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)




(In loving memory of Professor Malcolm Chase 1957-2020)
(Malcolm in the Red House, Newcastle, in 2010 celebrating the unveiling of the plaque in Spence's memory on Newcastle Quayside)


It's worth celebrating the birth in Newcastle upon Tyne on 21st June 1750 of radical fighter for human rights Thomas Spence.

Happy birthday Tom from everyone at The Thomas Spence Trust, responsible for the commemorative Spence plaque on the Quayside and an extensive series of events and publications dedicated to him over the years.




I am a small and humble man,
my body frail and broken.
I strive to do the best I can.
I spend my life on tokens.

I traipse through Holborn all alone,
hawking crazy notions.
I am the lonely people’s friend.
I live on schemes and potions.

For, in my heart and in my mind,
ideas swarm right through me.
Yes, in this Hive of Liberty,
my words just flow ike wine,
my words just flow like wine.

I am a teeming worker bee.
My dignity is working.
My restless thoughts swell like the sea.
My fantasies I’m stoking.

There is a rebel inside me,
a sting about to strike.
I hawk my works around the street.
I put the world to rights.

For, in my heart and in my mind,
ideas swarm right through me.
Yes, in this Hive of Liberty,
my words just flow like wine,
my words just flow like wine.



35 Hillsden Road, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE25 9XF

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.

A book 'Thomas Spence: The Poor Man's Revolutionary', edited by Alastair Bonnett and Keith Armstrong, was published by Breviary Stuff Publications, with launch events, in 2014, the 200th anniversary of Spence's death.

Further information from: Dr Keith Armstrong, The Thomas Spence Trust, 35 Hillsden Road, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE25 9XF. 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.


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)




Photos: Keith Armstrong




(for Henk & the Dickens Library)

In Dickensian Haren
this curious day,
we are men with a careworn mission;
impersonators of ill fortune,
scraping our feet
through the back lanes of Groningen,
in search of the famous beard
and the dribble of trashed dreams.
We are reciting the great lines of Charles
on a stumbling Sunday
and we wonder why.
Why does the suffering go on?
The inequality of chance,
the dirty rhythm of brass
rattling in banks?
The Scrooge days
the days of mindless Self,
the selfish?

For Dickens is alive and vivid this minute,
Dickens is witness.

We slaver out our words,
whip out our tongues for the public
and wonder as we wander
through the pages of Nickleby and Hard Times
what men ever learn.

We go on to admire
the bound copies
in the sacred library,
toast a last one for Charlie Boy
and his mighty quill,
knowing that we’ll end up tucked on shelves
but never great,
just dust in the swollen stacks
of Mister Dickens.

But treasure the sunlight on this day,
worship the brilliant beer in the glass,
each second he told us
is precious.

He is modern in his self.
He is a star.



(for Haren 850)

We plough on,
bearing the years on our frail backs,
across wide fields,
wild with history.
We carry our paints
and canvases
over the grass,
in order to capture
a moment’s beauty.
We write it down,
we proud poets and local historians,
our vivid past makes our poems wiser.
There is an old bird
flying overhead,
above the windmill of dreams
its beak points towards the distant barn,
showing us where
the ancient wounds are.
We must suffer
over and over again,
850 times if necessary,            
in order
to celebrate,
to be able
to dance
along this town’s
narrow streets,
with memories
of brutal wars,
and fresh births.
Show me some joyous flowers,
ring tunes on the bell,
and I will show you
the scars of battles.
But today
let us sing
in our old church, 
play local hymns
on this fine organ.
With a death-defying love
of our great heritage,
we will feed our little children,
all the joy
in our heartfelt Haren lives.


Haren is a town in the north east of the Netherlands located in the urban area of Groningen, the twin city of Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Library in Haren has a room decorated in Victorian style, the Dickens Room, where you will find a special collection of books by the writer Charles Dickens. This collection is owned by Keith Armstrong's friend Henk Muda.

Keith performed his specially commissioned poetry to mark the 850th anniversary of Haren in the Dickens Room at Haren Library on Friday 1st October 2010.

De Ploeg (in English: The Plough or The Group) is an artists collective from Groningen. The collective was established in 1918 by a group of young artists. Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman who was shot by the Gestapo for his resistance activities grew up and worked in Groningen and participated in The Plough.


