Month: April 2019

What’s in a name? GEORDIE

The origin of the nickname ‘Geordie’ (or ‘Geordy’ as it was formerly spelled), is the subject of several theories, all of which rely on conjecture with little or no definitive proof.  

While the moniker is freely ascribed to anyone from the North East by those outside of the region, as we North Easterners all know, the name ‘Geordie’ only applies to those from Newcastle in particular and Tyneside in general.  It becomes even more confusing when the word is universally used to describe our dialect, a habit practiced as much by locals as it is by outsiders despite the very obvious differences between the Northumbrian, Tyneside and Wearside idioms for example.

Dave Harker, a local historian and author of 13 books as well as numerous articles on North East history and culture, has extensively researched the evolution of the name. The resultant paper provides an extraordinary account of the many instances where the nickname, ‘Geordie’ has been commonly used, starting in the early 1600s and continuing to modern times. His characteristic penchant for detail is both fascinating and persuasive.  Did the nickname really arise from Newcastle’s support of King George III during the Jacobean uprising for example?  Or was it adopted by those coal miners who used George Stephenson’s safety lamp, itself popularly referred to as a ‘Geordy’?  Whatever one believes, Dave’s research will lead us to seriously reconsider the popular theories that have been generally accepted over the years.  

Published in two parts by the North East Labour History Society in its journal, North East Labour History, the articles can be read by clicking on the respective links below each of which will open a pdf copy of the entire magazine.  To read the article simply go to the indicated page number. 

Issue 44, page 169. Part 1 covers the period from 1600 to 1880.

Issue 45, page 187. Part 2 covers the period 1880 to present times.

The Fitter’s Lament

The above image shows what remains of the Middle Docks in South Shields. Two or three ships would be moored alongside this quay with several more dry-docked for various repairs.

Several years ago, the BBC produced a series of radio ballads, one of which was called “The Ballad of the Big Ships.” The broadcast contained songs and interviews with former workers from Tyneside and Clydeside shipyards. One particular interviewee relates how, when he left school, he went to the local employment office where he was asked what he wanted to do for a living. The lad answered that he wanted to be a vet and work with animals. The careers counsellor informed the lad that being a vet was not a worthwhile occupation and that he needed to get himself down to the ‘yard’ and sign on as an apprentice fitter where, after four years of training, he’d have a job for life. The interviewee continues how he was laid off at the age of 45 when the shipyards closed. He ends the interview saying, “Aa’ve been out of a job now for years. Aa mean, who needs to employ a fitter?”

In recognition of that man and the thousands like him who toiled in the harshest of conditions, I wrote these verses.

Oh Aa think them days is ower now, when we built ships o' steel,
Ye nae langer heor them rivet guns; thor layin' doon nae keels.
Noo the yards are virry dark,
An' the fitters have nae wark,
An' the river seems sae quiet in the mornin'.

Aa remember the Clan an' Port Lines, Ellermans and Strick,
For Shaw Saville we built the Northern Star, ee she was such a bonny ship.
Noo they make 'em from tin cans,
In Korea and Taiwan,
An' the river flows sae quiet in the mornin'. 

Wye it seems like yesterday but it must be fowty yors,
Since Lord Louie brought the Kelly in, te aal them Geordie cheers.
Aye, that ship is still the pride,
O' the people o' Tyneside,
Noo the river is so quiet in the mornin'.

From Vickers doon to Hawthorns and from Redheads up to Swans,
The cranes stand stark an' idle; the ships wu built are gone.
Aye, the slips are now all bare,
For nae one wants them any mare,
An' the river flows so quiet in the mornin'.

At the Labour Club Aa sup me pint and taak o' days gone by.
The pride and skill in what we did brings tears intu me eyes.
But the ghosts o' ships so fine
Are still sailin' from the Tyne,
But the river flows so quiet in the mornin'.

The Pitman’s Pay (Extract)

By Thomas Wilson (1773-1858)

Aw thought wor NELL, when NELLY DALE,      
The varry thing to myek me happy;            
She curl’d maw hair, she tied maw tail,            
And clapt and stroked maw little CAPPY.                             

But suin as e’er the knot was tied,                         
And we were yok’d for life, together-
When NELL had laugh’d, and MINNY cried-
And aw was fairly i’ the tether-

Then fierce as fire she seiz’d the breeks,           
And roun’ maw heed flew stuils and chairs;
Maw tail hung lowse, like cannel weeks,            
An awd pit ended CAPPY’S cares.                

Just like wor maisters when we’re bun,             
If men and lads be varry scant,
They wheedle us wi’ yel and fun,                        
And coax us into what they want.

But myek yor mark, then snuffs and sneers
Suin stop yor gob and lay yor braggin’;
When yence yor feet are i’ the geers,   
Maw soul! they’ll keep your painches waggin’.

Aw toil maw byens, till through maw clay
They peep to please maw dowly kyevel;             
Aw’s at the coal wall a’ the day,
And neetly i’ the waiter level.  

Aw hammer on till efternuin,              
Wi’ weary byens and empty wyem;                      
Nay, varry oft the pit’s just duin                           
Before aw weel get wannel’d hyem.                     

But this is a’ of little use,
For what aw de is never reet:                                
She’s like a ‘larm-bell i’ the house,
Ding-dongin’ at me, day and neet.

If aw sud get ma wark ower suin,                        
She’s flaid to deeth aw’ve left some byet;           
And if aw’s till the efternuin
Aw’s drunk because aw is se lyet.                         

Feed us and cleed us weel, she may,                  
As she gets a’ways money plenty;                 
For every day, for mony a pay,                           
Aw’ve hew’d and putten twee-and-twenty.  

‘Tis true aw sometimes get a gill,
But then she a’ways hez her grog;                    
And if aw din’t her bottle fill,                             
Aw’s then a skin-flint, sneck-drawn dog.           

She buys me, tee, the warst o’ meat,                    
Bad bullock’s liver, houghs and knees,                
Teugh, stinkin’ tripe, and awd cow’s feet,           
Shanks full o’ mawks, and half-nowt cheese.    

Off sic she feeds the bairns and me-                    
The tyesty bits she tyeks hersel’,                  
In which ne share nor lot hev we,
Exceptin’ sometimes i’ the smell.

The crowdy is wor daily dish,                              
But varry different is their MINNY’S;
For she gets a’ her heart can wish,
In strang lyac’d tea and singin’ hinnies.      

Maw canny bairns luik pale and wan,                 
Their bits and brats are varry scant:                 
Their mother’s feasts rob them o’ scran,             
For wilfu’ waste makes woefu’ want.

She peels the taties wiv her teeth,                        
And spreads the butter wiv her thoom:               
She blaws the kyel wi’ stinking breeth,               
Where mawks and caterpillars soom!                 

She’s just a movin’ heap o’ muck,                         
Where durts of a’ description muster;                 
For dishclout serves her apron nuik,                   
As weel as snotter-clout and duster!