VAD Nurses in Heaton’s Avenues

Following the end of the Boer War, the War Office was concerned that, in the event of another conflict, the medical and nursing services wouldn’t be able to cope sufficiently. The peacetime needs of a standing army, in relation to medical care, were very small and specific, and to find thousands of trained and experienced personnel at very short notice, without the expense of maintaining them in peacetime, was a difficult problem to overcome. On 16 August 1909 the War Office issued its ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales’, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to fill certain gaps in the Territorial medical services. By early 1914, 1757 female detachments and 519 male detachments had been registered with the War Office.

VAD recruitment poster

VAD recruitment poster

When war came, the Red Cross and Auxiliary hospitals sprung up rapidly in church halls, public buildings and private houses, accommodating anything from ten patients to more than a hundred. The proportion of trained nurses in the units was small, and much of the basic work was the responsibility of the VADs – they cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts; they lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing. They also helped to dress, undress and wash the men – which was of course a big step for young women who may never have been alone and unchaperoned with a member of the opposite sex before, other than their brothers.

There were about 50,000 women involved in the movement immediately before the war, and it’s thought that in total somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 women served as VADs at some time during the war, some for very short periods, some for up to five years.

As part of the commemoration of the centenary of World War 1, the Red Cross has been digitising its VAD records, which has allowed us to identify three VAD nurses living in the avenues as well as two male members of voluntary aid detachments, shedding some light on their lives and contributions as well as the role that they played during the war.

The English Family

The English family lived at 30 Third Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census shows Robert English (55), a plumber, and his wife, Isabella (48), had four children living at home, twins Annie and Mary Jane (28), Isabella (20) and William 18.

In 1911, William was working as a stained glass designer. On 29 October 1915, aged 22, he enlisted in the army. His military record describes him as 5’ 8” in height and weighing 7st 8lbs. His physical development was described as ‘spare’, with a chest measurement of 33 1/2 inches. It was noted that his sight was defective, except when wearing spectacles. He also had slight varicose veins. These were deemed as slight defects that were not significant enough to cause rejection. Given his physical development, it is perhaps not surprising that he was placed into the Royal Army Service Corps rather than a combat roll.

Four days after enlisting, on 1 November 1915, William married Lillian Phillips at St Gabriel’s Church. The next day, he joined his regiment at Aldershot. What is interesting about William, is not his relatively unremarkable military career, but that both his sister, Mary Jane, and his new wife, Lillian, were to go on to become VAD nurses.

Mary Jane English and the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital

Mary Jane saw service with the VAD from 2 October 1915 to 12 November 1917 and is listed as a sister, although it’s not clear whether this meant she was a qualified nurse. Interestingly, the 1911 census does not show any employment for Mary, although it is possible that she trained as a nurse between then and the start of the war. Mary was posted to the No 6 Hospital of the British Red Cross in Etaples, also known as the Liverpool Merchants Hospital. She was awarded the 1915 star for her service.

The Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital was constructed and equipped from funds raised by members of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, making it unique. The hospital opened at the end of July 1915 and treated over 20,000 people during the course of the war at a cost of some £90,000. s a Base Hospital, the hospital had 252 beds and formed part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive; they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer term treatment in Britain.

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants' Hospital

Staff of the Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital where Mary Jane English served

A report from the ‘Liverpool Courier’ in January 1920 gives a description of the facilities: ‘There were eight pavilion wards, each to accommodate 27 patients, with their own nurses’ duty rooms, sink, stores and cupboards, also large linen store; and each ward had attached to it a two-bed ward for special cases. Each large ward had also its own bath and lavatory. The operation block and the kitchen block were situated in the centre of the hospital. The operation block contained also X-ray room with dark room attached, an anaesthetic room, preparation room, operating theatre, dispensary, laboratory, medical store room, splint room, quarter-master’s and matron’s store rooms and ambulance stores.’

The article closes by saying:

‘Let it be recorded to the everlasting glory of Liverpool that the Merchants’ Hospital, the only military hospital which has been “designed, built, equipped, staffed, managed, and financed” entirely by the citizens of a particular city, has never been prevented from the fullest performance of the duties for which it was devised by lack of funds.’

This last fact is particularly interesting, as all of the records show that the hospital was staffed exclusively by the people of Liverpool. It’s not clear what relationship the English family had with Liverpool, or indeed if the necessities of war meant that this particular point was overlooked in the interests of providing a service.

Lillian English and the Australian Hospital

Lillian English married William on 1 November 1915. She was the youngest daughter of Alfred and Sarah Phillips of West Jesmond. The 1911 census shows Alfred as a letterpress machine overseer in the printing industry, with 19 year old Lillian working as an assistant at a music dealer and her older step sister Mary Gregory (28) working as a booksewer in a bookbinder’s. After their marriage, Lillian continued to live at her parents’ home, 34 Mowbray Street, Heaton and William’s military record was amended to show this as his address. The couple continued to live with Lillian’s parents for several years after the war.

