Thomas Allan was born on 25th November, 1832. A lover of books, in 1858 Thomas joined the stationer's business set up by his brother Ralph. Learning his trade at a time when bookselling was flourishing in Newcastle, Allan was able to set up his own shop for the sale of papers and books. It was from these premises that he was able to indulge his interest in local songs and singers.
In 1862 Allan published a small book entitled 'Tyneside songs'. This small song book, over the next thirty years, would eventually become the mammoth volume we now know as 'Allan's Tyneside songs'. This early edition concentrated mainly on the work of two men, Ned Corvan and George Ridley. Such was the popularity of these local performers that in 1863 a second edition was merited. By 1864, when a third printing was issued, the volume had expanded under the title 'A choice collection of Tyneside songs by E. Corvan, G. Ridley, J.P. Robson, R. Emery ... [etc.]'. David Harker, in his introduction to the 1972 edition of the book, believes that this third edition heralded the start of a shift in Allan's selection of 'local songs', from genuinely popular songs of the day, to older 'traditional' songs. These later editions, aimed at politer circles of society, concentrated on the 'character of the Tyneside community', its eccentric characters and unique language, leading many to conclude that Allan's portrayal of the development of local song-writing, is somewhat potted.
Nevertheless 'Allan's Tyneside songs' does provide a wealth of information. Published again in 1872, 1873 and 1891 the book grew into what has become an invaluable source of reference for Tyneside songs and song writers. This collection comprises a selection of songs by George Ridley from the 1873 edition of the book, held by Tyne and Wear Archives. The main source of biographical information for Ridley, this edition was much larger than those published in the early 1860s and includes later Ridley songs such as Cushy Butterfield.