The Donaldsons of Seventh Avenue

Autumn 1914 saw frenzied efforts to mobilise the huge army that the government knew would be needed to win the war. Many men responded readily to the call to arms but, at home, women were left bringing up young children on their own, coping with rising food prices and shortages and worrying about their loved ones. For some it was too much. The story of the Donaldson family of Seventh Avenue illustrates well the story of those early weeks of World War One.

David and Mary Reith Donaldson lived at 55 Seventh Avenue, Heaton. The 1911 census tells us that David (aged 44) was a joiner in an engineering works and Mary (43) a domestic cook. They had three children Amba (10), David Junior (7) and Walter (5). They were already living in Heaton but in Queen Anne Street. In April 1913, Amba sadly died, aged only 11 years. The family had, by this time, moved to Seventh Avenue.

David’s story

David Donaldson was born in Alves, Morayshire in the North of Scotland on 7 January 1867. By 1901 though, he had moved south to Hebburn and was married to Mary. He described himself at this time as a ‘house joiner’.

In October 1914, David was one of the first men to join the Tyneside Scottish Brigade. Although from the outset men volunteered to join the army, to start with recruitment was far below the numbers Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, believed necessary. General Sir Henry Rawlinson suggested that men would be more inclined to enlist if they knew they would be serving alongside their friends, work colleagues and other people like them. The first so-called ‘pals battalion’ was the London Stockbrokers’ Battalion, soon followed locally by the Newcastle Commercials, which formed the 16th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, and Newcastle Railway Pals (the 17th Battalion). Recognising that many on Tyneside, men like David, identified strongly with their Celtic roots, Scottish (20-23rd battalions) and Irish Brigades (24th-27th battalions) followed from October 1914. Luckily for us local historians, it was agreed early on that the names of men enlisting would appear in the local press to encourage others. David’s name appeared in the Newcastle Daily Journal on Wednesday 28 October and, as one of the earliest recruits, he joined the First Tyneside Scottish (20th Northumberland Fusiliers).

What is particularly striking about David is his age when he enlisted. The Tyneside Scottish advertised for men aged between 19 and 45 but David was by then 47 years old. It is well known that many recruits lied about their age in order to be accepted. Perhaps David did. Alternatively such was the shortage of trained men, an exception to the age parameters was made for those who had military experience. Certainly David must have been fit for his age as many would-be recruits failed their medicals or to complete their training. Although we haven’t yet uncovered details of his previous career, a clue that David had valuable experience comes on his army record card. The reason stated for his early discharge in 1918 is completion of 20 years military service. He would by then have been 51 years old.

Thanks to Graham Stewart and John Sheen’s comprehensive book ‘Tyneside Scottish’, we know a lot about David’s Battalion, the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers. At first they were billeted at either Tilley’s restaurant in New Market Street or Simpson’s Hotel in Wallsend. (By contrast, the 2nd Tyneside Scottish were originally based at four halls belonging to churches and schools in the Heaton Road area.) In late January 1915, the battalion marched to Alnwick. It wasn’t until January 1916 that the members of the battalion who had survived sixteen months of arduous training, set sail for France. Conditions there were much worse. Rats and lice were an ongoing problem even before the battalion became involved in the action. On 1st July 1916, Tyneside Scottish suffered huge losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed that day and some 57,500 injured. Tyneside Scottish lost almost 1,000 men with another 1,500 injured out of a total of some 4,000 soldiers. As we have heard, though, Private Donaldson happily survived and was discharged in 1918.

Mary’s story

Mary Reith Donaldson nee Sutherland was born in 1868 in the parish of Wigton in Cumberland. Her mother was a Londoner and her father Scottish. By the time she was three, Mary’s family were living in Simonburn, Northumberland, where her father, David, was a schoolmaster and Amba, her mother, despite having four children under six, a sewing mistress. By 1881, the family, by now with six children, was in Widdrington.

Ten years later, we find 23 year old Mary working at Close House in Heddon, part of the huge staff employed by Calverly Bewick, his wife, Eleanor, and their eight children. May is listed as a kitchen maid, one of a staff of sixteen. Interestingly the coachman was someone named Edward Donaldson. Perhaps it was through him that she met her husband, David. On 5 June 1899, Mary and David Donaldson were married in Glasgow.

In the 1901 census, Mary doesn’t mention an occupation and yet ten years later in 1911, by which time she had 3 children, she describes herself as a domestic cook. Recent research on the occupations of women suggests that the census under-reports women’s work but nevertheless calculates that only around four per cent of married women worked prior to WW1. It’s interesting that Mary followed in the footsteps of her own mother in this regard. Did she work out of necessity or choice? We can’t be sure but subsequent events suggest she may have needed more money than her husband earned.

What we do know is that Mary’s life wasn’t easy. Her first child, Amba, born in 1901, suffered from epilepsy. By 1906, she had three children under five. By 1911, she combined motherhood with a job and tragically in April 1913, her only daughter, Amba, died at the age of 11. Amba’s death certificate records the cause as a combination of acute bronchitis and epilepsy. One can only imagine the pain the loss caused Mary. But things were to get even worse for herself and her family.

