Feeding the Avenues

From the outbreak of WW1, getting food onto the table became increasingly difficult. We have been researching how the people of the Avenues were affected and responded.

The mother Isabella Wood grew up on a farm in Berwickshire. In 1881, aged 20, her occupation is given as a ‘farm servant’ but, by WW1, she was living at 57 Seventh Avenue with six children and her three sons in the forces. We know that Isabella donated gifts to the Tyneside Scottish (January 1915) and lettuce and flowers to Northern General Hospital (August 1916). She wanted to do her bit. It may well be that she and her husband took advantage of the council’s provision of allotments at St Gabriel’s and elsewhere and utilised skills she’d acquired growing up in the Scottish countryside. Sadly, on 18 April 1917, her son, Robert, died of wounds received in France. He is buried, with his parents, in Byker and Heaton Cemetery.

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

The union officials Joseph Fagg of 27 Third Avenue was Secretary of the Newcastle branch of the National Union of Clerks. On 6 February 1915, his letter of protest against rising food prices was published in the ‘Daily Journal’:

Joseph Fagg's letter to Daily Journal

‘Clerks, like the rest of their fellow workers, have nobly responded to their country’s call, and this heartless fleecing of dependents of our patriotic comrades is a matter calling for immediate and drastic treatment on the part of the Government.’

Meanwhile, Amos Watson of 63 Second Avenue (a fitter) and W J Adamson (a joiner) of 36 Sixth Avenue served on the General Purposes Sub-Committee of the Newcastle Food Vigilance Committee, set up by the labour movement to protect the interests of workers and their families from shortages, profiteering and poor quality food, in response to what were seen as the vested interests of many members of the official Food Committee.

The shopkeepers Life was difficult for food wholesalers and retailers too. Not only did they have to cope with shortages and rising prices, just like their customers, but concerns over air-strikes and coal shortages led to restrictions on lighting and opening hours. The press reported that Elizabeth Maughan (possibly Florence Elizabeth Monaghan), of 90 Second Avenue, was fined 5 shillings for not shading her lights in 1916. Those who contravened the new laws were named and shamed in the press, although sometimes they elicited sympathy even from the authorities.

Mary Dawson, who kept a shop at 16 Second Avenue, was fined for serving bread after 9.00pm. The Chairman of Newcastle Police Court, Alderman Cail, said:

‘It is a frightful thing to see crowds of women clustering around drapers’ shops, which are ablaze with light in the evenings. If economy is wanted in light or coal, the Home Office should have turned their attention to these establishments, instead of the little shop burning only one light or perhaps a tallow candle.’

The Bench found Mary technically guilty but they let her off with only payment of costs.

Article about Mary Dawson selling bread after 9.00pm

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by members of Heaton History Group for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’ , which includes illustrations by local artists, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from early August until late September 2015.

The Grainger Market: a people’s history

Many books have been written about Richard Grainger and his architectural achievements in  Newcastle, including the great Grainger Market, but Heaton History Group member, Yvonne Young, wanted to hear the stories current traders have to tell. They told her of the time when gas lighting illuminated the market, when sawdust was scattered on the floor, barrow boys rushed through the alleys with pig carcasses on board. Butchers, fruiterers shouting their wares in friendly competition, times before pizza by the slice, crepes and Chinese dumplings.

While researching the book,  Yvonne met many fascinating characters such as Mr Roy Eden who was ten years of age when he helped out in the family business during war time; Mr Robinson of the pet shop who recalled the day when the star Sabrina opened one of their shops, when Janet the chimp walked down the red carpet with a basket to purchase goods and when parking meters were hooded to allow a lorry to bring a baby elephant to the market.

Yvonne’s talk will be illustrated by photographs by Juan Fitzgerald from the book, the publication of which has been timed to commemorate the market’s 180th anniversary later this year.

And Keith Armstrong will read a couple of his poems which evoke the atmosphere of a busy, thriving community in the heart of Newcastle.

The event will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 28 October 2015 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 maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. Until Wednesday 12 August, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

About the speaker

Yvonne Young

Yvonne Young

Yvonne says:

I’ve always enjoyed writing poems and short stories, but when I became involved with the library service, I became a member of the West Newcastle Picture History Collection. Through this I met publisher Andrew Clark of Summerhill Books who invited me to write about the West End. This resulted in three books, Benwell Remembered, Westenders and Westenders Part 2. I combined interviews of people in the area, scanned their family photos and made use of the archive service. This led to reminiscence work in care homes, community settings and with children’s groups. Recollections of times gone by are important, but recent events and stories of people living and working in Newcastle will also be appreciated by future generations.

