Sailing South with Shackleton

The parents and grandparents of Heaton History Group member, Valerie Moffit, were residents of Heaton and Byker from the early 1890s through to around 1930: the Browns, on her mother’s side, lived in Chillingham Road and later Ebor Street; her father’s family, the Smeatons, were in Corbridge Street, just the other side of Shields Road. In 1900, her grandfather Jack Smeaton (1875-1955) was not yet married and shared number 121 with his parents Thomas and Catherine, his two brothers, and four of his five sisters.  Another sister, Ellen, had left home some years earlier – on the 1891 census she is living with a family in Bishop Wearmouth as a domestic servant, aged twelve. 

The Smeaton home no longer exists – Corbridge Street was a victim of slum clearance in the 1960s.  The last time Valerie walked along there it was devoid of dwellings, reduced to little more than a service lane behind the Shields Road shops and other commercial buildings. 

Jack Smeaton was a wheelwright by trade, serving his seven-year apprenticeship at Atkinson and Philipson’s carriage works on Pilgrim Street and working there as a loyal employee until the firm closed in 1920.  During his time there he saw the rapid revolution in the transport industry from horse-drawn to mechanised vehicles: on his marriage certificate in 1910 he still described himself as a wheelwright, but by 1914 his declared job title was ‘motor finisher’.

Jack’s working life with Philipson’s was interrupted twice: he volunteered for the Boer War in 1900 and again for the Great War in 1915. 

Jack’s Journal

Just before his 25th birthday, Jack was sworn in with the 1st Newcastle Royal Engineer (RE) Volunteers who were to go to South Africa to support the regular REs, rebuilding bridges, roads and railways destroyed by Boer commandos. He was part of a small section of twenty-five volunteer sappers under the command of Lieutenant Pollard. 

Jack kept a journal of his experiences in the Boer War. It has been passed down as a treasured family possession and Valerie is lucky enough to be the current keeper. 

Page 1 of Jack Smeaton’s journal

Here is how Jack recorded the departure of the volunteers from Newcastle:

Receive orders and are served out with our kit, to leave on Jan 31st [1900] for Chatham.  Before leaving we were entertained to a grand dinner in Officers Mess and afterwards held a grand smoker in Drill Hall.  Fell in at 10.30 p.m. to march to station, and we were treated to a very forcible demonstration of the patriotism of Tyneside. At the station we had to literally fight our way through and on the platform we were swayed to and fro by the crowd and it was a great relief when we were safely seated in the carriage.  At 11.30 p.m. amid deafening cheers of the people on the platforms we steamed out of the station.’

The Newcastle men were stationed at Chatham from 1 February until 10 March, along with twelve more engineer volunteer sections.  They were ‘instructed in different arms of engineering such as bridging, defences, railway construction and demolition.

On 9 March the men were photographed.

Jack Smeaton, 1st Newcastle Royal Engineers, 9 March 1900

Next day, Jack and his comrades were transported by train to Southampton docks where ‘after piling our kit on board the Tintagel Castle we had breakfast at the Absent-Minded Beggar stall which is kept up by the Daily Mail fund.’

The name of the stall was from a poem that Rudyard Kipling wrote to raise money for British families suffering poverty due to the loss of wages by men who, as reservists, had volunteered for the war. 

Sailing South with Shackleton

You might say that Valerie’s grandfather was one of the first men to sail south with Shackleton.  But this was not an expedition to the South Pole: the voyage in question was aboard the ocean liner mentioned in the above quote, the Tintagel Castle, bound for South Africa.  The ship had been commissioned to transport 1,200 reinforcements to the Cape, and Ernest Shackleton was the newly-appointed Third Officer. 

Less than a year later, Shackleton was appointed Third Officer again, this time on board the Discovery on a famous expedition to the Antarctic, led by Robert Falcon Scott. The ship departed London on 31 July 1901. On arrival at the Antarctic coast, Shackleton was chosen to be a member of the party which continued on foot and sledge towards the South Pole. Scott, Shackleton and Edward Wilson arrived at the most southerly latitude hitherto reached by man on 30 December 1902. Just over six years later, Shackleton led his own expedition which got even nearer to the pole. He returned a national hero and famous the world over.

But, for now, Shackleton was an ambitious young officer on the Tintagel Castle, keen to make an impression on any contact who might prove useful in his future career.  Despite being a doctor’s son, he had joined the merchant navy as a boy and worked his way up through the ranks.  

Jack and Ernest were a similar age and must have read the same boys’ adventure stories during their very different childhoods.  Now, they are both aboard the Tintagel Castle as she casts off from Southampton docks and heads for the open sea on 10 March 1900.

It is unlikely that the two men met as individuals.  But Jack cannot fail to have been aware of the energetic Third Officer, who set himself the enjoyable task of organising entertainments for the troops, arranging sports and concerts to stave off boredom on the long voyage.  He was described by an eye-witness as ‘a vision in white and gold’: broad-shouldered and square-jawed, he cut a dashing figure as he strode around the packed ship.

Ernest Shackleton, photographed in 1901

Shackleton wrote a book about the voyage, in collaboration with the ship’s medical officer, Doctor W McLean, consisting of articles and photographs describing daily life at sea.  It is entitled OHMS or How 1200 Soldiers Went to Table Bay and Valerie was able to study the copy held by the National Library of Scotland.  

Several pages are devoted to describing ‘How we were Fed’, detailing the quantities required to provision the Tintagel Castle for her 6,000-mile trip with 1200 troops aboard.   Meat and other perishable foods such as fish and fruit were stored in four refrigerating chambers, capable of holding 160 tons of stores.  The baking of the bread supply fully occupied, night and day, three ship’s bakers and two volunteers from the ranks; some 1200 lbs of flour were used daily.

Jack Smeaton was very impressed with the catering arrangements and in his journal he described his first day at sea:

Reveille on board a troopship is at 5.30, so next morning we had to rise and stow hammocks before 6.0 a.m.  Breakfast was at 7.30, it consisted of porridge, fish, marmalade, bread and butter and coffee.  It being Sunday no work was done.  We entered the Bay of Biscay about noon, had dinner at 12.30 p.m., it being made up of three courses, soup, meat & potatoes, and pudding with stewed fruits.  As we travelled southwards the weather became very fine and summerlike, quite a contrast to what we had it just a day before.  At 4.30 p.m. tea was served with cold meat or fish, pickles, preserves and bread and butter.  There was no stint of any article of food and so it continued throughout the voyage.  A plan of diet was drawn up so that the menu was changed each day, and at 7 p.m. supper was put on the tables for those who cared for it, which consisted of cabin biscuits and cheese, and the canteen was open for an hour at mid-day and again at 7 p.m. for the sale of beer and mineral waters.  Everybody had to retire at 9.30 as lights went out at 10 p.m.’

Two days later Jack records that the members of the section were inoculated by the ship’s doctor and ‘that night and most of the next day was spent in bed in great pain’.  The commanding officer at Chatham had advised all the men to be inoculated against enteric fever (typhoid) and so Dr McLean was kept busy. 

From Scarlet to Khaki

On March 21st the Tintagel Castle crossed the Equator.

A few days later Jack makes a surprising revelation in his journal:

Sunday got orders to parade in red uniforms but most of us had done away with them, having threw them overboard.’

Even though more than 120 years have elapsed, this sentence still has the power to shock.  What can possibly have incited the men – normally responsible and obedient – to commit this act of insubordination?  On a visit to the Royal Engineers Museum, Valerie mentioned it to the librarian.  She was scathing.  ‘Oh well, they were volunteers.  Regular soldiers would not have done that.  It’s a matter of discipline.’ 

It is true that Jack and his fellow Newcastle sappers were volunteers, not professionals; but they have been ‘sworn in to serve twelve months, or as long as the war should last’.  They take their soldiering seriously.  Before leaving Tyneside, they practised bayonet exercises; and while at the Royal Engineers barracks in Chatham they were put through musketry drill as well as being instructed in engineering skills.  They were also given a short explosives course, learning how to make up and set charges.  This is not a jaunt – they know they are going to be involved in deadly warfare: several thousand British troops have already lost their lives in the first few months of the war.  So, what is behind the mad moment of indiscipline when the sappers hurl their dress uniforms into the sea?  Perhaps there is a clue in what happened a few days earlier, when the vessel crossed the equator:

… at 8pm King Neptune came on board with his retinue and fireworks were let off.  And the next day (Thurs. 22nd) the whole ceremony was gone through, shaving and baptizing in the big canvas bath all they got hold of.’ 

For a day, the strict military routine of life on board a troopship is turned on its head.  The men are swept up in the boisterous high jinks of the traditional crossing the equator ceremony, while Neptune reigns as lord of misrule.  The temperature climbs to 90 degrees in the shade that day.    Maybe one of the men stirs up his comrades, saying that their scarlet jackets will make them easy targets for the Boer marksmen.

‘They’ll pick us off like sitting ducks!  We need to be in khaki – it’s proper camouflage.  Let’s chuck this red stuff into the sea.’  

In the heat of the moment, it all makes perfect sense to Jack and his mates. 

Valerie said she likes to imagine the men leaning over the side and cheering as the scarlet tunics, bobbing in the wake of the ship, slowly disappear into the wide blue Atlantic.

The sappers’ fears were not unfounded.  Some of the older troops on board could have told cautionary tales of the Redcoats who were slaughtered in the First Boer War of 1880 to 1881, when their vivid jackets made them all too visible to enemy snipers.  Soon after that campaign, khaki began to be adopted by the British Army.  At first, soldiers experimented with mud and tea leaves on white cotton, but in 1884 an effective dye was developed.  The change was gradual, and traditionalists disapproved of the innovation – for instance, Queen Victoria describing khaki as a ‘café-au-lait shade quite unsuitable for uniform’.  But despite resistance from the Queen and other non-combatants, the benefits were obvious to ordinary soldiers.  The Second Boer War of 1899-1902 – Jack Smeaton’s war – was the first all-khaki campaign, and in 1902 it became standard battledress.

Cape Town Sights

Saturday Mar 31st [1900] we sighted Table Mountain and dropped anchor in the Bay at 7 a.m.  We lay in the bay until noon on the Sunday when we then went into the harbour and disembarked at 3 p.m.

The Tintagel Castle docked at Cape Town

In the afternoon [of Monday 2nd April] we had a march through Cape Town.  A very nice town with electric trams in full working order and lots of hansom cabs, no four wheelers to be seen.  There are also a great many rickshaws drawn by Zulus, who adorn themselves with pairs of horns and feathers round their heads.  It is marvellous the pace these men travel with their fares along the street.  We returned to dock at about 5 p.m., being fairly tired out.  It was a bit strange walking through the streets after having been three weeks on board ship.’

No wonder Jack feels strange walking the streets of Cape Town.  Just a few weeks earlier he’d been in sooty Newcastle, trudging to the carriage works each morning in the January sleet.  Now here he is under a baking African sun, strolling under trees full of exotic blossom.  As he breathes in their strange perfume of sweetness and spice, he must wonder what the coming months hold in store. 

To be continued…

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Valerie Moffit, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Jack Smeaton’s journal (unpublished)

OHMS or How 1200 Soldiers Went to Table Bay / by W McLean and E H Shackleton; Simpkin, Marshall etc, 1900.

Wikipedia and other online sources

Can You Help?

If you know any more about anyone mentioned in this article or anyone else with Heaton connections who sailed on the Tintagel Castle or had connections to Shackleton or to polar exploration, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

‘Town with No Cheer’*: 1890s’ Heaton

Why has Shields Road got so many public houses and Chillingham Road so few? Is it merely because of the limitations and restrictions stemming from the nature of land ownership, most notably that of Lord Armstrong, which then became part of property deeds and covenants? Or is the truth much less certain but more interesting in that it encompasses wider themes and controversies of late nineteenth century Heaton, Newcastle and beyond?

This article will concentrate on the granting of licensed status to the East End Hotel (the earlier name of the Chillingham Hotel) in 1892 which became the first public house in Heaton proper but the story will also involve the burgeoning temperance movement, religious passions and educational ambitions within the general context of rapid urbanisation. This became known in the local press as The Heaton Question

Chillingham Hotel in 1966

Licences

From 1552 local Justices of the Peace had been given the power to decide who should be given a licence to run a ‘common alehouse’.  Partly in order to tackle the increasing popularity of wine and spirits, especially gin, and what was considered to be their more pernicious effects on family life and employment, the government of the Duke of Wellington decided to encourage the drinking of beer. The 1830 Beerhouse Act meant that any ratepayer could brew and sell beer on their premises without the need for a magistrate’s permission as long as they purchased a licence costing two guineas. Unsurprisingly this era of ‘free licensing’ led to a steep and rapid rise in the number of ‘beerhouses’ but would have been restricted in those areas where landowners prohibited this via the property deeds. The low population together with the existence of alehouses nearby may be enough to explain the lack of facilities in Heaton itself before the 1880s, rather than the importance of any land ownership covenants. 

Heaton’s expansion in the 1890s started from the south and west (OS Second Edition, 1894)

The popularity of ‘beershops’ attracted some criticisms from magistrates and religious groups especially those with links to the growing temperance movement.

The 1869 Wine and Beerhouse Act reimposed the necessity for the possession of a magistrate’s licence for any type of property selling alcoholic drinks either ‘on’ or ‘off’ the premises. Thus, by 1870, the justices had the power to refuse to grant or renew licences for all types of retail outlet. The magistrates’ decision making was arrived at via the public occasions known as Brewster Sessions which were also opportunities for interested parties to make their voice heard.  

Changing Heaton 

The growth of housing centred upon Chillingham Road was of course neither even nor instantaneous. Initially the area bordering Byker was seen as being part of that district rather than belonging to Heaton which stretched further away north and west. As Alan Morgan points out inHeaton from Farms to Foundries’ the rise in population and associated need for housing only began in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. There were 257 people living in Heaton in 1871 but by 1901 the number had soared to 22,913. Previously urbanisation and industrialisation had been features of areas closer to the Tyne than in Heaton itself. The opening of the North Shields railway in 1839 with a passenger station near Heaton Road and the concomitant marshalling yard at Heaton Junction created employment and demand for housing. The area along Heaton Road had of course already been the scene of some house building though this was for a more up market clientele with views across the parks and easy access to the local churches that had also sprang up. In 1878 Byker Road Bridge saw a massive increase in traffic in comparison to the earlier toll footpath along the railway viaduct. It is interesting to note that the impact of the railways on the movement from farming to residential use also became a significant factor in the opposition to, and the need for, licensed premises within the district.    

William Turnbull

It is worth noting that before William Turnbull began the quest to gain a licence for a new institution to be called the East End Hotel he had already embarked upon a range of initiatives and entrepreneurial activities.  Although born into a farming family in Northumberland, by 1871 he was living in All Saints parish and was described in the census as being a wine and spirit merchant. Ten years later he is the licensee of the Trafalgar Inn, 84 New Bridge Street. By the late 1880’s he was the occupant of Meadowfield House (now social club) which is immediately behind what is now the Chillingham Hotel.

There had been some attempts to gain permission for licensed properties in Heaton prior to the involvement of William Turnbull but these had been sporadic and relatively small scale. The Brewster Sessions of 1 September 1886 were attended by deputations from the United Temperance Societies as well as Byker and Heaton Ratepayers. A provisional (i.e., subject to later confirmation) beer and wine licence was asked for a house which was about to be constructed at 5 North View (the property of John Wilson). The application was refused and it is worth noting that one aspect of more successful bids in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was that the premises would be hotels rather than mere ‘beershops’ or off licences. Part of the more specific opposition to this application was the existence of a School of Science and Art nearby on Heaton Road which had been established as part of Dr Rutherford’s educational expansion from his College on Bath Lane. 

The strength of feeling within the city but with a particular emphasis on Byker and Heaton is demonstrated by the meeting of temperance inclined ratepayers on 8 September 1886 which took place in the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Heaton Road. Councillor James Birkett occupied the chair.

He began by congratulating the recent Brewster Sessions in their decision to refuse any new appeals for licences in Heaton. It was reported in the Daily Chronicle that Councillor Birkett ‘condemned the idea of granting a licence to a public-house on the main road to a Board School, and on a road which the majority of their workmen traversed to and from their work’.  He noted that any drinking establishments would be close to ‘one of the most beautiful parks in the kingdom’ the approaches to which needed to be protected ‘as a duty to our fellow citizens’. The plea to assess the strength of local feeling amongst ratepayers and other inhabitants was also strongly expressed and, as we will see, did soon play a part in further appeals. Whilst the general aspects of concern and opposition can be well understood today what makes these protestors more particular is their adherence to the notion of ‘temperance’ itself. Birkett did look forward to a time when the ‘legislature passed a bill abolishing public houses altogether’. Other contributors to the meeting included Rev May and Rev Dr Rutherford who observed that ‘Newcastle was still a city largely given up to intemperance. They were worse than Liverpool.’ (sic) 

Drunkenness

Did Newcastle have a particular problem with alcohol abuse? Brian Bennison in his 1994 article ‘Drunkenness in turn of the century Newcastle’ noted the number of criminal proceedings for drunkenness in the period 1896 – 1900 with England recording 62 convictions per 10,000 inhabitants and Newcastle upon Tyne standing at 207. A report from Rowntree and Shadwell in 1899 found that Newcastle had one public house for every 43 dwelling houses or 307 persons.  

The growth in the number of ‘beershops’ had however helped to occasion a rise in the opposition to licensed premises more generally. In 1858 the North of England Temperance League was founded under the slogan ‘Total Abstinence for the Individual and Prohibition for the Nation’. The local strength of feeling against the growth of licensed premises is exemplified by the origin and popularity of the North of England Temperance festival which began on the Town Moor in 1882, the first year that saw Newcastle Races decamp to Gosforth. The estimated attendance over the three days was at 150,000 much more than other similar events in England. It is interesting though unsurprising that some of those who became involved in The Heaton Question were also participants in what became an annual celebration and promotion of temperance.  

Opposition 

The Brewster Sessions of 4 September 1888 saw a licence application from James Mackey for a house to be constructed and called Station Hotel at the corner of Heaton Grove and Heaton Hall Road as well as from William Turnbull for a new house at the south end of Chillingham Road. It is interesting to note that the seeking of licences was often for premises which had not yet been built.  

The Temperance party objected to both East End applications with Mr Edward Elliott, a handrail manufacturer of 20 Stratford Grove, presenting a petition which was 23 feet in length and contained 700 names. There was also a record of the formal objection of Hawthorn, Leslie and Co, engineering works. The opposition of local employers as well as religious groups is a feature of these occasions. After 15 minutes the magistrates returned and refused both Heaton applications. No explanation or justifications needed to be given. 

On 7 August 1891 Temperance Federation meetings were held at Jesmond, Elswick, Shieldfield, and Heaton. Arthur’s Hill, Heaton and Jesmond were remarked upon as being ‘free or nearly free from licensed premises’ till now. Reference was made to Sharp versus Wakefield in the House of Lords as being evidence of the legal possibility of reducing the number of licences by their withdrawal over time.  

In 1891 Joseph Bell, a key figure in the foundation of Newcastle United and later the club’s chairman, made an application for a ‘beer shop’ off licence for 41 Rothbury Terrace and this led to some interesting debate regarding the nature of the covenant within the property deeds. It was observed that Lord Armstrong had given his approval for this application though without the presentation of any evidence. A Mr Robinson, in his opposition to the plea, inferred that the covenant would be broken on payment of some pecuniary reward to Lord Armstrong. This brought a rebuke from the Chair of the Bench who said that the transgression of the covenant may bring some financial cost but that Lord Armstrong was not the beneficiary of this. After a short discussion the application was granted. At this point Margaret Bagnall from 6 Rothbury Terrace withdrew her application.  

Declined 

Early September 1891 also saw an application by Turnbull for an ‘alehouse’ at 7 and 9 Chillingham Road. This was granted by Sir Benjamin Browne, the Chair of the Bench, despite the opposition of Thomas Barker, a temperance missionary. Discussion had been relatively brief with an observation that otherwise the nearest licensed premises was 600 yards away. This decision was however reversed on the 9 September 1891. Speaking for the application were J K Joel, barrister, and Mr E Clark on behalf of householders in the vicinity. Opposing the confirmation of the provisional licence was F J Greywell, barrister, acting for Mr Thomas Barker, a temperance missionary. 

Mr Joel noted that on the previous occasion there was little determined opposition and that if, as Sir Benjamin Browne stated, each case should be judged on its merits (outside of the temperance question more generally) then the licence should be confirmed due to population pressures and the suitability of the premises which Mr Turnbull believed would be used for ‘concerts and entertainments’. Mr Clark spoke in favour of the application stating that on the Meadowfield estate and several streets adjoining it there were 280 houses with 270 occupied. A petition signed by 206 occupants was presented again to the Bench with the remark that some of those who signed signifying their support for the licence were teetotallers themselves. There was then some seemingly good-natured laughter in court when Mr Clark somewhat ironically observed that Mr Barker was a ‘very worthy man who wore his badge of office quite visibly’ but as an advocate of local opinion would do well to accept the popularity of this licence being granted.  

Mr Greenwell acting on behalf of Mr Barker declared that a counter petition had been assembled and that he would like to present this to the court. This petition contained 613 names, 310 of whom were householders. Mr Clark made the accusation that Mr Barker had sought the names of servants and children to add to his list with the Chair adding, to some laughter in court, that he could discern some names on both petitions. After retiring for a time, the Bench returned to declare that the provisional licence was not being confirmed.  

31 August 1892 saw an application from John Harper Graham (at the time the licensee of a public house at 4 Burden Terrace, Jesmond) regarding a proposed hotel at the corner of Heaton Road and North View. Graham’s proposal was criticised in terms of reducing property prices as well as it being a ‘source of annoyance and temptation’ to attendees at Sunday School and associated meetings of young men at the nearby Primitive Methodist Chapel. The application was refused. 

Board School 

It was announced that Mr Turnbull had delivered an application for a licence for 5, 7 and 9 Chillingham Road. It was pointed out that Mr Turnbull owned the land where the Board School was to be built and although his original plan was to build houses there, he would give the plot for nothing if his application was accepted. Turnbull’s Assembly Rooms already existed on the site and had eighty members who paid an annual subscription. The application was opposed by Newcastle School Board, Bath Lane Science and Arts schools, and Councillor Flowers on behalf of young people more generally.  Mr Dunnell of the North Eastern Railway Company as a local employer added to the voices against by remarking that the nearby sidings were to be extended and 400 men employed (with the signal cabin being right opposite the proposed venture). 

The licence was granted as long as the large hall was separated from the licensed premises. As Brian Bennison says in Heavy Nights ‘The opening of the East End Hotel was an exceptional occurrence’ . 

East End Hotel shown on Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead and Environs OS Town Plan 1:500, 1896

William Turnbull became ill after inspecting some building works and died in 1897. His son, Adam, a builder had died in 1894 with his other son, Robert, only outliving William by a few months.

Turnbull family grave, All Saints Cemetery

The Heaton Question resolved? 

Apart from a veiled threat to refuse the building of a Board School on his land there are other aspects to Mr. Turnbull’s eventual success. East End FC, who played on land owned by William Turnbull, had held a public event at his Assembly Rooms in 1892 as well as taking part in the Temperance Festival in June 1883 where the junior team won a trophy. This continued after the establishment of the East End Hotel with a Rural Fete to support the move of St Gabriel’s ‘Iron Mission Chapel’ from Chillingham Road to Heaton Road as well as hosting the Byker and Heaton Conservative Club Ball. 

Beyond the 19th Century?

In 1897 the Heaton Anti Licencing Council declared that any new public house would ‘destroy the character Heaton had had in the past for moral perfection and purity’. It is worth noting that similar debates and disagreements were features of twentieth century applications for licensed premises though that may be a tale for another day.  

*The title of this article was inspired by the Tom Waits song ‘Town with No Cheer’ which is ostensibly about Serviceton, a town in the Australian outback that lost its railway station and, as a result, its only bar.

Can you help?

If you know any more about anyone mentioned in this article or the history of the Chillingham Hotel or other public houses in Heaton, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Karl Cain, Heaton History Group

Sources 

Ancestry 

British Newspaper Archive 

Drunkenness in turn of the century Newcastle / B Bennison; Local Population Studies (52), 1994  

From Byker to Heaton – the origins and history of Heaton Methodist Church / N F Moore and W K Robinson; 2000 

Heaton from farms to foundries / A Morgan, Newcastle City Libraries, 2012  

Heavy Nights A history of Newcastle’s Public Houses Vol 2 The North and East / B Bennison; Newcastle City Libraries, 1997  

Methodism in Newcastle upon Tyne 1742 – 2010 / G Fisher and Rev T Hurst; North East Methodist History Society, 2010 

‘The Town Moor Hoppings’ Newcastle’s Temperance Festival 1882 – 1982 / F Baron; Lovell Baines, 1984 

The Hoppings Newcastle’s Town Moor Fair / P Lanagan; Books of the North, 2010 

Trade Directories 

Food for Thought: Newcastle Corn Riots

Shoe Tree Arts in partnership with Heaton History Group was funded during 2021-22 to commemorate the events of 1740 when, following an exceptionally hard winter, hungry Heaton miners, their families and others protested against the high price and shortage of food, especially corn.

The project began with a Zoom talk about the events of 1739/40 by Heaton History Group’s Peter Sagar. You can refresh your memory about the corn riots here.

Schools

Three local primary schools, Chillingham Road, Cragside and Hotspur took part in the project. Children learnt about what life was like in their own neighbourhood nearly 300 years ago and what led to a shortage of food and eventually to anger and protests. They learnt what food people ate at that time and even cooked some for themselves. And they interpreted the events for themselves via art, music and drama.

Films

No Corn, No Coal , a short film about life in 18C Heaton and along the Ouseburn and the events of 1739/40, in particular, was made primarily for use by the schools by Heaton History Group’s Tessa Green and Peter Dillon. It it is now freely available to view.

Testimonies, the end of project film, brings together some of the historical research, writing, music and artwork that was carried out during the project. It was again made by Tessa Green and Peter Dillon but see the credits at the end of the film for a full list of people who contributed. The password is: corn

A special showing of the film will take place at the Magic Hat cafe on 30 November 2022. Please contact chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org for details.

General Jane

A socially distanced outdoor production of ‘General Jane’, specially written for the project by Ellen Phethean and performed by a mix of professionals and amateurs from the local community. It focussed on a real life leader of the protesters, Jane Bogie, also known as General Jane.

‘General Jane’ flyer
‘General Jane’ banner by Tessa Green
Scene from ‘General Jane’
Musicians and performers – ‘General Jane’
Havemaypolewilltravel dancers
The audience was socially distanced…
…but it felt like a real treat to be enjoying a live performance in the sunshine.

There have also been writing and animation workshops and a series of talks.

The project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Joicey Trust and Newcastle City Council.

Mary Eleanor Bowes: the greatest heiress of the north

Wednesday 14 December 2022 7.30pm Open for Booking: members and non-members

Precocious and indulged, Mary Eleanor Bowes, the King’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother, was heiress to the Gibside estate. She became known as ‘The Greatest Heiress of the North’ and had an extraordinary life which included love, tragedy, debauchery, abuse, greed, kidnapping and adultery. Ultimately, her tale is one of triumph against overwhelming odds.

Our Speaker

Anthony Atkinson was born in Gateshead, attended St Cuthbert’s Grammar School, Newcastle and studied Economics at Clare College, Cambridge. He qualified as a chartered accountant and held various positions as financial director in industry before undertaking a management buyout acquiring 32 retail shops from Vaux Group Plc. After selling the business, Anthony reverted to his ‘first love’ of history. He is now a Newcastle City Guide, a volunteer for Friends of The Laing Art Gallery and also a volunteer guide at the Lit & Phil. This is one of his portfolio of ten talks.

Booking and Venue

The event will take place on Wednesday 14 December 2022 at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.

We use the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park. If you have mobility needs which mean that you you would require access to the very limited parking by the door of the venue, please request this when you book.

The nearest bus stop is that of the number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops near the Corner House.

The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.

The doors open at 7.00pm.  All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2.50 for non-members. Members have a priority booking window. Please book your place by contacting maria-graham@live.co.uk / 07443 594154

Arrangements

There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has very high ceilings and  good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee (with biscuits!) is normally available for £1 per cup.

We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.

The Sinking of the Cobra: a Heaton maritime disaster

When, on 18 September 1901, HMS Cobra sank on its maiden voyage on route from Newcastle to Portsmouth, it was a huge shock for the country and a particular tragedy for the north-east, but nowhere was the loss felt more keenly than in Heaton.

Steam

Only four years earlier, Charles Parsons had amazed onlookers by gatecrashing Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review and racing his yacht, Turbinia, between the lines of the officially invited vessels at speeds of up to 34 knots.

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons (1919) by Walter Stoneman
(National Portrait Gallery)

Turbinia was powered by marine steam turbines invented at C A Parsons and Co in Heaton by Parsons himself alongside other great engineers such as Gerard Stoney, whose home, as well as his office, was in Heaton and Robert Barnard, who worshipped at Heaton Congregational Church.

Turbinia

Turbinia’s spectacular demonstration of speed prompted local armaments and shipping firm Armstrong Whitworth to build a torpedo destroyer to be fitted with a turbine engine, confident that a buyer would quickly be found. The ship’s design was based on those of two other vessels built at Elswick and it was launched on 28 June 1899. Six months later the ship was offered to the Admiralty.  However, the turbine machinery on board was much heavier than the machinery on the earlier ships (183 v 110 tons) and 30 tons more than expected. Despite the assurances of the designer, Philip Watts, who was head of the Elswick shipyard and the firm’s chief naval architect, that the weight was within tolerance limits, the prospective purchaser expressed a number of concerns including about the  strength of the upper deck. 

Viper

While what was to become HMS Cobra was being modified on the quay at Elswick, a collier ship accidentally collided with her, delaying completion by another seven months. This misfortune allowed a sister ship, HMS Viper, ordered by the Admiralty from another Charles Parsons company, Parsons Marine (who subcontracted the building of the hull to a third local firm, Hawthorn Leslie) to become the world’s first turbine-driven warship. Sadly on 3 August 1901,  HMS Viper was grounded on rocks during naval exercises in fog off Alderney in the Channel Islands. The crew were forced to abandon ship as she sank.

HMS Viper

Disaster

Less than seven weeks later, at 5.00pm on 17 September 1901, HMS Cobra was deemed ready to leave Newcastle for Portsmouth, where she was to be armed and commissioned. On board were 79 men, 24 of whom were from the north-east, mainly employees of Armstrong Whitworth, the shipbuilders,  and Parsons, the turbine builders. 

HMS Cobra

As the weather deteriorated and the ship began to roll, the thoughts of many of those on board must have turned to the recent demise of the Viper, a ship well-known to the Parsons contingent in particular. Conditions, however, began to improve at first light until a sudden shock was felt throughout the Cobra. Within seconds, the ship had broken in two. There wasn’t time to launch any of Its five lifeboats but twelve men, including the ship’s chief engineer, John J G G Percy, were able to scramble into a small dinghy. They were the only survivors. Sixty seven men lost their lives, twenty three of them from ‘contractors’, mainly Parsons.

Local

Among those known to have Heaton connections were:

John Abel

John originated in Brighton, Sussex and, aged 28, worked for Parsons as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’. His daughter had been born in Portsea, Hampshire in December 1899 so it’s possible that the family hadn’t been in Newcastle long. At the time of the 1901 census, they were living at 12 Morley Street but by the time John lost his life on the Cobra, they were at 44 Denmark Street.

Robert Barnard

The Essex born marine engineer was the senior Parsons Turbine representative aboard the Cobra. He was manager of Parsons Turbine Works, Newcastle and Wallsend. He had assisted in the design of Turbinia and superintended its construction. During its trials, he usually acted as steersman alongside Gerard Stoney and Parsons himself.

Barnard had also superintended the erection of the works at Wallsend and supervised the building and engineering of the Viper and the King Edward as well as the Cobra. Aged 38, he had been ‘associated with the development of the modern steam turbine from the very first. No one next to Mr Parsons believed more in the possibilities’. He was also, until shortly before his death,  treasurer of Heaton Congregational Church. He is buried in Preston Cemetery, North Shields with his wife, Mary.

Alfred Bryans

Alfred’s was one of the first six bodies to be found and it was formally identified in Grimsby Hospital mortuary by the coroner’s jury three days after the disaster. An envelope addressed to him at his home address of 25 Meldon Terrace, Heaton was found on him. Alfred was born and raised in Co Durham but in 1901, aged 25, was living in Heaton with his widowed mother. He described himself as a ‘steam engine maker and fitter’.Regarded as an exceedingly promising and capable young man’, he had worked as an electrical engineer at Parsons for five years and was previously on board the Viper ‘superintending work in connection with the dynamos’ when it sank. 

He had then been sent to Stockport to be in charge of the dynamos of the new electric car system there and had just returned to Tyneside to travel to Portsmouth aboard the Cobra ‘in the same capacity as he had worked on the Viper’. He had three brothers, one of whom was a doctor at the Middlesbrough hospital where some of the survivors of the Cobra disaster were taken. His older brothers were also engineers, one in London, and the other on a railway in South America. Alfred was among the first to be buried. His funeral took place at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery. Among the mourners at his funeral were Gerard Stoney, John Barker, manager of Parsons Turbine, and Sir Richard Williams who, in 1889, had moved from Clarke and Chapman with Parsons to help him set up his own company.

Edward Lee

Edward was a foreman fitter from C A Parsons and Co. He lived at 21 Morley Street.

George McGregor

Aged only 17, George was the youngest of the Heaton victims. He lived with his widowed mother, younger brother  and  two sisters at 69 Molyneux Street and was an apprentice fitter at Parsons. His older married brother, David McGregor, aged 29, who lived nearby at 33 Algernon Road was also a fitter at the firm.

John W Webb

John, a 32 year old Parsons fitter, lived at 9 Fifth Avenue with his wife, said to be ‘of delicate health’ and his sister in law. He was reported to be ‘well known and highly respected in the eastern part of the town’,  a member of Bainbridge Memorial Wesleyan Church and superintendent of the Sunday school.

Aftermath

Among the first announcements after the disaster was one the following day from the Admiralty declaring that they would ‘cease naming vessels after  the snake tribe – first the Serpent, next the Viper and now the Cobra’ (HMS Serpent had run aground and sank in a storm off Galicia in Spain  in November 1890, less than two years after going into service. 173 of her 176 crew lost their lives).

Locally, Charles Parsons headed to London immediately and the whole Parsons workforce was given the rest of the week off. There were reports of ’the horrors of scalding steam’ adding to the other dangers experienced by those on board. ‘The Evening Chronicle’ reported that Charles Parsons had foreseen this risk and insisted that the steam pipes on the Viper (on which no escape of steam was reported) were fixed as flexibly as possible. However, on the Cobra, the Parsons Company, as engine builders ‘were bound to follow specifications and these provided that the steam pipes should be as rigidly fixed as possible.’ The war of words between the various interested parties had begun.

The Admiralty immediately absolved the ship’s captain of any blame or navigational error, reporting that the ship was in deep, clear water when it sank. It conceded that it could have struck a wreck or some floating obstruction. A Captain Smith of a Yarmouth herring drifter which was the first vessel on the scene said that he might have seen a shark’s tail but it was impossible to know. A wounded whale, seen in the area, was also implicated until it was discovered that it had been landed a week earlier. The inquest jury expressed  ‘an informal opinion that the Cobra was too lightly built and hoped the government would build stronger destroyers’.

Meanwhile a special memorial service was held at Heaton Congregational Church on Sunday 22nd, led by the Reverend William Glover.

Appeal

And on Saturday 21st, a public meeting was announced by Councillor Thomas Cairns, to be held at the Victoria Hotel on Heaton Road ‘with a view to forming a committee to give assistance where necessary to the families deprived of their bread-winners by the loss of HMS Cobra’. The meeting was said to be crowded. Letters of support had been received from the Mayor, the Sheriff, MP Mr Crawford Smith, eminent trades unionist and Heaton resident Alexander Wilkie and the Reverend J Robertson of St Gabriel’s Church among others. Councillor Cairns made a stirring speech which concluded by assuring listeners that the organisers wished to alleviate distress only where it existed and so prompt enquiries into the circumstances of every case would be made. It was stated that the appeal would only be on behalf of the bereaved of the ‘Tyneside district’. A committee was elected and a further meeting convened.

However, a few days later it was announced that a national relief fund had been opened in Portsmouth. When Councillor Cairns contacted the mayor to ask that the Heaton committee be left to support its own bereaved as they better understood individual needs and appealed for the national fund not to appeal for donations for Parsons’ families, he was told the 600 letters had already been sent to national and local newspapers and that the fund would be for the widows and orphans of all those lost, not just the naval men. Cairns responded that Newcastle wouldn’t have dreamt of setting up a national fund. ‘If it had been set up in London, that would be different’. An agreement was soon made for the Heaton executive committee to be broadened to include the mayors of all the Tyneside boroughs. Mr Alfred Howson of 8 Heaton Road was appointed secretary and local councillor Thomas Cairns, treasurer.

Armstrong Whitworth contributed £1,000 to the Tyneside fund.

Court Martial

On 10 October 1901, the naval enquiry or court martial opened at Portsmouth. The Hon Charles Parsons was in court to hear his company absolved of any blame for the accident but Philip Watts, the designer of the ship for Armstrong Whitworth, endured lengthy questioning about the strength of the vessel and what might have caused it to sink. Watts said that he believed that wave action alone could not have sunk the Cobra because of where the ship broke and he maintained that the disaster could not have been caused by striking a rock as the shock felt by those on board would have been greater still. His best guess was that the destroyer had struck some drifting wreckage perhaps with an iron mast attached. He believed that if the aft half of the boat, which was still missing, were to be found, the likely damage would show this to be the case.

Parsons then gave evidence to the court. Perhaps undiplomatically, he said that he believed destroyers like the Cobra were intended to be ‘fine weather vessels but that gradually, having been found to survive heavy seas , they were not taken the same care of as they were originally.’ He clarified that he meant that they were designed to shelter in bad weather. When pressed on the fact that heavy seas were to be expected around the British Isles, he confirmed it ‘would become a necessity to ensure that the strength of these vessels is sufficient to stand any stress they may be likely to come across.’

He confirmed that the turbine machinery installed exceeded the original estimate of 155-160 tons, being 183 tons.

The enquiry concluded that Cobra didn’t meet with any obstruction and that there was no navigation error but ‘the loss was attributable to the structural weakness of the ship’. The court also found that the ‘Cobra was weaker than other destroyers and, in view of that fact, it is to be regretted that she was purchased into his Majesty’s service.’

Defence

Armstrong Whitworth immediately contested the court martial’s findings. The company pointed out that similar boats had sailed to Australia and Japan without incident.

Asked about Parsons’ comments the following day, an Armstrong Whitworth representative said that Parsons had meant that destroyers fitted with the turbine system of propulsion were constructed essentially for their high speed and this high speed could only be obtained in smooth water.

The company authorised Philip Watts, the ship’s designer, to conduct a search operation to try to restore its and his damaged reputations.  However, the missing aft section, which could have provided evidence of a collision and exonerated both Watts and the firm, wasn’t found.

Tutor

However, Armstrong Whitworth was invited to submit an article to a literary and current affairs magazine ‘The Monthly Review’. It commissioned John Meade Falkner, the English novelist best known for ‘Moonfleet’, the classic children’s story of shipwrecks and smuggling, written just a few years earlier, to write the piece. 

Why him? Well, soon after the Wiltshire born, Marlborough educated Falkner had graduated in history with a third class degree from Hertford College Oxford in 1882, he was introduced to an Eton schoolboy who was struggling to prepare for his Oxford University entrance examination. The boy was John Noble, son of Sir Andrew Noble, physicist, ballistics expert and partner of Sir William Armstrong.

John Meade Falkner

Falkner came to Newcastle to be a tutor both to John and to Sir Andrew Noble’s other children. You can see the 32 year old listed among the large extended household living in Jesmond Dene House on the 1891 census, even though by this time the youngest of the Noble children at home was 20 year old Philip who was recorded as being at Balliol College. 

Falkner’s occupation then appears to read ‘MA Oxon Secretary’. There is a second census entry for him as a lodger in Elswick and ‘secretary to engineering company’. He had become company secretary to Armstrong Mitchell in 1888. ‘Moonfleet’ was published in 1896.

By the time of the Cobra disaster in 1901, Falkner was living in Divinity House, Palace Green, Durham and described as a ‘mechanical engineer’  and an ‘employer’. At some point during that year, he became a director of what was now Armstrong Whitworth. His persuasive writing skills were undoubtedly a reason for him being chosen to pen the piece.

Like the naval enquiry, Falkner, in his article, quickly exonerated Parsons and the turbines but questioned the credibility of the court by drawing readers’ attentions to its members’ lack of knowledge of marine engineering. He went on to cast doubt on the competence of the naval divers who had dragged the wreck into deeper waters, searched in poor visibility and, in one case, ‘a foreigner, and his evidence, which seemed naturally vague, was rendered still more obscure by difficulties of interpretation.’

Falkner called for a ‘properly qualified tribunal’ … ‘which will command respect, and the country will accept nothing less’. The  truth would then be uncovered ‘on better authority than the verdict of a casual court-martial.’

His words fell on deaf ears but Armstrong Whitworth survived the blow to its reputation and, like Parsons’ turbine business, went from strength to strength in the following decades. Falkner succeeded Sir Andrew Noble as Chairman of Armstrong Vickers in 1915. He later became Honorary Reader in Paleography at the University of Durham and Honorary Librarian to the Dean and Chapter Library of Durham Cathedral. 

Sixty seven men, including twenty four from Parsons and at least six who lived in Heaton, weren’t so fortunate.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about the people named in this article or the sinking of HMS Cobra, we’d love to hear from you.You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

‘The Cobra Trail’ / George Robson and Kenneth Hillier in ‘The John Meade Falkner Society Journal’ no 9, July 2008

‘Down Elswick Slipways: Armstrong’s Ships and People 1884-1918’/ Dick Keys and Ken Smith; Newcastle City Libraries, 1996

‘From Galaxies to Turbines: science, technology and the Parsons family’ / W Garrett Scaife; Institute of Physics Publishing, 2000

www.rjbw.net/JMFalkner.html

Other online sources

CHANGE Northumberland Hussars 1939-1945 CHANGE

Wednesday 23 November 2022 7.30pm

In a late change to the originally advertised talk, Dave Weatherstone will give a talk on the Northumberland Hussars in World War 2.

This replaces the talk below but the venue and time remain the same (see below). No need to book on this occasion.

We hope to reschedule Bill Griffiths’ talk for a later date.

———————————————————————

To Study the Monument: a history of research into Hadrian’s Wall

Wednesday 23 November 2022 7.30pm Open for Booking – members and non-members

It is only in the last 150 or so years that we have realised that Hadiran’s Wall was built by Hadrian, and new discoveries continue to astound even today in the 1900th anniversary year of the monument. For our November talk,  Bill Griffiths, will explore the research carried out on the frontier since the Roman administration in Britain. collapsed in the early fifth century AD.

William Stukeley’s 18C engraving of Hadrian’s Wall, looking down what is now Shields Road to Newcastle.

Our Speaker

Bill Griffiths is Head of Programmes and Collections at Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives. He also leads the Arts Council England funded Culture Bridge North East and Museum Development North East Sector Support Organisations that TWAM delivers for the region, is a member of the Hadrian’s Wall Management Plan Board, and chairs the Children and Young People’s working group for the North East Cultural Partnership.

Booking and Venue

The event will take place on Wednesday 23 November 2022 at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.

We use the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park. If you have mobility needs which mean that you you would require access to the very limited parking by the door of the venue, please request this when you book.

The nearest bus stop is that of the number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops near the Corner House.

The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.

The doors open at 7.00pm.  All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2.50 for non-members. Members have a priority booking window. Please book your place by contacting maria-graham@live.co.uk / 07443 594154

Arrangements

There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has very high ceilings and  good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee (with biscuits!) is normally available for £1 per cup.

We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.

This talk forms part of Heaton History Group’s contribution to Hadrian’s Wall 1900, a year long festival to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the building of Hadrian’s Wall.

BBC at 100 and a Heaton choir boy at 14

Before her recent death at the age of 105, Lilian, the wife of St Gabriel’s parishioner Herbert Dixon (‘Dix’) Hodgson, shared some memories of her husband. Among the stories about Dix’s short but eventful life was one about a solo performance by him being broadcast on the opening night of Newcastle’s first BBC radio station. She also said that, as a young girl, she was taken to a neighbour’s house to listen to the historic launch. What she said she didn’t realise was that, among the voices she heard seemingly magically beamed across the Tyne into her neighbour’s living room in Whickham, was that of her future husband.

Dix and Lilian, March 1940 aboard SS Kirriemoor (Lilian borrowed one of the Mate’s uniforms and the captain’s cap!)

Chorister

Herbert Dixon Hodgson was born in October 1908.  Records show that in 1911 he was living at 41 Tosson Terrace, Heaton with his father William, mother Margaret and his four year old sister Hilda Annie. Another sister, Nellie Blue (Blue was a family name) came later.

Young Dix became a member of the choir at St Gabriel’s Church. He was soon recognised as having an excellent voice and starred as a soloist at church concerts. This seems to have led, as we have heard from his wife’s account, to him being selected to sing solo to mark a momentous occasion, the opening night of Newcastle’s first radio station.

There are, however, a number of unanswered questions around Dix’s involvement. We wondered whether his performance was live. And when and where did it take place? How old was Dix? And the listening Lilian? What do the historical records tell us about the occasion?

5NO

Newcastle’s first radio station was known as 5NO, its call sign. According to the BBC, its opening broadcast was a hundred years ago this year, on Christmas Eve 1922, so Dix would have been 14 years old. Incredibly the British Broadcasting Company had been in existence for only a couple of months. It had been set up by a consortium of wireless manufacturers, including Marconi, General Electric and Metropolitan Vickers, primarily in the hope of a commercial bonanza from the sale of radio equipment, although very few people at that time saw its full potential to ‘inform, educate, entertain’ as its first director, John (later Lord) Reith later put it.

Newcastle was just the 4th BBC station to open behind London, Manchester and Birmingham, set up by Marconi, Metrovick and General Electric respectively, all of which were a matter of months or weeks old. In fact, it was the first to be established by the BBC itself: the other three had been put in place before the national broadcasting company’s formation. The British Broadcasting Company had been set up on 18 October and BBC broadcasting had officially begun on 14 November. John Reith had been appointed General Manager on 14 December and hadn’t even started work that Christmas Eve. In fact he was to visit Newcastle on 29 December en route from Scotland, where he had spent Christmas, to London to take up his appointment.

The station Reith visited was set to become the first radio station to operate from new premises, independent of their parent wirelesss manufacturing company. They were in Eldon Square and had been kitted out by a small group of enthusiasts. However, there were technical problems on the 23rd, the night of the promised ‘before Christmas’ opening and so a decision was made to conduct proceedings as close as possible to the newly constructed transmitter on a tower at the Cooperative Society buildings on West Blandford Street. So, the opening broadcast of Newcastle’s first radio station was from a ‘donkey cart’ in a stable yard. Very Chrismassy! And perhaps not surprising that the BBC chose to ignore this first broadcast in its official records.

The station manager was a man called Tom Payne. Tom was born in South Shields in 1882 and was an accomplished musician. But he was most famous for his feats during a competitive walking career which began in 1906. By 1916, he had broken world records for 12 and 24 hour duration feats and won three London to Brighton and six Manchester to Blackpool races. In the meantime, he had found time in 1910 to  open Morpeth’s first cinema, ‘The Avenue’, and then set up a business on Gallowgate as a wireless dealer and a music promoter.  It was because he recognised the potential for his business that Tom got involved with 5NO and, at least according to Tom himself, financed the arrival of broadcasting in the city out of his own pocket. (You can hear him tell the tale on the podcast mentioned below this article.)

Programme

It isn’t easy to tell whether later references to the opening night referred to 23rd or 24th December. But we know it was scheduled to last just one hour. There were live acts including Tom himself playing violin and a Mr W Griffiths playing cello. Miss May Osbourne sang ‘Annie Laurie’ but she couldn’t be accompanied in the stable yard as intended by pianist, W A Crosse, because the piano Payne had borrowed for the occasion wouldn’t fit on the cart. There may have been  recorded music on both occasions, as well as other live acts whose names aren’t recorded. There were no listings in the press ahead of the event. The first we have found date from the first week of 1923 but, as you’ll see if you scroll right at the bottom of the image below, they weren’t exactly comprehensive in Newcastle’s case. The Radio Times didn’t appear until 28 September 1923.

In the event, on that very first night a barking dog in the stable yard reportedly forced proceedings to end early.

It was because of these difficulties that John Reith was asked to break his journey from Scotland a few days later. Reith was unlikely to be of much help to Tom. He admitted that he knew nothing about broadcasting, he didn’t own a radio set and, unlike Lilian, aged 5, hadn’t even listened to a BBC broadcast. His diary entry for the day reads:

‘Newcastle at 12.30. Here I really began my BBC responsibility. Saw transmitting station and studio place and landlords. It was very interesting. Away at 4.28, London at 10.10, bed at 12.00. I am trying to keep in close touch with Christ in all I do and pray he may keep close to me. I have a great work to do.’

Dix’s Debut

So where did Dix’s solo fit in? The truth is we don’t know. It has been suggested that the full St Gabriel’s Choir performed and that the concert took place in Newcastle Cathedral. Both are unlikely.

There certainly was no outside broadcast from Newcastle Cathedral. The first music outside broadcast nationally did not take place until January 1923 and was a high profile performance of ‘The Magic Flute’ from Covent Garden.

If St Gabriel’s choir had performed on the very first night, it would have had to have been in the Co-op stable yard. Ensembles did perform in those early days but, even in a proper studio, a full choir would have posed enormous problems for the equipment and space available in Newcastle at the time. It certainly wouldn’t have fitted onto a donkey cart!

Perhaps the choir had been recorded on a previous occasion and played on a gramophone on the opening night. But recording music was still an expensive and laborious process. In the early 1920s, the quality of the live music broadcast would be far superior to any recordings used. A search through the St Gabriel’s parish magazine from that period yielded nothing.

This suggests that, if Dix did perform on that opening night, it was as a solo, probably unaccompanied, voice. Achieving the right balance between a singer and an accompanist or multiple voices had not been fully mastered at that point even if there hadn’t been the issue with the borrowed piano. 

What did Dix sing? Given the time of year, one could imagine him singing carols but the above poster for a St Gabriel’s concert just a few weeks later on 13 February 1923 suggests another possibility. Then, Master Hodgson sang Handel’s‘ Rejoice greatly’ and ‘Angels ever bright and fair’ . There may not have been a dry eye either in the Coop stable yard or that Whickham living room.

Lilian

Lilian would have been one of a select few listening to that first north-east broadcast. There were apparently only about 100 potential listeners in the Newcastle area at that time and only those within about 15 miles of Newcastle were expected to be able to hear 5NO, although a ship’s radio as far away as Gibraltar reportedly picked up the signal. At home, many of the radio hams who had crystal sets or early valve radios at that time were ex-servicemen who had learnt how to use radio during the war.

However, there had been a huge advertising campaign for sets ahead of that Christmas. They weren’t cheap (from about £4) but the audience was set to expand quickly.

Petition

Tom Payne did not last long at 5NO. There are conflicting accounts about his departure sometime in 1923. One account says that he was heard to swear on air and was fired, another that his quirky presentation didn’t fit with the more formal style favoured by Reith. A petition to have him reinstated was unsuccessful.

But Tom’s walking exploits continued to keep him in the public eye. Indeed on 15 November 1926, he delivered a lecture on athletics to members of Heaton Harriers at their headquarters in Armstrong Park Refreshment Rooms.

The headline of a local newspaper report of his death at Walkergate Hospital in 1966 said ‘Champion walker dies’ rather than the ‘Broadcasting pioneer’.

Master Mariner

Two years after Newcastle’s first BBC broadcast, aged 16, Dix signed indentures and became an apprentice to the Moor Line, the merchant fleet operated by Walter Runciman and Co. He attended college to gain qualifications, including, to obtain his Master’s Certificate in 1936, at Nellist’s Nautical College.

Shields Daily Gazette, 7 Nov 1936

Between 1931 and 1938, Dix’s name appears on the Newcastle electoral register. He is still living with his father and mother but now at 31 Tosson Terrace, a few doors away from where he grew up. In 1938 and ‘39, a Leonard and Wilhelmina Runciman are registered at his childhood home at number 41. A coincidence? Were they part of the Runciman shipping dynasty and were they known to the Hodgsons? By 1939, the Hodgson family is registered  at 305 Chillingham Road.

We don’t know when and where Dix eventually met Lilian Mary Spittle. They lived on opposite sides of the Tyne but we know that Lilian had trained as a fever nurse and the Newcastle Upon Tyne Infectious Diseases Hospital was situated at Walkergate just up the road from Heaton.

Dix and Lilian were married in spring 1939, sixteen and a half years after that first broadcast, and Andrew their first son was born in late 1940. Douglas came along soon after.

By now, Dix was a master mariner, the highest rank in the merchant navy and what is usually referred to as a ship’s captain.

Tragedy

But on 21 May 1942, he was in charge of the SS Zurichmoor as it left Halifax, Nova Scotia in ballast bound for St Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

SS Zurichmoor

Three days later while 400 miles east of Philadelphia, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank within 90 seconds. Dix, his crew of 38 and six naval gunners were lost. Many of them were, like Dix, from north-east families.

Tower Hill Memorial Panel 121

They are all remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, London, a war memorial to ‘merchant seamen with no grave but the sea’.

Runciman and Co Moor Line Book of Remberance 1939-40

In Tyne & Wear Archives there is a Book of Remembrance commissioned by the directors of Walter Runciman and Company, owners of the Moor Line.

Angels ever bright and fair, take o take them to your care.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Robin Long of Heaton History Group with additional material from Chris Jackson; thank you to Andrew and Douglas Hodgson for their help and for the photograph of Dix and Lilian.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about the people named in this article or about the launch of the BBC in Newcastle or the sinking of SS Zurichmoor especially as they relate to Heaton, we’d love to hear from you.You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Sources

Ancestry

‘The Birth of Broadcasting 1896-1927’ by Asa Briggs; OUP, 1961

‘British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa’ podcast series

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-british-broadcasting-century-with-paul-kerensa/id1516471271especially Season 1 Episode 20 ‘The First BBC Christmas’ and Episode 34 ‘Newcastle’s Christmas Launch: Let it 5NO, Let it 5NO, Let it 5NO’.

British Newspaper Archive

‘Into the Wind’ / by Lord Reith, 1966

Other online sources

NEW Newcastles of the World NEW

Wednesday 26 October, Heaton Baptist Church 

There are many places in the world named Newcastle. At one time they may have had castles. Some still do. Not all of them are English-speaking. There were new castles in many different countries resulting in names such as Shinshiro, Neuchâtel , Neuburg, and Nové Hrady. And some Newcastles were named after other Newcastles or individuals bearing the name Newcastle. Not all are cities, some are towns or even villages. One is an army settlement. One is a star. They all shine brightly in their own way.


In 1998 a network of Newcastles was formed when the mayor of Shinshiro in Japan invited a number of cities to Japan to attend the first summit of Newcastles. Eight attended and a conference has been held every two years since then in Newcastles around the world with the network gathering momentum and members along the way and spawning a number of youth and cultural projects

In a late change to our advertised programme, David Faulkner OBE will tell us more about some of the Newcastles and the Newcastles of the World programme. David coordinates the work of Newcastles of the World.

He is an eastender – he was born in Byker and grew up in Heaton. He was educated at Ravenswood and Chillingham Road Primary Schools and the former Heaton Grammar School before taking a history degree at the University of York. His mother was a tea packer at Ringtons and his father was a postman for the Shields Road beat. His close ties to Heaton continue: he is currently a trustee of The People’s Theatre.

David’s career  spanned business, the arts and politics. He worked in the electricity industry locally for 30 years and he was on the board of the regional CBI. He has had two spells as a Newcastle City Councillor, first when in his 20s (representing Elswick, and the first Liberal on the Council for 40 years) and much later between 2004 and 2018 representing Fawdon. He was Deputy Leader of the Council for four years and Leader in 2010/11.

We’d like to thank David for stepping in at short notice and apologise for the inconvenience to members and others expecting the originally advertised talk.

Booking and Venue

The event will take place on Wednesday 26 October at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.

We use the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park. If you have mobility needs which mean that you you would require access to the very limited parking by the door of the venue, please request this when you book.

The nearest bus stop is that of the number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops near the Corner House.

The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.

The doors open at 7.00pm.  All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2.50 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154

Arrangements

There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has high ceilings and  good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee is normally available for £1 per cup.

We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.

26 October 2022 7.30pm Open for booking – members and non-members

This talk replaces the planned talk by David Stewart-David which we have had to cancel:

North Eastern Railway Heritage 1854 – the present,

North Eastern Railway class S2 and London & North Eastern Railway B15 with an NER J71 tank engine, Heaton c1919
North Eastern Railway class S2 and London & North Eastern Railway B15 with an NER J71 tank engine, Heaton c1919

Heaton’s Building Society Uncovered

Earlier this year, during building work on their home, some Heaton residents spotted a dusty pile of fragile, browning papers under the floorboards of their boxroom. Luckily for us, they didn’t just bin them because the documents were able to shed considerable light on the economic conditions and social and political networks in Heaton at the time they last saw the light of day.

The find comprised around fifty copies of a leaflet advertising a public meeting and a subsequent ‘subscription night’ to which people could buy shares in ‘Newcastle upon Tyne East End Economic Building Society’. The meetings would take place on Monday 2 and Tuesday 10 February 1891. Considerable detail about how the society would work are given on the leaflet along with the names and addresses of the provisional directors, bankers, solicitor, surveyor and secretary – and the name ‘Joseph Peers FSA’, whose role wasn’t clear, other than that he would fully explain ‘the principles and working of these societies’.

We thought it might be helpful to find out a little about the Heaton people mentioned before investigating a little further the society and others like it – but our first question was:

‘Who was Joseph Peers?’

This took a bit of working out. We had no birthplace, date of birth or address for the man named on the leaflet and, in the 1891 census, many people with that name appear. Some we could dismiss because they were too young and others we thought perhaps unlikely because of their occupation or where they lived. There was a prominent Justice of the Peace in Denbighshire, to whom grateful neighbours had erected a monument, who seemed like a possibility. But eventually, after combing through newspaper articles including the occasional court report, we were able to pin him down to the Joseph Peers who was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1837, the son of a woollen weaver. He apparently started work in a mill aged six, but went on to be an affluent accountant and an influential figure in local politics.

Despite his difficult start in life, Joseph said later that he was alway determined  to be a teacher and somehow he educated himself sufficiently to win a bursary to a teacher training college. After qualifying, he opened his own boarding school, at which he himself taught languages and mathematics. According to Peers himself, after some seventeen years, he gave up teaching due to ill health and trained as an accountant, after which he practised mainly around Clitheroe and Burnley in Lancashire. 

During the 1880s, he began, with great energy, to tour first of all the north-west of England and then the north-east, Scotland and increasingly further south, encouraging the establishment of a series of local building societies. By 1887, he and his wife had moved to the highly desirable Lancashire town of St Anne’s-on-Sea, where he became president of the Liberal Club, choirmaster and deacon of the Baptist church: a stalwart of the local community. 

Joseph Peers died on 18 January 1915. Curiously, the obituary in the local paper which gave so much detail of his early life, didn’t mention his role in building societies for which he was known all over the country. We will try to unpick this a little below. 

But first, the locals.

Directors

There are 6 ‘provisional directors’ listed on the flyer, all referred to as living in Heaton:

Mr J S Nicholson of 8 North View

Mr J Stokes of 26 Tynemouth Road

Mr A C Whitehead of 40 Clive Terrace

Mr H Weighell  of 10 Cardigan Terrace

Mr J Lively of 1 Molyneux Street

Mr C H Smith of Stratford Villas

What sort of men became proposed directors of a new building society in eighteen nineties’ Heaton? Here we were assisted by the fact a census took place only a couple of months after the advertised meetings and that most of the men (and, of course, they were all men) were featured in the press from time to time. 

Joseph Nicholson had been living at 8 North View for over ten years. However, his middle initial was not ‘S’ but ‘I’ for Innes. Joseph was born in Corbridge around 1843 and, aged 18, was a student at Gilesgate Training School in Durham. By 1881, he was living in Heaton, married with a young daughter and a servant. His employment status was recorded as ‘managing director of a glass ????’ (likely to be factory or similar), employing ‘38 men, 38 boys and 10 women’. At the time we are interested in, 1891, he and his wife, Anne, had two children but he had changed tack in his career again. Now, aged 48,  he was a ‘commercial traveller and clerk to the burial board’. By the next census, he described himself as ‘burial board clerk and journalist’.

There is corroborating evidence for some of this sketchy census information in the form of regular mentions in newspapers, especially in connection with his duties for Heaton and Byker Burial Board. It was Joseph who, in 1890, had announced that the new cemetery was open for burials. He was also mentioned as the ‘honorary secretary (pro tem)’ for a public meeting at Leighton Schools calling for Byker Bridge to be made toll-free. And in 1894, he stood unsuccessfully to be Assistant Overseer of St Andrew’s parish. There are also some articles by him including one about the new Royal Victoria Infirmary and a letter commenting on the proposed width of a new bridge over the Ouseburn ‘near the mill’.

Joseph Innes Nicholson died on 3 September 1903, aged about 60. He is buried, not in the Heaton Cemetery he helped run, but in Jesmond Old Cemetery along with his wife, two of their children who died in infancy and two other people whose identity we don’t know. An obituary in the newspaper refers to Joseph’s friendly nature, his work as clerk to the burial board, as a journalist and in teaching but sheds no light on his directorship in the glass industry or his unusual career path. The East End Economic Building Society isn’t mentioned either.

John Stokes was, in 1891, living at 94 Tynemouth Road (not number 26 as the leaflet stated but he may have moved) in what was, at that time, usually described as Byker rather than Heaton, with his wife, Annie, and four children aged between four and fourteen. He worked as a solicitor’s clerk. Twenty years later, the couple were still at the same address and still had four of their total of eight children at home. John continued to work as a solicitor’s clerk.

He had been born in Northampton in 1850. His father, a wheelwright, had died aged 29 less than three months before John was born. Initially, John and his mother, Sarah, lived with Sarah’s sister and family but three years later, Sarah married Richard Christmas who worked as a butler and footman in grand houses in London and the south. By 1871, John was lodging in Stamford, Lincolnshire where he was employed by a solicitor. Within four years, he had married Annie, who, like John, hailed from Northampton and they had moved to Newcastle. By 1881, they had four children. John died in Gateshead in 1932. Annie outlived him. 

Arthur Charles Whitehead was a Brummie, who at the time of the building society launch was 38 years old, living in Clive Street in Byker (although  the leaflet places it in Heaton)  and the ‘secretary of a glass manufactory’. Maybe this is what brought him into contact with Joseph Nicholson. Ten years before he had been a grocer in Aston near Birmingham and, aged 18, he was a clerk in a brewery. 

We also know that Arthur was an active member of the Perseverance Lodge of Good Templars, Byker.  The  Independent Order of Good Templars was an organisation which advocated temperance and had a structure based on freemasonry. It was founded in the USA in the early 1850s but soon became international and a returning British emigré, Joseph Malins, established the first British lodge in Arthur’s native Birmingham in 1866.  The Byker lodge was certainly a place where he could have met some of his fellow directors. Arthur Whitehead died in September 1905, aged c 52.

Henry Weighell was, in 1891, aged 31 and living with his wife, Hannah, three children and a servant at 10 Cardigan Terrace. As a young man, ten years earlier, he was boarding with an uncle of his future wife, a Northallerton grocer, and working as his assistant. But now, the Yorkshireman was described as a ‘commission agent’. We know from newspaper advertisements that he was a rep for ‘McGregor’s Dumfries Home Made Preserves’ and sold ‘Balmoral Crystalline Marmalade (as supplied to Her Majesty)’ and ‘Far-famed gooseberry jam (new season)’. At this time, he was living on Mowbray Street.

Ten years later Henry, Hannah and their five children were at 26 Kingsley Place next door to artist John Wallace, with Henry running his own wholesale confectionery business. 

By 1911, however, the family had left Heaton for the west end of Newcastle and Henry had changed sector. He was, by now, a ‘commercial traveller in cattle food.’ By 1915, 55 year old Henry and 61 year old Hannah had relocated again, this time to Belford in Northumberland, perhaps because in and around Newcastle, houses had increasingly replaced the farms of his erstwhile customers. We know this both from advertisements for the cattle food which Henry was selling and the announcement of Hannah’s death in December 1915. Henry was soon placing an advert in the ‘Wanted’ column for a country house with modern conveniences, a garden and a garage a reasonable distance from a station. He was looking for a new home because he was about to remarry. In July 1917, he married 44 year old Isabella Tindall, whose now deceased father had farmed 504 acres near Chatton in Northumberland.  Henry continued to trade in agricultural products. He died on 10 March 1939, aged 79. 

James Lively was recorded on the leaflet as living at 1 Molyneux Street but, by the time of the census, a couple of months later, he was living at 75 Mowbray Street with his wife Sarah and three young daughters and earning a living as a self employed watchmaker and jeweller. He lived and had  shops at various times on Shields Road, Molyneux Street, Mowbray Street and Warwick Street.

James was born in 1859 in North Yorkshire. His father, also called James Lively, was an Irishman from Sligo, who at the time of the 1851 census lived in ‘hawkers’ lodgings’ in Painters Heugh, All Saints parish and described his occupation as a stationer. Two years later, he married local girl, Mary Watson, who seemed to have been just 15 years old at the time. Mary had at least three children over the next six years, the youngest of whom was James, before her husband disappeared from her life.

In 1861, aged 23, Mary was living in Bishopwearmouth near Sunderland with her three young children and no visible means of support. By 1871, however, things seem to have looked up for the family. They were living on Low Friar Street in Newcastle. Mary had a new partner, Patrick Develin, also from Ireland. Both he and Mary were described as clothiers and the oldest of Mary’s children was an upholsterer. James and his other siblings were at school. All were described as Patrick’s children and were recorded on the census with his surname. However, two years later Patrick had died, aged only 48. 

A couple of years later, Mary was married for a third time to seaman Stephen Easten. She had two more children with him before he too died, at sea. In 1881, the unfortunate Mary, aged 43 and still described as a clothier, had upped sticks again to South Hetton in County Durham. She now had some financial help as 21 year old James was employed as a watchmaker and his younger brother, Michael, was a draper. 

It sounds like a tough start in life for young James but despite the poverty the family must have endured, having three father figures in his life, all only briefly,  and the frequent changes of address, he somehow learned a trade, built up his own business (He placed advertisements in the newspapers for an apprentice) and was nominated as a building society company director. Another indication of James’ status was his mention in the press the following year as being one of a group of friends to have made a presentation to James Peel, Newcastle United’s treasurer, who was leaving the city for a job in London. Most of the other friends listed were either directors of the football club or like James Birkett, who we’ll meet again later, a councillor.

By 1901, James, Sarah and their five children had moved away from Heaton to Ashington in Northumberland. James died in 1905, aged c 44.

Charles Henderson Smith was, at the time of the 1891 census, a 51 year old ship surveyor living with his wife, Mary, at 4 Stratford Villas in Heaton. He had been born in Aberdeen but his father, a blacksmith, and mother relocated to Wallsend with their young children in the 1840s. After serving an apprenticeship at Charles Mitchell and Company in Walker, Charles joined Andrew Leslie of Hebburn as a lofts man and then a ship carpenter in which role he spent several periods at sea.  He married Mary Ann Mein in 1861 and the couple soon had two children, the younger of whom was somewhat confusingly also called Charles Henderson Smith, also had a wife called Mary and worked in the same profession. They don’t make it easy for us historians! 

As Charles senior advanced his career with a number of different companies,  the family lived briefly in both Glasgow and Barrow in Furness before coming to Heaton where, in 1883, Charles set up his own business as a ship surveyor and then went into a partnership, a decision which, he gave as a reason for led his being declared bankrupt in 1889, while living on Falmouth Road, Heaton. This doesn’t seem to have prevented him from becoming the director of a building society less than two years later. However, an otherwise extensive obituary in the ‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ doesn’t mention either his financial misfortune or his association with the East End Economic Building Society. It does refer him to being a ‘staunch nonconformist’ and specifically a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Newcastle and then the Congregationalist Church in Whitley. Charles and his wife, Mary had moved to Whitley Bay in 1899. It was there that,  in 1911, first Mary then, six months later, Charles died. He was 71. Notice the name of his house as given on the notice of his death in the obituary.

Six men from diverse occupation but what they seem to have in common is that they were aspirational. Many had endured tough upbringings but had gone on to forge successful careers for themselves. They were the sort of people who might have had a little money to invest and to whom the idea of owning a house might appeal. You can see why they might be attracted to an organisation which could help them achieve their aim, something open only to a small minority in the late nineteenth century. It is striking though that, just as with Joseph Peel, neither of the two directors’ obituaries we have seen mention involvement with the East End Economic Building Society

The Officers

Morris Robinson, who must at some point have put a pile of leftover flyers for the building society under the floorboards of his home of 5 Holmside Place was listed as secretary of the society. (Is it just a coincidence that ‘Holmside’ was the name of Charles Henderson Smith’s residence?) On census night, 5 April 1891, he was aged 24, employed as a solicitor’s clerk and living with his stepmother, three siblings and two lodgers. Morris’s father, a Prussian Jew, also known as Morris, had emigrated to Newcastle and set up in business as a slipper and shoe manufacturer. By 1881, he employed 30 people. Sadly, he had been admitted to Newcastle Lunacy Asylum a year before the 1891 census and would die a matter of a few weeks after it took place.

Morris junior was also a keen athlete and member of Heaton Harriers. He went on to marry and have children but in 1908, just like his father, was admitted to the Lunacy Asylum and died the following month, aged 41.

5 Holmside Place remained in the Robinson family for over fifty years until after the Second World War. It seems likely that Morris Robinson senior, a successful businessman, bought it as a new build but we haven’t seen documentary evidence of this and whether he had a building society loan and, if so, which one.

Andrew Robinson, the society’s solicitor, was Morris’s elder brother, four years his senior and the first-born boy of the large family. In 1891, Morris was his clerk. Andrew lived in Tynemouth at this time with his wife and family.

The North Eastern Banking Company was founded in Newcastle in 1872 but with branches throughout Northumberland. Its Byker branch was at 184/186 Shields Road. It became part of Martins and eventually Barclays.

William Hope, listed as the society’s surveyor, was an architect, particularly well known for his design of theatres, including Byker’s Grand Theatre. In Heaton, he later designed Heaton Methodist Church and large houses on Heaton Road, including Coquet Villa and Craigielea. 

The  Venues

Leighton School Rooms The initial public meeting was to be held at Leighton Schoolrooms. We have already written extensively about William Brogg Leighton and his church, with its attached schoolrooms, which opened in 1877 at the southern end of Heaton Road. The rooms were used extensively for public meetings. 

Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910
Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel c 1910

Moore’s Cocoa Rooms

The subscription meeting was to be held at Moore’s Cocoa Rooms, which were described as the society’s temporary offices. The cocoa rooms  were at 46 Shields Road, opposite where Morrisons is now, between about 1886 and 1894 and often used as a venue for meetings. There were many cocoa rooms in and around Newcastle at this time. John Thomas Moore, the manager, was 39 years old in 1891 and lived in Byker. He had managed cocoa rooms for over ten years but went on to work in insurance. For a while, the Byker rooms also bore the name of his business partner, John Wilson.

The Chair

James Birkett, had, in 1891, been a well respected Liberal councillor in the East End for eight years. He lived at 37 Heaton Park Road. 

James was born on 4 February 1831 in Gatehouse of Fleet in Scotland. He came to Newcastle in 1855 as a young man and began work for a firm of anchor and chain-makers of which he eventually became a managing partner. 

James soon became involved in public life, where he was known as a radical. For example, in January 1867, he was a member of the committee which planned a demonstration in Newcastle in favour of extending male suffrage and, in particular, in support of Gladstone’s Reform Bill, initially shelved when the Tories came to power. 

In 1873 and 1884, he was the mounted marshal at the head of further large protests in favour of greater suffrage and electoral fairness, part of a national campaign which led eventually to the Third Reform Act, which extended the right to vote to about 60% of the male population.

He was also president of the Northern Republican League and a member of the Congregational church.

Locally, Birkett was elected chairman of Byker Liberals in 1874 and he was an active supporter of East End Football Club and other sports in Heaton. He campaigned tirelessly to improve sanitation in the city and for Byker Bridge to be toll-free and he was instrumental in Heaton getting parks and a public library.

He was the first chairman and then vice chairman of the Byker and Heaton Burial Board, in which context he will have known Joseph Nicholson, the clerk, and possibly also Andrew Robinson as can be seen from this plaque, still to be seen at the entrance to the cemetery. Note also the names of champion cyclist George Waller and his brothers.

Like Arthur Whitehead, Birkett was a vociferous and effective temperance campaigner who had a lasting influence on the development of Heaton as a suburb with very few public houses, up until the present day, yet another link between two of the names on the flier. As President of the Byker and Heaton Temperance Council, Birkett chaired a meeting in 1886 ‘to celebrate the success their friends had secured against the granting of certain licences for pubic houses’, and ‘condemned the idea of granting a licence to a public house on the main road to a Board School and on a road which the majority of their workmen traversed to and from their work’.

He had also, as early as 17 December 1889, chaired a meeting just like the one advertised in Heaton for a ‘new and improved Economic Building Society‘ in Newcastle at which Mr J Peers FSA would explain how to ‘Become your own landlord’. The office at which people could enrol was 76 Grey Street.

James Birkett died on 10 February 1898. On 20 July 1899, a clock was unveiled in his memory above the aviary in Heaton Park close to where ‘Mr Birkett’s figure was the most prominent among those who night after night patronised the bowling green in season’.

The James Birkett memorial clock can be seen on the Heaton Park aviary.

So they were the people involved in the proposed building society. But what was the context?

Housing

As late as 1914, only around ten per cent of houses in Britain were owner-occupied. In 1891, there was very little social housing and no council housing, certainly in Newcastle. As elsewhere, the vast majority of people in Heaton, even the more well-to-do, lived in the private rented sector. Indeed some wealthy people bought houses to rent out, while renting from others the property they themselves lived in. 

Renting was the norm and working class people in particular often moved house very frequently. We see this when looking at the census records and electoral registers for Heaton. Sometimes people moved just a few doors down the same street. Many poorer people’s tenancies were weekly, meaning landlords could evict them almost at will. Conversely, tenants could easily trade down if their income was reduced or up if they hit better times or if the size of their family grew or reduced.

However,  that doesn’t mean that some people didn’t aspire to or support the idea of home ownership. 

Building Societies

Building societies were not new in the 1880s and 90s. In fact, the first seems to have been founded in Arthur Whitehead’s birthplace, Birmingham, almost a century earlier in 1795. Their popularity increased throughout the nineteenth century, resulting in an Act of Parliament in 1874 to safeguard the interests of owners, investors and borrowers. From then, new building societies had to become incorporated companies under the act.

The building societies we are familiar with today in Britain (and more so before most became banks in the late twentieth century) are what is known as ‘permanent societies’, that is their rules allow them to exist indefinitely. But in the nineteenth century, many building societies were what were called ‘terminating’ building societies.

Such a society was open to subscribers only until the required number of investors needed to make it viable had been found (and then a new society could be formed). Depositors would be contracted to make a small regular deposit. They did not receive interest. The society invested the deposits in property. When the society had enough funds, a ballot would be held to determine which saver received an interest free loan, typically for 60% of the value of a property. The saver’s investments would usually be expected to cover the other 40%.

A local society might operate for around 10 years before it held any ballots at all. It would only hold ballots when it could afford to and would  suspend them if the economic situation was considered unfavourable. People invested knowing that they wouldn’t own a property in the short term and not even in the expectation of owning one in the medium or long term but with a dream that one day they just might. 

Peers’ Building Societies

The first building society that we have come across associated with Joseph Peers was in Darwen, Lancashire, close to where he lived. A newspaper report in 1985 refers to him as the secretary who had submitted the annual accounts. The society is referred to as the Starr Bowkett Darwen Society ie one based on monthly lotteries. The following year the neighbouring Heywood ‘Economic’ Building Society was described as ‘based upon rules drawn up by Mr Joseph Peers‘, suggesting that he had further developed the Starr Bowkett idea.

For the next ten years or so local newspapers, particularly in the north and Scotland, advertised forthcoming talks or opportunities to subscribe on pretty much a weekly basis. Joseph Peers was the advertised speaker at most of them.

Controversies

There were, however, some brushes with the law.  In 1889, the secretary of Peers’ Padiham Building Society was prosecuted on behalf of the Registrar of Friendly Societies because the society had not been incorporated. He tried to apportion some of the blame to Peers.

In February 1990, a question was put at one subscribers’ meeting concerning the amount mentioned for Peers’ salary. It was requested that Peers left the room while the discussion took place; he refused and a compromise was eventually reached.

Later that year, Jesse Morton Roby of Bury took Peers to court to claim £99.95 for work done, ‘promoting and establishing certain building societies known as Peers Economic Building Societies’. It was claimed in court that Roby visited Newcastle, Sunderland, North Shields, South Shields, Chester le Street, Wallsend, Gateshead, Morpeth and Derby and established societies but had not been paid at the agreed rate. He won his case.

And, just after the Heaton meetings were due to have taken place, a long letter in the Morpeth Herald took issue with the claims made by Peers about the likely growth of his societies’ funds and the amount he was paid by each society. The writer referred to the small likelihood of a member being successful in the ballots.

Nevertheless Peers continued to tour the country, promoting his building society model and seemingly finding queues of willing subscribers. 

Scandal

But the year after the Heaton meetings, a much bigger scandal occurred, which caused nervousness around building societies in general. A group of companies, including the Liberator Building Society (a permanent building society), all associated with someone called Jabez Spencer Balfour, collapsed. Balfour was at that time the Liberal Member of Parliament for Burnley. Facing charges of fraud – his companies were using investors’ capital to buy, at inflated prices, properties owned by Balfour – and the anger of thousands of penniless investors, Balfour fled to Argentina. He was eventually brought back to the UK to face trial and was sentenced to 14 years penal servitude. Despite his being disgraced, there are apparently two roads in the West End of Newcastle named in honour of Jabez Balfour: Croydon Road and Tamworth Road (He hailed from Croydon and also served as MP for Tamworth), both built using funds invested in the Liberator Building Society.

There are a number of connections between Balfour and the East End Economic Building Society:

One is Liberalism. Peers himself was president of St Anne’s on Sea Liberal Association and the chair of the public meeting here in Heaton was James Birkett, a much respected Liberal councillor, and some of the directors such as Joseph Nicholson were also supporters. Balfour was a Liberal MP. Liberals might be expected to support ideas which they thought would further the interests of ordinary people, including tenants. But for the less scrupulous and more cynical, like Jabez Balfour, association with trusted public figures and parties who were seen to be on the side of working people, did businesses aimed at those same sort of people no harm at all. 

Another is nonconformism. Jabez Balfour was a Congregationalist, like James Birkett and Charles Henderson Smith; Joseph Peers was a Baptist. Nonconformists tended to espouse hard work, temperance, frugality, and upward mobility. Late 19th century nonconformists were mostly Liberals politically.

And lastly Burnley. Balfour was MP for Burnley from 1889 to 1893. Joseph  Peers practised accountancy in Burnley and although he had moved to nearby St Annes in around 1887, he still had business interests there as evidenced by the court case involving Padiham Building Society in November 1889. It would be surprising if the two men didn’t know each other. 

In any case, the Liberator scandal led to a rapid decrease in consumer confidence. Investment in building societies fell and led to further legislation in 1894  including a ban on Starr-Bowkett and similar societies ‘based on dubious gambling principles’. Joseph Peers’ societies including the East End Economic would have fallen into this category. Although we have found no evidence of any serious wrongdoing by Peers or his societies,  it is perhaps understandable that neither he nor the East End directors spoke much in later life about their association with a now outlawed type of financial institution. 

We haven’t found evidence that the East End Economic attracted enough subscribers to get off the ground, still less whether any of its subscribers won mortgages in its ballot or which, if any, Heaton properties were financed by it, but the discovery of a pile of undistributed leaflets under the floorboards of its secretary’s former home has allowed some light to be shone on what was until now a hidden aspect of Heaton’s social and economic history.

Can you help?

If you know any more about anyone mentioned in this article or the East End Economic Building Society, or if you come across any reference to the society in property deeds, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group (HHG). A big thank you to Josie, who shared her family’s find with us and to Marty Douglass of HHG, who acted as go-between. Also to Arthur Andrews of HHG for his help, especially for retrieving the article about Charles Henderson Smith from the ‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ archive at Discover North Tyneside, North Tyneside Libraries.

Sources

‘Ancestry’

‘British Newspaper Archives’

‘The Building Society Movement’ / by Harold Bellman; Methuen, 1927

‘The Building Society Promise: building societies and home ownership c 1880-1913’ / by Luke Samy; Discussion papers in Economic and Social History no 72; University of Oxford, 2008

‘Housing Landlordism in late nineteenth century Britain’ / by P Kemp; Environment and Planning A, 1982 pp 1437-1447

‘Whitley Seaside Chronicle’ , 14 October 1911

‘Wikipedia’ and other online sources

Escape to Heaton: Mike’s wartime memories

Stories of women and children hurriedly gathering a few belongings together and leaving the home they know to escape the horror of war, only to find themselves once more in the midst of it, have become only too commonplace in 2022. Heaton History Group member, Mike Summersby, arrived in Newcastle as a three year old in 1941 under just those circumstances.

We are delighted to be able to publish some extracts from the memoirs Mike has recently written. Here, he remembers those early days in Heaton, the family’s new home in Mowbray Street and the underground shelter where the family spent many hours:

‘ The wailing siren warned of the attack. Searchlight beams danced across the night sky, seeking out their prey. The dull drone of the planes heightened the sense of fear. Were they ours or theirs?

People hurried from their homes to the row of reinforced concrete air-raid shelters that sat between the Tyneside flats on either side of Mowbray Street. Hurriedly dressed over nightclothes, some carried books, or food, or other comforts. It could be a long night in the shelter. 

It was 1941. Jessie Summersby (Mam) and her two sons – my brother Peter aged twelve and me aged three – had only days earlier arrived in Newcastle. Dad was serving in the army. Mam knew not where, except that it was probably somewhere overseas. 

As a wartime street warden, Mam had witnessed close-up the horrors of the London blitz. Near breaking point, she and her boys had left the capital as evacuees. After a brief stay in the Wiltshire village of Little Somerford, she had moved us to Newcastle, her childhood home, where her father and her twin sister lived. 

From her London home she had watched aerial dogfights between the RAF and the German Luftwaffe. She could tell from the sound of the engines which planes were ours and which were theirs.

Our new home 

Our new home was a single room in a downstairs two-bedroom Tyneside flat at 164 Mowbray Street, Heaton (now, but not then of course, opposite Hotspur Primary School) in which my grandfather, William Newton lived with his ‘housekeeper’, Mrs Montgomery. 

164 Mowbray Street in 2022

Mam, my brother Peter and I were given the front room. I assume all concerned hoped that it would be a temporary measure. But these were uncertain times. No one could know how long the war would last. As it turned out this one room was to be our home for the next four years. 

We also had use of the scullery, including a shelf in the larder, and access to a shared outside lavatory (colloquially the ‘netty’) next to the coalhouse in the small, red-brick-walled back yard. 

So it was that 164 Mowbray Street became the place of some of my earliest recollections and our family home until the end of World War 2. 

Being only three years old when we first arrived in Newcastle, I had no awareness of our previous home in London. Nor could I possibly, at that young age, be aware of the sense of loss and deprivation that my mother must have felt as she came to terms with her new situation. 

The young Mike Summersby

Now, as I reflect on that time and the years that followed, I can only marvel at how brave and resourceful she was, and how magnificently she coped single-handedly during the next four years bringing up her two boys in such strained circumstances. 

Mam (Jessie)

Mam did her best with what she had. Out of necessity she quickly settled us in. Typical of the front room of a Tyneside flat, our room was roughly thirteen feet square with two alcoves, one either side of a chimney breast. The sash windows looking out onto the front street were curtained with blackout material. 

Furniture was basic and second hand or improvised. Much of the floor space was taken up by a three-quarter size bed initially shared by mam, Peter and me, and a square table and two horsehair-covered chairs (rough on the legs of a young boy wearing short trousers). 

Later, Peter slept on a camp bed which was folded away each morning and set up in front of the window each evening. I marvel now that without complaint, and for much of our four years living in that room, he slept so many nights on canvas stretched on a wooden frame. Perhaps it felt like camping out but it could not have been comfortable, particularly for a growing teenager. 

The two alcoves were used for storage of all our worldly goods, including the less perishable items of food. Orange boxes served for shelving. Mam hand-sewed hems on pieces of cretonne curtain which she then suspended on string across the front of the boxes to hide the contents. The wood floor was covered with faded patterned linoleum that had seen better days and was cracked in places where the floorboards were uneven, which made it difficult to keep clean. Heating in our room was an open fireplace with an iron grate. Teasing a fire into flame on a chilly night required the careful layering of paper, sticks of firewood and coal. One of Peter’s regular jobs was to buy and fetch coal from the coal yard next to the nearby railway line. 

Lighting was by gas from a pipe at the centre of the ceiling. When the gas was turned on, a replaceable mantle fixed to the end of the gas fitting glowed when it was lit with a match or a lighted taper. The flow of gas, and thus the brightness, was regulated by the manipulation of pull-chains attached to the light fitting. The mantles were very fragile and frequently needed replacement. The gas mantle would be lit only when the light was intended to be left on – otherwise a candle or a torch would be used as a short-term temporary light – like when someone needed to use the chamber-pot (kept under the bed) for a nocturnal pee. Whatever the form of lighting, it had to be blocked by curtains or screens so that no light could be seen from outside. Stray lights could assist enemy bombers in locating or confirming target areas. The ‘blackout’ was enforced by patrolling Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens who would promptly order ‘Put that light out’ if it wasn’t properly screened. 

The netty was a cold, stark, forbidding cupboard of a place housing a wooden platform straddled across its width, with an appropriately shaped opening above the lavatory bowl. Faded whitewash decorated the otherwise bare brick walls. ‘Toilet paper’ was squares cut or torn from newspapers, each square punched in one corner, threaded with string and hung in a swatch on a nail. Mounted precariously above the facility was a rusted metal water cistern from which hung a similarly rusted metal chain. The cubicle was little wider than the wooden entry door with its gaps at top and bottom – presumably for ventilation. Ceiling cobwebs added to the sense of gloom. This was a grim place of necessity in which to spend the least possible time, particularly during the winter months. 

The Culvert 

We had left London to escape the blitz but Mam soon found that the air raid threat, though less intensive than in the capital, was a fact of life here in Newcastle, too.
During our first year living at 164 Mowbray Street we spent many hours in the culvert. After a night spent there, Peter always liked to prolong his stay in order to avoid going to school, or at least to provide him with an excuse for arriving late. Grandad didn’t use the culvert or the street shelters. He preferred to stay in his home, taking refuge in the cupboard underneath the stairs of the flat above. 

About a third of a mile long, the Ouseburn Culvert had two entry points. The preferred access for us was down in the Ouseburn Valley off Stratford Grove West. The other – which we never used – was under Byker Bridge. 

The Culvert was our place of refuge many times during World War 2. At the wail of the air raid siren we would stop whatever we were doing, grab our gas masks and run out into the streets in the direction of sanctuary. There was no street lighting to guide us if it was a night raid and, anyway, moonlit nights were a mixed blessing. If you could see, you could be seen. 

The Culvert today

Once inside the Culvert we felt safe. An elliptical structure 6 metres high and 9 metres wide, with a concrete platform floor, it was dry and had the space for distractions and facilities to make the experience tolerable. A canteen, a first aid post and sick bay, bunk beds, an area for worship, a stage for performance, a library, and tolerable – if basic – toilet facilities. 

One particularly memorable evening the wail of the air raid siren sounded just a couple of minutes after we had returned to our room from a trip to the fish and chip shop on Stratford Road. Fish and chips were a hugely popular takeaway meal, especially as they were not subject to food rationing. As usual we’d had to stand in a queue to wait our turn at the counter. Then, with happy anticipation of the meal ahead, we carried the hot, newspaper-wrapped bundles the short distance back to our room in Mowbray Street. As soon as Mam had unwrapped the feast, off went the siren. We hurriedly dressed, grabbed gas masks and without a second thought Mam loosely gathered up the fish and chips in their newspaper wrappers and we all ran towards the Culvert. Sadly, on our arrival at our safe haven there was very little left of our now barely warm meal. Most of it lay scattered along the pavements between Mowbray Street and our sanctuary. 

Whilst the Culvert offered safety from whatever mayhem might be going on above ground, the overriding but generally unspoken fear was of what would happen if bombs were dropped at either end of the tunnel. Otherwise the occupants were sufficiently protected in their underground location, with its cleverly designed inner blast walls, to offer safety for up to 3,000 residents for as long as it might be needed, until the ‘all clear’ siren was sounded. 

Street shelters fell into disfavour after a number of people were killed or maimed as a result of direct bomb hits, in some cases resulting in the concrete and reinforced steel roofs collapsing on the people inside. It turned out that the Ouseburn Culvert was probably our safest option after all. 

The culvert was originally constructed to cover a section of the Ouseburn, a tributary of the River Tyne, through a valley which then would be infilled to provide improved access between Heaton and the city centre. (You can read much more about its construction and history here.)

Today, much is rightly made of the Victoria Tunnel, an underground waggon-way built in the 1840s to carry coal between Leazes Main Colliery to the waiting ships on the River Tyne. Longer than the Ouseburn Culvert, it was not as spacious in section but, like the Culvert, it was converted for use as an air raid shelter during World War 2. Tours of the Victoria Tunnel give visitors a graphic interpretation of the sounds of war and the conditions under which people sought shelter from the bombing raids of the Luftwaffe. If similar reconstruction of World War 2 facilities and other interpretation work were to be carried out at a section of the Ouseburn Culvert, it would make a very impressive addition to Newcastle’s heritage offer. 

I’ll tell you more about my memories of growing up in Heaton during and after the second world war anon.’

Acknowledgements Thank you to Heaton History Group member, Mike Summersby, for permission to publish this extract from his memoirs. We plan to feature more over the coming months.