and Well-Known Characters of Newcastle-Upon Tyne
Including Performers and their roles.
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The image portrays many Newcastle personalities
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Many song writers were eccentrics and many eccentrics were writers for the writers see the bards page click here
|Blind Willie (William Purvis)||Cat-gut-Jim||The Volunteer||Billy Purvis|
|The Bobby Cure||Johnny Luik Up||Geordie (Haud the Bairn)||Geordy Black|
|Robert Chambers||Cull/Silly Billy||Captain Starkey||James Cosgrove|
|Mr. William Cleghorn/ "Billy Conolly"|
A very important topic in the songs. Bonaparte or even
a revolt or civil unrest brought them out into song.
WILLIAM PURVIS (BLIND WILLIE). "
Blind Wyllie, ancient laureate of the Tyne."
So in jest Thomas Thompson happily hits off the "minstrel,"
poor blind Willie, who, hatless in all weathers, for
has an interesting account of him ; from it principally we
take the following : — "
William Purvis, son of John Purvis, a waterman, was
born in Newcastle, and baptised at All Saints' Church,
February i6th, 1752. Blind from his birth, his drifting to
music gave him his living, such as it was. Although depending
on the charity of the public, street performances were
rare with him, his more general custom being to attend some
favourite public-house, where he never failed to attract a
company to listen to his riddling and singing the old Newcastle
Which helped away wi' mony a gill '
Mang fuddling men and queerish women.' " "
Buy Broom Busoms" was his favourite song. The
melody is said to have been Willie's own composition, but
of that Mr. Stokoe says there is no evidence except his
partiality for it. The following is the song as it appears in
Bell's Northern Bards: —
If you want a busom
For to sweep your house,
Come to me, my lasses,
Ye ma ha' your choose.
Buy broom busoms,
Buy them when they're new,
Buy broom busoms,
Better never grew.
If I had a horse,
I would have a cart ;
If I had a wife,
She wad take my part.
Buy broom busoms, etc.
Had I but a wife,
I care not who she be ;
If she be a woman,
That's enough for me.
Buy broom busoms, etc.
If she lik'd a drop,
Her and I'd agree ;
If she did not like it,
To the foregoing Blind Willie (the native minstrel of
never denied him. His invariable address was, "Hinny,
doctor, gie us a bit o' Spanish ! " uttered in the confident
tones of a simple, guileless boy ; and " God blish the king —
God blish the King ; never shaed him — never sheed him ;
poor shoul — poor shoul!" was his regular form of thanksgiving.
Willie's mother, Margaret Purvis, who died in All
Saints' poor-house, had reached her hundredth year ; and
Willie, who breathed his last in the same place on the 2oth
July 1832, was in his eighty-first year.
An interesting description of Blind Willie is given in the
Monthly Chronicle, vol. ii. The writer was in a public
house when Blind Willie came in. "With the instinct
peculiar to blind people Willie made his way instantly to
us. We rose at once, and handed him a chair. Willie's
dress was generally grey, and he wore buckles, like our
keelmen of old. He always went without a hat, and groped
his way about wonderfully. "
As soon as Willie got seated, he said, 'Bonny beer,
bonny beer.' We took the hint, and at once ordered a pint
of beer to be brought to him. Willie went on, ' God blish
the king — God blish the king ; never sheed him — never
sheed him ; poor shoul — poor shoul!' " '
Willie,' we said, after he had taken a good draught of
the beer — 'Willie, we once heard you sing a little song.
Will you kindly repeat it ? ' " '
Shartinly, shartinly, ma chewel.' "
Billy puts down the fiddle, and accompanies a sort of
chorus by clapping his knees with both his hands : — "
For to make the haggish nishe
They put in some brown spishe.
Tarum tickle, tan dum,
To the tune o' tan dum,
Tarum tickle, tan dum. "
And to make the haggish fine
They put in a bottle of wine.
Tarum tickle, tan dum,
To the tune o' tan dum,
Tarum tickle, tarum tickle tan dum. " '
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,' chuckles Billy when he had finished, '
poor shoul, poor shoul ! ' "
Perhaps there is none of Newcastle's eccentrics more
referred to in local song than "Blind Willie." Allusions
to him abound. Gilchrist wrote an epitaph on his death,
a verse from which may fittingly conclude this.
0 wondrous indeed is this bever'ge ethereal !
Was always hatless. Son of John Purvis a waterman born Newcastle
BLIND WILLIE'S SINGING.