On November 13 1914, only a matter of weeks after her husband joined the Tyneside Scottish, Mary appeared in court charged with two offences of drunkenness and child neglect. Under the sensational headline ‘A Craving for Drink’, the Newcastle Journal reported that she had been found drunk in Algernon Road, Heaton. It said that she ‘was constantly drinking and taking things out of the house to the pawnshop’. The court was given detailed information about the ‘separation allowance’ she had received from the government. It said that she had received £2 5s but after drinking had returned with only 18s and that her husband had taken possession of the remainder and spend 7s on rent and 6s on groceries.

Court records dating from this time can be examined in Tyne and Wear Archives. They show that, while Mary was acquitted of the offence of drunkenness, rather than be helped overcome her addiction, she was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour for child neglect. We don’t know whether any attempt was made to treat Mary’s alcoholism or what happened to the two boys. Their grandmother lived in Tynemouth so perhaps she looked after them for a time but sadly she too died in 1915. Meanwhile David continued to serve his country.

Postscript

This glimpse of one Heaton family via surviving records gives some insight into how hard life could be both for those serving and those left behind. It also illustrates nicely two government priorities in the early months of the war. Firstly, the need to recruit huge numbers of men led to the formation of the ‘Pals’ regiments and a blind eye being turned to the recruitment of over-age and under-age volunteers.

Serving in WW1 by Kate Hancock

Serving in World War One by Kate Hancock

And, at the same time, the government had become increasingly worried about the consumption of alcohol and its effect on the war effort. Some newspapers claimed that soldiers’ allowances were over-generous and were being ‘drunk away’ by their wives; a new law outlawed the buying of rounds in pubs; opening hours were reduced with, in some places, specific restrictions on the times when women could be served; tax on drink was increased. David Lloyd George even started a campaign to persuade national figures to make a pledge that they would not drink alcohol (although Prime Minister Asquith, reportedly a heavy drinker, refused to sign up!).

By 1918, alcohol consumption had fallen by half and convictions for drunkenness were down by some 75%. The government measures played a part but so did other factors especially the huge numbers of men serving, and in many cases losing their lives, on the WW1 battlefields and the large number of women who worked full time outside the home.

Can you help?

if you have more information about any aspect of this story, please get in touch. We are also looking for local artists to illustrate future stories and for any photographs or mmemorabilia relating to WW1 and Heaton and its people in particular. Please respond via the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Craigielea – history of a Heaton house

‘Craigielea’ (276 Heaton Road) is an imposing early Edwardian brick villa situated on the corner of Heaton Road and Cartington Terrace opposite both St Gabriel’s church and the Heaton Medicals cricket and rugby ground. We were thrilled when just before recent owner Jimmy McAdam moved out, he invited us to look through the house’s deeds and other documents. What would they reveal? We suspected that some interesting people would have crossed its threshold and we weren’t disappointed.

Craigielea 2014

Craigielea exterior

The first question the documents answered was the age of the house. The first conveyance is dated 3 June 1902. It shows that William Watson Armstrong, who had inherited Lord Armstrong’s estate only eighteen months earlier, sold three adjoining plots of land, on what was termed the Heaton Park Villa Estate, to builder William Thompson of Simonside Terrace. The contract came with a myriad of strict provisos concerning the quality of the properties to be built on the site: only high quality materials were to be used; the roof and back offices were to be covered with Bangor or Duke of Westmoreland slate, yard fences were to be wire railings of approved design and four feet high; the front was to comprise a garden only; no trades were to be pursued from the properties etc. The high standard of design and workmanship is still evident today.

Living rooom interior

The architect’s family

William Thompson was the first owner of Craigielea but not its first resident. That honour seems to have gone to the Lish family. At least they are the first to be named in the annual trade directories. Joseph James Lish was born in Beamish, County Durham in 1841. By the time he moved to Heaton, he had been married for over 35 years to his wife, Nancy, a Londoner, and they had 5 children, the rather exotically named John Robertson, Kirkwood Hewat, Catherine Hozier Robertson, Bentley Beavons and Florence Meek. Sadly John, a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment, was to die during the First World War. He is cited in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour which, in addition to giving details of his military service and heroic death, records that he was a shipbroker, coal exporter and all round sportsman.

His father, Joseph Lish, was an architect but he didn’t design the house or its two neighbouring properties. The original plans in Tyne and Wear Archive show that they were the work of the well-known Tyneside architects, William Hope and Joseph Charlton Maxwell.

Craigielea is shown on the left of this original design

Craigielea is shown on the left of this original design

Hope and Maxwell are remembered for their design of theatres, not only locally in Blyth and Newcastle, but as far afield as Glasgow, Margate and Southampton. Sadly the Hope and Maxwell theatres have all been demolished or been destroyed by fire. Another of their buildings does still stand, however, just up the road from Craigielea. It’s Heaton Methodist Church.

But back to Craigielea‘s first resident. There are a number of known Lish buildings around Tyneside, the most well known of which is the 1908 Dove Marine Laboratory, which still stands at Cullercoats. There is a book in Newcastle City Library in which Lish describes the design and build of the laboratory. He was an early advocate of reinforced concrete, using it in the Dove laboratory. What’s more, over a quarter of a century earlier, in 1874, he had exhibited his own invention, ‘Tilo-Concrete’. Lish was prominent in his profession both regionally and nationally. At one stage he was the President of the Society of Architects, whose Gold Medal he was awarded. He died in 1922 at the age of 80.

