Wednesday, 29 March 2017

HOOKEY WALKER'S FAREWELL TO SHIELDS


































HOOKEY WALKER’S FAREWELL TO SHIELDS

(I wrote the following jeu d’esprit in the year 1852 and had it printed anonymously. It was meant to represent, with that spice of exaggeration permissible in such good natured squibs, the condition and aspect of the Shieldses – South Shields more particularly – as they struck a dispassionate resident in that remote era, before the local sanitary reformers had set about their Herculean task, towards the accomplishment of which they have since gone a great length).





Farewell to Shields, the filthiest place

On old Northumbria’s dirty face,

The coal-hole of this British nation,

The fag-end of the whole creation,

The jakes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne,

The banquet-house of dogs and swine,

The paradise of bugs and fleas,

And human vermin worse than these;

A mass of houses – not a town -,

On heaps of cinders squatted down,

Close to the river’s oozy edge,

Like moulting hens behind a hedge;

Huge ballast heaps, from London brought,

And here, like churchyard rubbish, shot,

Half-clad with scurvy blighted green,

Alone diversify the scene,

And furnish, when the weather’s dry,

An inexhaustible supply

Of dust, with every breath that flies,

To torture and to blind the eyes,

And, when it rains or thaws, a flood

Of sticky, stinking, coal-black mud,

Oft ankle-deep, in Claypath Lane,

Making the use of blacking vain;

Brick-yards, the nastiest smoke exhaling;

Green scummy ponds, a source unfailing

Of fell disease, foul middensteads,

Where everything infectious breeds;

Steam-tugs, whose smoke beclouds the river;

Chimneys, forth vomiting forever

All sorts of gas, to taint the air,

And drive the farmers to despair,

Blighting their corn, their quicksets blasting,

And all their prospects overcasting;

For scarcely even a weed will blow,

For miles around no trees will grow

In stunted copse or rugged fence,

Within their baneful influence,

And where stray birds have planted them,

In former better times, each stem

Looms on us, bare, black, mummied quite,

A ghastly and unnatural sight.

Streets, - if the name can be applied

To dingy lanes not ten feet wide,

Bordered by wretched tenements,

Let to poor devils at high rents;

Houses, on Dean and Chapter Land

Which, if not close packed, would not stand,

Whose perfect matches can be found

Nowhere within the empire’s bound;

Sewers, that only serve to stay

Stenches the wind will blow away,

And guide them to our outraged noses,

Concentrated in double doses.

When his sweet pipe Amphion blew

The enchanted stones together flew,

And formed a city. Widely famed,

Thebes by the Syrian Cadmus named.

Not such a dulcet origin

Had Shields, but to the cursed din

Of wheels and axles, saws and hammers,

And competitions thousand clamours,

It rose around St. Hilda’s pit,

For sooty fiends a dwelling fit.

Since Sodom and Gomorrah fell,

By bolts from heaven and blasts from hell,

Satan, with all the skill he wields,

Has formed no counterpart to Shields,

And, in futurity’s dark womb,

Laid up for Shields is Sodom’s doom,

For all that store of bitumen

Was not placed under it in vain.

He who perambulates the place,

Needs no uncommon skill to trace

The features of the inhabitants,

Whose instincts, appetites and wants,

It suits to such a nicety,

That nothing lacking they can see,

But shout “Hourrah for canny Shields”

And deem the Bents the Elysian fields.

Take from the mass a score or twain,

Honest in heart and sound in brain,

Free-spirited, intelligent,

Friendly-disposed, benevolent,

And all the rest are chaff and sand,

Fit only to manure the land,

Mill-horses, pacing round and round

The same eternal spot of ground,

To pick a paltry pittance up,

And smoke and snooze and eat and sup;

Gross gluttons, worshipping their belly;

Boobies, with brains of calf’s-foot jelly;

Creatures, whose souls are in their dress;

Base crawling serfs, idealless;

Crouching, dust-licking parasites;

Prim sanctimonious hypocrites;

Fellows whose lives are one long lie,

To meanly cloak their poverty,

Who, with the bailiffs at the door,

Turn up their noses at the poor,

And living upon shift, despise

The drudge from whom they draw supplies;

Magistrates, void of all pretence

To morals as of moral sense,

Leaving the beershop for the bench,

To send to Durham their own wench;

Lawyers, who know no more of law

But from their clients fees to draw;

Clergymen, dull and dry as dust,

In whom old women put their trust;

Doctors, a shallow, quackish crew,

But that, alas, is nothing new;

As for the so-called “vulgar rabble”,

One learns their status from their gabble;

They can’t be said to speak at all,

But jabber, croak, grunt, burr and drawl;

'Tis neither English, Scotch, nor Norse,

Though it partakes of all, and worse.

