Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The ‘Black Diamond’ of Seaton Burn (NZ238740)

Many of you will be familiar with William Irving’s famous painting of The Blaydon Races.  A quick search of the Internet soon brings the well-known canvas into view (see also links below).  In the middle distance on the right-hand side you will see a curious little character known as ‘The Black Diamond of Seaton Burn’.  Here he is:

The man in question was, supposedly, a black prize-fighter resident of the Northumberland village – some sources placing him in the eighteenth, others in the nineteenth, century. No amount of research seems to be able to pin this chap down, which has led many to suppose that he may be a fabrication of the artist’s imagination – like so many other of the characters depicted in the famous painting.

But “of Seaton Burn” is really quite specific, others say. Surely such a man must have existed? Maybe they’re right. But maybe he wasn’t black after all. As some of you may know, one of the most famous boxers of all time, Tom Cribb, was also known as ‘The Black Diamond’ on account of his routinely filthy appearance as a coal heaver at Wapping Docks at the turn of the nineteenth century. Now Cribb never lived in the North-East, but there would certainly have been plenty of other pitmen pugilists around at the same time, one or two of whom no doubt borrowed Cribb’s famous nickname.

The debate is an interesting one, and can be followed further here – with more on Irving’s painting here.

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