December 22, 2008

The Kielder Hunt

Hark away, hark away, oor the bonny hills o’ Kielder
Hark away.

Hark, hark I hear Lang Will’s clear voice sound through the Kielder glen
Where the Raven flaps her glossy wings and the fell fox has his den.
There the shepherds they are gathering up wi many a guid yauld crew
An wiry terrier game and keen and foxhounds fleet and true.

There’s Mowdy frae Emmethaugh, and Royal frae Bakethin
There’s hounds frae Rede and Kielderheed and Ruby by the Linn
And hounds of fame frae Irthing side they try baith moss and crag
Hark, hark, that’s Mowdy’s loud clear note he has bold Reynard’s drag.

Away and away oer hill and dale and up by yonder stell
The music of the gallant pack resounds oer moor and dell.
See yon herd callant waves his plaid, list yon loud tally–ho
The fox is up and breaks away oer the edge of Hawkhope flowe.

Hark forrard hark, ye gallant hounds, hark onward hark away
He kens the hauds on Tosson Hills he kens the holes at Rae
There’s no a den round the Kailstane but he kens weel I trow
And a’ the holes at Larriston he kens them thro and thro.

There’s Wannys Crags and Sewingshields and Christenbury too
And if he win to Hareshaw Linn you may then bid him adieu.
The Keyhaugh and the Cloven crags the Cove and Darna ha’
Chattlehope spout and the Wily holes old Foxy kens them a.

Away, away oer band and brae they drive the wily game
Where Mowdy, Ruby, Royal still unhaud their glorious fame.
And see the liesh yald shepherd lads how Monkside heights they climb
They’re the pride of a’ the Borders wide for wind and wiry limbs.

Through yon wild glen they view him now he’s right for the Yearning Linn
By cairn and crag oer moss and hagg sae glorious is the din
Weel done hurrah, they’ve run him doon! yons Mowdy twirls him now
The hunt is done the brush is won, I hear the death Hal-loo.

Here’s to Will of Emmethaugh, he is a sportsman true
Here’s to Robbie o’ Bakethin and Rob o Kielder too.
At the Hope, Bewshaugh and Kersie Cleugh, Skaup Riggend and the Law
In Tyne and Reed and Irthinghead, they’re gallant sportsment aa’.

Version collected by Clive Dalton from retired farmer Adam Robson who used to sing it regularly in the Black Bull at Wark.

David Armstrong of Bellingham says that the song was written by a James Armstrong of Plashetts in October 1875. The hunt was originally called the 'Kielder & Irthing Head Hounds' and were kenneled at Cairn Syke on the Cumbrian border

December 21, 2008

Rede huntin’ days - By Donald Clegg

The "Border" & the "North Tyne" foxhound packs

When I was a teenager in Redesdale, over sixty years ago now, the “Border Hunt” was the main means of controlling foxes, which were the scourge of the many sheep farms in the upper reaches of the valley. In the North Tyne, the “North Tyne Hunt” performed the same service.

In those far-off days, long before the hills were blanketed by rolling acres of Sitka Spruce and Japanese Larch, the hounds could range without hindrance to Carter Bar on the Scottish Border to the west, then to the Ridlees Burn (a tributary of the Coquet) in the north.

Then they could go east again as far as Otterburn and the Ottercops Fell and south to the Rooken Edge which marches with Tarset. Of course, if Foxy decided that it was in the interest of his safety to cross any of these imaginary boundaries, then that’s what he did – and the hounds followed.

The Heul Crag
One of the principal meets of the year was on Boxing Day at the Huel Crag, north of Rochester, above the Sills Burn which runs through the village to meet the Rede. The Crag was a stronghold for the local foxes so that, prior to hunt day, men were sent to block up as many entrances to the dozens of bolt holes as they could, to deny access to any foxes that ran for home.

Men, young and old, farmers and farm hands, those on the dole and those on holiday would all turn out on this special day to follow the Master of Foxhounds (the MFH), the Huntsman and the Whipper-In, surrounded by the pack of eager, tail-swinging, long-legged, cream, brown and black foxhunds as they set of to be laid on to a likely scent.

Only these three “officials”, plus a handful of farmers or landed gentry, were on horseback. The remainder were on foot and keen to be in at the kill. Consequently, it was important to be able to anticipate the likely route the fox would take when he was raised on a bleak hillside or from his lair in a bracken bed or a birch grove by the burn.

Davey Rogerson of Cottonshope
One such local expert in “kenning” the best vantage points to watch the unfolding drama was Davey Rogerson from Cottonshope. Davey always seemed to ken in advance where Reynard would show up next so, naturally, all the foot followers anxious to share his expertise tracked him closely.

Davey was also a big droll character. Originating from the Scotch side he had a slow, dry wit and often had his audience enthralled with his stories. On one Boxing Day hunt, Davey and his followers were waiting patiently in the shelter of Horsley Wood, about a mile down the road from Rochester.

He was mounted, as usual, on his sturdy fell pony which, after the morning’s trapesin’ through bogs and rushes, was lathered in sweat and caked in mud. To ease his lang legs Davey had taen his feet oot ‘o the stirrups and let them hing doon, almost to the grund.

The pony fidgeted and hopped from leg to leg and occasionally kicked up with a back foot to scratch the dried mud on his belly. Eventually he succeeded in catching his hoof in one of the dangling stirrups, which started him limping and stumbling around in circles on three legs. At this point Davy looked down and remarked, “Beggar! If you’re comin’ up heor. Aa’m gettin’ aff!”

Yoo-oo, Yoo-oo!
With the hounds only a few yards behind him, a fox would often make a bolt for the sanctuary of and stronghold at the Huel Crag. Men and lads, shouting, “Yoo-oo! Yoo-oo! and whistling and waving sticks, would try to head him off and give the hounds time to close the gap.

On one fateful day, an over-enthusiastic guardian of the crag, in his determination to keep foxy out, took a step too close to the crag edge and hurtled headlong over it. Luckily, he suffered no more than severe bruising and a dint in his pride, but was rewarded for weeks afterwards with free pints in the pub as he retold his adventure to an awestruck audience.

Reynard was far ower clivor
Although the Hunt would claim great success when they returned, tired and triumphant each hunt day, the truth was that, on many outings, the foxes had proved to be far too clever or too wily to be caught out very often.

One favourite ploy was to lead the hounds over hill and dale and eventually slip through the fence into the newly planted areas of Redesdale Forest. Once inside they simply melted away, and the hounds were left floundering back and forth in the close-packed trees until the frustrated Whipper-In was able to gather them together again with furious blasts on his hunting horn.

Yet again, I’ve seen as many as eight foxes break from a bracken bed, each one heading off in a different direction taking one or two hounds with them. After a while the foxes would disappear, leaving the hounds wandering aimlessly across the moor with a puzzled expression on their faces.

I remember one day when a fox managed to go to earth near the Huel in a hole too narrow for the hounds to get through, but also too shallow to let the fox get completely out of reach. This was a case of sending for the man with the spade.

"Digger" John Dixon
John Dixon was the man for the job, hence his nickname of “Digger”. After a few sweat-producing minutes, Davy Rogerson was able to reach into the hole and bring the fox out at the end of his long arm. After a cursory glance at him he declared,” He hesna a teeth in his heed!” and threw him to the hounds.

Since the Forestry Commission acquired and then planted most of the big sheep farms at the head of the Coquet, the Rede and the North Tyne, hunting has been squeezed down to the lower valleys so the long, lung-bursting, leg-breaking chases across the fells have almost disappeared.

Land Rovers & hip flasks
Nowadays the followers are more likely to be in Land Rovers with high-powered binoculars and hip flasks. Today the hunts often start after 11am and trail homewards, especially on cold wet days as early as 2.30pm. It’s certainly not the same as the old dawn-to-dusk days of yesteryear; but it still stirs the blood to hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, the hounds giving tongue and the high ringing call of the huntsman’s horn.

