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Title : Yer gannin to be a keelman

Format : chapbook ; song

Composer : Corvan, Ned (b.1830? d.1865) ; Composer : Bagnall, J.

Production details : publisher : John Clarke
St. Nicholas Church Yard, Newcastle upon Tyne

Date : 1850

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Collection name : Random rhymes, being a collection of local songs and ballads, illustrative of the habits and character of the 'sons of coaly Tyne'.


Song giving advice to a boy about to enter the keel trade. Keelmen were employed in ferrying coal from the staithes to the ships and wharves. They were the largest male occupational group in Newcastle and were famous for their drinking exploits. Their labour, however, was physically punishing and many were unfit for work by the time they reached their forties. The subject of this song would have joined a keelboat crew as the apprentice, the lowest ranked member of the team, and usually given the most unpopular jobs. These apprentices were often referred to as Pee Dee, or P.D. It is not known exactly what this abbreviation stands for but it is possible it is short for 'Poor Devil'.

This song was originally composed by J. Bagnall, and published with additions in this volume of Tyneside songs by Music Hall artist Edward Corvan. The collection dates to the Mid 19th century and consists of some of the region's most popular material. Like most of Corvan's songs, these offerings reflect the characters and lifestyles of the inhabitants of Tyneside. Many comment on topics of the day such as Richard Grainger's town improvements or local elections and would have been published in both chapbook and broadside form.

Edward Corvan, or as he was famously known, Ned was born in Liverpool and moved to Newcastle at the age of four. Following the death of his father at an early age, Corvan was raised by his widowed mother who struggled to feed the family of four on her meagre earnings. After a brief career as a sail-maker Corvan joined Billy Purvis's Victoria Theatre. Here he tried his hand at a number of things, but found most success in the performance of local and comic songs. Ned then went on to join the Olympic were he enjoyed great success with songs such as 'Astrilly'. With this popularity he travelled the North singing his Tyneside songs, eventually settling in South Shields where he operated Corvan's Music Hall. After a number of years he gave up the establishment and returned to local singing. Corvan died on the 31st August 1865 at the age of 35.


Collection description : A collection of songs by North-East Music Hall artist Ned Corvan.

Melody used : Jeanette and Jeanotte

First line : Yer gannin to be a keelman, ye great big slaverin' cull

Subject heading : industry and occupation

Keywords : keelmen & youths

Period : 1841-1860

Held by : South Shields Library

Copyright : Item reproduced by kind permission of South Shields Library


t :: 0191 433 8430

f :: 0191 433 8424

e :: libraries@gateshead.gov.uk

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FARNE Folk Archive Resource North East