In the taproom of The Flying Horse public house in the Groat Market, colloquially known as Hell’s Kitchen, various of the Newcastle Upon Tyne ‘Eccentrics’ were to be seen, many of them mentioned in popular local ballads and folk-songs. They were well known on the Newcastle streets and on the quayside, and in the ale-houses. Fourteen of them were painted by the artist Henry Perlee Parker around 1817, shown in Hell’s Kitchen, immortalising their images. The original has been lost, but engravings have survived.
Old (or Aud) Judy Dowlings was the keeper of the Newcastle upon Tyne ‘hutch’, a form of strongbox used by the City Treasurer. She was a formidable guard, wielding a hefty stick in its defence and is also depicted in another painting by Henry Perlee Parker. You can read more about Old Judy in one of our previous posts by clicking here. Peering over Old Judy’s shoulder is Jenny Ballo and beside her Whin Bob, or Robert Cruddace. The dog is Timour, belonging to Doodum Daddum.
Next is Jacky Coxon who is mentioned in a song written by Robert Emery (a Scot living in Newcastle) called ‘The Pitman’s Dream – or a description of the North Pole’. The others are Pussy Willy, Cull (or Cully) Billy and Donald. Cully (also known as Silly Billy) was really William Scott and lived in St John’s poorhouse and was the subject of various local folk songs. He lived with his diminutive mother who was only 4ft tall and who made her living as a hawker. Both mother and son were often cruelly ridiculed but Cully was a gentle man with a good nature and a quick sense of humour. He died in the poorhouse on the 31st July 1831 at the age of 68 years. Donald, obviously a Scotsman from his tartan tam o’shanter, also revelled in the name Lousy Donald.
The four gentleman here are Bugle-Nosed Jack, Hangy (or Hangie), Bold Archy (or Airchy) and Blind Willie. Bugle-Nosed Jack was also known as Cuckoo Jack and Bold Archy was really Archibald Henderson, a huge, well-built man but absolutely a gentle giant, devoted to his mother who often had to lead him away from fights as he was a magnet for trouble due to his size. He died, on the 14th May 1828, at the age of 86 years. Blind Willie, or William Purvis, was probably the best known of the Newcastle Eccentrics. Born in Newcastle, and baptised at All Saints’ Church on the 16th February 1752, his father John was a waterman and his mother Margaret lived to a grand old age, dying in All Saints poorhouse at well over 100 years of age. Blind Willie (blind from birth or from very early in his childhood) was a fiddler, song writer and performer, often to be found in ale houses where he asked for a drink and entertained the regulars. He was a great favourite on the streets of Newcastle, renowned for never wearing a hat, no matter what the weather, having got fed up of it being stolen from his head by idle boys. Like his mother, he ended up in the All Saints poorhouse where he died on the 20th July 1832 aged 80.
Finally, we have Shoe-tie Anty, ‘Captain’ Benjamin Starkey and Doodem Daddum, owner of Timour the dog. Benjamin Starkey, extremely short in stature, had pretensions to grandeur, hence his appellation of ‘Captain’, and certainly had some education as he was noted as a very neat writer. In his youth he had been an usher at a school, William Bird’s Academy in Fetter’s Lane in Holborn, London (where the essayist Charles Lamb remembered him from). He was born around 1757 and died on the 9th July 1822, and was an inmate of both Freeman’s Hospital and the poorhouse. Doodum Daddem is identified as John Higgins in an eprint from Nottingham University, a jack-of-all-trades and also the Town Crier or Bellman of Newcastle Upon Tyne. However, from census records, John Higgins would appear to be too young to be the man in the painting.
Woodcuts of Blind Willie and ‘Captain’ Benjamin Starkey appear in Allan’s Illustrated Version of Tyneside Songs, in which many of the Newcastle Eccentrics are named. It also provides an engraving of the Hell’s Kitchen portrait with a key underneath to the identities of the people within it.
Newcastle Courant, 28th July 1832
Allan’s Illustrated Edition of Tyneside Songs, 1891
Street Scene, Newcastle upon Tyne; British School; National Trust, Cragside