December 20, 2008

The Dosin ‘O the Hoggs- Part 2

This a famous and much-loved poem and song of Northumbrian shepherds and country folk at functions such as Border Shepherds' suppers and rural gatherings. It tells the story of the clostridial disease of sheep (mainly of young hoggs) called 'braxy', and what little could be done to prevent it in the days before vaccines.

The poem was composed by Billy Bell who was born in Riccarton in 1862, but spent most of his life in Byrness where he worked as a roadman for the upper Redesdale Road Board and then the County Council from about 1883 to 1933. He died in 1941.

Over his lifetime, he wrote more than 350 poems in lined exercise books. When his widow died these notebooks were rescued by a neighbour Mrs S. Rogerson.

The dosin 'o the hoggs
The back end again is wi’ us and the wund blaas cauld and chill
And mighty hoar frosts whiten o’er each valley and each hill.
The moorland herds are at it wi’ their usefu’ collie dogs
Busy pairtin’ aa’ and sheddin’ for the dosin’ o’ the hoggs.

Auld Grumpy she’s been dieted on cows new milk and grass
Her dung collected an’ aal stirred up intae a sickly mess.
A glessfu’ doon each throat is teemed, then oot ontae the foggs
For four and twenty hoors completes the dosin’ o’ the hoggs.

Aa spiered o’ ma freend Danny. Aa spiered o’ Jock o’ the Nick
They aa’ declared for sickness ‘twas a glorious specific.
But Wullie o’ the Seven Sykes said he wad bet his clogs,
‘Twas just an auld wife’s fancy, was the dosin’ o’ the hoggs.

Aa says, “ Ye surely dinna think it does nee guid ava’”
“Na na,” says he “Last year we dosed, Aa hed an aafu’ Fall.
Next mornin’ fifteen lyin’ deed, as cauld and stiff as logs.”
“Na,na,” says he “Aa’ll no believe o’ the dosin’ o’ the hoggs”

Wi opinion sae divided, whee hes yin tae believe?
If ye dose them they will sicken, if ye dinna they’ll no’ leeve.
This amuses mony an auld herd as through his flock he jogs.
It’s a varry kittle business, is the dosin’ o’ the hoggs.

Author unknown. Any information would be appreciated.

The Dosin 'O the Hoggs - Part 1

Border Shepherding - Prevention of Braxy

By Clive Dalton

In our “Daft Laddies” book, on this blog Don Clegg and I report the story about “Braxy Mutton” in which our great friend, the late Willie Robson gives details of the performance when he shepherded ootbye at Willow Bog, to prepare a concoction of pig dung and fresh milk to dose the hoggs to prevent them dying of “Braxy”, a disease we now know is caused by the Clostridial group of bacteria.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the cause of the disease was a mystery, so anything was worth a try to kill whatever was in the sheep’s innards that caused such rapid death. Imagine the despair of a shepherd going out in a morning to find his best hoggets dead and blown up, because the nature of Clostridial diseases like Braxy is that it’s most commonly found in the better bigger hoggets that are doing well and it kills rapidly with large amounts of gas produced in the intestines. The runts in the flock never seem to be affected in the same way.

Goodness knows who ever came up with the idea of a pig-dung brew as a preventative – but anything would be worth a try.

So here’s it’s story which was both recited and sung at many a Shepherd’s supper in Northumberland and is still a well-loved party piece.

There seems to be no record of an author, so I’d be interested in any information about such this perceptive knowledgeable person who clearly understood the problem, the way to make the brew as well as local scepticism.
(Spiered – sought opinion)

Some magnificent Blackface ewe lambs/hoggs from Sundaysight at Bellingham mart in 2003. It was sheep like these that lived with the threat of Braxy before modern vaccines.
(Photo copyright of Helen Brown)

Acknowledgement: To Helen Brown for permission to use her material. She can be contacted at Burnbank Cottage, Tarset, Hexham, Northumberland, NE 48 1LY. Phone 240-427

Bellingham Show - Part 2

By Clive Dalton

Poems and songs

Bellingham Show was such an important annual event, not only up the North Tyne valley but and on both sides of the Border, and especially in industrial Tyneside where 'toon folk' could have a day out by train in the fresh air of rural Northumberland.

It wasn't surprising then that local bards got busy telling tales about the various predicaments of folk who went to the show. The most famous was Billy Bell. Research by Susanne Ellingham of The Old Goal Border Library in Hexham shows that he was born at Riccarton in 1862. His mother was Scottish and may have gone home for her first birth because William says that in a later census. that he was born at Riccarton but brought up in Byrness and went to school in Rochester.

He worked as a roadman for the upper Redesdale Road Board and then the County Council from about 1883 to 1933. He died in 1941. All the three versions of the story of Bellinham show are by Billy. Over his lifetime, he wrote more than 350 poems in lined exercise books. When his widow died these notebooks were rescued by a neighbour Mrs S. Rogerson.

Susan says the Old Gaol has the typewritten copies made in 1968. His original exercise books were loaned at that time to Bill Butler of the Northumberland Tourist office, by a Mrs S Rogerson and returned to her. Bill Butler gave the typed copies to the Border library in the 1980s and these are what I are currently being digitised.

The late Will Elliott of Greystead, Tarset, gave me this first version of “Bellingham Show” which he recited, and it's sung to a very traditional tune used for many folks songs.

The first Bellingham Show was held in 1842, and the Show can boast the longest continuous Northumbrian Piping competition in the world!

Aa am an aad heord and aa live far oot bye
Aa seldom see owt but the sheep and the kye
So Aa says tu wor Betsy Aa think Aa will go
Te hev a bit leuk at Bellingham Show.

Ah weel, says the auld wife, if the money’s tu spare
Aa doot it’s a lang time since ye ha bin there.
Wor pack lambs hev seld weel, they’ve a lang time been low
So Aa think ye might gan te Bellingham Show.

So Aa gits misell drest in me braw Sunday claes
In me brass nailed shoes polished as black as two slaes,
A big high stand up collar, n’ me tie in a bow
Aa looks quite a masher at Bellingham Show.

Weel Aa got the to the showfield, Aa managed forst rate
N’ Aa paid me bit shilling to get in the gate.
Aa met wi some freens whae claried oot, Oh, Ho!
Hes thoo really gitten te Bellingham Show.

As was feelin gay dry so in we aal went
Just for a wee drap an a crack i the tent,
Aa sayed mine’s was a haaf ‘n, the rest aal cried Ho!
There’s tu be nee haafs at Bellingham Show.

Weel we aal hed a glass or it might hev been twee
Or tu tell yu thi truth, it might hev bin three,
Thi drop that we got set wor heeds in a glow
As we taaked ower aad times at Bellingham Show.

Aa then had a leuk at the tups and the hoggs
The horses, the coos, the fat pigs n’ the dogs,
N aal ower the showfield Aa went tu and fro
Determined tu miss nowt at Bellingham Show.

Aa waas hevin’ a leuk at the butter’n eggs
N Aa sat doon on some boxes tu rest me aad legs,
Up come n’ aad lady fat, forty ‘n slow
Contented ‘n jolly at Bellingham Show.

Excuse me she sayed but Aa do hate mistakes
But which are the duck’s eggs and which are the drake’s,
Aa hev just been wondering, I thowt ye might know
There’s intelligent people at Bellingham Show.

Aa can tell ye that missus, it’s quite plain tu be seen
The duck eggs is white n’ the drakes eggs is green,
O hoo simple, she cried, hoo wise yen can grow
By makin enquiries at Bellingham Show.

Aa steps up tu a chep what waas shaved tu the lips
Says Aa, canny man, a pennorth o’ chips.
He cursed ‘n sent me tu the pigeons below
He was a motor car driver at Bellingham Show.

Excuse me, cries Aa, but Aa doot Aa am green
Aa thowt ye wor mindin a fried chip machine,
Whey man that’s a motor belongin’ lord so and so
‘N wor here for thi day at Bellingham Show.

So Aa dodged away roond bi thi edge o’ the crood
N Aa smoked me aad pipe in a nice happy mood,
When up cums a young queen ‘n cries Uncle Joe
Aa’m so glad to hev met yu at Bellingham Show.

