Song in which the author bemoans the passing of local characters, with a verse or two dedicated to those still living.
The most well known characters referred to in this song are perhaps Blind Willy and Captain Starkey. 'Blind Willy' was infact William Purvis, or as he was more commonly known Billy Purvis. Purvis, an inhabitant of the poor-house at All Saints, was a multi-skilled musician and showman as well as a revered dance teacher. Benjamin Starkey was an inhabitant of the Freeman's Hospital in Newcastle. Friend to the likes of Sir Matthew Ridley and Charles Brandling, the reason he was referred to as 'Captain' remains unclear.
The author of this song, William Oliver was born in the Side, near Newcastle's Quayside on 5th February, 1800. A draper and hatter in his earlier years, Oliver eventually joined his brother Timothy as a grocer in the Cloth Market. A strong sympathiser of the Reform movement, Oliver's songs were extremely popular in their day, although are now less well known. William Oliver died on 29th October, 1848 and was buried at Wesgate Hill Cemetery.
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.