Perhaps inspired by the experiences and contribution of her sister-in-law, Mary, Lillian also joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment on 6 March 1918, some four months after Mary returned from Etaples. Lillian’s stay in the service was however somewhat shorter, as she was discharged one month later on 8 April 1918. This initially caused us much speculation. Typically, VAD nurses would have one month probation and it appeared at first that either she was considered unsuited for the work or could not herself cope with it. However, the answer to her hasty departure became apparent when we discovered that William and Lillian’s only daughter, Monica, was born 12 November 1918. Obviously conceived during William’s leave, Lillian must have been about four weeks pregnant when she took up her post, a fact that would have become apparent during her brief placement, leading to her premature return home. Lillian spent her brief assignment with the VAD posted to the Australian Hospital, Harefield.

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park

Some of the buildings at Harefield Park where Lillian English served

In November 1914 Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake, Australians resident in the UK, offered their home, Harefield Park House and its grounds, to the Minister of Defence in Melbourne for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). The property became the No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in December 1914. It was the only purely Australian hospital in England. The Hospital consisted of Harefield Park House, a 3-storey plain brick building, some out-buildings and grounds of some 250 acres. It was proposed that the Hospital would accommodate 60 patients in the winter and 150 in the summer. It would be a rest home for officers and other ranks, and also a depot for collecting invalided soldiers to be sent back to Australia. As Harefield Park House could only accommodate a quarter of the number expected, hutted wards were built on the front lawn, and a mess hall for 120 patients in the courtyard.

As the war progressed the hospital grew rapidly, becoming a general hospital. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1000 patients and the nursing staff had expanded to 74 members. Nearly 50 buildings were in use, including workshops, garages, stores, messes, canteens, a recreation hall (where concerts and film shows were held), a billiards rooms, writing rooms, a library, a cookhouse, a detention room and a mortuary. For entertainment, tours to London were arranged and paid for out of canteen funds, and the ladies of the district made their cars available for country trips, picnics and journeys to and from the railway station, both for patients and visitors. The hospital gradually closed down during January 1919 and the whole site was sold to Middlesex County Council who planned to build a tuberculosis sanatorium. The site is now the site of Harefield Hospital.

Irene Neylon

Mary Irene Neylon was born in 1881 in Ireland. Somewhere around the end of the 19th Century, Irene and her sister Susannah moved to Newcastle, possibly to join their Uncle James, a wine and spirit manager living in Jesmond. Irene lived at 60, Third Avenue, with her sister and her husband John William Carr and their family. She never married and remained at Third Avenue until her death on 16 March 1947, where probate records show that she left effects to the value of £164 3s.

Irene was working as a shop clerk at the time of the 1901 census, but by 1911 had trained as a nurse and was working at the Infirmary of the Newcastle upon Tyne Workhouse (later to become Newcastle General Hospital). Between 27 February 1917 and 20 January 1919 Irene is listed on the Red Cross Records as being a VAD Nurse. Unfortunately, Irene’s record only lists her placement as T.N. dept, so it’s not clear exactly where she was posted. However, we do know that part of the infirmary was taken over by the army to treat venereal diseases, with beds for 48 officers and 552 other ranks, so it is possible that she continued to work at the same location but with a different employer. What sets Irene apart from the other VAD members in the Avenues is that she was, as a qualified nurse, a paid employee, earning £1 1s per week when she joined, rising to £1 4s 10d when she was discharged.

Irene Neylon's VAD record card

Irene Neylon’s VAD record card

Life as a VAD Nurse

‘Do your duty loyally
Fear God
Honour the King

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame.
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star,
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.’

These were the final inspirational comments of a message from the Commander in Chief of the VAD, Katherine Furse. The message was handed to each VAD nurse before they embarked. The message was to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.

The nurses were subject to full military discipline and required to assist in any way they could, with only minimal training. Given that we know that Harefield, for example, only had 74 nurses for its 1000 beds, it’s safe to assume that VAD nurses would have been carrying out most of the care. They wore a distinctive blue uniform with a white apron and sleeves and a red cross on the apron to distinguish them from other nursing staff.

VAD uniform

VAD uniform

The rules they were expected to work to included detail around personal cleanliness and presentation, including gargling morning and evening, but especially in the evening with carbolic, 1 in 60; listerine, 1 teaspoonful to 5 oz. water; glyco-thymoline and water, ½ and ½. They also advised combing the hair with a fine toothed comb every day!

There are several contemporary accounts of the lives of VAD nurses, including this from Kathleen Marion Barrow, who worked at a base hospital in France, similar to that where Mary Jane English worked:

‘In France, when convoy after convoy poured in, and when one piteous wreck after another, whose bandages were stiff with mud and blood, had been deposited on a clean white bed; the extent of a VAD’s work was bound to be decided far more by the measure of her capacity than by rule of seniority, or red tape. Matron and sisters soon discovered those whose skill, quickness and level-headedness, justified trust. In every new venture there are few who have not to walk for a space some time or other in the Valley of Humiliation, the military hospitals in France were a magnificent school, not only for actual nursing, but for self-control and nerve.’

