Tag: geordie dialect

Lost Words Writing Competition

GADGIES, hinnies, lads and lasses, are invited to put pen to paper for a geet canny writing competition.

The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, at South Shields, is calling on adults and those aged from 12 to 19 to submit short stories which celebrate the North East dialect.

And there will be cash prizes for the winners of the adult category with vouchers for the best entry in the junior section.

Earlier this year The Word unveiled its Word Bank of Lost Dialects – a collection of 2400 words and phrases donated by the public, which would once have been part of everyday language in the shipyards, mines and in street games and social gatherings.

Competition entrants are encouraged to use the Word Bank (which is available online by clicking here) to construct a contemporary short story between 500 and 1000 words in length.

The competition opens on 28 October and closes on 28 February 2020 and the winning entries will be announced at a celebratory Wor Dialect Day event during The Word’s WRITE Festival in June 2020.

Tania Robinson, Head of Culture at The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, said the competition is a continuation of the venue’s mission to “celebrate the words, sayings and expressions that are unique to us here in the North East.

“We were amazed and delighted with the response to our Word Bank of Lost Dialects project,” she said.

“It’s quite clear to us that our dialect is as relevant and important to us now as it has ever been and we hope as many people as possible will take part in the competition – and bring these unique, funny and much-loved words to a wider audience.”

The Word’s dialect short story competition, alongside celebratory events and new commissions scheduled for Wor Dialect Day, is being funded by and delivered in partnership with The Northumbrian Words Project, which aims to instil a sense of pride in the use of dialect by encouraging people to embrace its heritage.

Andy Bogle, of The Northumbrian Words Project, said: “Our dialect is as important to our heritage as Hadrian’s Wall or Durham Cathedral.

“We should not allow it to die and the only way that’s going to happen is for us to understand its ancient roots and to lose our fear of using it. We are therefore delighted to be able to encourage its use by supporting The Word in launching this dialect writing competition.” 

As well as funding support from The Northumbrian Words Project, the adults’ category of the competition will also be in partnership with Morpeth-based Northumbrian Language Society, which promotes, preserves, researches and publishes work about the North East dialect.

The young writers’ category, targeting 12-19 year olds, will be will be delivered in partnership with New Writing North, which runs young writers’ groups across the North East.

For more information and to enter the competition, click on the category below:

Adult Category

Youth Category

The Tyneside Keels

Most Tynesiders are familiar with the “The Keel Row”, a popular song dating back to the early 18th century and perhaps the oldest in Tyneside’s song anthology. But what was a keel and why is the name so special?


Weel may th’ keel row that maw lad’s in!


Before the mid 1800’s, the River Tyne was neither dredged nor equipped with the staithes and chutes necessary for loading colliers that carried the coal to ports around Britain and beyond.  The shallow river shoreline meant that ships had to anchor in deeper water, mid-river. It was then the job of the keels to ferry the coal from shore to the waiting ships.  A humble task to be sure, but for over six hundred years, keel boats performed an important part in the success of Tyneside’s coal industry; the men who manned them forming colourful communities that were largely closed to outsiders.

Keels provided a critical transportation link for the coal industry, enabling mine owners to sell their product to customers around the world.  The first written record of coal keels on the River Tyne was made in 1266 and for the next five centuries, mention of the humble keel boat continues to pop-up in various official records, clear evidence of their continuous use on the river.  By the late 18th century there were an estimated 500 keels working on the River Tyne, employing close to 2,000 men.  But the advent of steam-driven tugs able to tow a number of unmanned keels at a time, as well as improvements to the river allowing ships to quickly load from shore-based coal staithes, spelled the decline of traditional keel boats and the men who crewed them.  By the second half of the nineteenth century, the last of the Tyneside keels had disappeared, taking with them an unbroken tradition stretching back at least 600 years.


“As aw was gawn thro’ San’get aw he’rd th’ lasses sing-


Keelmen and their families lived in tightly knit communities centred mainly around the Sandgate area of Newcastle.  The crew of a typical keel was usually comprised of family members, close friends or neighbours and it was common practice for jobs to be passed from father to son; outsiders would find it difficult to enter the trade.  A fitting example of the closeness of the keelmen and the bond they had with their community, was exhibited in 1701 when the Keelman’s Society opened a hospital on Newcastle’s City Road, built with money raised through weekly contributions from their wages. The Keelman’s Hospital building is still standing to this day, although sadly, it remains unoccupied. 

