The Blaydon Races

 The Blaydon Races by William Irving

Painting 'The Blaydon Races' by William Irving
reproduced by kind permission Newcastle Marriott Hotel, Gosforth Park

The short film produced by the Blaydon Day Centre takes in the sites and characters detailed in the famous song as it follows the route from Newcastle to Blaydon, now the route of the present day road race.

Click here to see the Blaydon Day Centre Choir singing the Blaydon Races
 MPEG1; 3.69 MB

George Ridley

George Ridley

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley
Picture shown by kind permission T&G Allan

Following serious injury in an accident at the Gateshead Iron Company in his early twenties, George Ridley was forced to seek alternative employment. Drawing on a considerable talent for writing and performing he made his name filling his songs with reference to local characters and events. It seems likely that in this tale of the chaotic journey by horse omnibus from Newcastle to Blaydon he was recalling events from 1861, the previous year.
On 5th June 1862 Geordie Ridley performed his song ‘The Blaydon Races’ for the first time at the Wheatsheaf Inn, run by John Balmbra on the Cloth Market in Newcastle.

The modern day Blaydon Races starts outside Balmbra's pub in the Bigg Market, Newcastle.

 

Aw went to Blaydon races
'twas on the ninth of Joon,
Eiteen hundred an' sixty two,
on a summer's efternoon,
Aw tuek the bus frae Balmbra's,
an she wis heavy laden,
Away we went alang Collingwood Street thats on the road to Blaydon

Click here to hear the Blaydon Day Centre choir singing the chorus
WAV file; 1.82 MB

The start of the 2001 Blaydon Race

Blaydon Race 2001

O lads, ye shud only seen us gannin,
We passed the foakes upon the road
just as they wor stannin;
Thor wes lots o'  lads an lasses there,
all wi smilin' faces
Gannin' alang the Scotswood Road,
to see the Blaydon Races
Scotswood Road 1910
  Scotswood Road, c.1910

We flew past Airmstrang's factory
and up to the 'Robin Adair'
Just gannin' doon te the railway bridge,
the bus wheel flew off there.
The lasses lost their crinolines off,
an' the veils that hide their faces.
An' aw got two black eyes an' a broken nose
in ga'n te Blaydon Races

Chorus - O lads, etc

 

Railway Bridge, Scotswood Road

The railway bridge at Scotswood Road (1950s)

 

Armstrong's works

Armstrong's Elswick Works, c 1887

W.G. Armstrong first established his armaments works in Elswick in 1847. By the time Ridley wrote the song fifteen years later the success of ‘Armstrong’s factory’ was transforming the area as a rapidly expanding workforce were housed in terraces North of Scotswood Road. By the end of the century the population of Elswick had risen from 1800 to 60,000 and Scotswood Road flourished, becoming famous for its 44 pubs- one on every street corner- such as the ‘Robin Adair’.

When we gat the wheel put on away we went agyen,
But them that had their noses broke, they cam' back ower hyem.
Sum went to the dispensary, an 'uthers to Doctor Gibbs,
An sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken ribs.

Chorus - O lads, etc

Click here to see Blaydon Day Centre's video footage of this part of the song
MPEG1; 3.45 MB

 

Newcastle Infirmary 1850

Newcastle Infirmary c 1850

Dr Gibbs Chambers Dr.Gibb (1824-1916) was originally House Surgeon at the Old Infirmary from 1849 to 1854, later setting up private practice on Westgate Road. His consultation fee for rich and poor alike was 2/6d and, evidently popular enough to merit a mention in the song, was said to have ‘taken the Infirmary with him’ when he left.
Noo when we gat to Paradise thor wes bonny gam begun,
Thor wes fower-and-twenty on the bus, man, hoo they danced an' sung;
They called on me to sing a sang, aa sung them 'Paddy Fagan'.
Aa danced a jig an' swung my twig that day aa went to Blaydon

Click here to hear the Blaydon Day Centre choir sing this verse
WAV file; 1.55 MB

Click here to see video footage of this verse
MPEG1; 3.10 MB

 Before Geordie Ridley’s time the route leading West out of Newcastle took in areas of great natural beauty. A writer of the time told of ‘…kingfishers seen flashing their way across the Tyne, larks hovering over the water meadows, and foxes spotted on their bellies in the undergrowth.’ Inevitably the effects of industry make the naming of places such as ‘Paradise’ seem quite ironic over the years.

 

We flew across the Chain Bridge reet into Blaydon toon,
The bellman he was callin there - they call him Jackey Broon
Aw saw him talkin to sum cheps, an' them he was pursuadin',
To gan an' see Geordy Ridley's show in the Mechanics Haall at Blaydon.

Chorus - O lads, etc.

Click here to see the Blaydon Day Centre's video footage of this part of the song (including the 2001 Blaydon Race) MPEG1; 3.13 MB

 

The Mechanics Institute

The Mechanics Institute, Blaydon

 

Scotswood Bridge, c1880

The Scotswood Bridge c1880

 

Like the old ‘chain bridge’ replaced by the present day Scotswood Bridge in 1965, much of the old Blaydon has now disappeared or been replaced. Similarly, gone are the days when the town crier Jacky Brown could be seen pronouncing the days news and events or, as Geordie Ridley slyly reminds us, his own show that evening in the ‘Mechanics Hall’.

 

 

 

The rain it poor's aw the day, an myed the groon'd quite muddy,
Coffy Johnny had a white hat on - they war shootin' "who stool the cuddy?"
There wes spice stalls an' munkey shows, an aud wives selling ciders,
An' a chep wiv a happeny roond aboot shootin' noo, me lads, for riders.

Chorus - O lads, etc.

Click here to view the Blaydon Day Centre singing the final chorus
MPEG1; 3.69 MB

Coffee Johnny

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee Johnny

John Oliver, the ’Coffee Johnny’ mentioned in the last verse of the ‘Blaydon Races’ was born in nearby Winlaton. He had a great reputation as a bare knuckle fighter and was an ardent fan of hunting and horseracing. His joke ‘whe stole the cuddy’ was a reference to the lack of horses on race day caused by torrential rains making it difficult to get the horses across to Blaydon Island where the races were then held.

Site of the Blaydon Races, 1860s

Site of Blaydon Races Race Course 1861-65

 In its chequered history the Blaydon races were held at three different locations from 1811, finally being abandoned in 1916 after a riot sparked by allegations of race fixing broke out. However, 1915 saw the publication of the book ‘Tyneside Songs’ in which ‘The Blaydon Races’ was collected and a song, which had remained largely forgotten after Geordie Ridley’s death in 1864, captured the imagination of the public and was embraced as the ‘Geordie Anthem’, as it remains to this day.

 

Reproduction of the Blaydon Races lyrics is by kind permission of T&G Allan.

 

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