If you know more about Joseph Lish or any member of his family or have any photographs you are willing to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either via the ‘Reply’ link just below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

The marine engineer’s family

By 1911, the Lish family had left Heaton and marine engineer Robert Bales Armstrong and his wife, Margaret Emma, had moved in with their eight children and Robert’s sister, Sarah. Robert, from West Herrington in County Durham, was the son of a cartman/sheep farmer. His wife, from the same county, had worked as a Post Office assistant before she was married. By 1911, the two older boys, Frank Bales and Robert Hunter, were both apprentices in engineering and ship building respectively. The older girls, Sarah Jane and Daisy Bales ‘assisted with housework’; John, David Bales and Reginald Hugh were at school and Doris Hunter and Gladys May were under school age. The family also had a live-in servant, Annie Elizabeth Robinson. You can see why they needed a substantial house!

Robert and Margaret Armstrong with some of their family

Robert and Margaret are in the centre of this family group

We are indebted to researchers of the Armstrong family tree who have posted on the Ancestry website for the above photo and additional information about Robert who had begun his career as a draughtsman at Hawthorn Leslie, worked for a while at Day, Summers and Co in Southampton and returned to the North East and Hawthorn Leslie in 1905. While living in Heaton, he was Chief Assistant to the Engineering Director and then General Manager. The family left Craigielea just before the end of the First World War. Robert was awarded the OBE in 1918 for his part in keeping the shipyards open during the war. Later he invented a steam powered boiler, the ‘Hawthorn-Armstrong’. Robert died in 1931 only weeks after becoming Managing Director of R & W Hawthorn, Leslie and Co Ltd.

The draper’s family

Next to move in to Craigielea was Herbert Pledger and his family. Herbert Pledger was born in Cambridgeshire, the son of a ‘bootmaker and publican’. By 1891, at the age of 22, he was a draper’s assistant in Saffron Walden, Essex and lodging with his employer. Within a few years, he had moved North and entered into a business partnership on Shields Road (See below). Soon he was to have his own firm.

Herbert Pledger's shop seen here in 1923 on the occasion of the Prince of Wales visit (Taken by Heaton butcher, Edgar Couzens

Herbert Pledger’s shop seen here in 1923 on the occasion of the Prince of Wales’ visit (Taken by Heaton butcher, Edgar Couzens)

We can track Herbert’s success by his various Heaton addresses. In 1895, he lodged at 29 Kingsley Place. By 1900 he was married, with a young son, and was householder at 105 Cardigan Terrace. In 1911, he, his Gateshead born wife, Annie and their children, Herbert Junior, William Cowley and Marjorie plus servant Isabella Caisley lived at 20 Simonside Terrace and for a couple of years from 1918, they lived at Craigielea before moving just up Heaton Road to Graceville. Herbert died in 1929 with an estate worth over £80,000, a significant fortune then.

Owner-occupiers

After the Pledgers moved out, the house was owned and occupied briefly by William Thompson, builder. This was the first time it had been owner-occupied and at present, we can only surmise that this is the same William Thompson who had built the house 20 years or so earlier. He seems also to have had a house in Coquet Terrace (number 39). Sadly he died soon after. Isabella , his widow, sold Craigielea in 1931 to William Thompson Hall, a doctor who also had a surgery at 12 Heaton Road. There is a document in which the freeholder’s lawyers say that (despite the original clause forbidding trades being practised from the house) they had no objection to Dr Hall’s medical practice and, subject to the approval of Lord Armstrong’s architects, a side entrance could be made for the convenience of Dr Hall. The plans are held by Tyne and Wear Archive.

Plans of Craigielea 1930s

The original dining room and drawing room were converted into a waiting room and consulting room

Dr Hall died in 1934 at which point the house passed into the ownership of his widow, Edith, and an Isabel Dorothy Reed. From this point on, biographical information about the householders becomes a little harder to find but we do have the bare bones. From just before World War 2 until the late fifties, a Maurice Edward Robinson, manager, was in residence but didn’t own the property. In 1958 Vincent and Margaret Richards Fleet moved from 14 Coquet Terrace, paying Hall and ‘another’ £1,900. When Vincent Fleet died in 1977 the house was passed firstly to ‘Thomas and Spencer’ and then to the Taz Leisure group, which applied for, but was refused, permission to convert the house into the HQ of the Northumbrian branch of the Red Cross Society. It was then sold to Ronald and Philippa Oliver in 1985 (They had moved, as so many of the more recent owners had, from a nearby Heaton residence – in this case 18 Westwood Avenue.) The Olivers in turn sought planning permission, this time to use part of the ground floor for a tea room but this too was refused and the Olivers also soon sold the house. There were to be two further owners, ‘Maill and Grant’ and then Carol Simpson before Jimmy and Lesley McAdam of Tosson Terrace bought it in 1994 and lived there for over 20 years. Jimmy is a photographer and has a wealth of stories of his own to tell – but they’ll wait for another day!

Can you help?