She gav a bit scream ‘n Aa thowt she waad faint
But Aa’s sometimes jelus o’ women what use paint.
Oh excuse me says she, ‘n your pardon bestow
Mistakes sometimes happen at Bellingham Show.

It’s aal reet noo hinney it’s aal reet Aa cried
While Aa stooped doon a minit me shoelace tu tie.
When Aa leuked up again ‘n me eyes roon did thro’
Me relation hed vanished at Bellingham Show.

Me heart begen jumpin n’Aa felt fairly spent
So aa thowt Aa’d hev a bit glass in the tent,
So inside Aa gets, felt me pockets ‘n lo!
That fly jade had robbed us at Bellingham Show.

So Aa went tu the Bobby an telt him me tale
But he saaid Aa waas nowt but a silly aad feul,
Tis time ye knew better as aad men shud know
Not tu meddle wi lasses at Bellingham Show.

Aa got see excited ‘n lood aa did yell
That thi Bobby teuk me right off tu the cell,
Throo the door he did send me wi’ the tip o’ his toe
Saying “Keep yoursell quiet at Bellingham Show”.


An old shepherd's adventure at Bellingham Show 15th September 1905
A thick veil of mist, the Tyne valley did fill
As I crested the top of the high Hareshaw hill,
Aa’ heard musical strains in the vale far below
As onward Aa headed for Bellingham Show.

As up through the town me owld bike Aa did drive
The crowd was as thick as brown bees round a hive,
The rich and the poor, the high, great and low
All had come for enjoyment at Bellingham Show.

They were there from the banks of the Tyne and the Rede
The Coquet and Wansbeck and clear silvery Tweed,
All jumpin with glee, full of dash, fun and go
Mekkin’ haste to be in at Bellingham Show.

There were horses and cattle, bull stirks, calves and cows
There was old tups and gimmers, young dinmonts and yowes,
They were there from the uplands and lands lyin’ low.
The flower of the Cheviots at Bellingham Show.

There were dogs of all classes, both red and white cakes
There were cats, cocks and hens, chickens, white ducks and drakes,
There were pigs in salt butter, but salted also
Dressed sticks and hen eggs at Bellingham Show

The farmers looked happy, the wools had a rise
The lambs have selled weel, the yowes hev likewise,
Their bright smiling faces as they wandered to and fro
Bespoke of contentment at Bellingham Show.

Brave Robson and go forth at dawn the next morn
Just after the smile of the sweet sun is born,
Man the cry of his hounds and his loud tallyho
Near eclipsed all the joys of Bellingham Show.

This is an interesting version, given to me by Tom Aynsley, a Northumbrian who used to farm in North Northumberland and now lives at Synton Parkhead, Ashkirk, Selkirk.

An a'd maid's adventure at Bellingham Show in search of a husband. c 1906
Am an old maid and my name is Mary Anne
And long have I been on the look oot for a man
And I've oft heard it said if you wanted a beau
The best place tae gan was Bellingham Show

So a week past Thursday, I went to the toon
And bought a new bonnet and a fine flash up goon
Of the very latest fashion begox it was stunning
Just like the gentry all wear up in Lunnin

The show morning arrived I got up with the lark
And fixed up my new dress right up to the mark
It had tean me two hoors when I came to my bonnet
And I'd sung oor a hundred love laden sonnets.

As proud as a peacock I looked in the glass
Says aye I'm no such a bad looking lass
And I certainly feel sure that there's many a man
Would like to be mated to thee Mary Anne

To cut a long story short I got to the show
And there I began my quest for a beau
I thought it was best at the entrance to wait
To see all the men as they came through the gate

At the exhibits to look at I felt not inclined
Something far more important was searching my mind
What a plague did I care for a game cock or hen
My only great interest was in watching the men

I watched and I waited till the toon clock struck three
Says I Mary Anne this winnae dee
But just as my hopes were beginning to sink
A chap came along and guid me a wink

He didn't look taking as my eyes did him scan
Says I they's no beauty but still they's me man
So I shoved my arm through his in the old fashioned way
And over the showground we happily did stray

He was dressed up quite smart in a loud checked coat
And wore a beard neath his chin like and old billy goat
I little wee mannie with his legs very sma'
But his feet were the biggest that ever I saw

Now hinnie he says will ye gan into the tent
Just to hae a wee toothful and I gave my consent
With his arm round me waist, he stole a bit kiss
The first time I had ever tasted such bliss

How hinnie he says what hast to be thine
Will you have a small glass of lemon or a drop of sherry wine
I was kind of excited and maybe it was risky
But I said I would just have a small glass of whiskey
Of course I made faces like what a woman should do
Then they quick sup it over with a smack of the lips
Oh we women folk we're gay fond of our nips.

An hour slipped away for time will not wait
An just as we were gan oot at the entrance gate
Suddenly me lover turned awe queer and white
Just like a chap who had gotten a fright

I looked around about us and there I saw comin
Taken two steps at once a big old fat woman
She flew at me lover and with a squeal and a yelp
And brought on his poor head her big umbrella.

For a second attack the poor chap didn't wait
But shot like an arrow oot through the show gate
And ower the brig he did quick take his course
With the fire and mettle of a runaway horse.

To me the old wife turned her attention
And said sweary words that I here must not mention
But to sum up her story as short as I can
She said that I'd been trying to get off with her man.

I was fairly dumbfounded, what else could I be
I telled the old wife she was telling a lee
Her eyes shone with hate, her monkey arose
Before I knew what had happened she had twisted me nose.

At the very first meeting away went my bonnet
And then the old wife put her great feet upon it
And next at me hair, she made a great rive
Lord save me I thought she will skelp me alive.

Says I Mary Anne but this winnae dee
If thou doesn't do better all will be up
Says I it's gai funny if I cannot summon
A likely plan to punish this woman.

At last the great secret I solved in my mind
Though as strong as Diana she was short in the wind
So I dodged round about her till I had her well blown
I hadn't nae doubt the day was my own.

To work I now got, the folks crying gan on same yin
Gan on Mary Anne
As I planted in her great full moon face
A punch just like the great Johnny Mace.

In the hue of my victory I heard a great crack
As something gave way in the sma' of my back
They new fangled thing with the rose cheeked name
To call them owt else I would fairly think shame.

And doon roond my ankles they caem in dure course
I was fairly well shackled like a Boswells fair horse
As I kicked and struggled it was all of nae use
They would not tear off and wouldnae come loose.

The boys gave three cheers and begox they were ringers
And all the young lassies looked through their fingers
When up came two Bobbies and disturbance to quell
And said we were both tae gan to the cell.

Says I cannie chaps it's alright for thee to talk
But how the mischief do you think I'm going to walk
The sergeant turned round and spoke to his marra
Who quickly went off and came back with a barrow.

I was placed in the front with my legs over the wheels
While the old wife at the back quickly did reel.

There was such a procession as never was seen
You would have thought I was a duchess or even a queen
There were motors and carriages and footfolk who ran
Crying there's the old wife who's gone daft for a man.

At last we arrived at the sergeant's old house
An angel of mercy the sergeant's dear wife
Who cut off me hopples with a big carving knife
And what do you know, preserve us and bless us
The young Bobbie said Mary Anne will kiss us
I couldn't says no as my case was so urgent
I gave one to the young chap and two to the sergeant.

The let us both oot in time for the train
Twas at the station I saw my old sweetheart again
Looking gay scared and white o' the mug
As his old missus led him along by the lug.

Now all you young maidens
What ere you decree
I hope you'll take warning by what befell me
I pray you bide single there's
No shame avo than to seek for
A husband at Bellingham Show.

Bellingham Show - Part 1

Northumberland, farming, history, entertainment, Agricultural show, Bellingham

By Clive Dalton

Highlight of the farming year

The highlight of our year up the North Tyne, without doubt, was Bellingham Show held in the last week of August for well over 100 years. We Bellingham folks dated everything in our lives by the Show. Arguments over dates could always be settled by “huw lang it waas afore or eftor the Show”.

