Where There’s a Wills: Jean Jobbins’ memories

The younger lives of older members of our community often remain hidden when they can reveal so much about the person and about the world they have experienced, not least the Heaton of the recent past. It was, then, a pleasure for Heaton History Group’s Fiona Stacey to interview 96 year old Jean Jobbins and discover more about her long life:

The young Jean Jobbins ( née Thomas)

Jean (née Thomas), a native of Bristol, was born in 1925. When she left school at the tender age of 14 there were job opportunities in Bristol with Wills, the cigarette manufacturers, at the firm’s Bedminster works. Armed with an excellent letter of recommendation from her headmaster, Jean was offered an interview. Getting a job with Wills was considered a ‘cut above’. As Jean says, they ‘didn’t just take any old rubbish’. The questions she was asked in the interview felt quite hard to Jean: she describes them as ‘unusual’ but she answered as best she could and was offered a position, where she was taken under the wing of her supervisor, a Mr Bryant.  Jean remembers him very fondly. ‘He was a very nice and kind gentleman and always very smartly dressed’. Jean was given a sage green uniform with the Wills emblem on it which she says was very smart and she was ready to start work. 

Wartime

Jean’s working day began at 7.30am and her first job was in the stripping room which she hated straightaway.  She had to strip the tobacco leaf from the stalk. As soon as she had finished one stalk, she had to start on the next. Jean found that her hands got sore extremely quickly and when Mr Bryant asked how she was enjoying her job, she promptly told him that she hated it. He was surprised by her candour but gave Jean some advice on her technique which was of great help. She found the job a lot easier after that. She says she still hated it but her hands did not hurt so much. 

Jean had started work at the factory in 1939 so it was not very long before the second world war broke out.  The men left the factory and the women were required to take over their roles.  Jean was moved into the baulking room. This was where the leaves were sorted and graded and it was classed as a more skilled job, one that was normally done by men and attracted higher pay.  Jean did not class it as skilled at all but the women took great delight in pushing the men out of their jobs.  At this time, the atmosphere in the factory changed considerably: the women did not seem to be as much fun as the men had been and there was always an anxiety, over and above that brought on by the war, about what would happen to them once the men returned.

During the war, Jean had a supervisor called Grace. She was no Mr Bryant, and Jean did not like her much at all but she oversaw the women until the men came back. Jean was 20 when the war ended and had no intention of going back to the stripping room.  

Sure enough, when the men returned, Jean was asked several times to go back to her old job but she always refused, holding out for something better than the dreaded stripping room. And Jean’s determination and sense of self-worth eventually paid off with a position in the laboratory.  This involved taking the temperature of various pieces of equipment and monitoring them. Jean enjoyed this work and made some good friends there.

Social life

Wills provided excellent working conditions. Jean says the company pioneered workers’ canteens, free medical care, sports facilities, paid holidays and even a football team.  She remembers there were various societies: drama, music and luncheon clubs, along with dances, which she particularly enjoyed.

Once the men were back there was more fun again in the factory. Generally, there was not much mixing of the sexes but the dances were different. Jean had got to know one colleague, Ern, as she would pass him by during her working day.

She laughs that she thought his surname, Jobbins, unusual and found it amusing to change the name a little when she greeted him, partly because he looked so serious.  She would say ‘Good morning, Mr Giblet’ one day and ‘Good morning, Mr Goblet’ on another. She came up with a good variety and always with a twinkle in her eye in the hope he’d ask her for a dance at the next social.  Ern was a good dancer and not at all shy as he had been in the Royal Marines during the war. He played it cool at first, dancing with some other girls but once he asked Jean, they danced for the rest of the night.  Jean says they got on ‘like a house on fire’

Up North

Eventually Jean and Ern were married. 

Jean and Ern’s wedding, 25 February 1950

They were ‘living in’ with Jean’s parents when the opportunity came for them to move north with the promise of a house and a manager’s job ‘with prospects’ for Ern at the soon to be opened Wills factory in Newcastle. 

