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 Tommy Armstrong: the Pitman Poet and Prison

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Picture of Tommy Armstrong.

Picture of Tommy Armstrong. Taken from Polisses & Candymen - The Complete Works of Tommy Armstrong, ed. Ross Forbes, (DUL ref L+828.4 ARM).


Tommy Armstrong was a miner from Tanfield in County Durham. After suffering from rickets as a child, he had been left bowlegged and was unable to work in the coal mines - the main source of employment in the area. There were no benefits and he had 14 children to support so he needed to find some way of earning money. Luckily, Armstrong was a talented songwriter and performer and he managed to make a good living using his gifts.

One of Armstrong's most famous songs is called 'Nee Gud Luck in Dorham Gaol.' In this imagined piece of work he describes the time a man spent in Durham Prison after being found guilty of stealing a pair of stockings when he was drunk.

We're going to use the song to find out what it tells us about life in prison in the 19th century.


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