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 maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /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.




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




Joseph Fagg Story – Food Prices and Impact on Wages

On 6 February 1916, an open letter appeared in the Newcastle ‘Daily Journal’ from Joseph Fagg, of 27 Third Avenue in his capacity as Branch Secretary of the National Union of Clerks. In the letter, he protests about the alarming advances in the price of foodstuffs.

Joseph Fagg's letter to the press

Joseph Fagg’s letter to the press

In the letter he reports that ‘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.’

It’s not clear whether the original letter was addressed to national or local government, or indeed whether it was addressed purely to the press in order to gain public support. However it does appear to have been part of a coordinated local campaign to persuade employers to recognise the impact of food price increases through increased wages.


The city council minutes of February 1915 record the receipt of a letter to the Lord Mayor from a Mr J Wilkinson, Secretary of the Newcastle, Gateshead and District Trades and Labour Council, urging the council to adopt the following resolution:

That this council views with indignation and alarm the present and rapidly increasing prices of the people’s food, due in our opinion, not to shortage, but to the operation of greedy speculators and ship owners. 

We strongly urge upon the government the absolute necessity of at once instituting an inquiry thereon, and, if necessary, that they control the purchase, transport and distribution of food during the present war.

 He concludes by pointing out that other countries are already doing this.

Co-ordinated campaign

It’s not clear what the council’s response to the letter was, however we do know that within a month, Joseph Fagg’s letter had appeared in the ‘Daily Journal’ and the council had received simultaneous letters from Mr J M Gibson, North East Regional Secretary of the Municipal Employees Association and Mr H Goodhead, Secretary of the Amalgamated Association of Tramway and Vehicle Workers, seeking pay increases to recognise the impact of rising food prices.

The Municipal Employees Association letter went to all councils in the region. In it, Mr Gibson points out that his association had initially ‘instructed its officers to refrain from making applications for increased wages which would in any way tend to hamper or hinder the work necessary to enable the government to carry the present regrettable conflict to a successful issue’. However he goes on to say that the enormous increase in the price of foodstuffs had ‘made it imperative that the workers’ wages should be increased if they are to maintain themselves and families in a state of efficiency’.

Further evidence of a coordinated campaign comes in both unions seeking an increase of five shillings per week.

The council referred consideration to a special committee, which met on 19 March 1915 and which representatives of both unions attended. The arguments rehearsed by the committee are remarkably similar to current day discussions about public sector pay rises under a policy of austerity:

-If the application is granted, then the applicants and their families will be appreciably better off than before the war, and they will be relieved of the burden of increased expense which should be borne by all, including the applicants;

-In many communities, if carried out, would be disastrous to those ratepayers, who, out of limited incomes, would have to bear not only their own share of the burden, but also that which should be borne by the applicants;

-Where war bonuses have already been granted to workpeople other than municipal employees, it has been to men particularly affected by prevailing conditions: eg to those who have to work more assiduously consequent on excessive shortage of labour by means of the war, or to those who are called on to work long periods of overtime in work directly connected with the production of materials of war and the like. This is not the case as regards the present applicants.

War bonus

Despite these misgivings the Council made an offer of a war bonus of:

-2s per week to people earning less than 30s per week

-1s per week to those earning between 30s and 40s per week

-1s per week to boys under 18.

After further representations this was increased by a further 6d per week for all but boys under 18, to be reviewed in six months.

This was to be the first war bonus paid to the council’s employees, with further successful applications made in 1916, twice in 1917 and 1918.

A Special Committee report dated 23 December 1918 recorded the total annual cost of war bonuses to municipal employees (excluding tramway staff and attendance officers and nurses employed by the education committee) to be £10,285.

The total value of war bonuses for municipal employees at that point were:

25s per week for unskilled men

28/4 per week for labourers to skilled men; and

30/9 to 39/3 per week for skilled men

This represents almost a doubling of salary.

Price rises and shortages

Of course, the increases in food prices and food shortages were very real and badly affected the whole population. It is estimated that a pint of milk that cost 1d before the war cost 6d by the end of the war.

