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!
BELLINGHAM SHOW - Version 1
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”.
BELLINGHAM SHOW - Version 2
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.
BELLINGHAM SHOW - Version 3
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.