We are very pleased to welcome back Pat Stevens who has previously given talks about some of Tyneside’s best-known suffragettes, including Norah Balls, who lived in Tynemouth.

This time Pat will talk about Geordie Ridley, the Tyneside concert hall songwriter and performer from the mid-19th century, whose songs were a commentary on working class life, the most well-known being ‘The Blaydon Races’ and ‘Cushie Butterfield’.

Pat will reflect on how Geordie was born, the third of nine children, in one of the poorest mining areas of Gateshead. In 1843, he was sent down the pit to work when he was eight years old, a month before a new law was passed which would have stopped him going down at such a young age. He worked in mines for about ten years before moving to an engineering firm where he suffered a serious accident which left him unfit for heavy work.

At that point he turned to writing songs and performing in music halls, including the Wheatsheaf Music Hall, Newcastle that was previously Balmbra’s and mining institutes in places like Winlaton and Blaydon.

He lived during a time of great poverty, when killer diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis were prevalent, but it was also an era of when change was happening, including the introduction of steam engines, following the establishment of Stephenson’s locomotive manufacturing company in Newcastle.

Pat explained: “He wrote a huge range of songs which are fascinating because they really chart social history from a time when not much was written about working class life. His songs give an idea of what people thought about life at that time and about changes that were happening.”

She will talk about some of the characters in his songs, including police officers who had only recently been introduced to take over from watchmen, and the ‘muck men’ who collected human waste from the outside toilets and sold it as manure, as well as practices such as using ‘yellow clay’ on doorsteps to improve their appearance.

Sadly, although Geordie managed to move away from the slums, into ‘gentlemen’s residences’ Grahamsley Street, Gateshead, the site of which has a blue plaque commemorating his life, he died young in 1864 at the age of 29.

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