Monday, 30 May 2016


(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.


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.

Thursday, 26 May 2016


The police are appealing for information on people who are seen to be acting oddly
(You know the type) 

 People who:

make love in business hours,
sing in the Bank,
dance to work,
stand naked in the dole queue.
touch the person in the next seat,
sit in the wrong corners,
stand on seats,
stand in the stands,
steal so they don't starve,
shout angrily at the rich,
break down and twitch in public,
burn money,
kiss coloureds,
fight racists,
swim in the Tyne,
drown in the Tyne,
get drunk at the wrong time,
sleep when they should be awake,
undress when they should be dressing,
eat when they should be drinking,
drink when they should be eating,
wear no underclothes under their uniform,
refuse to wear a uniform,
call a weed a flower,
listen to bird song,
drive to drink,
grow hair and grow young,
try to fly,
laugh too much &
make beautiful and useless things
(That type of person)

Keith Armstrong

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


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.


Wednesday, 4 May 2016



Follow the Sun is a new project for this year's Heritage Open Days (September 8th to 11th 2016) to mark the bicentenary of George Stephenson's sundial at Dial Cottage, Killingworth.
Northern Voices Community Projects, with the support of North Tyneside Council, is encouraging local writers, artists, musicians and schoolchildren to come up with poems, songs, stories and artwork to celebrate the sundial. A booklet of the written material and artwork, together with an historical background, will be launched on September 9th in Killingworth with readings of poems and stories and performances of the songs.
Please send your poems, stories, songs and artwork on this theme to NVCP:  k.armstrong643@btinternet.com


There’s an old station
I keep dreaming of
where I wandered
as a child;
flower baskets
seep with longing
and engines
pant with steam.
It might have been
at Chollerton,
in a summer’s field,
when I realised
how good
life could be,
in the sunshine
of my songs;
or it might have been
at Falstone
where the roses
smelt of smoke
and I felt
the breath of railwaymen
wafting in my hair.
This little boy,
with his North Tyne lilt
and the dialect
of ancients,
ran up the platform
of his life
and chased
the racing clouds.
It was a first taste
of Kielder Forest
and the light
that skimmed the hills
and the engine
rattled through the day
to drive me
to my roots:
to Deadwater
and Saughtree,
the hours flew
for miles
and the railway
ran into my veins
and sparked
history in my soul.
In this album
of a fragile world,
I’d like to leave
these lines
for you to find
in Bellingham
or Wark,
a tune to play
in Reedsmouth
in Woodburn
or in Wall.
Along this route,

I hope you'll find
a glimpse of me in youth;
the smiling child,
inside the man,
who took the train
by chance
and found his way
with words
and leaves
to Thorneyburn
and Riccarton,
along the tracks
of dreams.


(written for an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre, June 2013)