If you know more about the history of Craigielea or any of the people mentioned, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either via the ‘Reply’ link just below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Royal Opening of Heaton’s Parks

20th August 1884 lived long in the memory of Victorian Heatonians. It was the day that royal visitors to the city processed down Shields Road, North View and Heaton Park Road before driving through Heaton Park, across Benton Bridge and Armstrong Bridge into Jesmond Dene. Once there, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) officially opened Armstrong Park and Jesmond Dene, the fine public spaces which, along with Heaton Park (opened a few years earlier in 1879), had been created on land presented to the people of Newcastle by Sir William Armstrong. Almost all of Heaton came out to see the first royal visit to Newcastle in thirty years and the first by the then Prince of Wales. The event was covered extensively in newspapers, not only locally but across the country.

Old Mill, Jesmond Dene

This postcard was written less than two years after Lord Armstrong’s death


Triumphal Arch

In the days before the event, there was speculation (and disappointment) about the route the royal procession would take:

The changing of the route has effected the subscription list considerably but as to make the alteration would lengthen the route, the suggestion of allowing the procession to pass along Heaton Road was not entertained. Newcastle Courant, Friday 1 August 1884

A ‘Decorative Executive Committee’ of the council was formed with a chairman and three vice chairmen and separate committees set up for individual streets down which the royal party would pass on route to Heaton. There would be triumphal arches in Barras Bridge, Northumberland Street, New Bridge Street, Grainger Street and Grey Street (two). The representative of the Byker district:

presented a plan for a triumphal arch to be placed at the old toll gate at the east end of Byker Bridge. The plan is for an imitation of Temple Bar and it will be called ‘Byker Bar’.

With huge crowds expected, there was understandable concern about the arrangements for spectators:

The road from the west end of Benton Bridge to Jesmond Grove is very narrow and barricades will be erected along it, a limited number of people being admitted behind the barricades by tickets…. the distribution of which will be made by Newcastle Town council.
Newcastle Courant, 15 August 1884

Close shave

The day itself almost started disastrously.

As the procession was passing up Grey Street, the horse ridden by Colonel Young of the Newcastle Artillery Volunteers, suddenly grew restive and became entangled with the wheels of the royal carriage and, in the struggle to liberate itself, swung round, bringing the sword of the rider into dangerous proximity to the head of the Prince of Wales, who had to bend down to escape a blow thereof. Nottingham Evening Post, Wednesday 20 August

After this narrow escape, which might have changed the course of history, the royal party headed east:

At Byker, the prince obtained a view of many artisans’ dwellings, in the improvement of which His Highness has evinced a strong practical interest. Newcastle Courant Friday 22 August

Impassable in its beauty

But early near miss aside, the day seems to have gone well, at least if the flowery language of the reporters of the day are to believed:

It was within the grounds of [Heaton] Park that one of the most pleasant sites of the whole day came into unexpected view. On a verdant slope, some thousands of children connected with the various educational schools in the city were congregated. The young faces were all eagerness with the prospect of seeing the royal personages. The majority of them were dressed in gay summer costumes and appeared veritably on the green sward like a ‘bed of daisies’… When the Prince and Princess of Wales came in view of the children, the sweet and fresh voices rose in swelling notes with ‘God bless the Prince of Wales’, the strains of this splendid anthem ringing through the woods and dales of Jesmond with a most charming effect..

Armstrong Park

Carriage drive the royal procession would have taken through Armstrong Park

From there the royal carriage ‘wended its way at a brisk trot to the elegant bridge which spans Jesmond Dene, and which is a magnificent and useful gift of Sir William Armstrong.’

After the prince had planted a commemorative oak tree using a silver spade, the party sat down to a sumptuous meal in the newly renovated and lavishly decorated Banqueting Hall. The parks were praised fulsomely in press reports all over the country, such as this in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligence, Thursday 21 August:

… one of the handsomest public grounds in the north of England. The natural scenery is almost impassable in its beauty and where nature has rested and left a spot whereon the eye could not rest with pleasure, art has stepped in to finish off the work.

…the brawling stream, the roaring waterfalls, the song of thrush and blackbird, the winding walks, the precipitous banks and the abundance of trees and shrubs, coupled with the ancient mill house and the ruined water wheel makes that portion of the Dene one of the most charming and attractive spots in the two northern counties.

There are several wells in the Dene and around some of them quaint old legends cluster. From what ‘Ye Old Well of King John’ derives its name, there is no exact information. There is a tradition that there stood a palace in the immediate vicinity which King John for some time inhabited.

King John's Well

The drinking vessels at King John’s Well were still in place within living memory

Legacy

It brings a lump to your throat! We’re lucky enough to still be able to access Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Jesmond Dene today, of course, 130 years after their official opening. Get out and enjoy them but also find a few moments to post your memories of the parks here or email them to chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Ouseburn before 1850 – talk

On Wednesday 22 October, Mike Greatbatch will give a talk entitled ‘Mills, mines and factories: Ouseburn before 1850′.

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 research project is an examination of the Poor Law administration in Byker Township from c1820.

