Cardigan Terrace: the memories live on

Jean Walker (nee Pretswell) was born in 1925 and lived at number nine Cardigan Terrace from the age of about four until she got married. Her father Norman’s removal business operated from there for over 80 years and her uncle, Edmund Forbes Pretswell, ran the shop on Heaton Road that now bears his name again.

Pretswell’s signage being uncovered in 2013.

Jean’s vivid memories of growing up on Cardigan Terrace have helped create a portrait of a Heaton street in the years preceding World War Two.

Early days

But the story began some forty years before Jean’s birth. The street appeared for the first time in ‘Ward’s Directory’ of 1888. At that time, it comprised just 12 occupied houses between Heaton Park Road and Heaton Road, with just an ‘Infant’s Home’ (sic), with Mrs M Harvey the matron, on the other side of Heaton Road. The first residents of Cardigan Terrace included Edwin Bowman, an architect who built mainly in the villages around Gateshead, and J Sinclair jun, a ‘tobacconist’. Could he have been a member of the Sinclair family who manufactured cigarettes in Newcastle?

By 1900, the terrace had expanded to almost 150 houses, the occupations of its inhabitants reflecting a broad, though predominantly middle class, social mix as well as the local economy of the time. They included: J Piercy, a blacksmith; W H Robinson, a bookseller; D W Patterson, a surgeon; E Tait, a professor of music; S Lyne, a salvationist; R Jordan, a cart proprietor; J Lowrie, an egg merchant; W Murray, a butler; R Donaldson, a caulker; J Wallace, a ship chandler; and T Richardson, a miller.

In the news

We searched online newspaper archives to see what else we could discover about Cardigan Terrace’s pre-war history.

The first major news story we found dates from 1893 when the terrace became the focal point of a notorious bigamy case. William Breakwell, a commercial traveller from Birmingham, had married Catherine ‘Rachael’ Minto in 1886 but Breakwell later married another woman in Birmingham. He also threatened to kill his first wife’s father, Andrew Storm Minto, a retired ship’s captain, who lived in Cardigan Terrace. The case was reported extensively at the time and must have created quite a stir locally.

Some twenty years later, a Cardigan Terrace boy, Alfred Adamson, was in the news. He and a friend were ‘examining a firearm in Heaton Park‘, when the weapon was accidentally fired, inflicting injuries on young Alfred and necessitating his ‘removal to the Infirmary‘. This was in the early months of World War One, when soldiers in training were billeted nearby.

But not everyone was so lucky in those pre-NHS days. Later the same year, Joseph Metcalfe, aged 80, a retired school attendance officer, who lodged in Cardigan Terrace, was struck by a tramcar near Cheltenham Terrace. He was injured in the head and shoulder and merely ‘removed to his lodgings, where he died the same day’.

At this time, number 27 was occupied by the White family. Alexander Henry White was a schoolmaster but, in the late 1880s and early 1890s, he’d been one of the city’s best known and respected footballers. Alec White had played for and captained Newcastle East End, the Chillingham Road based club. On one occasion he had scored 7, or maybe 9, goals (reports differ) in a 19-0 victory. He also captained East End at cricket.

Article by Paul Joannou in the Newcastle United programme

Article by Paul Joannou in the Newcastle United programme (Thanks also to Chris Goulding who drew our attention to the article.)

At war

We found quite a lot of mentions of Cardigan Terrace in relation to World War One: in 1915, when the shortage of volunteers for the armed forces was becoming acute, there were reports of a number of outdoor recruitment meetings at the corner of Cardigan Terrace and Heaton Road (where St Cuthbert’s Church and Wild Trapeze are now).

Heaton Road Co-op

For example, the band of the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers played at a meeting there on Tuesday 27 April at 7.15pm, having marched ‘by way of Northumberland Road, Camden Street, Shield Street, Copland terrace, Clarence Street, New Bridge Street, Byker Bridge, Shields Road and Heaton Road.’

A few months later, we find a Mrs Dennison of 23 Cardigan Terrace and described as President of the National British Women’s Temperance Association (NBWTA), donating gifts of ‘slippers, towels and magazines’ to the Northumbrian Field Ambulance Hospital. We’ve seen before, in our research into Heaton’s Avenues, that civilian donations and voluntary work to help the war effort were commonplace. The people of Cardigan Terrace, like others in Heaton, wanted to do their bit.