The day opens its doors to set a poem loose,
the sun beats hard on the skin of the sluice.
A passing bridge blinks to let a boat break through,
it’s time to leave English and sing something new.

From Lauwersee to Dollard
and from Drenthe to the Wad,
I follow a passing seagull’s cry
and teach my father’s voice to sigh:

Vivace la flambardo
Fugere le mansardo
Parforce la Camargo
a doso kwatrupardo

Monete penicardo
Pericula san pardo
Finate par retardo
Etcetera ce fardo                        (H.N.Werkman)*

Another night sleepless in Hotel Simplon,
the creaking bedhead and the simpletons.
Shot bolt awake by the drill of the dawn,
who cares what these unswept streets will spawn?

We’re walking the lanes that Hendrik Werkman dredged,
chipping the gems from the pavement’s edge.
Past a man fishing, heron stood by his side,
to the dark Huis de Beurs where all hope has died.

This Groningen wind belts poems in my face,
I’d trade in old guilders to buy out of this place;
my brain’s pickled with Duvals,
and there’s blood on the walls.

Oh to die in the trash of this town,
ode-money tumbling from pockets of time.
Think I’ll whistle a tune straight from home,
and slash the pale wrist of my very last poem.

Last night I put a piper to bed,
music dripped from his heart and his worn fingers bled.
And I couldn’t get that woman out of my dreams,
and I couldn’t hear my dreams for her screams.

So the day leaps to life and a hymn springs to mind,
I’m just a poor down-and-out hoarding words that I find.
Drunk conversations swim round in the bowl,
I’m drowning with language this lonely old soul:

Vivace la flambardo
Fugere le mansardo
Parforce le Camargo
a doso kwatrupardo

Monete penicardo
Pericula san pardo
Finate par retardo
Etcetera ce fardo                                                        

Keith Armstrong,
Groningen, The Netherlands

*Improvised verse by poet and graphic artist Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882-1945). Werkman was an experimental Dutch artist, typographer and printer. He was born in Leens, in the provence of Groningen. He was the son of a veterinary surgeon who died while Hendrik was young, after which his mother moved the family to the city of Groningen. Werkman set up a clandestine printing house (The Blue Barge) during the Nazi occupation and was shot by the Gestapo in the closing days of the war.



poor avenues
life rich

warm glow
hope springs

pit broken
grass grows
blink bonny

clocks alarm
wake joy in us
buses sweep past

at morn
buried dreams
night sings

town in winter
frosty coats
hearts melt

come the day
me hinny
love speaks

the streets glow
in my memory
golden times

this is
my home
your honour

badges in dust
in my chest

our children
heal wounds

my love
black and white


my eyes

my heart
ash town

yer bugs
i’m drowning
in kisses


with my eyes

wor jackie

doon that hole

this is my place
no place
for rats

turn pages
seek liberty
in ancient books

wor lass

bring me sunshine
the back lanes

kicking a ball
the walls



On 23rd August 1305, William Wallace was executed. At that time, the punishment for the crime of treason was that the convicted traitor was dragged to the place of execution, hanged by the neck (but not until he was dead), and disembowelled (or drawn) while still alive. His entrails were burned before his eyes, he was decapitated and his body was divided into four parts (or quartered). Accordingly, this was Wallace's fate. His head was impaled on a spike and displayed at London Bridge, his right arm on the bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne, his left arm at Berwick, his right leg at Perth, and the left leg at Aberdeen. Edward may have believed that with Wallace's capture and execution, he had at last broken the spirit of the Scots. He was wrong. By executing Wallace so barbarically, Edward had martyred a popular Scots military leader and fired the Scottish people's determination to be free.


Wave goodbye ye oafs of culture,
let your rootless dreams drift away.
History has come to drown you in blood
and wash up your empty schemes.

Yon tottering Palaces of Culture
are seized by the rampaging sea.
They are sailing back to the Equator
to burn in a jungle of fear.

Three hundred million years me lads,
unseen from these high rise days:
an ice sheet thick as an ocean,
all those hours just melted down.

Into rich seams of coal,
tropical plants were fossilised;
the sandbanks grew into sandstone
and the mudflats into shale.

And the right arm of William Wallace
shakes with wrath in this firework night.
It is waving goodbye to your history,
it is saying hello to Baghdad.