William Purvis was the well-known native minstrel of Newcastle-apon-
Tyne. He was a very harmless character, and if not blind from his birth,
was 90 from a very early period of life. It is a singular fact that he always
spoke as if he possessed the sense of sight, for nothing was more common
than to hear him express an ardent wish to see the king, for poor Billy was
very loyal. When Lord Stowell visited Newcastle, William told him (on
being presented to his lordship) that he was glad to see him (Lord Stowell)
look so well ! Billy could never be prevailed upon to wear a hat. Lord
Stowell gave him one, and desired him to use it. Willie did so for half a
day, and could suffer it no longer, appearing once more with his bare head
exposed to all the transitions of the weather. His memory was very
tenacious; any simple rhymes communicated to him he never forgot.
Any one presenting him with a halfpenny, and telling him their name, might
be assured their name, voice, and bounty would be retained in grateful
remembrance. William was an inhabitant of the poor-house of All Saints,
but wandered much about the town, distinguishing every street, alley,
house, or shop with astonishing exactness. Even when a change of tenants
took place, he soon discovered it, and would, in passing, pronounce the
name of the new occupier. He was universally a favourite, and few passed
him without showing their sympathy and respect for Poor Blind WUKe.
July 30th, 1829. R. G.
TUNE—" Jimmy Joneson's Whurry."
YE gowks that 'bout daft Handel swarm,
Your senses but to harrow —
Styen deaf to strains that myest wad charm
The heart iv a wheelbarrow.
To wor Keeside awhile repair, '
Mang Malls an' bullies pig in,
To hear encor'd, wi' monny a blair,
Poor au'd Blind Willies singin.
To hear fine Sinclair tune his pipes
Is hardly worth a scuddock —
It's blarney fair, and stale as swipes
Kept ower lang i' the huddock.
Byeth Braham an' Horn behint the wa'
Might just as weel be swingin,
For a' thor squeelin's nowt at a'
Aboot " Sir Maffa " lang he sung,
Far into high life keekin,
Till by " Broom buzzoms " roundly swung,
He ga' their lugs a sweepin.
A stave yence myed Dumb Bet to greet,
Se fine wi' cat-gut stringin —
Bold Archy said it was a treat
To hear Blind Willie singin.
Aw've heard it said, Fan Welch, one day,
On pepper' d oysters messin,
Went in to hear him sing an' play,
An' get a moral lesson ;
She vow'd 'twas hard to haud a heel,
An' thowt (the glass whilst flingin)
Wi' clarts they should be plaister'd weel,
That jeer'd Blind Willie's singin.
It's fine to hear wor Bellman talk,
It's wond'rous fine an' cheerin
To hear Bet Watt an' Euphy Scott
Scold, fight, or bawl fresh heerin ;
To see the keels upon the Tyne,
As thick as hops, a' swimmin,
Is fine indeed, but still mair fine
To hear Blind Willie singin.
Lang may wor Tyneside lads se true,
In heart byeth blithe an' mellow,
Bestow the praise that's fairly due
To this bluff, honest fellow —
And when he's hamper'd i' the dust,
Still i' wor memory springin,
The times we've run till like te brust,
But may he live to cheer the bobs,
On the Death of a celebrated eccentric Character of Newcastle Upon Tyne Blithe Minstrel of the banks of Tyne,
Lo! o'er thy bier, for aud langsyne,
In Silent groups, each rolling year,
Northumbira's sons will drop a tear!
Death cut thee down--the tyrant scream'd,
When thy bright spirit o'er him beam'd!
In vengeful moot he view'd his claim,
Lost in the triumph of thy name.--
Let Tyne's fam'd sons proclaim afar--
You shall outlive the morning Star!
20th July, 1832
Aged 80 years. R. Emery-In - In: The Newcastle Song Book or Tyne-Side Songster., W&T Fordyce
Newcastle Upon Tyne.
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(Edward Corvan) See Corvan's Biography in the Songwriters section. Click here
|Known as Billy Purvis. Born- Auchindinny near Edinburgh but
brought to Newcastle at and early age. Left school apprenticed to John Chapman,
joiner, Big Market. Interest in stage from early age. Became call boy at Theatre
Royal Newcastle when managed by Stephen Kemble. He worked for a while as
amateur conjurer, clown and performer on the Northumberland bagpipes before
becoming a proprietor of a traveling theatre around 1818. He traveled the North
of England and Scotland with a portable theatre and was found at fairs and races .
When the Theatre Royal was closed he brought a group of performers into town.
Purvis was a freeman of Newcastle and was known for his performances as a clown
at the Newcastle Races. Billy lived in the same house in the Close for around 66 years.
