Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat, a son and great uncle at war

Our HLF-funded ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project has uncovered many poignant stories. That of Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat of 34 Third Avenue was especially moving for Heaton History Group member Arthur Andrews, not only because Leslie was Arthur’s great-uncle but also because, in the course of his research, he found a letter from the young soldier’s worried father preserved in the National Archives. Arthur takes up the story:

At the time of the 1911 Census, the Jeffcoat family lived at 8 Bolingbroke Street, Heaton. Leslie Daykin (his mother’s maiden name) was the youngest child of Arthur Jeffcoat, a chemist’s assistant, and his wife, Mary. Leslie’s older siblings were Eleanor Lilly (26), Henrietta (24), William Arthur (21) and Florence May (16). Leslie had been born on 2 June 1898 and so was just 12 year’s old at the time of the census. By 1916 the family were living at 34 Third Avenue, just a few doors from Jack Common and his family.

Serving soldier

From family records, it is known that Leslie enlisted in the army aged 18 years, on 3 June 1916. His enlistment papers described him as being 5ft 7 1/4ins, with fair complexion, fair hair and grey eyes. His chest measurement was 35 inches. He is pictured below in his military uniform.

Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat

Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat

Leslie’s occupation is given as an engineer’s clerk, working at the Armstrong Whitworth Naval Yard, Newcastle. He had been employed there for 2 years. Several pages of information exist on the British Army WWI Service Records about Leslie’s service as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. His military history sheet says that he spent from 3 June 1916 to 12 September 1917 in the UK, before spending from 13 September 1917 to 4 March 1918 with the British Expeditionary Force in France. While Leslie was away in France, like many thousands of other parents and loved ones, his father and mother were concerned to know their son’s whereabouts and how he was. His father, Arthur Jeffcoat, wrote two letters to his regiment. The first was written on 13 December 1917 and the second, below, was written on 23 December 1917.

Arthur Jeffcoat's letter  about his son

Arthur Jeffcoat’s letter

The transcription is as follows:-

‘Sir,
Further to your Army Form B104, Ref no FJ of the 15th inst. We should be glad if you could tell us if our Son Gnr L.D. Jeffcoat 232642, D Battery, 240 Brigade RFA,
BEF France has been moved to another front or have you any other information, as we are really anxious.
When we last heard from him he was at the 48th Divisional Signal School.

Yours respectfully
A Jeffcoat’

The two letters are logged in the service records and stamped as having been received. The Action Taken column has comments made but they are not readable. There is no record in the family archives of any reply.

Honourable discharge

Leslie returned to the UK on 5 March 1918 and spent time at Fusehill Military Hospital, Carlisle and Auxiliary Military (Primary) Hospital, Penrith until he was discharged as ‘Being no longer fit for war service’. The reason for no longer being fit was given as a ‘paraspinal haematoma’. This could have been caused by a fracture to his spine. Leslie was honourably discharged at the age of 19 years and 11 months. On discharge, he received a certificate

Leslie Jeffcoat's WW1 discharge certificate

Leslie Jeffcoat’s discharge certificate

Leslie also received the WWI British War Medal and the WWI Victory Medal.

Leslie Jeffcoat's medals

Leslie Jeffcoat’s medals

After the war

Leslie must have been known to tobacconist William Castle’s family from 47 Tenth Avenue as, on 2 June 1925, he married William and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, Ruth. On the wedding certificate, his occupation was given as ‘solicitor’s clerk’. The couple went on to have a daughter, Alison, born on 10 January 1929. During WW2, Leslie served as an honorary lieutenant in the Home Guard in Tynemouth, his adopted home town. At some time he left his job as a solicitor’s clerk and became an insurance agent until his retirement. He died on 24 January 1972.

