I saw you
round Baudelaire’s grave.
You were on a pilgrimage from Blyth.
I saw your face in Montparnasse,
blending with a swarm of irises.
You needed to get away from the grime,
to bathe in flowers of evil,
to wash your pale white body
in the Paris crowds,
broaden your worried brow.
Your young poems already rot
in the cemetery of poets
and yet you still churn out the stuff
as if your little voice meant something.
There is no going back
to that fateful day
when our eyes met by chance,
neighbours brought together by France
and the great mind of Charles.
He lay there,
pecked at by the grip of time,
in agony,
drugged by a quickfire nib,
injected with the poison of love
and the wit of drunkenness;
and I saw you,
before I even met you,
and I knew that one day we would fly
to a liberated Prague together,
to taste the freedom of the streets
and the lightning lash of fate.

Keith Armstrong





was the word I was looking for
down the lanes of Temple Bar
between the tourist spots
and the poetry slots of all Ireland.
And at last I found it
in Charlie St George’s bar
clashing glasses of Guinness with you
Robert my good friend,
blessing the magical days
when we were born
to share our dribbling verses,
our hard-earned lines,
between ourselves
but above all with others
of our gentle persuasion
whether here in Limerick’s rain-soaked lanes
with Richard Harris
or in Newcastle’s Bridge Hotel
with William Blake
over the cobbles of our dreams
to airport lounges
and soaring planes,
just anywhere at all
to fly our poems.
For this I thank you Robert,
for staying with me,
for offering strong friendship
when all the world is falling apart around us.
Let us celebrate love again
in a pint of plain
and poetry in our memorable smiles
this day by the glorious Shannon
and in the sunlight of the River Tyne.




sing of my home city
sing of a true geordie heart
sing of a river swell in me
sing of a sea of the canny
sing of the newcastle day

sing of a history of poetry
sing of the pudding chare rain 
sing of the puddles and clarts
sing of the bodies of sailors
sing of the golden sea

sing of our childrens’ laughter
sing of the boats in our eyes
sing of the bridges in sunshine
sing of the fish in the tyne
sing of the lost yards and the pits 

sing of the high level railway
sing of the love in my face
sing of the garths and the castle
sing of the screaming lasses
sing of the sad on the side

sing of the battles’ remains
sing of the walls round our dreams
sing of the scribblers and dribblers
sing of the scratchers of livings
sing of the quayside night

sing of the kicks and the kisses
sing of the strays and the chancers
sing of the swiggers of ale
sing of the hammer of memory
sing of the welders’ revenge

sing of a battered townscape
sing of a song underground
sing of a powerless wasteland
sing of a buried bard
sing of the bones of tom spence

sing of the cocky bastards
sing of a black and white tide
sing of the ferry boat leaving
sing of cathedral bells crying
sing of the tyneside skies

sing of my mother and father
sing of my sister’s kindness
sing of the hope in my stride
sing of a people’s passion
sing of the strength of the wind 


(as featured on BBC Radio 4)


THOMAS SPENCE (1750-1814)

