A doughty champion of his local culture.(Poet Tom Hubbard)Your performance at the city hall was soooooooooo good! Christoph thought it was excellent! (Carolyn)


The New Hartley Colliery Disaster 1862 - 150th anniversary

The New Hartley Colliery Disaster 1862 - 150th anniversary.
5:30pm Tea and Coffee in the Library.
6:00pm Lecture by Norman Jackson.
6:40pm Questions.
Adjourn to the Library. Buffet and drinks.
7:00pm Launch of a new book about the Hartley Calamity.
Keith Armstrong, Catherine Graham and others will then read poems from the new book commemorating the Hartley disaster, including Joseph Skipsey's Hartley ballad, with singer/songwriter Gary Miller performing Keith’s Hartley lyric and other mining songs and piper Chris Ormston performing his Lament for Hartley and other appropriate tunes.
Copies of the book will be available for sale.
8:30/9:00 close.


jingling round the world!


Sun sets on Empire,
a football sinking in the sky.
Dreams are gone,
the kicks we had.
I see their ghosts in The Strawberry night:
Len White and George Eastham,
Gordon Hughes and Liam Tuohy,
Alf McMichael, Jimmy Scoular.
Roaring Boys of one hue or another:
Alan Suddick and Jim Smith,
John McGrath and Dick Keith,
Dave Hilley and Andy Penman.
Stalwart lads from an industrial past,
hold on to those memories.
Golden Balls of light
shine on the surface of The Tyne,
ripple in the mind.
Great times were had
and peanuts tanner a bag.
Swaying lads on the Popular Side,
Oxo down our throats.
Chuck us a cup,
we're thirsty.

from 'true faith' the newcastle united fanzine for which keith armstrong has been poet-in-residence



Bleeding Sketches - still available!

This is the Whisky Priests' follow-up to 1994's The Power and the Glory. Bleeding Sketches marked a significant reduction of duties for principal songwriter Gary Miller. Here, the Priests enlisted the literary services of poet Keith Armstrong, whose works were put to music for the entirety of the album. But while this album can be considered a songwriting diversion from previous Whisky Priests releases, in reality it differs only slightly from its predecessors, as Armstrong's lyrics are uncannily similar to Miller's. Both men write insightfully of their hometowns and regional folklore, and offer profound observations of the seemingly mundane. As always, Glenn Miller provides complementary accordion accompaniment, and is joined by bassist Mick Tyas and drummer Nick Buck, as well as guests Jez Lowe on bouzouki and Chuck Fleming on fiddle. ~ Dave Sleger, Rovi

Bleeding Sketches Track Listing

  • Track#
  • Title
  • time

  • 1
  • Everybody's Got Love Bites But Me
  • 2:55

  • 2
  • Hexham Tans
  • 3:48

  • 3
  • Widows of Hartley
  • 2:42

  • 4
  • Success Road
  • 2:15

  • 5
  • Peterlee
  • 3:24

  • 6
  • Mother, Waiting
  • 3:48

  • 7
  • My Father Worked on Ships
  • 3:25

  • 8
  • Granda Craghill
  • 4:34

  • 9
  • "Spring": Pit Pony
  • 2:41

  • 10
  • Ballad of the Little Count
  • 2:45

  • 11
  • The Jinglin' Geordie
  • 4:00

  • 12
  • Durham
  • 2:08

  • 13
  • Turn It Upside Down
  • 1:55

  • 14
  • Angels Playing Football
  • 3:36
  • Credits of Bleeding Sketches

      The Whisky Priests line-up on this recording:

      Gary Miller – Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Mandola, Mandolin, Banjo, Percussion
      Glenn Miller – Accordion, Keyboards, Piano, Backing Vocals
      Mick Tyas – Vocals, Bass Guitar
      Nick Buck – Drums

      Guest Musicians:
      Keith Armstrong – Spoken Word
      Chuck Fleming – Fiddle
      Marie Little – Vocals
      Jez Lowe – Bouzouki, Harmonica
      Jane Miller – Recorder
      Fred Purser – Guitars, Whistling


