious figure when taken before the justices of the peace; and this, together with his always—when summoned before them — undauntedly pleading his own cause, often afforded them so much amusement that it was difficult for them to keep their gravity."

A third Ovingham worthy was Thomas Forster, called familiarly "Tom Howdy" (midwife) from his mother's occupation, with his stock of secret beehives in the whin bushes; and last, but by no means least, come the swarming old soldiers let loose upon the country at the conclusion of the "Seven Years' War"—old comrades in Napier's and Kingsley's, full of memories of Minden and Lord George Sackville—of James Wolfe and Quebec. Bewick's strong abhorrence of war, which appears so plainly in the later pages of the "Memoir," had not yet been developed, and he listened eagerly to these weatherbeaten campaigners, with their tarnished uniforms and their endless stories about their prowess in the field.”

-Dobson, Austin, Thomas Bewick and his Pupils, 1884, p22.

Blind Bob of Scotswood

Sometimes he rode the donkey right into this room, which poor old blind Bob would be waiting to pass judgment on the ... One day, unknown to his father, the boy bought a considerable length of copper wire in Newcastle, made a kite and ...

-Barrett, Ada Louise,  George Stephenson, Father of Railways , 1948.

Nanny the Mazer, Scotswood

Partner of Ned White at the dances…- Horsley, P.M.,  Eighteenth Century, Newcastle, 1971, p.76. See Song Section Above

Ned Wright of Hawkes’s

Was he Ned Wright or White? No one knows.

Hawkes’ was a very large iron business, perhaps the largest of the North. They made anchors and ship’s chains.


"Whey as ya aal knaa it wis Aad Ned and the Fower and Twenty o Haakses men wot won the Battle of Waaterloo"




George the Plunger, Durham

George possibly represents Geordie Ridley or maybe he derived from William Irving’s cartoon character: “The Geordie Pitman.”




The Swalwell Cat Among the Pigeons

Arthur Daley a.k.a. “The Swalwell Cat”

A well known Card Shark and Con man.





Honest Bob, Gateshead


Robert Chambers, the renowned aquatic champion of the Tyne and Thames, whose sterling integrity won for him the happy distinction of "Honest Bob," was born at St. Anthony's, on the 14th of June 1831. His earlier years were spent at Hawks's, in whose extensive ironworks on the Tyne he worked his way up until he reached the position of a puddler. Having a fancy for the water, and delighting in rowing, he attracted the attention of Harry Clasper, who saw, in his well-built, strong, and muscular form, the elements of a first-class oarsman; he standing about five feet ten inches, and in rowing generally weighed about 11 ½  stones. His after career, under the guidance of Clasper, was unparalleled. He rowed in 101 races, winning 89 times; he started 45 times in skiffs, and won 34 times; he took part in 45 four-oared races, and won 40; he rowed in 19 pair contests, and won 15. For six years he held the championship of the Thames and was the first Tyneside oarsman that ever won the proud title of the "Champion of the World." Early in 1868 his health began to fail; consumption, induced probably by the incessant training he underwent for his various matches, attacked him, and, after a brief illness, he died at St. Anthony's on the 4th of June 1868, in his thirtyseventh year.



Written on the occasion of the great scullers' race for the championship of the world, between Robert Chambers, of Newcastle, and Richard A. W. Green, of Australia, June 16th, 1863. Chambers won easily by a quarter of a mile.

See song section above.

-Allan, Thomas and George, Allan’s Illustrated edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings, 1891, p527.

