I wanted to write a song about Cuthbert Skipsey, Joseph's father, who was one of two men killed during the miners' strike of 1832. The other was Nicholas Fairles, a magistrate who was attacked and left to die by two striking miners. Although this event happened some time before the killing of Cuthbert Skipsey, the trials of the two men charged with the killings took place within two days of each other. The disparity of the sentences was remarked on at the time, and I incorporated this into my song, though I focus on Cuthbert's killing. This took place on 8th July, 1832 and began when Alexander Clark, a striking miner, decided to protest at the constables as they went to the pit to guard the blackleg labourers. Many of the eyewitnesses describe Clark as sitting on his hat, and this is the image I use to start the song. The events of the trials were reported in detail in local newspapers and I have drawn on these when writing the song.

One Sunday evening in July a man was sitting on his hat

On the railway line that led down to the colliery

His name was Alexander Clark, he was a striking miner

It was 1832 and he was angry.

For the miners had formed a Union and to strike for better pay

They'd all withdrawn their labour, and stayed out for many days

And the coalowners had evicted them and cast them on the street

And brought in blackleg labour to work their mines.

So now beside the railway, when the constables came by

On their way to guard the blacklegs at the mine

Alexander Clarke he swore at them, said: Never a blackleg bugger

Should go past that way to work the pit that night.

The constables took hold of him and tried to take him in

But Clarke he resisted and created such a din

That his marras in the nearby pub came out and rescued him

And the miners and the police were in a stand-off

Twas then that Cuthbert Skipsey, a miner like the rest,

He intervened to try to calm things down

But a policeman drew his pistol and shot him in the chest

He staggered, and fell dead to the ground

The jury at the inquest gave a verdict of manslaughter

And George Weddell, the policeman, was sent for trial

And next day they buried Skipsey, at the age of thirty-nine,

With a wife and eight children left behind.

Now in an earlier incident, a magistrate had been killed

By two miners who begged for money as he rode by

And when he refused them, they beat him up and left him

With injuries from which he later was to die.

One of the men escaped but the other was arrested

William Jobling was his name and now on trial he did stand

And although he hadn’t meant to kill the jury found him guilty

And for murder he was sentenced to be hanged.

Two days later, Weddell stood on trial for killing Cuthbert Skipsey,

And the witnesses were called to give their evidence

The policemen said the miners had attacked them in a mob

And that Weddell had only fired his gun in self-defence.

But the miners said that Skipsey had just tried to keep the peace,

And others said there was no provocation.

So the jury found Weddell guilty, but they recommended mercy

And the judge gave him six months’ hard labour.

No mercy came to Jobling, and later that same day

He was hanged outside the county gaol in Durham

Then they stripped and blacked his body and stuck it on a gibbet

And displayed it as a warning to the miners

So where is the justice, and whose is the law

When people are punished differently because of who they are

So a miner who kills a magistrate is hanged and mounted on a stake

But a policeman gets six months for killing a miner.

Cuthbert Skipsey was born in Plessey, Northumberland, and baptised in St Mary's Church, Stannington on 16 April 1793. His parents were Cuthbert and Hannah (nee Wanless). He married Isabella Bell in Newcastle in 1816.

Cuthbert Skipsey's baptismal record, April 1793:

16. Cuthbert, son of Cuth[bert] & Hannah Skipsey, Plessey

One striking aspect of the story to emerge from my research is the general severity of the sentences to which ordinary people were condemned for relatively minor offences. George Weddell's sentence was one of the lightest awarded at the court session which included the trial.