An audio CD telling the remarkable history of the Blaydon & Winlaton area in song. An evolving story beginning with coal & keelmen, to Ambrose Crowley then Joe Cowen, the famous races of course, then old Blaydon and its subsequent modernisation and finally a walk along the 'Keelmen's Way', reflecting on those amazing times.
The CD is also available for digital download and streaming on the Bandcamp website. Download the app then 'search and discover music' for Roly Veitch. Click Here
Have you ever wondered about the true story behind the Blaydon Races? And just who were the keelmen? Where did north east coal mining start? Where were the seeds of the Industrial Revolution first germinated? Where was the first social welfare scheme for workers who because of it were probably the very first group of people meeting the accepted criteria of a definition of 'the working class'? Which controversial nineteenth century businessman, politician and social reformer did so much to further the lot of ordinary working people? If you would like answers to these question, read on.
Every place has its history - every town, every village. That of the Blaydon, Winlaton and Stella area of Tyneside is, by any standard, remarkably rich.
Of course Geordies worldwide know of the Blaydon Races anthem. The actual horse races began as an informal ‘point to point’ meeting on land near where Blaydon railway station is now situated but in their heyday, in the 1860’s, they were a formal meeting held on Dent’s Meadow (aka Blaydon Island), a large island in the Tyne. A unique location. When the island was removed, part of the work of the Tyne Improvement Commission, the races moved a short distance west to Stella Haugh, the site of a great battle between the English and Scots back in August 1640. After a slow decline the races ended during the great war.
The village of Winlaton, lying on higher ground above Blaydon, was one of a handful of places along the Tyne Valley where coal was near the surface and hence was the location of very early commercial mining, a forerunner of the Great Northern Coalfield’s extensive mining. Allied to this there was much keelman activity at the many staiths lying on the riverside between Blaydon and Stella.
As industry grew, often closely tied to coal, so sprouted the seeds of the industrial revolution which some academics now believe began in the locality of the lower Derwent valley and this part of the Tyne valley lying in close proximity.
Then in 1690/91 came the era of Sir Ambrose Crowley. This innovative ironmonger and entrepreneur came from a family business in Stourbridge via apprenticeship in London to Sunderland initially. His idea was to use high quality iron shipped from Sweden and spare capacity on North Sea collier traffic to bulk transport his raw materials and products. The Sunderland business was unsuccessful so he relocated to Winlaton, with rumoured financial backing from Sir William Bowes. The business then thrived, mainly due to repeat orders from the Admiralty for nails, chains and other iron goods. He soon extended to nearby Winlaton Mill then to Swalwell. It was said to be the largest integrated industrial enterprise in Europe with, at its peak, some 1500 workers. They were known as Crowley’s Crew and enjoyed steady wages, a welfare scheme that included pension, injury and illness benefits and also he provided a school, a church and a doctor. All this in return for a very strict, paternal regime with long working hours, tight controls and even a curfew. Some academics now say it was the first ever example of a social group fitting all the criteria of ‘the working class’. The last Winlaton chain maker, Nixon & Whitfield, closed in December 1966 some 275 years after it all began.
As the Crowley business closed down in Winlaton a new phenomenon emerged. Joseph Cowen (later Sir Joseph) had been one of the Crowley Crew. An astute businessman, but one who believed in the Crowley ethos, he invested in brickworks and mines (at nearby Blaydon Burn) and he built a thriving business based on respect for his workers and a desire to be among them and further their lot in life. Then came his charismatic son Joe Cowen (The Blaydon Brick), a strongly principled social reformer, businessman, politician and press baron. Joe Cowen was instrumental in starting a Co-op store in Blaydon, the first in the north east. An enthusiastic supporter of Co-operation, based on the Rochdale principles, it was the sort of undertaking that he loved. Blaydon had rapidly expanded into a thriving industrial town between 1850 and 1900 and the Co-op (the Store) was at its heart.
In the late 1960s, a time when many old Victorian towns were being modernised, came the compulsory purchase orders, the clearance and demolition of much of old Blaydon. It was a ruthless and startlingly comprehensive undertaking and one which older town folk still talk about with regret and a feeling of great nostalgia for their old town. Having said that, modern Blaydon, with its shopping precinct, generous parking facilities and good transport links, is a thriving town with much hustle and bustle.
Nice though to stop now and again and think back to those halcyon days of the keelmen, the miners, Crowley’s Crew, Joe Cowen and of course those world famous races on the island.
‘A Legend Evermore’ is an audio CD telling all of these stories, and more, in a traditionally styled collection of songs sung in natural dialect. The 6 page CD insert booklet also gives a background history in support of the songs.
This CD is a reworking of my CD 'A Canny Tale' by Crowley's Crew issued 2017. Several tracks have been revised or replaced and also some new instrumental material has been added.
A Keelman's Lament
The Lead Road
Silver Hill Days
The Blaydon Brick (The Cowen story)
Winlaton Rapper Calling On Song
A Legend Evermore (The Blaydon Races Story)
Coffee Johnny Wore a White Top Hat
The Battle of Stella Haugh
The Spike, Down by the Riverside
Canny Old Blaydon
Three Cheers for Blaydon Co-op
The Keelman's Way
The Keel Row
All songs composed by Roly Veitch except tracks 7, 8, 10 and 18. The Spike uses the melody of 'Down by the Riverside' in the final chorus.
Winlaton Hopping composed by John Leonard, Blaydon Races by George Ridley. Down by the Riverside, Winlaton Rapper Calling On Song and Keel Row are traditional tunes of unknown authorship.
All songs arranged by Roly Veitch.