15 August 1848|
Wood Street, Shotley Bridge, County Durham, England
30 August 1920 (aged 72)|
Havelock Terrace, Tantobie, England
Thomas "Tommy" Armstrong (1848-1920) was a County Durham concert hall songwriter and performer in the late 19th century. His most famous song is arguably "Wor Nanny's a mazer". He was known as "The Pitman Poet" or "The Bard of the Northern Coalfield".
Tommy Armstrong was born in Wood Street, Shotley Bridge, County Durham, on 15 August 1848. Armstrong was of very short stature, and very bow legged (thought to be caused by rickets when young) and this caused him to have problems all his life, including using a walking stick when older. He started work in the mines at the age of 9 as a trapper boy, and at the age of 12 had progressed to a "pony boy". He worked at various collieries in the area including Tanfield Lea colliery, near Stanley, and also worked at the collieries at Addison, East Tanfield, and Tanfield Moor.
Tommy Armstrong was married in 1869 to a Mary Ann Hunter in 1869 and they had 14 children. Ann died in 1898 and Tommy remarried in 1901 to a widow named Ann Thompson. He lived most of his life at Tanfield Lea, although he is known to have also lived in East Tanfield, Iveston, Tanfield, Tantobie and Whitley Bay.
A book of 26 of his popular songs was published but it is thought that much of his work was lost. His works were printed at the time on chapbooks and broadsheets which sold for a halfpenny or a penny each. He moved for a time in 1902 to Whitley Bay where he worked for a period as a Newsagent. He died on 30 August 1920 at the age of 72 years at Havelock Terrace, Tantobie.
The material varies between the humorous "Wor Nanny's a mazer" to the attack on "Dirty Kaiser Bill". Many told of the times, the hunger suffered by many with 'The Cat Pie' and 'The Hedgehog Pie', of the disasters with "The Consett Choir Calamity" after the charabanc crash of Saturday 26 August 1911, and "The Trimdon Grange Explosion" of 16 February 1882 in which 68 miners died, of the hard times and conditions with "The Durham Lockout", "Oakey's Keeker" and "The Oakey Strike Evictions" and back to the humour with "Funny Nuaims It Tanfeeld" and the various club outing tales. "Stanla Market" and "The Nue Ralewae Te Anfeeld Plane" tell about the area.
Taken as a whole, the collection of songs become a social history of the times as well as a feast of dialect materials