The reasons for the rising food prices were mainly linked to food shortages caused in part by the loss of skilled farm labourers, going off to war, but also of horses. Farms in the early 20th century were still heavily dependent on horse power, as was the army and many farm horses were requisitioned by the government

To add to the already escalating food prices and shortages, the 1916 potato harvest suffered severe blight, leading to the city council to send a telegram in February 1917 to the Ministry of Food expressing concern about severe shortages and that local farmers may be holding back supplies to keep prices even higher.

A response from the Controller of Food states that investigation of the matter by a local inspector indicated that the situation in Newcastle was not worse than in other parts of the country and reflected an abnormal shortage of potatoes due to failures in the harvest, not only in the UK but across the world. The response ends by stating that ‘it cannot be expected that persons in Great Britain will be able to obtain more than a small proportion of their normal requirements’.


This would have been a particularly heavy blow as potatoes had been widely used as a substitute for other foodstuffs that were in short supply. A Ministry of Food leaflet titled Thirty Four Ways of Using Potatoes (other than as a vegetable) claimed that Britain had an unprecedented surplus of potatoes – over 2 million tons and encouraged people to use them as a replacement for grains, already in short supply.

Recipes included Treacle Potato Pudding:

1 lb. mashed potatoes,

1 egg,

half an ounce of sugar,

1 ounce of ground rice,

1 ounce of cooking fat,

flavouring essence or other flavouring,

3 tablespoons full treacle,

1/2 teaspoon full of baking powder.

Coat a plain charlotte mould whilst warm with a layer of thick treacle. Mix the potato, egg, sugar and melted butter together and add a few drops of flavouring essence. Stir in, lastly, the baking powder. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and cover with a greased paper. Steam the pudding slowly in a pan containing boiling water in a moderate oven or in a steamer for about 1 and a half hours. When cooked, turn out carefully on to a hot dish and serve.

Submarine warfare

The situation deteriorated even further when, on 9 January 1917, Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare. This meant that British merchant ships transporting food from overseas would be at risk of being sunk, worsening the shortages.

On 2 May 1917, the city council considered the urgent need for food economy. The lord mayor stated that the ‘proclamation of the king as to economy in food would be publicly read by the town clerk the following day and he suggested that copies of the leaflet be distrusted to scholars in each of the public and private schools in the city; that the proclamation be reprinted and exhibited inside the tramcars and that posters calling attention to the need for economy in the use of food be placarded on the outside of cars; and asked the members of council to arrange open air meetings in their various wards for the purpose of impressing the need for economy among their constituents.’

King George V’s proclamation

WE, being persuaded that the abstention from all unnecessary consumption of grain will furnish the surest and most effectual means of defeating the devices of our enemies, and thereby bringing the war to a speedy and successful termination, and out of our resolve to leave nothing undone which can contribute to these ends or to the welfare of our people in these times of grave stress and anxiety, have thought fit by and with the advice of our Privy Council to issue this our Royal Proclamation, most earnestly exhorting and charging all those of our loving subjects, the men and women of our Realm who have the means to procure articles of food other than wheat and corn, as they tender their immediate interests and feel for the want of others, especially to practise the greatest economy and frugality in the use of every species of grain and wheat.

AND we do for this purpose more particularly exhort and charge all heads of households to reduce the consumption of bread in their respective families by at least one-fourth of the quantity consumed in ordinary times, to abstain from the use of flour in pastry, and, moreover, carefully to restrict, or wherever possible to abandon, the use thereof in all other articles than bread.

AND we do also in like manner exhort and charge all persons who keep horses to abandon the practice of feeding the same with oats or other grain, unless they shall have received from our Food Controller a licence to feed horses on oats or other grain to be given only in cases where it is necessary to do so with a view to maintain the breed of horses in the national interest.

AND we do hereby further charge and enjoin all ministers of religion in their respective churches and chapels within Our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to read or cause to be read this Our Proclamation on the Lord’s Day for four successive weeks after the issue thereof.

Given at Our Court of Buckingham Palace this second day of May in the year of Our Lord 1917, and in the seventh year of our reign.


Purple ribbon

On the day of the publication of this historic document Sir Derek Keppel, Master of the Royal Household, said: ” The king would never ask and has never asked his people to make sacrifices in which he is unprepared to share. He will do consistently what he asks the general public to do, and, what is more to the point, he has already done and is still doing it. We are all on strict rations here and have been since the beginning of February.”