Died= Hartlepool while with his theatre on Dec. 16, 1853 at age 73
|The Bobby Cure
(George Ridley) For more see Ridley's Biography click here
(George Ridley)For more see Ridley's Biography click here
(Geordy Haud the Bairn)
||Renowned aquatic champion of the Tyne and Thames. Known as Honest
Born St. Anthony's June 14 1831. Worked while young at Hawke's- Ironworks. Became a puddler.
Specialized in rowing. Harry Clasper noticed him and coached him. He was 11 1/2 stones in weight.
and height five feet ten inches. He rowed 101 races winning 89 of them. Started 45 times in skiffs winning 34 times.
He took part in 19 pair contests winnning 15 and in 45 four-oared racces winning 40. He was champion of the
Thames for six years and the first oarsman from Tyneside to become Champion of the World. His health failed
in 1868- consumption. Died- St. Anthony's June 4 1868 age 37. His career has been imortalized in song.
|Captain Benjamin Starkey
"Benjamin Starkey was an inhabitant of the Freeman's Hospital
in Newcastle-Upon-tyne. He told me he never could account for the term Captain
proceeding his name. He was diminutive in his figure, but uncommonly polished in
his manners, taking off his hat and kissing his hand with an air of excessive good breeding, and
which at the same time bore no resemblance of either affection or buffoonery.
He was vain of being accounted company for the great and would converse familiarly of his friends,
Sir Matthew Ridley and Chales Brandling Esq. Starkey wrote a good hand, and
was in the habit of giving promissory notes for certain pence he had borrowed from certain
persons. He was fond of being treated to a glass of ale and very grateful for trifling favours.
Any one showing him with deference were for ever entitled to a polite bow from Benjamin Starkey who died
July 9, 1822 an old man in his 65th year. July 30 1829"
-R.Gilchrist in Allan, 1891.Charles Lamb on StarkeyFrom: 1822 ESSAYS AND SKETCHES Charles Lamb
CAPTAIN STARKEY TO THE EDITOR OF THE "EVERY-DAY BOOK": DEAR SIR- I read your account of this unfortunate being, and his forlorn piece of self-history, 7 with that smile of halfinterest which the annals of insignificance excite, till I came to where he says, "I was bound apprentice to Mr. William Bird, an eminent writer, and teacher of languages and mathematics," etc.; when I started as one does in the recognition of an old acquaintance in a supposed stranger. This, then, was that Starkey of whom I have heard my sister relate so many pleasant annecdotes; and whom, never having seen, I yet seem almost to remember. For nearly fifty years she had lost all sight of him; and, behold! the gentle usher of her youth, grown into an aged beggar, dubbed with an opprobrious title to which he had no pretensions; an object of a May-game! To what base purposes may we not return! What may not have been the meek creature’s sufferings, what his wanderings, before he finally settled down in the comparative comfort of an old hospitaller of the almonry of Newcastle? And is poor Starkey dead? - 7 "Memoirs of the Life of Benjamin Starkey, late of London, but now an inmate of the Freemen’s Hospital in Newcastle. Written by himself. With a portrait of the author, and a fac-simile of his handwriting. Printed and sold by William Hall, Great Market, Newcastle." 1818. 12mo, pp. 14. I was a scholar of that "eminent writer" that he speaks of; but Starkey had quitted the school about a year before I came to it. Still the odour of his merits had left a fragrancy upon the recollection of the elder pupils. The schoolroom stands where it did, looking into a discoloured, dingy garden in the passage leading from Fetter Lane into Bartlett’s Buildings. It is still a school, though the main prop, alas! has fallen so ingloriously; and bears a Latin inscription over the entrance in the lane, which was unknown in our humbler times. Heaven knows what "languages" were taught in it then! I am sure that neither my sister nor myself brought any out of it but a little of our native English. By "mathematics," reader, must be understood "ciphering." It was, in fact, an humble dayschool, at which reading and writing were taught to us boys in the morning; and the same slender erudition was communicated to the girls, our sisters, etc., in the evening. Now, Starkey presided, under Bird, over both establishments. In my time, Mr. Cook, now or lately a respectable singer and performer at Drury Lane Theatre, and nephew to Mr. Bird, had succeeded to him. I well remember Bird. He was a squat, corpulent, middle-sized man, with something of the gentleman about him, and that peculiar mild tone- especially while he was inflicting punishment- which is so much more terrible to children than the angriest looks and gestures. Whippings were not frequent; but, when they took place, the correction was performed in a private room adjoining, whence we could only hear the plaints but saw nothing. This heightened the decorum and the solemnity. But the ordinary chastisement was the bastinado, a stroke or two on the palm with that almost obsolete weapon now,- the ferule. A ferule was a sort of flat ruler, widened, at