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Issue 3 -March 1972
Me An' Me Marra

Newcastle was indisputably the heart of the mining community of the north-east, its main arteries branching out into the neighbouring coal-seams of Northumberland and Durham, fetching and carrying the ceaseless round of coal.

Although it is no longer the staple industry of the area it has handed down a firm tradition recorded in the many songs and poems of the miners themselves.

Humour was a main feature of the earliest recorded songs, such as the Collier's Rant (1784):

As me an' me marra was gannin te work
We met wi' the divil, it was in the dark,
Aa up wi' me pick, it bein' the neet,
An'aa howked off his claws, likewise his clubfeet,

Follow the horses, Johnny me laddie
Follow them through, me canny lad oh
Follow the horses, Johnny me laddie
How lad, lie away me canny lad oh.

Yet it was a black, grim humour, no doubt a reaction against the inherent hardships of mining. Other songs, not so harsh, originate from the pre-industrial revolution era; for example, Byker Hill:

Geordie Thompson had a pig
And he hit it with a shovel and it danced a jig
All the way to Byker Hill
It danced the Elsie Marley.

Byker Hill and Walker Shore, me lads
Collier lads for evermore, me boys
Byker Hill and Walker Shore, me lads
Collier lads for evermore.

George Hitchin in his essay 'First Day' writes: "I tailed along behind the men until we reached a point where the last electric light glowed. Beyond lay utter darkness. The light of my lamp grew in brightness in contrast to the enveloping gloom. We had been following a narrow railway, but presently we turned off at an angle, leaving the railway behind as we entered the travelling road or gallery. A hundred yards or so along this road we stopped outside an iron gate, but not before I had received my miner's baptism by knocking my head on the roof. Beyond the gate, as in a corridor, were lights, voices, a jingle of harness, the stamping of hooves and a strong smell of horse manure. Just inside the stables stood the wagonway-man, talking to a youth, Gillie held up his lamp to see my face.
"What's thou called, hinny?"
"Hitchin," I replied. "Geordie Hitchin."
"Sailor Hitchin's lad?" he inquired.
I admitted it, and he turned to the youth by his side. "Not very big, is he?" They both laughed. "Gang we' Fred, here," he instructed me. "I'll see thee in-bye. And mind thou doesn't fall in the greaser." He rumpled my hair with his hand."

The Industrial Revolution brought a greater demand for coal and conditions deteriorated. The miner's voice became more embittered, e.g. Thomas Wilson's 'The Pitman's Pay' 1826:

Think on us hinnies, if ye please
An' it were but to show yor pity
For a' the toils and tears it gi'es
To warm the shins o' Lunnun city.

Militancy increased as the 19th century approached. Blacklegs were brought in to break strikes, and the hatred this caused boiled over into 'The Blackleg Miner':

Oh early in the evenin' just after dark
The Blackleg miners creep out an' gan to work
Wi' their moleskin trousers an' dorty auld shirts
Go the dorty blackleg miners.

They take their picks an' down they go
Te dig out the coal that's lyin' below
An' there isn't a woman in this town row
Will look at a blackleg miner.

Oh Deleval is a terrible place
They rub wet clay in the blackleg's face
An' round the pit-heaps they run a foot-race
Wi' the dorty blackleg miners

Oh divvent gan near the Seghill mine
For across the way they stretch a line
For te catch the throat an' break the spine
Of the dorty blackleg miner.

Ye take yor duds an' tools as well
An' down ye go te the pit of hell
It's doon ye go an' fare the well
Thou dorty blackleg miner.

So join the union while ye may
Don't ye wait till yer dyin' day
Fer that may not be so far away
Ye dorty blackleg miners.

In another song, the militant mood is reflected, this time against the owners during the great ''lock-out' when miners protested about a 10% pay reduction. The word 'candy' is used in the song. It originated when a local candy-seller turned blackleg hirer in the early days of north-east miners strikes. Afterwards blacklegs were called candy-men.

Oh the miners of South Medomsley, they're gannin' to make some stew,
They're gannin' to boil fat Postick and his dorty Candy Crew,
The maisters shall have nowt but soup as long as the're alive
In mem'ry of the dorty trick in 1885.

Because of the conditions and lack of safety regulations disasters were frequent. Tommy Armstrong's famous Trimdon Grange Explosion records one such event.

Oh let's not think of tomorrow lest we disappointed be
Our joys may turn to sorrows as we all may daily see
Today we're strong and healthy, but tomorrow brings a change
As we all may see from the explosion that's occurred at Trimdon Grange.

Men and boys set out that morning for to earn their daily bread
Not thinking that by evening they'd be numbered with the dead
Lets think of Mrs Burnet once had sons but now has none
By the Trimdon Grange Explosion Joseph George and James have gone.

February left behind it what will never be forgot
Weeping widows helpless children may be found in many a cot
They ask if father's left them an the mother hangs
With a weeping widows feelings tells the child its father's dead.

God protect the lonely widow and raise up each drooping head
Be a father to the orphans do not let them cry for bread
Death will pay us all a visit they have only gone before
And we'll meet the Trimdon victims where explosions are no more

The tradition continues today with such men as the late Jack Elliott of Birtley, and Johnny Handle.

The collier lad, he's a canny lad,
And he's always of good chear
And he knaas how to work,
And he knaas how to shork
An' he knaas how to sup good beer.

Nowadays poets still write in appreciation of the miners' hard struggle. For example, Robert Morgan wrote:

On the way out, through twisting roads of rocky
Silence, you could sense images of confusion
In the slack chain of shadows; muscles
Were nerve tight and thoughts infested
With wrath and sharp edges of fear.
Towards the sun's lamp we moved, taking
Home the dark prisoner in his shroud of coats.

Jim and Geoff

'The Argument' by James Floyd - Ashington miner - by courtesy of the DLI Museum

Many thanks to Joe Gott, steward of Bearpark Working Men's Club, who has helped out immensely during the miners strike by laying on meals at most mealtimes for the picketing miners. Ally, his wife, also took rum down to the pickets to keep them warm. Apparently he has also helped a lot of the miners financially. Keep it up Bruvvers!