It was when Leslie’s daughter, Alison died in 2014, that I found Leslie’s medals and more unusually, his spurs (as worn in the above photograph) and leather identity tag with his name and army service number impressed upon it:

Leslie Jeffocat's ID bracelet

Leslie Jeffocat’s ID bracelet

Jeffcoat's spurs

Leslie Jeffcoat’s spurs

These items were previously unknown to me and are very precious. They formed a key part of my continuing family history research. Once I knew Leslie’s army service number, I looked it up on the WW1 Army Service Database. This is by no means complete as a lot of paper records were destroyed by fire during WW2. However, much to my surprise, I found there were 17 pages relating to Leslie. I printed them off and used them as the basis for this contribution to Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ HLF-funded project

Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat: 2 June1898 – 24 January 1972. Regiment No. 232642, Rank:- Gunner R.F.A (Royal Field Artillery) 240 Brigade, D Battery, 48 Division

Arthur Andrews

Can you help?

if you know more about Leslie Jeffcoat or anyone who lived in First to Tenth Avenue during World War One, please either leave a comment on this website (by clicking on the link immediately below this article’s title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

King John’s Heaton

2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, which led us to wonder about the many references to King John in these parts. Did the illustrious King John actually visit Heaton? Why would he? There are no real clues in the street names, King John Terrace and King John Street. You can ascribe them to Victorian and Edwardian romanticism: it used to be common to name all manner of things after King John to give an allusion of antiquity. There are many examples all over England but there again, why here and not in Jesmond, Byker or Benton? Did a long-held folk memory come into play?

King John by Unknown artist

King John by unknown artist, oil on panel, 1590-1610 (by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery).

The same explanation could be used to account for ‘Ye Well of King John’ in Heaton Park. Although the spring is natural and so presumably known to a few locals and passers-by back when the Magna Carta was signed, the structure and inscription we see today are the work of Lord Armstrong’s nineteenth century landscapers and we don’t know for sure whether the association with King John predates them. But did the Armstrongs have specific reasons for cementing the association? Most of the family archives were destroyed so we don’t know.

King John's Well, Armstrong Park

King John’s Well, Armstrong Park

As an aside, note the drinking cups in the photograph above. Who remembers them?

King John’s Palace

But the so-called King John’s Palace, also known as the ‘Camera of Adam of Jesmond’ was built much nearer to the reign of the king known as John Lackland.

Nineteenth century engraving of King John's Palace

Nineteenth century engraving of King John’s Palace

Photograph of King John's palace, 1929

Photograph of King John’s palace, 1929

There is documentary evidence that it was in existence by 1267 and there were apparently other buildings including a medieval manor house in the vicinity even earlier, so we asked Heaton History Group member and author of ‘Castle on the Corner’, Keith Fisher, to dig a little deeper. Over to Keith:

It was during my determined attempt to establish the existence of Heaton Hall as a medieval baronial manor-house, that I came face to face with our illustrious King John – a man vehemently but, in my view, wrongly maligned in the minds of a public familiar only with Shakespeare and the Robin Hood myth – and it was only then that I realised that Heaton really had been associated with King John back in the 13th century, when we had a fortified baronial manor-house on the doorstep.

John was crowned on the 26 May 1199 and reigned until his death on 19 October 1216. He was another example of our peripatetic monarchs; but unlike his predecessors, every letter that he ever sent (and obviously there were many: see the link below) was diligently and publicly recorded by the Chancery, and still exists to this day – so we know exactly where he was, and when. While in England, and not fighting in France (he spent about five years over there during his brief reign – but then he was French after all), he rarely sojourned for too long. Principally, because powerful barons, countrywide, needed to be constantly kept in check and paying their taxes: never popular with the locals. Up here John was yet another foreigner; we’d already had enough trouble with Vikings and Scottish kings, then William the Conqueror who sent his prissy son Curt-hose to build a castle and try to subdue us unruly elements; stuck between the Geordies and the Scots he wouldn’t stand a chance nowadays: one sad fop of a Frenchman would be found in the gutter on his first Friday night up here.