Grand opening of the Wills Factory on the Coast Road 1950. Ernest Jobbins is 3rd row, 2nd left.

Houses were in extremely short supply so it was an at attractive opportunity for a young couple. 

Jean’s family, however, were not so keen on her moving so far away so they told her she would never see a cow or sheep ever again, as they didn’t have them in the north-east!  But Ern and Jean weren’t to be deterred and, although Jean remembers that she was very frightened, her determination once again came to the fore and, with 12 other couples, they moved to Newcastle.  Everyone else chose to live in Kenton but Jean and Ern opted for High Heaton and were given a council house on the High Heaton estate, which Jean loved.

 

Jean and Ern in their garden at Newton Place, High Heaton

Nevertheless, she missed her family back in Bristol very much.  None of them had telephones. Jean recalls that they were for the rich not the ordinary folk so all communication was by letter. Jean would write to her parents on a Sunday; they would receive her letter the next day, write straight back and she would receive their reply by Tuesday. Swift service indeed!  Jean wrote to her parents daily and, if for some reason, she missed a day, a stern letter would arrive remonstrating with her but also expressing concern for her wellbeing.

Outsider

Jean encountered some hostility from local women when she arrived. She overheard some of them talking loudly about her at the bus stop, claiming that the incomers had taken jobs that their sons could have had and jumped the queue for council houses. Jean eventually tackled one of the gossips informing her that she would never be given a job at Wills, even if she wanted one, as they didn’t take people like her.  She never had problems with this woman again.  The hostility didn’t last long and although Jean felt very lonely at first, she quickly settled into her new life and made friends.  

There was some confusion too over the local dialect, knowing what scallions and stotties were, for example. But, in the main, Jean didn’t have problems with Geordie, although Ern never ever fully came to grips with it.

Of course, when they arrived, rationing was still in place and the women would eye each other’s baskets as they came out of Newton Road Co-op to see what they’d managed to get that day.   Jean remembers that one of her neighbours struggled to manage her coal rations and would often come to borrow some: a loan which was never repaid, she recalls with some amusement. 

Nights Out

For entertainment Jean and Ern would go to the Lyric cinema (now the People’s Theatre) every Monday night.  Jean remembers seeing one particularly bad film and, as they were leaving, the manager asked if she’d enjoyed it.  She was more than happy to tell him that she had not, much to his surprise.  There was no television so Jean and Ern also went to the Flora Robson Theatre weekly, either on a Friday or Saturday night.  She also enjoyed night classes at Cragside School, taking up needlework and art. And she joined High Heaton Library.

Social at Wills, with Jean and Ern on the left

Family

Eventually Jean and Ern’s daughter, Ruth, was born and their family thoroughly enjoyed their visits from Bristol, usually in August.

Jean and baby Ruth

They particularly enjoying trips to the coast and discovering that there are cows and sheep in the north-east after all.  Jean, Ern and Ruth would spend Christmases in Bristol and, on visits at other times of year, Jean remembers that Ruth was terrified by the intense west country thunderstorms, which often went on for hours.

Jean doesn’t feel it would be any easier today to move so far from family, but feels that her strong character and determination stood her in good stead. Her father had gone to Canada as a very young man before returning to Bristol to work on the railways and feel she inherited some of his pioneering spirit.

Throughout her life, Jean has demonstrated a sense of independence that many of us may find surprising in an era when women did not enjoy the same rights as men, and she comes across still as someone who knows her own mind. Her advice to young people today? ‘Stick to what you believe in.’

Acknowledgements

 Jean Jobbins’ story was told to Fiona Stacey of Heaton History Group on 20 February 2020. It has not been published until now because Covid restrictions meant that the content could only recently be checked with Jean. Fiona would like to thank Jean and her daughter, Ruth, for giving her their time and patience whilst recounting this wonderful story. All photographs are published with the kind permission of Jean and Ruth.

