Andrew McKegney
By Andrew McKegney

Senior Staff Writer

8 June 2023

| | 2 min read

Historic bell used to start Blaydon Race

The old brass hand bell used to start the original Blaydon (horse) Races in 1861 gets taken off display in Newcastle’s Discovery Museum every year to start the contemporary Blaydon road race by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle.

Lord Mayor of Newcastle Cllr Veronica Dunn
Lord Mayor of Newcastle Cllr Veronica Dunn with the historic brass bell

The original Blaydon Races was a horse race, immortalised in George ‘Geordie’ Ridley’s now famous song from 1862 ‘The Blaydon Races’, which sang about the route the revellers took from Newcastle to Blaydon.

The old horse races were eventually cancelled in 1916 due to unruly behaviour and riots. The modern Blaydon Races road race was started in 1981 by Dr John Dewar and is held on 9 June every year, and follows the route detailed in the song.

Kylea Little, Keeper of History at Discovery Museum said: “The ringing of the bell to signal the start of the race has become an important part of the heritage and tradition of the much-loved event. It is the very bell that the Town Crier of Blaydon John ‘Broon’ Brown would have rung all those years ago, in 1861.”

“If you’d like to see the bell, it’s usually on display in Discovery Museum’s Newcastle Story gallery – just not this weekend!”

Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Cllr Veronica Dunn, said: “The Blaydon Race is a brilliant event that raises a huge amount for good causes every year across Tyneside.

“It is an honour for me as Lord Mayor of Newcastle to start the race. I am thrilled at the prospect of ringing the bell that started the very first Blaydon Race over 160 years ago. It’s an important artefact in the proud history of the North East.”

The bell is over 162 years old and was gifted to the former Municipal Museum of Science and Industry in 1945, which then became the Discovery Museum in 1993.

The painting 'The Blaydon Races - A Study From Life', was completed in 1903, by William Irving, and is part of Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery’s collection.

An unusual ‘key’ accompanies the painting so all the old Geordie characters can be identified, with 'Chushey Butterfield', 'Blind Bob from Scotswood' and 'Puncher Anderson' and more.

The race starts at 7.15pm on Newcastle Quayside on Friday, June 9. Road closures will begin at 6pm.