But inevitably there were casualties: on November 14 1916, Corporal Edwin Thirlwell Adamson, aged 19, of 44 Cardigan Terrace, Who served with the Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed in action in France. He was the older brother of Alfred who, two years earlier, had been injured while playing with a gun in the park.

And, in May 1918, Second Lieutenant Arthur Hudspeth of the Durham Light Infantry, who lived at 11 Cardigan Terrace, was presumed dead. He had been missing since the previous September. In the 1911 census, he was a student teacher, living on the terrace with his parents and younger sister, Emma, and brothers, Frank and Henry. He went on to teach at Westgate Hill School. He is commemorated on a number of local war memorials: the Cuthbert Bainbridge Wesleyan Methodist memorial, now held in storage at St Cuthbert’s,

CuthbertBainbridgeWarMem

and its commemorative stained glass windows, still intact in the former Ark building, next to Southfields House on Heaton Road, and also on Heaton Harriers’ 1914-18 Shield, which is still competed for every Remembrance Sunday. Arthur was the Harriers’ Honorary Secretary.

HeatonHarriersShield

Jean Pretswell’s terrace

It was only seven years later that Jean Pretswell was born on Heaton Park Road. A few years later her family had moved around the corner onto Cardigan Terrace. Jean’s memories of her childhood were undimmed when, at the age of 89, she spoke to Heaton History Group’s Jeanie Molyneux. Like Jack Common in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Jean had particularly fond memories of the back lane. She told Jeanie about some of the many tradespeople who visited regularly:

‘Up and down the lane came the milkman from Stainthorpe’s Dairy, on a pony and trap with churns on. And there was El Dorado (I’m sure it was called ‘El Dorado’)’s ice cream man, on a bicycle with a cool box. Then there was Bobby, the fish boy. There was no fish shop on Heaton Park Road. After the war, Bobby came back and he couldn’t get round because everyone came out. They said, “Now we KNOW the war is over.” ‘

And Jean recalled playing outside:

‘We played in the street. There was no traffic, no buses on Cardigan Terrace back then. But mostly we played in the back lane. We called for people at the back door. At first, it was cobble stones. We played races and hide and seek… But then they concreted the lane so we could skate and ride bicycles as well. We played tennis. The concrete was in sections. We used the middle section as the net.

‘We never got into any trouble but I remember the policeman who used to come on the beat. There was one gentleman, they called him Mr Tweedie. He must have been a plain-clothed policeman. When he came as well, we all took notice. It was lovely. It was very nice then. We didn’t fight.’

Neighbours

And Jean had very clear memories of her neighbours:

‘The lady at number seven, Miss Birkett, made hats and she also made little leather purses and put them in the window. She would dress the window up a little bit and have a hat stand with perhaps two hats on because she had made them by hand. Lots of people ran little businesses there then.

‘The lady at number five worked at Beavan’s and her husband was a house-husband – very unusual in those days. Opposite was Shepherd’s Commercial College. Mr Shepherd was a cripple in a chair. He taught shorthand and typing and Esperanto. I went to him to learn shorthand typing. This was in the late 30s and early 40s.

‘On the left side, at number 11, was Henner Hudspeth. He had a dance band and used to practise in the house – noise pollution! It wouldn’t be allowed nowadays’

Henner Hudspeth must have been Henry, the younger brother of Arthur, who had died in World War One. Young Jean probably wouldn’t have known about Arthur. But his memory lives on.

Henry and Arthur Hudspeth, Miss Birkett, Bobby the fish boy, Alfred and Edwin Thirwell Adamson, Captain and Rachael Minto, Joseph Metcalfe, Mrs Dennison, Mr Tweedie, Mr Shepherd, the Pretswells, Alec White and the other residents of Cardigan Terrace are part of the rich history of Heaton. Thank you to Jean for helping us bring them back to life.

Can you help?