Ouseburn culvert being built, postcard with political message

The culvert was built c 1907-11 but the Ouseburn viaduct in the background was opened in 1839

To book for the talk, which takes place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road, please contact: maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07763 985656 (as soon as possible to avoid disappointment!). Free for members. £2 for non members. We ask you to be in your seat by 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start so that we can give unclaimed seats to people on our reserve list.

The musical ‘spies’ of Tenth Avenue

On 11 August 1914, only a week after Britain had joined World War 1, newspapers right across a country on edge reported that two brothers ‘British born but of foreign extraction’ had been arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Beers brothers at Tynemouth photo collage reimagining

Photo collage reimagining by Heaton History Group member, Janet Burn

A young sea scout from North Shields said he’d seen them, along with a third man, direct a camera at the fortifications at Tynemouth. In court he said that at 7 o’clock the previous Sunday he had seen three men, two of whom were in the dock, proceeding along the sands towards the castle. One of them had a camera. They were playing with a ball. Afterwards they sat down in a circle. The scout said he was unable to see the camera at this point. He kept observation on them and afterwards saw them upon a seat. One of them put the camera on his knee and against his breast, pointing it towards the fortifications. He tried to conceal the camera with one hand. The scout added that he at once reported the matter and the men were arrested.

In the dock, the accused were asked if they understood English. ‘We ARE English’ was the reply. ‘We were born in Newcastle’. Asked about their occupations, the elder brother replied that he was ‘engaged at a picture hall in Newcastle’; while the younger said he was in a Whitley Bay orchestra. Both men were remanded in custody for eight days.

The following day they appeared in court again. The Chief Constable said that he had made careful enquiries. They were respectable young men and he asked that they be discharged. Nevertheless, the Mayor, Councillor Gregg, didn’t absolve the brothers from all blame. He said they had brought the trouble on themselves through their own foolishness: had they been more frank at the time, they would not have been in that position. Both young men thanked the magistrate and left the court.

Similar incidents were taking place all over the country. Everyone was nervous; people didn’t really know what form the war would take; there was, as yet, no trained ‘home guard’ and boy scouts, in particular, had been asked to help with the war effort by reporting anything suspicious. We might draw parallels with the aftermath of 9/11.

Who were the brothers?

The two young men were Leo Luke (25) and Aloysius Anthony (21) Beers of 18 Tenth Avenue, Heaton.

Cartoon by Robin Beers, Aloysius's grandson

Cartoon by Robin Beers, Aloysius’s grandson

As was eagerly noted in the news reports, they were indeed of ‘foreign extraction’. Their father Simon Hubertus Beers was Dutch, although he had lived in Britain for over 50 years, having been brought to Britain by his parents as a teenager. He had married a Liverpudlian, Elizabeth Hughes, and eventually settled in the North East. Simon too was a musician as was his father before him. His sister was a singer and at least one of his bothers was a musician too.

By 1891 the family (Simon, Elizabeth and three children Adrian, Hubert and Leo) were living in Heaton, at 30 Kingsley Place and by 1901, Elizabeth had died and the family had moved to 64 Meldon Terrace. Simon had been left with 6 children. On census night, 1901 Simon was at home with 3 of them and a housekeeper: Adrian, now 16 was described as a merchant’s clerk and Joseph (9) and Aloysius (7) were at school.

By 1911, Simon and the children still living at home, Leo (22), Joseph (19), Aloysius (18) and Bernard (17) were at 18 Tenth Avenue. They are all described as ‘professors of music’. Simon is said to be self-employed; Leo, Joseph and Bernard play in theatre orchestra and Aloysius is at this point out of work. Although the boys went their separate ways, Simon continued to live on Tenth Avenue for 20 more years. He died there on 6 February 1931 at the age of c86.

Leo’s story

Leo Luke Beers was born on 18 October 1888 and baptised ten days later at St Dominic’s on Shields Road. Beyond knowing that he grew up in a large and very musical household and that he lost his mother as a young boy, we know little of Leo’s childhood. However, online records and archival material afford us tantalising glimpses into his life following being branded, albeit briefly, an alien and a spy.

We don’t know whether the arrest and the attendant publicity was a factor but it wasn’t long before Leo left Newcastle. In September 1915, the Bath Chronicle, announcing the famous Pump Room Orchestra for the forthcoming season, introduced its new first violin: ‘Mr Leo Beers… has been the leader and principal violin of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle’.

Three months later, records show that Leo had enlisted for the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. This was before the Military Service Act, 1916 introduced conscription and so presumably, Leo volunteered. However, two months later, in February 1916, by which time the Act had been passed, he applied for exemption from military service on personal and domestic grounds but asked for his appeal to be considered in private. The tribunal agreed and later announced that a temporary certificate of exemption on domestic grounds would be granted. That April, it was reported that Leo’s appeal had been heard privately by Bath City Tribunal but had been adjourned until 1 May for further enquiries to be made. Luke’s military record card shows only that he was discharged on 28 August 1918 ‘no longer fit for duty’.

The next glimpse we have is some nine years after the war ended, by which time Leo was 38 years old. On 17 June 1927, he set sail from Liverpool to Quebec as a member of the ship’s orchestra, returning two weeks later. Interestingly in the ten strong ensemble, there were two other musicians from Heaton: Vincent Caygill of 19 Heaton Grove and John Robert Young of 149 Rothbury Terrace.

