It’s a well known fact that coal and beer used to be Newcastle Upon Tyne’s biggest exports, however what is not so well known is that another huge export was “Urine”.
Urine, was collected from public urinals or barrels in the city and was used for a variety of things at different times throughout the city’s history – including; ballast in ships, stripping agent to turn wool into wearable clothes and even in tanneries, where it was used to remove hair and guts from the hides of animals for the production of leather items.
Naturally many sailors who worked on the ships that collected and delivered the urine, weren’t too keen on others knowing the cargo they carried, because If you worked on one of those ships, it wasn’t seen a good job.
In the Taverns of Newcastle Quayside sailors would meet and ask “what you carrying on your ship?. Many, rather than tell the truth would often make something up, that sounded more exotic, but sailors who suspected they were telling lies would say, “no, you’re taking the piss aren’t you”?.
Funnily enough that phrase went on to become a common Geordie phrase used throughout, Tyneside, Northumberland & Durham.
Other common phrases that come from those times included
- “Piss poor” : Families so hard up they used to collect their urine in a pot, which once a day was taken & sold to the tanneries.
- “Dont have a pot to piss in” : Seen as the poorest of the poor, because they couldn’t afford a pot to store the urine in.