Tag: newcastle

Thor’s Nowt See Queer As Folk

It wez one of me mam’s favourite sayings, whenever somebody said or did owt that wez a bit unusual. “Eee ower Andy,” she’d say te us, “Ye knaa, there’s nowt as queer as folk!” Aa can still hear hor noo and ye have te knaa that it’s as true the day as it wez back then when things aal seemed a bit simpler. Anyway, Aa came across the words te this song by a Newcassel fella caalled, Harry Haldane. Whey, that’s wasn’t his real name mind, that wad have bin, Oliver Heslop who was quite an important fella in his day. Ye can read more aboot here if yer a mind. Divvent understand the wards? Whey, if yer just click on the highlighted wards it’ll tak yer tee a dictionary.  But if yer want to see the entire song in plain English, then click here: There’s Nothing So Strange As Folk

By Harry Haldane

D’ye think a chep’s see daft as buy a pig iv a poke?
Whattivor ye may think, thor’s nowt see queer as folk.
Thor’s some sees things asquint, an’ some get aal askew,
An’ mair an’ mair ye’ll find, as life draas on, it’s true,
Thor’s nowt see queer as folk!

Thor’s some gans fair an’ square, and some gans cruck’d, hoot shaff!
Man, some ye canna please, an’ some dis nowt but laugh;
Thor’s some hes been te skeul, an’ still gets ne mair sense-
It’s aal as clear as clarts, an’ nowt but common sense, —
Thor’s nowt see queer as folk!

Yen chep hes cheek for owt, another dorsn’t try,
An’ some climbs te the top, an’ some gets a go bye.
Tiv yen the wind’s aal foul, his marrow finds aal fair;
Yen chep’s a happy bloke, an’ mevvy disn’t care.
Man, thor’s nowt see queer as folk!

Some hes the corse o’ greed, an’ some spends aal they make,
Some thinks o’ nowt but sel, some dis nowt for their cake;
Thor’s other some that’s this, and other some that’s that.
It’s like a pot that’s broke, ye canna put it pat,
‘Cas thor’s nowt see queer as folk.

Tiv some misfortun’ comes an’ bricks them fairly doon,
They find the shouther caad, an’ mony a freezin’ froon;
But then thor’s lightsome hearts, that comes an dis the friend,
An’ straits misfortun’s cruck an’ helps poor sowls te mend.
O, thor’s nowt see queer as folk!

Aa’ve havered on for ‘oors, an’ sair ma heed aw’ve wrout,
An’ tewed te mak it oot wiv mony an’ anxious thout?
But noo aa’l gie’t aal up, Aa canna ravel’t oot,
Wor life sure is ne joke, whativvor we may doot!
Man, thor’s nowt see queer as folk.

Picture courtesy of Newcastle Library.

England’s Oldest Recorded Word

Picture above: Keelmen Heaving In Coals By Moonlight by J.M.W. Turner, 1835

Most Northumbrians will be familiar with the word keel.  In all likelihood they will have grown up hearing the words of the iconic Tyneside song, ‘The Keel Row!’ while those who travel through the east side of Newcastle can see the fine old Keelman’s Hospital that sits on City Road.  Although the common meaning of the word defines the fundamental spine of a ship, on Tyneside it referred to a boat called a keel, a wide, squat vessel that was sailed and rowed to transport coal from the shallow riverbank to ships moored on the river in deeper water.  Keels, together with their hard-working, hard-drinking crews, largely disappeared in the late 19th century as the river was modernized to allow collier ships load alongside newly-built coaling staithes, maneuvered with the help of steam-powered tugs.

Its origins however can be traced back to the Angle language of the 6th century where it first appears in the book, ‘On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain’ written by the monk Gildas around 540 AD – about a century after the first arrival of the Angles in Kent.  In it Gildas writes, “Then a litter of cubs issuing forth from the lair of the lioness of Barbaria in three cyuls as it is expressed in their tongue, in ours (sic) long ships.”  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.”

“These boats (keels) are strong, clumsy and oval and carry twenty tons apiece; they are navigated by a square sail but generally by two very large oars, one on the side plied by a man and a boy and another at the stern by a single man serving both as oar and rudder.”

Richard Oliver Heslop

Keel boats are inexorably associated with the River Tyne, and for the word to have survived in the Tyneside vernacular for over 1300 years is a testament to the legacy of the Northumbrian dialect. Although now defunct as a type of vessel, the word keel commands special recognition as the earliest recorded word in the English language. 

Given the word’s history and longevity, it is perhaps fitting that one of Tyneside’s oldest songs was written about a keel.  ‘Weel May the Keel Row!’ is often referred to as ‘Tyneside’s National Anthem’.  First published in Ritson’s ‘Northumberland Garland’ in 1793, it is believed to date back to before 1760.  The song was also well-known beyond the banks of the Tyne, its strong beat making it a popular sea-shanty, as well as a marching tune of which Rudyard Kipling wrote, “The man who has never heard the Keel Row rising high and shrill above the rattle of the regiment going past the saluting-base, has something yet to hear and understand.”