In farming, we especially dated critical events like finishing the hay or the harvest to Show day, when the nights started to cut in and the dews got heavy so you were really struggling to get anything to dry after that. If hay was still uncut after Bellingham Show – then you could bet your Rogerson’s shepherds’ boots that fettles would not be good.

The Show season
The North Tyne “show season” started with the Border Shepherd’s show at Falstone held about 20 August. Here shepherds put their best sheep before the judge, and if the sheep did well, owners would take them to Bellingham to hopefully “clean up” depending on the judge there. As in all showing, it was critical to know who the judge was.

So Falstone show was a taster for Bellingham Show, which was then followed by the later shows up the Rede at Rochester around the 1st September, and then up the Coquet at Alwinton at the end of September to complete the season.

Excitement builds
The air of excitement at Bellingham Show started to build for us village laddies about a week before the event, when we saw the first tents appear. Then the sheep and cattle pens and the horse jumps came out from under the grandstand. Then a few days before the Show – what excitement, “the hoppings” arrived; it was overwhelming for us yunguns in the 1950s and 1960s.
Show day arrived, and a main feature was the noise of steam trains shunting and whistling in the station as the “special” trains from Blyth, Ashington and Tyneside arrived to deliver their passengers on trips to the show.

Joining the throng of folk walking through the village, and heading along around the Catholic turn across the bridge to the show, we could hardly contain ourselves. We never made conversation with these foreigners from Newcastle and beyond, as they seemed full of gob and pushy. But the Bellingham pubs (the Railway, Black Bull, Rose & Crown and the Fox & Hounds) welcomed them at 11am opening time; many never got to the show but they had a great time!

Pay at the gate

At the showfield gate, our neighbour Tommy Davidson was there every year with his rose buttonhole to take the money, and once in, you just went daft wondering where to go first.

I was always duty bound to check the “industrial tent” to see what prizes Dad had won with his vegetables, and to see if Mother had won owt with her baking or crochet work. Then I went to have my mind blown by the dressed walking sticks from both sides of the Border. This put you off ever trying to even copy the work of these famous men like George Snaith or Ned Henderson.

Photo shows the Show Corporate Office waiting for the
patrons. Internet contact
is (

The livestock

But soon, the livestock had to be checked to watch the judging at the top end of the field near the cemetery wall, where they were sorting out the sheep and cattle. This was a favourite spot – mainly to study the humans and their behaviour as much as the stock! My life-long interest in this subject started here I’m sure, as well as in the dog tent among the exhibitors of the “border terriers, fox honds, Bedlington terriers and whippets from all over the county and outside”.

It was from these early days that I realised that given time, owners start to look like their animals! The other place to gain more evidence of this was the goat tent!

Horses, Pipes & wrestling
By late morning the preliminary rounds of the horse jumping had started and also the wrestling. The Northumbrian pipes were ganin canny by then too, so you had this terrible dilemma of deciding which finals to watch.

It was aalll ower much. But it was easiest to give the piping a miss as after you’d heard “Sweet Hesleyside” and “The Rothbury Hills” played a hundred times, it was more than enough. However, if you stood in the right place you could watch Dessie Ward cowp all his opponents in the wrestling, and when the roar came from the crowd in the grandstand, you could rush over and catch Doreen Ray riding a clear round for Miss Mitford of Woodburn.
The grandstand waiting for the roar of the crowd
It has weathered the years well and could tell some great tales
Isaac Walton's
There was always a few commercial exhibitors selling their wares and Isaac Walton was very prominent. In their tent, could get measured for a tweed suit or jacked with a nice “single vent country cut” as the salesman (clad in tweed suit), would strongly recommend. I had one of these tweed suits for years.

The beer tent was always overflowing but we village laddies gave it a wide berth incase some friendly neighbour saw us! Anyway, it was so full of “full” raucous Geordies, on a constant trek to the primitive nettie made of corrugated iron, that it didn’t have much appeal.

The Show Dance
But weariness eventually set in as the sun started to fall, and it was time to get across the Tyne bridge back to the village and heme because there was “The Show Dance” to prepare for in the toon hall! You had to be firing on all cylinders for this event!

What a prospect–with the lasses in thor posh dresses trying not to sweat ower much as the North Tyne Melody makers and Billy Richardson the MC gave us little time between dances. We needed that time to get the lasses te sit on wor knees under the premise of a shortage of seats!

Time gentlemen please!
After 10pm “the lads” from the pubs arrived at the dance, with their caps on acute angles and bottles of beer in their raincoat inside pockets. They were oblivious to the sweltering heat of the hall. The lasses were quite safe as few of them could get across the floor to where they intended to arrive to request a dance! They were far more engaged in a cluster around the bottom door, picking arguments and the occasional fight with their mates.

Memories from Bill Charlton
Bellingham Show was always on the Saturday nearest the 20th of September, but because it clashed with  Alston Show it was changed, as they brought Alston forward  because of the weather pattern changes. Hence both would have been on the same day.

The grandstand used to be open with no roof and 'Speedings' put a canvas one on for the show each year.  Then after a while, it was eventually covered with a permanent roof. Speedings were the tent people from Sunderland who used to do the job then.

A brass band from Ashington used to come by the train on the Wannie line to the Show and play all the way up to the show field, and settle on to the Bandstand which built each year for the band.

Hesleyside Estate used to supply all the timber for the show ring, the bandstand, the tent tables, etc.  The hedge was always  cut prior  to the show by my father (Bob Charlton) and Johnny Lauderdale who also did the fencing required for the show.

December 19, 2008

Robert Allen - Northumbrian Farmer, Poet and Historian

Northumberland, history, culture, dialect, Robert Allen, humour

By Clive Dalton

Robert & Angela Allen at the Glebe, Bellingham 2000

Robert and his wife Angela moved into Redesmouth farm, near Bellingham around 1950. After Robert had done his military service he gained farm experience near Prendwick before taking over at Redesmouth farm, which his father Colonel Allen from Haydon Bridge owned and had rented out to Harry Alder and family for many years.

Robert didn’t have much time for poetry when farming at Redesmouth, which he and Angela did till their retirement when they moved into Bellingham to a new house built in the field belonging to the Church of England – hence the name “The Glebe”.

Both Robert and Angela gave much to the community and were greatly respected.

In retirement, Robert was able to concentrate on putting his poems on paper and producing voice tapes for sale. The book “Canny bit verse” is the printed version of these tapes. Robert won many prizes at the Morpeth Gathering, the proceedings of which were published in “Northumbriana”.

Robert’s poems are in what I’d describe as “polite Northumbrian”. Robert was adamant that this was the “true Northumbrian” which he had learned at the knee of the lady (who he was very proud of) and who looked after him as a bairn. Well clearly she worked for the family so talked her best Northumbrian, which I described it as “Big Hoose terk” rather than “Village taalk”. We once debated this in “Northumbriana” magazine (ISBN 0306-4809) I remember.

Robert’s Northumbrian was the sort of dialect we used when “terkin te the vicar” or some of the “how’de ye doo ladies” in the village. You had to speak slowly in sentences with vowels and with clear enunciation – and it was spoken with a steady lilting pace and not garbled.

Thinking back, it was the Northumbrian of the “older generation” in my day, many of whom had been “in service” (domestic and agricultural) and hence made sure their children (my generation) “terked properly”. I can still hear my mother’s and aunt’s reprimands – “Don’t say Aye, say Yes”!

We had a totally different version among the village laddies. We never “terked” to anybody – we "aallways (never erlways) taalked".

Robert used to argue that this village "taalk” I referred to, had come from contamination by “Geordie” from Tyneside – which was always spoken in a fast merged garble, and you didn’t worry about sentences or grammar. Robert was probably right.

The classical Geordie test pieces were to be able to say and understand the meaning of - “Broonsaallroond”, “Hesanyonyaanyonya” or “Hoysahammerowerheorhinny”?