Leo Beers in later life

Leo Beers in later life

Leo spent the latter part of his life living in London. He died in December 1975 in Kensington.

Wishy’s story

Aloysius Anthony Beers was born on 1 November 1892 and he was baptised on 13 November, also at St Dominic’s. Like his brother, Aloysius didn’t stay in Heaton long after the start of the war. By December 1915, he was living in Glasgow and was married to Margaret Paterson, a ‘mantle maker’. On 6 January 1916, just four weeks after their wedding, their son Adrian was born. Aloysius too played in a ship’s orchestra at one stage. He sailed from Glasgow to Montreal in April 1931.

Aloysius Beers (extreme right) with other members of a ship's orchestra

Aloysius Beers (extreme right) with other members of a ship’s orchestra

We know too that in the years following World War 2, the brothers were reunited again. For a time, Leo was living with Aloysius, Margaret and other family members in London.

It’s because his son became at least the fourth generation to inherit the Beers family’s musical talent that we can add some colour to the raw data from the archives. Aloysius was referred to in Adrian’s obituaries as ‘Aloysius ‘Wishy’ Beers, ‘a Glaswegian’ (though we know, of course, that he was in fact originally a Geordie!) double-bass player who taught his son to play cello, piano and double bass and played with him in Glasgow music halls. Adrian became a classical musician of the highest order. He played in world famous orchestras and ensembles and was a good friend of Benjamin Britten. The Melos Ensemble, of which he was a founding member, played at the 1962 premier of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ in the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral on 30 May 1962, the original cathedral having been destroyed in World War 2.

Aloysius’s granddaughter, Jackie Khan, has kindly provided Heaton History Group with additional information about the family. She told us that that Leo and Aloysius’s elder brother Hubert was a musical hall artist who used the stage name Jock Macpherson.

Brother Joseph John Septimus Beers (born 8 April 1891) was, like Luke, a professional violinist until he enlisted with the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He died in active service on 10 July 1917. He is buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery in Belgium. Jackie said: ‘Joseph was killed in Flanders on the battlefield in 1917, found shell-shocked, sitting holding his hands over his ears, with fright on his face, dead’.

Sketch by Heaton History Group member, Mark James

Sketch by Heaton History Group member, Mark James

We don’t know whether Adrian’s father, Aloysius, was in the audience at the premier of ‘War Requiem’ but his son performing this powerful anti-war piece of music on such a symbolic national occasion will have been emotional for him, as he recalled not only his own wartime experiences but also his brother’s death.

Aloysius died just a few weeks later on 25 June 1962 at the age of 69. Adrian was awarded an MBE in 1990 for services to music and died in 2004.

Postscript

But that’s not the end of the story. The Beers musical genes have been passed down another two generations. Aloysius’s great-granddaughter and Adrian’s granddaughter is a very talented pianist and composer. Jean Beers has just spent a year as Composer in Residence at Eton College where she composed a piece of music for a symphony orchestra, commemorating World War One and inspired by the death of her great great uncle, Joseph John Septimus Beers.

Her aunt, Jackie Khan, who kindly found photographs of Leo and Aloysius and commissioned her brother, Robin, to produce a sketch especially for our website and exhibition, said; ‘They [the Beers of Heaton] would be very proud of her, as would her grandfather.’

Music continues to thrive in Heaton too, of course. Fittingly, there is even a well-established and still flourishing ensemble called ‘Tenth Avenue Band’, founded in 1988 at Chillingham Road School on the very avenue where the Beers had lived.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

Heaton History Group has been awarded Heritage Lottery Fund funding to enable it to research and recount the impact of World War One on a Tyneside neighbourhood. If you would like to get involved by helping with research, illustrating the stories we uncover, mounting exhibitions or organising events – or if you have information relating to WW1, especially relating to Heaton, including First to Tenth Avenues, please contact: Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group via chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

There is a related exhibition of original documents and artworks in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub on Chillingham Road. It is planned to run until May 2016. The display will change approximately every two months.

Chilli Chimps

The site now occupied by Tesco on the corner of Chillingham Road and Tosson Terrace was once, as many readers will know, a cinema. Sadly, the Scala (always pronounced, as was stressed at a recent Heaton History Group talk, Scay-la) became a victim of the growing popularity of television, closing its doors for the last time over 50 years ago on 1 July 1961. The photograph below appears in ‘Cinemas of Newcastle’ by Frank Manders (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2005):

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Former Heaton resident, ‘RS’ has only vague memories of it:

Being only six when The Scala closed, I would have been too young to have been allowed to go there on my own, but there is a vague memory of having visited there once, with a friend and his older sister. Certainly however, even at that young age, I was entrusted to make my own way to and from Ravenswood Primary School, and the most direct route by which to do so would have taken me past The Scala twice a day. To sum up: I may have visited it once, and must have seen it on many occasions, yet my memories of the building are faint.

However, he has much clearer memories of what came next. The world of retailing was changing and the old Scala was eventually demolished to make way for what RS believes to have been Chillingham Road’s – and, possibly, Heaton’s – first supermarket, a ‘Fine Fare’.

The writer was there, standing on the pavement with many others – trust me, it was a big deal at the time, and there was quite a crowd – at its grand opening.

I recall a bright but chilly Saturday morning and, if so, a best guess would be for sometime in the spring of 1965, when I would have been nine or ten. Predictably enough, there was a ribbon to be cut, and men in suits officiating, likely to have been a director of Fine Fare and a perhaps a local councillor. And there was a show business presence as well. On that Chillingham Road pavement, outside the Fine Fare, was a female celebrity, who I believe may have been a pop singer of the time. Now we’re not talking someone with the profile of Cilla, Dusty or Lulu here, but there was definitely someone from showbiz. I recall her having dark hair, and am tempted to have a guess at her identity … but no, that’s all it would be – a guess.

Star attractions

But there’s more – the main attraction, in fact. On that pavement, right in front of the shop entrance, there was placed at least one trestle table – maybe more – where the star guests performed their familiar routine, well known to ITV viewers since 1956. Yes, two or three of the Brooke Bond PG Tips chimpanzees had been brought along and – suitably and safely harnessed – were put through a traditional ‘chimps’ tea party’ act, for the benefit and amusement of the assembled crowd. At least we were all led to believe they were the genuine Brooke Bond TV chimps, hitherto only ever seen in black and white: it didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the occasion to ask for proof of their identities, and they may have been random, Geordie-based chimps for all anyone could tell. But on reflection – probably not. The demanding of autographs was also judged to be an unrealistic option. And then it was all over – no doubt much to the chagrin of the various grocers, butchers, bakers etc. of that stretch of Chillingham Road, now faced with the arrival of a new form of retailing which would do their own businesses no favours at all.

I shopped at the Fine Fare from time to time myself, and actually ended up working there, after school on two evenings a week and on Saturdays, in the early ’70s, when in my mid-teens, tasked with filling the freezer cabinets, but unfortunately without the benefit of an incipient frostbite allowance.

No longer resident in Heaton, I still occasionally drive past the premises noting occasional changes in ownership and name. And, after a gap of probably over four decades, one afternoon in the summer of 2013, I finally ventured back inside. On leaving the old, former Fine Fare, I lingered on the pavement outside for a few seconds, and those memories of nearly half a century ago returned – the memories which you have just read. Just a Tesco Express. Who would give it a second glance or thought today? But once it mattered. Maybe only for that single Saturday morning, so long ago. But, in the history of Heaton, once it mattered.

Seventies

The photograph below was taken outside Fine Fare in 1974, on what appears, at first sight, to have been a somewhat less memorable moment in the history of Heaton.

Fine Fare

Fine Fare

We have Hungarian Laszlo Torday to thank for capturing just an ordinary moment some 40 years ago. Torday was a chemical engineer and amateur photographer who took hundreds of similar everyday scenes around Newcastle – and especially around Heaton because he lived on Jesmond Park West. The writer, Paul Torday, best known for his novel, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ was Laszlo’s son. Newcastle City Library bought Torday’s photograph albums when they came up at auction some years ago and has given us permission to reproduce this one here. See more Torday photographs here.

Can you help?

Do you have memories of The Scala, Fine Fare or its successors to share? Do you remember who the celebrity was? Maybe you took a photo of the chimps? Or remember other early supermarkets in Heaton? Or perhaps you recognise someone in Torday’s photo? Post a comment by clicking on the link below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Thank you to ‘RS’ from whose longer essay, these memories have been taken.

The Coachman of Heaton Hall

The man in the middle of this photograph is Richard Shannon, coachman at Heaton Hall for more than twenty years around the turn of the last century.

Richard Shannon centre with 2 footmen

His great great granddaughter, Yvonne, and great grandson, Arthur, have researched Richard’s fascinating life and hope that publishing their findings on the Heaton History Group website will lead to more information about life at Heaton Hall and some of Richard’s colleagues. Maybe someone reading this knows the identity of the other men in the photo? Yvonne takes up the story:

According to family oral history, this photo was taken while Richard was working as head coachman for Mary Potter at Heaton Hall. All three men are in livery which shows they work for a wealthy employer, as indeed the Potters of Heaton Hall were. Lord William Armstrong’s own mother was Annie Potter, a member of the same family. The fact that there are three men also indicates wealth, as there was a tax on male servants right up to 1937 so more male servants implies more wealth in the family.

They are wearing box coats and these are fastened right up to the neck. Richard as coachman is wearing a bearskin cape usually about 18 inches long and these superceded the multi ‘caped coats’ which used to be worn. The clothing and the fact that there seem to be leaves on the ground indicate that the time of year may be autumn/winter.

A coachman was expected not to leave the driving seat once the journey had started, his priority was ‘driving and looking to the horses’; hence there were the footmen or groom to assist ladies to alight and carry parcels etc when shopping.

Live in

Richard worked for the Potter family for over 20 years so I think it must have been a mutually happy working relationship. Coachmen were regarded as ‘senior’ servants in the Victorian servant hierarchy and would be given orders only by the butler or the master or mistress. Coachmen were also one of the few servants allowed to live on the premises with their family and indeed this is the case as they lived in the coachman’s house shown so well in Keith Fisher’s book.