All the brains of your Labour Party
are stashed in a carrier bag.
Down Bottle Bank in the darkness,
you can hear Wallace scream in a dog.

And will you hang, draw, and quarter my home street?
Will you drop bombs on the music hall?
You have taken the bones from our loves
and taken the piss from the Tyne.

So give me your arm Good Sir Braveheart,
I’ll take it a walk through the park
and I’ll use it to strike down a student
with an empty shell of a soul.

And I’d give my right arm to make ships,
my left to stoke dreams alive.
And I will dance on in the brilliance of life
until oppression is blown away.





(inspired by Patrick Kavanagh)

(for Shelley)

I met this wild woman across the Isle of Man,
she touched me where a railway was.
She took me down to Port Soderick
to lay all her dreams on the line.
She was a raving girl from Ballasalla,
with a compartment for each of my moods.
By the time she laughed in Ronaldsway,
I was out of my depth with her love.
In Ballabeg, she ran over my ricketty words,
made me sing with an anxious refrain.
Now, I’m missing the great beauty that’s gone,
all that warmth and the light in her eyes.
If ever I’m back in that Port Erin sun,
I’ll chuck her the flowers from this poem.





Sky is a guide dog.
He will lick you
into light.
His eyes are pools of sparks.
He is a star hound.

Sky leads us across the universal fields,
opens up the lids of daydreams,
teaches us to feel
those tender rays.

Sky’s vista runs deep,
shows up a braille galaxy.
In this cold, blind dark,
we follow his moonlit trail.
We marry our lonely visions with his
and see


Heather Wood Oh Keith that's lovely. Thanks for sharing. Xx



Picture of Brian O'Nolan



‘When I first came to Dublin in 1939, I thought the Palace the most wonderful temple of art.’ (Patrick Kavanagh)

Dead conversations
and dud cheques
litter the gaps
between the gawping portraits
in this literary back room.
Here in the afternoon of Irish culture,
I hear the creak of Kavanagh’s knees
going down the steep bog stairs
pissing words away,
holding another conversation
in his clumsy hands.

So what’s a poetry boy to do?
Sozzle through another day,
dance betwen the lines of pints of plain,
wallow in the crevices of Beckett’s genius,
creep around the Palace floor,
scraping for scraps of dead oral histories?

For today,
I’ll put away my pen
worn out with trying
to trap the City of Limerick
in groping poems.
I’ll sit back
and crack with Lonsdale and the lads,
let Bertie Smyllie’s barking patter
wash over my weariness.
Leave it to the shawlies
in the huddled snug
to set things right,
I’m flying without a passport today,
buzzing along with Jimmy Joyce on board
this Ryanair Ulysses jet,
At Swim Two Birds.

And what’s the point
of lies in ink
when real poetry
should make a woman come
with the touch
of bird song on the lips of this hour?
Give your tongues a break,
Behan and Houlihan
and the rest,
we’re dust
on a skin of Guinness.

And yet
and yet,
the twinkle of light
through the old smoke of patter
does make the breath
in the lungs
of a Dublin dancing day
as worthwhile
as the sweeping kiss
of that gull’s wings
stroking the mouth of the Liffey. 




In a tide of yellow and red,
I staggered with a brass band mob
at the surging Carnival.
I felt the sound of drums
and the thud of my head
as the girls lifted up their skirts
and laughed
at me.
Crammed into the Bonte Palet
with booming frogs,
I supped the pouring ale of centuries;
I tore myself away from the prancing,
leapt into a cab with a cackling driver
to make it to the dimmed suburbs.
Across this field,
you could barely feel
the joy and antics
of the Brabant people
in the town.
Down Palestrinastraat,
I groped.
Along Mozartsingel,
past Bachstraat
and Chopinstraat
to Wagnerlaan,
my heart began to ache
with the lack of music
and dancing.
On to Beethovenlaan
and Verdistraat
to Brucknerstraat,
the curtains twitching
as I staggered,
with folk songs gone
and my tongue
emptied of lyrics.
To Schubertsingel
and, at last,
Cesar Francklaan,
the sudden silence
of a drowned village,
an orchestra shot dead
with the bullets of icy tears
from blind windows,
sullen neighbours
and their droning hymns.




