Song descriptive of the Assize Sunday rituals in Newcastle.
Courts of Assize are thought to have been held in Newcastle since the thirteenth century. The assizes were traditionally held at Newcastle's old Moot Hall until it was taken down in 1810. The ceremony was then held at St. Nicholas Church whilst new county buildings were erected. Processions were held over a number of days, through Newcastle and up into Gateshead.
For the people of Newcastle and the surrounding villages, the most exciting event of the assizes was the attendance of the judges at St. Nicholas Church on the Sunday. This was known as Assize Sunday. An elaborate procession was conducted from the Mansion House to the church, drawing large crowds. This extravagant procession consisted of two mounted trumpeters in court livery preceding the carriage of the Sheriff of the county, containing the Judges. This was accompanied by the Mayor in his state carriage, and other Corporation officials.
This song describes the trip of favourite fictional character 'Bob Cranky' to see the assize procession. The song was written by John Selkirk around 1804. Selkirk was born in Gateshead in 1783. Author of 'Swalwell Hoppings' and 'Newcastle Fair', songs both highly popular in their day, Selkirk enjoyed limited success as a songwriter and merchant before dying in relative poverty.
Newcastle was the second largest producer of chapbooks in the country at the time of this book's publication. 'The Newcastle Songster' 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 'The Skipper's Wedding' to 'Newcastle Fair', the book has offerings from well known Tyneside composers such as John Selkirk and would have been extremely popular among the local population.