    “In the fickle world of folk, some bands just do not get the breaks. On the face of it, the Priests should be enjoying similar levels of success to the Levellers – they share that band’s technicolour widescreen anthemic folk melodies and rugged balladry, with an extra value-added oomph. Though they have the trousers and the accents, Durham’s Whisky Priests were always tapped deeper into the lodestone of classic Geordie folk than their supposed peers in the folk movement.
    ‘Bleeding Sketches’ sees the band link up with the Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong, and together they have released an album that effortlessly captures the raw power and earnest excitement of their best works. They continue their fusion of rock ‘n’ roll, Geordie roots with an almost punk attack into a form surprisingly coherent and original. Keith’s poetry provides the perfect catalyst for an inspired project, that despite a gestation period of some five years came together when The Priests unexpectedly lost a band member and had to salvage a recording session. The spontaneity of the resulting album is something that all the participants can be justifiably proud of.
    The Whisky Priests are currently celebrating 10 years on the road by promoting this release with another UK tour. See you down the front!”
    Geoff Wall, ‘Folk On Tap’.

    “This album is a result of a meeting in 1989 between The Whisky Priests and poet Keith Armstrong. Keith told Gary that he was looking for a band to perform his poems as songs and it was agreed that when it was possible then they would collaborate. At long last the results can be heard. For the first time The Whisky Priests have performed songs for which they did not write the words, but instead have worked at providing the music, which can make the words come alive.
    The words describe the reality of the North East, from pit disasters and dereliction through to love and vitality. The CD booklet is very well put together. There is a forward from both Gary and Keith, and Keith provides an insight into each song as he prefaces each set of lyrics with an explanation.
    There is the frenetic pell mell of ‘Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me’ or the powerful ‘Widows of Hartley’ (about the Hartley Mining Disaster of 1862, which claimed 204 lives). The music and words work in perfect harmony to be entertaining and extremely thought provoking at the same time. There is a harnessed passion in the music that really brings the images to life.
    The Whisky Priests live and breathe the North East and this album in partnership with one of the North East’s top poets really brings the subject matter home. Superb.”
    Kevin Rowland, ‘Feedback’.

    “Having been a fan since I was sent a copy of ‘Bloody Well Live!’ to review, I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t been to see them live (though that may change on October 17th when they play the Riverside) and have therefore had to satisfy my needs with their subsequent recordings. This album maintains the high standards previously set and should see the lads reaffirming their position at the forefront of the national folk/rock scene. I have to say that if I were them I would rush release ‘Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me’ in time for the Christmas market, saturate radio stations with copies.”
    ‘The Crack’.

    “A band much used to long tours and self-induced sweat-boxes, The Whisky Priests team up with poet Keith Armstrong to produce another classic collection of hope, sorrow, hard times and truth. These are considered vignettes, as the poems range through the gamut of North East of England life, form ‘Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me’ to ‘Widows of Hartley’, after the 1862 pit disaster. From ‘Peterlee’, a local town “littered with squalor” to ‘Angels Playing Football’, either thunder or Newcastle United! This will appeal to more than the devoted. Classic lyrics and class music. Lend an ear, singer/songwriters.”
    Neil Pedder, ‘Taplas’.

    “The Whisky Priests have always been fierce; and fiercely proud of the richness of the culture of NE England, they have blazed a trail with dynamism, raw energy and good humour throughout the UK and Europe. This album sees a long-cherished project of the Miller Brothers come to fruition at last. It’s an artistic collaboration featuring the lyrics of northeast poet Keith Armstrong and the music of Gary and Glenn Miller. Here you’ll find serious stuff about poetry, exploitation, the violence, which can disrupt ordinary lives, tempered with hopes and dreams – the individuals and the situations rendered with realism and affection. A candidate for the official poet of the Labour Party, Keith writes with anger, pathos and control; combine that with Gary’s vituperative delivery and depth of feeling and you are tasting a potent brew. Once again friends have been drafted in to add texture to the recording, (they’ve had the local brass band, they’ve had Alistair Anderson), this time you’ll find ace fiddler Chuck Fleming, Marie Little’s vocal chords, Jez Lowe’s bouzouki and harmonica, Jane Miller’s recorder and engineer Fred Purser’s guitar and whistling. The result is an arresting testimony to the explosive power of the word when harnessed to the emotive qualities of the music. An original and unique venture destined to create new Whisky Priests fans in unexpected places.”
    Jenny Coxon, ‘Folk Buzz’.

