Keelmen's strike of 1819 and shooting at North Shields

Event date(s)

14 October 1819

Description/importance

The keelmen strike of 1819 was given an extra edge as it occurred shortly after the massacre at 'Peterloo' in Manchester. It also coincided with the great meeting of political reformers on Newcastle Town Moor on 11 October.

While the authorities and coal owners feared the strike would lead to general disorder, many of the keelmen were incensed at the treatment of working people at Peterloo and were fired up by the reforming zeal of the speakers at the 11 October meeting.  On the 14 October the authorities, headed by the Mayor of Newcastle Archibald Reed, decided on a show of force. The mayor headed downstream in a steam vessel that was accompanied by a number of naval boats, some containing marines. At the same time the coal owners with the protection of naval support tried to break the strike by using blackleg labour to load some keels, but a large demonstration of keelmen throwing missiles at the keels made the operation both dangerous and difficult. As the keels proceeded downriver missiles continued to rain down on them. The exercise was called off.

Meanwhile the mayor had reached North Shields to be met by another large demonstration on the New Quay. Landing at the quay the mayor's party tried to push their way through the crowd who responded by throwing stones at the boats. The mayor now ordered the arrest of one of the stone throwers but this infuriated the crowd who continued stoning the boats. The marines responded by firing into the crowd, mortally wounding one of the demonstrators, Joseph Cleckson.  Fearing for their lives the mayor and his party retreated to the Northumberland Arms with Cleckson, who was now their prisoner.

The crowd then turned their attention to their Northumberland Arms demanding the release of the prisoner, which they succeeded in doing. While they were celebrating this small victory the mayor and his party escaped through the backdoor and succeeded in making their way back to Newcastle. The crowd broke into the Inn and sacked the place and went on to take over the streets of North Shields until a party of the Sixth Dragoon Guards from Newcastle Barracks arrived and cleared the streets. For the next few days the cavalry continued to patrol the streets of North Shields where there was the occasional outbreak of disorder and violence, especially after the verdict of the inquest into the shooting of Joseph Cleckson was given as Justifiable Homicide.

Location/map point

Address

Collingwood Mansions
New Quay
North Shields
Tyne and Wear
NE29 6HA