The Keelmen's Strike, 1822

This article was published in the August 1887 issue of the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend, published by Walter Scott Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne. The author is unknown.

There was a great strike of keelmen on the Tyne in 1822. During the rupture it was with difficulty that coals could be conveyed down the river, owing to the opposition of the strikers. Matters came to such a pass that the military was called to the aid of the civil authorities, and at times the affair had a very serious aspect.

As may be seen from the drawing given on page 281 [see below], extraordinary measures were necessary in order to protect the property of the coalowners. A locomotive, invented and built by William Hedley, at Wylam, in 1812 and 1813, was, after running constantly on the Wylam Colliery line, temporarily diverted by him into a sort of steam-tug, and employed to take keels down the river. On the steamboat, as shown in the picture, were stationed a couple of soldiers, musket in hand, ready for any emergency, while other soldiers guarded the keels. A unique procession for Father Tyne to witness! One or two persons in the left corner of the drawing, evidently keelmen, are not, to judge by their actions, at all favourably disposed towards the military. The background of the picture is familiar to all Tynesiders. To the right is the spire of All Saints' Church; towards the centre may be seen the lantern tower of St. Nicholas's; and the Moot Hall and Norman Keep are conspicuous objects to the left.

Picture of strike

After a suspension of work for about ten weeks, the keelmen resumed their labours in the month of December, 1822. At periods they were very refractory; but by the vigilance of the authorities their turbulence was repressed, so that no great mischief occurred through the strike.

We are indebted to Mr James Bacon, photographer, Northumberland Street, Newcastle, for permission to reproduce the drawing from a photograph of a painting belonging to the late Mr. William Hedley, of Beech Grove, Chester-le-Street.