I worked as a “Daft Laddie” for Robert and Angela in 1951 before going to Kirkley Hall Farm Institute and it was a year, which brings back many happy memories of them both (now deceased).

I am very grateful to Nigel Hall for permission to reprint Robert’s poems - he holds the copyright, and you can contact him at You may also contact the Northumbrian Language Society as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings.

The old Rede bridge

The old Rede bridge (photo taken around 1956)

Redesmouth farm had land on the north side of the River Rede nearly up to the old Rede Bridge which carried the road from Bellingham up on to the A 68, across the Wannie line at what was referred to as 'Benson's Crossing' after the gatekeeper who was there for many years.

The bridge would most likely to have been built to carry the road across the Rede at a suitable crossing point as this would have been an important 'drove road' to move stock from the Tune valley down the A68 to Stagshaw and Corbridge. An old stone signpost further up from the bridge carried a 'C' for Corbridge to back this up.

The bridge's solid structure was probably to stand many floods which the Rede would have been prone to before the Catcleugh reservoir was constructed.

The bridge would have been made obsolete by the new viaduct bridge built lower down the river near Redesmouth village to carry the combined road and railway. This was completed in 1861 so the old bridge must have been built many years before that.

The old road soon grew over with grass and was always called 'the old green road'. It was always popular with walkers and car-bound courting couples who wanted to hide off the main road.

The hazard was getting stuck when it was wet. The old bridge was a popular Sunday walk and picnic spot for us Bellingham kids, as the river was shallow for safe 'plodging' and there were fresh-water oysters to be found just under the shaded arches.

A 'townie' once turned up at Redesmouth farm when I was Daft Laddie there, to report to Robert that he'd got stuck on the old green road and could someone help him. Robert asked me to take the David Brown tractor and give the bloke a tow out. Sounded a great idea to me as I could 'open up' the Davy in top gear along the main road, then down the green road to where the car had just slipped off the track heading down to the bridge. I soon had him out and returned to the farm with a pound note - which Robbie, the decent bloke that he was, insisted that I keep.

Robert Allen: God’s Bairn

A Northumbrian version of the Christmas story

By Robert Allen

It aall began wi’ young Mary. At the time she was ganin wi a lad caalled Joe wee was a joiner be trade. He an Mary wes aall fixed up ti git wed an she’d named the day, an ivridbody wes leukin forrit tid. But Joe wes sair worrit, Ah can tell ye.
Seeminly Mary’d hed had a visit frae this Angel fella an’ noo she was carryin a bairn. Leastways that wes hor story, and neeebody cud talk hor oot on’t.

If ownly she’d teld is the truth thowt Joe, ah cud forgiv hor. He wes loosin a canny bit sleep ower the shame ont. Yin neet howsomevvor he did git away te sleep an started te dream. An in his dream anithor Angel cums doon tiv him and sez, “Divn’t be see daft Joe man – ye git yorsel marrit on Mary. She’s a canny lass an’ deun nowt rang. Aye, thor’s a bairn cumin allreet, bit it’s not the way ye think. This is ganin te be God’s bairn, and the greet King an’ Messiah, that aall the prophets, Essiah an’ them wes crackin aboot i’ the days gone by.

So when Joe wakes up he thowt tiv hissel, why man that’s ganna mek a bit diffrence then. If wor Mary’s gann be the muther uv a King, aa’ll say ne mair aboot it. Thor’s nee shame i’ that an Aall be reet prood te be hor man. An if the neebors say owt, aa’ll just keep mum.

Noo jist aboot this time the govornment maede an order for a coont o’ heeds – whaat they caal a census, the same like we hev nowadays whiles. Aall folks hev te gan back tiv where they wor born an’ browt up te be counted, an’ hev thor names put iv a big beuk, so the government knaas huw many folk thor’s aboot. So Joe had te gan tiv a little oot-bye place caalled Bellingham an he had te tek Mary wiv him.

Nuw it waas a canny waalk frae Morpeth an Mary wes gay close tiv hor time. So Joe yokes the powney for hor, an they just took it nice and stiddy. Thor wes nee busees in them days and ye cudn’t beuk aheed. So when Joe an’ Mary lands theor efter dark, the pubs wor aall full up and they cudn’t git nee place ti sleep for luv nor muney. So they set off doon the lonnen an oot o’ the village a mile or see til they cums across a broken doon hemmel.

“Howway, Joe” says Mary. “Let’s gan in heor. The pains is cumin on summit aaful noo.” Ye see she’d gittin a fair jogglin aboot on the powney cumin ower Billsmoor an Hareshaw. So Joe lifts hor doon an’ they aall gan inside the hemmel. Joe lit his lantorn so they cud see bettor, and theor was neebody theor but an owld doon-calving cuw chowin hor cud. Aye she’d be company for the powney Joe thowt.
Byres & hemmels (D Clegg)

An’ Mary laid horsel doon on the straa and the bairn startin te cum. Thor wes nee midwife to help Joe so he’d hev te cut and tie the cord hesel seeminly. It wes the forst time Joe hed dun owt like this, but God must hev guided his hand and gein him the skills. He waasn’t ganin tiv hev His greet plan for the world botched up reet frae the start be sum cuddy-handeed donnort!

An when it wes aall ower, Joe rove the linin oot uv his top-coat an wrapped it roond the bit bairn an laid him doon in the cattle trow like it wes a cradle. An away i’ the corner the aad cuw wes sharin hor bit hay wi the powney. An then they both cam ower ti the trow ti snuff at the bairn. Then the cuw gi’ him a bit lick abacka the lugs wi’ hor greet raspy tung like she alwes did wi hor ahn calves.

An ye knaa them twee beasts must hev smelt the glory o’ God on that bit bairn, cos deed on the stroke o’ midnight, they baith knelt doon an’ droop’d thor lugs i’ silent worship.

At the saem time, oot on the fell thor waas twa-three shephord laddies lukin thor yowes. It was a bit late mind ye but thor’d bin a bit bothor wi’ a fox aboot. They’d just lowsed an’ wor tekin thor pipes i the dyke back when aall of a sudden – aye yiv guessed it – anithor o’ them greet shiny Angels lit doon afrunt o’ them. Man they reckoned yon wes the clivvorist yeor for seein Angel, and although thor was a lot of them aboot, the heord laddies had nivor seen ony afore.

An by lad they wor fair gliffed an’thor collie dogs wor cowrin ahint them wi’ aall thor hackles up. But the ad Angel sean stopped thor lathor. He cam ower aall cany an particlar like:

“Hoo’s yor fettle then lads?’ - he ses. “It’s been a bit bettor day oot bye”.
“Aye”, ses the shepherds “Yons a clarty bit wind but. There’ll be snoa afore daylight likely.” The yin o’ the shephers – cocky little beggor he wes, fear’t o’ nowt, gans right up tiv the Angel an ses. “Hey lad, are ye from God”?

An’ the Angel ses, “Aye”. Mind he wes a bit huffed cos aallwes afore fowks hed been bendin thor knees an’ hidin thor facees from the leet.
Then the little shephord laddies ses, “Mind, them’s a canny pair o’ wings He’s geen ye”!

Then the Angel gi’s his showdors a bit hike. “Aye weel” he ses, they’ve got te be strang for wor job. And then he gans aall serious like an ses – “Onnyways, Ah’ve got mair important things te taalk aboot than me wings.” “Ah’ve been sent ti tell ye that God’s kept his word, what he telt the add prophets, that the new King, the Messiah hes just gittin born i’ that aad hemmel doon the end o’ the lonnen yonder.

“Gittaway” ses the shepherds. “Kings aalwes gits born iv pallises man, not hemmels. For-bye, thor’s nowt in theor but an aad cuw.”
“It’s reet enuff but gan an see for yorsells” ses the Angel.
But afore they cud git started, aall of a sudden, the whoal neet sky wes lit up wi’ thousands an thoosands uv Angels – aall fair singing thor heeds off man – hymns, carrols, glorias, an a sang aboot peace on orth tiv aall men. Man ye wud hev thowt Newcassel has won the cup.