    “This is an unusual CD from The Whisky Priests in that all the lyrics have been written by North East poet Keith Armstrong, with tunes set by the Miller brothers Gary and Glenn. However, Keith’s writing is in the same tradition of hard-edged realism that we have come to expect from the Priests. There is nothing comfortable about the England of the 1990’s inhabited by these writers, nor is there comfort to be found for the listener.
    This is a CD of songs and poems which challenge us, tracks such as ‘Success Road’ where “You can look for a job / In an empty factory” and “There is no choice / But shout ‘Revolution!’ / And you’ll lose your voice”. Not songs for the faint-hearted or the politically conservative.
    One of my favourite tracks has to be ‘‘Spring’: Pit Pony’ sung by Marie Little (one of many guests on this CD who came in to contribute following the departure of Paul Carless, the harmonica and mandolin player from the Priests). Other, grittier tracks include ‘Widows of Hartley’ in the tradition of Joseph Skipsey (cited by Keith Armstrong as an influence) and Tommy Armstrong (lauded by the Priests in ‘Pitman Tom’ on ‘The Power And The Glory’) and ‘Mother, Waiting’ from which the CD derives its title: “She is a scrapbook of ancient cuttings: / The pregnant wishes, the bleeding sketches, / The stretch-marks that etch her path”.
    Apart from Marie Little who acquits herself nobly, vocals are mostly provided by Gary Miller, with a couple of less raucous renditions by Mick Tyas.

    A Whisky Priests CD with a difference, but similar in so many ways to the Priests we know and love – raucous, committed, with a strong sense of history but also a determined vision of the way forward. As they say in ‘Turn It Upside Down’:
    Turn it upside down,
    Exchange the stock for wine,
    Put the miner on Cloud Nine,
    Drown Britannia down the mine,
    Turn it upside down.”
    Janet Hale, ‘Folk North West’

    “It’s taken five and a half years to get this off the ground but it was certainly well worth the wait. The combination of the Priests and North Eastern poet Keith Armstrong is a match manufactured for mastery. ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is quite simply the sixth and finest Whisky Priests album to date. The richness of the lyrical pictures of poet Keith Armstrong are projected from the hammer and anvil larynx of Gary Miller and the praline postures of big Mick Tyas. This is our region in reality, no heritage industry gloss. Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me, there is real irony in the false hopes of our forefathers, On Success Road You’re On A Loser, Peterlee, It’s The Place To Be. But it’s not doom and gloom stuff, the story of ‘‘Spring’: Pit Pony’ as sung by Marie Little is human and dreamy, and the ‘Ballad of The Little Count’ is a rakish affair.
    Conflicting schedules dictated the album being put together quickly and the music gains a real freshness and excitement as a result. Take a fresh look through the net curtains with ‘Bleeding Sketches’”. ****
    Rob Nichols, ‘Paint It Red’.

    “A coming of age for yob, oi folk. For a long time Gary and Glenn Miller have threatened to do something serious, something they could wave at the sceptics and say here was justification. And what they’ve done is most fitting, most logical. By chumming up with noted Geordie wordsmith Keith Armstrong, a bloke whose musings were always radical, though of their place, then The Whiskies were at once fulfilling their own desires to be confrontational and endemic. That takes some doing, all at the same time – look ma, no hands!
    A beast of two faces, ‘Bleeding Sketches’ gives out a torrent of downbeat lyrics, which still manage to retain that Pandoran concept – hope; hope that despite enduring closure, injury, bleakness, forlorn prospects, in hopelessness lies camaraderie and unity, leading to a sense of purpose. The north (east) will rise again is the scream-cum-promise. And on the back of brave forays like this, it may even discover much about itself since forgotten.”
    Simon Jones, ‘Folk Roots’.