Jean and Ruth, Christmas 2019

Scrannin’ on the Tip

The grandly titled City Stadium is a well-used green space at the south end of Heaton. In all weathers, you’ll find runners, cyclists, walkers, outdoor gymnasts, playing children, allotmenteers and many others enjoying the fresh air and perhaps a coffee.

City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)
City Stadium, April 2021 (Copyright: Chris Jackson)

But it’s not always been like this. We asked Heaton History Group’s Keith Fisher to delve into the archives and his memory bank to tell its story:

Having friends and associates on both sides of the water, I’ve always been rather impressed with the degree of separation caused by the River Tyne.  Despite the arrival of the tunnel in 1967 and now that I live in North Shields, getting to friends’ homes in South Shields still requires at least thirty minutes of driving (plus tolls) to cover no more than a mile as the crow flies.

What has this got to do with Heaton, you may well ask; well, even today, the Ouseburn valley presents a somewhat similar – albeit less severe – impediment. And 100 years ago it was a distinctly difficult obstacle during journeys east to west and vice versa.  Between the city centre and Heaton there were few options that didn’t require labouring first down and then up a very steep bank.

Uphill Struggle

A typical symptom of the enthusiasm to avoid Byker Bank for example can be seen by the number of people paying the pedestrian toll to cross the Byker Railway Viaduct (yes, folk paid to walk over) which was approximately 72,000 per year.  So the first option was the building of the Byker Road Bridge in 1878 – you had to pay to use that as well, of course.  Admittedly the toll was withdrawn in 1895 when the city corporation bought the bridge and it soon had to be widened because of increased traffic: a very familiar modern-day story. 

The City Road route was relatively level, so you could bypass Byker Bank by crossing over Glasshouse Bridge and cutting across the western edge of Byker and Heaton with only the slope of Albion Row to contend with.  OK, maybe we can consider that as an option, but if you needed to deliver anything by handcart from the town centre to Craigielea on Heaton Road then that was a long way out of your way on a cold and windy day.

I mention pushing heavy laden handcarts because my maternal grandfather, having retired as a lion-tamer in the circus, took to the variety theatre boards and would transport his props on a handcart. His sons, my uncles, were commandeered to labour on his behalf and they complained to me about it until they died.

Fortunately for the waggoneers, in the same year as Byker Road Bridge opened, another improvement arrived, as did so many, from Lord Armstrong: I never stop waxing lyrical regarding his unstinting benevolence, despite his motives being held to doubt in certain quarters.  He had apparently bowed to the demands of Lady Armstrong – who was horrified by the sight of poor old horses dragging carts of coal up Benton Bank – and built Armstrong Bridge at his own expense, before giving it to the city council, insisting it remain toll-free.  

Back in 1900, as far as the council were concerned, a more central route to all the new industries and residencies in Heaton from the town was desirable, but the best that was going to be achieved would still involve a steep bank. 

Shieldfield, like the city centre, is far lower down than the centre of Heaton, and if we think that Warwick Street is steep today, imagine what it must have been like a century ago with a 30 metre deep Ouseburn Valley across its way.  In mitigation, the new route would only be an uphill struggle in one direction; it would create new land for housing development; plus, it would provide a waste disposal facility in the centre of the city for 40 years.

Rubbish

During my youth in the ’50s and ’60s, everyone referred to the City Stadium as ‘The Tip’ because for the previous 40 years it had been the destination of both domestic and commercial refuse while the 100 foot deep valley was brought up to Shieldfield’s level.  We didn’t generate much waste back then, did we?  Couldn’t afford to!

The council’s plan to develop the infilled valley with houses never came to fruition because building regulations stiffened and residential development on infilled land was forbidden.

Concrete

But first, culvert the Ouseburn. And to do that city engineer F J Edge decided that François Hennebique’s system was the method of choice: what we know today as reinforced concrete.  The French Hennebique system was pioneered in this country by L G Mouchel with offices in Jesmond; work was initially executed by engineering firm W T Weir and Co of Howdon.