Can you add to our story of Cardigan Terrace? Can you tell us more about the people and places mentioned? Or add to the story? Not many people will remember back as far as Jean, but we’d like to collect more recent stories too. You can comment here by clicking on the link just below the article title or you can email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The Lumleys of Sixth Avenue

The 1911 census has four members of the Lumley family living at number 37 Sixth Avenue. Joseph Smith Lumley, aged 55 was born in Gateshead and was an industrial insurance agent. He married Margaret Rudd from Shiny Row in 1883 in Newcastle and the couple lived in Tanfield and Elswick, before moving to Heaton some time after 1901. The couple had three children, one of whom did not survive infancy. In 1911, their two unmarried children: a daughter, Rosanna, aged 23, working as a telegraphist, and a son William, aged 20, working as a clerk/book-keeper with an electrical manufacturer, lived with them. The family were Methodists and members of the congregation at the Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Methodist Church, which formerly stood on the site of Southfields House sheltered accommodation on the corner of Heaton Road and Tynemouth Road.

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Chapel

Cuthbert Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Chapel, c1905

Following their move to Heaton, William completed his education at Chillingham Road School. It is likely that Rosanna had already left school before the family relocated.

Will’s story

At the start of the war, William, known to friends as Will, joined the 1st/6th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, which was a Territorial Force formed at St George’s Drill Hall Newcastle in August 1914 and stationed on Northumberland Road, opposite the City Hall. Along with the 1st/4th stationed at Hexham and the 1st/5th stationed in Walker, the Battalion were engaged in Tyne defences over the autumn and winter of 1914 and were mobilised for war in April 1915, landing in France to become part of the 149th Brigade of the 50th Division, which were engaged in action on the Western Front.

Will’s army career was, like many others, tragically short lived as he died on 26th April 1915 aged 23 during the Battle of St Julien, part of the second Battle of Ypres. This was an important point in the war as it was the first time that the German Army had successfully used poison gas, to devastating effect, although they failed to fully exploit this as German troops had been re-deployed to the Eastern Front, leaving too few men to fill the gaps that opened in allied lines. Chlorine gas was first deployed in the Battle of Gravenstafel at around 5pm on 22 April near the hamlet of Gravenstafel in Belgium. German troops carried 5,730 gas cylinders weighing 90lb each to the front. These were then opened and lit by hand, relying on the prevailing wind to carry the gas towards allied trenches. The aerial photograph below shows the eerie spectacle.

Gas attack in WW1 Ypres

Yellow-green clouds drifted towards the Allied trenches. The gas had a distinctive smell, like pineapple and pepper. At first the French officers assumed that the German infantry were advancing behind a smoke screen and the troops were alerted. When the gas arrived at the Allied front trenches soldiers began to complain about pains in the chest and a burning sensation in their throats. The French troops in the path of the gas cloud suffered 6,000 casualties, with many dying within 10 minutes and others being left blind or with permanent lung damage. Many more ran for their lives. A four mile gap opened up in the front, which the German troops advanced upon, but the effect of the gas on their own troops and the lack of men meant that advance was contained by Canadian troops.

Dusk was falling when from the German trenches in front of the French line rose that strange green cloud of death. The light north-easterly breeze wafted it toward them, and in a moment death had them by the throat. One cannot blame them that they broke and fled. In the gathering dark of that awful night they fought with the terror, running blindly in the gas-cloud, and dropping with breasts heaving in agony and the slow poison of suffocation mantling their dark faces. Hundreds of them fell and died; others lay helpless, froth upon their agonized lips and their racked bodies powerfully sick, with tearing nausea at short intervals. They too would die later – a slow and lingering death of agony unspeakable. The whole air was tainted with the acrid smell of chlorine that caught at the back of men’s throats and filled their mouths with its metallic taste. The village of St Julien, where Will was posted, had been comfortably behind the Canadian defences until the poison gas attack of 22 April, when it became the front line.

On the morning of 24 April the Germans released another cloud of chlorine, towards the re-formed Canadian line just west of St. Julien. Word was passed among the Canadian troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place these over their noses and mouths. The countermeasures were insufficient and German troops took the village. However, the use of urine soaked pads continued to be the only counter-measure against the gas until respirators were provided in July 1915. The ammonia in the urine partly neutralised the chlorine. The picture shows British troops wearing the primitive protection.

