Tyneside Pride : Who is a Geordie?

DAVID SIMPSON explores the origins of the word ‘Geordie’ and the changes in its meaning over two centuries.

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne

Also see our Geordie Dictionary pages in our roots and dialect section.

So who or what is a ‘Geordie’?

‘Geordie’ is the name given to the natives of Tyneside or at least that’s what the term has come to mean today but what is the origin of this word?

Well to put it simply in one sentence: Geordie is a nickname for someone called George. That’s just about the only thing we can say with certainty in regard to its use in North East England.

How Geordie came to be associated with Tyneside has a number of different theories and it’s worth exploring a few of them here. Just don’t expect a definitive answer that’s all.

In the 1700s, just as today, ‘Geordie’ was the prevalent pet form of the name ‘George’ among the Scots and the people of the far north of England and since there was a succession of four ruling kings called George from 1714 to 1830, it was a very familiar name. Its use and adoption may very probably reflected the opinions and feelings of the populace towards their ruling monarch at any given time.

My personal favourite theory for why Newcastle in particular came to be the home of the ‘Geordie’ is linked to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 when the town closed its gates to the Jacobite army that had mustered strong support across Northumberland.

The Jacobites, named from ‘Jacobus’ a Latin form of James, wanted to place James Stuart, the Catholic ‘Old Pretender’ on the throne. Newcastle had other ideas however and declared its support for the reigning King, ‘Geordie’ : King George I, the German Protestant, who couldn’t speak a word of English.

This is a neat and very satisfying explanation perpetuated by writers and historians during the later half of the twentieth century – myself included. Even the late Bill Griffiths in his wonderful thoroughly researched ‘Dictionary of North East Dialect’ (2004) examines the origins for different definitions of ‘Geordie’ but can only point to an article in The Northern Echo newspaper (August 1997) to support the Jacobite theory.

Now, I have to confess straight away and say that I was in fact the enthusiastic young author of that particular newspaper article. I was merely repeating a theory that had more than once been thrown around by late twentieth century writers such as David Bean. In  his book ‘Tyneside : a biography’ Bean admittedly added a cautious element of doubt to his colourful explanation with the phrase: “Or so it is guessed”. He then went on to make the familiar suggestion that it came from the use of Stephenson’s Geordie lamp.

David Bean's explanation of 'Geordie' from Tyneside : A Biography (1971)
David Bean’s explanation of ‘Geordie’ from Tyneside : a biography (1971)

Go back more than half a dozen  decades earlier to the nineteenth century and you will find a legion of writers and researchers who left no stone unturned in their quest to explore and explain every facet of local culture and dialect. Not one of these – as far as I know – makes any mention of a link between George I and ‘Geordie Newcastle’. In fact as a written record it is not until the last decade of the nineteenth century that we get any reliable evidence that ‘Geordie’ was specifically associated with Tyneside. It does seem though that it was a name given by outsiders.

In 1892 Richard Oliver Heslop’s, two-volume tome entitled ‘Northumberland Words’ was published. This work formed the basis for late twentieth century Geordie publications like Cecil Geeson’s ‘Northumberland and Durham Word Book’ (1969) and Frank Graham’s ‘Geordie Dictionary’ (1974 and 1987). In one of the shortest entries in his glossary, Heslop explains that ‘Geordy’ is the name by which Tynesiders are known outside the district.

The use of the word ‘outside’ is curious because it suggests the term was not yet accepted onTyneside itself or at least not accepted by the middle class audience at which Heslop presumably aimed his work. Heslop said that ‘Geordy’ is also the term for a Tyne ship and for George Stephenson’s miners’ safety lamp. However, it is in Heslop’s accompanying cross reference to the related term ‘Cranky’ that we find a clear indication of the earlier meaning of ‘Geordie’.

Miners' safety lamps showing the inventions of Humphy Davy and George Stephenson
Miners’ safety lamps showing the inventions of Humphry Davy and George Stephenson

Heslop reveals that ‘Cranky’ or ‘Bob Cranky’ was the popular old term for a miner in the region and cites its use in a phrase from a local song dating from 1804. Heslop says the phrase was in later times replaced by ‘Geordy’.