I did find medieval mention of Heaton Manor: in 1135 Henry 1st gave it [as part of the Barony of Ellingham] to Nicholas Grenville (a trusted Yorkshireman, by all accounts; quite probably related to Ralph de Glanville, who was Sheriff of Yorkshire and scourge of William the Lion of Scotland) and he passed it to his nephew William; they appear to have lived in Jesmond – presumably at Jesmond Manor. Both those Grenvilles died without issue, so after William Grenville it descended via the marriage of his sister Mabel into the hands of Ralph de Gaugi. Ralph’s old man, Sire de Gaugi, allegedly fought alongside William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings. I say allegedly, because the original Battle Abbey Rolls were lost (before and after lists of participants) so copies had to be made by monks – after the fact – when it is said that many noblemen ‘persuaded’ these monks to include their names on the list in order to reap the considerable rewards.

Because the seignory of a barony was not partible, but the manors were, Ralph’s eldest son, Ralph II, became baron and took the manor of Heaton, while his brother Adam got Jesmond Manor. Ralph II had a son, Robert, who inherited the title from his father and lived in the manor of Heaton. It is at all events certain that this Robert de Gaugy had special trust reposed in him by his sovereign John, who made him Constable of the castles of Lafford in Lincolnshire, and Newark in Nottinghamshire, and obtained for him the hand of an heiress, Isold Lovel, who brought him a considerable estate in the Bishopric of Durham.

There is no doubt that King John was up in Newcastle some of the time. A visit to the spectacular website: http://neolography.com/timelines/JohnItinerary.html (a truly exemplary reference work of the 21st century) shows him to be north of Yorkshire for a total of 84 days: in 1201 he spent two weeks moving between Hexham, Newcastle and Bamborough. In 1208 he was in Newcastle for a week. 1209 he was a week in Alnwick, a week in Newcastle, and a week up on the borders. 1213 he spent two weeks on the borders. Finally, in 1216, he spent the entire month of January fighting his way up from Durham into Scotland and back again; brave soul – it’s a wonder the weather didn’t see him off.

Of the issues that brought him up here, it was generally war with the kings of Scotland; but rebellious Northern barons demanded an endless assertion of his position of power, which meant supporting those men who were loyal to him and harassing those who weren’t; so, while constantly raising money for his ongoing war with France, much of his malevolence towards rebel barons was in the form of punitive taxation.

Kings of Scotland

The two kings maintained a friendly relationship until it was rumoured in 1209 that William (The Lion of Scotland) was intending to ally himself with Philip II of France. John invaded Scotland and forced William to sign the Treaty of Norham. This effectively crippled William’s power north of the border and, by 1213, John had to intervene militarily to support the Scottish king against his internal rivals.

In January 1216, John marched against William’s son Alexander II of Scotland who had allied himself with the rebel cause. John took back Alexander’s recent possessions in northern England in a rapid campaign that pushed him back as far north as Dunbar over a ten-day period; definitely saw him off – though-but!

The Northern Barons

The barons had seen their local powers much hindered through laws put in place by Henry II, then strengthened by Richard the Lionheart, that made everyone (except the crown – of course) subject to an independent justice which utilised local bailiffs, coroners and judges – and ultimately, the crown – rather than a judicial system administered by themselves. As I said: ultimately, the King could deal out justice – but was himself immune to it. A system of ‘Ira et malevolentia’ or ‘anger and ill will’ was a trend much used by John to punish those who did not wholeheartedly support him. Consequently, many accusations made against John during the baronial revolts are now generally considered to have been invented for the purpose of justifying said revolts; but there was no doubt that many of the barons rightly felt that if they had to come under the jurisdiction of the law – then so should the crown, which gave rise to one of the more crucial aspects of the Magna Carta.

However, John had his very strong and loyal ally in the North, and he lived in Heaton manor-house – when he was at home. It has been stated by historians in the past, and there is no doubt in my mind, that the king would have stayed at Heaton Manor when he was up here. The Keep in Newcastle was both uncomfortable and unsafe – he was constantly surrounded by English or Scottish enemies – and there is also the fact that his retinue and army was enormous, and could not possibly have camped within the city perimeter, so his marra’s gaff in Heaton was a perfect choice. It wasn’t the building we call King John’s Palace today – that was built between 1255 and 1265, 50-60 years later – but the manor house was a stone’s throw away. It was later incorporated into Heaton Hall by the Ridleys. The Hall, of course, as you can read in ‘Castle on the Corner’ stood approximately where Tintern Crescent is now.

