Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Great Race on the Tyne

On April 19, 1859, a sculling race was rowed on the Tyne that passed into legend and song. Local man Robert Chambers (right) took on the London waterman Tom White over a course from the High Level Bridge to Scotswood Suspension Bridge, a distance of some three miles.
Just before the half way mark Chambers ran into a moored keel (a trading barge) and was turned completely round. By the time he got back on course he was 100 yards behind. For any other oarsman, this would have effectively been the end of the race, but by sheer willpower Chambers not only made up the distance but won 60 yards.
Many of the heavy-betting spectators had walked away from their vantage points on the bank in disgust, only to miss the most exciting finish of any sculling race ever, probably.
The great Geordie music hall comedian Ned Corvan wrote a song about it. Note the allegation that White ran Chambers onto the keel, a very libellous accusation that would doubtless have had him hauled through the courts these days.

The Tyne wi' fame is ringin' on heroes old and young,
Fresh lawrels daily bringin', but noo awl men hez sung
In praise o' honest Chambers, ov Tyneside men the pride.
Who defeated White ov London for one hundred pund a side.

Chorus: Singin' pull away, pull away, pull away, boys,
Pull away, boys, se cliver;
Pull away, pull away, pull away, boys,
Chambers for iver!

They're off, they're off, the cry is, then cheers suin rend the air,
Like leetnin' they pass by us, the game an' plucky pair;
Greek meets Greek, then faster an' faster grows the pace.
Gan on, Chambers! gan on, White! may the best man win the race.

Singin' pull away, etc.

Stroke for stroke contendin, they sweep on wi' the tide,
Fortune seems impendin the victor te decide;
At last the Cockney losin' strength, the fowlin gam' did steal,
He leaves his wetter ivery length, an' runs Chambers iv a keel

Spoken-- What a hulla baloo! Hoo the Cockney speeled away; ivery yen thowt the race was ower. Some said it was a deed robbery, others a worry, an' wawked hyem before the finish o' the race. There was a chep stannin' aside me wiv his hands iv his pockets--aw'm sartin thor wis nowt else in--luikin' on te river wiv a feyce like a fiddle stick. He sung the following lament, efter the style of "There's nae luck" :

Ten lengths aheed! Fareweel, bedsteed! maw achin' byens nee mair
On thou mun rowl; No, this poor sowl mun rest on deep despair.
Wor Nannie, tee, she'll curse an' flee, an' belt me like a Tork,
For aw've lost me money, time, an' spree, an' mebbies lost maw work.

Chorus: For oh! dismay upon that da in ornist did begin,
On ivery feyce a chep might trace-- (Spoken) Whe's forst-- Bob?
(Sings) Oh! the Cockney's sure te win.

Says one poor sowl aw've sell'd my pigs, my clock, my drawers an' bed,
An' doon te Walker aw mun wark, when aw might a rode I'stead.
Gox! there's wor Jim an' a' the crews pawned ivery stich o' claes,
An' they say thor's two cheps sell'd thor wives, the six te fower te raise.

For oh, dismay, etc.

Spoken -- Comin' doon efter awl wis ower, aw meets one i' wor cheps, an Irishman; they cawd him Patrick, but aw cawd him Mick for shortness. He waden't wait for the finish, altho' he backed Bob; so aw hailed him, "Hie, Mick, whe's forst?" "Go to blazes!" says he. "Nonsense, Mick; whe's forst?" "Och, sure," says he, "the Londin man was forst half-way before the race was quarther over." "Had on, Mick, that's a bull. Did ye lay owt on tiv him -- aw mean Bob?" "By my sowl, I did! an' I'd like to lay this lump ov a stick on his dhirty cocoa-nut. The next time I speculate on floatin' praporty may I be sthruck wid a button on my upper lip as big as a clock face." "But, Chambers is forst!" says aw. "Arrah! de ye mane to say that?" says he, "Didn't aw tell ye he'd win afore iver he started?" "Hurroo! more power! fire away!"

Chorus: Pull away, pull away, pull away, boys,
Pull away, boys, se cliver;
Pull away, pull away, pull away, boys.
Chambers for iver!

It is said that Chambers offered to rerun the race because of the foul but Tom White understandably declined. Thereafter, Chambers was universally known as 'Honest Bob'.

(Words from Conrad Bladey's Beuk o' Newcassel Sangs)

2 comments:

Tillerman said...

I remember that the first time I went to Newcastle I stepped off the bus and thought I had arrived in a foreign country. The Geordie accent was so strange that it took a while before I could understand what anybody was saying.

So it was fun to read a poem attempting to put down in writing how that delightful accent sounds. But I'm still puzzled. What does "se cliver" mean?

ChrisP said...

Geordie is not my first language, but I suspect 'se cliver' is 'so clever'. The words were obviously chosen more to find a rhyme for 'Chambers for ever' than to make all that much sense.