June 4.—Died, at St. Anthony's, near Walker, Newcastle-on-Tyne, aged 37 years, Robert Chambers, the greatest natural sculler the world ever saw. His remains were interred in the Walker Cemetery, on Sunday the 7th June. Rarely has the death of a local man occasioned so much genuine compassion and sympathy, the very name of Chambers being a household word; and so long as aquatics are a standard, or even a humble, recreation in England, so long will the name of him, whose decease we now record, be revered and honoured. Most, if not all, of Chambers's friend were at the funeral. Up to a certain time the public were admitted to the death chamber, merely being permitted to glance at the face of one who was dear to them. Near to the head of the coffin sat the widow of Chambers, heart-broken with grief, and weeping bitterly. This was the must striking and sad part of a bitter and melancholy reality. Shortly before three o'clock, the body was screwed down, and conveyed to the front of the house where an impressive hymn was sung by members of the choir, the public joining. The pall-bearers were, Mr. Thomas White, Mr. Edward Winship, Mr. A. Thompson, Mr. M. Scott, and Mr. James Taylor. The whole of the local Friendly Societies, together with members of the local boating and acquatio clubs walked in procession. The number of persons assembled along the whole route, which was over a mile, was calculated to be from 50,000 to 60,000. Such a spectacle has, indeed, never been witnessed in any part of the North, The deceased, whose sterling integrity won for him the happy distinction of " Honest Bob," was born at St. Anthony's, on the 14th of June, 1831. His earlier years were spent at Hawks's, in whose extensive ironworks on the Tyne he worked his way up until he reached the position of a puddler. Having a fancy for the water, and delighting in rowing, he attracted the attention of Harry Gasper, who saw, in his wel'-built, strong, and muscular form, the elements of a first-class oarsman: he standing about 5 feet 10 inches, and in rowing generally weighed about 11 stones. His after-career, under the guidance of Clasper, was unparalleled. He rowed in 101 races, winning 89 times; he started 45 times in skiff's, and won 34 times; he took part in 45 four-oared races, and won 40; he rowed in 19 pair contests, and won 15. For six years he held the  Championship of the Thames, and was the first Tyneside oarsman that ever won the proud title of the " Champion of the World."

-Fordyce, T., Local Records or Historical Register of Remarkable Events….,1876, p.15.

Cuddy Billy, (a.k.a. Cuddy Willy) Rowland’s Gill


See song section above.

Joshua I. Bagnall, one of the spirited proprietors of the Oxford Music Hall, some years ago published a small volume of Tyneside songs. Several in the collection became popular. Since he undertook the management of the "Oxford " (which he has raised to a high state of popularity), he seems to have confined his efforts solely to the Christmas pantomimes produced at that hall, which are understood to be from his pen.—Note, 1872.

The "Oxford" is closed, and has been for years (except as a free and easy), but Mr. Bagnall is still to the fore as landlord of "The Cannon," Low Fell. About local songs, he appears to have written none for many years.

William Maclachlan, better known as "Cuddy Willy," was a well-known eccentric of Newcastle. For years he wandered the streets without hat or shoes, and in clothes of the scantiest and most tattered description. He contrived to live by frequenting public-houses, and by playing his fiddle in the streets. His fiddle was a curiosity, made by himself: it was simply a fiat piece of wood, on which he tied a few pieces of string. He was addicted to drink; and his death was caused by some parties most shamefully, at a public-house, giving him brandy as long as he would drink it. The result was, he drank to such an excess that he died from the effects. His death took place September 27th, 1847.

-Allan, Thomas and George, Allan’s Illustrated edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings, 1891, p.522.

William Martin described him as: A simple man that goes about….playing on a fiddle which he makes himself form the stave of an old tar-barrel, and a fiddle-stick made of a twig from the hedge, with a few horse hairs tied to it…He goes without a hat in all kinds of weather without a shoe to his foot, and playing tunes, to the music of which a set of idle people dance in Sandgate.”

The Newcastle Weekly Chronicle described him as “wonderful example of the Darwinian theory’ a throwback to the troglodyte”-NWC 4 Sept. 1875, p.2.

-Gregory, James, “Local Characters, Eccentricity and the North-East in the nineteenth Century.” In: Northern History, XLII: 1, March, 2005, pp. 163-186.



Cull Willie

(a.k.a. Cull Billy, a.k.a. William Scott,)  of Newburn

Cull Willie of Newburn is shown in the painting being tricked by the card cheat:The Swalwell Cat.” His hand is in the pocket to find the money to pay the con-man.

Image: William Scott from Sykes



William Scott, commonly called Cull Billy, was a native of Newcastle, where he resided along with his mother, a poor old woman who made her living by hawking wooden ware. She, like her son, was an object of distress, being not above four feet high. Billy oft excited compassion while reciting (which he did with a great  degree of exactness and in such a distinct and clear manner as to surprise many) the Lord's Prayer, several other prayers, passages of Scripture, etc., to a numerous audience of boys, who generally repaid his endeavours for their welfare with a shower of dirt or stones. Despite his weakness several have felt the power of Billy's wit, which on some occasions has been very severe. Once when a person of the name of (not one of the wisest beings in the world) came swaggering out of a tavern while Billy was haranguing the mob at the door,—" Stand out of the way," cries this would-be great man. "Stand out of the way, I never give place to fools." "But I do," cries Billy, bowing, and instantly stepped on the pavement. Another illustration of Billy's ready wit is found in Robert Emery's songs. He calls it:


See song section above.