She also talks of the comradeship and the humour amidst the pain and tragedy: ‘One recalls the dummy – carefully charted and hideously masked – which was tucked into bed for the benefit of the VAD and orderly when they came on night duty, and the stifled laughter under the bedclothes in adjoining beds. One recalls, too, the great occasions when some Royal or notable person came to visit the wards. Then we spent ourselves in table decorations, emptied the market of flowers, or ransacked the woods and meadows for willow or catkins, ox-eyed daisies or giant kingcups. Incidentally, we made the boys’ lives a burden to them by our meticulous care in smoothing out sheets, tucking in corners, and repairing the slightest disorder occasioned by every movement on their part, till the occasion was over. Sometimes the expected visitor did not turn up, and when another rumour of a projected visit was brought into the ward by a VAD, she was hardly surprised to find that her announcement was greeted on all sides by the somewhat blasphemous chorus of “Tell me the old, old story.” ‘

Male VAD members

Interestingly, our search for VAD nurses on the avenues identified two male members of Voluntary Aid Detachments: William Holmes and Richard Farr, both members of the St Peter’s Works Division, allocated to air raids, coast defences and convoys and employed as part of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade’s 6th division.

William Holmes, aged 51 at the start of the war, lived at 25, Eighth Avenue, with his wife Maria and five children, three of them, Harriet, William and Mary being adults.

Richard Farr, aged 32 at the start of the war, lived at 45, Second Avenue, with his wife Mary and nine year old daughter Madge.

Both were marine fitters and joined the detachment on 4 August 1914. William was too old to fight, but it’s not clear whether Richard was subsequently called up, although it is possible, given the nature of their work, that they would have been exempted. Although it was not a naval base as such, Tyneside played a huge role in World War One. A third of all the battleships and more than a quarter of the destroyers completed for the Admiralty were built here. Many other naval vessels were repaired on the Tyne particularly after the Battle of Jutland. There were no fewer than 19 shipyards on the Tyne at the outbreak of war, and five of them were big enough to build warships. Hawthorn Leslie alone built 25 royal navy vessels during the war.

Unlike the VAD nurses, the role that William and Richard would have played is much less clearly documented, although it is clear that they were expected to work on an as required basis, most likely dealing with emergencies and possibly manning coastal monitoring stations such as those at Blyth and Tynemouth.

That we have identified five Voluntary Aid Detachment members just from the ten Heaton Avenues* perhaps gives some indication of scale of the enterprise. What is even more startling is to recognise that the women in particular came from all walks of life and, with very few exceptions, worked, often for a number of years, on a purely voluntary basis, receiving no pay and little recognition for their huge commitment to the war effort.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.


Since this article was written, the Red Cross has continued to post the names of VAD volunteers and so far we have found four more from Heaton’s avenues:

Annie Maud Monaghan, 90 Second Avenue
Lillian Rankin, 21 First Avenue
Annie Isabella Richardson, 55 Tenth Avenue
William Ernest Statton, 27 Ninth Avenue

Those from elsewhere in Heaton include:

Kate Ogg originally of 21 Bolingbroke Street who died of influenza on 23 February 1919 while on active duty
Mary Douthwaite, Woodlands, Alexandra Road, who served in France and was mentioned in dI spatches (30/12/1918)
Mary Sharpley, 3 Jesmond Vale Terrace who served in Egypt and was mentioned in dispatches (5/3/1917)

Mollie Allen, 62 Chillingham Road
Thomas Atkinson Street 150 Hotspur Street
Ralph Boyd 160 Warwick Street
Margaret Dora Burke, 146 Trewhitt Road (who served in France)
Hannah Buttery 28 Sefton Avenue
John D Cant 19 Trewhitt Road
Margaret Clare Checkie 88 Bolingbroke Street
Mary Cowell, 36 Wandsworth Road
Margaret Annie Douthwaite 3 Alexandra Road
Ernest Edward England, 99 Rothbury Terrace
Mary P Field, Silverdale, Lesbury Road
Gertrude Fotherby Silverdale, Lesbury Road
Florence Garvey, 9 Meldon Terrace
Alberta Louise Gerrie, 137 Addycombe Terrace
Mary Haswell, 7 Stratford Villas (who served in France)
Robert G Horne 64 Balmoral Terrace
Gladys Mary Miller 16 Bolingbroke Street
Hilda Oliver, Bellegrove, Lesbury Road
Jane Ethel Park, Westville, Heaton Road
Mary Isabella Roberts, Heaton Hall
E D Scott, 21 King John Terrace

Can you help?

If you know more about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by posting directly to this site by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group at

High Speed Heaton: the impact of railways on Heaton and Newcastle

Sitting alongside the iconic East Coast mainline, Heaton has been closely linked to the railways since the 19th century. It provided a home to some of the earliest electric locomotives in the world as well as record breaking steam and diesel locomotives. The 1970s saw Heaton Depot redeveloped to house the new High Speed Train, a design icon and the fastest diesel train in the world. In our February talk, Andrew McLean, Head Curator of the National Railway Museum, will explore Heaton’s railway history – not just the locomotives small and large but the impact that this railway presence has had on the local area too.

