The Hornpipe Paganini of Bottle Bank
James Hill is considered to be one of the most talented fiddler players and tune writers of the 19th Century. He is believed to have been born in Scotland in 1811 and to have died from consumption in Westmoreland Lane, off Westgate, Newcastle in 1853 making him 42 years old. He lived on Bottle Bank in Gateshead near the "Hawk Pub" with his wife Sarah, who was born in County Durham, for most of his life where he composed fiddle tunes from the 1830s onward.
The metal plaque in the foreground bears the inscription: 'James Hill of Bottle Bank, world renowned fiddle player and composer of tunes. The finest exponent of the Newcastle hornpipe style. Most active 1842-1852.' The bench is inscribed with Hill’s song titles including 'Beeswing, 'Bottle Bank' and 'The Hawk' (named for pub on Bottle Bank where he lived).
The opening of the High Level Bridge in 1848 led to its decline. It was on this steep street in a public house named The Hawk, that James Hill seems to have lived and worked, attracting the public as one of Gateshead's publican fiddlers.
No record of his birth has been found but is thought to have been in Scotland. The 1841 Census shows James as 25 years old (which would make his year of birth c1816), living as a musician along with wife, Sarah (also 25, from Durham), in a property on Bottle Bank along with the publican, William Hunter (age 60), his wife, Isabella (60) and their four children.
Many properties in Bottle Bank were demolished in the slum clearances of the 1930s. The last buildings were removed in 2001, making way for the building of a new Hilton Hotel.
A hornpipe commemorating the Sunday morning market on Newcastle's Quayside.
2. THE CHAMPION HORNPIPE
Probably named after oarsman and boat-builder Harry Clasper (1812-1870) from Dunston near Gateshead who won several rowing races and was known locally as Champion of the Tyne and the World. He was one of three famous Tyneside professional rowing champions which included Robert Chambers (1831-1868) and James Renforth (1842-1871).
3. THE CLIFF
A hornpipe traditionally attributed to Hill.
4. HILL'S NO 8
An hornpipe in F major with its arpeggio sequences, typical of Hill’s style of composition.
5. THE GATESHEAD HORNPIPE
A celebration of Tynesides “publican fiddlers” of the 1840s, often proprietors, but sometimes resident professional musicians employed to attract customers.
6. THE PEAR TREE
The Pear Tree may have been the name of a public house.
7. THE CAGE
The title of this hornpipe may perhaps refer to the cage by which miners were lowered underground.
8. THE HIGH LEVEL HORNPIPE
Arguably Hill’s most famous tune, composed in honour of the High Level Bridge, which links Newcastle with Gateshead.
9. FLIGHT OF FANCY (Newman)
A newly-composed jig inspired by James Hill’s homage to the Hawk public house.
10. THE HAWK POLKA
The only known polka attributed to James Hill.
11. THE BARBER’S POLE
Although written as a hornpipe, this tune is here given a more stately treatment, the fiddle being joined by two violas.
This is one of Hill’s most popular compositions and is named after the racehorse Beeswing (1833-t8S4).
13. THE LADS LIKE BEER / THE MARQUIS OF WATERFORD
The Marquis of Waterford was a steward of Newcastle’s Town Moor racecourse, and a well-known figure on the local racing scene.
14. THE HAWK
Named after James Hill's public house on Bottle Bank. The Hawk name is connected to the steel and wire works founded by William Hawks in Gateshead in 1747.
15. PROUDLOCK’S FANCY
I thought this could have been named after Lewis Proudlock (1838-1914), a Northumberland miner known as The Border Minstrel although his work was published after James Hill's death.
16. FIDDLER’S FANCY
The title is a misleading one, due to the complexity of the tune!
17. BOTTLE BANK
Named for the steep street on which James Hill kept the Hawk public house.
18. BLAYDON FLATS
Nothing to do with new apartment blocks, but the flat land by the river where The Blaydon Races (horse races) were held.
19. EARL GREY
A sedate Strathspey named for the famous Whig statesman Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, born in Fallodon. Grey’s Monument in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was erected in his honour in 1838, perhaps inspiring the composition of this attractive Strathspey.
His tracks also appear in the repetoire of many fiddlers including north-east's, Stewart Hardy, who has a very different take on Hill's Bottle Bank on his album
Hawthorn's Sweeter Shade.
Some music just seems to fit the wild scenery and the wind in your hair. If you play it loud though, watch your speed on those big bends on the Alston road.
Smashing sounds from Gateshead’s Bottle Bank writer in The Scotsman 31st January 2013.