In my latest regency romance (to be published in January 2019), the hero has become an officer and a gentleman after humble beginnings as a child worker in a coal mine. A significant factor in his transformation occurs when he runs away from home and on the road meets one Thomas Spence, who persuades him he can become whoever he wants to be. The meeting is entirely fictitious, but Thomas Spence was real and I was fascinated by what I found when researching his life of poverty and pamphlets - oh, and coins! As long ago as 1775 he wrote a paper which he delivered to the Philosophical Society in Newcastle, his home city. It was entitled “The Real Rights of Man” (he is alleged to have used the phrase long before Thomas Paine) and spoke of common ownership of land. After his death in 1814, his followers set up the Society of Spencean Philanthropists, but their activities were more revolutionary that philanthropic and it quickly became a banned organisation in that period after 1815 when Lord Liverpool as PM and Lord Sidmouth as Home Secretary steered through a number of repressive pieces of legislation.
The Philosophical Society is still open for business and well worth a visit, just along from Newcastle train station.