The original Heaton Station

The first Heaton Station (courtesy of Beamish Museum)

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 24 February 2016 at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting /07443 594154.

About our Speaker

Andrew McLean is Head Curator of the National Railway Museum. He was previously a curator with the National Trust in Yorkshire and the North East. Andrew has written articles and books on a diverse range of subjects from architecture to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. He is a member of the Railway Heritage Designation Advisory Board and the Institute of Railways Studies. His book The Flying Scotsman: Speed, Style, Service will be published by Scala in February 2016.

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Dead Man’s Handle

The Gilhomes of Heaton

Gwen Usher of Gosforth has kindly shared with us the history of her family, who lived, worked and went to school in Heaton. And she told us about the parts various members played during the First World War.


Isaac, the third of four children of  William and Sarah Elliott Gilhome, was born in 1860 in Embleton, where his father had a butcher’s shop. After leaving school, Isaac went on to become a butcher himself and the 1881 census records him, aged 20, working in his father’s shop. By 1891, the family’s circumstances had changed completely. Sarah Gilhome had died, leaving William as a widower, aged 64. He had moved to Jesmond, where he was living in a toll-house and working as toll collector. By this time, Isaac had met and married Mary Isabella Porter, which is when the family’s connection with Heaton began.

Isaac Gilhome

Isaac Gilhome

To Heaton

Mary Isabella Gilhome nee Porter was born in Newcastle on 29 November 1857, daughter of a mariner, but she grew up with her paternal grandmother, Mary A Porter, in Cley, Norfolk. But by 1881, aged 23, she had returned to Newcastle and was living in Jesmond as nursemaid to the children of the Sopwith family.

Mary Isabella Gilhome in later life

Mary Isabella Gilhome in later life

Isaac and Mary Isabella married in 1887 and lived in Bensham before, some time around 1891, moving to 35 Tenth Avenue, with their two eldest children Dorothy and Sarah Elizabeth.

Sisters Dora, Lizzie and Mary Gilhome

Sisters Dora, Lizzie and Mary Gilhome

The family continued to grow, with John Porter, Mary Isabella and William born in the 1890s. At some point before 1911, the expanding family moved to a bigger house at 31 Cheltenham Terrace. Isaac eventually opened his own shop. By the time of the First World War, he had three shops in Dalton Street, Gibson Street and Shields Road. Isaac died in 1924 and Mary Isabella in 1930. This is the story of their children, all of whom grew up in Heaton.


Dorothy, known as Dora, the oldest of the Gilhome children, was born in 1888 and in 1894 was in the first intake of children to the new Chillingham Road School. When she left school, aged 14, Dora stayed at home to help her mother with the family home and care for the younger children. She married Jack Denmead in 1923 and the couple eventually settled in Romford, Essex. Dora died of cancer tragically young in 1942.


Sarah Elizabeth, known as Lizzie, was born in 1890. When Lizzie left school in 1904, she trained as an upholstress, working for Robson’s furniture store, on Northumberland Street, where she was joined, four years later, by her younger sister Mary. Lizzie married Robert Davidson from Berwick, a plumber who worked for the gas company, before opening a sweetshop next to one of Isaac’s butcher’s shops. Their only daughter, Mary Isabella, was born in July 1918. Gwen clearly remembers being allowed to play in the sweet shop when it was closed. Lizzie died in 1976.


John Porter was born on 7th January 1892. Like his father before him he worked in the family butcher’s shops in the evenings and weekends from the age of 8. At the outbreak of war, John joined the Navy and in May 1916 was involved in the Battle of Jutland, the only major naval battle of World War One. It’s not clear whether John Porter’s ship was one of those lost in the Battle of Jutland. We do know, however, that in 1917, he joined HMS Caledon, when it was commissioned on 6 March 1917. The Caledon saw action in the second battle of the Heligoland Bight. It was struck by a 12” shell, but fortunately not seriously damaged.

John Porter Gilhome (front right)

John Porter Gilhome (front right)

After the war, John married Edith Wilkinson. He died in June 1947 in Hexham of TB.


Mary Isabella was born in 1894, leaving school in 1908 to work as an upholstress with her sister. At the start of the war, when John signed up for the Navy, Mary was also keen to do something to help the war effort. There was a particular call for young women to train as nurses and Mary responded, starting her two year probation period at Lemington Infectious diseases hospital.

Mary Gilhome

Mary Gilhome

Whilst at the hospital Mary set up the Newburn Isolation Hospital War Savings Association. The War Savings Movement was established in March 1916 as a way to bring in much needed revenue to fund the war effort. The National Savings Committee was supplemented by volunteer local committees and paid civil servants. Posters encouraged workers to invest in the National Savings Scheme and would buy stamps for 6d, with a promise that each 15/6 saved would be repaid as £1 in six years time. Interestingly, the movement used the swastika as its logo, although this was subsequently abandoned by the government.

