This is one of a number of songs on Newcastle's keelmen. 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 keelmen held major strikes (sticks) in 1809, 1819 and 1822. The strikers fought for a raise in their wages and the maintenance of work levels following the increased use by coal-shippers of mechanical spouts to load the keels. The keelmen's resistance was fed by various friendly societies and supporters. This song most probably refers to the strike of 1822, during which the local militia were called to keep the peace. The keelmen fought a long losing battle with the spouts, but by the end of the nineteenth century, having failed to compete with the technology of the day, finally died out.
Similar to the cheap press of today these poorly printed books and broadsides catered for popular tastes, being sold by chapmen in the country and booksellers in the town. Usually sold for no more than a penny, the production of these little books and broadsides were extremely profitable for most printers. Sold in bulk the material required little proof-reading, was widely plagiarised, and badly printed.
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. This book forms part V of the 'Songster' series and is perhaps easier to date than the preceding parts. Although it is not clear whether parts I and II of the 'Songster' were published before or after John Bell's 'Rhymes of the Northern Bards, 1812, references to 'Hackney cabs' in part V, which were not introduced into Newcastle until 1824, give some indication of the publication date.
The book contains some of the region's best known traditional songs. From the 'Keelmen's Stick' to 'Hell's Kitchen', the book has offerings from well known Tyneside composers such as William Oliver and would have been extremely popular among the local population.