the inflicting end, into a shape resembling a pear,- but nothing like so sweet, with a delectable hole in the middle to raise blisters, like a cupping-glass. I have an intense recollection of that disused instrument of torture, and the malignancy, in proportion to the apparent mildness, with which its strokes were applied. The idea of a rod is accompanied with something ludicrous; but by no process can I look back upon this blister-raiser with anything but unmingled horror. To make him look more formidable,- if a pedagogue had need of these heightenings,- Bird wore one of those flowered Indian gowns formerly in use with schoolmasters, the strange figures upon which we used to interpret into hieroglyphics of pain and suffering. But, boyish fears apart, Bird, I believe, was, in the main, a humane and judicious master. Oh, how I remember our legs wedged into those uncomfortable sloping desks, where we sat elbowing each other; and the injunctions to attain a free hand, unattainable in that position; the first copy I wrote after, with its moral lesson, "Art improves Nature"; the still earlier pot-hooks and the hangers, some traces of which I fear may yet be apparent in this manuscript; the truant looks side-long to the garden, which seemed a mockery of our imprisonment; the prize for best spelling which had almost turned my head, and which, to this day, I cannot reflect upon without a vanity, which I ought to be ashamed of; our little leaden ink-stands, not separately subsisting, but sunk into the desks; the bright, punctually-washed morning fingers, darkening gradually with another and another inkspot! What a world of little associated circumstances, pains, and pleasures, mingling their quotas of pleasure, arise at the reading of those few simple words,- "Mr. William Bird, an eminent writer, and teacher of languages and mathematics in Fetter Lane, Holborn!" Poor Starkey, when young, had that peculiar stamp of old-fashionedness in his face which makes it impossible for a beholder to predicate any particular age in the object. You can scarce make a guess between seventeen and seven-andthirty. This antique cast always seems to promise illluck and penury. Yet it seems he was not always the abject thing he came to. My sister, who well remembers him, can hardly forgive Mr. Thomas Ranson for making an etching so unlike her idea of him when he was a youthful teacher at Mr. Bird’s school. Old age and poverty- a life-long poverty, she thinks- could at no time have so effaced the marks of native gentility which were once so visible in a face otherwise strikingly ugly, thin, and careworn. From her recollection of him, she thinks that he would have wanted bread before he would have begged or borrowed a halfpenny. "If any of the girls," she says, "who were my schoolfellows, should be reading, through their aged spectacles, tidings, from the dead, of their youthful friend Starkey, they will feel a pang, as I do, at having teased his gentle spirit." They were big girls, it seems, too old to attend his instruction with the silence necessary; and, however old age and a long state of beggary seem to have reduced his writing faculties to a state of imbecility, in those days his language occasionally rose to the bold and figurative: for, when he was in despair to stop their chattering, his ordinary phrase was, "Ladies, if you will not hold your peace, not all the powers in heaven can make you." Once he was missing for a day or two: he had run away. A little, old, unhappy-looking man brought him back,- it was his father,- and he did no business in the school that day, but sat moping in a corner, with his hands before his face; and the girls, his tormentors, in pity for his case, for the rest of that day forbore to annoy him. "I had been there but a few months," adds she, "when Starkey, who was the chief instructor of us girls, communicated to us a profound secret,that the tragedy of Cato was shortly to be acted by the elder boys, and that we were to be invited to the representation." That Starkey lent a helping hand in fashioning the actors, she remembers; and, but for his unfortunate person, he might have had some distinguished part in the scene to enact. As it was, he had the arduous task of prompter assigned to him; and his feeble voice was heard clear and distinct, repeating the text during the whole performance. She describes her recollection of the cast of characters, even now, with a relish. Martia by the handsome Edgar Hickman, who afterwards went to Africa, and of whom she never afterwards heard tidings; Lucia, by Master Walker, whose sister was her particular friend; Cato, by John Hunter, a masterly declaimer, but a plain boy, and shorter by the head than his two sons in the scene, etc. In conclusion, Starkey appears to have been one of those mild spirits, which, not originally deficient in understanding, are crushed by penury into dejection and feebleness. He might have proved a useful adjunct, if not an ornament, to society, if Fortune had taken him into a very little fostering; but, wanting that, he became a captain,- a by-word,and lived and died a broken bulrush.