Of Newcastle upon Tyne.

THIS well known character, William Scott, commonly called Cull Billy, a name known in most parts of the north, is a native of Newcastle, where he resided along with his mother, a poor old woman, who made her living by retailing wooden ware; she like her son was an object of distress, being not above four feet high.

Billy, poor man, oft excited compassion, from his fellow creatures, while reciting (which he did with a great degree of exactness, and in such a distinct and clear manner as to surprise many) the Lord's Prayer, several other prayers, passages from scripture, &c. to a numerous audience of boys; but they generally repaid his endeavours for their welfare with a shower of dirt or stones.

Oft have they followed him around the streets, beating and hooting him, as boys hunt a cat or dog; and yet no notice was taken of this, until one, more compassionate than the rest, stept forward and interceded for him, in the following lines, which were published in the Newcastle Chronicle of the 28th of August, 1802, with the signature of J. S.

Soon after the publication of this, the overseers of the parish of Saint John's, (in which parish Billy resided) had him conveyed to their Poor House, without the walls of Newcastle, where he was kept confined until the turbulence of his spirit was reduced.

Several persons have felt the power of Billy's wit, which on some occasions has been very severe. Once, when a person of the name of_______, (not one of the wisest beings of the world) came swaggering out of a tavern, while Bill was haranguing the mob at the door. " Stand out of the way cries this would-be great man, shaking his cane in the air, " Stand out of the way! I never give way to fools!"  "But I do," cries Billy, bowing, and instantly slept on the pavement: Mr____. felt the severity of this remark, and instantly made off, leaving the spectators of the tracsaction almost convulsed with laughter.

-Bell, John, Rhymes of Northern Bards…, 1812, p.312.

July 31 Died, in St. John's poor-house, in Newcastle, aged 68 years, William Scott, better known by the name of Cull Billy, one of the eccentric characters of that town, and though subject to general aberration of mind, yet he often astonished persons by his shrewd answers to questions when put to him. When I first knew Billy, he lived with his mother, a poor old woman, in the Pudding Chare, Newcastle, who gained a livelihood by selling wooden and earthen ware. His mother, who was only four feet in height, was almost as great an object of pity as her son. Being the widow of a free burgess, she and her daughter were admitted inmates of the hospital for the widows of decayed merchants, in the Manor Chare, where she died, and her daughter was afterwards found burnt to death in her apartment. Billy during the early part of the war with France, when troops were constantly stationed in Newcastle, used to precede the drums as they paraded daily through the streets, taking his station in advance of the drum-major, with a besom shank for his staff* He used also at this time to preach in the streets to large audiences of boys, &c., who generally repaid his good advice with showers of stones, mud, &c., and as soon as he left his stand, the boys followed him around the streets, beating and hooting him, as they would have done a cat or a dog. Being perfectly harmless (unless raised to madness by ill usage), his forlorn and pitiable condition aroused on his behalf a very able defender, who, under the signature of J. S., in the Newcastle Chronicle, of the 28th of August, 1802, appealed to the public in the following pathetic strain:—

"Whence those cries my soul that harrow?

Whence those yells that wound my ear?
Tis the hapless child of sorrow!

Tis poor Billy's plaint I hear.

Now in tatter'd plight I see him,

Teazing crowds around him press;
Ah! will none from insult free him?

None his injuries redress?

Fill'd with many a fearful notion,

Now he utters piercing cries;
Starting now with sudden motion,

Swiftly through the streets he hies.

Poor, forlorn and hapless creature,

Victim of insanity;
Sure it speaks a ruthless nature,

To oppress a wretch like thee.
When by generous friends protected,

All thy actions told thee mild,
Tho' by reason undirected,

And the prey of fancies wild.

Of those friends did heaven deprive thee,

None alas! supply'd their place!
And to madness now to drive thee,

Ceaseless strives a cruel race.

Youth forlorn! tho' crowds deride thee,

Gentle minds for thee must grieve;
Back to reason wish to guide thee,

And thy ev'ry want relieve.

O from this sad state to snatch thee,

Why delay the good and kind?
Pity calls on them to watch thee,
And to tranquillize thy mind."

