Sunday, 16 November 2014


Radical idea unearthed in Newcastle
A revolutionary document that lay undiscovered in a Newcastle library for over 200 years has just been published.
Thomas Spence’s penny pamphlet Property and Land in Every One’s Right is one of the founding texts of the English radical tradition, pre-dating Marxism.
Believed lost for many years, the original has not been in print since 8 November 1775.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of its author - an important and original voice in political history.
“Spence’s story is a rags to rags tale of defiance and ingenuity,” explains Prof Bonnett, of Newcastle University. “Today his name is little known but this in no way reflects his significance. ’Spenceanism', which called for the democratic, common ownership of the land, was once hugely influential among the poor,” he adds. “It also appears to be the only political ideology to have ever been outlawed by the British Parliament.”
Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary is edited by Prof Bonnett and local poet Keith Armstrong, and includes expert opinions from all over the world about the wide-ranging impact of this unique, working-class polymath.
To reach a mass, semi-literate audience, Spence invented his own phonetic alphabet and spread his message in unique ways, issuing thousands of coins embossed with political messages.
“Perhaps Spence can be best summed up by one of the inscriptions he placed on one of his self-minted coins, the coin his friends chose to place in his coffin,” says Prof Bonnett. “It depicts a cat, staring straight out at us, and around it are the words, ‘IN SOCIETY LIVE FREE LIKE ME’.
“He was very stubborn and not at all interested in compromise, or reforms and half-freedoms.”
Born into poverty on Newcastle Quayside in 1750, Spence is seen as the father of children's rights. He also accorded women equal democratic rights and is believed to be the first person to write about 'the rights of man' in English.
In 1787 he moved to London, setting up a bookshop on Chancery Lane, and became immersed in the capital’s turbulent radical sub-culture. He went to prison for selling Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, but disagreed with him on a number of fundamental issues so began issuing his own inflammatory penny weekly, Pigs’ Meat or, Lessons for the Swinish Multitude. “Spence took considerable risks in a dangerous city: spies, threats and conspiracy swirled around him,” says Prof Bonnett. “His wish for ‘perfect freedom’ often took him one step further than his peers.”
Prof Bonnett will be discussing Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary, with Dr Keith Armstrong at the North East Labour History Society Open Meeting at 7pm on 18 November 2014 at the Lit & Phil, Westgate Road, Newcastle http://www.litandphil.org.uk/index.shtml
Notes to Newsdesks:
(i) Dr David Garner-Medwin, who died in June 2014, was leafing through some battered 18th century documents at the Literary and Philosophical Society when he came across an intriguing penny pamphlet titled ‘Property and Land in Every One’s Right, dated 8 November 1775. He immediately recognised it as one of Thomas Spence’s founding texts of the English radical tradition.
(ii) Three years after Spence’s death an Act of Parliament was passed prohibiting ‘All societies or clubs calling themselves Spencean or Spencean Philanthropists’.
(iii) Prof Bonnett will be discussing Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revolutionary, with joint editor Dr Keith Armstrong, at the North East Labour History Society Open Meeting at 7pm on 18 November 2014 at the Lit & Phil, Newcastle.
(iv) Book details: Thomas Spence: The Poor Man’s Revoluntionary pub Breviary Stuff Publications £15.00 214pp paperback ISBN 978-0-9570005-9-9 http://www.breviarystuff.org.uk/thomas-spence-the-poor-mans-revolutionary
(v) For more information, contact Newcastle University press office on 0191 208 7580 or email press.office@ncl.ac.uk
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