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Title : Keelman's lamentation

Format : chapbook ; song

Composer : unknown

Production details : publisher : J. Marshall
Old Flesh Market, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear

Date : 1824 (circa)

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Collection name : Newcastle songster; being a choice collection of songs, descriptive of the language and manners of the common people of Newcastle upon Tyne and the neighbourhood. Part V.


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.


Collection description : Popular Tyneside songs published in chapbook form.

First line:You north country people, who live at your ease

Subject heading : protest

Keywords : protest & strikes & keelmen

Period : 1801-1840

Height : 14 cm

Width : 8 cm

Held by : Newcastle University

Copyright : Item reproduced by kind permission of Newcastle University


t :: 0191 433 8430

f :: 0191 433 8424

e :: libraries@gateshead.gov.uk

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FARNE Folk Archive Resource North East