The sun on Danby Gardens
smells of roast beef,
tastes of my youth.
The flying cinders of a steam train
spark in my dreams.
Across the old field,
a miner breaks his back
and lovers roll in the ditches,
off beaten tracks.
Off Bigges Main,
my grandad taps his stick,
reaches for the braille of long-dead strikes.
The nights
fair draw in
and I recall Joyce Esthella Antoinette Giles
and her legs that reached for miles,
tripping over the stiles
in red high heels.
It was her and blonde Annie Walker
who took me in the stacks
and taught me how to read
the signs
that led inside their thighs.
Those Ravenswood girls
would dance into your life
and dance though all the snow drops
of those freezing winters,
in the playground of young scars.
And I remember freckled Pete
who taught me Jazz,
who pointed me to Charlie Parker
and the edgy bitterness of Brown Ale.
Mrs Todd next door
was forever sweeping
leaves along the garden path
her fallen husband loved to tread.
Such days:
the smoke of A4 Pacifics in the aftermath of war,
the trail of local history on the birthmarked street.
And I have loved you all my life
and will no doubt die in Danby Gardens
where all my poems were born,
just after midnight.


Michael CallaghanAbsolutely brilliant Keith!

Conrad Atkinson: Another gem Keith Best Conrad 



We’re Macnamara’s crows,
rooting for sticks and twigs in Limerick days.
We peck the flesh from Lord Gort’s arse,
from the hangers-on to his rich pickings.
We sweep our turbulent wings across the Shannon,
swimming in the Atlantic winds,
flailing over the airport.
We’re building our own
branches of castles,
screaming rebel rants at you below.
Us rooks
have seen the Vikings and the Stoddarts
rave and die.
We are a black brood
swarming though history,
watching you feckless humans
scrap over misery.

See how our wings beat
with the moment’s surf.

How dark our hearts grow
with suffering.

Keith Armstrong,




The dejected men,

the lone voices,

slip away

in this seaside rain.

Their words shudder to a standstill

in dismal corners.

Frightened to shout,

they cower

behind quivering faces.

No one listens

to their memories crying.

There seems no point

in this democratic deficit.

For years, they just shuffle along,


in their financial innocence.

They do have names

that no lovers pronounce.

They flit between stools,

miss out on gales of laughter.

Who cares for them?

Nobody in Whitley Bay

or canny Shields,

that’s for sure.

These wayside fellows

might as well be in a saddos’ heaven

for all it matters

in the grey world’s backwaters.

Life has bruised them,

dashed them.

Bones flake into the night.

I feel like handing them all loud hailers

to release 

their oppressed passion,

to move them

to scream

red murder at their leaders -

those they never voted for;

those who think they’re something,

some thing special,


For, in the end,

I am on the side of these stooped lamenters,

the lonely old boys with a grievance

about caring

and the uncaring;

about power,

and how switched off

this government is

from the isolated,

from the agitated,

from the trembling,

the disenfranchised

drinkers of sadness.


Kenny Jobson Absolutely excellent.

Davide Trame This is a great, powerful poem.

Libby Wattis Brilliant poem x

Gracie Gray Very evocative Keith. x

Sue Hubbard Very strong.

Mo Shevis Another powerful poem Keith! The photograph is heartbreaking too! Sad for the victims, angry about the system!

David Henry Fantastic! A powerful and very moving poem.

Strider Marcus Jones A great poem full of so many truths.

Dominic Windram Great stuff Keith... always a vociferous voice for the voiceless!

Siobhan Coogan Beautiful Keith you give a voice to the lonely.

Toon van den Boogaard  It touches me right in my heart. Every single time.
One of my favourite poems.
Great stuff Keith.

C a r o l   M c G u i g a n   T r u t h f u l   a n d   

b e a u t i f u l   p o r t r a y a l   K e i t h .   
C o m p a s s i o n a t e   p o e t r y.

D o r y   D i c k s o n   b e a u t i f u l l y   e x p r e s s e d   K e i t h .   T h a n k   y o u .     x

F i o n a   F i n d e n   W o w   K i e t h   w h a t   l i n e s . W o r d s   w i t h   p o w e r   a n d   i m p a c t.   

T h a n k   y o u

D o n a l   T h u r l o w   L o v e   t h i s !

Jonathan Ouessem Stanley Beautiful poem Keith love to you and all the Family

the jingling geordie

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