Jack The Blaster Bates comes home in song

THE SPIRIT of a legendary 18th Century character will be brought to life in his home village today.

THE SPIRIT of a legendary 18th Century character will be brought to life in his home village today.

Jack The Blaster Bates, an Allenheads lead miner, is the man credited with creating the cave at Marsden Grotto, South Shields, in 1780.

He was nearing 80 when, refusing to pay rents at his house in Allenheads, he created a home without landlords or rent by blasting out the seafront rock with explosives stolen from a nearby quarry.

Legend says he also built the famous cliff staircase, moved his wife Jessie and their children in, furnished the cave – and chalked above his fireplace the verse:

“Ye landlords vile, whose man’s place mar,

Come levy rents here if you can,

Your stewards and lawyers I defy,

And live with all the Rights of Man.”

The family became local celebrities in South Shields, with numerous people of all classes visiting them to see their eccentric way of life – and enjoy their liberal hospitality.

After Jack died, his family lived on in the grotto for several years before local man Peter Allan further excavated the cave, not least because of talk of buried Roman treasure, which eventually became the Marsden Grotto pub and restaurant as it is today.

Blaster Bates’ story has now been put to music by guitarist Gary Miller, formerly of Durham’s Whisky Priests band.

And Gary himself will lead the way along with musicians Phil Ogg and Brett Foxton at Allenheads’ Hemmel Cafe at 3pm this afternoon.

Cafe owner Michael Carr said: “It’s something that has caught my imagination – I thought it was a magical story. It strikes a chord with any working-class person and I take my hat off to Jack.

“So much so that we’ve even introduced a Jack The Blaster range of pies in the cafe.”

Michael and his wife Angela travelled to South Shields to research the story, which is detailed in Michael Hallowell’s book, The House That Jack Built.

Angela said: “Michael is a bit of a historian and always gets embroiled in the history of an area.

“He found out that Jack the Blaster was a bit of a local character, then discovered that Gary had written the song about him. So we got in touch with Gary – and this is the result.”

Angela and Michael, originally from Gateshead, see parallels with Jack in their own life story.

“We both made a decision to completely change our life,” said Angela, who has appeared on the TV reality show The Salon as well as written for The Journal Homemaker while studying interior design.

They moved to Allenheads four years ago, converting an old barn, and took over the Hemmel cafe lease from the Allenheads Trust early this year.

“It was a huge step for us to take whilst still working on the conversion of the barn,” said Angela, “but we knew if we didn’t seize the opportunity we would miss our chance.”

Now the couple are planning a regular programme of events promoting local artists, as well as history evenings and poetry readings.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
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