Considered by many to have been Newcastle’s most successful songwriter, Joe Wilson focussed on working-class life and wrote over 360 songs, including well-known titles such as Keep Yor Feet Still GeordieHinny, Sally Wheatley and Geordy Haud the Bairn.
Born in 49, Stowell Street (now the site of Chinatown Express), the son of a cabinet maker, his ‘sweet tenor voice’ soon earned him a place as a choir boy at All Saints Church. Apprenticed as a printer his first song book was published three years later and in his leisure time he established popular concerts in the working men’s clubs which had been newly formed as a counter attraction to the pubs. Turning professional later on, he starred at the Oxford Music Hall in the Cloth Market and then toured the North of England as well as selling his home-produced song books at a half-penny each.
Married in 1869, Joe found travelling and wedded bliss did not mix and two years later became landlord of the Adelaide Hotel on New Bridge Street (later called Joe Wilson’s). Disillusioned with his drunken customers, after a short period he returned to the stage, simultaneously working as a printer to eke out a living. He turned teetotal, and began to write temperance songs that, sadly, never sold well.
Joe died of TB in his 33rd year, living in Railway Street at the time of his death. His widow, Bella English, who Joe married in 1869, emigrated to Canada where she started her new life.
A monument in the form of a broken column (to signify a life cut short) was erected in 1890 by Thomas Allan, publisher of Tyneside Songs, with inscribed lines that Joe used to describe the purpose of his life:
‘It’s been me aim t’hev a place
I’th’ hearts o’ the Tyneside people,
Wi’ writin’ bits o’hyemly sangs
Aw think they’ll sing.’
As it is today.
An original image of the monument in pristine condition.
The Adelaide Hotel, also known as Joe Wilson's, currently known as the King's Manor.