In return for John’s trust and generosity, Robert de Gaugy remained faithful to his king right till the end – and beyond: King John died of dysentery at Newark Castle: protected by ‘Heatonian‘ Constable Robert de Gaugy. Very soon, ex-rebels and native loyalists were working easily together and finding a common interest and a common bond in unseating John’s foreigners: namely, breaking the grip which Robert de Gaugy, William de Fors, and Faulkes de Breauté still had on the sovereign’s administration. As Henry III tried to bring order to the country, Robert de Gaugy refused to yield Newark Castle to the Bishop of Lincoln, its rightful owner, leading to the Dauphin of France laying an eight day siege on behalf of the king in 1218. The siege was finally ended by an agreement to pay de Gaugy £100 to leave… and go back home with this booty; a true Geordie to the last!

Footnote:

Considering that the remains of a medieval manor-house were incorporated into Nicholas Ridley’s rebuild in 1713, I think it is telling that when, in 1778, Matthew Ridley decided to embellish this recent but distinctly unprepossessing squat, brick house – to give an appearance of feudal heritage – he ended-up with what looked exactly like a medieval, fortified, baronial manor-house.

Heaton Hall, illustrated in 1795

Heaton Hall, illustrated in 1795

Heaton Hall c1907

Heaton Hall c1907

Can you help?

if you know any more about the topic of this article, please get in touch either by leaving a comment on this website (Click on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton Mining Disaster – 200 years on

3 May 2015 is the 200th anniversary of one of Newcastle’s worst ever disasters; an accident, caused by flooding, at Heaton Main Colliery, which killed 75 men and boys. Heaton is marking the bicentenary and also taking the opportunity to celebrate Heaton’s important place not only in coal mining but more widely in the industrial development which mining made possible. Did you know that, in the mid eighteenth century, the greatest concentration of steam power in the world was centred in Heaton and Jesmond Vale at Heaton Banks Colliery? The year-long commemorations have been made possible by two community projects:

Heaton Beneath Our feet

Heaton History Group’s Heritage Lottery Fund project through which there will be:

– several lectures by mining history expert, Les Turnbull, who lives in High Heaton;
– community research into mining in Heaton and the disaster itself;
– the distribution of a resource pack, including Les Turnbull’s book, ‘A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage’ to 75 schools and youth and community groups;
– a Heaton Beneath Our Feet heritage trail to be in place by spring 2016

Front cover of Les Turnbull's Heaton history

Cover of A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage

Under the Fields of Heaton

Four Corners Music Network’s project, funded by the Arts Council, Sir James Knott Foundation, Newcastle City Council through which there will be:

– artists in residence in schools in an around Heaton;
– a year long community arts festival;
– the distribution of Les Turnbull’s children’s book, ‘Exploring Beneath the Earth’, to primary school children in and around Heaton;
– snowdrop planting across Heaton.

Under the Fields of Heaton CD Cover

Under the Fields of Heaton CD Cover

What’s Coming Up

Saturday 13 June afternoon. Woodhorn Museum, Under the Fields of Heaton Roadshow at the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic.

Wednesday 24 June 7.30pm Mining Song Music Event hosted by Bethany Ellen Coyle and the NESS with Benny Graham, Johnny Handle and Gareth Davies-Jones

Saturday 27 June noon-7.00pm Heaton Voices sing mining songs at Heaton Festival, Heaton Park

Keep up to date with everything that’s going on throughout 2015-16 – and add your own event: www.underthefieldsofheaton.com

Knitting Laws

During the First World War, the occupants of 15 Tenth Avenue, Heaton were a Mr and Mrs Laws and their nine children. We’ve been researching the family, and in particular Mrs Laws, for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project.

