Comedian behind Hartlepool’s Monkey Hanging myth to be remembered in stage show

Whitby Street in the early 1900s.
Whitby Street in the early 1900s.

Fans and family of Victorian music hall star Ned Corvan - the man who made Hartlepool’s legend of the monkey hanging famous - are being urged to attend a public meeting.

Playwright Ed Waugh is keen to document the life and times of Ned in a new stage production, and he is hoping Mail readers will come forward with tales of the performer at a special get-together later this month.

“Ned was the first professional North East singer/songwriter,” said Ed. “He wrote songs that had resonance with working class people and that are still relevant today.

“He was a contemporary of Geordie Ridley (Blaydon Races) and Joe Wilson (Keep Your Feet Still Geordie Hinny), and arguably the greatest singer/songwriter of the triumvirate.”

Ned was born in Liverpool to Irish parents Matthew and Margaret Corvan/Corvin in around 1827 but, just a few years later, the family moved to Newcastle.

Matthew’s death in 1841 left Margaret struggling to bring up three children and, while still a young boy, Ned found work as a sail-maker to help his mother.

The lure of the stage, however, eventually prompted Ned to join Billy Purvis’s Victoria Theatre - where he enjoyed success performing comic and local songs.

And, after years of touring the North East - including numerous trips to Hartlepool - he went on to open his own Music Hall in South Shields.

“Ned performed and wrote songs about the North East,” said Ed, whose latest play - Hadaway Harry - focuses on forgotten Geordie rowing champion Harry Clasper.

“While his act was very popular in Newcastle - he was in big demand at Balmbras Music Hall - he was equally popular in Hartlepool, Durham and Sunderland.

“He championed women (Factory Lass), chronicled local events (Fire on the Quay) and also took the mickey (Gannin to be a Keelman, Swaggering at the Races).”

Ned, who died of larynx tuberculosis in 1865, wrote at least 120 songs and was celebrated from Scotland to Yorkshire for his comedy lyrics, funny tales, drawings and comedy characters.

Anti-establishment to the last, one of Ned’s most popular comic numbers was The Queen Has Sent a Letter - about Queen Victoria sending a letter of sympathy after the 1862 Hartley pit disaster.

“He is even thought to have started the Hartlepool Monkey myth with his song Fishermen Killed the Monkey,” said Ed. “The song provides the earliest mention of the Hartlepool hanging.

“Apparently, it was only after Ned’s appearances in Hartlepool that the Monkey story started to develop, so the song seems the most plausible origin for the myth.”

Ed is planning a get-together for friends, family and fans of the comic on November 21, when he hopes people will bring along information about Ned.

The event is to be held at 12noon at South Shields Library, George Square, and is open to all.