The Keel Row

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The Keel Row is a traditional Tyneside folk song evoking the life and work of the keelmen of Newcastle upon Tyne. It was first published in 1770, but may be considerably older.

The opening lines of the song set it in Sandgate, that part of the quayside overlooking the River Tyne to the east of the city centre where the keelmen lived and which is still overlooked by the Keelmen's Hospital.


As I came thro' Sandgate,

Thro' Sandgate, thro' Sandgate,

As I came thro' Sandgate,

I heard a lassie sing:

'O, weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row,
O weel may the keel row
That my laddie's in.'

'He wears a blue bonnet,

Blue bonnet, blue bonnet,

He wears a blue bonnet

A dimple in his chin.

And weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row,
And weel may the keel row
That my laddie's in.'

The traditional set of words, above, were later augmented by other versions. One, the "New Keel Row", was printed by Stokoe along with the original lyrics, having first been composed by Thomas Thompson and printed in 1827.[1][2] Its first two stanzas are now often sung with the traditional ones:

'O wha's like my Johnnie,

Sae leish, sae blithe, sae bonnie?

He's foremost 'mang the mony

Keel lads o' coaly Tyne;

He'll set or row sae tightly

Or, in the dance sae sprightly,

He'll cut and shuffle slightly,

'Tis true, were he nae mine.'

Due to its quick beat, the tune of "The Keel Row" is used as the trot march of the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry as well as of the Royal Horse Artillery. The writer Rudyard Kipling mentioned the tune in one of his accounts of army life in India under the British Raj: "The man who has never heard the 'Keel Row' rising high and shrill above the sound of the regiment...has something yet to hear and understand". The tune is also used by the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and other rifle regiments who march in double time.


  1. ^ Thompson, T. A Collection of Songs, Comic, Satirical, and Descriptive, Chiefly in the Newcastle Dialect, Marshall, 1827, p. 6
  2. ^ Gregory, The Late Victorian Folksong Revival, Scarecrow Press, 2010, p.273

External links[edit]

  • article on the song, includes recording of tune