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”.
Some reports even suggest it was the biggest of them all at one time.
Urine, which was collected from public urinals or barrels in the city, was used for a variety of things at different times throughout the city’s history – including, ballast in ships, a stripping agent to turn wool into wearable clothes and most importantly in the countries tanneries, where it was used to remove hair and guts from the hides of animals.
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?’, and many would usually make something up, that sounded more exotic.
Wiser sailors who suspected they were telling lies would say, “no, you’re taking the piss aren’t you”? which went on to become a common phrase, still jokingly used in the same humorous sense by many Geordies 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 lowest of the low, because they could not even afford a pot to store the urine in.