Friday, December 7, 2012

Angus MacPherson and George Markham Tweddell

Angus MacPherson was an amazing, underrated and largely forgotten radical poet of power from 19thC Middlesbrough, writing, at least, around the 1860's / 70's. His poem - Cleveland Thoughts or The Poetry of Toil is a tour de force of working class writing, preserved for us by George Markham Tweddell in his tractates.

I don't as yet have a lot of information on Angus or the full access to all his poetry, but what I have so far is below along along with known links with George Markham Tweddell.

Angus MacPherson was secretary of  Middlesbrough (or North Riding) Infirmary for 32 years 1873 - 1904 and from 1872 secretary of Cleveland Institute of Engineers and was associated with many literary ventures. Judging by the inclusion of his poems in The Freemason's Magazine and Masonic Mirror, it would seem Macpherson was, like Tweddell, a Freemason. He died in 1904, one year after George Markham Tweddell. Judging by his name and the allusion to Burns and the Ettrick Shepherd, it seems reasonable to assume that Macpherson was Scottish born, moving to Middlesbrough for work, but it's equally possible he was born to Scottish parents already living in Middlesbrough.

His literary output include Cleveland Thoughts or The Poetry of Toil (A Blank Verse Poem) (below) published by Tweddell in his North of England Tractates No 11 in 1872 . Tweddell tells that Angus MacPherson C.E. was also author of The Banner o' Blue or the Career of the Covenant Flag; The Lonely Grave of the Power of a Mother's Love; The Grammar School Dictionary; The Primal Duties or Knowledge, Thought and Action; English Education etc etc.

Other poems I have come across by Angus MacPherson are - To a friend (George Markham Tweddell) with a posy of a Poesy. / King Pepin. These two poems were published in The Freemason's Magazine and Masonic Mirror. To a friend was published in the magazine October 2nd 1870 and written September 30th 1870 and King Pepin published October 22nd 1870.

In his poem Cleveland Thoughts or The Poetry of Toil, Angus Macpherson turns the sentiments of poesy on its head, citing the examples of Burns and the Ettrick Shepherd (James Hogg) along the way. "What has beauty to do with toil?" cries this bard of the boro "how link poetry to sordid craft?". "Such is the voice of dainty-lipped taste". He cites Burn's lead "He enstarr'd the beauty of daisy on the lea, the wee bit mousie and the wounded hare....and all the associates of his daily toil" building his argument steadily before inviting the reader to a view of the Cleveland Iron workers-

"Come now and see Our Cleveland workmen 
at their darkest toil. 
the gloom of night pervades the ambient air; 
the land is dark Erebus; but, see 
the chymic fires that beat back gloomy night,
with stern assertions that the living power,
Promethean, burns strong and bright within,
the fires, fierce flaming through the vaulted gloom,
Below are wrestling with with the close-knit force
That stamps the ridgid iron with its strength,
So powerful for its use for weal or woe.
Around the  the flaming furnace, bared for work, 
stand men whose wart and gleaming looks
shine in the brilliant glow like demigods;
And are they not?..."

"He moves to Steam Power -
"After Watt, a host of demigods
Have sprung to being, powerful to subdue
The earth, and make her man's. George Stephenson.
as Jason erst the fiery brazen bulls,
has yoked the iron horse and day and night
It bounds with lightening speed across the land,
snorting and champing fierce its fiery bit -
In tenderest control of him who guides
Its course along the ringing iron way."

The poem ends with a condemnation of war "and all its hideous misery" and racism "do we not really form one family".

A powerhouse of a poem for the working man of Cleveland which, preserved by Tweddell int he Tractates we re-present here in full -


To download the file - click the arrow which takes you to Google Drive 
When it opens - click the black arrow screen left to download to your computer.or for some - Click File and then click download in the menu and the tick Save.

Here are some more poems found in the Freemason's Magazine and Masonic Mirror 1870

This poem written for his friend George Markham Tweddell (shown in context here but larger below) shows clearly the two were friends and both Freemason's (assuming they would have only published Angus in the magazine if he was a member of the Craft). GMT was openly a Freemason.

In a later edition of the same magazine, we find another poem by Angus Macpherson about King Pepin.

King Pepin the Short

Macpherson takes the story of King Pepin the Short to suggest the men of wealth and power shouldn't look down on the humble workers whose deeds show a 'kingly soul'.

Who Was King Pepin the Short?

