The Keelmen of Tyneside

From the fourteenth century until the building of the railways, writes D.J. Rowe, the Newcastle keelmen were indispensable and pugnacious carriers between collieries and sea-going ships.

Although coal was mined in this country in Roman times, the continuous history of the industry really dates from the fourteenth century. From that time onwards, there were several coal-fields in production, but the Tyneside coal-field had the advantage over many of the others in the availability of water transport—which was considerably cheaper than land transport—to markets beyond the region.

The major centre demanding coal, which had no local supply, was London, with its lime-kilns and other manufactories, especially after the sixteenth century when a growing shortage of charcoal increased the need for coal.

There was, therefore, a considerable market for the coals of Tyneside. For the coastal journey the coal was transported in colliers, which were too large to navigate the River Tyne, and so the coal was brought from stocks on the river banks down to the colliers waiting at Shields in barges, locally called ‘keels’.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.