War Savings Association membership card

War Savings Association membership card

The National Savings Movement continued to thrive after the war and was instrumental in providing funds in World War 2. It continued until 1978, before becoming National Savings and Investments, which still operates today and runs, amongst other things the Premium Bond scheme. Mary’s role as Honorary Secretary of the association was recognised in a letter from Lloyd George after the war.

Letter from Lloyd George to Mary Gilhome

Letter from Lloyd George to Mary Gilhome

After the war, Mary briefly gave up her nursing career to nurse her father. She then studied midwifery, qualifying in 1928, and she continued her career as a nurse, moving to the West Riding of Yorkshire, where she worked as a district nurse, until she retired in 1959 (some five years later than she should have) when she returned to Newcastle to live. Because of the isolated nature of her caseload, Mary replaced the district nurse’s bike for a motorbike. Mary died in November 1992.


William, the youngest child of the family, was born on 29 June 1898 and like all of his siblings went to Chillingham Road School. Unlike his siblings, he was in the first cohort not to have to make a contribution to the school board, receiving free education. At the age of 8, William had a severe bout of diphtheria and was nursed at home, in part by Mary, which may have helped spark her interest in both nursing and working with infectious diseases.

Like his brother, William helped out in the shop and was keen to join the war effort. The family legend is that he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers at the age of 16 and was sent straight to fight in Italy, along with a battalion of the Royal Muster Fusiliers from Ireland. However this story raises some questions. Firstly, the army only recruited young men aged 18 or over and didn’t send them to the front until they were 19.

Secondly, Italy was not a major focus for fighting in World War 1. The 10th and 11th service battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers were deployed to Northern Italy to strengthen local resistance, but not until November 1917, when the first garrison battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers were also deployed to the area to defend lines of communication. It seems likely that this was when William was deployed, although he never spoke to the family about his wartime experiences. There is a photo of him in Italy with his Lance Corporal and his medal records show him as having fought in both the Northumberland and Royal Muster Fusiliers, which supports this position.

William Gilhome

William Gilhome

William would have been involved in the battle of Vittorio Veneto, which was instrumental in the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the end of the war.

After the war, John and William completed their training as butchers and after their father’s death in 1924, jointly took over the family shops. This proved not to be a successful arrangement and John subsequently bought William out of his share. William then went on to manage a shop in Gateshead before opening his own store in Low Fell. He married Ann Armstrong at St Silas’ Church, Byker in 1928 and the couple settled in Gateshead. Their daughter Gwen was born in Gateshead in June 1936. During World War 2, William served in the Home Guard as a Private in E Company of the 8th Cumberland Battalion. William died on of a heart attack in 1964, having suffered from heart disease since 1945, thought to be as a result of his childhood diphtheria.

Thank you

Thank you to Gwen Usher for sharing the Gilhomes’story with Heaton History Group member, Michael Proctor, who carried out additional research. If you have information, memories or photographs of Heaton to share, please contact Chris Jackson

Educating High Heaton

This photograph of pupils at High Heaton Infants School was taken in 1935.

High Heaton Infants School Pupils, 1935

High Heaton Infants School Pupils, 1935

Geoffrey Wedderburn, formerly of 60 Swaledale Gardens, is the boy at the end of the back row and he wonders whether anyone can help him out with other names. He remembers Dennis Hill, Leslie Fox and Tom Fineron from his schooldays but isn’t sure whether they’re in the picture.

The wooden school

High Heaton Infants School first opened on 20 August 1929 with 164 children on the roll. The school records are in Tyne and Wear Archives so we know the names of the first head, Mary L Ken, and her staff that day: Ethel Cooper, Joy Thompson, Alice Bertram Hodgson , Minnie Watts and Jeanie Richardson. Geoffrey remembers Miss Venters, Miss Hopkins and Miss Darling from his own schooldays. We found in the archives that Miss Caroline Isobel Venters joined the school on 7 April 1934.

The school was situated close to where the Spinney flats are now in a wooden building which later became High Heaton library. It was known simply as ‘the wooden school’. Geoffrey recalls that the buildings formed 3 sides of a square and that the open side gave access to a grassed play area. He remembers maypole dancing there on one occasion.

High Heaton in the early 1930s with the school in front of the trees of the Spinney

High Heaton in the early 1930s with the school in front of the trees of the Spinney

The wooden buildings which housed High Heaton Infants School and then, until 1966, the library

The wooden buildings which housed High Heaton Infants School and then, until 1966, the library

Geoffrey says that despite the fact the headmistress ruled by terror, he was ‘quite happy at the school and rather sorry when I had to leave’. The log book confirms it was considered a good school. An inspector is quoted in 1935 as saying ‘Good use is made of the adjacent hall for dancing and physical training and the neatly cultivated garden is a valuable addition to the amenities of the premises’.

In 1931 another inspector said ‘The children are of a good educable standard, thus some of the handicaps imposed by a poor environment are not felt here’.

Reading the entries in the log book, you’re struck by the number of days the children had off to commemorate royal occasions. The investiture of the Prince of Wales in February 1934 was especially noteworthy as the head teacher was invited to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace and was granted three days leave to attend. The lord mayor, director of education and chief ‘inspectress‘ visited the school the following week to congratulate it on behalf of the city on the honour bestowed on the head by the king.

