‘Nearly oval’ lighters on the riverbank at Newburn on the Tyne, image from Samuel Smiles’ book Lives of the Engineers, republished by Project Gutenberg. They’re a bit small to carry 20 tons of coal, but they might well be an artist’s slightly fanciful depiction of the keel
An outstanding recording of the tune known as the Keel Row popped up on my Facebook page the other day, and got me thinking about the keels of the River Tyne. The tune was played on an English concertina by a young man called Danny Chapman and must not be missed: hear it here. You’ll notice that apart from the beautiful statement of the theme, in the way that’s traditional in the North East of England, there is a following series of stunning variations. There’s more of this stuff on this page. Well done Danny!
But what’s a Tyne keel? Believe it or not, it was an Anglo-Saxon boat type that lasted into the 20th century, though there are none around now and precious few pictures seem to exist. Still, there’s a nice history including the words of the song the Keel Row here. Jim Shead has a little more on the keel here, and the Samuel Smiles book has more to say about how the boats were used.
Finally, there’s a series of photos telling the story of the Keelman’s Hospital here. It’s a grand tale that demonstrates the independence and grit shown by the keelmen in the face of the ruthlessly capitalist coal owners, who seem to have been everyone’s enemy for centuries.