At the time this song was printed, wages for the majority of Tyneside's working class would have barely been adequate to provide the necessities of life. Credit by means of pawnshops and high interest loans, became a standard means of survival for many families. Nevertheless, common as it was, debt was still frowned upon, especially by moralistic members of Victorian society. This song, written in standard English, describes the evasion of the debt collectors by a family who pretends to move house.
This song was written by William Dunbar and printed in 1874. Dunbar began his life in the service of Gateshead painter and glazier, Mr. Romanis. After working for a short time in the service of a Felling cartwright, he spent the remainder of his life in the coal pits. He varied the monotony of the pit life by appearing at amateur concerts at which, although not much of a singer, he was always well received. Along with his talent for composing, Dunbar had a decided taste for drawing and spent much of his spare time producing water-colours and pencil sketches. During the last few years of his life he spent most of his time writing pieces for the local annuals, published by J.W. Chater of Newcastle. He won a number of medals and competitions and on his death in 1874 was fondly remembered with a number of tributes in Chater's publications.
'The Shiftin'' forms part of a small song book published by Stevenson and Dryden of Newcastle. It contains over 40 pages of local songs composed by Dunbar, along with extracts from 'Chater's Diary and Local Remembrancer'. Most of the songs are given the tune to which they were intended to be sung and are classified into 'local', 'motto', or 'comic' song types. The book was published in 1874, probably on the death of William Dunbar.