“Jack the Blaster”, Thomas Spence and the ‘Rights of Man’

Does anyone out there know more about the above 18th C character? He figures in the history of English radicalism as the inspiration for Thomas’ Spence‘s use of the phrase ‘Rights of Man’:

which was on the following remarkable occasion: A man who had been a farmer, and also a miner, and who had been ill-used by his landlords, dug a cave for himself by the seaside, at Marsdon Rocks, between Shields and Sunderland, about the year 1780, and the singularity of such a habitation, exciting the curiosity of many to pay him a visit; our authorw as one of that number. Exulting in the idea of a human being, who had bravely emancipated himself from the iron fangs of aristocracy, to live free from impost, he wrote extempore with chaulk above the fire place of this free man, the following lines:

Ye landlords vile, whose man’s peace mar,

Come levy rents here if you can;

Your stewards and lawyers I defy,

And live with all the RIGHTS OF MAN

The Marsden Grotto, as the cave became known, went on to become a smugglers’ den and then, more recently, a pub and seafood restaurant. The pub has unfortunately had to close due to safety fears about the steps that lead down to it.

The following note comes from the annotated bibliography of Spence’s works by Mary Kemp-Ashraf, reproduced at the excellent Thomas Spence website

“Mr. Alex Robson of North Shields, the veteran seamen’s leader who figured in the S.S. Linaria case and was active in the Red International Seamen’s Union of the nineteen-thirties, claims to be a descendant.

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Published in: on February 4, 2008 at 11:28 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Who was jack the blaster, where did he come from and where did he die? Did he even exist! I am interested in finding out the truth about the grotto pub and would very much value any contribution.

    • Graeme, I wish I knew more about ‘Jack the Blaster’ – there’s more info on the subsequent landlord of Marsden Grotto, Peter Allan: see Marsden Rock (Sunderland, 1848) for some more detail.


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