Comforts for the Troops

Deborah Dye was born in Sunderland in 1871, the daughter of a master mariner. Prior to her marriage to John Laws at the age of 20 years, she had worked as a dressmaker. You might think that Mrs Laws would have had enough to do, looking after her large family, but following the outbreak of the war, when she was in her mid-forties, she used her needlework skills to help the country. there are frequent mentions in the local newspapers of ‘Mrs Laws’ as a wool distributor and organiser of knitting of “comforts for the troops”.

There was major drive during the War to encourage those at home to knit clothing for sons, brothers and husbands at the front to keep them warm. It was also a way in which those at home could provide support and care for loved ones.

Knitting for the troops was promoted via popular culture

Knitting for the troops was promoted via popular culture

More unusual items of clothing included balaclavas with ear flaps that could be lifted so that soldiers could listen for the enemy and gloves that made it easier to fire a gun. Magazine and yarn manufacturers were mobilised to produce a range of special knitting patterns for these items. As wool became scarce, outgrown jumpers were unpicked to be knitted up again and sent to the front.

WW1 knitting pattern

WW1 knitting pattern

Most famously there was drive to knit socks. Lord Kitchener apparently asked Queen Mary to lead the movement to knit 30,000 pairs of socks, which were particularly important in maintaining foot hygiene and preventing “trench foot”. This was a harsh form of athlete’s foot, which at its severest, could lead to soldiers being unable to take part in combat. Nor were these knitting drives confined to Britain. 1.3 million pairs of socks were knitted by Australian women too!

Vested interest

But Mrs Laws may not have been acting purely out of altruism. Her two eldest sons and possibly two younger sons served in the forces during the war. William Joseph Laws reached the rank of Lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers, for a time working with the Chinese Labour Corps. The Chinese Labour Corps, comprising 140,000 Chinese workers were recruited by the Allies during the War to undertake a range of support work for the forces, to enable soldiers to fight on the front line. It seems that this corps was overseen by allied regiments. We know too that the Laws’ second son, David Neville Laws, served in the Merchant Navy. It may well have been that by organising the knitting, Deborah Laws felt that she was doing something to help her boys, their friends and other young men like them.

Long Life

John Laws, who in 1911 was a district manager for a drinks company, perhaps the job which brought the family to Newcastle, was to die in 1937 but Deborah lived to the age of 91 years. She died in Newcastle in 1962.

Can you help?

This article was researched by Jeanie Molyneux for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. If you can add to the story of the Laws family or anything mentioned in the article, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are also looking for local volunteers to help teach children of Ravenswood Primary School to knit. If you think you might be able to help, please contact Chris via the email address above.

Rachel Parsons: queen of the machine

Rachel Parsons (1885–1956) was an engineering trailblazer, but she has disappeared from the pages of history – until now. The daughter and heir of Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine, she was the first woman to study mechanical sciences at Cambridge University and went on to become a director of Heaton Works, her father’s firm.

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel and Charles Parsons

Rachel and Charles Parsons in Charles’laboratory at Holeyn Hall, Wylam

During the First World War, she taught hundreds of women to make munitions and later founded the Women’s Engineering Society. In 1956 she met a violent death at the hands of a stableman who was well known to her.

Woman at Parsons' Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Woman at Parsons’ Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

The remarkable story of Rachel Parsons and the Parsons family will be told by Henrietta Heald, author of William Armstrong, Magician of the North, a highly acclaimed biography of Baron Armstrong of Cragside. The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 12 August 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 10 June, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

Women of the Roman Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire for many generations and its military installations and personnel have had a great deal of attention from archaeologists and the public alike over the years. This lecture looks at the evidence for women also being present on the Wall. Who were they? Where did they come from? What were their lives like? are all questions that will be addressed with some surprising results at our talk on Wednesday 22 July 2015 (7.00pm for 7.30pm).

'Regina' from South Shields

‘Regina’ from South Shields

The speaker is Lindsay Allason-Jones, OBE, BA, Mlitt, FSA, FSAScot, FMA, FRSA. Lindsay Allason-Jones was Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies and Reader in Roman Material Culture at Newcastle University until she retired in 2011, having previously been Director of Archaeological Museums for the University, responsible for the Museum of Antiquities and the Shefton Museum of Greek Art and Archaeology. She is a Trustee of many of the Hadrian’s Wall museums and serves on the Board of Management of the Great North Museum. She is currently Chair of the Marc Fitch Fund and a Council Member and Past President of the Society of Antiquaries. She’s also, by all accounts, a very engaging, as well as extremely knowledgeable, speaker.