Soon after the publication of this appeal, the compassion of the overseers of St. John's parish (wherein Billy resided) was excited, and he was taken into the poor-house, where he was kept confined until the turbulence of his spirit was reduced, and here he remained until his death. It is said that in his juvenile years every endeavour had been made to give him a good education, but without the desired effect; however his shrewd preaching, repeating certain prayers, which he did in a clear and distinct manner, and his being able to write, shew that he had acquired some instruction. The following is a copy verbatim of one of his promissory notes, in the possession of Mr. G. A. Brumell:—"I Promise to Pay Mr, George, Atley Brumell, or Bearer, Thee Sum, of one Pound, or you may, Pay it to me, William Scott, Saint Johns, Parish House 30 Day September." This was written in the year 1825. Having a particular aversion to the title of poor-house, he always designated it the Parish House. The following copy of an advertisement, dated June 23rd, 1770, was from the father of this eccentric :—" Wil Liam Scott, Joiner and Cabinet-maker, late at the Head of the Side, Newcastle, takes this method of acquainting his friends and the public, that he is removed to a new house, near Mr. Dagnia's at the Forth, where he continues to carry on the House Carpenter and Joiner Business in all its branches, and likewise makes all sorts of Household Furniture of Mahogany, Walnut-tree, Wainscot, Beech, &c. He returns his sincere thanks to his friends for past favours, and promises to all who please to employ him, to do their business as well and as reasonable as can be afforded. Orders will be punctually executed and gratefully acknowledged." A portrait of this eccentric may be had of John Sykes.

-Sykes, John, Local records; or, Historical register of remarkable events, which have occurred in Northumberland and Durham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Berwick-upon-Tweed., “1828”, 1866, p.307.

From: “The Newcastle Worthies”

For fiddlin' tee, nyen iver leeved wor Blind Willie

for to beat;

Or for dancin' whe before Jack Cockson e'er could

set their feet?

Cull Billy, only try him now, he'll cap ye wi' his


He's truly wond'rous, ever wa*, and sae will he yet


-From: “Mally and the Prophet”

-Robson, J.P. Songs of the bards of the Tyne…., 1850, p.97. 253.

See song section above


From: “The Newcastle Props”


Cull Billy, tee, wor lugs to bliss,

Wiv news 'bout t'other warl'd,
Aw move that when wor Vicar dees

The place for him be arl'd;
Aw really think, wiv half his wit,

He'd myek a reet good pulpit knocker;

Avvll tell ye where the birth wad fit,

He hugs se close the parish copper.

-Corvan, Edward, A Choice Collection of Tyneside Songs, 1863,-p.151.

See song section above

CULL, a fond, stupid, simple fellow. "Cull Willy" was the name of a Newcastle half-wit of former days.

"Had yor tongue, ye cull."

Song, Billy Oliver.

"Cull cheps for his worm-cakes frae far an' near ride—
Poor pitmen, an' farmers, an' keelmen, an' flonkies."

-R. Emery, d. 1871, "Pitman's Ramble."

Bards of the Tyne, p. 70.

-Haldane, Harry, Northumberian Words,  Vol.28,1892, p.209.

Cull Billy's Prize

See song section above

-Robert Emery's Songs cited in: Allan's Illustrated Edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings....,  Thomas and George Allan,
NewcastleUpon Tyne, 1891.
(Billy died at St. John's Poor House on the 31st July 1831.)

Cushie Butterfield of Blaydon

Cushie Butterfield, 1863, Geordie Ridley, 1835-1864

I'm a broken-hearted keelman an I'm o'er head in love
With a young lass from Gateshead an I call her me dove.
Her name's Cushie Butterfield an she sells yella clay
And her cousin's a muckman an they call him Tom Gray.


She's a big lass, she's a bonny lass, an she likes her beer
An I call her Cushie Butterfield an I wish she was here.


See song section above

This song is a parody of “Pretty Polly Perkins of Padington.” It is attributed to Geordie Ridley who died one year after the publication of the song. Polly is the opposite of Cushie. Cushie is a “big lass” who “likes her beer” rather than a “Butterfly.”


In the song, Cushie Butterfield was a whitening-stone seller. The stone was made of baked clay and was used for the decorated stone steps and house doorways. The song was not popular with the whitening-stone sellers and Ridley had to leave town temporarily. The song was originally published by Thomas Allen in Tyneside Songs, (1862) other editions appeared with a third edition, published in 1864. The third edition according to David Harker, saw a concentration on older more traditional songs rather than “genuinely” popular songs. This reflected a change of audience to “politer circles of society.” As a result the collection is considered “potted” Here we see a difference of perception. In the realm of the projection of the local “brand” collections are seen as commercial, lyrics and dialect, as contrived. This was essential as the “brand” had to be composed to represent the whole and project to distant, different communities. In the streets, gathering places, and music halls there was a different reality which, while occurring in public, takes more work to disclose via research.  However, once we have defined the two realities, the “brand” and daily life we can begin to search deeper for letters, diaries and other sources for the “unpotted” version of reality.