A linguist, Katie Wales, concurred on the association between Geordies and miners and pointed to an early use of ‘Geordie’ as a reference to miners in local ballads and songs from as early as 1793. The use of the term in this respect will have been reinforced by local miners adopting George Stephenson’s safety lamp (invented 1815) which they nicknamed the ‘Geordie’ or ‘Geordy’ if we are to use Heslop’s spelling.

Explanations for 'Geordy' and 'Cranky' in Richard Heslop's 'Northumberland Words' 1892
Explanations for ‘Geordy’ and ‘Cranky’ in Richard Heslop’s ‘Northumberland Words’ 1892

Heslop, who was of course writing for a Northumberland and Tyneside readership gives an early link between the miners of Tyneside and the term ‘Geordie’ as he says “the men who went from the lower Tyneside to work at the pits in South Tynedale were always called ‘Geordies’ by the people there.” The date at which the Tyneside connection to ‘Geordie’ came into being in South Tynedale is not clear.

Almost half a century earlier, in 1847, John Brockett’s two volume ‘Glossary of North Country Words’ published in Newcastle upon Tyne opted for the spelling ‘Geordie’ which he describes “as a very common name among the pitmen” and showed that it was a form of address between them. He further confirmed that “the pitmen have given the name of ‘Geordie’ to Mr. Stephenson’s lamp in contra-diction to the Davy, or Sir Humphrey Davy’s Lamp”. Brockett made no mention of Newcastle or Tyneside in relation to the term Geordie.

From Brockett's Glossary of North Country Words 1847
From Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words 1847

Most of the evidence from the Victorian era points to ‘Geordie’ being a widely used for term for miners in the region. However, another source, J.P Robson’s ‘Songs of the Bards of the Tyne’ (1849) said that it was used as a word for ‘rustics’.

The first occurrence of the word ‘Geordie’ in ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’ is in 1866 as ‘Jordies’  and is defined as “the sailors belonging to the ports on the north-eastern coast of England”. Of course, this may have been the south country or London understanding of the term. London, remember was constantly visited by sailors from the North East coast as part of the coal trade.

Only three years later, in 1869, John Camden Hotten, a London bibliophile and expert on ‘slang’ contradicted the Oxford Dictionary stating that Geordie was a “general term in Northumberland and Durham for a pitman or coal-miner.” He stated that that the origin was not known and that the term had been in use for more than a century. The degree of certainty in Hotten’s statement is not known but it places the origin of ‘Geordie’ when defined as a ‘miner’ back before 1769.

There is, however, an early reference linking the term ‘Geordie’ specifically to Tyneside in relation to shipping. This occurs in the Sunderland section of William Fordyce’s ‘History of County Durham’ (1857). Here Fordyce mentions that a “recent periodical supplies us with the curious information that mariners term a vessel from the Tyne a Geordie and from the Wear a Jamie.” It’s a tantalising link back to the Jacobite theory but there’s no evidence to suggest that Sunderland had been particularly pro-Jacobite.

On the same page in relation to shipbuilding, Fordyce makes the remark that “it was derisively said that the Sunderland shipbuilders could either make a ship or build one” as the quality of the workmanship was seemingly regulated by price on Wearside. This was possibly an early origin for the term ‘Mac n’ Tac’ (later ‘Mackem’), used by outsiders in reference to Sunderland that perhaps regained prominence around the 1960s but seemingly was not familiar to Wearsiders until around the 1980s when the insult was enthusiastically adopted and became a badge of honour in much the same way that the ‘Geordie’ insult was adopted on Tyneside.

The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland
The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland

On further investigation it becomes clear that ‘Geordie’ seems to have originated as an insult for a miner (and perhaps a mariner). At the very least it was a patronising term and seems to have been a byword for a fool. Frank Graham suggested that the word originally literally meant ‘fool’ and linked it to the madness of King George III who reigned from 1760-1820.