    “This album combines the musical talents of The Whisky Priests with the spit and sawdust poetry of Keith Armstrong.
    If you’ve never heard The Whisky Priests before, you’re in for a very unique experience. The band knows how to deliver the raw energy and passion of Northern life in suitably gutsy style. ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is an absolute must for anyone seeking a bit more than meaningless lyrics and musical nihilism. The Whisky Priests don’t sugar coat and gift wrap their music, they simply tell it like it is, grit and all!”
    Charmaine O’Reilly, ‘The Edge’.

    “Long-term readers will know that we rate The Whisky Priests here at BT Towers, and this 14-song collection represents the culmination of a six-year-long dream for Whisky Priests leader Gary Miller, setting the poetry of Keith Armstrong, Newcastle poet, to music.
    They first met at a gig in County Durham in 1989, and only now have the fruits of a much-awaited collaboration come about.
    This is a folk classic; make no mistake. The Priests are fine songwriters in their own right, but Armstrong’s poetry has given them a fresh dimension.
    His work displays wit, warmth, wisdom, the pride and the passion of Tyneside and County Durham; the power, the glory and the sadness of the area – and matching up with the Priests’ power-folk is a marriage made in heaven.
    The Priests are amazingly good live and sometimes their power is lost in the recording studio.
    Here, whether for reasons of having a tight schedule, or just more experience of studio work, it works really well.
    A must for folk fans, and highly recommended to anyone who likes good, well-written songs. Order your copy today.
    Finally goodbye to bassist Mick Tyas, who is leaving after nearly seven years in the band after the British leg of their latest tour. A canny lad, he will be sorely missed.”
    Richard Lewis, ‘The Bury Times’.

    “This is the Priests’ sixth album, but the first on which they collaborate with North-East poet Keith Armstrong.
    The marriage is admirable. Both musicians and poet are rooted in the coal-dust of Durham. Both musicians and poet are intensely bitter and angry about what happened to their homeland, and yet both have blinding moments of hope.
    Musically, ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is everything you would expect a Whisky Priests album to be: it is fast and frenetic folk, which is strictly kept under control by the Miller brothers’ superb instrumentation.
    Lyrically, Armstrong – apparently Tony Blair’s favourite poet – paints on a traditional North-East canvas: a pit disaster, the killing of Swan Hunters and the leather industry of Hexham. But he’s up-to-date as well, noting the modern irony of a Success Road being found in the failed mining community of Philadelphia. He also chronicles the shattered dreams of Peterlee New Town.
    All of which sounds politically drab, but is brought to life by the way The Whisky Priests play from the heart. And the album ends with ‘Angels Playing Football’ – the gorgeous way Newcastle footballing hero Jackie Milburn reassured his young granddaughter, who was worried about a thunderstorm.
    Some might say that by digging so deeply into Durham’s history, the Priests and Armstrong are not moving forward, that they are the arts equivalent of Beamsih Museum.
    But they are far more than another heritage project, and Armstrong’s internationalist motto sums up The Whisky Priests as well as any comment made during their ten years in the business: ‘Our future we build from our past’.”
    Chris Lloyd, ‘The Northern Echo’.

    “Yet another fine platter from those Geordie wonderlads. The lads just seem to release CD after CD of their fine northern folk music and this one is no exception. It even features the lyrics of North East poet Keith Armstrong. The Miller brothers have done their mother proud.”
    Andi, ‘Gig Central’.