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP 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 14 May, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

Newcastle’s War Hospitals

Newspaper articles from the First World War documented many gifts from the public to war hospitals in Newcastle. These included: a muffler, games, two pairs of socks, one pair of bedsocks, magazines and stationery from Mrs Lumley of Sixth Avenue on behalf of the British Women’s Temperance Association to the Northumberland War Hospital; lettuces from Mrs Wood of Seventh Avenue to the No 1 Northern General Hospital; a contribution from Mrs Whitfield of Ninth Avenue to purchase a bell tent for the Northumberland War Hospital and a gift of cigarettes by William Castle of Tenth Avenue to ‘Armstrong College Hospital’, all of which came to light during research for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project.

In total, Newcastle had over 3000 military hospital beds as well as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in Pendower Hall, run by the Red Cross and a St John’s Ambulance Hospital in Jesmond, both of which would have been used for convalescence. Patients would arrive by train and were cared for by huge numbers of doctors, nurses and orderlies, often drawn from providing care to the rest of the population or given only basic training as volunteers.

No 1 Northern General Hospital

Work on the building of Armstrong College, now the original buildings of Newcastle University, had started in 1888, with the third and final stage being completed in 1914. However, before the college could occupy the building, it was requisitioned by the government along with the rest of the college buildings for use as the 1st Northern General Hospital on the outbreak of World War I. The No 1 Northern General Hospital had capacity for 104 officers and 1420 other ranks. The hospital worked very closely with the Royal Victoria Infirmary, which had only recently opened (the last patients having moved from the old infirmary on Forth Banks in 1908).

The arrangement included provision of an additional 112 beds for military use at the RVI, created in the spaces between the ward blocks, as well as the RVI providing specialist functions such as x-ray, an arrangement that was not without its problems. On 9 October, Lieutenant Colonel Gowans, Officer in Command of No 1 Northern General wrote to the matron of the RVI, informing her that the army would, due to the pressure of war demands, be removing Territorial Army Nurses from staffing these beds at the RVI.

A special meeting was called on 15 October, to which Colonel Gowans was invited, which evidently became quite heated. The argument was around who should bear the cost of nursing patients in the military requisitioned beds as well as how and at what cost, additional accommodation could be provided for the extra nurses. The house governor estimated that the additional cost to the RVI would not be less than £1,000 per year and senior staff of the Infirmary were of the view that this should be borne by the Government. An additional cost of 6d per head per day was suggested, on top of the 3/- per day already paid. Colonel Gowan questioned whether there was indeed any additional cost to be borne by the Infirmary, at which point the house governor replied:

that it was a well known fact, easily verified by any of the reports of the large hospitals, that a hospital bed cost about £100 per year to maintain; as 3/- per day came to £54 per year, there was a balance on the wrong side of between £40 and £50. Moreover, about half of the operations performed on territorial patients had been done in this Infirmary and at the cost of this Infirmary, and in the theatres nursed by civil nurses; that the electrical treatment for the Armstrong College had been done in this Infirmary by our nurses; that the X-ray work for the College had been done here and that we had borne the cost of all plates, materials etc, with only one orderly to assist in the department; that all the bacteriological and pathological work had been done here; that Mr Wardale uses the large operating theatre in ward 3 for military cases from the college; that many thousands of the troops had been inoculated in the Infirmary; that the mortuary and post mortem rooms were used by the College; and that by making use of these departments, they have saved themselves the expense and trouble of providing and running these departments themselves. It was stated again that the Committee desired to make no profit out of this matter, but they thought it desirable that the help which they had already given should be recognised rather more in the future than it had been in the past.”

Colonel Gowan’s response is not recorded!

