Three Victorian North East working class heroes are to be celebrated on stage in the next ten months.
Almost forgotten today, the three were superstars of their day.
Harry Clasper, a Durham miner who, as a teenager, was in the 1831 “Great Strike”, later became an eight-time world rowing champion. Prior to football, “aquatics” was the sport of the working class and 100,000+ people used to assemble to cheer on rowers from their city in competitions. An internationally renowned rower, Harry was also responsible for training other world champions and designed the boats we see today in the Olympics and Oxbridge boat race.
When Harry died in Newcastle in 1870, aged 58, an estimated 130,000 turned out on Tyneside to pay their respects. The Geordie anthem “Blaydon Races” was premiered at Harry’s testimonial in 1862.
Hadaway Harry successfully toured small venues along the rivers Tyne and Wear last summer and transfers to Newcastle’s 1200-seat Theatre Royal in February 2017.
Joe Wilson was 33 when he died of TB in 1875 but during his short lifetime he wrote 360 songs and poems, earning him the moniker “Bard of Tyneside”. Loved throughout the music halls of the North East, Wilson wrote about the day-to-day life of working class people. His formidable repertoire ranged from beautiful sentimental songs to hard-hitting condemnations of domestic violence, unemployment and the indignities of charity. In 1871 he wrote songs in support of and performed benefits for striking Tyneside and Wearside engineering workers.
Joe was born 175 years ago on November 29 and a music hall night – featuring songs, poetry and comedy – will be held at the Irish Centre in Newcastle (20 yards from where Wilson was born).
Ned Corvan, born in Liverpool to Irish parents, moved to Newcastle around 1833 when he was four years old. He was to become a legend in the region with his unequivocal anti-establishment songs that railed against unemployment, supported workers on strike, highlighted the hypocrisy of the monarchy and promoted the status of women. Ned, who was a great singer, virtuoso violinist, artist and comedian, was responsible for the creation of the Hartepool Monkey myth. He regularly performed to audiences of 1,800 people, with no amplification!
Dead from TB of the larynx aged only 37, Ned wrote at least 160 songs. His unmarked grave in Newcastle today lies under an asphalt concrete path
A musical play called Mr Corvan’s Music Hall, about Ned’s life, will tour the North East in May/June 2017.
Ed Waugh, writer of the plays and curator of the Joe Wilson Night, said: “History lessons in our educational institutions are about kings and queens while the real history makers – working class people – are ignored and sadly forgotten. Harry, Joe and Ned were working class heroes who helped shape the culture of the North East. It’s time their stories were told again.”