Keelman's song to be sung to the tune of 'The bonny pit laddie'. The second verse of this song also features in 'My bonny lad'.
Keelmen were the largest male occupational group in Newcastle and were employed in ferrying coal from the staithes to the ships and wharves. The 'huddock' referred to in the song was infact the small cabin to the rear of the keel boat, used as protection from the weather and equipt with a stove to cook food. The keelman's labour, however, was physically punishing and many were unfit for work by the time they reached their forties.
'The Newcastle Songster', from which this song was taken, was printed by J. Marshall, one of the most prominent chapbook printers in Newcastle during the early nineteenth century. It is rather difficult to date the book, but as we know that Marshall didn't move to his Flesh Market premises until 1811, it is possible to say that it certainly wasn't published before this date. The appearance of much of the books contents in John Bell's 'Rhymes of the Northern Bards', published in 1812, could also indicate that the book was printed around the same time. However which was printed first, can not be established for certain.
The book contains some of the region's best known traditional songs. From 'Weel may the keel row' to 'Canny Newcastle', the book has offerings from well known Tyneside composers such as John Selkirk and Thomas Thompson, and would have been extremely popular among the local population.