WW1 Protection against gas attack St Julien

Next day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked, failed to secure their objectives but established a new line closer to the village. On 26 April the Northumberland Brigade attacked again and gained a foothold in the village but were forced back with the loss of more than 1,940 casualties, among them Sergeant William Lumley, who died in heavy shelling. Field Marshall Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Army, reports in his 8th Despatch that ‘the Northumberland Infantry Brigade advanced against St Julien and actually succeeded in entering, and for a time occupying, the southern portion of that village.’ They were, however, eventually driven back, largely owing to gas, and finally occupied a line a short way to the south. Will was reported missing in the ‘Journal’ on 15 May 1915 and his death was confirmed on 18 June in the ‘Evening Chronicle’, where a letter from a friend who had witnessed it praised his heroic actions:

Heroism in an Attack
Sergeant W. Lumley of the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers was killed in action on April 26, and his father, Mr J. Lumley of 37 Sixth Avenue, Heaton, has received from a fellow sergeant the following letter:

I have had a letter from my chum in which he states you are very anxious for any detail of poor Will of whose sad end you have received official intimation from the War Office, I understand. Being an office colleague of mine, we chummed in together out here and went into action together on that fated Monday afternoon, April 26. Unfortunately we were separated in the final rush, but another chum of his was near him when he fell. This is his story. When we were making the final attack on St Julien, he was wounded in the arm and, after having had it bound up hurriedly, insisted on going on. Had he been but that brave fellow he proved himself to be, he would have gone back to dressing station there and then, as nearly every man would have done. He insisted on going on however and shortly afterwards was killed outright by the bursting of a shell. He would be buried where he fell, either by the Seaforths or the Warwicks, who were in the trenches at the time and would send burial parties out after the affair. I have lost many chums in this ***** affair, but I have felt Will’s loss more than any, as he had been associated with me so closely. At any rate you have consolation, however small, that your son died a hero. Had he been any other, he would have probably been alive today.
Transcript of article from Evening Chronicle 18 June 1915

Will’s death is marked on plaques on the Menin Gate in Ypres, his body having been hastily buried and never recovered due to the retreat of the allied forces from St Julien.

Will Lumley's name on the Menin Gate

He is also remembered on war memorials in Chillingham Road School and in the former Bainbridge Memorial Methodist Church where stained glass windows were commissioned to commemorate the loss of members of the congregation. William was awarded three medals: The British War Medal; the Victory Medal; and the 1914-15 star. The three medals were almost always awarded together and were known as Pip (the 1914-15 Star), Squeak (the British War Medal) and Wilfred (the Victory Medal). Entries in the register of soldiers effects show that a War Gratuity of £6 and the sum of £2 7s 7d, cash in his possession when he died were paid to Will’s sister, Miss Rosanna Lumley, on 7 July 1919.

Margaret’s story

On Wednesday 22 March 1916, Will’s bereaved mother, Margaret Lumley, is noted in ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ amongst a list of other donors as having donated a muffler, games, two pairs of socks, bedsocks, magazines and stationery to the Northumberland War Hospital on behalf of the North Heaton Branch of the British Women’s Temperance Association.

In the Victorian period, alcohol consumption was massive. It was a way of life. Beer was cheaper than bread; spirits were deemed to have ‘medicinal’ benefits. It was one of the few pastimes that transcended the class structure. Nor was it just men who drank. To many, alcohol offered a temporary escape from their hard lives. Others thrived on the sensory pleasure it seemed to afford. However, it was the women who usually had to suffer and manage the consequences of excessive drinking by their menfolk. It was the women who struggled to keep enough money back from their husbands’ pay to feed the family before it was spent at the pub. It was they who had to shelter the children from aggressive drunken fathers, often taking a beating themselves in the process. And it was they who had to watch as sons grew up to regard beer as the staple drink.

It was against this background that the temperance movement started to grow, almost inevitably led by men, until the BWTA came along. Margaret Bright Lucas was a member of a well known Quaker family and in 1872 joined the Independent Order of the Good Templars, rising by 1875 to the level of ‘grand worthy vice templar, the highest position afforded to a British woman. The IOGT afforded much greater equality for its women members, encouraging them to speak in public.