An when they’d deun, thor waas deed hush, an the leet went oot just like a poower cut. An as seun as they cud heor thorsels think, yin o’ the shephord laddies ses - “Hey mebe it’s reet what the aad Angel sed, cos thor waddent hev put on a consort like that for nowt. Howay, we’ll gan away doonbye an’ hev a bit leuk.” So away they went tappy-lappy doon the lonnen.

Nuw when they cum doon inte the slack, they cud see a leet in the hemmel, so they crept up and had a bit keek thru the winda. An theor waas the little bairn, lyin asleep i’ the trow. An they gans roond ti the big door for a bit bettor leuk, an theor waas Joe and Mary, an the aad cuw and powney i’ the corner. Man they’d nivor seen out like it afore.

But reet away they knew it waas God’s bairn alrite, cos they cud see the little ring o’ lite roond his heed that’s caalled a halo, like Rubens and them paintor blokes made oot i’ thor pictors.

An they doffed thor caps and knelt doon i’ wondor an’ respect. An the little shephord laddie teuk the sheepskin off his showdors an lade it ower the bairn cos thor was some gay snell drafts whistling roond the add hemmel.

Then efor a while, they gans away heme ti thor breakfasts an they telt aall the folks what a neet it had been. Thor was sum that half believed them, but a canny few thowt they’d mebes had a sup ower much beor. It’s var nigh the same thing the day when ye try te tell folk the same owld story.

Published in Northumbriana 1977 ISBN 0308-4809

Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: The Whee’s Deed Collum

Wor Lizzie wes readin’ the Journal the day,
Hor mooth erl pinch’d an’ sollum
Nee need te ask what bit she’s at,
It’s cerl’d the Whees Deed Collum.

“Ah see that owld Whatsit theor’s gitten away,
It says he’ deid i’ the papors:
They wore erl kinda half expectin’ it, mind
Accordin’ ti the neighbours”.

“He’s had sic a gey poor look for weeks,
That shabby around the knees:
Ah’m wond’rin whee we’ll be readin’ o’ next,
‘Cos they erlwis gans i’ threes”.

“When ye think hoo he’ gitten away that sharp.
Ah wes ownly just sayin’ ti Nan:
An’ Ah see that the fun’ral’s this efternoon,-
Nee cerl for ye ti gan”.

“Ah might trot alang for a bit theor mesel,
But the forecast speaks o’ shooers”
So Ah’ll just werlk up ti’ the Cemetry then,
An read whee sent the flooers”.

“Ah wondor what did for ‘im theor at the last,
They say it was mebbies hes heort:
An’ it says he wes nobbut just fifty nine,-
Whey, yon’s a lee for a steort!”

“Ah know for a fact he wes owlder nor that,-
When wes it they buried yor feythor?
Cos he wadda bin nigh on sivinty noo,
An’ they baith went ti shool tigithor”.

“It’s twenty eight pee for the papors the day,
An’looka the news they bring;
Thore’s nowt but mordors an’ strikes an’ rapes,
An’ ye canna believe a thing.

“He’d a sistor what merried yon chep from doon sooth,
An’ varry soon eftor she deid;
An’ diddent he hev a young brother an’ erl,
Wes no just reet o’ the heid?”

“Ye mind on hes cousin that went ti the bad,-
Wes erlwis a bit of a nowter,-
What took a hord’s job at yon place ootbye,
Then hed ti merry the dowtor?”

“Mind, hes mam wes that scruffy, Ah erlwis thowt
She’d ben needn the worse o’ a scrub:
An’ they say that hes feythor could drink like a fish,
He wes nivvor oot o’ the pub.

“Neebody’d a good word ti say aboot them,-
Ah feel sorry for hes wife:
She’s now but a slut the way she keeps hoose,
But he’s led hor a helluva life.”

“She’ll likely be sheddin’ some cross-eyed teors,
But it’s just what ye’d expect:
Weel, - when ye bin merried for erl them lang years,
Ye hatta show some respect.”

“They say…. That the second wee laddie woren’t his,
An’ mebbies the thord yi as well:
Mind, wi’ erl them freckles an’ gingor haor,
Ye’ve ownly ti look, - ye can tell!”

“Man, Ah hope she’s bin weel provided for,
‘Cos ye know what folks is sayin’;
An’ she’s no erl that bad lookin’ but,
She’d dee worse nor merry again”.

“It’ll not be for want o’ the askin’, mind,
She’ll manage it onnyone can:
Oh aye,- Ah’ve seen tehm theor up the Lynn,-
Hor an’ hor fancy man!”

An the gossip rowled on like a rivor i’ spate, -
So Ah quietly clos’d the door,
As Ah left for the pub aboot half way thro’,
“Cos Ah’d heored it erl afore!

From “Canny Bit Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: The Owld Farmor’s Advice

Just two things kills a yowe, Ah’m towld,
An’t’s no see vary wrang,-
She’s eethor gittin some bit cowld,
Or else she’s lain ower lang.

For if she’s ta’en in’ int’ hor heid,
(An’ whee’s ti stand an’ blame hor?)
That’s time she laid hor doon an’ deid
Thor’s nowt’ll stop the flamor!

Thore’s sic a yin ahint yon tree,
What’s gittenn a touch o’ fluke
Just wetch hor theor, she’s gannn dee.
She hes that middlin’ look.

Away inti the keb hoose, man,
An’ git yor spaud an’ sho’el,
Afore the morra’s morn y’ore gan
Ti hev ti howk a hoel.

A canny howk’s no hard te find
Keep cleor o’ muckle stauns,
But divvn’t mak your diggin’, mind,
On toppy onny drauns.

Noo handy ti yin side ye lay
The sods ye’ve cutten oot
An’ keep the tap-soil fra’ the clay,-
Put bac, they’ll bettor root.

An’ when ye’ve howd’d a good shank deep,
The sides git kinda streight;
Then fetch an’ drag yor stinkin’ sheep,
The hintlegs ta’in the weight.

Pull aff the woo’ reet tiv hor neck,-
Comes bettor when she’s green,-
When ye git hame wi’t you seck,
They’ll erl ken wheor ye’ve been.

Noo int’ the hoel heave-ho the lass,
The borst hor wi yor gully!
Nee sense ti burry erl that gas
What’s blaan oot hor belly!

As ye fill in keep possin’ hor doon
Wi baith your hobnail feet
An’ what sticks up git kinda roon’
An mak the job look neat.

Clag on the sods as they come oot,
An’ lay them green side up!
An’ no like yon greet paddy cloot
Was sent ti burry the tup!

But divvn’t bray them doon ower hard,
Ye’ll brek the aad spaud shank!
Them cost a fortune bi the yard,
Nee money at the bank!

A canny job weel done, Ah’ll doot
The foxies winnit find hor:
Deep howk’d, poss’d doon, nee stick gets oot,
An’ so they’ll nivvor wind hor.

Ah mind the worst yowe’s grave Ah seen
Wes shalla, ower a draun:
Next morn we fund the fox hed been,
An’ howk’d hor up agaun.

From “Canny Bit of Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: The Grittor

Icy road by the Hott Farm, Tarset
When wintor skies deep frost forebodes,
Or snows come snell an’ bittor;
Way up an’ doon the North Tyne roads
Gans Willie wi’ hes grittor.

Worth ivv’ry penny o’ yor rates,
Wor Willie is nee quittor;
Of erl the lads amang hes mates
Ye winna find a fittor.

Hes wagon load o’ grit an’ selt,
Yince seen, ye’ll no forgit hor;
For when she’s spinoor gans full belt,
She flees aff like a skittor!

An’ when the stuff’s bin hoy’d erl roon’.
An’ thore’s neewheor else ti pit hor,
Ye’ll find him doon the Rose an’ Croon,
Ahint a pinta bittor!
Fresh snow - waiting for the grittor!

From “Canny Bit Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: The Corbie Crow

The Carrion crow (Corbie in Borders & Scotland)
Corvus Corone

Oot ower the fell, he’s eyes aglint.
Aye scroongin’ owt below,
Yon crafty ridor o’ the wind,
Theor flees the corbie crow.