    “Love bites, shipyards, giro-cheques, pit ponies – the only local ingredient missing from the album is the shell suit. ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is a collection of fourteen poems by Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong set to music by folk band The Whisky Priests. Despite his left-wing agenda, Armstrong manages to dilute tales of pit disaster and shipyard closure with more humorous character sketches without overplaying either the quaint or the gritty aspects of life in the North East.
    For their part, The Whisky Priests carry off the difficult task of setting poetry that sometimes has no regular metre or rhyme, to folk music, which often demand both. The mood of their music is predominantly celebratory and upbeat. Such rousing backing adds to the power of lines like: “Put the miner on Cloud Nine / Drown Britannia down the mine / Turn it upside down”. When it accompanies Armstrong’s more poignant writing the effect is rather incongruous: the mood of a setting of a poem which incites revolution is less appropriate for lines like: “The tears that stream from an ancient agony / Hiss like rain on the grate”. In fact the most effective musical accompaniment, to a poem about Armstrong’s dead grandfather, is the only one which is not in a major key.
    No review of this album would be complete without a mention of its striking cover design, depicting a welder at work, which successfully captures the positive mood of the music inside. Judge this CD by its cover and you won’t go far wrong.”
    Adrian Martineau, ‘Northern Review’.

    “Gary Miller, the Priests usual lyricist (and singer) has kind of taken a break on this album with regard to the words. Keith Armstrong is apparently one of Newcastle’s best poets. As if any proof were needed you should read the lyrics, and I mean read, on songs such as ‘Success Road’, ‘Peterlee’, ‘Mother, Waiting’ and ‘Hexham Tans’. With all credit, though, Armstrong’s lyrics run to the same strength as Miller’s, painting grey and gritty, honest and truthful pictures of what life was/is up in the north, and I mean even further up than Huddersfield! Miller’s vocal style is one that can take some getting used to, but ultimately rewarding as it’s like the songs, honest. The musical skills of the band is superb (like the Pogues) with traditional instruments as well as standard. Maybe this could be the first time that the number 13 (the CD number) proves to be lucky.”
    ‘The Modern Dance’.

    “Back in 1989 only a few years out of school a young Durham band recorded a fine album of raw and passionate contemporary roots music based around visions of life in the grey and gold of their native North East. ‘Nee Gud Luck’ was a remarkably mature debut from The Whisky Priests.
    Following albums were somewhat disappointing but with ‘Bleeding Sketches’ they’ve bounced back to new peaks. They’ve teamed up with poet Keith Armstrong for a runaway pit carriage roller-coaster fun ride through the Northern lands they love so well with warts and all – the pit disasters, the shipyard closures and the dereliction but these are songs from the heart and of their families, of sons lost in pits or at wars. ‘My Father Worked On Ships’ is Keith Armstrong’s father, 30 years at Swan Hunters. ‘Mother, Waiting’ is the tale of any mother who waits and grieves for her soldier boy.
    Gary Miller has a unique pitmatic dialect which for 45 minutes or so on previous albums has been a little difficult to stomach but here there’s enough changes in mood and pace and switching of vocals to hang onto including guest vocals from Marie Little on ‘‘ Spring’: Pit Pony’.
    It is of course an acquired taste but these creative forces of The Whisky Priests and Keith Armstrong have joined to tell tales of life and death that are movingly absorbing.”
    Gillfish, ‘Rock ‘N’ Reel’.

    “This is The Whisky Priests' follow up to 1994’s The Power and The Glory, Bleeding Sketches marked a significant reduction of duties for principle songwriter Gary Miller. Here the Priests enlisted the literary services of poet Keith Armstrong whose works were put to music for the entirety of this album. But as much of a songwriting diversion this album is from previous Whisky Priests releases it differs only slightly from its predecessors, as Armstrong’s lyrics are uncannily similar to Miller’s. Both men write insightfully of their hometowns, regional folklore and profound observations of the seemingly mundane. As always Glenn Miller
    provides complimentary accordion accompaniment and is joined by bassist Mick Tyas, drummer Nick Buck aswell as guests Jez Lowe on bouzouki and Chuck Fleming on Fiddle.”
    Dave Sleger, USA.