Margaret Bright Lucas

Margaret Parker BWTA

Along with Margaret Parker from Dundee, she had visited America and been heavily influenced by the thinking of the US women’s temperance leader Eliza Stewart. On their return, they issued a call to arms, bringing together over 150 women from across the country to a meeting as part of a conference of the International Order of Good Templars in April 1876. The British Women’s Temperance Association was born, with Margaret Parker becoming the first president. Margaret Bright Lucas took over the presidency in 1878 until her death in 1890 and oversaw a massive growth of the association. Many organisations with similar goals became affiliated to the movement and in 1884, an organising agent was appointed to add 100 additional branches. It produced its own journal and a non-alcoholic cookery Book. Margaret Bright Lucas also recognised that women’s voice for reform would be stronger if women had the vote and advocated means of influencing men to use their votes in support of women’s issues, thus tying temperance and women’s suffrage issues together very strongly. A tie that would ultimately in 1893 split the organisation into the National British Women’s Temperance Association, then led by Lady Henry Somerset, with a mandate for a full reforming agenda and the Women’s Total Abstinence Union, with a much narrower remit.

The newly reformed NBWTA involved itself in a much wider social reform agenda, including child protection, suffrage and prison and court work. It is this organisation that Margaret Lumley would have been active in. The newspaper article identifies her address as the address for the North Heaton Branch of the association, so she must have played a leading role in the local organisation, possibly branch secretary, which was obviously big enough to warrant its own North Heaton branch. As a member, Margaret would have had to sign a membership pledge and would have worn the organisations white ribbon brooch.

BWTA Pledge Card

What is significant is what Margaret’s role as branch secretary tells us about the changing role of women in society at the time. The early leaders of the BWTA were very much from the upper class philanthropist mould. Ladies who could play no official role in the society of the day, but were able to use their status and connections to exert a growing influence on matters of concern to society, like temperance. But during World War One, Margaret Lumley a lower middle class wife and mother, was leading a local branch of a national organisation with some significant influence nationally.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the 1915-16 programme of the Ladies Literary Society at the Bainbridge Memorial Church, which the family attended, as well as having needlework and cookery competitions and considering a paper on the ‘potentialities of a handkerchief’ also held debates and had a talk from Mrs Florence Nightingale Harrison-Bell, a leading local figure in the women’s suffrage movement.

Bainbridge Chapel Programme

An article in 14 August 1914’s edition of ‘The Newcastle Daily Journal’ reports that the BWTA was one of a number of local women’s organisations that had met with the Lord Mayor of Newcastle to discuss how they could help the war effort by organising women volunteers. The article notes that a committee had been established under the Lord Mayor’s direction, which would allow the various organisations to coordinate women volunteers to meet various needs as and when they were identified. The article goes on to note that the only immediate requirements were for women qualified to investigate cases of distress and help with sewing. It is possible that a continuation of this work that led to the donations to the Northumberland War Hospital noted in the original article. Nationally, the association funded reading, writing and refreshment rooms for the troops as well as funding the provision of mobile canteens to feed the troops at the front and the North Heaton branch would have been active in raising money for the national effort as well as supporting local initiatives.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input by Caroline Stringer, as part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We would like to hear your views on anything relating to the article. You can leave them on the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Dreams of Nature: William Armstrong and Jesmond Dene

William Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Cragside (1810–1900) is best known as a practical engineer and scientist – the inventor of modern artillery and creator of the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity – but he had an intensely romantic side that revealed itself in his shaping of the landscape around him. ‘I am a greater lover of nature than most people give me credit for,’ wrote Armstrong in 1855, by which time he had started to transform his garden and grounds in Jesmond Dene to reflect his dream of living in the mountains.

Early 20C postcard of Jesmond Dene, published by Alexander Denholm Brash of 92 Heaton Road

Early 20C postcard of Jesmond Dene, published by Alexander Denholm Brash of 92 Heaton Road

Armstrong’s attachment to Jesmond Dene, which began in childhood, remained strong throughout his long life. As his prosperity increased, he was more and more inclined to share the pleasures of the place with others. For example, in the early 1860s, he built a Banqueting Hall in the dene – not for lavish feasting, but for entertaining his workers at tea parties. In 1884 he handed over the dene and the hall to the citizens of Newcastle in perpetuity, with clear instructions about their preservation and use.

Another early 20C card of Jesmond Dene by Alexander Denholm Brash

Another early 20C card of Jesmond Dene by Alexander Denholm Brash

AT our talk on Wednesday 25 March 2015, Henrietta Heald, author of ‘William Armstrong, Magician of the North’, will talk about the long association between Armstrong and Jesmond Dene, the dene’s status as a public park, and the future of the Banqueting Hall, which is now the subject of a restoration campaign. The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (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.