93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD
Tel. 0191 2529531
It’s good to welcome the establishment of The Thomas Spence Trust, founded by a group of Tyneside activists intent on celebrating and promoting the life and work of that noted pioneer of people’s rights, pamphleteer and poet Thomas Spence (1750-1814), who has born on Newcastle’s Quayside in those turbulent times.
Spence served in his father’s netmaking trade from the age of ten but went on later to be a teacher at Haydon Bridge Free Grammar School and at St. Ann’s Church in Byker under the City Corporation. In 1775, he read his famous lecture on the right to property in land to the Newcastle Philosophical Society, who voted his expulsion at their next meeting.
He claimed to have invented the phrase ‘The Rights of Man’ and chalked it in the caves at Marsden Rocks in South Shields in honour of the working-class hero ‘Blaster Jack’ Bates, who lived there.
He even came to blows with famed Tyneside wood-engraver Thomas Bewick (to whom a memorial has been recently established on the streets of Newcastle) over a political issue, and was thrashed with cudgels for his trouble.
From 1792, having moved to London, he took part in radical agitations, particularly against the war with France. He was arrested several times for selling his own and other seditious books and was imprisoned for six months without trial in 1794, and sentenced to three years for his Restorer of Society to its Natural State in 1801.
Whilst politicians such as Edmund Burke saw the mass of people as the ‘Swinish Multitude’, Spence saw creative potential in everybody and broadcast his ideas in the periodical Pigs’ Meat.
He had a stall in London’s Chancery Lane, where he sold books and saloup, and later set up a small shop called The Hive of Liberty in Holborn.
He died in poverty ‘leaving nothing to his friends but an injunction to promote his Plan and the remembrance of his inflexible integrity’.
The Thomas Spence Trust organised a mini-festival to celebrate Spence in 2000 when it published a booklet on his life and work, together with related events, with the aid of Awards for All.
Trust founder-member, poet Keith Armstrong has written a play for Bruvvers Theatre Company on the socialist pioneer which has been performed at St. Ann’s Church and other venues in the city.
Now the Trust has successfully campaigned for a plaque on the Quayside in Newcastle, where Spence was born. The plaque was unveiled on Monday June 21st 2010, Spence's 260th birthday, with a number of talks, displays and events coinciding with it.
Further information from: Dr Keith Armstrong, The Thomas Spence Trust, 93 Woodburn Square, Whitley Lodge, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE26 3JD. Tel. 0191 2529531.
On behalf of The Thomas Spence Trust and Newcastle City Council, I’m delighted to welcome you here today to unveil a plaque in honour of that great free spirit, utopian writer, land reformer and courageous pioneering campaigner for the rights of men and women, Thomas Spence. Myself and other members of our Trust, especially Peter Dixon and Tony Whittle, with the support of people like Professors Joan Beal, Alastair Bonnett and Malcolm Chase and activists like Michael Mould, Alan Myers and Councillor Nigel Todd, have campaigned for well over 10 years for some kind of memorial to Tom Spence and it is with great pride that we assemble here with you today.
We know that Spence was born on the Quayside on June 21st 1750, 260 years ago to this the longest day and Summer Solstice. We know that his father Jeremiah made fishing nets and sold hardware from a booth on Sandhill and his mother Margaret kept a stocking stall, also on Sandhill, but it has not been possible, all these years on, to pinpoint the exact location of Thomas Spence’s birthplace, which is why this plaque has been installed here at Broad Garth, the site of his school room and debating society and where he actually came to blows with Thomas Bewick because of a dispute over the contentious matter of property. Bewick gave Spence a beating with cudgels on that occasion but, surprisingly enough, they remained lifelong friends. As Bewick said of Spence: ‘He was one of the warmest Philanthropists in the world and the happiness of Mankind seemed, with him, to absorb every other consideration.’
In these days of bland career politicians, Spence stands out as an example of a free spirit, prepared to go to prison for his principles - the principles of grass roots freedom, community and democracy, for the human rights of people all over the world.
Spence mobilised politically in taverns in Newcastle and later in London. That is why this afternoon, after this short ceremony, you are all invited to join us across the road in the Red House to raise a glass for Tom and to hear informal talks, poems and songs in his honour. You can hear further talks on Spence tonight at the Lit & Phil, courtesy of the Workers’ Educational Association, and next Monday at Newcastle Library, along with a display of his works, and, if you like, you can join some of us at Marsden Grotto, South Shields, tomorrow lunchtime, where Thomas first chalked the phrase ‘The Rights of Man’ on a cave wall, to raise another glass for this man who in his own words ‘dared to be free.’
This plaque puts Thomas Spence on the map for all of those pilgrims who hold human rights and political freedoms dear. It does not trap his free spirit rather it gives his life and work fresh wings.
Thanks to you all for coming this afternoon on this proud day for both The Thomas Spence Trust, Newcastle City Council and the citizens of this great city of ours.
I’ll now hand over to the Lord Mayor who will unveil the plaque, after which my friend Gary Miller, esteemed singer and songwriter, will perform a folk song which I’ve written as a tribute to Tom.


Down by the old Quayside,
I heard a young man cry,
among the nets and ships he made his way.
As the keelboats buzzed along,
he sang a seagull’s song;
he cried out for the Rights of you and me.
Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.
Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.
His folks they both were Scots,
sold socks and fishing nets,
through the Fog on the Tyne they plied their trade.
In this theatre of life,
the crying and the strife,
they tried to be decent and be strong.
Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.
Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.
(from the music-theatre piece ‘Pig’s Meat’ written for Bruvvers Theatre Company)





This is where I was joined to the world,
this is where I first appeared
and took to walking
along the sun-baked pavements
on the route of the 15 bus.
I joined
with the Heaton race,
found a sense of place 
out of my mother's arms
and up Sackville Road
to Ravenswood.
Junctions rushed towards me,
engines of progress,
steam days in the 52B shed.
Magical machines
flew past me
along the quarter mile sidings
in the coaly night
as the local cats screamed
and young dogs yelped.
It was my time
to run with my youth
and someone threw me 
a book to disappear in,
something to engage
my history with,
streets lining up
for exploration;
feeding off
Chillingham Road, 
getting lost
in the Scala,
eyes swirling
with street life, 
the Whitefield Terrace colours
of another teeming Heaton day.
There I was
chucking snowballs
at trains,
skimming along rails,
for girls on the ice.
We pranced together,
joined gangs of trees
in the Park,
threw ourselves
into the smoke from chimneys,
dreamed through the nights
of black locomotives,
joining us to London
and Edinburgh,
taking us out
of ourselves.
We don’t forget
those junctions
that linked us
to the wealth
of a history shimmering
in the back lanes  
and in the leaves
dancing in sunlight 
in Jesmond Dene,
running across Armstrong Bridge
to greet 
our futures. 


The trains
speed through
your memories:
the old lady waiting
with a pram,
the boy in black and white.
Days in the Heaton sun
swept aside
in the rush
to rationalise.
I was that boy,
still am,
on the platform
looking for the words
to express
true feelings
for my home;
drifting in the smoke,
derelict clouds
along First Avenue
and out of sight
into local photographs.


the jingling geordie

My Photo
whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur