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 Richard as coachman is wearing a bearskin cape usually about 18 inches long and these superceded the multi ‘caped coats’ which used to be worn.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

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

We’re delighted to announce that Heaton History Group has been awarded £8,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project, Heaton Avenues in Wartime. Awarded through HLF’s First World War: then and now programme, the project will focus on life on ten terraced streets off Chillingham Road, Heaton during World War One.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, the project will enable local people in Heaton to come together to learn more about the lives of the people who lived in First to Tenth Avenue a hundred years ago. Writer, Jack Common, was growing up on Third Avenue and attending Chillingham Road School at that time and he later wrote about his experiences in his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddars Luck’. Local people of all ages, including pupils at Chillingham Road, Jack’s old school, will be able to find out more about him and take his account as a starting point for discovering more about life of ordinary people in the Avenues and Heaton at that time. The money will fund visits to local collections, talks and workshops but also an opportunity for artists to get involved by illustrating some of the stories that are uncovered to bring them to life for a wider audience.

The aim of the project is to learn, not only about the lives of those who fought but also the impact of war on some of those who stayed behind.

Commenting on the award, Heaton History Group chair, Alan Giles, said: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This project will enable Heaton History Group and the people of Heaton to come together to learn and so enrich our community in the present as well as commemorate a momentous event from the past”.

The group is very keen to hear from anyone interested in getting involved – especially anyone who lives or has lived in the Avenues themselves or knows of any family member who lived or worked there between 1914 and 1918. We’re also interested to hear from anyone locally who has WW1 memorabilia or family stories they’d like to share – they don’t have to relate to the Avenues.

Explaining the importance of the HLF support, the Head of the HLF in the North East, Ivor Crowther, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching every corner of the UK. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already invested more than £52 million in projects – large and small – that are marking this global centenary; and with our small grants programme, we are enabling even more communities like those involved in Heaton Avenues in Wartime to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help local young people in particular to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”

If you would like to get involved or think you can help, contact Chris Jackson, Secretary: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Nostalgic views of the North: the Ward Philipson collection

The Ward Philipson collection comprises over 150,000 images of the North East with engravings and etchings dating back to the 1700s and photographs from the 1850s to the 1960s. John Moreels, the owner of the collection, along with a group of volunteers based in Newcastle, is restoring this incredible resource. So far approximately 25,000 images have been scanned and restored. Just 125,000 or so to go!

On Wednesday 24 September, John will tell us the story so far and present an amazing selection of images, dating from the 1700s to the 1960s including the Great Bridge of Tyne, Paddy’s Market, steam engines and the coast.

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

Tates Radio Shields Road

Anyone remember this shop on Shields Road?

Beavans

And this one?

Smiths Crisps Coast Road

And recognise this much changed building on the Coast Road?

To book for the talk, which takes place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road, please contact: maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07763 985656 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.

Lords to the Oval via Heaton

Overseas cricket teams’ tours of England are a much loved part of our sporting summer but bet you didn’t know that Newcastle once appeared on the tourists’ itinerary and that Heaton was a venue alongside the likes of Lords, the Oval, Maidstone and Hove. Admittedly we have to go back to 1884 – but it’s not just the local links that’ll surprise you but the identity of the tourists too.

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884

The tourists of 1884

Armstrong’s field

But first of all, when and how did Heaton acquire a cricket ground? For over 40 years, Northumberland Cricket Club had played its home matches at Bath Road (now Northumberland Road), an important sporting centre in the late nineteenth century – you may remember that George Waller competed in cycling events there. However, projected development meant that the club had to find another ground and was delighted when William (Later, Lord) Armstrong offered a six acre field at a nominal rent with a ten year lease. A cricket ground was prepared and a pavilion constructed on the site on the corner of what is now Heaton Road and Cartington Terrace.

Detail from 1890 Ordnance Survey map showing cricket ground

Detail from 1890 Ordnance Survey map

Heaton Medicals Cricket Ground 2014

Cricket (and rugby) are still played there today. The cricket club’s home didn’t meet with everyone’s approval, however. It was considered remote and ill-served by public transport. Remember, there were no buses or trams at this time – and Heaton Station was a fair walk away, through mainly open countryside.

Worldwide appeal

Although, then as now, most matches at the Heaton ground brought together local teams, cricket had long been a worldwide game. Its popularity was spread by English colonists from the 17th century onwards but what is generally considered the inaugural test match between Australia and England didn’t take place until 1877. The Ashes themselves didn’t start until 1882 when the Australians beat England at the Oval.

However, perhaps surprisingly the first international cricket match had taken place decades before when the USA hosted Canada in New York. In fact, America had been an early adopter of cricket. It’s said it had been introduced by English colonists even before it had reached the north of England. It’s in this context that we need to consider the tour of 1884.

Philadelphian pioneers

There’s an engraving of 1800 entitled Back of the State House Philadelphia which depicts a small boy with a curved cricket bat in his hand. Later the first cricket club entirely comprising native-born Americans was said to have been founded at Haverford College in the same state. By 1870, cricket was spoken of in Philadelphia as ‘the national game’. In 1854 Philadelphia Cricket Club was founded and in 1859, 13 Philadelphians were in the 22 to play the visiting All England XI.

The American Civil War stalled the development of the sport as many Philadelphian men responded to Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 call for 75,000 volunteers. Those too young to enlist continued to play the game, however, and when the war was over the Philadelphians were keen to play more overseas opposition. In 1878 its representative team played and beat the Australian tourists and plans were soon hatched to test further their skills against the inventors of the game.

The sum of $8,200 was raised from five local clubs and the help of the MCC was sought in compiling a fixture list. Finally on 17 May 1884, fourteen players set sail from New York on the steamer, The City of Rome. Thousands turned out to wave off the tourists, the docks were ’black with thousands of spectators’ and The City of Romegay with flags and decorations’. Eight days later the ship docked in Liverpool.

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884

Gentlemen of Philadelphia, 1884 as depicted in The Illustrated London News

From there, the team, known as Gentlemen of Philadelphia to indicate its amateur, and therefore respectable, status, travelled to Dublin where they played 2 matches, and Edinburgh where they played The Gentlemen of Scotland. From there they toured English county grounds including MCC at Lords and WG Grace’s Gloucestershire (with Mrs Grace, W G’s mother, in attendance).

Gentlemen of Northumberland

The match in Heaton took place on 11 and 12 July 1884. One of the tourists kept a diary in which he describes some of the matches, venues and off-field hospitality in detail. For example, about 4,000 people attended the Lords match over the two days, the Aigburth ground in Liverpool was ‘the prettiest ground we saw in England’ and, in an interval between matches some of the players went to Wimbledon to watch the tennis. However, frustratingly little information was recorded about their trip to Northumberland.

However, there were lengthy reports in local newspapers in which the fixture was described as ‘the most important match that will be played in this district during the present season’ and the Northumberland team as ‘a thoroughly representative team, having been carefully selected by the County Committee’.

A clue to the conditions can be found in the weekly Newcastle Courant for Friday 11 July, day one of the match. The newspaper reports the heavy thunderstorms of the previous day in which a house in nearby Jesmond was damaged by lightning.

The Journal had more to say about both the attendance and the weather:

Though the weather was tempting enough at the outset, the attendance was small… It appears to us that no matter what exertions are put forth by the many ardent cricketers in the north – and their name is legion – they fail to command the patronage of the general public… there should be a free gate or a smaller amount charged for admission. If this plan were adopted, the working classes could obtain a fair idea of the game and we have no doubt that cricket would be more appreciated in the north than it is at present time… about 5 o’clock a thunderstorm visited the district and necessitated an adjournment for a half an hour after which the wicket was so soft that it was determined to postpone the game for another quarter of an hour and a recommencement wasn’t made until 6 o’clock.

The following day:

In glorious summer weather, this important match was concluded… the wicket wasn’t nearly so treacherous as on the first day. There was considerable improvement in the attendance but still the number present was small when the importance of the match was taken into consideration.

Defeat

Cricket was still evolving at this time. It was less than 3 months earlier that the number of players in a team had been standardised at 11 and there were still only 4 balls in an over. Come what may, the local team was no match for the tourists. One American bowler, W C Lowry took 5 wickets in each innings and another, W C Morgan, was top scorer with 38. The Northumberland team failed to make 100 in either innings with only C F Cumberlege scoring over 30 and, although E B Brutton took five wickets in the second innings, the Philadelphians won comfortably by 96 runs.

It may be that the ground only recently used for pasture on Heaton Town Farm wasn’t of the highest standard and that, together with the weather and the modest opposition, accounts for both the tour diarist’s silence and the low scores. The tourists’ final record that summer read: Played 18 Won 8 Drawn 5 Lost 5.

The players

We don’t know too much about the Philadelphians outside of cricket except that one of their players, J B Thayer, later became the only first class cricketer to die on board The Titanic.

We know a little more about the Gentlemen of Northumberland. The team comprised:

Shallett John Crawford (1858-1922), a shipbroker who was born and lived in North Shields;
Ralph Spencer (1861-1928), Harrow and Cambridge educated, who became chairman of John Spencer and Sons steel works, founded in Newburn by his grandfather;
Charles Farrington Cumberlege (1851-1929), born in India and worked for the Bank of England;
John William Dawson (1861-1921), a railway clerk;
Ernest Bartholomew Brutton (1864-1922), also Cambridge educated, who became a clergyman, latterly in Devon;
Charles Edward Lownds (1863-1922), another Cambridge graduate, born in Walker, who became a surgeon;
William Henry Farmer (1862-1934), a railway inspector, who later emigrated to Vancouver;
Stephenson Dale (1859-1985), an engine fitter who joined the merchant navy and who died at sea less than one year after the match;
James Finlay Ogilvie (1848-1926), a solicitor;
Tom Raine (1859-1929);
Alfred Stephen Reed (1860-1939), born in Newbiggin, a boarder in Northallerton at aged 10, and who , in 1881, was living at The Priors, Church Street, Storrington, Sussex and described as a member of the ‘Northumberland militia’;

There were further tours over the next 3 decades but other sports gained popularity in the USA and the final nail in cricket’s coffin across the Atlantic seemed to be the decision to set up the Imperial Cricket Conference, which specifically excluded countries from outside the British Empire. Nevertheless cricket is still played in the United States and Philadelphia Cricket Club is still going strong, although cricket gave way to other sports, such as golf and tennis, between 1924 and its revival in 1998.

And although it hasn’t featured on an MCC-organised tour for a while, the sport is thriving in Heaton too – the Cartington Terrace Ground (known as the Medicals Ground) is now owned and used by Newcastle University: it would be great to hear from or about anyone who’s played there or who can add to what we know.

Medicals who fell in World War 2 are commemorated by cherry trees around the ground

Medicals who fell in World War 2 are commemorated by this plaque and cherry trees around the ground

Leave a comment here (See the link below the article title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Main sources
The Tour of the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in Great Britain, 1884 by One of the Committee; published by Red Rose Books, 2002;
Heaton: from farms to foundries by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012
Cricket Archive (to which we owe most of the biographical information)
Resources of Newcastle City Library including The Journal on microfilm
Ancestry UK

Heaton’s parks remembered

Heaton and Armstrong Parks and Jesmond Dene, now known collectively as Ouseburn Parks, are amongst the finest green spaces in the city, or indeed any city, and much loved by locals and visitors alike. But have they changed much over time? We’ve been digging around in the archives and listening to the reminiscences of some older residents.

In the 1870s the population of the East End of Newcastle was growing rapidly and a need for additional recreational space was recognised but, in a comment that resonates today, on 16 May 1879, the Journal wrote:

Owing to the difficulty in obtaining land… and owing also to the jealousies amongst the representatives of the different wards of the town in the Corporation and also to the general unwillingness to expend the funds of the Corporation upon such an object, the movement for a long time made no progress Journal , 16 May 1879

However in 1878, when Addison Potter of Heaton Hall put some land up for sale, the Corporation bought 22.5 acres at a cost of £12,562 and William Armstrong gave a similar amount to enable a 46 acre park to be created.

Opening

Just a year later, the southernmost portion of the new park, that purchased by the corporation, had been landscaped with new ‘walks and drives’ and in a scheme which:

has afforded most acceptable employment to many men who had been thrown out of employment during the very severe winter

a new road was built to allow access to the park from Byker. This still to be named ‘new road’ later became Heaton Park Road.

The new ‘Armstrong or East End Park’ was officially opened on 12 June 1879 on a day locally observed as a holiday. The mayor assured the assembled school children that:

one object which the Parks Committee had in view was to give them as much play-ground as possible, so that they could romp free from the interference of the police or anyone else.

Changes

There have been many alterations to the park over the subsequent 135 years or so, some of which we can see from looking at old photographs like those below: the bear set free from (or more likely died in) its pit by the lake, the lake filled in, the croquet lawn converted to a bowling green (which itself is now no more), the ‘temple’ claimed by its original owners, the Ridley family, and removed to Blagdon, the park-keeper’s cottage demolished, the large pavilion burnt down and a replica subsequently constructed and famously the old bowls pavilion burnt down by suffragettes.

Heaton Park Lake

Heaton Park Lake

Old temple - Heaton Park

Old temple

Bowling green, Heaton Park

Bowling green, Heaton Park

Heaton Park in literature

We can also learn from the writings of Jack Common, a frequent visitor to the park. In his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, he wrote about the first and second decade of the twentieth century:

The far side of Heaton Road for a stretch broke into the great rookery of Heaton Hall; and behind Heaton Hall grounds, along one side of the Ouseburn Valley, lay two parks, both public and continuous, except for the slight interruption of a leafy stone-walled lane.

and

The parade wound by two bowling greens, mathematical swards scribbled on by tree-shadows, and watched by a terrace on which stood a huge aviary holding up the dial of a southward facing clock, flower beds of painfully formal calceolaria, scarlet geranium, lobelia, or a sort of clay boil bursting through turf to shatter into certified bush roses.

Memories

But there is much that has never been officially recorded and this is where the recollections of park users are invaluable. We have been interviewing local people to fill in some of these gaps and Heaton Park is almost always a topic which prompts a host of early memories.

Norman Pretswell, who lived at 9 Cardigan Terrace from 1928, recalled the 1930s:

The pavilion, of course, with the pigeons in one side, the old men on the other side. The old fellahs used to sit and play dominos or whatever. It used to stink of tobacco, especially pipes. I don’t remember any exotic birds. I only remember the pigeons. It used to be full of pigeons, roosting and nesting. They could fly in and out whenever they wanted…

We’d play in the bushes where you weren’t supposed to go. There was a park-keeper in those days. He had a whistle and a stick and he’d wave the stick and blow his whistle if he saw you in the bushes. Of course we used to go in the bushes for hide and seek…

In Armstrong Park, we’d play near the windmill and the cannons that were near where the tennis courts are now. We’d play on them…

And when you went through Armstrong Park, there was a little cafe, not far from the entrance where you left Heaton Park and went into Armstrong park, there was a little cafe there. Very dark and dismal. The fellah who served was quite short… he could hardly see over the counter. We’d go in. It was a bit of a thrill. It was just so dark and gloomy. I never seemed to go there when there was a light on. We’d go in for lemonade, sasparilla. Dandelion and burdock was my favourite.

John Dixon who lived at 155 Heaton Park Road in the 1950s and 60s also remembered the park-keepers:

As you go through the Heaton Park Road gates on the left, there was a wooden stand and they used to ring the bell. There were other bells in the park. They used to ring it half an hour before the park closed because they used to lock all the gates…

The park keepers wore a sort of uniform, which was a military style cap, blue serge two-piece suit, a collar and tie, a gabardine coat when it was wet and they had a whistle and a stick and if you transgressed, which it was very easy to upset them, they used to blow their whistle at you.

There were swings, a slide, wooden swings which were lethal. The seats were like inch thick planks… the swing would come back and hit you on the back of head. My mate, we had to take him to the RVI to get his head stitched. It really burst it. Lucky he didn’t fracture his skull.

What do you remember?

We are hoping to collect more memories of Heaton’s parks. If you can add to our knowledge, have any photographs which illustrate the changes or would just like to share your stories, please leave them here (Click on the link just below the article title) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

To Edward Lawson – for valour

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration ‘for valour in the face of the enemy’ awarded to British and commonwealth servicemen. It was founded by Queen Victoria in 1856 and to this day only 1,357 have been awarded worldwide. The simple words ‘For Valour’ are inscribed on it. One man so honoured lived and worked in Heaton for many years and is buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery.

Edward Lawson was born at 87 Blandford Street, near the centre of Newcastle on 11 April 1873. His father, Thomas, is described in the 1881 census as a ‘cattle drover’.

Private Edward Lawson VC - photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

Private Edward Lawson VC – photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

Soldier

As a young man of 17, Edward joined the Gordon Highlanders. In the 1890s the regiment was called into active service on the North-West Frontier province of what was then known as British India. On 20 October 1897, a famous battle was fought at Dargai Heights, at which 199 of the British force were killed or wounded.

24 year old Edward Lawson carried a badly injured officer, a Lieutenant Dingwall, to safety. He then returned to rescue a Private McMillan, despite being wounded twice himself. He, along with a colleague, Piper George Findlater, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. The award was presented to him personally by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 25 June 1898.

Private Lawson of the Gordon Highlanders

Private Lawson of the Gordon Highlanders

Piper Findlater, the other recipient, was shot in the feet but continued to play his pipes to encourage his battalion’s advance. This act of bravery was widely cov’ered in the press back home and Piper Findlater became a very well-known public figure. On his return to Scotland, much to the consternation of the military and political establishment, he capitalised on his fame and for a while supplemented his army pension by performing in music halls. He went on to be celebrated in literature, art and music.

Modest

Private Lawson seems to have been a more self-effacing man. A few months later, a comrade described him to the Yorkshire Evening Post:

I heard Sergeant Ewart questioning Lawson about the affair: ’Did you know the danger you were in?’ Lawson said: ‘No, I didn’t know what I was doing.‘ …Lawson was always a decent fellow but very rash and reckless: he would stick at nothing… He was made quite a god of in the regiment.

The Aberdeen Weekly Journal (22 June 1898) reported that the Newcastle Evening Chronicle had interviewed him on his return to Newcastle and found ‘a modest, unassuming man, little disposed to talk of his own exploits’. By this time, the paper says, he had completed his period of service and was back home in Newcastle working in the East End Hotel, Heaton. (Does anyone know where this was?*). Official records describe him as a ‘Reservist’ at this time.

The article goes onto describe his military career. After enlisting, Private Lawson had been posted to Aberdeen and after 5-6 weeks training, he was transferred to Curragh Camp in Ireland. He remained in Dublin for about 5 months. He was sent to India in March 1893, where he remained until his discharge. Lawson said that he received ‘a couple of scratches’ during the episode for which he was honoured.

And seemingly the action for which Lawson received the Victoria Cross wasn’t his only act of bravery. According to the newspaper, when, on another occasion, one of his comrades was hit by a bullet and fell into a dried up river bed, Lawson carried him safely to camp.

According to military records, Lawson soon returned to his regiment and served until 31 October 1902 including in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War. He received further military medals and clasps for this period of service.

Back home

On 14 March 1908, Edward married Robina Ursula Scott, who was known as Ursula. At this time, he was living at 128 Malcolm Street and working as an electrical wiremen. The Lawsons soon moved to 14 Matthew Street, South Heaton just north of Shields Road, where they brought up their six children. Matthew Street was their home until c1924 (when Edward was 51 years old) at which time they relocated to Walker where they were to live for the remainder of their lives.

Prior to and during the First World War, Edward served as a Company Sergeant with the Northern Cyclist Battalion, which was employed to protect the coastline. The battalion was based at Alnwick Castle during World War One. The next photograph shows men of the Northern Cyclists in 1910. Edward Lawson VC is seated at the front. The next photograph was taken at Bamborough Castle in 1914. Edward is fourth from the right on the back row. Left of him is his wife Ursula, right of him is sister-in-law Agnes (known as Lily). Both were employed as cooks to the officers mess. Front left is Thomas and right front is Arthur, both sons of Edward and Ursula.

Northern Cyclists 1910

.Edward Lawson at Bamborough Castle

image

Edward Lawson

Edward Lawson

Edward Lawson VC died on 2 July 1955. He is buried in Heaton and Byker Cemetery, where in 1999 a new headstone was erected on his grave. His Victoria Cross is held by the Gordon Highlanders Musuem in Aberdeen.

image

Thank you to Barry Lawson, Edward’s grandson, who supplied us with much of the above information and photographs. If you know any more about Edward’s career in the army or his life, we’d love to hear from you. Post a reply here or email: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

*See comments attached to this article for information about East End Hotel

George Waller – life as a champion

The first part of George Waller’s story can be found here.

Having retained (and so won outright) the 6-day Cycling World Championship belt, George William Waller was in great demand. The report below of an appearance later the same month at Burradon, Northumberland describes him entering the arena on the bike on which he had won the championship:

He received a warm greeting which was not lessened when he mounted his machine. Accompanied by a number of bicyclists, he twice made the circuit of the field and while doing so, he was much admired but he very nearly had a serious accident, as, owing to the roughness of the track, he got what is known as a cropper, which might have done him a serious injury.

George Waller on Penny farthing

George Waller

Fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt and appearances on the track came thick and fast. Waller rode mainly in the North but further afield too. For example, on 4 October 1879, he won a 25 mile race in Coventry ‘ on a 15 inch DHF Premier’. His ‘massive championship belt ‘ and the ‘machine’ on which he won it were exhibited at the ground. On 10 November, he competed in a 100 mile race in Birmingham but retired after 82. And on Saturday 13 December, he competed, riding a ‘Dan Rudge’ bicycle , at the same distance in Nottingham.  Closer to home, there were races in places like Sunderland, South Shields, Darlington, Middlesbough and  York.

The champion was also honoured by local fans and patrons.  On 24 March 1880, a ‘testimonial’ was held in his honour  at ‘Mr W Gilroy’s Three Crown’s Inn, Buxton Street, Newcastle’. Waller  was presented with a purse of gold containing upwards of £70, which had been collected by ‘his numerous admirers in the North’.

However, he didn’t join his rivals in March 1880 on the starting line for the following year’s 6 day Championship but instead appeared later the same month in a six-dayer, which he himself had organised, in his home city of Newcastle. It’s interesting to see where the races took place.  An early favourite in Newcastle was Northumberland Cricket Ground on Bath Road.

And increasingly Waller began to make public challenges to other riders. His offer in 1880 to compete in a six day contest ‘ against any man in the world ‘ … ‘for any sum over £200 a side’ was reported at least as far afield as Cornwall. And riders challenged him to take part in shorter distance races, where they had a better chance of winning. There were always considerable sums of money at stake and Waller won more than his fair share. Often in shorter events, he negotiated a start for himself and he’d grant his opponent one over the longer distances.

Waller was clearly aware of his own value to the events he promoted. While he did compete on many occasions, even when he wasn’t fully fit, he would ride a number of exhibition laps or show his bikes and medals. And he usually announced he’d be riding, even when he didn’t in the end appear. Throughout and beyond his career, he was referred to as ‘world champion’ never ‘ former champion’ or ‘one-time champion’ even though he didn’t attempt to to defend his 1879 title. Thus from the outset, he showed a commercial acumen of which today’s agents would be proud. Later, there were many announcements of his ‘farewell ride’ in this town or that. Again, this wouldn’t have done the gate money any harm.

Celebrity

At the Newcastle Race Week six dayer on 25th June 1880, Waller broke his collar bone. This was reported in newspapers throughout the country much as an injury to Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish  or Chris Froome might be ahead of this year’s Tour de France or Wayne Rooney or Luis Suarez in the build-up to football’s World Cup:

 ‘Waller was at once driven to the Infirmary, where he received the necessary treatment, and afterwards he was taken to his own residence. Latest reports last night were that he was doing well. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 26 June

After his removal from the Newcastle Infirmary to his home, Waller passed a bad night, and as the collar bone again slipped, it had to be reset on Saturday morning. This having been accomplished satisfactorily, Waller suffered less pain and he expects to be in the saddle again in a short time. York Herald, 30 June

The six days’ bicycle champion, G W Waller, has so far recovered from the injuries he received from the injuries he sustained in the accident which befell him in the latter part of June last as to be able to mount his machine. However, as his arm has not yet become quite strong again, his spins will for a time be of only a gentle character. Edinburgh Evening News, 12 August

He did recover though – and the races, challenges and public appearances continued apace. As with celebrities today, Waller was sometimes the centre of attention even when he wasn’t present at all:

Yesterday, the champion bicyclist Mr G W Waller, accompanied by five friends and a boy, engaged a coble at Tynemouth Haven… when the squall suddenly burst on them, the coble was upset and its occupants thrown into the water. …All the party were picked up… Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 25 July 1881

There followed an almost passing reference to an actual victim of the tragedy:

With regard to the boat accident [on Sunday] it appears that it was not Mr G W Waller, the champion cyclist, but his brother T Waller who was in the boat. The body of one of the drowned men, named R Cowl, was recovered last night. Edinburgh Evening News, 26 July 1881

Promoter

Increasingly though, Waller turned his attention to the promotion of cycling. He continued to ride but also arranged races at a variety of venues, mainly in the North East but also the North West, Scotland and  the Midlands. On 23 July 1881 Waller’s own ‘Bicycle and Recreation Ground’ at Dalton Street, Byker, was opened ‘under the most favourable auspices’ . The Journal  on 10 April 1882 referred to  ‘Waller’s Bicycle and Recreation Grounds, Byker’ (Incidentally the same day’ s newspaper carried a report of events at  Heaton Bicycle and Recreation Grounds ‘these popular grounds’). An advert a few months later  for a race between Waller and his rival John Keen ‘of London’ gave the entry fee as 6d or 1 shilling and made play of the fact ‘ Byker tram passes the grounds’.  They would have been horse-drawn trams, a service which had begun in Newcastle just three years earlier. The popularity of the events were indicated by the fact the gates were to open an hour and a half before the race ‘to avoid any unnecessary crush’.

Innovator

Waller’s adverts often stressed technological innovation. While earlier events were lit by candles in the evening, soon there was a:

mammoth tent, illuminated by gas’

Although, on occasion, not everything went according to plan:

A gale of unusual violence broke over South Durham yesterday. At Bishop Auckland last night, a large covered marquee, extensively fitted up with gas mains and pipes for night illuminations and erected for a bicycle riding exhibition promoted by Mr G Waller, came to the ground a complete wreck. The professional bicyclists engaged, along with the crowd inside, made all possible haste outside, and, with the exception of some injury to a woman, no casualty occurred. Damage was also sustained to a refreshment bar and stalls inside the marquee, the canvass of which was to a large extent also reduced to shreds. Shields Daily Gazette, 11 August 1881

The following month, at an event before which, not for the only time, Waller’s farewell appearance was announced, an alternative source of lighting was introduced:

The grounds were illuminated with the electric light, which was under the charge of Mr Spark, electrician, George Street and worked remarkably well. Aberdeen Journal, 12 September 1881

There are rumours to the effect that at night the tent will be illuminated by the electric light. Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 15 September 1881 – amazing given that Swan had invented his lightbulb and William Armstrong’s Cragside had become the first house in the world to be lit by electricity only 3 years before. It must have been an amazing site to the average spectator.

But electricity wasn’t without problems of its own. A 26 hour race in September 1882 had to be postponed, ‘the machine which was to have supplied the electric light not having come to hand’

Entertainer

It wasn’t all about the cycling. At the annual gathering of the Ancient Order of Foresters at Crystal Palace in August 1882, the programme, in addition to the cycling in which Waller competed,  included  ‘acrobatic, musical and comical entertainment’, cricket, processions, ‘aquatic fun’ , dancing, and a balloon ascent which ended in near disaster.

Adverts were placed by Waller :

‘Wanted – good brass band’.

And there was an application in July 1881 for a licenceto serve alcohol in booths owned by him ’in a tent to be used for bicycle contests’ opposite the Royal Agricultural showground in Derby.

Novelty races included one in Gateshead between Waller on a bicycle and ‘Blue Peter, a roan trotting horse, driven in a sulky by Mr Rymer of Manchester.’ On this occasion the horse was the victor.

Charitable

However, Waller wasn’t only concerned with making money for himself: proceeds from one event  were donated to Sunderland Infirmary and in South Shields in December 1880

‘The proceeds were for the benefit of orphans and widows left destitute through the loss of the steam trawlers: Wonga (sic), Nation’s Hope and Flying Huntsman in the October gale.’

International

It’s possible that Waller, like a number of his contemporaries, also competed overseas. In November, 1881 a  farewell  ride  in Sunderland ‘before leaving for America’ was reported by Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette. So far, we haven’t found any documentary evidence that Waller rode outside Britain and, if anyone has further information, it would be great to find out more.

Waller with belt

Waller with his 1879 World Championship belt

Retired

In September 1884, Waller was present at the opening of Byker and Heaton Conservative Working Men’s Club and the same November he ‘admirably ‘ replied to the toast of ‘Professional Cyclists’ at Jesmond Amateur Cycling Club’s fourth annual dinner. By this time, he seems to have retired from participation in the sport but continued to officiate.

But when, on April 1889, the new Bull Park bicycle track was completed at what is now Exhibition Park, George did a test run and declared it one of the finest in the kingdom.

Builder

Waller had started his working life as a mason and his prize money had enabled him to start a construction business in Albion Row, Byker, with his brother Henry. It seems to have been extremely successful. Newcastle was expanding rapidly and in July 1896, he advertised far and wide from an 87 Raby Street , Byker address for bricklayers to be paid 10d an hour.

Ironically, however,  the first real evidence we have of Waller’s success in this field came with tragedy. On March 6 1897, the North East Daily Gazette reported that four men had been killed and nine others injured when a public house, called the Green Tree,  on Sandgate ‘ one of the most antique of houses…said to date from the time of Queen Elizabeth’ , which Waller had bought to renovate, collapsed while eighteen of  his men were working on it. By this time, Waller is described in the newspaper not as a cyclist but ‘a well-known builder in the city’. A few months later, the same paper reported a court case in which Mrs Jane Brogden, wife of one of the men killed, sued Waller for damages. She was awarded £225 compensation.

In the late 1880s, the champion  was living in Waller Street. (Did he name it himself or was it an honour bestowed by someone else?) But by 1890, he had moved to Heaton. It was common for builders to move in one of the new houses they had recently completed and so there is circumstantial evidence that Waller’s firm was responsible for building locally. He lived first of all at 78 Heaton Park Road and then at  number 92, a house next door to the photographer, Edward George Brewis. Heaton Park Road has since been  renumbered. Waller’s  old house is now number 188.

But, ever the entrepreneur, Waller continued to diversify. In August 1898 he applied for a licence to sell alcohol at houses in Raby Street (167 and 179), Byker.

Untimely end

On  9 July 1900, aged 45 George Waller was driving in a pony and trap from Jesmond Dene Hall, where he was supervising alteration work, towards his home in Heaton Park Road. Apparently, as the horse approached Jesmond Road, it  reared and turned towards the Armstrong Bridge, throwing Waller from his seat.

A near contemporary view of Armstrong Bridge near the spot where Waller was thrown from his trap

A near contemporary view of Armstrong Bridge near the spot where Waller was thrown from his trap

He was removed to Jesmond Dene House where he died from head injuries the following morning.

Waller had been accompanied by a boy called Joseph Cranston of Byker, who, giving evidence at an inquest the following day in Heaton’s Addison Hotel, said he had looked after the pony since Waller had bought it and that it had no history of bolting.

George Waller left a wife, Isabella, three sons, James, Herbert (who was to die in France during World War 1) and William. His daughter, Georgina, was born just weeks after her father’s death.

The very same day, his death was reported in newspapers right across the country. It was just over 20 years since his most famous sporting triumph. The sport had changed – the reports refer to his success on ‘the old high bicycle’ as if from another age – but he had certainly not been forgotten.

Memorial

And a final indicator of Waller’s ongoing fame and commercial value came just a week after his death and packed funeral service when the equally enterprising businessman, photographer Edward Brewis, rushed, seemingly for the only time in his life, to register copyright on two photographs he’d taken of his next-door neighbour. One of the photos is reproduced below. (The other can be seen in the article about Brewis himself.)

Waller by Brewis

One of the photos of George Waller by Edward Brewis


Wallercopyrightform It was while researching Brewis’ story, interesting in its own right,  that the document and the photographs came to light in the National Archive – and led to the even more fascinating character of George William Waller.

Waller’s grave can still be seen in All Saints Cemetery

George Waller's grave

but appears to be the only memorial to him. It would be fitting, during the year the Tour de France comes to the North of England where Waller did so much to promote cycling, to see his championship belt displayed at The Discovery Museum and perhaps a commemorative plaque at  his Heaton home .

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to to Alex Boyd of Tyne and Wear Museums for information, photographs and arranging access to George Waller’s championship belt, to Brian MacElvogue for information and the loan of material and to Carlton Reid for pointing the author towards Brian. Also this website is a mine of information – http://www.sixday.org.uk/html/the_beginnings.html

If you can add to the story of George William Waller or if you’d like to see his achievements celebrated, we’d love to hear from you (See ‘Leave a reply’ just below the title of the article) or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org