Later in the year, the school shut again for the marriage of the Duke of Kent in 1934; in 1935 there was the wedding of the Duke of Gloucester and then the Royal Jubilee; and the funeral of King George V followed in 1936. All these on top of the usual general and local elections: it’s surprising any of the children learnt to read!

Cragside and war

But with the population of High Heaton growing as the city expanded and cleared inner-city ‘slums’, the ‘wooden school’ was too small to cope and it finally closed at midday on 25 March 1937 with Cragside Infants School opening its doors on 5 April. Geoffrey recalled that the opening ceremony ‘was carried out by the very young Princess Elizabeth’.

At Cragside, we read of a measles epidemic in 1938 and, of course, the disruption caused by World War 2. On 1 September 1939, the school evacuated to Morpeth. It reopened in High Heaton on 1 April 1940 but on 7 July some children were evacuated again – this time to Westmorland.

There were numerous air raid warnings ‘Children went to the shelter provided. No panic or fear or upset of any kind‘ (28 June 1940); ‘Air raid during the night from 1.10-3.00am. No school this morning’ (12 August 1940).

On 4 September 1940: ‘Air raid damage near school. Four window panes splintered. the three covered with net did not fall out’.

On 1 March 1941 a temporary headteacher was appointed ‘owing to the evacuation of the head mistress, Miss J S Nattress with the school party’. Miss Nattress returned a couple of months later. And in 1944 the school admitted evacuees of its own – from London.

Rain and snow

After the war, things slowly got back to normal. In 1946, the Education Committee granted the school £15 as a victory prize. Garden seats were purchased.

The following year brought one of the worst winters in living memory. On 26 February ‘Very heavy snowfall this week; snow drifting on the verandah makes movement very restricted’ On 14 March ‘Storm continues’.

And with normality, a resumption of royal occasions:

On 27 November 1952, children walked with teachers to Stephenson Road, where they saw HRH Princess Margaret passing on her way from launching a ship at Walker Naval Dockyard to Alnwick Castle.

But on 5 June 1953 the weather intervened: ‘a coronation celebration picnic on the school playing field was planned but impossible because of the rainy weather. Games were played in the school hall’. A familiar scenario to generations of Cragside children looking forward to sports day!

Children and Teacher at Cragside School by Torday

Children and Teacher at Cragside School by Laszlo Torday

Thank you

Geoffrey Wedderburn for his photograph and memories

Tyne and Wear Archives for their help

Newcastle City Libraries for permission to use the photograph by Laszlo Torday

The photos of the wooden school were taken from ‘Bygone High Heaton and district’ by William Muir, Newcastle City Libraries and Arts, 1988

Can you help?

We’d love to hear your memories and see your photographs of High Heaton Infants or Cragside School. Please either click on the link immediately below the title of this article or email

Wherrymen and Chain-horse Lads: transport in the Ouseburn

River transport, in the form of shallow draft barges called wherries, was central to the Ouseburn’s development as a centre for heavy industry.  Likewise the efficient operation of Newcastle quayside as a regional port depended increasingly on the carters and chain horse operators whose job it was to haul produce off the quay to warehouses and rail depots.  The wherrymen and chain-horse lads of the Ouseburn were widely recognised in their day as skilled and valuable workers with opportunities for economic improvement unavailable to the great mass of Ouseburn’s industrial workforce.  

Come to our January talk to find out more. Mike Greatbatch will use rare archive images and anecdotal evidence to reveal the history and achievements of the wherrymen and chain-horse lads.

Ad for Allen Brown wherry owners

The owner of this wherry business lived in Heaton from the turn of 20th century

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 27 January 2016 at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting /07443 594154. Until Wednesday 11 November, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

About our speaker

Mike has over fifteen years experience of researching the history of the Ouseburn and is currently working on a series of research papers for publication. He is a Committee member of the North East Labour History Society and is one of the co-ordinators of the society’s ‘People’s History of the North East’ project, supporting a group of volunteers at Newcastle City Library. Mike’s paper on Chartism in the Ouseburn (1838-1848) was published in North East History in 2013, and his latest paper on Poor Law administration in Byker Township and the Byker Dispensary (1835-52) was published in this year’s edition of North East History.




An exile remembers: Part 2 – the old walk

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories.  ‘RS’  still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the second instalment of his thoughts, which will be serialised over the next few months.

So here I go, from the old house to Armstrong and Heaton parks, retracing the walk – and back again – that I made so many times in the ’60s, and an equivalent walk that many of you may have made yourselves, from the Heaton homes of your own childhoods.

Crossing Simonside Terrace diagonally, from the north side to the south, I soon reach the back lane cut-through which connects it with Rothbury Terrace.

Back lane between Simonside and Rothbury Terrace, November 2015

Back lane between Simonside and Rothbury Terrace, November 2015

(You know the one – straight across from the end of Coquet Terrace.) In fact, as I quickly recall, this particular journey was made on numerous occasions, independently of any visits to the parks, as just along here was the local corner shop, where much of my mid-’60s, one shilling a week pocket money had a tendency to end up, and where my father frequently sent me to buy his packs of (ten) Gold Leaf cigarettes.

