HOOKEY WALKER’S FAREWELL TO SHIELDS
(I wrote the following jeu d’esprit in the year 1852 and had it printed anonymously. It was meant to represent, with that spice of exaggeration permissible in such good natured squibs, the condition and aspect of the Shieldses – South Shields more particularly – as they struck a dispassionate resident in that remote era, before the local sanitary reformers had set about their Herculean task, towards the accomplishment of which they have since gone a great length).
Farewell to Shields, the filthiest place
On old Northumbria’s dirty face,
The coal-hole of this British nation,
The fag-end of the whole creation,
The jakes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
The banquet-house of dogs and swine,
The paradise of bugs and fleas,
And human vermin worse than these;
A mass of houses – not a town -,
On heaps of cinders squatted down,
Close to the river’s oozy edge,
Like moulting hens behind a hedge;
Huge ballast heaps, from London brought,
And here, like churchyard rubbish, shot,
Half-clad with scurvy blighted green,
Alone diversify the scene,
And furnish, when the weather’s dry,
An inexhaustible supply
Of dust, with every breath that flies,
To torture and to blind the eyes,
And, when it rains or thaws, a flood
Of sticky, stinking, coal-black mud,
Oft ankle-deep, in Claypath Lane,
Making the use of blacking vain;
Brick-yards, the nastiest smoke exhaling;
Green scummy ponds, a source unfailing
Of fell disease, foul middensteads,
Where everything infectious breeds;
Steam-tugs, whose smoke beclouds the river;
Chimneys, forth vomiting forever
All sorts of gas, to taint the air,
And drive the farmers to despair,
Blighting their corn, their quicksets blasting,
And all their prospects overcasting;
For scarcely even a weed will blow,
For miles around no trees will grow
In stunted copse or rugged fence,
Within their baneful influence,
And where stray birds have planted them,
In former better times, each stem
Looms on us, bare, black, mummied quite,
A ghastly and unnatural sight.
Streets, - if the name can be applied
To dingy lanes not ten feet wide,
Bordered by wretched tenements,
Let to poor devils at high rents;
Houses, on Dean and Chapter Land
Which, if not close packed, would not stand,
Whose perfect matches can be found
Nowhere within the empire’s bound;
Sewers, that only serve to stay
Stenches the wind will blow away,
And guide them to our outraged noses,
Concentrated in double doses.
When his sweet pipe Amphion blew
The enchanted stones together flew,
And formed a city. Widely famed,
Thebes by the Syrian Cadmus named.
Not such a dulcet origin
Had Shields, but to the cursed din
Of wheels and axles, saws and hammers,
And competitions thousand clamours,
It rose around St. Hilda’s pit,
For sooty fiends a dwelling fit.
Since Sodom and Gomorrah fell,
By bolts from heaven and blasts from hell,
Satan, with all the skill he wields,
Has formed no counterpart to Shields,
And, in futurity’s dark womb,
Laid up for Shields is Sodom’s doom,
For all that store of bitumen
Was not placed under it in vain.
He who perambulates the place,
Needs no uncommon skill to trace
The features of the inhabitants,
Whose instincts, appetites and wants,
It suits to such a nicety,
That nothing lacking they can see,
But shout “Hourrah for canny Shields”
And deem the Bents the Elysian fields.
Take from the mass a score or twain,
Honest in heart and sound in brain,
And all the rest are chaff and sand,
Fit only to manure the land,
Mill-horses, pacing round and round
The same eternal spot of ground,
To pick a paltry pittance up,
And smoke and snooze and eat and sup;
Gross gluttons, worshipping their belly;
Boobies, with brains of calf’s-foot jelly;
Creatures, whose souls are in their dress;
Base crawling serfs, idealless;
Crouching, dust-licking parasites;
Prim sanctimonious hypocrites;
Fellows whose lives are one long lie,
To meanly cloak their poverty,
Who, with the bailiffs at the door,
Turn up their noses at the poor,
And living upon shift, despise
The drudge from whom they draw supplies;
Magistrates, void of all pretence
To morals as of moral sense,
Leaving the beershop for the bench,
To send to Durham their own wench;
Lawyers, who know no more of law
But from their clients fees to draw;
Clergymen, dull and dry as dust,
In whom old women put their trust;
Doctors, a shallow, quackish crew,
But that, alas, is nothing new;
As for the so-called “vulgar rabble”,
One learns their status from their gabble;
They can’t be said to speak at all,
But jabber, croak, grunt, burr and drawl;
'Tis neither English, Scotch, nor Norse,
Though it partakes of all, and worse.
If brutes have souls, as some pretend,
And after death to Hades wend,
And learn to speak, I do expect,
'Twill be in the Shields dialect.
Farewell to Shields! I shout again;
A long and glad farewell! Amen!
I never liked the place, nor did
The place like me; but God forbid
I should bear witness false against it;
I have writ truth, and here attest it.
On board ship “Lizzie Webber”.
Written by William Brockie (1811 - 1890)
Born at the East Mains of Lauder where his father was the tenant farmer, William was educated at the Parish Schools of Lauder, Smailholm, Mertoun and Melrose as his father changed farms.
Starting work as a teacher - he was at Kailzie prior to 1843 - he decided to pursue his real love, writing, and in 1842 he set up the "Galashiels Weekly Review". He also wrote articles for other publications including the "Border Treasury". Before long he was the editor of the "Border Watch" which was to become the "Border Advertiser".
In 1849 he crossed the border into England to become editor of the "North and South Shields Gazette", later becoming editor of the "Sunderland Times" from 1862 to 1872.
During all of this time, he was also busy researching and writing, particularly in the field of local history and folk legends.
Amongst his best known works are:
"The Gypsies of Yetholm" (1884) for which he is best known in the Borders, "Coldingham Priory" (1886), "A Day in the Land of Scott", "Leaderside Legends", "Legends and Superstitions of the County of Durham"(1886) and "Sunderland Notables"(1894).