Please note: this replaces the originally advertised talk by Andrew McLean.

The Home Front in World War One

Blackouts, rationing and air raids were not just features of the Second World War, they were all experienced during the First World War too. Our talk on 27 May looks at how the war affected the lives of everyone living on Tyneside, the opportunities it gave to some and the problems it brought to others. Anthea Lang, formerly Local History & Heritage Manager for Gateshead Council and author of four local history books, will discuss the effects of the war on the people of Tyneside both during the war and afterwards.

Rose Vanner, Gateshead's first lady tram conductress in 1916

Rose Vanner, Gateshead’s first lady tram conductress in 1916

The talk will take place on Wednesday 27 May 2015 at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm as we are expecting a full house). It’s essential to book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. Booking is currently open to Heaton History Group members only but any remaining seats will go on general sale in mid-March. This event has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project.

The People’s Theatre: Past, Present and Future

The People’s Theatre has been a thriving part of our community in Heaton for over 50 years, but its origins go back a further half century. Formed in Edwardian Newcastle, it owes its existence to an unlikely combination of socialist politics and bohemian cultural values, brought together and personified by Colin Veitch, the man who captained Newcastle United through their first golden age of league and FA Cup success. On Wednesday 24 June, we’ll hear the People’s story and find out about plans to refurbish the building for another 50 years.

Entrance to the Peoples 2013

Chris Goulding is an English teacher at the Royal Grammar School. He is the author of books and journalism on local history and literature, as well as the NE children’s bestseller Tinseltoon. A former professional actor, he has been an active member of the People’s Theatre for over 30 years.

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (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.

Jack Common’s Avenues in Wartime

Jack Common was born at 44 Third Avenue on 15 August 1903. In his autobiographical novels, ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’, he wrote about growing up in Heaton. Although ostensibly fiction, Jack’s writing is clearly based on his own experience and his vivid memories. It tells us about aspects of life in the avenues, before and during World War One, that often we’d have no other way of knowing. Jack describes his milieu, life as a ‘corner boy,’ and gives us a rare (pupil’s) insight into life at Chillingham Road School. He writes with feeling, humour and from the perspective of the socialist he became. While we have to remember the fictional element and the personal viewpoint, Jack Common’s work is an important source for our Heaton Avenues in Wartime research.

The avenues

Some of the places Jack describes have changed, of course, but to anyone familiar with Heaton, the streets (or avenues) of terraced houses and Tyneside flats are instantly recognisable over a hundred years later:

…’ the south side started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran straight past some eighty front doors arranged in twos, one for the upstairs flat, one for the down, and each pair separated from the next by the downstairs garden.’

…’when you could crawl and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step onto the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps on again to the cobblestones in the middle of the road.’

So far, we’ve traced only one photograph of the Avenues taken during this period. it shows Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews’ great aunt, Ruth Castle, outside her home at 47 Tenth Avenue and it chimes with Jack Common’s description of his ‘territory’.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue, early 1900s


‘These gardens were just narrow fenders of soil laid around the buttress of the bay window but they were magnificently defended from depredation by low brick walls, coped with granite slabs, each sprouting a complicated fence of spiked railings… Between them lay cement aprons in front of the doors.’

Regular visitors

Some of the most evocative descriptions of the avenues are the lively street scenes; the traders and entertainers who passed through: the rag and bone man with his bugle, barrow and paper windmills, ‘made of rough sticks and coloured wallpaper or an umbrella of the same or a fan or a piece of pineapple rock’ which he’d exchange for the jam jars or rags the children brought him.

‘… such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk chariots, coal-carts and steam wagons… Practically any moment of the day, one or other of these strange craft, ark or pinnacle, was bound to come upon our horizon. The hooves of the faster traffic, doctor’s trap or post office van, shot sparks from our cobbles…’

‘… the slower moving door-to-door tradesmen announced their presence: the milkman with a hand-bell and a high-pitched cry, the firewood seller with a long wail ‘d’ye wa-a-nt any sticks’, the coal-man bluff, solid and low, ‘coal ter wagon, coal ter wagon’, and the hardware merchant, standing on his high cart, with a rapid ringing of plate against plate, produced an insistent tintinabulation which rang across several streets. Very often several of these were around at the same time, plus one or other of varieties of street musician, the tin whistler, the barrel organist or German band….’