(Note: for the benefit of younger readers, one shilling is the modern equivalent of five pence of that new money which was forced upon us 1971, but which nevertheless now seems to have caught on quite well.)

 The name of the corner shop was ‘Tulip’s’, as I hope a few others of you may also remember. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly a ‘corner’ shop, not being positioned on a street corner, but let’s not quibb … oh, it’s gone! Standing directly outside where it once was, I am faced with only the ghostly brick-based outline of its former existence; a seemingly Turin Shroud-like impression of small-scale retailing has been indelibly stamped into the wall, leaving – quite literally – only a trace of what once was.

And as I’m about to turn right into Rothbury Terrace, another memory returns. Back in the ’60s the two main Heaton primary school options were Chillingham Road and Ravenswood. There were also St. Teresa’s for the Catholics, which I can recall being built – and very futuristic it seemed at the time – and Cragside, but which was more for the children of High Heaton.

 Many years later someone told me that the back lane between Rothbury and Meldon Terraces – at least on this west side of Chillingham Road – was the dividing line for the catchment areas of Chillingham Road and Ravenswood primary schools. Put simply, if a child lived on Meldon Terrace and all streets south, then s/he went to Chillingham Road; however, living on Rothbury Terrace and all streets north, then s/he went to Ravenswood. Therefore, in my own case, living on Simonside Terrace meant I went to Ravenswood, even though Chillingham Road was actually nearer to my home.

 I’m rather glad that I did. Meaning absolutely no offence to any readers who may have gone to Chillingham Road primary school, and casting no aspersions on the quality of education which they received there, I always felt that Ravenswood was the better deal. Having opened in 1893, Chillingham Road was already an institutional pensioner when I started at Ravenswood in early 1961, whereas the latter – having opened in 1953 – was still in short trousers, and was still only going through institutional puberty when I left in 1966.

But there was more to it than age. Chillingham Road School seemed to me, in those days, to be a tall, dark, brooding presence, positioned almost menacingly right on … well, right on Chillingham Road, naturally enough … and displaying a stern, grassless, late Victorian asceticism. On the other hand, Ravenswood was lighter and more low-rise, exhibiting the modernity and optimism appropriate to the reign of a new, young queen, with its several acres of school field symbolic of the openness and boundless opportunities that might lie ahead for its pupils. (I can recall how we lost about ten yards from the bottom of the school field in 1965 or so, as a consequence of the Coast Road widening scheme – but we had so much it would have seemed churlish to complain.)

And so I turn right into Rothbury Terrace. Oh! And what’s this? There is still a shop here, after all. Occupying the same space as the former Tulip’s, it seems that the decision has been made to have the door and shop front here rather than around the corner on the side street, where it used to be when I knew it. Fair enough.  It’s no longer ‘Tulip’s’ of course. Now the owner’s name is Kohli.

Tulip's now Kohli's

Tulip’s now Kohli’s

So I now look towards Heaton Road. I’ll be soon be crossing it and entering Armstrong Park. But as I begin to walk in that direction, another set of memories comes flooding back. In the early to mid 1960s Heaton wasn’t a very diverse and vibrant place, in the ethnic sense. If one’s mother was daring enough to ever serve up a Vesta beef curry, then that tended to be about as diverse as life ever got. Until things began to change. In the mid-60’s. And right here. Yes here. On Rothbury Terrace.

 What do you remember?

We’d love to hear memories and see the photos of anyone who has lived, studied, worked or played in Heaton. Either leave your comments below the heading of this article or mail Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group.



Heaton’s four times champion

In Heaton, we rightly celebrate the footballing achievements of local polymath, Colin Campbell McKechnie Veitch, who won three championship medals with Newcastle United. But how many people know that Heaton was home to a contemporary, who also played for Newcastle (albeit briefly), was also capped by England, but who won FOUR championships. Some quiz question!

William (‘Billy’) Hogg was born in Hendon, Sunderland on 29 May 1879 to Catherine Hogg, of Sherburn Co Durham and her husband, John, of South Church near Bishop Auckland, a fitter. But while William was still a young boy, the family moved to Newcastle and by 1887 were living in a newly built house on Spencer Street in Heaton.  By 1891 the family  comprised mother, Catherine, father John Father, still a fitter, 15 year old sister Elizabeth a ‘pupil school teacher’ , with William, aged 11,  younger brother, John, aged nine and younger sister, Ann, eight, at school. The house was directly opposite the ground where Newcastle East End still played: they merged with Newcastle West End in 1892 and moved to St James Park. I wonder did young William see Alec White score seven goals in the club’s record 19-0 win in 1888? In any case, it was in Heaton that he received his football education.

First championship medal

We know that William was soon playing organised football, first with nearby Walkergate Rangers, then Rosehill and later with Willington Athletic up the road in Howden. He was also a notable cricketer, once capturing a prize for taking seven wickets for no runs. His heart lay with football, however, and although he later revealed that his boyhood ambition was to play for United, he was soon spotted by football scouts from the town of his birth.