    Maud Watson, Florist

    Wednesday 23 November 2011
    bred in a market arch
    a struggle
    in a city’s armpit

    that flower
    in your time-rough hands
    a beautiful girl in a slum alley

    all that kindness in your face

    and you’re right

    the times are not what they were
    this England’s not what it was

    flowers shrink in that crumbling vase
    dusk creeps in on a cart

    and Maud the sun is choking

    Maud this island’s sinking

    and all that swollen sea is

    the silent majority

    Keith was born in Newcastle upon Tyne where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher.
    He is co-ordinator of the Northern Voices creative writing and community publishing project, and has organised several community arts festivals in the region.
    He recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and the heritage of North Tyneside. 
    This poem is from his most recent collection The Month of the Asparagus, from Ward Wood Publishing, 2011.
    Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter.


    back in prague



    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)


    Back to Haydon Bridge!

    MARTINS @ ANCHOR and National Poetry Day, 6th October 2011
    With the possible exception of the fortuitous announcement on the day that Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the UK appears to have largely ignored this year’s Poetry Day event.
    Even BBC Radio 4, which has given us a celebratory verse on the hour in the past, must have succumbed to the budgetary cut backs already and failed to deliver for 2011. The Poetry Society's topic chosen for the day was 'Games' and this must have been what 'Auntie Beeb' was playing with the finances.
    This was not the case in Haydon Bridge. The John Martin Heritage Festival staged its own Poetry Day entertainment with 'Martins @ Anchor' which combined the day with Martin related material lead by one of the North's leading and most prolific living poets Keith Armstrong. Keith is no stranger to the village as he has been a long term Martin scholar and enthusiastic promoter of our legendary family.
    With Keith were Gary Miller, the guitarist/singer/songwriter who was best known as a member of the folk/rock band 'The Whiskey Priests', and Northumbrian Piper Chris Ormston.
    Keith opened the night in his usual strongly voiced style with 'I Saw the Signs' telling of John Martin's early days in Haydon Bridge. He also appropriately performed his best known local poem 'At Anchor'. This was written some time ago and refers to the sound of heavy transport disturbing his night at the Hotel which, since the by-pass, is a thing of the past for 'Anchor' residents. A framed version of this poem is displayed in the Community Centre.
    Gary Miller is another Martin enthusiast and has composed several very cleverly researched and worded songs around the lives and times particularly of the Martin brothers John the Painter, Jonathan the Arsonist and William the eccentric inventor. Again, it is several years since he has been able to perform these in public and he certainly gave most dynamic renditions of these for an audience who were very appreciative of his efforts.
    Chris Ormston is one of the county's leading Northumbrian pipers, a prowess which he ably demonstrated even when the temperature variation and humidity of the room were initially against him. He explained that there was nothing to indicate that John Martin had played the pipes but the material Chris played for the evening was by his near contemporaries William Dickson (the first producer of pipe tune manuscript in Northumberland), William Vickers and John Peacock.
    Many thanks go to Keith, Gary and Chris for providing this wonderful and diverse homage to the Martins. Thanks also to Steve, Lindsey and the staff at the Anchor Hotel for allowing use of the venue for this National Day. They hope to be staging other such events in the future.

    Henry Swaddle,
    Haydon News


    Edward Burra 1905-1976

    Valley and River, Northumberland  1972

    In his later years, Burra was taken on driving tours of Britain by his sister Anne. His landscapes were inspired by real places: in this case, a valley south of the Cheviot Hills near Alnwick. He said he was fascinated by the lines on the hills that play a dominant role in the painting. Such depictions of 'unspoilt' country were contrasted with images of motorways and heavy trucks, reflecting the artist's 
    lament at the destruction of Britain. 


    Another famous ghost town is Oradeur-sur-Glane, all the inhabitants were massacred by SS troops in 1944, only 6 survived, by locking them in the church and burning it down, and/or machinegunning them down.

    The ruins are now a memorial.


    Spain has its war memorial ghost town in Belchite, destroyed during 1937 and left for future generations.


    Shy man
    in the Castle Hotel.
    He clangs the bell 
    and leans over Marjorie, 
    chats her up with a sketch.
    She giggles at his shyness.