The 1901 census gives a small insight into the lives of those people living at Heaton Hall and demonstrates a substantial household. Mary Potter, a widow is 72 years old and is head of the household. Living with her are her son, Charles, and daughter, Hannah. Also listed as living in the Hall, are Hannah Beckworth, the cook, and kitchen maid, Jane Mathewson. Then there is the upper house maid, Frances Clement, and two further housemaids, Mary Coates and Martha Wood. Living in Heaton Hall grounds at the Butler’s House were Francis and Sarah Harrison, the butler and his wife. At the laundry were Agnes Lee, the laundress, and her 85 year old father, Thomas Currie, and finally at the Coachman’s House was my great great granddad, Richard, then aged 61, with his wife Margaret also 61, and their sons Ernest, 25, (my great granddad) and Walter, aged 19. Ernest is working for a dye works and Walter as a gardener. There is no mention of the names of the footmen in the photograph so they may have lived ‘out’.

Greek island

Before ending up at Heaton Hall, Richard appears to have lived an active life. He was born in Argostoli, Cephalonia, one of the Greek Islands, in 1839 (only two years after Queen Victoria came to the throne) and christened there in the parish church by Brother Lawrence Cappucini, who was parson of the parish. The church is still standing to this day. He was in Greece because his father, Thomas Shannon, was a soldier in the 1st Battalion of the 53rd Shropshire Regiment of the Foot and was stationed there with the battalion possibly during the Ionian wars. Richard’s mother, Mary Shannon nee Reed, was born in Sculcoates near Hull.

The battalion and Shannon family returned to England by sailing ship to Plymouth and landed on 9th June 1840. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later on 23rd July, Thomas was sentenced to six months hard labour and incarcerated in Exeter Gaol for stealing goods from a certain Robert Vickers, a victualler and pub landlord. He is said to have stolen a pewter pot valued at 12 pence, a half pint measure valued at 12 pence and a glass tumbler valued at six pence. On his release, Thomas rejoined his battalion in 1841 and was living at Marine Barracks, Mill Bay, Plymouth. In the meantime his wife and child were staying at what appears to be a type of tenement building at Boundary Place, St Andrews also in Plymouth. We know that by 1843 Thomas and his family had moved to Edinburgh with the 53rd who were stationed at Edinburgh Castle. It was whilst here that Thomas died by accidental drowning in the River Forth at Leith. He was only 36 and is buried in Cannongate Churchyard, Edinburgh. His widow Mary, with Richard then a small boy aged 3 or 4 returned to her home at Hull. Little is known about Richard at this point but his mother married again and the family lived in Hartlepool.

Cavalryman

Richard’s eventual position as coachman to Heaton Hall may have begun on the 7th November 1861 when he enlisted in the 12th Lancers, a cavalry regiment which would be where he would gain learning and expertise in horse handling skills over a period of 12 years service. When he was discharged on 15th November 1873, the army records state ‘character very good’ (one might conclude that he did not take after his father) and it might be that this reference helped him to his next immediate job, also in 1873, when he was employed as a groom in Hartlepool. The photograph below shows his pocket watch engraved with his name and regiment, unfortunately this is the only tangible object we have left.

Richard Shannon's watch

Richard Shannon's watch

His career seems to have progressed smoothly and by 1881 he was engaged at Hutton Rudby as a coachman to Thomas English Pyman, a wealthy ship-owner. In 1891 at Layton Hall, Yorkshire, he was coachman to John Proud, a solicitor, but by the next census in 1901, he was at Heaton Hall and coachman to Mary Potter. Richard lived in the coachman’s house with his family and worked until his final illness which lasted just seven days. He died from cerebral thrombosis or a stroke in 1921 at the age of 82.

His widow Margaret moved out soon after to 40 Chillingham Road but died a year later. She is buried in the same plot as her husband. The grave is marked by a small headstone shaped like an open book and one side gives Richard’s details whilst the other side remains blank. I recall my granddad saying that the blank side was to write an inscription to Margaret but the family couldn’t afford it at the time.

Souvenir

The three men with their glasses of beer look happy in the photograph and it would be wonderful if we knew what they were talking about. It may be that the younger ones were conscripted during the First World War and left the service of the Potter family. Richard would be far too old to enlist. Some of the literature on the lives of servants describes how ‘older’ coachmen might be kept on by the family to drive the more mature family members who preferred a sedate pace of travel – this may be what happened in Richard’s case but, we don’t really know. Perhaps by the 1920’s the Potters were using motor vehicles and carriages were becoming a thing of the past. My granddad did mention once that his sister had been ‘in service’ at the Hall and when it was closed she was allowed to take a majolica plant stand as a remembrance. I know that the plant stand which was about 3ft high tan coloured with black tracery in a diamond pattern was left in the backyard of a house in Greystoke Avenue, Sandyford after he died – I’ve often wondered if it was still there.

Arthur Shannon (great grandson)
Yvonne Shannon (great great granddaughter)

Can you help?

If you have any more information or photographs of anyone who lived or worked at Heaton Hall, we’d love to see them. Or maybe you can add to what Yvonne and Arthur already know about other areas of Richard Shannon’s life? You can either leave a comment here (click on the link immediately below the title of the article to leave a comment or to read those of other people) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org