The popular version of the song – as it would have sung on the streets of Newcastle – was published in Allan’s ‘Tyneside Songs’: 

As aw was gawn thro’ San’get, thro’ San’get, thro’ San’get, 
As aw was gawn thro’ San’get aw he’rd th’ lasses sing –
Weel may th’ keel row, th’ keel row, th’ keel row
Weel may th’ keel row that maw lad’s in!

He wears a blue bonnet, a bunch o’ ribbons on it,
He wears a blue bonnet, a dimple in his chin;
An’ weel may th’ keel row, th’ keel row, th’ keel row
An’ weel may th’ keel row that maw lad’s in!

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 Gift O’ The Gob

by Harry Haldane

Them’s lucky that’s born wi’ a gift,
‘Cas some’s born as fond as a stob.
But them has ne wark te myek shift,
That’s born wi’ the gift o’ the gob.
Your readin’ an’ writin’ an’ sums
May aall be se clear in yor nob.
Where are they when up a chap comes,
That’s getten the gift o’ the gob. 

What use is a chep that can think?
He’s warse than a torr baccy fob!
He’s torned ootside in iv a wink,
By yen wi’ the gift o’ the gob.
Ye’ve oney te larn hoo te taak,
Then other folks thowts ye can rob;
Ye’ll best them aall clean iv a waak,
If ye’ve oney the gift o’ the gob.

Hinnies noo efter aall we’ll not fret,
Cas some thinks thor good at the job;
Ne cuddy’s a musical pet
Tho’ grand at the gift o’ the gob
It’s when a chep really can yarn,
An’ strite, like a quoit, hit the hob,
Wi’ yor heed an’ yor throwts clear, ye larn
The use o’ the gift o’ the gob.

Originally published in “Tyneside Songs, Volume Three” by J.G Windows Ltd, 1913.

Newcastle’s Forgotten Son

Richard Oliver Heslop M.A., J.P., F.S.A (1842-1916)

Richard Oliver Heslop is perhaps one of Newcastle’s most under-rated sons; a figure who was celebrated during his lifetime yet now largely unrecognized.  Perhaps because he never sought the limelight his life was not one of public prominence.  Yet, in his time, Heslop was a popular and well-known figure in Newcastle’s civic, commercial and antiquarian circles, his many and varied roles including that of businessman, historian, lexicologist, author, songwriter and liberalist, as well as holding esteemed civic positions such as Justice of the Peace and Consul to the Netherlands.  

A gentleman of great charm of personality … one of the best known and most highly esteemed figures in Northern commercial and literary circles…

Newcastle Daily Journal, March 4, 1916
Oliver Heslop

While he was a very successful businessman – a self-made man – and civic leader, he is most famously known for his work as a historian and lexicologist.  There was no aspect of Northumbria’s heritage that was not addressed by Heslop.  Place names, its people and their language, its history and archeology as well as its industrial development, were all examined and placed in context.

He lectured to audiences throughout the region while writing stories and songs under the pseudonym, Harry Haldane.  He achieved widespread recognition for his work, Northumbrian Words, a dictionary of the Northumberland dialect published on behalf of the English Dialect Society in 1892.

Oliver Heslop’s unexpected death in 1916 at the age of 74, brought together a Who’s Who of dignitaries that included the Lord Mayor of Newcastle and the Sheriff both of whom, according to the Newcastle Journal, wore their robes of office as a mark of official respect.  The funeral was also attended by Sir Walter Runciman, M.P., City Councilors and the Mayor of Durham as well as representatives from five Consular offices.  Local papers of the day were effusive in their praise of Heslop and his work, perhaps none describing him better than the obituary written in the Newcastle Daily Journal on March 4, 1916:

A gentleman of great charm of personality, he was one of the best known and most highly esteemed figures in Northern commercial and literary circles and he filled many public positions with grace, distinction and commanding urbanity. 
His researches were conducted with the zeal of an enthusiast and his efforts in disclosing the lustre of Northumberland and Newcastle in this particular realm will stand as a monument to his name for many years to come.”

It is more the pity that his name has since been largely forgotten.


Oliver Heslop was born March 14, 1842 at Villa Place in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Joseph and Elizabeth Heslop.  His father was a relieving officer, a job that involved administering aid to the poor.  He was educated at the Royal Grammar School following which he entered into a seven-year apprenticeship with Messrs. Haggie of Gateshead, a well-known supplier of rope and chains to the marine and coal mining industries.