If brutes have souls, as some pretend,

And after death to Hades wend,

And learn to speak, I do expect,

'Twill be in the Shields dialect.

Farewell to Shields! I shout again;

A long and glad farewell! Amen!

I never liked the place, nor did

The place like me; but God forbid

I should bear witness false against it;

I have writ truth, and here attest it.



HOOKEY WALKER



On board ship “Lizzie Webber”.




Written by William Brockie (1811 - 1890)

Born at the East Mains of Lauder where his father was the tenant farmer, William was educated at the Parish Schools of Lauder, Smailholm, Mertoun and Melrose as his father changed farms.
Starting work as a teacher - he was at Kailzie prior to 1843 - he decided to pursue his real love, writing, and in 1842 he set up the "Galashiels Weekly Review". He also wrote articles for other publications including the "Border Treasury". Before long he was the editor of the "Border Watch" which was to become the "Border Advertiser".
In 1849 he crossed the border into England to become editor of the "North and South Shields Gazette", later becoming editor of the "Sunderland Times" from 1862 to 1872.
During all of this time, he was also busy researching and writing, particularly in the field of local history and folk legends.
Amongst his best known works are:
"The Gypsies of Yetholm" (1884) for which he is best known in the Borders, "Coldingham Priory" (1886), "A Day in the Land of Scott", "Leaderside Legends", "Legends and Superstitions of the County of Durham"(1886) and "Sunderland Notables"(1894).












 


The Lizzie Webber was built in Sunderland in 1851-1852 and sailed from Sunderland to Melbourne 31-7-1852 arrived 4-12-1852.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

THE BIRD WOMAN OF WHITLEY BAY






















Photo by Tony Whittle 















She is out feeding the birds,
on the dot again,
in the drizzle of a seaside morning;
the seed 
cast fom her hand
to the jerking beak of a cock pheasant.

She is alone 
in a flock of dark starlings,
scattering crumbs to make them shriek.

She is a friend of spuggies,
gives blackbirds water.

Her eyes fly across the garden
to catch a quick robin,
to spot a wee wren,
to chase a bold magpie.

She is innocence,
she is a lovely old lady;
still giving,
still nursing.

She deserves heaven,
she deserves a beautiful nest
to dream out her last hours 
in bird song;
in the rich colours of music,
in the red feathers of sunset,
she is my mother,
she is a rare bird
who fed me beautiful dreams.

Thank you for letting me climb 
with the skylarks.

Thank you
for the strength of wings. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG









































 



Thank you very much for this poem. Ever since I have heard you reading it out at “Poems, Prose, Pints” it has been on my mind – it’s written in such a gentle and honest voice. The poem may be dedicated to your mum, but, as you said in the pub, it’s something you could say about all mums. I certainly feel reminded of my own mother, who died not so long ago, when I read the poem.
Love
Brigitte

Hi Keith

Thanks for this beautiful poem.

Tim G

Dear Keith ! Thank you very much. You read this poem when you were here in Groningen. It moves me each time I read or hear it. Nice talking to you on the phone yesterday. All the best, yours, Henk

Thanks Keith - you moved me.

All best
Chrissie

The Bird Woman of Whitley is a lovely poem, Keith.  Beautiful tribute.

Trish.

You amazing poet YOU
- thank you for that that poem - it deserves a very good moment, but I will translate it.
Uwe

Lovely poem!
Keep sending them!

Julie

Good poem, Keith
Cheers
SallyE

Thank you, Keith, thank you –
 For bringing a fulsome tear to my eye with the sad and beautifully-crafted The Bird Woman of Whitley. How amazingly coincidental and serendipitous that you should have numbered me amongst those privileged to receive it because, just this afternoon, I have put in the post to you my Christmas book (in Irish) An Nollaig sa Naigín (Christmas in the Noggin [my homeplace]), which has in it the story Céad Sneachta na Nollag (First Christmas Snow), which features my own mother feeding two birds, they being the Robin and the Wren!!!!
 Bravo, my friend, and thank you for giving me the delight of reading so beautiful a poem.


Thats a nice poem Keith. Is that lady really your mum?


Mick

Thanks for sending me this beautiful poem. It really moved me. I have a special Mother too, she hasn't a selfish thought in her body. 

Cheers
Catherine Graham

Hi Keith loved the poem

Mike

Thanks for your beautiful poem Keith. I must write something special to my mum. 

