This weekend doesn’t just mark the 60th anniversary of Big Phil’s wife becoming Queen, you know.
It also is 150 years ago today that Geordie Ridley first sang The Blaydon Races in Balmbra’s Music Hall at the bottom of the Bigg Market, at an event to celebrate Whickham oarsman and local sporting hero (more than a decade before the second Geordie national anthem was written) Harry Clasper.
Though Ridley died in 1864, all these decades later his legend lives on and the song must surely be known by almost everybody on Tyneside. Having long been sung by Newcastle United fans at St James’ Park, it can also be heard at Kingston Park as the South Stand roars on the Mighty Falcons.
Although presumably a song to entertain his audience, Geordie Ridley was somewhat commercially-minded, sticking in a note about his upcoming show in Blaydon on the famous 9th of June. It is thought the original song at Balmbra’s ended with what is now considered the penultimate verse, mentioning the Blaydon event, and the final verse was added there.
The original Blaydon horse races were held on an island in the Tyne for many years but ended in 1916 when the winning horse was disqualified, prompting a riot. Ironically, the 1862 races were called off due to a heavy storm that made it impossible for the horses to run!
However in 1981 a new road race event was launched, and today 4,000 runners annually take on the 5.9-mile course that follows the route of the song.
I am of course not the only person to remember this anniversary and there are some events going on to celebrate it, as you will find here. I myself fancy the reet Geordie knees up that will be going down in Clerkenwell, central London this Saturday!
In the meantime, doth your flat cap, get your whippet on a lead and raise a Brown Ale to a one of the things that make Newcastle the Greatest City on Earth.
In 1891 a book names Allan’s Tyneside Songs was published, containing the following lyrics to The Blaydon Races. For rugby purposes, you only really need the first verse and the chorus:
Aw went to Blaydon Races, ’twas on the ninth of Joon,
Eiteen hundred an’ sixty-two, on a summer’s efternoon;
Aw tyuk the ‘bus frae Balmbra’s, an’ she wis heavy laden,
Away we went alang Collingwood Street, that’s on the road to Blaydon.
Ah me lads, ye shud only seen us gannin’,
We pass’d the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin’;
Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces,
Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.
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 gan te Blaydon Races.
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.
Noo when we gat to Paradise thor wes bonny gam begun;
Thor was fower-an-twenty on the ‘bus, man, hoo they danced an’ sung;
They called on me to sing a sang, aw sung them “Paddy Fagan”,
Aw danced a jig an’ swung my twig that day aw went to Blaydon.
We flew across the Chain Bridge reet into Blaydon toon,
The bellman he was callin’ there, they call him Jackie Broon;
Aw saw him talkin’ to sum cheps, an’ them he was pursuadin’
To gan an’ see Geordy Ridley’s concert in the Mechanics’ Hall at Blaydon.
The rain it poor’d aw the day an’ myed the groons quite muddy,
Coffy Johnny had a white hat on – they war shootin’ “Whe stole the cuddy.”
There wes spice stalls an’ munkey shows an’ aud wives selling ciders,
An’ a chep wiv a hapenny roond aboot, shootin’ “Noo, me lads, for riders.”
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)