People showed their commitment to the King’s appeal by wearing a purple ribbon. Lord Davenport, the Food Controller strongly believed that the solution to shortages was a voluntary approach and he echoed the King’s proclamation with his own circular on 29 May appealing to the public’s patriotism. However, it soon became clear that a firmer policy was necessary as a Board of Trade report showed a 98% increase in the price of food since the start of the War. Lord Davenport and his replacement, Lord Rhondda acted quickly, enforcing a wide range of restrictions under the Local Authorities Food Control Order 1917, which fixed the prices of some foodstuffs including:

  • Brewer’s sugar;
  • Sugar;
  • Milk;
  • Swedes;
  • Potatoes.

And it applied controls to the use of others, particularly, bread, flour, cakes and pastries, as well as limiting the use of grain to feed livestock and preventing its use in feeding game birds.

WW1 Ration Card

WW1 Ration Card

Detail from a WW1 ration card

Detail from a WW1 ration card

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. An exhibition, ‘Feeding the Avenues’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from early August until late October 2015.

S in Ringtons, Tea in Heaton

The imposing white brick Ringtons building on Algernon Road bears the date ‘1924’, indicating that the famous tea company has Heaton connections going back at least 90 years.

Simon Smith, son of Sam, and staff outside Algernon Road HQ, 1932

Ringtons staff outside the company’s Algernon Road HQ, 1932

In fact the story starts much earlier than that.

Samuel Smith was born on 22 June 1872 in Leeds and christened on 22 December of that year along with his older brother, George. His parents were both local. William, his father, earned his living as a fettler, someone who cleaned the machinery in a woollen mill.

According to Sam’s great granddaughter, Fiona Harrison, young Sam started work, aged eight, as a ‘butcher’s boy’ on Friday nights and Saturdays. Aged ten, he joined the staff of one of the country’s biggest tea-dealers, as a ‘half-timer’. He gradually worked his way up and was sent to various of the firm’s offices across Yorkshire to learn all aspects of the business.

By the time he married Ada Emmerson, daughter of a Leeds milk dealer, at the age of 25, he was a travelling salesman for the company and was based in Sheffield. The couple’s two oldest children, John and Douglas, were born in Sheffield but the next two, Elizabeth and Vera, started life in Bradford and by time the youngest, Samuel and Harriet, came along, the family were back in Leeds but preparing for a new life in Newcastle.

We are extremely lucky in that, not only did Sam keep letters, diaries, notes, photographs and mementos, but that his family have treasured them and Fiona has painstakingly combed through the family archive to help us piece together the story of the birth of Ringtons and its relevance to our ‘Heaton’s Avenues in Wartime’ Heritage Lottery Fund project.

The records show that Sam had become increasingly disillusioned with the firm he worked for in Leeds. He felt its staff weren’t treated well and he believed that he could both run a successful company and live true to his values. His friend and colleague, Irishman William ‘Will’ Titterington, was of the same mind and they decided to set up in business together under the name of ‘Ringtons’, which combined the last part of Will’s surname with the first letter of Sam’s.

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Sam Smith, founder of Ringtons

Tea to Newcastle

As was common at the time, there was a clause in their contracts stipulating that if they left their current employer, they couldn’t set up within 50 miles of its Leeds headquarters. The two men weighed up their options and were initially tempted by Scarborough, but in the end they couldn’t ignore the excellent opportunities offered by industrial Tyneside, where, although there were already a number of tea dealers including Brooke Bond and Pumphrey’s, none of them delivered door to door, which Sam and Will planned to make their unique selling point, one which has stood the company in good stead right up to the present day.

Fiona has found a letter from William Titterington to Sam Smith, dated 17 July 1907, and written from 2 Fourth Avenue, Heaton, where William is lodging in what is clearly a tiny room that the two men planned to share:

‘I have arrived at the combined room… This bed will only hold me, and I am afraid by the look of it, my feet will be hanging over the foot of it.’

On the other hand:

‘I am on the spot to assist at the shop and see that the workmen are getting on with the cleaning. This house is at the other end of the same terrace as the shop.’