Paul

Friday, 24 March 2017

I WILL SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE








I WILL SING OF MY OWN NEWCASTLE

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


KEITH ARMSTRONG


(as featured on BBC Radio 4) 

"I heard the broadcast. You should be congratulated on your contribution. It was certainly more enjoyable than a man describing the photographs he'd taken on the wireless." (Brian Bennison, North East Laboury History Society).

Sunday, 19 March 2017

DEACON BRODIE




 






































The whisky’s on my breath again,
Deacon Brodie.
The High Street’s soaked in sunshine gin,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve forgotten what it is to pray,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve pilfered more sad lines today,
Deacon Brodie.
Why does she touch my heart that way?
Deacon Brodie.
I thought I’d thrown her love away,
Deacon Brodie.
The moon scoffs at my life tonight,
Deacon Brodie.
I’ve lost my way in this fading light,
Deacon Brodie.
Thrown away the keys to fortune,
Deacon Brodie.
Lost the gift of a brilliant tune,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s dark in this infested room,
Deacon Brodie.
Each night I sleep in a cold museum,
Deacon Brodie.
I’m looking for a lifting swagger,
Deacon Brodie.
Somewhere to stick a nation’s dagger,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s a stab town we’re living in,
Deacon Brodie.
Can’t catch the truth in my begging tin,
Deacon Brodie.
Oh what’s the point of a lifetime’s pain?
Deacon Brodie.
All it leaves is a useless stain,
Deacon Brodie.
Whatever the heartache they track you down,
Deacon Brodie,
Tear the shreds from your fancy gown,
Deacon Brodie.
Catch you with a lovely flame,
Deacon Brodie.
In an electric chair or Amsterdam,
Deacon Brodie.
We’ve missed the ship to Freedomsville,
Deacon Brodie.
We’re drowning in this poetry swill,
Deacon Brodie.
On the streets of bloody Europe,
Deacon Brodie.
Running away from the hangman’s rope,
Deacon Brodie.
Dead or alive it’s stuck in history,
Deacon Brodie.
Whistling away in Edinburgh’s mystery,
Deacon Brodie.
How can we hide the dark inside?
Deacon Brodie.
We need the thrill of one last ride,
Deacon Brodie.
And what lurks within that smile?
Deacon Brodie.
I see stars dying for many a mile,
Deacon Brodie.
Aye, and pay the price the very next time,
Deacon Brodie.
It’s still a crazy pantomime,
Deacon Brodie.




KEITH ARMSTRONG  


Our tavern is named after William Brodie, one of the inspirations for Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. Born in 1741 Brodie was a deacon of the Guild of Wrights. By day, he was a respectable citizen, a member of the town council but by night, he consorted with lowlife; gambling and drinking. His dark side meant he had to take to burglary to pay his gambling debts, leading to his hanging in 1788.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

INNOCENT BLOOD: THE HEXHAM RIOT MARCH 9TH 1761






































In 1761 a new Militia Act came into force. Strangely it managed to arouse strong negative feelings in both ordinary working people and the ruling class: the former because a ballot system of recruitment - essentially conscription - was resented; the latter as training the masses to use weapons was felt to be dangerous for the future, priming them for revolution.
On March 9th 1761 a large crowd gathered in Hexham Market Place to protest about the ballot system, some putting the numbers as high as 5000, though a few hundred is more likely. For several hours the leaders of the protest talked with the magistrates, remonstrating about the imposition. Those magistrates feared violence, and brought in a force of the North Yorks Militia as protection against a mob attack. Their presence, however, probably further enflamed tempers.
Eventually the magistrates lost patience, and the Riot Act was read. As the crowd turned uglier, the soldiers fixed bayonets. The mob, by now its fierier members armed with tools and staves, charged. Two soldiers were killed with guns grabbed from them or their comrades, then a volley or far more probably a series of volleys was fired into the rioters. When the smoke cleared at least 50 were dead, including the two soldiers. Another 300 or more were injured, some of them dying later of their wounds. Among the dead were two pregnant women.
A hunt went on over the next few weeks for anyone known to have participated in the riot, taking in not just Hexham but the settlements around it, the list of casualties showing people from Corbridge, Slayley, Stamfordham and Ryall among many others had been involved. Unsurprisingly the North Yorks Militia earned the sobriquet The Hexham Butchers after the event.





TUESDAY MARCH 10TH 1761


‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground 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.


 

A PITMAN DEAD


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:
all 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.



THERE’S A RIOT


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
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

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