Saturday, 9 March 2013

Tommy Armstrong (1848-1920)

Tanfield Lea is a former mining village which was home to Tommy Armstrong, who was known as the `Pitman Poet' or the `Bard of the northern coalfield'. He was a miner who wrote songs and poems that tell of life in the Durham area at the turn of the century. He wrote to keep himself in beer money, also he had fourteen children to support. He had his work printed and sold around local public houses for a penny each.

Armstrong's best known works include:

Wor Nanny's a Maizor

The Trimdon Grange Disaster

The Oakey Strike Evictions

Durham Gaol

The Row Between the Cages

The Birth of the Lad

Maria Hill Ducks

Oakey's Keeker

The Durham Lockout

The Sheel Raw Flood

The Hedgehog Pie

The Ghost that Haunted Bunty

The Skuil Board Man

The South Medomsley Strike

The Oakey Strike Evictions tells how, despite the poor and dangerous working conditions, low pay and long hours, the often tyranical mine owners would not hesitate to resort to evictions to deal with miners' strikes. The `candymen' were bailiffs employed by the mine owners to evict the miners. They were brought in from the docks of the large towns. Despite the pleadings from all concerned these hated men would still carry out their evictions of the families.

"It was in November and aw never will forget
How the polisses and the candymen at Oakey Houses met
Johnny the Bellman he was there squintin' roond aboot
And he put three men at ivvery door te' torn the miners oot
And what would a dee if aw had the power mesel'
Aw would hang the twenty candymen and Johnny whe carries the bell"

Mining disasters and colliery explosions were sadly a regular occurrence in those days. The Trimdon Grange Colliery Explosion, which occurred on February 16th 1883, is famous because he recorded the song to raise money in aid of the widows and orphans.

Let us not think of tomorrow,
Lest we disappointed be;
All our joys may turn to sorrow,
As we all may daily see.
Today we may be strong and healthy,
But how soon there comes a change
As we may learn from the explosion.
That has been at Trimdon Grange.

Men and boys left home that morning.
For to earn their daily bread.
Little thought before that evening
That they’d be numbered with the dead;
Let us think of Mrs Bumett,
Once had sons but now has none.
By the Trimdon Grange explosion.
Joseph George and James are gone.

February left behind it
What will never be forgot;
Weeping widows, helpless children,
May he found in many a cot,
Homes that once were blest with comfort,
Guarded by a father’s care,
Now are solemn, sad and gloomy,
Since the father is not there.

Little children, kind and and loving,
From their homes each day would run
Far to meet their father’s coming,
As each hard day’s work was done.
Now they ask if father’s left them.
Then the mother hangs her head
With a weeping widows feelings.
Tells the child that father’s dead."

God protect the lonely widow,
Help to raise each drooping head;
Be a father to the orphans,
Never let them cry for bread.
Death will pay us all a visit,
They have only gone before;
We may meet the Trimdon victims
Where explosions are no more.