In 1867, the same year in which he married Margaret Webster, Heslop ventured into his own business as an iron and steel merchant with offices located at Sandhill and Stockbridge in Newcastle.  Following their marriage, the couple moved to Ashfield Terrace in Elswick where they lived with Heslop’s sister, Sarah, until about 1880 when the family moved to Corbridge.  By this time, the couple had two children, Agnes 3, and Richard Oliver, 5 months.  Another son, Cuthbert, would be born the following year.  The Heslop family eventually returned to Newcastle in 1900, moving into a spacious house on Eskdale Terrace where he lived until his sudden death on March 4, 1916.

Heslop’s Map Showing Regional Dialect Variations


It is unclear as to when Heslop took an interest in the Northumberland history and dialect.  He’d written a column, ‘North Country Words and Their Meaning,’ for the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle for several years and it is thought that he commenced work on his signature book, Northumberland Words, after moving to Corbridge.  In recognition of his study of the antiquities of Northumbria, especially with regard to the region’s dialects, in 1901 he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by Durham University (Armstrong College of Science, Newcastle).  

The many positions he held included:   

President, Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society
Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, London
Vice President, Newcastle Society of Antiquarians
Vice President, Surtees Society
Governor, Royal Grammar School
Governor, The Royal Infirmary
Governor, Armstrong College
Member, Public Library Committee
Member, Laing Art Gallery Committee
Consul, The Netherlands
Justice of the Peace, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Author, Northumberland Words
Author of numerous lectures and essays on Northumbrian history and dialect

A High Level View

I might be showing me age, but I’m still gannen strong.  I mean, I was a hundred and sixty-nine yors old last month.  Noo that’s a canny age and I’m proud to say, I’m the owldest of the bunch roond here.  That modern winky-wonky thing down by the Spillers wharf calls me an ‘old relic’, but I divvent care.  I’d like to see him carry two trains and a couple of double-decker buses ower the river at the same time!    

I was designed by Robert Stephenson, an outstanding engineer who did a champion job with me.  Mind you, he got his brains from his dad, George.  Noo there was a clever bloke.  Invented the forst miner’s safety lamp he did, although most people will tell you that it was invented by some gadgie called Sor Humphrey Davy.  Whey, I’ve never come across a pitman by the name of Humphrey, let alone one that was a “Sor”!  Wor George on the other hand, worked at a pit up in Northumberland for a canny while, though he was originally from Wylam.  So, he knew what was gannen on underground.  If it hadn’t been for some toffee-nosed MP’s in London, who complained that he wasn’t clever enough to make such an important invention, speaking in Northumbrian as he did like, he would have won the two thoosand-poond prize they was offering and not Sor Humphrey.  But for George, it was nowt but a minor setback.  Of course, wor man would gan on to bigger and better things, and eventually outshine his rival.   

I’m very proud of the fact that Queen Victoria horself came to christen me.  She was on her way up to Balmoral in Scotland when they stopped hor train on me upper deck, halfway across the river.  It was raining, and someone opened a window so she could do the official opening.  I was told afterwards that the mayors of Newcastle and Gateshead were expecting hor for a slice of ‘Singin’ Hinny’ and a cup of tea. 

But she didn’t stop, and more than a few people were very upset by Her Majesty’s seemingly bad manners.  (Well, having gan to all that trouble to bake a cake for hor, you would be, wouldn’t you?)  Anyway, the coonsil sent Buckingham Palace a bill for the party.  They never paid it of course but as a token of hor esteem, Hor Royal Highness did bequeath the City of Newcastle a fine gift in hor will.  A pair of hor best knickers!

People, carriages and horse-carts would cross back and forth all day long, preferring my nice level roadway instead of having to struggle up and down the steep lonnens on either bank.  And then they took the owld stone bridge away and I was the only one left.  For a while at least, until they started building more and more bridges and spoiled my view.  Well, I didn’t mind the little Swing Bridge, he wasn’t nay bother and I used to love watching him swing open and close as the ships went by.  And there used to be some ships, let me tell you.  There were colliers, coming and going all day long to the big staithes at Derwenthaugh.  And then there were the warships from Armstrong’s yard at Elswick, with muckle big guns and their sailors, smartly dressed in white uniforms, lined up along the decks.  Eee, that was a sight to see.

Of course, it’s all very quiet noo and though I sometimes miss the hustle and bustle of the owld days, I think I like the peace and quiet.  I certainly don’t miss all the black smoke and soot that was belched out of the trains and ships.  Whey man, it’d get all ower me bonny painted girders.  And as for me beautiful arches, whey they’d end up looking like the walls of a midden.      

 I’m a lot cleaner noo and I’ve had a bit of work done over the last couple of yors: replacement beams and more than a few timbers, you knaa, the usual things that have to be seen to as we get owlder.  Aye, and they’ve also lightened me load by putting in what they call, a ‘one-way system’.  I’ve got to tell you, hinny, it feels much better, but don’t say nowt to that googly-eyed, little gob down-river.  I’ll never hear the last of it!

Andy Bogle