Dead Man’s Handle

It is late evening on a Saturday in early August 1926. The sun set an hour ago, but the sky in the west is still bright. The gaslamps of Heaton railway station dimly illuminate the expanse of the glass canopy above. The two platforms of the station are virtually deserted, and its signal box is closed for the night. The station foreman is in his small wooden office, catching up with the paperwork now that the trains are less frequent. The last of the birds are singing their songs in the trees above the cutting walls before they settle down for the night.

From the east comes a distant whistle, high pitched and short, and then the puffing and wheezing of a steam locomotive. Round the bend from Heaton Yard appears an engine, small and black but kept clean and shiny by its crew, starting up its short train. It is a ‘Special Goods’ for Blaydon made up of 13 wagons from railway companies far and wide. Slowly the engine clanks by, its crew exchanging a wave with the station foreman whose head pokes out from his office door to watch its passing.

A procession of wooden goods wagons goes rumbling and squealing through the platforms, the noise echoing off the walls that surround Heaton station in its cutting. The first wagon has ‘GW’ painted on its side, an indication that it belongs to the mighty Great Western Railway. Then comes one with ‘L&Y’ indicating that until the 1923 ‘Grouping’ of the railway companies it had belonged to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The next wagon is brand new grain wagon, probably filled with the products of a farm somewhere in Northumberland. It has the letters LNER on the side, a company formed only three years ago, and one which took over the running of Heaton station and its trains from the old North Eastern Railway.

The train clanks its way along the up main line; the driver has no worries about holding up fast express trains at this time of night and has a clear run at least as far as Manors. That’s the next station towards Newcastle to the west, after the cutting in which Heaton station stands opens out for the junction at Riverside, and then the great viaduct over the Ouseburn. The red glow from the tail lamp on the guards van slowly disappears off down the line as the steam, trapped under the huge glass canopy above, slowly starts to drift away through the trees and into the darkening sky.

Ten minutes later a different sound drifts in from the east. This time it’s the swishing and clackety-clack of a much faster train running in on the line from Tynemouth and the coast. It’s one of the old North Eastern Railway’s electric trains, built in 1904 but still performing a sterling service over 20 years later. It’s possible to tell from the roofs that the second two carriages in the train are much newer, built only six years ago to replace the trains lost in the fire at Heaton Car Sheds. Some of the cars are still painted in the old North Eastern Railway crimson lake, but others have already acquired the new drab teak colour favoured by the LNER. The lights from the carriages illuminate the cutting walls as the train speeds into the station, displaying ‘CENTRAL’ on the front.

Experienced driver

At first it appears it’s not going to stop in time, but the driver, William Skinner of Felton Street, Byker, applies the brakes firmly and the train squeals to a halt in the platform. The sliding door of the van section of the first carriage rumbles open and out steps Skinner onto the platform, standing about two feet from his train. The train is made of wood, with matchboard on the lower half, and large windows above. Inside it looks comfortable but functional, and only one young couple can be seen inside the first class compartment of the first vehicle. There is a large parcels compartment in this first coach, one of the motor luggage composite carriages built at the opening of electric services, to carry fish from the coast and the prams of toddlers on their way to the beach.

The type of passenger train William Skinner was driving in 1926

The type of passenger train William Skinner drove through Heaton  in 1926

Skinner is 35 years old and has worked on the railway for 18 years, starting off as a cleaner and being promoted to a driver six years ago. He has been mainly been driving goods trains of late, but passed for driving these electric trains four years ago. This is a nice change for him, running out to the coast on a clean electric service instead of the heat, smoke, and grime of a goods train. He has enjoyed his ride so far, fast out to Monkseaton and then stopping at all stations on the return to Newcastle Central station. After this stop he only has Manors to go before his arrival back at the Central. His wife and five children will be waiting for him at his home, which is only a mile away from where his train currently waits.

Last trip

The station foreman emerges from the gloom and stands on the platform to watch the passengers disembark. They’re mainly day-trippers who’ve enjoyed an evening at the coast, with few people getting on at this time of night. He notices Skinner on the platform, which seems a bit odd to him, and shouts hello. “Is this your last trip?” he asks, to which Skinner replies “Yes!” The train’s guard, George Patterson, closes the metal gates on the old carriages, and the doors on the new ones, and gives a blast on his whistle. Skinner gets back into his van and re-enters his cab, but doesn’t take the time to slide the door closed. The train’s Westinghouse brakes hiss as they’re released and with a whirr and a whine the train accelerates quickly off towards Newcastle, blue flashes of electricity lighting up the station as the current arcs from the conductor rail beside the tracks.

The train now gathers speed, getting up to its full pace as it rattles over the pointwork at Riverside Junction, where the line to the shipyards of Walker and Wallsend peels off to the left. Over the huge iron structure of the Ouseburn viaduct it roars, the lights of the factories and warehouses dimly twinkling in the gloom below. In his van at the rear of the train, Patterson is engaged in making notes for his next trip as the train clickety-clicks its way through the darkness towards Newcastle. Into the cutting it goes, towards Manors station and its complex junction of lines. It rattles past Argyle Street signal box, its signalman hard at work in his little illuminated world, and into the bend at Manors. But as Patterson looks up from his work and out of the window his heart skips a beat; he sees that they’re already pulling into the platforms but still going full speed. He hadn’t noticed, so engaged was he in his work, that Skinner hadn’t tested the brakes at Argyle Street as he should have done. Up he jumps, and makes for the door to the driver’s compartment at the back of the train to apply the Westinghouse brake.

The signalman at Manors, Francis Topping, had it all planned out. The goods train that had passed Heaton fifteen minutes ago had arrived at his signal box ten minutes later. It had stood at his Up Home Main Line signal for a minute or two whilst he let traffic clear the junction but when he was ready for her to move he’d set the signal for the train and with a toot and a hiss it was already underway. His intention was to let it clear the junction whilst, as the rules stated, he brought the passenger train almost to a stop on approach to the platforms before allowing it to pull in. As soon as he’d heard the bell in his box that signalled the entrance of the passenger into his section he’d set the ‘calling-on’ signal to allow it into the station.

But now Topping turns to look out of his window and up the line towards Heaton and his face freezes in terror. He immediately realises that the train is going far too fast to stop at the signal as he’d intended. He watches it race at full speed towards his signal box, which straddles the tracks to the west of the station and affords a grandstand view of the drama playing out below. The passenger train heads inexorably towards the special goods that is now across the junction in front of it and leaving nowhere to go. In the cabin at the back of the train George Patterson is frantically applying the Westinghouse brake to slow the train down, but it’s too late. It ploughs into the third vehicle of the goods train, a loaded grain wagon, with a glancing blow. Splinters of wood and metal fly into the air. The electric train lurches to the left, rips the steps from Topping’s signal cabin, and jams itself against the parapet wall of the railway viaduct, balancing above the street some 60 feet below, bricks and rubble falling down onto the road. The other vehicles are derailed too but stay upright, crashing into the back of the first, and a cloud of dust and smoke fills the air.

Signalman Topping regains his senses, and springs into action. He knows his duty in an emergency like this, and immediately protects all of the lines leading to and from his signalbox and summons ambulances and the police. Thankfully the automatic circuit-breaker for the electrical system has worked as intended and there is no fire amongst the wooden coaches and wagons. He watches as passengers warily make their way out of the carriages, and the driver and fireman of the goods train run back to help them. He looks down on the wreckage below and knows this is going to take some time to sort out. “Just what was that driver doing?” he wonders to himself, almost in disbelief.

Within minutes Inspector Gill from the Northumberland Constabulary is running up the ramp onto the platform at Manors station from the street below with a number of his constables. He clambers down onto the tracks and makes his way towards the half-demolished first carriage of the passenger train. Carefully picking his way through shattered wood planks and broken glass, he reaches what is left of the driver’s cabin. With the help of his men, he begins to clear the wreckage in expectation of finding the driver’s body. He moves aside twisted metal and wood, grains of wheat falling down onto the tracks below from the destroyed wagon which had borne the brunt of the impact. But search as they might, they find no sign of Skinner’s body.

Dead man’s handle

Eventually the inspector reaches the control unit of the electric train. He finds the controller, which limits the power to the train and thus its speed. The handle is in the ‘Full Power’ position, with the reversing key in ‘Forward’. Skinner hadn’t even made any attempt to stop accelerating the train. The controller has an important safety feature, the ‘Dead Man’s Handle’. This is actually a button on the top of the controller which must be pressed down at all times by the driver or the power to the train is automatically cut-out. The dead man’s control on Skinner’s train could never do its job, however, because he’d seen to it himself that it would not work.

Inspector Gill finds the button on the controller cleverly tied down by two handkerchiefs, which together exert enough pressure on the button to ensure it is kept constantly pressed. A red handkerchief is looped around the controller handle and over the control button and knotted in place with a triple-knot. Over this the second hanky, a white one, is tied even tighter around the first adding to the pressure on the button. This is secured with a double knot. The arrangement of the hankies evidently saved Skinner from having to constantly press the dead man’s control, something which became wearisome after a while, and leave the controller with the train still under power.

Inspector Murray arrives at around 12:50am and examines the handkerchiefs. He finds no identifying marks on either, and removes them for safe keeping. For the next two hours a search of the wreckage continues. Thankfully there were only two passengers travelling in the first vehicle of the train, a young couple from Durham, who miraculously only suffered leg injuries and shock. The other 150 or so passengers in the remaining five coaches of the train walked away relatively unscathed. What the constables and inspectors are searching for is Skinner, and he is nowhere to be seen. Some firemen are asked to search the roofs of the houses in the street below in case his body had been catapulted from the train, but to no avail. Eventually Murray calls over Sergeant Sandels and tells him to start walking back up the line towards Heaton to see if he can see any sign of Skinner, or anything untoward.

So Sandels sets off walking, back past the silent and dark carriages of the now-empty 9:47pm Newcastle to Newcastle (via Monkseaton), down the ramp at the end of Manors station platform, and into the cutting towards Argyle Street signal box. The crunch of the ballast is loud beneath his feet as he walks up through the damp cutting, scanning the darkness below with his eyes for the sight of anything strange. He passes the entrance to the Quayside railway, its foreboding tunnel disappearing to his right and down to the river where ships unload their wares into waiting railway wagons. He passes under the short tunnel where New Bridge Street passes overhead, and then under Ingham Place and Stoddart Street. The lights of the signals are all on red as far as he can see along the straight line ahead, their beams glinting off the shiny railtops of the many sidings and running lines. Out across the Ouseburn Viaduct he strides, with the smells of industry and animals drifting up from below, the sky lightening to the east ahead of him. He hears a ship’s hooter echo mournfully from the River Tyne to his right as he presses on past Riverside Junction signal box and the little station at Byker.

Eventually, after walking over a mile, he comes to the bridge carrying Heaton Park Road over the railway. There he sees something on the tracks; a dark shape lying beside the electrified rail on the left-hand side of the lines as he faces east. Sandels runs towards this object and bends down to look more closely; it is Skinner, lying on his back with his feet facing away towards Heaton station, his right arm outstretched below the conductor rail and his eyes staring lifelessly up. Sandels checks for a pulse, not expecting to find one. He doesn’t. Skinner is dead and already quite cold.

Sandels runs to Heaton station and asks them to call for a local doctor. Dr Blench arrives after half an hour, during which Sandels has been standing guard over Skinner, trying to comprehend what has happened that night. The doctor examines the body, and finds that the back of his head is badly injured and his skull fractured. There are also bruises down his neck and back. The two men then get up and walk over to the row of iron columns supporting the road above. On the nearest column to the body they find a patch of blood. Then on the next another patch, higher than the first, and the same on the third column higher still. On the first of the bridge’s columns that Skinner’s train would have reached they find a patch of blood, quite high up, but about the height at which Skinner’s head would have been whilst leaning from the train. Sandels sits down on the rail with a sigh and waits for his inspector to arrive. “The damn fool!” he whispers to himself.

Epilogue

Nobody will ever know what went through Skinner’s mind that night. It was clear that tying down the ‘dead man’s control’ was a common practice for him. But why did he set his train in motion then go to the door of his van to look back along the train? Why did he forget about the bridge, under which he’d passed many times before? That accident at Manors thankfully claimed no further lives, and Skinner was the only victim of his own misfortune. His widow and five children were left to ponder his actions, and given his implication in the accident it is unlikely that the railway company were particularly generous towards them. Whilst there was quite a stir in the area at the time of the accident, it was soon forgotten and the electric trains went back to running their busy service for the next 35 years.

Author

Researched and written by Alistair Ford. Alistair has lived in Heaton for 10 years. He is a researcher into sustainable transport and climate change at Newcastle University with a ‘passing interest in railways’. 

 Sources

Newspaper report of the incident: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19260809&id=Y51AAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SKUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2327,4806101&hl=en

Newspaper report of the inquiry: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19260819&id=bJ1AAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SKUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6455,6064739&hl=en

Accident report: http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/MoT_ManorsJunction1926.pdf

Can you help?

If you have further information about this incident or any of the people mentioned or have  knowledge, memories or photographs of railways in Heaton more generally that you’d like to share, please either leave a comment on this website by clicking on the link immediately below this article title or email Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org).

The Woods of Seventh Avenue

Mrs Wood of 57 Seventh Avenue is listed in the local press as having donated lettuce and flowers between 21 August and 26 August 1916 to Northern General Hospital where casualties of WWI were being treated. Apart from the same desire as many of the general public to contribute to the war effort, she had the additional motivation of having two of her three sons already serving in the Royal Field Artillery with the youngest to follow a little later.

Back story

Isabella was born Isabella Walker on 19 May 1861 in Ayton, Berwickshire to Robert and Isabella Walker (nee Gourlay). The 1881 Scottish Census shows her still living in Ayton with her mother Isabella, now widowed, and her brothers John, Robert, James and Thomas. Her occupation is recorded as ‘farm servant’ so she is likely to have been familiar with growing vegetables which may be relevant to her later gifts to the wounded soldiers.

By the 1891 Census she was married to David Simpson Wood, 29, a railway porter, who was also born in Ayton, Berwickshire on 13 June 1861, the son of John and Helen Wood (nee Simpson). They were now living at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland with their 2 daughters, Isabella Gourlay Wood, age three, and Helen Simpson Wood, age eight months, and Isabella’s brother Robert Walker, age 35, a corporation carter.

Ten years later the 1901 Census shows the family living at 33 Elvet Street, Heaton (parish of St. Michael) with four more children: John David, age eight, Robert Thomas, age six, Margaret Cleghorn, age four, and Stanley Alexander, age one. David is now a railway guard and Robert Walker is still living with them and is now a general labourer.

In 1911 all the children are still at home and the family is now living at 57 Seventh Avenue. David is now a railway passenger guard and Robert Walker a builders labourer. Of the children, Isabella at 23 is a confectionery shop assistant; Helen, 21, is a clerkess in a laundry; John, 19, is an electric wireman and Robert, 17, is a butcher with the Co-operative Society. Margaret, 14, is ‘at home’ and Stanley, 11, is at school.

Died from wounds

When the First World War started in 1914, life must have changed suddenly for the Wood family. John, Robert and subsequently Stanley joined up and served in the Royal Field Artillery. No military record has been found for John, but all three brothers are recorded on the Roll of Honour 1914-18 in Heaton Presbyterian Church (now United Reform Church). Robert served as a driver with 1st/3rd Northumbrian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, Service No. 750395, as later did Stanley, Service No. 262357. Stanley was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and it is likely that John would also have received these as a surviving serviceman.

Robert served in France from 18 April 1915, where he was wounded, brought back to England and died from his wounds in St. George’s Hospital, London on 20 April 1917. He was buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery (Grave reference xviii.v.3). Like many servicemen, he carried a handwritten informal will which left ‘the whole of my property and effects to my mother Mrs Wood, 57 Seventh Avenue, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne’. This was enacted by the War Office and Isabella received the sum of £8 12s together with his War Gratuity of £11 10s.

Robert Thomas Wood's will

Robert Thomas Wood’s will

Robert Wood's grave

Robert Wood’s grave

David Simpson Wood died on 18 March 1934 aged 72 and was buried in the same grave as Robert, as was Isabella when she died on 7 July 1937, aged 76.

Allotments

Isabella Wood’s gifts to the Northern General Hospital suggest that she may have been able to grow her own flowers and vegetables. It is possible that there was some vacant land near the Avenues which residents were able to cultivate or perhaps David Wood’s connection to the Railways gave his family access to railway land. It is also possible that the family had an allotment somewhere nearby.

As food supplies became more restricted with an increase in U-boat attacks on supply ships, the Cultivation of Lands Order of 1916 required councils to provide more land for cultivation for food production, and the minutes of Newcastle City Council show that ’55 separate groups of allotments have been formed and about 200 acres of land in the city put into cultivation, representing 2,900 allotments.’ Seed potatoes and manure were acquired and distributed at cost price to allotment holders, who could spread the cost over two or even three years.

Things did not always run smoothly for allotment holders, however. Minutes of 8 May 1917 report:

‘Armstrong Allotments Association – Damage by rabbits

The Town Clerk reported that representatives of the AAA had made a complaint to him that rabbits from Armstrong Park entered upon the allotments and ate up the cabbage plants and other vegetables. They had endeavoured to prevent the nuisance but were unable to do so and appealed to the corporation to assist them.

It was agreed to suggest to the allotment holders that they should endeavour to kill the rabbits and, failing this, the committee agreed to consider the question of wiring the park fence.’

Hints for allotment holders were regular features in local newspapers – the Newcastle Courant of 19 May 1917 promises ‘Advice about Brussels Sprouts and the Best Way to Sow Beet in next week’s edition.’

Growing your own was now essential and it seems likely that Isabella’s farming experience as a young woman in Berwickshire may have proved extremely useful to her and her large family.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Caroline Stringer for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ projected, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from late July until late September 2015.

Can you help?

If you know any more about the history of allotments in Heaton or any of the people featured in this article – or have relevant photographs – please contact Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group (chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org)

Heaton Mining Disaster Film – call for volunteers

A film is in production to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Heaton Mining Disaster of 3 May 1815. The film will feature some of the commemorations, such as the concert in St Teresa’s Church Hall on 2 May and the ecumenical service the following day – the anniversary itself. Within that contemporary framework or structure using dramatic re-enactments we also hope to give an impression of what happened in 1815.

There is a call from Heaton History Group member, Peter Dillon, for volunteers to take part in several scenes to be filmed in Heaton Park on Sunday 19 July from 9.00am – (approx) 10.30am. In the first instance males aged from 12 to 82 are needed to represent the 75 miners who died. These representatives will be filmed emerging from the trees in the park. Several 7 year olds from St Teresa’s Primary School will represent the boys who died. ‘Miners’ please meet at the children’s playground by 9.00am.

And secondly – from approximately 9.30am – men, women and children of all ages are welcome to represent contemporary Heaton and will be filmed walking together in the footsteps of the miners – indeed across the ground below which they died – down the grassy incline towards the adventure playground. The walk is intended both as a mark of respect for those from this place that came before and a celebration of the vital and vibrant community Heaton is today. The meeting place is again the children’s playground in Heaton Park. Please come dressed in your everyday clothes (or whatever is comfortable). The aim is for the shoot to be complete by about 10.30am.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

The plan is to complete the film by the 201st anniversary in 2016 and then show it in church halls and community centres.

Nostalgic Views of the North 2: more from the Ward Philipson collection

The Heritage Lottery sponsored project ‘Photo Memories Organisation’ is saving and sharing a selection of the Ward Philipson photographic collection comprising over 150,000 images of the North East, with engravings and etchings dating back to the 1700s and photographs from the 1850s to the 1960s. In September 2014 John Moreels MBE, the owner of the collection, visited our group with his first talk and visual presentation featuring images of the North East, while introducing the collection and what had been achieved by the volunteers in the first 12 months. A year on and this incredible resource has many stories to tell as the website now has over 4,500 restored images displayed and uncovered a history and background of the collection which includes a working relationship with Thomas Bewick’s family.

On Wednesday 23 September 2015, John will return with the second part of the amazing story. John will tell us more about the project and present a new collection of recently found images which will bring back many memories while being fascinating and entertaining. John will also have his third publication for sale at a special discounted price and will be telling us how we can all help with the project.

Here we present a couple of local photographs from the collection:

Tates Radio Shields Road

Anyone remember this shop on Shields Road?

Beavans

And this one?

Smiths Crisps Coast Road

And recognise this much changed building on the Coast Road?

To book for the talk, which takes place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road, please contact: maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154 Free for members. £2 for non members. We ask you to be in your seat by 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start so that we can give unclaimed seats to people on our reserve list.

Coquet Villa – house of romance

Take a stroll through Jesmond Old Cemetery and you’ll come across this imposing headstone.

Headstone of George Thompson, Coquet Villa

Headstone of George Thompson, Coquet Villa

Inscription on Thompson family vault (detail)

Inscription on Thompson family vault (detail)

It marks the grave of George Thompson, who, the inscription tells us, ‘died at Coquet Villa, Heaton on May 2nd 1905’. It’s quite unusual for a gravestone to pinpoint where its incumbent passed away so it suggests that Coquet Villa was a special place for the deceased and his family.

The name ‘Coquet Villa’ may not be familiar to you – the gatepost on which its name was carved was replaced decades ago – but, a hundred and ten years later, the house is still much admired, one of only two private residences to have been nominated in Heaton History Group’s 2013 bid to find Heaton’s favourite buildings. Coquet Villa was the original name for 246 Heaton Road, which you probably call ‘the turret house’.

Coquet Villa 2015

Coquet Villa 2015

Lifting the spirits

The land on which the house stands was sold by William Watson-Armstrong, Lord Armstrong’s nephew and heir, on 31 December 1900 just 3 days after his uncle’s death. The agreement stipulated that two semi-detached residences be constructed within nine months of the contract being signed. George Thompson paid £574 11s 1d, a substantial sum then. However, it was some 21 months earlier, in March 1899, that he had first commissioned the well-known local firm of architects, Hope and Maxwell, to draw up designs for a pair of semi-detached houses to fit the site. This suggests that plans for the sale of land were in train well before Lord Armstrong became ill.

Hope and Maxwell's plans for Coquet Villa and Redthorpe next door

Hope and Maxwell’s plans for Coquet Villa and Redthorpe next door

The two houses were of similar specification, apart from the distinguishing feature of that on the right – the one which Thompson chose to be his own home and called ‘Coquet Villa’. It’s only this one that has the famous attic turret. Like you, we wondered why.

William Hope and Joseph Charlton Maxwell are particularly remembered for their design of theatres, not only locally in Blyth and Newcastle, but as far afield as Glasgow, Margate and Southampton. Sadly the Hope and Maxwell theatres have all been demolished or destroyed by fire, but another of their public buildings does still stand – almost next door to Coquet Villa: it’s Heaton Methodist Church – and it too had a single turret until very recently.

Churches and theatres have to be more than functional buildings, of course: they’re designed to raise the spirits. If that was the aim of Hope and Maxwell and their client, Coquet Villa, still much enjoyed by passers-by as well as those lucky enough to live there, can be considered a huge success.

Echoes of childhood

George Thompson, the son of a Warkworth grocer, described himself as a ‘commercial traveller’. He and his Scottish wife, Margaret, moved to Newcastle, living first in Malvern Street, Elswick, and then at 22 Simonside Terrace before they were eventually able to afford their long term family home, which they nostalgically named after the river that flows through George’s boyhood village.

After the delay to the start of the build, things moved apace and George and Margaret soon moved in with their teenage sons, 17 year old Lonsdale Copeland and 14 year old Norman Malvern (who, again rather romantically, seems to have been named after the Elswick street in which his parents began their married life).

Perhaps Warkworth is a clue to the turret too. George grew up in the shadow of the famous castle and perhaps wanted to recreate some of its grandeur in his own dream home. Margaret too grew up close to a magnificent castle not short of turrets: she was from Edinburgh.

But a visit to Tyne and Wear Archives to view the original plans showed that internally the turret served a more practical purpose. As you can see from the image below, the front room in the attic was designed to be a billiards room. It was the ideal place for the two boys to hang out without disturbing their parents or perhaps George enjoyed the company of his sons over a game. We don’t know. But it is clear that the room was designed to accommodate the table with just enough room for the players to move around it comfortably. So where would onlookers and the player awaiting a turn at the table sit without being in the way? On a recessed window seat of course, with lovely views over Heaton Park towards Newcastle. In a turret. Genius!

Hope and Maxwell's plans showing the attic billiard room at Coquet Villa

Hope and Maxwell’s plans showing the attic billiard room at Coquet Villa

Family home

The house is a large one for a family of just four but the additional space was used. The Thompsons were joined by a niece of George’s, Christiana ‘Cissie’ Robson and the 1901 census shows them having a live-in servant, 18 year old Agnes Chandler.

Sadly George did not enjoy Coquet Villa for long. As we have seen, he died there just a few years later at the age of 52. But what happened to his bereaved family?

Margaret, Cissie and the boys remained in the family home until, in 1910, Lonsdale married Frances Maud Holland, daughter of Sir Thomas Henry Holland, an eminent geologist. (In 1939 Thomas was awarded the Royal Society’s prestigious Albert Medal, an honour earlier bestowed on at least two other men with Heaton connections, Lord Armstrong in 1878 and Charles Parsons in 1911). Frances had been born in India where her father was working at the time. Her mother was also born in India). The newlyweds started married life in Gosforth with Lonsdale making his living first as a woollen merchant and then a tailor, with his own business. At the time of his death, in 1957, he was living in Great Malvern in Worcestershire.

In 1916, Norman married Jeanne Julie Maude Rodenhurst, the youngest of six children of Harry, a wholesale millinery merchant, and his French wife, Jeanne, who lived in Deneholme on Jesmond Park East. The wedding was at St Gabriel’s Church. Norman set up as a market gardener in Ponteland, where he was eventually succeeded by his and Jeanne’s son Derrick. Jeanne’s brother, also called Norman, described himself as a tomato grower, so it’s possible that the brothers in law set up in business together. Norman died in 1968 and is buried in the family vault in Jesmond Old Cemetery with his wife Jeanne, his father and his mother, who died in 1935 at the age of 79.

Cissie died on 25 October 1914. Three days later, her funeral cortège processed from Coquet Villa to Heaton Station to meet the 8.05 train to Rothbury, where she was interred.

But with the war over, Cissie having passed away and her sons flown the nest, Margaret sold the family home, now clearly too big for her. The purchaser was a man called Frank Fleming, who stayed only three years.

The wanderer

Next came Charles and Mary Kirk, whose family was to be associated with Coquet Villa for another 14 years. Charles, like his father Samuel before him, was a slate merchant. Samuel Kirk was born and grew up in Boston, Lincolnshire but by 1871 had moved to Newcastle, no doubt to take advantage of the building boom in the industrial North East. He set up on his own in 1883 in Ridley Villas, following the dissolution in 1883 of a partnership, Kirk and Dickinson. The firm eventually passed to his son, Charles, who in 1911 was living at 14 Rothbury Terrace with Mary, his wife, five children (May 8, Annie 7, Samuel 6, Mary 4 and Charles 2) and two servants, Annie Wood and Florence McIntoch.

By 1917, the family had moved round the corner to 18 Jesmond Vale Terrace. In that year, with World War One raging, we know that Charles sailed from Sydney to San Francisco on the SS Ventura, that ship’s final voyage before it was commissioned by the Australian government to transport troops. In January 1918 he sailed from New York to Liverpool on the SS St Louis. His occupation is given as ‘exporter’. The ship’s Wikipedia entry illustrates just how hazardous these journeys were:

‘On 17 March 1917, she [SS St Louis] was furnished an armed guard of 26 United States Navy sailors and armed with three 6-inch guns, to protect her from enemy attack as she continued her New York-to-Liverpool service. On 30 May, while proceeding up the Irish Sea and skirting the coast of England, she responded rapidly to the orders, “Hard Starboard,” at the sighting of a periscope, and succeeded in dodging a torpedo while apparently striking the submarine which fired it. Later dry-dock examination revealed that 18 feet of her keel rubbing strake had been torn away. On 25 July, her gunners exchanged fire with a surfaced U-boat, some three miles away, and sighted many near misses.’

A book (‘Missouri at Sea’ by Richard E Schroeder) refers to the ‘bitter North Atlantic storms of 1917-18′. It would be fascinating to know more about what took Charles around the world at such a dangerous time. Another so far unanswered question is whether Kirk’s slates were used on the roof of Coquet Villa – and its locally famous turret.

Like George Thompson though, Charles and Mary didn’t enjoy Coquet Villa for long. Charles died in 1925, aged only 59, and Mary in 1927, after which the house was let to a number of tenants including Joseph Hilliam, a wallpaper manufacturer, and Joseph H Hood, a musician. Eventually, in 1936 it was sold to Harriet May Morton, wife of John Hugh Morton, a cashier.

Like many of the other owners, the Mortons moved only a matter of yards – from what would then have been a new house on Crompton Road almost opposite Coquet Villa. Later occupiers included Martha Ellen and Allan Frankland Holmes; Ronald George Smart, a commercial traveller; Alexander Reed Morrison, a medical practitioner; Torleif Egeland Eriksen, a Norwegian dental surgeon and his wife, June Margaret; George and Thora Brown of Thetford in Norfolk and Dr M M Ahmed. We hope you’ll help us uncover more about some of them in due course.

Full circle

Like the Thompsons, the current owners, Helen Law, a fine artist originally from Leicester (where, incidentally, her great grandfather set up a football boot manufacturing company – the firm made the retro boots used in the 1982 film ‘A Captain’s Tale’ about West Auckland Town winning the first World Cup) and Richard Marriott, a teacher, saw the house as the ideal family home. Although separated from the original owners by a century or more, they clearly share the romanticism which led George Thompson to name the house after the River Coquet, on the banks of which he played as a boy and to commission an architect to echo the magnificent castles so familiar to him and his Edinburgh-born wife. On their first night in their new home, Richard donned a suit, went down on one knee and proposed to Helen in the turret. Later, they lovingly restored the attic, which had long been an unloved dumping ground, to its former glory. They renovated the turret, building a magnificent new window seat, which they enjoyed with their children and still love to sit in today.

Interior of Coquet Villa's turret, 2015

Interior of Coquet Villa’s turret, 2015

You feel sure that George and Margaret would approve.

Footnote

You may have noticed (June 2015) that 246 Heaton Road is up for sale. As with Margaret Thompson, almost 100 years ago, the house is too big for the current owners now that their children have flown the nest.

Can you help?

If you can add to the story of Coquet Villa and those who have lived there – or you would like us to look into the history of YOUR house, either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org