Wearside comedian to be star of new show

A bus passing the Theatre Royal in Blandford Street, where Ned performed in Victorian times. The theatre later became a bingo hall and ended its days as a nightclub.
A bus passing the Theatre Royal in Blandford Street, where Ned performed in Victorian times. The theatre later became a bingo hall and ended its days as a nightclub.
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Family and fans of a music hall star who made Sunderland his home in Victorian times are being urged to attend a public meeting.

Playwright Ed Waugh is keen to document the life and times of Ned Corvan in a stage production, and hopes Echo readers will come forward with stories of the performer at a special get-together.

The Lyceum Theatre - where Ned performed in Victorian times.

The Lyceum Theatre - where Ned performed in Victorian times.

“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 Corvin/Corvan in around 1827 but, just a few years later, the family moved to Newcastle to make a fresh start.

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

Ned Corvan.

Ned Corvan.

His industrial career was short-lived. Instead, the lure of the stage prompted Ned to down tools and join Billy Purvis’s Victoria Theatre, where he wowed critics and audiences alike with his comic songs.

Further success followed during tours of the region’s music halls and theatres and, at the height of his fame, Ned – by now married with children – moved his family to Sunderland.

Indeed, his only son Edward was born in Bishopwearmouth in 1860 and, during the census of 1861, Ned was recorded as living at 45 Railway Street with his wife Isabella and their three children.

“The couple actually married in North Shields in 1851 and lived in South Shields for a period, where Ned ran Corvan’s Music Hall for three years. It is believed the Corvans moved to the Covent Garden area of Sunderland in around 1856,” said Ed.

Sunderland boasted several top music halls and theatres when Ned arrived in the town and, with his combined talents of music, art and violin playing, he topped the bill at several local venues - including Wear Music Hall in Drury Lane, the Theatre Royal in Bedford Street and the Lyceum Theatre in Lambton Street.

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

“While Ned’s act was very popular in Newcastle - he was in big demand at Balmbras Music Hall - he was equally popular in Sunderland, Hartlepool, County Durham and Gateshead.

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

Ned, who died of tuberculosis of the larynx 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.”

Both of Ned’s daughters - Isabella and Mary Jane - left Sunderland after marrying, but lived within just a few miles of the town. His son Edward trained as a French polisher and helped support his mother following Ned’s death.

Edward, however, fell on hard times and in 1901 ended up in prison for begging. He served at least two jail terms - one in Newcastle, and the other in Wakefield.

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

The event is to be held at 12noon at South Shields Library, George Square, and is open to anyone with links to - or an interest in - Ned, his songs or his family.