Extract from letter from Will Titterington Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

Extract from letter from Will Titterington, Fourth Avenue, Heaton to Sam Smith 1917

So it was in Heaton’s Avenues in 1907 that Ringtons was born. By 1908, the partners had two vans and four assistants and they were blending twice as much tea as a year earlier.

The first mention of the firm in the trade directories is in 1909-10 (which was probably surveyed in 1907-8). Ringtons was based at number 23 Third Avenue with Sam Smith, manager, living at 25. By 1911, the Smiths had moved to 129 Warton Terrace. Will Titterington and his wife Mary were living at 109 Tynemouth Road with their sons, William jnr and Francis, aged six and four.

By 1910 Sam Smith had bought Will Titterington’s share of the company and the firm itself had moved to more spacious premises on an abandoned rifle range at 392 Shields Road (where the Byker retail park is now).


Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912

Ringtons, Shields Rd c1912 with extension to the 1910 building in the first picture

Here, their neighbours included a coach builder, cart proprietor, horse keeper and horse shoer, all vital to the Ringtons’ enterprise. Sam had worked hard to make the business a success and it had gone from strength to strength. By this time, there were 11 vans and 11 assistants.

Struggle for survival

But then World War One broke out. It changed everything, as Sam recalled later:

‘Of my staff of 17, some of whom were married, 15 were called to the colours and I promised to do certain things for them so their families should not suffer too much while they were fighting. Of course, I agreed to keep their jobs open for them.’

What Sam hadn’t reckoned with were the severe food shortages and the resulting rationing and restrictions. There was a sugar shortage so people were only allowed to buy it where they bought their tea. Ringtons didn’t sell sugar and couldn’t get hold of it, so business plummeted.

To compensate, the firm started to sell any foodstuff it could lay its hands on: tinned and evaporated milk, dried eggs, canned meat and fish, saccharine, pickles etc. However, often as soon as Sam had bought a consignment, the price of the commodity would be fixed by government at less than he’d paid for it.

‘ Somehow I managed to keep my promises to my soldier staff’ remembered Sam. ‘And somehow managed to relieve a little the distress of the widows of the three who never came back. But it was a fight to be able to pay my own rent and the wolf came nearer and nearer my door’.

At the end of the war, the 12 surviving members of staff returned, ‘three of them wearing the Military Medal’ and, as promised, Sam took them back although the outlook for the company seemed bleak. But gradually, once people and retailers were free to buy and sell what and where they liked, customers returned.

When the ex-servicemen received their gratuities, they clubbed together to buy Sam a watch, which from then on he always wore. It was inscribed: ‘Presented to Mr Samuel Smith, as a mark of gratitude and esteem, from the staff of Ringtons Ltd, on their return from military service. December 1920′

Loyal servant

One of the returning servicemen was Robert Ernest Sturdy, who, in 1911 was living with his wife, Minnie, and their three year old son, Norman Leslie at 57 Spencer Street, Heaton. Robert described himself as a ‘superintendent, tea trade’ . By 1916, the couple had two more very young children, May and Ernest. Robert volunteered to join the army, aged 32, in December 1915, just before conscription was introduced early in 1916. He described himself as a ‘manager (drivers)’ .

On enlistment it was noted that Robert’s heart ‘seemed weak’. His letter of enlistment stated that he was invited to join the Army Service Corps(Mechanical Transport), ‘provided he has not attained the age of 46 and is found medically fit for Service‘ Despite his heart condition, Ernest was accepted and he served on the home front for just over a month before being sent to France in October 1916.

Throughout 1918, he was in and out of military hospitals with conditions variously described as ‘mild debility’, ‘TB‘ and ‘Bronchial catarrh’ before being transferred back to the UK in October 1919, at which time he signed a disclaimer to the effect that he wasn’t suffering from any disability which was due to military service.

Robert returned to Ringtons where, as Sam Smith had promised, his old job was waiting for him. He was still there in the position of sales manager in 1934 by which time he was 50 years old. On completion of 25 years service, he was presented with tea and coffee services. Robert died in 1956, aged 73. By this time his son, Norman, was himself described as a tea dealer, presumably (though we can’t be sure) also with Ringtons. Robert’s younger son, Ernest ,was sadly ‘lost at sea’ during WW2.

