Monday, 10 April 2017

Thomas Wilson, North East Miner, Teacher, Poet & Antiquarian 1773-1858

On 30 March a blue plaque was unveiled to Thomas Wilson (1773 - 1858), one of the North East's greatest dialect poets.

Organised by Gateshead Local History Society at The Bank, 516 Durham Road, Low Fell, the unveiling was by the Mayor of Gateshead, Alison Ilderton-Thompson. 

The following biographical sketch has been written by Ian Daley  of the Society.

‘Thomas Wilson is considered one of the North East’s greatest dialect poets was born in the mining village of Low Fell on 14 December 1773.

Born into a mining family he began working down the local pit at the tender age of 8 years. He worked his way from trapper boy up to hewer at the age of 19. In the few hours he was not at work or asleep he managed to get a rudimentary education at a school run by Samuel Barrass near Carter’s Well. At the age of 19 became a school teacher at Galloping Green Wrekenton.

Trying his hand at commerce he began to work for Losh, Lubbren and Co, in their counting office in 1803. Only two years later he entered in partnership with William Losh who in turn were joined by Thomas Bell which became the industrial giant of its day the Losh, Wilson and Bell Ironworks in Walker. His fortune was made.

Thomas Wilson was now in a position to demolish his parent’s humble old cottage and build Fell House near Lowery’s Lane Low Fell for his family and where he lived and died in 1858 He is buried in St John’s church Sherriff Hill.  

He is described as being extremely generous donating to any good work irrespective of church, school or chapel, sect or party.
He began to write dialect poems in the 1820’s which were published in local magazines of the day and the respected Gateshead Observer newspaper. His most famous poem was Pitman’s Pay and it was published along with his other poems in book form as the “The Pitman’s Pay and other Poems”. It was widely read and translated into a play by the Dodds sisters (The Little Theatre’s founders) and the Progressive Players toured the Northern region with the play. Several of his poems have been adapted with music and are still sung today especially “The Washing Day “. His poetry is virtually all  in dialect and has been a rich source for the study of the early 19th Century Tyneside dialect.

Thomas Wilson also took his civic duty very seriously and became one of Gateshead’s first Councillors and later as an Alderman until 1853 He never became Mayor even though asked to carry out this honour on countless occasions as he did not relish public appearances.

His most tangible legacy left in Low Fell is the building now known as The Bank Bistro Low Fell (Fell House was demolished in the 1960’s).The Bank building was originally erected for the benefit of residents of Low Fell by Thomas Wilson and fellow benefactors as a local school and reading rooms. Thomas Wilson appreciated the education he had received and wanted his fellow citizens to enjoy the enormous benefits that education can achieve.

The building was used for various purposes including use as a social club established there for soldiers at the end of the 1st World War. The club eventually moved out and founded the Thomas Wilson Working Men’s Club which remains at the southern end of Low Fell in purpose built accommodation to this day. The building was then used as a bank and has now been converted to a Bar Bistro and adopted the name of its last use as The Bank Bar Bistro.

It is very fitting that the plaque to Thomas Wilson should be placed upon the building that he helped into being for the benefit he gave to his fellow man. A local man who did not forget his roots and recognised the importance of Education for all is a person who we believe should be recognised himself in a very fitting way.’

The Wilson Collections

Thomas Wilson left a large collection of papers which are in Northumbrian Collections and Newcastle Local Studies. Listings of these collections are  on the North East Popular Politics database at  

340 Thomas Wilson Gateshead Fell Poem 1824
496 Thomas Wilson Collections Introduction
497-500  Thomas Wilson Newcastle Collection
501-14 Thomas Wilson Gateshead Collection
515 Thomas Wilson Memorandum Books 1819-1853
516 Thomas Wilson Communications 1795-1857
517 Thomas Wilson: ‘The Pitman’s Pay and Other Poems’
941-2 Thomas Wilson Newcastle Collection

There are also details about him in

338 Poetry Tracts

Wilson’s Pitman’s Pay and other poems can be read here.

The photo and images are from the North East Labour History website: 

Note: I am the editor of the NEPPP database. 

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