Missing in Action: Regretably I could not find information on the following. Please let me know if you have any details as future updated editions are planned.- Jenny Balle,Pussy Willy, Donald, Bugle-Nowel Jack, Shoe-tie Anty, Doodem Daddum.


According to Harker ”Blaydon Races- which after a period of lying fallow, had been repopularzied by the Music Hall singer J.C. Scatter during the glory years of Newcastle United’s history” (Tynemouth, W., Blaydon Races, 1962, p.5, Cited in Harker, 1972, p.xxvii).  The Blaydon Races is an excellent example of a song whose parts, tune and structure of the lyrics were put together in a process which moved it across the barrier between folk and commercial and back involving both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a strong example of the process of commercial music crossing over to enter the oral tradition and lodge in the communal mind of the region. It has also been incorporated as an important part of the regional “brand,” the artifact of regional identity. The song is a roadmap song highlighting the urban landscape which is described along the route. For the artifact of regional identity everything matters- from the ground up. This observation brings to mind the ancient concept of the great chain of being.

Possible Source:


AIR—”Rip up, Skittle me Jig.”

sung by Lew Simmons—Banjo Solo.

Me and my friends took a ride with a gallus horse and wagon,

First we stopped Cambridge, then we went to Brighton:
We passed everything on the road, you had ought to see us kiting,

Golly, we had a gay old time when we went to Brighton.

Oh, Lord, gals, you ought to see us going,
2.40 on the road, the old horse a-blowing;
Then, Oh! Lord! My soul! you ought to see us kiting,
Two gay sports on the road to Brighton.

We stopped at old Bowser’s (at Cambridge) to get a little gin,

Says he, My boys, you’re awful drunk, you won’t get home again,

We both of us got drunk, and they chucked us in the gutter,

And that’s the way we both of us lost our bully catfish supper.

Chorua.—Oh, Lord, gals, &c.

We afterwards stopped at a rum-mill, and I fell mighty funny,
We went to pay for our rum, and found we had no money;
The landlord he made a fuss, and we pitched into fighting,
Golly, what a black eye I got going out to Brighton!

Chorus.—Oh, Lord, gals, &c.

They took us up before the Squire for breaking of the peace,
They fined us ten dollars, cause we lamm’d the police;
When they found we had no money. and couldn’t get no bail,
They give us three months apiece in Leverett Street jail.


Chorus—Oh, Lord, gals, &c.

They p[ut]  us in jail, as everybody knows,
Where they shave your hair close, and give you a suit of prison clothes.
When we came out of prison, the Boys around Ann Street began hail,
Here comes two nigger singers out of Leverett Street jail.

Chorus—Oh, Lord, gals, &c.


This song text is on p. 113 of The Canteen Songster a substantial song book published in Philadelphia in 1866

More Origins-


"Perhaps more conclusive in our quest for the US roots of the ‘Blaydon Races’ is the second piece of evidence Conrad Bladey discovered. He found the tune ‘On the Road to Brighton’ in a banjo tutor The Eclipse Self-Instructor for 5 string banjo: A complete instruction manual for playing banjo (using plectrum) [I am pleased about that ‘using plectrum’ bit!] . The contents of the book are available on the Internet .


A first impression is that the piece looks distinctly unlike ‘The Blaydon Races’ as we know it, the timing is wrong and it looks a very banjoish instrumental (all that running up and down chords).


 [used by permission of Traditional Music Library <">]


But, an archeological eye and an ear to hear will see and hear something buried within all that banjoing. Compare the two tunes. In the notation below I have indicated the notes the two tunes have in common by lines between the staves. Most of these are vertical lines meaning the notes fall in exactly the same place, some are slightly displaced in time.


The only place the two pieces diverge significantly is the two bars before the final, but they end in the same place, just approach it rather differently. ­There is no doubt in my mind that ‘Blaydon Races’ and ‘On the Road to Brighton’ are versions of the same tune.


No doubt more evidence will be found. It would be good to find a copy of ‘Rip up, Skittle me Jig’ said to be the tune of the song above. In the mean time I would like to thank Gyzotes Fustolt Sonka and Conrad Bladey for their valuable contributions to uncovering the truth about this great Geordie song."


Vic Gammon, January 2012