The Somme

In total there were 14 people in Heaton in 1911 whose occupation, as recorded in the census, included the word ‘tea’. One was Sam Smith, of course, by now living at 129 Warton Terrace, with Ada and their six children. We can’t be sure which of the others worked at Ringtons, as employer names aren’t usually recorded, but Robert Clapperton Mair, aged 15, who lived with his parents, two brothers and a sister, at 13 Charles Street, described himself as a ‘tea merchant’s assistant’. He joined the 10th battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to France. Robert was one of those who didn’t return, having been killed in action on the Somme on 25 September 1916, aged 20. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and also on that of Heaton United Methodist Church on Heaton Road.

Bravery award

Bothers Patrick and Thomas Sullivan were both ‘van salesmen (tea)‘. The family had moved from Dundee while the boys and their sister, Lizzie, were young and the family lived at 16 Fourth Avenue, just a few doors down from Will Titterington’s lodgings in 1907. When war broke out their father, Patrick, a tram conductor, was active in recruiting volunteers for the ‘Pals‘ regiments and we know that Tom enlisted very early on, in September 1914, at the age of 22.

Two years later, by now a sergeant, he was awarded the Military Medal and a Card of Honour for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. A full report of his actions appeared in the Newcastle Journal, reproduced below. (Despite what it says in the article, the family appears to have lived on Fourth Avenue, rather than Sixth, throughout the war).

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

Newcastle Journal 18 November 1916

 So Tom was one of the three recipients of the Military Medal who returned to Ringtons after 1918 and was remembered by Sam Smith almost twenty years later. This was confirmed for us by Tom’s great great niece, Helen Wells, who told us:

‘My mam remembers talk of Uncle Tommy. We knew he’d been awarded the Military Medal but we didn’t know why. Tommy worked for Ringtons tea. He moved to Thornaby near Stockton to work for Ringtons there. He died in the 1940s. He had no children. Patrick also spent his entire working life with Ringtons.’


A hundred years later, the personal stories give us a tiny insight into the suffering of Heaton and its people during World War One. But within just a few years, the firm, its staff and customers showed their resilience. Ringtons’ business picked up to such an extent that in 1924 a magnificent, modern building was commissioned on Algernon Road.

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Ringtons, Algernon Road c1930

Work began in 1926 and it was finished in 1928. It still stands, of course, and is much loved, although the firm has since moved again. Not far though. Ringtons’, first managed from a cramped single bedroom on Fourth Avenue, is still very much associated with Heaton. Its headquarters remain on Algernon Road, next door to its impressive 1920s HQ.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson, with considerable help from Fiona Harrison, for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition, ‘’Tea in Heaton’, will be on display at the Chillingham pub from October to December 2015.

Find out more

This article and the exhibition at the Chilli concentrates on the early days in the Avenues and the impact of World War One but it’s just one chapter of the Ringtons’ story. To find out more, pay a visit to Ringtons’ museum in their Algernon Road headquarters and look out for a talk by Fiona  in our 2016-17 programme.

Can you help?

if you have worked at Ringtons, know more about any of the people mentioned in the article and/or have memories or photos to share, 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

An exile remembers: Part 1 – the old house

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 are his thoughts.

Now here’s something that may be of interest. Ever wondered what that old Heaton house you lived in many years, or even decades, ago looks like now? Externally? Easy enough. But internally? Not so easy? Well, you may be in luck. Go to the RightMove property website and enter its address into the ‘Sold price search’ search box. As long as your old home was on the market within the last decade or so, then estate agent details, including interior photographs, should be there, as well as the price(s) at which it has recently found new owners.

Which is how I know that the house I’m standing outside, on this sunny August day, now has – among other changes – three bathrooms and no fewer than nine bedrooms. Yes, you’ve guessed it: what was once a one bathroom, four bedroom family home when I lived here as a child, from 1960 to 1968, is now student accommodation, as indeed are so many of its neighbours.

So it’s about time I told you where I am. Pretty much in the centre of Heaton, as it happens, on that stretch of Simonside Terrace lying between Chillingham Road and Heaton Road. No, I won’t give the number, but it’s the house with the rather bizarre white extension sprouting out of the roof, and in which some of those new bedrooms must surely be located.