"Pepin (c. 714 – 24 September 768), commonly known as Pepin the Short or Pepin the Great, was the King of the Franks from 752 until his death. He was the first of the Carolingians to become not only de facto but also de jure ruler of Francia." Read more here

Angus was secretary of the Mechanics Institute (or Cleveland Institute of Engineers) (started in 1860 he and was associated with many literary ventures in Middlesbrough. The work of the Mechanics' Institute was supplemented (according to Asa Briggs in Victorian Cities - Middlebrough) the Middlesbrough Athenaeum (A society for the cultivation of  literature, science and the arts ) which began 1863. In 1875, the Athenaeum took the 'old and respected name of The Literary and Philosophical Society - it's meetings being held before that date in two dingy back rooms - now it had its own premises" (Asa Briggs).

Angus Macpherson started one of the many early Middlesbrough newspapers - "The Dominie - edited by Macpherson and Tom North and published by editor of  The Daily Exchange and author of Old Cleveland, William Hall Burnett and Tom North. This was a weekly called a serio-comic, started on the 15th may 1875, and in a vapid kind of style, poked fun at public men and institutions. The most important thing about it was the cartoons or caricatures of famous local men drawn by H. Heslop. It lasted until 4th November 1876. 

Angus Macpherson joined up with a Mrs Hjerlaid to edit in 1873 a 'Cleveland Literary Annual' published by William Hall Burnett, but only one volume appeared." Source - The History of Middlesbrough - William Lillie Page 214 Entertainment and Communication.

Angus Macpherson was also president of the Cleveland Naturalists' Field Club in 1886 and again in 1894 and Middlesbrough Amateur Swimming Club.

This additional Acrostic poem was found in Tweddell's Illustrated Annual in which the letters of each line spell George Markham Tweddell.


  1. In 1861 at Victoria Villa Private School, Bothwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland:
    Angus Macpherson 33 head, Teacher of the English Language, Glasgow, Lanarkshire
    Jane T Macpherson 26 wife, Teacher of the English Language, Glasgow, Lanarkshire
    Robert Holmes 24 visitor, manufacturer, Glasgow, Lanarkshire
    Catherine Brunton 22 boarder, teacher of music, Campbelton, Argyleshire
    Angus Macpherson 6 son, Glasgow, Lanarkshire
    Robert H (Holmes) Macpherson 1 son, Paisley, Renfrewshire ...

    In 1871 at North Ormesby Holy Trinity, Guisborough, Yorkshire:
    Angus Macpherson 44 head, civil engineer, Scotland
    Jane Macpherson 35 wife, Scotland
    Jeny Y Macpherson 14 dau, Scotland
    Robert H Macpherson 11 son, Scotland
    Morgan Macpherson 8 dau, Scotland.

  2. In 1891 at Coatham, Yorkshire:
    Angus Mc Pherson 66 head, secretary, Scientific Inst and Infirmary, employed, Glasgow, Scotland
    Mary J Mc Pherson 61 wife, Glasgow, Scotland
    Angus Mc Pherson 36 son, single, journalist, Glasgow, Scotland
    Ada L Barrick 19 servant, single, Whitby, Yorks.

    In 1901 at 4 St Vincent Tce, Coatham, Yorks:
    Anges Macpherson 74 head, Secretary of N Riding Infirmary, employer, Scotland
    Mary Joanna Macpherson 71 wife, Scotland
    Emma Barrick 25 servant, single, Whitby, Yorks.

    1. Thanks Jean for that information. Interesting. I'm assuming you are related somehow. It would be good to know more about Angus. Thanks - Trevor

  3. Here is a poem inspired by the Angus MacPherson poem on here...

    There’s nothing pretty in your life

    Maybe some daffodils in a garden that you rent

    Maybe some ale that gives a warm fuzzy feeling

    But pretty things are not for you.

    There are no kind words for you

    Maybe a grunt from a father who’s too tired

    Maybe your boss will say you have to work harder

    Maybe a kind face will glance in your direction

    But nothing kind or amounting to affection

    Only your children with eager eyes

    And minds that do not judge you

    Can lift you from the mire of your existence

    Huddling around the fire on winter nights.

    Telling ghost stories ; making toast.

    And the wife tries to show you tender ways

    But you were the last of the brood and had no love

    Always felt like the one too many child.

    Inside you are hard. There is grit in your veins.

    Your heart beats with a passion you cannot express.

    As you watch your wife undress.

    And learned men may pity you

    And see your life through a window

    But they will never know you

    Never get to the heart of you.

    You are of their species

    But not of their kind

    And the world that you live in

    Is mostly in your mind.

    There’s nothing pretty in your life.

    Take your shovel and dig your grave

    And go back to the earth in which you toil.

    Maybe someone will put flowers where you lay.

    Then prettiness will have its day.

    Alan Savage January 4th 2015