A blackie’s eye hes fancy feed,
A pickle blood he’s dram,
He spies hes belly’s orgent need.
A werm-dopt kebbit lamb.

The splodges on yon tufty knowe
Erl bloo an’ kerl noo show
Just hoo the sorra o’ the yowe
Wes suppor for the crow.

From “Canny Bit Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: Spuggies


Passer domesticus - Spuggie

The "Spuggie" is the Geordie and Northumbrian name for the "House Sparrow" (Passer domesticus). Its name is part of the famous Geordie tongue twister -"Thors a spuggie stuck in the sckeul spoot). They were a mightly pest on farms descending on standing and laid corn crops, and devouring newly sown grass seed. But Robert liked them in the end!

Of erl the bords tha flit aboot
Ah like the spuggies best;
They hev nee bonnie feathors,
They build an erful nest.

They fight alang the guttor’s edge
They make love i’ the street;
Thor voice is just a cross atween
A chirrup an’ a tweet.

They eat the seeds the gard’ner sows
They pinch the farmor’s corn
Th’ore chatterbox an’ scattorbrain
The varry day th’ore born.

Below that cheeky little face,
Ahint them beady eyes,
Ye’d sweor they wore the Divil’s sons
I’ feathery disguise.

Thore’s now o’ praise for erl yon clan.
That Ah can put i’ words;
But – please forgi’e them if ye can, -
Th’ore canny little bords!

From “Canny Bit of Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: Owld Men’s Thowts

Noo the canny owld gadjees that wandor aboot
Alang wor village street,
Are the yins that thor wives ivv’ry mornin’ hoy oot
From undorneath thor feet,

Ye can terk as ye like, but it’s aye bin the same
As lang as Ah can mind;
An’ Ah fancy that them that feels pity or shame
Just speak o’t as they find.

Ye can see them theor standin’ at yon gable end
Maist mornin’s o’ the week,
As the wetch erl the gan-bys, or nod ti a friend,
For gey few wors they speak.

But ye wondor what thowts can be flittin’doon thro’
The grey cells o’ their heorts,-
It is dreams o’ thor youth that hev nivvor come true,
But shattor’d at the steorts?

Erl the great Ifs an’ But’s that hev colour’d each life,
The Mebbies an’ the Why’s?
Hoo they might hev won glory instead o’ just strife.-
The thowts that’s eftor-wise?

An’ what hopes hev they noo but a few weory yeors
Afore th’ore cerl’d away,
When a grim quiet heorse an’ a mind full o’ teors
Will speak for them yin day?

From “Canny Bit of Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: End O’ Lambin Day

View of upper North Tyne valley (Don Clegg)

The leet is fadin’ ‘cross the fell as Ah torn hame for lowse,-
Anithor lambin’ day is ower, an’ just a score o’ yowes
Hes yit ti lamb – an’, man, Ah’m croose we’ve gitten this far thro;
Without the troubles that we’ve hed the past springtime or two.

Ah’m glad we gat the yowes erl dipp’d that day the tuthor week,
For nowt Ah’ve handled see far’s shawn the least bit sign o’ teek:
Thore wes some kebbin’ eorly on an’ a billy lamb wes hang’d,
Yin yowe gat roppled i’ some wiore, an’ var’ nigh chowk’d amang’t.

Twa gimmors waddent tak thor lambs, - they hed a mind ti shun them, -
They’d little milk theor at the start, but noo it’s comin’ on them.
Some lossies ‘mang baith yowes an’ lambs ye’ll aye git ivv’ry yeor,
An’awkword bits o’ moth’rin’ tee, but nowt we cudden steor.

Owld Moss is clivvor at yon lark, an’ works away amain,
Just showin’ eye she’ll sharp fetch yowes back ti thor lambs again.
Whey,- just the day we fund a yowe, - an awkward lookin’ bitch,-
He’d wandor’d off an’ left hor lambs cowpt in a muckle ditch.

So while Moss gat hor roonded up, Ah lifted oot the paor,
But she wessent just like takin’ them, an’ didn’t seem ti caor:
We set away ti drive hor then the half mile ower the fell,
An’ for the neet Ah hev the three noo barr’d up I’ the stell.

Ah cowpt the yowe an’ gi’e the lambs some sook, ti keep them ganin’,-
The morra’s morn Ah reckon we can hope ti find hor stannin’.

Noo leanin’ ower the inbye gate Ah gits me pipe aleet,
An, wetch the sweet blue smoke corl up the soft an’ windless neet:
A curloo glides doon ower the slack, - he’s weord bubblin sang
Is like a closin’ ev’nin hymn the quiet hills amang.

A paor o’ yowes hes bedded doon ahint the Rowan Wood,
Ah heor thor anxious bleatin comin’ slavv’rin thro’ thor cud:
Ah see thor lambies playin’ dunch, an’ buttin’ wi’ thor heid,-
It’s aye the same when folk’s bairns’ll no tak onny heed.

Owld Moss’s muzzle at me knee is nudgin’ us the hint
That hungor grips the sharpor when yor bell’s gat nowt in’t.
Me hands gans doon it stroke hor heid, - “Ay, lass, it’s time w’ore hame,-
We’ve baith put in a canny day, - me belly feels the same:
Ah musta trudg’d a score o’ miles, but ye’ve rin ten times mair,-
It’s supper noo for us, then bed, - w’ore achin weory sair!

We cross the pastore ont’ the road, it’s easier gannin’ theor,
An’ me stride gits that bit langor when Ah see the farmstead neor.
The swallie’s back Ah’m glad ti note, he’s swoopin roond the shed
An’ catchin’ suppor on the wing afore he gans ti bed.

Ah wonder what she hes for us,- Ah divvent fancy flees!
It’s mebbies stew an’ tetties, then a muckle hunk of cheese”
Ah waddent mind some hame-fed ham, and steamin’ mug o’ tea,
‘Fact owt ti eat’ll dee for us, the hungor that’s on me.

An’ then it’s int’ the easy cheor, me hands across me belly,
Ti find oot what the world’s bin deein’ accordin’ ti the telly.
But Ah’ll no be spendin’ much time theor, it’s sharp ti bed the neet,
For soon the pilla hads me heid. Ah’ll gan oot like a leet.

Ah find these fancy comfort thowts just rinnin thro’ me heid
As Ah’m standin’ bi the byre door, an’ givin’ Moss hor feed:
Mind, dreams an’ hopes is canny things, but’s ownly facts is real,
So Ah’m for gittin’ int’ the hoose an’ sat doon ti me meal.

Ah lifts the sneck o’ wor back door, an’ then Ah heors hor shoots,-
“Ye needn’t think y’ore comin in heor in them greet clarty boots!”
Man, - when it comes ti females thore’s a lesson ti be leornt, -
Tho’ ye treat them nice an’ canny, divvent look for praise ye’ve eornt;

Ye spend erl day oot on the fell with ten score lambin’ yowes
An’ ye nivvor hit nee trouble ‘til ye git back hame for lowse!
The keb hoose to protect sick sheep - and the shepherd!

From “Canny Bit of Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: Bonnie North Tyne

Upper North Tyne
Fair Doon the dale the dark North Tyne
Rins bonnie on hor chosen line;
Wi’ monny a sparklin’ silvor shine
Upon hor face
She weshes banks she wesh’d lang syne
I’ reivin’ days

On Kieldor fells she hes hor rise
Wheor sweet the lang-bill’d curloo cries;
An’ tho’ at forst but lowpin’ size,-
A wee bit ditch,-
Yet bi she gits wheor wor place lies
She’d glidin’ rich.

I’ spring when aldor catkins blow,
An’ troot feed in hor gentlor flow,
Cry oystorcatchors as they go,
An’ sweet redshanks,
Sandpipors pipin’ to an’ fro
Alang hor banks.

Erl summor lang the swallies sweep
The aor above hor drowsy deep,
An’ theor an insect harvest reap
Thor chicks ti feed;
Retornin yeors the faith she’ll keep
Ti fill thor need.