Fond memories come flooding back, from fifty years ago and more. I lay my hand on the permanently cold, grey granite coping stone atop the low front wall, and see the small holes where the original decorative railings were once fixed, before they were conscripted to serve King and country in 1940 or so. And in that context I’m grateful for the photograph on this website of young Ruth Castle, standing outside number 47 Tenth Avenue, in the early years of the last century. The low wall and granite coping stone in evidence there are identical to the ones here on Simonside Terrace – and, for that matter, on so many other Heaton streets – rendering it safe to assume that the railings also seen there (and the gate) are of the same style that was once seen all around Heaton, and including on this house, before they were forcibly carted off, three quarters of a century ago, ostensibly to help the war effort.

But in truth, back in the ’60s, I didn’t spend much time here at the front of the house. No, most of my childhood activity took place in the back lane shared with Warton Terrace. Ah! The stories I could tell about the games we played there. And perhaps I will, in another article. (Memo to the council: the state of that back lane now is a disgrace.)

The RightMove website tells me I’d probably need something north of £200,000 to buy this house now. In the ’60s I vaguely recall the price of £4,000 being mentioned by my parents … but, a little unhelpfully, I can’t remember if that was the 1960 purchase price or the 1968 selling price. (Suggestions on a postcard.) What I do recall is my late father lifting up a floorboard one day and finding a newspaper from 1904 underneath, which we took to be a ‘message’ from the builders of approximately sixty years earlier, to an indeterminate future generation, as to when they had completed their work.

And then I turn to the west, and towards Heaton Road. For I didn’t come here to pay particular attention to the old house – although clearly the temptation could not be resisted once standing in front of it – but merely to use it as the necessary personal historical starting point, in the retracing of my frequent walks of half a century ago, to Heaton Road … and from there, across the road, to the fondly remembered parks of my childhood.

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.



Songs of the Ouseburn

On Wednesday 16 December, we are delighted to welcome well-known Tyneside Irish piper Joe Crane to present ‘Songs of the Ouseburn’. This is how Joe describes the evening we have in store:

‘In a nutshell the talk will be about some of the songs and music of the Ouseburn and Sandgate areas looking at the North Eastern songs, fiddle and Northumbrian Piping traditions which featured in the area and the Irish influx of the 1847/50s and some of the music hall characters of the 19th Century with plenty of songs and music – well, it is history but close to Christmas and we wouldn’t want to be too down in the dumps. I’ll be accompanied by my friend and colleague John McElroy and possibly a couple of others.’
There’ll be a bar, of course and It should be a great end to another successful year for Heaton History Group. Book early!
Joe Crane

Joe Crane

The event will take place at the Corner House, Heaton starting promptly at 7.30 pm. It 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 October, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but any remaining after that will be open to all-comers.

Heaton Road Shops: then and now

Our full-colour 32 page book takes you on a walk up Heaton Road, showing you what some of the shops used to look like, telling you a little bit about their fascinating history and introducing you to current proprietors.

Heaton Road Shops Then and Now cover

Heaton Road Shops Then and Now cover

We’ve trawled archives, corresponded with descendants, collected memories and, just as importantly, interviewed today’s shopkeepers so that they too will be remembered by future generations.

Sample spread from 'Heaton Road Shops: then and now'

Sample spread from ‘Heaton Road Shops: then and now’

You might know that Ricky, who runs Heaton Village Store, is from Malaysia but bet you weren’t aware that one of his predecessors was born in Newfoundland and another, born in Madras, described himself in the 1911 census as a ‘swimming teacher and tea dealer’?

Another spread: Wild Trapeze and the original Co-op

Another spread: Wild Trapeze and the original Co-op

Some Heaton History Group members remember the old Co-op well:

‘My sister remembers the smell of coffee in the provisions department and I can remember the big tubs of butter on the other counter…’ Keith Fisher

but how many of us have talked to Anthony and Alan Blevins of Wild Trapeze about their music and art?

Limited edition

We only have 100 copies, priced £5.00 (plus p & p)  at Heaton History Group’s talks from Wednesday 23 September or by contacting chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org.

Photos, information or memories of Heaton to share?

We’d love to hear from you. Either message us from the link underneath the title of this article or email chris.Jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org