Supporting the view that Geordie meant ‘fool’, Graham cited a quote that came from the famed music hall comedian, Billy Purvis in 1823 spoken at the Newcastle Races on the Town Moor that year. Billy slated a pitman who had left his wife and sold his furniture to become a performing clown and rival to Purvis. In the quote Purvis said the pitman was a genuine fool unlike Purvis himself, who was merely acting the clown to earn a living:

“Noo, yor a fair doon reet feul, not an artificial feul like Billy Purvis! Thous a real Geordie!”

Billy Purvis, Newcastle Music Hall Comedian
Billy Purvis, Newcastle Music Hall Comedian

‘Geordie’, as a slightly patronising term for a pitman was still widely used in the late nineteenth century.

From 1887 to 1891, a popular Newcastle-based publication called ‘The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend’ explored the heritage and culture of Northumberland, Newcastle and occasionally County Durham with a middle class readership in mind. Generally this publication is full of wonderful informative articles and illustrations but its pages also include countless features on local ‘North Country Wit and Humour’ usually featuring ‘Geordie’ who is almost always depicted as a generic pitman and a bit of a fool. In these features the pitman or ‘Geordie’ includes miners from as far south as Castle Eden near the Durham coast.

A typical observation of a 'Geordie' miner from the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Legend, this example from March 1887
A typical observation of a ‘Geordie’ miner from the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Legend, this example from March 1887

Frank Graham held the view that the middle classes of Newcastle once feared the miners and patronised them with the term ‘Geordie’ but over time, during the twentieth century it became a more friendly accepted term that was widely adopted across the region.

Graham was himself a rather colourful character. He was the Newcastle-based author and publisher of hundreds of small scholarly books for the general reader mostly featuring Northumberland history. Born in Sunderland, he was a noted Communist who had voluntarily fought in the Spanish Civil War against the Fascists.

In addition to his Geordie Dictionary, Graham was perhaps best-known as the publisher in 1969 of the tongue-in cheek ‘Larn Yarsel’ Geordie’ written by the humour writer and art teacher Scott Dobson of Blyth. At around this time Geordie was primarily associated with Tyneside but still often widely used in a broad sense for all people across the region in Northumberland and Durham. It was, it seems only in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps in part due to increasing football rivalry, that ‘Geordie’ became much more exclusively associated with the people of the lower Tyne.

Our online  Geordie Dictionary from our roots and dialect page

Geordie phrases poster print from Tangled Worm

From local fun run to the world’s best half marathon

This year’s Great North Run is fast approaching. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE  finds out some interesting facts and regales her own experiences of the iconic North East event.

Great North Run
The Great North Run. Photo: © Chris Booth www.chrisbooth.photos/

It isn’t called the world’s most famous half marathon for no reason.

The run was originally devised by Tynesider and former Olympic 10,000 metre bronze medallist and BBC Sport commentator Brendan Foster. The first Great North Run which was advertised as a ‘local fun run’ began on 28 June 1981, when 12,000 runners participated.

Fast forward three decades and the number of participants had risen to 47,000 with this year’s event boasting a record 57,000 runners who will pound across the iconic Tyne Bridge to South Shields sea front.

Nothing quite prepares you for this event and it’s so much more than just ‘going for a run’. I’m about to (hopefully) complete my fifth this year and I can’t wait.

Standing at the start line and looking ahead at the sea of coloured tops and eccentric fancy dress is nothing short of amazing. How they get 57,000 people on the central motorway each year in an orderly fashion always astounds me.

Every single person has their own story for competing, and most are extremely touching. It’s hard not to get emotional seeing the huge variety of charity runners and signs on people’s vests emblazoning messages like ‘for you mum’ and ‘in memory of ….’. Each year sees millions of pounds being raised for hundreds of different charities. It’s a moment where people come as one and the atmosphere is simply magical.

Once the start gun goes off at 10.40am and the sea of runners ascend across the town flyover amidst chanting and the echoes of pounding feet, there’s no greater sight than the masses of people and shouts of support greeting you as you run across the Tyne Bridge with the Red Arrows flying overhead.

Great North Run and Tyne Bridge
Crossing the Tyne Bridge at the Great North Run. Photo: © Chris Booth www.chrisbooth.photos/

Throughout the 13.1 mile course the support from local people is astonishing; they come out in their thousands to give support and many give runners home baked goodies, biscuits and fruit to boost energy. One particularly warm year I got blasted by a child with a Super Soaker and I’ve never been more grateful.