‘And that was only the front street…. Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door…..

'Coo-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James, Heaton History Group

Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off their biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on their heads.’

‘Everbody’s washing hung across the lane so that the appearance of a tradesman’s cart meant a rush to tuck sheets and things round the rope and to raise the diminished bunting high over the horse’s head with a prop.’

Close friends

Common’s descriptions of childhood are equally wonderful and will resonate with many older readers, in particular:

‘… the many games that made their immutable processions across our year. Marbles, tops, hoops and girds, bays, monty-kitty, kick-the-block, up-for-Monday, they came and went in their due seasons.’

‘The marble millionaire gambled untold wealth at the Big Ring, increasing the stakes as the evening wore on until there was a fortune out there on the cement; whole constellations of fat Millies and coloured glass alleys with twinkling spirals down their centres and clear sea-green or whipwater-white pop-alleys winked in the shaky gaslight, nothing less than these high counters allowed in the big game, stonies and chalkies definitely barred. Then in came the bullocker shot from the ringside. The constellation shook and was scrambled; single stars fled or rolled towards the chalk ring. All that went over belonged to the lad that made the shot. Sometimes none did. Right, next player. The winners dropped their captured beauties with a happy plonk into the poke they nearly all carried; losers might fish for a last treasure, a broken pen knife or a watch-compass, to barter for another stake.’

And bonfire night:

‘At the bottom end, on Ninth back lane a mattress in the bonfire had just caught alight, the dervishes around it jumped and yelled from fiery-smudged faces; Eighth were entrenched within their narrow gardens, hurling Chinese crackers and jumping-jacks at all who passed by; Seventh were engaged in a slanging match because the great pyramid of their fire, crowned with a guy sitting in an armchair, had toppled over and was burning against somebody’s back door…. You could even see the near-toddlers solemnly lighting each other’s sparklers from the hot end of the last one to burn out, and there were little girls running wild as they tried to throw London Lights into the air.’

He also describes life in what he refers to as the ‘corner-gangs’. That the camaraderie and solidarity of his gang ‘Sons of the Battle-axe’ meant a lot to Jack can be deduced from his writing and the politics he espoused but also in the fact that, all through his life, he held onto treasured mementos of his Heaton childhood.

The Jack Common Archive is now in the Robinson Library at Newcastle University. Amongst the novel manuscripts, correspondence with publishers and friends, family photographs and cuttings of reviews are the rules, oaths and codes relating to the Sons of the Battle-axe. Examples are displayed here with the permission of the Common family and the university.

Jack Common's 'corner-gang' codes

Jack Common’s ‘corner-gang’ codes

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Many of Jack Common’s boyhood friends, such as the Ord brothers, appear in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, with their names unchanged, even if, writing thirty or forty years later, Common appears to have fictionalised some of their back stories.

School

The Chillingham Road School Jack Common attended still stands proudly today, of course. Jack didn’t look back on his schooldays with much affection, believing that working class children like him were being ‘trained for boredom’ as he put it. He conveys his negative feelings in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’:

‘There was a school bell which tolled for some five minutes in the mornings, a peculiarly flat despondent sound, not urgent, not very loud, though it carried over all the Avenues, and it always seemed as if it meant to go on forever.’

although he did have some fond memories:

‘… a class of some fifty children, more than half of them girls, I was disgusted to note. It was a very pleasant classroom though. The morning sun shone in through the wide windows over blue glass vases and painted pottery jugs holding flowers on to the yellow desks.’

But Jack’s daughter, Sally, wrote in a letter to Heaton History Group:

‘I have just looked at their website, and it comes across as such an amazing, vibrant establishment. It makes me want to be a child again and go there! So different from the place my father described that trained children in boredom – in preparation for the boring jobs they would have later’

and Jack would surely have been amazed that today’s pupils learn about and are rightly proud of their somewhat reluctant predecessor.

Winner

For all his later cynicism, Jack (or John as he was known there) Common had some notable successes while at school. He won prizes for at least two of his essays – one a citywide competition on the war-inspired theme of ‘Thrift‘. The essay itself doesn’t survive but he was proud enough of the letter inviting him to collect his prize of Government War Bonds and the newspaper coverage to keep them. They survive in the Jack Common Archive and copies will be displayed at the Chillingham pub from mid-February to mid-April 2015.

