HOME SWEET HOME!

HOME SWEET HOME!

28.6.15

TRAVELLING POET





















From my friend Martin in Amsterdam, a long term companion in one of my favourite (and one of the oldest) Amsterdam bars, the Karpershoek!:

TRAVELLING POET

He travels by plane and train.
The words travel in his brain.
And if we sit in the Karpershoek,
the beer travels in us again.



Martin van de Vijfeijke

25.6.15

265TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF THOMAS SPENCE (1750-1814)











































Breviary Stuff is pleased to announce...
Thomas Spence: The Poor Man's Revolutionary
Edited by Alastair Bonnett & Keith Armstrong
paperback • 156x234mm • ISBN 978-0-9570005-9-9

Spence described himself as ‘the poor man’s advocate’ but he may equally be described as ‘the poor man’s revolutionary’, for what he advocated was a dramatic over-turning of the existing social order.
Perhaps Spence can be best summed up one of the inscriptions he placed on one of his self-minted coins, the coin his friends chose to place in his coffin. It depicts a cat. It stares straight out at us, around it the words, ‘IN SOCIETY LIVE FREE LIKE ME’. Spence wasn’t interested in compromise, with reforms and half-freedoms. He was stubborn. Contemporaries described him as ‘querulous’ and ‘single-minded’. One obituary also observed he was ‘despised’, yet ‘not despicable’.
But who was Thomas Spence? And why did he excite such passions? This collection of essays seeks to go some way to find answers to these questions. It offers a series of insights from contemporary experts on different aspects of Spence’s life and times. We are also delighted to be publishing some pamphlets by Spence himself, including Property in Land Every One’s Right, which has not been in print since it first appeared over 230 years ago.
Spence’s story is a rags to rags tale of defiance and ingenuity. Today Spence’s name is little known but this in no way reflects his significance. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century it was synonymous with ultra-radical opinion. Thomas Spence was the subject of four contemporary biographical memoirs. Moreover, three years after his death an Act of Parliament was passed prohibiting ‘All societies or clubs calling themselves Spencean or Spencean Philanthropists’. Spenceanism appears to be unique: it has a good claim to be the only political ideology to have ever been outlawed by the British Parliament.
Spence’s scheme for local and democratic ownership of the land found a receptive audience within sections of the labouring poor. In 1817 Thomas Malthus observed that, ‘an idea has lately prevailed among the lower classes of society that the land is the people’s farm, the rent of which ought to be divided equally among them’. This, in a nutshell, is ‘Spence’s Plan’. It sounds simple but it carried profound economic claims. It was a message spread more by way of tavern meetings, chalked graffiti and ballads than by published treatise.
In 1787 Spence moved to London, setting up a bookshop on Chancery Lane. He plunged himself into the capital’s turbulent radical sub-culture. He sold Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and went to prison for doing so. But he disagreed with Paine on a number of fundamental issues. Paine had no qualms about private property in land. Spence began issuing a penny weekly, Pigs’ Meat or, Lessons for the Swinish Multitude, which could hardly have been more inflammatory. Spence was taking considerable risks in a dangerous city: spies, threats and conspiracy swirled around him.
Spence’s wish for ‘perfect freedom’ often took him one step further than his peers. He accorded women equal democratic rights. For the time it was a daring idea but Spence went even further. For what about the rights of children? Spence’s The Rights of Infants no doubt provoked more than a few incredulous smiles when it was published in 1796. Yet cruelty towards children was a topic Spence returned to time and again and it is fitting that today he is cited as one of the world’s first champions of children’s rights.
He was an angry man, a revolutionary and an insurrectionist but he was anchored by humanitarian concerns and a wide-ranging, omnivorous, interest in the betterment of his fellows. In this book we hope to go some way in retrieving Spence, of bringing him before a new generation.


Breviary Stuff Publications 
BCM Breviary Stuff 
London WC1N 3XX

SPEECH BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG FOR HERITAGE OPEN DAYS’ COMMEMORATION OF THE BICENTENARY OF THE DEATH OF THOMAS SPENCE  AT THE SPENCE PLAQUE, BROAD GARTH, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, THURSDAY 11TH SEPTEMBER 2014:

On behalf of The Thomas Spence Trust and Hertiage Open Days, I’m delighted to welcome you here to mark the 150th anniversay of the death 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 campaigned for well over 10 years for some kind of memorial to Tom Spence and it is with great pride that we gather here today.
We know that Spence was born on the Quayside on June 21st 1750. 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 was 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 evening you are all invited to join us across the road in the Red House on Newcastle’s Quayside to raise a glass for Tom and to hear poems and songs in his honour. 
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 for coming this afternoon.

FOLK SONG FOR THOMAS SPENCE

(1750-1814)


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.


KEITH ARMSTRONG




(from the music-theatre piece ‘Pigs' Meat’ written for Bruvvers Theatre Company)

                        THE THOMAS SPENCE TRUST

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.


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.


SPEECH BY DR KEITH ARMSTRONG AT UNVEILING OF SPENCE PLAQUE:

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 afternon on this proud day for The Thomas Spence Trust, Newcastle City Council and the citizens of this great city of ours.

24.6.15

LEAVING FRIENDS/FRIENDS LEAVING































(in memory of Mick Standen)


I have lost my roaring boys and girls.
They are left behind,
fallen from Collegium stools;
the poignant moments in Lange Gasse dust.
Times and laughter shared,
dwindled to an Ammer trickle
in a bleak semester,
worn out days.

Friends are for leaving.
I’m afraid
I am too old to chase it.
These young Swabian mistresses
are too damned quick
for me to grab anymore
their lightning glances,
hints of a possible romance
boarding trains,
flickering
in frigid seminar rooms.

Tear yourself from me
as I stumble
through security.
I know I’ll miss
your touch.

Horst has gone from Hades bar,
Paddy from the Boulanger,
Gerd has flown
to China.
Now Mick has slipped away
and all those twinning hours.

Nothing is still.
Her eyelashes flicker,
new wounds open;
the light streams on Wilhelmstrasse,
darkness fills Hafengasse.

A special sunlight
sparkles in my beer,
shafts of it
dart on the counter.
A bird flaps
across my face,
shadow
of a former glory.

So that’s the story:
we lose it all,
we lose everything
and everyone.
It’s why I cling
to the night wind
beating against my cheeks,
to the whisper of the leaves
along this dull suburban street.

The old voices
of mates I made
howling
through the mediocrity
of lonely petrol stations,
soul-destroying car parks.

Puddles
of former joy
winking at the moon.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

20.6.15

FOR JOE SKIPSEY: THE PITMAN POET OF PERCY MAIN (1832-1903)





























‘He’ll tell his tale o’er a pint of ale,
And crack his joke, and bad
Must be the heart who loveth not
To hear the Collier Lad.’ (Skipsey)


To be a pitman poet
you drag words
out of the seam of a dictionary,
write against the grain
all the time
feeling the pain
of a small education,
scribbling in the dark
for a bright spark
germ of a poem.
Hewing
for rhymes,
ducking 
in case the roof
of the verse
caved in on you,
Joe
it was bloody hard 
to learn,
to craft a line
from the black pit
when the whole world
weighed down on you.
A man was forced
to sing,
to render a ballad
like a lamp in the tunnel,
scraping an education
from coal,
crawling along bookshelves
to find daylight,
Shakespeare,
Shelley
and melody
in the stacks
of an underground library.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

the jingling geordie

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