Nothing is more welcome than the sight of the sea when you head into the last mile at South Shields, I’ve witnessed people limping, crawling, carrying one another and crying at this point.

As you bear left and run the final mile with the North Sea on your right, the finish line is in sight and all you want to do is stop/cry/collapse as you can’t feel your legs anymore, but the masses of people cheer you on and push you to the end. These people will never understand how much the runners appreciate them.

You FINALLY get to the end and as you sprint through that famous finish arch, the feeling cannot be explained. Nor can the taste of that first sip of a beer.

And it’s over for another year!

Great North Run
Running for fun and great causes too, The Great North Run. Photo: © Chris Booth www.chrisbooth.photos/

Five things you probably didn’t know about the Great North Run:

  • Previous runners include: former England and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sting and Newcastle’s own TV presenters Ant & Dec.
  • In 2014 the 34th Great North Run had 57,000 participants and celebrated the 1 millionth runner to cross the finish line, and was the first to have a British man win in 29 years.
  • If all the Great North Runners stood head to toe, their combined height would be ten times the height of Mount Everest.
  • About 18 miles of cloth is used to make Great North Run souvenir T-shirts.
  • Paul Gascoigne once pushed a wheelchair athlete all the way round the Great North Run circuit.

The Great North Run 2017 Newcastle upon Tyne to South Shields, takes place on Sunday 10 September. Live coverage on BBC 1 from 9.30-13.30

Thanks to Chris Booth of www.chrisbooth.photos/ for the images of the Great North Run.

From whisky and flour to an unbeatable music hub

The Cluny: HELEN GILDERSLEEVE explores the history behind the popular Ouseburn Valley venue.

The Cluny 2 venue, Ousburn, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Cluny 2 venue, Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne

Even rare pub goers in the region will have heard of or paid a visit to The Cluny in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley. Priding itself as being one of the North East’s premium music hot spots, The Cluny has been hosting bands from across the globe since the turn of the century in 1999.

Once the home of a bottling plant for a Scotch whisky called the Cluny, this is now a post-industrial bar with separate music rooms that thinks like a pub and doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. You want an affordable, decent band night with a variety of beers and tasty pub grub (they even do chips and gravy in a baguette)? Look no further. This is the Cluny’s major USP and the reason behind its popularity across the region.

The Cluny, Newcastle
The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne

The Cluny’s raison d’être is music – from the moment you step inside the industrial brick walls are adorned with posters advertising forthcoming bands from The Monkey Junk Blues Club to Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and a 20 year anniversary celebration of Radiohead’s OK Computer, where fans and musicians come together to perform. It hosts over 400 gigs a year, all of which are well attended.

The Dualers on stage at The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Dualers on stage at The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne

Whatever your musical taste, the Cluny is bound to have something that appeals and this is the beauty of the place- in a world full of trends and pigeonholed venues, the Cluny doesn’t have a specific clientele nor does it judge or care. I last went in wearing sports gear whilst sitting next to folk all glammed up from the races.

Artists performing here range from the known to the completely unknown and eclectic. Notable acts that have graced its stages include Mumford & Sons, Arctic Monkeys, Seasick Steve, The Futureheads, Duffy and Glasvegas. Solange Knowles, younger sister of global phenomenon Beyonce, kicked off her first UK tour here in 2008.

Pre 2009 saw the Cluny having just one music area, until a golden opportunity arose when it took over the running of the adjacent former Round Theatre, which went into liquidation in 2008. This theatre style, 160 capacity period venue was re-branded as the Cluny 2 and the rest is history.

The bar at The Cluny
Bar at The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne

If you’re like me and are always intrigued by the history of quirky venues like this, I did a bit of digging and discovered it is housed in a former flax spinning mill which opened in 1848. It then re-opened as a steam powered flour mill in 1860 before taking its namesake from when it became a whisky bottling plant decades later.

It’s fair to say 36 Lime Street is continuing its history and putting a quirky building to great use great use once again.

thecluny.com/gigs/

Twitter: @thecluny

 

 

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