The same goes for two compositions about Jesmond Dene for which he also won prizes. Jack later referred to the florid writing style he had adopted in his teenage years and you can judge for yourself from the extracts to be displayed at the Chilli or by visiting the Jack Common Archive.

Jack Common is known for his working class Newcastle upbringing, his strong socialist beliefs and his friendship with George Orwell rather than his love of nature but a lot of his writing and especially the personal diaries in the archive show how much he cared about and knew about the natural world. He may not have acknowledged the influence of his Heaton boyhood or his education at Chillingham Road School but it’s a deep love which began in childhood and which the school log books show was shared by his head teacher, even if neither teacher nor pupil recognised it at the time.

War

Jack was ten years old at the start of the first world war. He refers to it only briefly in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, writing through a child’s eyes:

‘One Saturday morning a rumour came round that the schools were to be commandeered as temporary barracks; a second report said that the soldiers were already in. Some of us tore round to have a look. Chillingham Road School stood bare and empty, a maw gaping for Monday. We back-pedalled round a corner so as to put it out of sight again, wishing we hadn’t come. But somebody passing on a bike said that North Heaton was taken. We moved off into the territory presided over by that semi-cissy academy, hunching together in case we got raided on the way.

It was true. North Heaton School echoed to the bawls of a couple of sergeants drilling their awkward squads in the boys’ yard….’

But the descriptions of the attitudes of the adults around him are enlightening as well as entertaining. Jack Common is typically unafraid to go against the grain or to offend. He refuses to romanticise and so adds to our understanding of a particular place and an important time:

‘But I had a feeling deep down that war wouldn’t apply to my father. I couldn’t see him waving a flag and leaping over a parapet, as the wild bugles blew, straight into the enemies’ fire; I could see him sitting firmly as ever in his own chair, pointing out that the war was a lot of fat-headedness started by old grannies and bosses-on-the-make and carried on by young fools who believed what they said in the newspapers.’

‘After the customary visit to the boozer, argument waged hot and strong. Uncle George, Boer War veteran, would join up at once – only there was no one to run his greengrocery business if he did. True-blue Uncle Will was hot against the Germans; he would throw in a couple of sons against them right away – the sons, though, did not endorse this generous patriotism. Red Uncle Robin, bachelor, vegetarian and crank, saw the conflict as a power-struggle between rival groups of bosses to be boycotted by all intelligent working men. Sad Uncle Andrew thought it was one of those madnesses good men have to go into because they couldn’t stand being with the crooks and sharpers who’d stayed out. Burly, gentle Uncle Bill knew no rights or wrongs in it, he had the countryman’s view, that it was a super-thunderstorm or tremendously bad weather – ‘Thor’s ne help for it, we’ll hae t’last it oot’. ‘

His presentation of dissident voices is another reason, if we need one, to read, reread, remember and appreciate Heaton’s Jack Common.

Postscript

‘Kiddars Luck’ is currently out of print but can be obtained in a Kindle version and from second-hand bookshops, online and in libraries.

More about Jack Common

This article was written by Chris Jackson, as part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We would like to hear your views on anything relating to the article. You can leave them on the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

A related exhibition will be in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub from 16 February to mid April 2015. It contains digital copies of documents from the Jack Common Archive at Newcastle University and Tyne & Wear Archives as well as illustrations by local artists.

The Heaton Main Colliery Disaster 1815

This year is the 200th anniversary of Newcastle’s worst ever peacetime catastrophe, often known locally as ‘The Spinney disaster’. In the first of a series of events to take place in and around Heaton over the coming year, Les Turnbull will give the fascinating historical background, tell us what happened at Heaton Main Colliery on 3rd May 1815 and in the months that followed – and he might surprise you when he explains WHERE the events unfolded.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

Les, who is a member of Heaton History Group and an acknowledged expert on the history of mining, especially in the North East, was born near the Middle Pit in 1941, educated at Tosson Terrace Primary, Chillingham Road Secondary and Heaton Grammar and now lives near the ‘C’ Pit.

The talk will take place on 29 April 2015 at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm as we are expecting a full house). It’s essential to book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. This event has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of our ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ project.