Life of Tyneside pitman poet Joseph Skipsey to be celebrated

THE life of a pitman poet will be celebrated tomorrow in what is a year of North East mining disaster anniversaries.

Tyneside poet Joseph Skipsey

THE life of a pitman poet will be celebrated tomorrow in what is a year of North East mining disaster anniversaries.

Writers and musicians will gather at the Mining Institute in Westgate Road, Newcastle, for a free public event to mark the 180th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Skipsey.

He was born in Percy Main in North Shields on St Patrick’s Day in 1832 and started work in the local pit at the age of seven.

He was self-educated and won national recognition for his poem on the Hartley pit disaster in Northumberland.

The Tyneside pitman went on to be custodian of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Hartley and the 200th of the Felling mine disaster in Gateshead.

Skipsey, best-known for poems reflecting the miner’s life and toil, was praised by literary figures such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Oscar Wilde.

Whitley Bay poet Keith Armstrong who will be at the event on Saturday, which runs from 7pm to 9pm, said: “In this year of pit disaster anniversaries we can have something to celebrate and not lament.

“Joseph Skipsey started work at the age of seven and he did incredibly well. Although he is a largely unheard of poet these days, to get as far as he did was some achievement.”

The St Patrick’s Day event at the institute will feature singer-songwriter Gary Miller of Whisky Priests, Skipsey descendant Chris Harrison with Skipsey songs, the Sawdust Jacks and Northumbrian pipe player Chris Ormston.

Skipsey faced tragedy when his father was shot dead in a clash between pitmen and special constables. In 1852 he walked most of the way to London, found work on the railways, married his landlady, and returned north to work at the Pembroke colliery near Sunderland.

In 1859 he published a volume, Poems in Morpeth, which attracted the attention of James Clephan, the editor of the Gateshead Observer, who obtained a job for him at Hawks Crawshay and Son ironworks in Gateshead.

In 1863, after a fatal accident to one of his children in the works, he moved to Newcastle and took a job as assistant librarian to the Literary and Philosophical Society.

Later he returned to work in the mines and published a number of books, including Carols from the Coalfields.

Rossetti met Skipsey and said of him: “I found him a stalwart son of toil, and every inch a gentleman. He is as sweet and gentle as a woman in manner, and recited some beautiful things of his own with a special freshness.”

In 1889 Skipsey was appointed custodian of Shakespeare’s birthplace on the recommendation of literary greats Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Rossetti, and Bram Stoker.

He resigned two years later and returned north, dying at Harraton on the River Wear in 1903.


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