This incident aside, it is evident that the RVI and the military hospital worked closely together throughout the war. Many of the RVI’s medical staff received honorary commissions and spent periods of up to a year caring for troops either at the front or in UK military hospitals. So much so, that the RVI’s 1916 annual report for the surgical department records that four of the eight honorary surgical staff and two of the four surgical registrars were away throughout the year on military service ‘throwing much extra work on those who were left’, so much so, that statistics on the surgery carried out were not available, but the report does acknowledge that work done by senior students to fill in for house officers.

The RVI also provided training for Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Nurses, who received a month of basic training before being used to supplement the qualified staff, both at home and at the front. The VAD nurses can clearly be seen in the staff photo of the 1st Northern General as they wear a Red Cross on their apron.

1st Northern General Staff 1916

1st Northern General Staff 1916

The RVI and the military hospital also worked closely on the creation of a military orthopaedic Hospital, following a model already established in Leeds. The intention was to provide specialist rehabilitation facilities for soldiers who had lost or damaged limbs. An initial meeting was held on 25 September 1917 to discuss plans for a facility with up to 1500 beds, to be built on the RVI site. On 15 October, a meeting of the Committee and local dignitaries welcomed the former King Manuel II of Portugal, who had been deposed in 1910 and made himself available to the allies in support of the war. He was assigned to a post in the British Red Cross, much to his disappointment, but played a very active role in supporting the organisation during the war. The Red Cross promised to provide funding of £2,500 for equipment and a further £10,000 was promised from the War Office, but only when a total of £45,000 had been gathered from local fund raising efforts. It was September 1918 before the funds were raised and when, on 3 December, the Committee received a letter from Major General Bedford asking that completion of the centre should be expedited so that patients could be moved from the Northern General, so that the College could be evacuated, building still hadn’t started. By June 1919, the work was finally underway having been slowed down by the lack of builders and materials, although arguments were still going on in 1924 about the ownership of equipment and facilities. The three wards eventually built (pavilions 1,2 and 3), along with other support and facilities remained in use until the 1970s.

Despite the many hardships and difficulties the war posed for soldiers and staff, there was also evidence of the comradeship and sense of humour of those working together in the hospitals, as can be seen by this playbill for entertainment put on during the war. The spoof adverts in particular provide a window on the circumstances they were living through.

HOSPParasite programme 1 (2) HOSPParasite programme 2 (2)

HOSPParasite programme 3 (2)


Northumberland War Hospital

On 24 February 1915, Alderman William H Stephenson informed the city council that arrangements had been made with the government authorities for the utilisation of The City Asylum as a hospital for the forces, and for the patients being temporarily accommodated in other asylums.

The City Asylum, which we now know as St Nicholas’ Hospital in Gosforth, had opened in 1869, having been built on a 50 acre farmstead, known as Dodd’s Farm. It was built in response to chronic overcrowding in local hospitals for the mentally ill and reflected the latest medical thinking concerning care of the mentally ill. It had capacity for over 400 patients and included its own farm among other amenities.

Plans moved quickly, reflecting the urgent need for hospital provision for injured troops brought home from the front and, on 19 May 1915, Alderman Stephenson, chairman of the Lunatic Asylum Visiting Committee presented a report to the council setting out the arrangements for the operation of the Northumberland War Hospital.

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 3 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 4 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 5 (2)

In order to clear the asylum of patients, arrangements were made to transfer them to the care of other nearby local authorities. The report noted that the Board of Control had permitted a certain percentage of overcrowding in the receiving asylums. One can only imagine the impact of these arrangements on the mentally ill patients, uprooted and moved around the region. However, it freed up a substantial and modern hospital site to meet the urgent need to care for injured troops returning from the war.

Alderman Stephenson’s report goes on to set out the arrangements for the operation of the hospital for the duration of the war. The Visiting Committee were to retain the lay administration of the hospital, with the payment by the Army Council of:

• Charges in connection with the buildings and equipment; and
• Charges in connection with the maintenance of staff and soldier patients.