Billy Hogg

He signed professional in October 1899 and marked his debut with a goal in a 5-0 victory over Notts County. He went on to score six goals from outside right in his first season, in which Sunderland finished third.

Billy married Martha Jane Smith in Newcastle in 1900 and, by 1901, was still working as a fitter (while also playing football) and living in Sunderland with his wife and young son. Robert.

He was an ever-present in the 1900-01 season with nine goals, as Sunderland finished runners up (denied the title by failing to win at St James’ Park in their final game) and ten the following year when they were crowned champions, a year in which Colin Veitch’s Newcastle United were third and Middlesbrough promoted. Heady days for north east football!

Hogg capped a brilliant year by being capped three times for England in the Home International Championships of that year. His second match v Scotland at Ibrox was marred by one of the biggest disasters in British football. 25 supporters were killed when, 51 minutes into the match, a newly-built stand collapsed following heavy rain. Remarkably the game was played to the finish but later declared void and the gate receipts of the replay at Villa Park, in which Billy also played, went to the disaster fund.

Hogg also played for the Football League three times, in two of which he scored a hat-trick and he played for the North v the South.

Hat-trick v Newcastle

Billy was, as you might expect, a great favourite at Sunderland. We know a little about his physique. He was apparently around 5’9″ and in 1902 weighed about 11 stone 11 lbs but he was heavier later in his career, when he was often described as ‘burly’. He was considered particularly good looking, with it once said of him:

‘When they cease to play Willie for his football, they may do worse than play him for his appearance!’

A career highlight came in 1908-9, when he scored two hat-tricks in a fortnight, the first to Woolwich Arsenal on 21 November and the second on 5 December in a 9-1 victory against Newcastle United at St James Park, a team that had only conceded 13 in its previous 15 games. The score was 1-1 at half time but Sunderland scored again early in the second half, when:

‘Newcastle became first dispirited and then disorganised’ (Sound familiar?)

It was maybe some consolation to his erstwhile neighbours that Colin Veitch’s Newcastle soon beat Sunderland at home, then knocked them out of the cup and finished the season champions (with Sunderland third) but might also explain why Billy Hogg’s Heaton connection has been largely forgotten in these parts.

Three Scottish titles

At the end of the 1908-9 season, with his career record at Sunderland reading Played 303 Scored 84 (mainly from outside right), the Wearsiders’ captain for the previous three years was transferred to Glasgow Rangers for a fee of £100. The signing was greeted with great excitement in Scotland:

‘This is undoubtedly the greatest capture made for a very long time.’

And with equal regret in the north east:

‘Billy Hogg… is to be honoured by his north of England friends tomorrow night at the Heaton Social Club, Newcastle. The gathering, which promises to be a memorable one, will be presided over by Councillor F Taylor, chairman of Sunderland FC, and the opportunity will be taken of presenting Hogg with a valuable presentation. It is seldom indeed that we hear of the leaving of any footballer from any team arousing such feelings of regret. He is at once one of the most popular players in the north of England. Possessed of a wonderful personality, he is also possessed of the necessary football skill which is essential to those who would reach the hearts of the people. Sunderland’s loss will be Rangers’ gain ‘

Billy Hogg

In his first season, Rangers finished third with Hogg scoring six goals from 29 appearances but in each of his next three seasons they were Scottish champions. In 1911-12, he scored 20 goals from 30 appearances. Injuries began to limit his appearances, however, and, although his popularity was undimmed:

‘His personality, unique mannerisms and happy-go-lucky disposition has endeared him to Ibrox supporters… Billy’s antics always gave real and unbounded pleasure’

in 1913 he moved to Dundee and the following year, he became player-manager at Raith Rovers.

Return home

Billy’s mother and father continued to live on Spencer Street and by 1911 his brother John (‘Jack’) was living next door with his wife, Florence and sons, William and Victor. (Jack had also been a professional footballer, first with Sunderland and then Southampton, but without Billy’s success.)

During WW1, it was reported that Billy Hogg had announced that he had returned to Heaton to work as a fitter and for the duration of the war, he would not play professional football only charity games.

We know that in November 1915 and May 1918 he guested for Newcastle United and that, after the war, he returned to Scotland to play for Dundee, Hibs and Montrose before returning to Sunderland as a publican and then in 1927 a coach, a position he held for eight years.

Billy died in Sunderland sadly prematurely on 30 January 1937, aged 57.  Like Colin Veitch and Alec White, he deserves to be remembered in Heaton and beyond.

Can you help?

If you can add to the story of Billy Hogg or of any other prominent footballer who was born, has lived or played in Heaton, we’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment on this site (see the link just below the article title) or email, Chris Jackson, Secretary of Heaton History Group.


Ancestry UK

British Newspaper Archive

England Footballers Online

‘Hotbed of Soccer’ by Arthur Appleton, Sportsman’s Book Club, 1960

Personal correspondence with ‘Football John’ via Kevin Mochrie