    His old boots squeak the floorboards of memory,
    his heart is sad and soaked in loneliness.

    Eyes peel in the morning sun
    and off he heads 
    for Spittal light,
    on he wanders
    pale and drawn over the seaside stubble.

    Strides our man Lowry,
    bold along the seafront
    in search of a hand to hold.

    Day damp,
    frown on this paintbrush,
    town on his palette.

    Clouds scud over Spittal,
    days are lost.
    Smoke from the factory,
    dreams from the chimney.

    This wee girl in red pops up,
    bobs like a buoy on his canvas.
    He wants her smile,
    she poses one for him.
    Grab the moment.

    Lowry lost in driftwood,
    reeking of fish.
    Wander to bed,
    dream of the swans
    and the mouth of the Tweed.


    (from 'The Month of the Asparagus', Ward Wood Publishing)



    ‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The gound was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’
    Wash away the day,
    wash the pain away,
    sweep the remains of yesterday
    into the racing river.
    Beat the Dead March,
    bang the old drum,
    heal Hexham’s bust bones
    and cry me a river,
    cry the Water of Tyne.
    Wash away the day
    and wash this pain away.

    With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
    a well-dressed man
    leaves town
    along Priestpopple.
    Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
    not owned.
    Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
    Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
    the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
    Thrice into a man’s body
    lying at James Charlton’s shop door
    it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
    and a pitman dead,
    a weaver:
    al those broken days of history,
    all the slain hours in our diaries.
    Sound the Abbey’s bells!
    Let them toll the severed minutes.
    Let them celebrate
    the end of torture.
    Let them gush
    with rejoicing
    for more peaceful times.

    These streets,
    in this Heart of All England,
    are swept clean of blood.
    But the stains still soak our books.
    Death upon death,
    we turn the pages;
    in between the lines,
    we read about the screams,
    time’s bullets
    tearing flesh away.
    There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
    just scrape away the skin
    and, deep down,
    there’s a Riot:
    a commotion boiling
    a terrible turbulence,
    a throbbing pain.
    It is a Riot of gore,
    a torrential downpour,
    a weeping,
    a seeping sore
    that is Hexham’s History.

    (Poems featured in Hexham Local History Society Newsletter Autumn 2011)


    by D.W. Smith

    Known as Bloody Monday, the Hexham Riot, which broke out on March 9th 1761, was the outcome of an attempt to introduce a system of balloting for the militia. Balloting met with opposition throughout the north of England but it was in Hexhamshire that feelings ran highest. The local magistrates, well aware of this, had taken the precaution of bringing a detachment of the North Yorkshire Militia into the town of Hexham. Drawn up in the square in front of the Moot Hall, these soldiers only served to increase the fury of the mob that gathered on the day of the ballot. After almost four hours of argument between ringleaders and magistrates, the Riot Act was read.
    The mob broke loose and advanced with staves and clubs upon the charged bayonets. Two soldiers were shot by their own weapons and the magistrates, in panic ordered general fire. By the time the firing ceased, the mob had fled through the streets, leaving only dead and severely wounded - a sight that seemed to move even the soldiers. Various figures have been advanced for these fatalities - one source gives 45 dead and 300 wounded, but it is likely that the figure was much higher, for large numbers of the wounded escaped to their own locality and were naturally unwilling to acknowledge their part in the affray. However, with careful investigation, several can be found who probably died from wounds in those days of rudimentary surgery. Joseph Ridley's Hexham Chronicle gives a list of dead and wounded, but it is by no means complete. For example, Dorothy, wife of William Armstrong of Stamfordham, died four days later; Charles Shipley of Gunnerton died a month later - two of his cousins, the Coulsons of Gunnerton, were also involved. Thomas Richardson of Corbridge had been married barely a month before being shot. Many of the dead were claimed by relatives - John Appleby, aged 74, of West Matfen, my own kinsman, was buried at Stamfordham on the 12th. John Leighton, buried at Bywell, was only 21.

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