This is one of a number of songs printed in support of Newcastle's keelmen. The song refers the erection of staithes on the River Tyne. On the 11th August, 1824, the keelmen of Newcastle brought charges against northern colliery owners, claiming that the staithes injured the navigation of the river. After several hours of cross-examinations it emerged that the staithes had been erected upwards of 20 years, during which time trade on the Tyne had more than doubled. Needless-to-say the jury did not find in favour of the keelmen.
The trial was part of a much larger struggle that had been fought by keelmen on Tyneside for a number of years. Following the erection of the staithes and the increased use by coal-shippers of mechanical spouts to load the keels, by the early nineteenth century the keelmen found that their work levels had decreased dramatically. The keelmen made repeated attempts to destroy the spouts, the situation becoming so bad in 1822 that the civil authorities were forced to call in the military. Major strikes (sticks) were held by the keelmen in 1809, 1819 and 1822 calling for the maintenance of work levels and increased wages. Sadly these were to no avail.
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.