Courtesy Newcastle City Library

Keelmen were comparatively well-paid, earning between 11s 8d and 13s 4d for each trip, in addition to a beer allowance, called a “can”.  To get an idea of their value, this was roughly equivalent to three to four times the daily wage of the average tradesman at the time.  However, work in the winter was often scarce and even in summer, a successful round-trip was still dependent on fair weather that would otherwise prevent ships from entering the river.  


“He wears a blue bonnet, a bunch of ribbons on it, He wears a blue bonnet, a dimple in his chin.


The colourful shore attire of keelmen was unique and quickly identified them as such.  They wore a short blue jacket over a yellow waistcoat, the jacket coming down to within an inch or two of slate-grey trousers which hung on their hips, leaving a margin of white shirt between the two.  Topping off the ensemble, was a black silk hat with a flat brim, adorned with two black ribbons each tied in a bow with a streaming five- or six-inch long tail.   

Despite the finery they’d exhibit while ashore, it was a hard life and the job was not one for the weak or feeble.  They were reliant on wind and tides, the vagaries of which could easily strand a boat and its crew overnight, forcing them sleep on deck or huddle for shelter in the sparse cabin on the aft deck.  Each round trip would take 12 to 15 hours to complete and unless the wind and tide worked perfectly in their favour, the heavy keel would have to be rowed to its destination.  A collier would typically carry 25 keels of coal, loading four keels at a time, two each side, with trimmers working in the hold making sure the cargo was level and would not cause any instability once the ship was at sea. As soon as they were alongside, the keelmen would begin the backbreaking work of unloading their cargo – a little over 21 tons of coal – this being the standard load of a keel as regulated in 1635. In fact, a ‘keel’ load became an official measure, each ‘keel’ amounting to eight Newcastle chaldrons which, as a consequence, led to all coal keels being built to the same size. 

Courtesy Newcastle City Library

Like the coal-industry itself, the Tyne keels have given us several archaic dialect words.   

The crew of a keel were known as bullies, meaning comrades or brothers, reflecting the tight bond that existed between keelmen and probably stemming from the Anglo-Saxon word, billig, meaning beloved or denoting those that are on an equal footing.  The word is not strictly Northumbrian however, and was in common use especially among seafarers.

In addition to a skipper and two bullies, a keel would also employ a boy who was simply known as peedee, or as it was sometimes spelled, P.D.  This was a Northumbrian dialect wordprobably derived from the French word petite, meaning small. 

On the stern deck of most keel boats was a small cabin, known as a huddick or huddock.  It would contain a stove for heating or cooking as well as providing shelter for the crew.  It’s another word which seems to be uniquely Northumbrian and is thought to derive from the Dutch word hut, meaning steerage.

General Plan of a Keel Boat

Although keels were equipped with a lug sail and were handy sailboats despite their ungainly shape, each boat also had two long oars; one located on the port side for propulsion and one on the stern which acted both as a rudder and a means to propel the boat using a technique known as sculling.  This was a skill that required the long stern oar to be moved back and forth in a wide sweeping motion and fittingly was known as a swape, a wordcoming directly from the Anglo-Saxon and meaning, to sweep.

Some of the keelmen’s wives and daughters worked as keel deeters, the name given to those who kept the grimy boats clean.  This word was derived from the Saxon word, dihtan of the same meaning.

The word keel, however, has a much longer pedigree and may well be the granddaddy of all Northumbrian dialect words.  Its origins date back to the 6th century writings of the Anglo-Saxon historian, Gildas, who tells us of the arrival of the English at the behest of the war lord, Vortigen, to help him in his battles with the Scots and Picts.  Gildas, highly resentful of these pagan English interlopers wrote, “Then a litter of cubs issuing forth from the lair of the lioness of Beornicas, in three cyuls, as it is expressed in their tongue, in ours, long-ships.”  As Gildas wrote entirely in Latin, the English word, cyuls stands out and at once becomes the oldest recorded word in the English language.  

Remarkably, the ancient Angle accent has also been retained, and can be heard in the way Tynesiders pronounce the word.  As Oliver Heslop (1844-1916), the Newcastle-born lexicologist and author of ‘Northumberland Words’ noted, “In the Tyneside pronunciation of keel… a fractured vowel sound is heard.  This can hardly be better rendered than by the phonetic form – kyul – given by Gilda.”

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!