When autumn cerls high summor’s day
An’ fadin leaves an’ growth’s decay
From green ti gowld the change obey
An’ ferl an’ dee,
Hor bacak-end spates sweep erl away,
Broon, sworlin’ free.

Caad wintor’s winds is sharp ti chill
Baith glidin’ pool and dancing rill;
Wi’ creepin ici the wattors still
An’ erl things hush
A season’s rest afore the thrill
O’ springtime’s rush.

She’s bonnie in nor lazy gait,
She’s bonnie in a drumlie spate,
She’s bonnie in hor frozen state
Wi shore ice meet;
I’ seasons early, seasons late
She’s bonnie yet.

Caad wintor’s winds is sharp ti chill

From “Canny Bit of Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X
Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: A Lot Of It Aboot

Ah wes feelin’ bad this mornin’, Ah’m nowt ower grand ye noo,
Thore’s a throbbin’ at me temples, an’ a het flush on my broo;
Wi’ achin’ joins an’ catchy thowt, Ah hevvent onny doot
Ah musta ketch’d the bug they cerl, - “Ah Lot of it Aboot”.

The wife, she taks yin look at me, -“Ah know just what ye need,
Het bottle on your belly, an’ an aspirin for yor heid;
Just git yorsel inti yor bed, - an’ divvent ye git oot, -
Ah’m ganna cerl the doctor, thore’s a lot of it aboot!

The doctor diagnoses it a new type Asian ‘flu,-
Wes browt heor i; the baggage of an immigrant Hindu;
If Ah find oot whee giv us it, Ah’ll fetch him sic a cloot,
Thore’s little comfort knowin’ thore’s a lot of it aboot!

Aad Chearlie from next door comes roond; he seems me wattory eyes,
Me hacky cough an’ snotty nose, an’ stearts ti sympathise, -
“Me Antie doon at Hexham says wor Willie’s got a beaut,
Varnigh ti be expectit, - thore’s a lot of it aboot!”

Ah think the neighbour’s canny that sends a Git Well card,-
Ah owt ti love erl neighbours, but Ah find hor varry hard
Shaw’n charity tiwerds the yins hat just stand theor an’ spoot,-
They say he’s proper poorly, - thore’s a lot of it aboot!”

But, - When Ah’m, feelin bettor, an Ah’m up and oot yince mair
An’ heor hoo erl them neighbour folks is feelin’ kinda sair,
Ah’ll werlk reet in, erl heorty grin, an look at them an’ shoot,-
“Ah see ye’ve got what Ah hed, - thore’s a lot of it aboot!”

From “Canny Bit of Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robet Allen: A Cautionary Tale

Ah met an owld sweetheort the day.
Ah’d courted when a lad;
She smiled at the same shy way,
But, man, hor eyes were sad.

Ah kindly asked about hor health
An’ hoo she’d fared i’life,
An’ hed she come the way o’ wealth
As some man’s canny wife.

“Three times” – she towld us, -“Ah’ve bin wed,
Three times a widow made,
An’ them three men that shar’d me bed
I’ cowldor clay’s noo laid”.

An’ then she spoke an erful truth,
As grim’s the graves that hide them,-
“Hed ye bin bowldor i’ your youth,
Ye wad by layin’ aside them”!

From “Canny Bit of Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

Robert Allen: A Canny Welcome

The North Tyne folks is canny folks
From Kielder ti the werl,
But them that lives i’ Bellingjum’s
The canniest o’ them erl.

An’ when ye come amang us, y’oure
As welcome as can be,
Ye’ll find that wor hospitabul
An’ open-hearted tee.

But if ye plan te settle heor,
Ye’ll hatta leorn the rules’
We divvent like the cocky yins,
An’ canna bide the fools.

For if amang us canny folks
Ye wish it be elect,
Nee hang for reputation, ye
Must eaorn your ahn respect.

An’ when ye’ve bin heor fifty yeor,
An’ nivvor made a fuss, -
Then – mebbies – we’ll be kind te ye
And cerl ye – ‘Yin of us!

From “Canny Bit Verse”, 1994. ISBN 0-9524649-0-X Published by the author.
Robert Allen's farming and historical poems have been sourced from the Northumberland Language Society. Please contact the NLS as a source ( of more of these brilliant works, and for recordings. The copyright is held by Nigel and Georgina Hall - for enquiries email them on

December 6, 2008

The shepherd's stick? Online guide to the Border stick-dresser's craft

By Clive Dalton

My first decent horn-head stick

I was lucky enough to be given my first decent stick with a horn handle at age 13 by a noted Border Shepherd, Michael Anderson (see picture at left, courtesy of Bellingham Heritage Centre collection painted by Miss Kingston-Walker), when I plucked up enough courage to ask him how to bend a sheep’s horn. He was generous with his knowledge and honoured me with a stick. It was a memorable visit to his workshop with few tools but much wisdom.

But a shepherd’s stick is more than a tool of trade. When a Border Shepherd got up from his chair leaving the warmth of the fireside to go outside, he did two things. He first reached for his cap, and then he took his stick from the rack in the ceiling beams above the fireplace. A good shepherd not only “gaveth his life for his sheep”, he nivor left his stick (or his cap) lyin aboot either!

Choice of stick
Which stick he chose depended on the mission. At lambing time he’d choose the long wide-necked horn-headed stick which could be hooked around a departing ewe’s neck to bring her to an abrupt stop. Fixing of the head to the shank of this stick was critical, as you could be left with a shank in your hand, a departing ewe with a horn necklace and some biblical quotations from your mouth

If a shepherd was off to “look the hill” or “caa the sheep oot”, he’d take a much shorter and lighter plane-headed stick. The correct length for this stick stretched from your left should joint to the outstretched finger of your right hand. This length was grand for walking on the hill among rough tussock “bull snoots” and a help for crossing drains. This stick could get a fair bit of wear ands tear over time, and I’ve seen many with new shanks spliced on with black insulating tape. It was never wise to ask “whaat brok yor stick”?

If you were off to the local market or the village to see the bank manager, then you’d choose your “mart stick” which was a bit more fancy than your daily herding stick. It would certainly have some decoration on the handle and perhaps your name and the farm name, but certainly not a trout or a cock pheasant’s head. These real fancy sticks were only for show.

Stick to attend the local show
The other important spot to show off your good stick was at the local Show where you knew that all your fellow shepherds would be there, just quietly skiting about their sticks without saying a word.

Picture of Michael Anderson (left) with pipe and stick taken from film
of Bellingham show, probably around the 1950s

Stick for church
There was one other very special place where you could do some stick skiting; it was at church.
Here you’d take a smallish top quality bit of art and craft, as you knew it would be seen during sermons when minds tended to wander. At the end of the pew was a brass handle that held sticks and umbrellas and stood in a drip-tray at the base. Here also was the place to see the lovely light and decorative ladies’ sticks.

Stick as a presentation award
Often a stick is given as a prize at a Sheep Show (like the one I made below) or for a winner at a dog trial. (Any stick used in a NZ Dog Trial can be no longer than 1 metre).

The trophy for the Supreme Chamption Wool Breeds' Ewe
Presented at the NZ Waikato Show by David and Jean Welch, OMATA Perendale stud 2009

There was just one other place that a shepherd needed a stick for – to lay on the top of his coffin.

Historical uses for a shepherd's stick
  • To help walking over rough ground and among rocks, especially when coming down hill.
  • As a weapon to ward off predators of the flock.
  • As company - to give a feeling of security when out on your own.
  • As a status symbol - the shepherd always had high status among farm workers.
  • To catch sheep by the neck or the back leg.
  • To move awkward animals such as old rams which may turn on you if provoked.
  • To extend your arm to direct a dog when it was working a long way off.
  • To extend your arm and block sheep when working at close quarters.
  • As a leaning post when resting to support your front or back side.

Click here for a link to the latest Knol from Clive Dalton with the detail of making a stick in the manner of traditional Border craftsman.