Heritage Talk: Dr Paul Gilchrist – Barge Day on the Tyne

13 May 2023

Dr Paul Gilchrist – Barge Day on the Tyne

The Old Low Light Heritage Centre will welcome a new speaker, Dr Paul Gilchrist (University of Brighton), who will explore the hidden histories of Tyneside’s Barge Day ritual which until 1901 was the most spectacular aquatic civic ritual outside of London.

This will take place at the heritage centre at 11am on Saturday 13 May 2023.  Admission is £4pp (members and children under 16 free) and seats can be booked online by clicking the button above.

Based on extensive research, Paul will describe the evolution of the ritual and the oddities that entertained vast crowds both on and along the river. He will detail the growing sense of opposition of North Shields to the ritual in relation to its assertion of rights to the river and will share too his own familial connections to Barge Day.

He will explain how every Tyneside community was involved in the Barge Day celebration. This was a grand civic occasion performed on Ascension Day that lasted from the sixteenth century until 1901.

The origins of the event lay within the assertion of jurisdictional rights over the River Tyne, making it an aquatic example of Rogationtide ‘Beating the Bounds’ ceremonies, and a source of controversy that agitated the sticky relations between North Shields and Newcastle for legal control of the river.

Foremost though, Barge Day was a spectacular ritual enjoyed by all classes and its survival into the early twentieth century even eclipsed the grand Mayoral flotillas that were witnessed on the River Thames by some fifty years.

Paul’s interest in the Barge Day ritual started about ten years ago when he chanced upon a curious family connection while undertaking research into his North East ancestors.

He has since scoured archives in the North East to bring together new sources to provide exhaustive detail on Barge Day. The talk will cover the visual record of Barge Day in local art, will provide detail on the boats included in the flotilla and the sporting contests performed on Kings Meadow island, and will even delve into the macabre history of accidental deaths amongst all the revelry.

Paul is a lecturer in human geography at the University of Brighton where he specialises in the geographies and histories of leisure and popular culture. His ancestors lived and worked on Tyneside in the nineteenth century.

Picture: Wilson Hepple (1854-1937). Barge Day on the Tyne, 1771 (painted 1878). The Mansion House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Sign up to our newsletter and Stay up to date with the latest news from the old low light.

To receive regular updates about the events and activities at the Old Low Light, please fill in your email address below.