The hospital was handed over as a going concern with the whole of the staff, medical, engineering, stores, farm etc and the nursing and attendant staff. The War Office was to assume sole responsibility for the medical care and treatment of the soldiers and the management of the hospital. Lieutenant Colonel Prescott DSO RAMC was appointed Administrator and the Acting Medical Officer of the Asylum, Dr McPhail was appointed Registrar, with the rank of Major. The nursing staff was augmented and the whole of the male attendants at the asylum transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps for the duration. The nursing staff were to be accommodated in a newly built nurses home and additional villa blocks, which were still under construction. The medical staff were to be accommodated in tents in the grounds. The Northumberland War Hospital, when it opened in the summer of 1915 had accommodation for 1040 patients, two and a half times the number previously accommodated on the site, which gives some indication of both the degree of overcrowding and the urgent need for hospital provision.

Brighton Grove Hospital

In addition, in Newcastle alone there was specialist venereal disease provision for 48 officers and 552 other ranks at Brighton Grove Hospital (on the site of the old Newcastle General). Sexually transmitted disease (Venereal Disease or VD) was a huge issue in the forces before the days of effective barrier contraception or treatments. When British soldiers set off for the trenches in 1914, folded inside each of their Pay Books was a short message. It contained a piece of homely advice, attributed to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, which included:

You are sure to meet a welcome and to be trusted; your conduct must justify that welcome and that trust.
Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound, so keep constantly on your guard against any excesses.
In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women.
You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.

In his memoirs Private Frank Richards, who served continuously on the Western Front, recorded men’s responses to these words: “They may as well have not been issued for all the notice we took of them.”

Licensed brothels had existed in France since the mid-19th Century – the war saw the trade flourish. Brothels displayed blue lamps if they were for officers and red lamps for other ranks. Outside red lamp establishments, queues or crowds of men were often seen.

Cpl Jack Wood compared the scene he witnessed to “a crowd, waiting for a cup tie at a football final in Blighty“. Others saw brothel visits as a physical necessity – it was an era when sexual abstinence for men was considered harmful to their health. Physical need made it more acceptable for married men, rather than single men, to visit prostitutes. Twenty-four hours before the major British offensive of the Battle of Loos, Pte Richards saw “three hundred men in a queue, all waiting their turns to go in the Red Lamp”.

Brothel visits could also be a way to avoid death. They gave soldiers a chance to swap time in the trenches for a few weeks in a hospital bed. According to Gunner Rowland Myrddyn Luther, who enlisted in September 1914, and served through to the Allied advance of 1918, a great many soldiers were prepared to chance venereal disease, rather than face a return to the front.
The numbers infected were “stupendous“. Around 400,000 cases of venereal disease were treated during the course of the war. In 1916, one in five of all admissions of British and dominion troops to hospitals in France and Belgium were for VD.

Walkergate Hospital

Council Minutes record that Mr Stableforth had been approached by the military authorities requesting that the Sanitary Committee could handle their cases of infectious diseases at Walkergate Hospital (Walkergate had been built in 1888 as an infectious diseases hospital). It was reported that there was insufficient accommodation, but that it had been agreed that two additional pavilions could be constructed to accommodate the military patients. The design of Walkergate, and presumably the temporary ‘pavilions’ was to provide a single story ward with a long covered verandah, where patients could be wheeled outside for fresh air, which was considered vital to their recovery, particularly with conditions such as TB. A subsequent minute records contracts with:

• Stanley Miller to build the new pavilions at a cost of £2,126/8/-;
• Walter Dix and Co to provide heating and hot water at a cost of £261/2/8; and
• William T. Wallace for making roads into the new pavilions.

The pavilions were built on the east side of Benfield Road, opposite the main hospital and were intended to be removed after the war. In practice, they remained in use, though not as part of the hospital until 1979.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Heaton History Group member, Michael Proctor, as part of our HLF funded project, ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’. A display about the civilian war effort of the people of the avenues will open at the Chillingham pub in early May 2015 and will be in place for approximately two months.

Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for permission to use the photographs in this article.

If you can provide any further information about Heaton connections to the hospitals, please either leave a message by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org