Actually, my mention of Craigielea on Heaton Road was not without significance.  Its first resident, Joseph Lish, was an early pioneer of reinforced concrete and has many buildings to his name: up here, the best known being the Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats.  As early as 1874, he had exhibited his own invention: ‘Tilo-Concrete’. Lish was prominent in his profession both regionally and nationally. At one stage he was the President of the Society of Architects, whose Gold Medal he was awarded. He died in 1922 at the age of 80.

The Corporation might have saved themselves a great degree of trouble if they had awarded the contract to Lish, and we shall see why as we move on; although I suspect that the real problem was city councillors expecting the impossible by yesterday for no more than the price of a pint of beer and a bag of pork scratchings.

Ouseburn culvert, City Engineers drawing

Looking at the above plan it can be seen that filling up the narrowest portion of the valley came first (‘WORK No.1’). This allowed an extension of Newington Road to link with Starbeck Avenue in Sandyford. It is also apparent that the burn had travelled a good way west before turning towards the Tyne in the south, slowly eroding away the bank and creating the large loop that the engineers by-passed by hugging the steep bank at the end of Stratford Grove.  The shading and black bars are mine.  The following picture shows the original river course in the foreground running left to right.  Also apparent is the height of Newington Road above the valley floor, and it is at the foot of Warwick Street: hard going, even for horses.  

Building the Ouseburn culvert

The tunnel is 2,150 feet long.  Construction used 850 tons of steel and 17,000 cubic yards of concrete.  It is 30 feet wide and 20 feet high; at its apex it is only 8 inches thick, supporting 90 feet – or 2·5 million cubic yards – of compacted waste material.  Started in 1906, it was interrupted by flooding and old colliery workings and became a huge financial embarrassment to the corporation, resulting in a stoppage of work and a change of contractors very early on… sound familiar?

What did they do with the water in the meantime?

There were two pre-existing facilities: one was a large bore sewage pipe heading for the Tyne.  Yes!  Who remembers the smell of the Tyne on hot days before the interceptor sewer was built?  Or what was worse, the smell of the Ouseburn which itself was an open sewer until the middle of the 1970s when a big pipe was buried running from one end of the valley to the other.  It is not always 100% sealed, as many folk will probably be aware when walking past various manholes at certain times, but I still vividly recall, from my early years, the large, open, vertical grills of the outlet pipes choked with unmentionable material that was the norm back then.

The second was a weir and sluice gate in Jesmond Vale – as it happens, mere yards from the beginning of the future culvert – which diverted full-flow water into a mill-race that more or less paralleled the burn, passing alongside the original large lead works, then under the railway bridge where it powered a flint-mill.  That mill does not look big enough to warrant construction of a 3,000 foot long race, so who contributed to the cost? Early maps show nothing definite, even though the race is in existence by 1859.  It’s curious: why take a mill-race all that distance to power a rather insignificant flint-mill that is only yards from the burn itself?  There are many references in old newspaper accounts of ‘washing tubs’ and I suspect they are referring to the mill-race heading for the original lead works before it moved under the railway bridge and straddled the burn itself.  Maps are full of interesting activity around the burn; there are all sorts of mysterious doings – both old and new; and also up the hill a-ways, where we find a huge brick-works I never realised had been there.  The red rectangle on the OS map below indicates the point where the Ouseburn absorbs the Sandyford Burn, coming down the back of Portland Road from Lambert’s Leap on Sandyford Road.  It is now culverted under Grantham Road.

The above picture shows us the sewage pipe (bottom left) carrying its share of the burn while in the distance, top right, can be seen the original route of the burn and mill-race. All of the property visible was compulsorily purchased and demolished; much more, it would turn out, than had been initially anticipated.

The following pictures give us a good idea of the construction process. Reinforcing poured concrete with iron bars is a fairly common sight nowadays but back then it was relatively novel and the entire endeavour was officially photographed for posterity.

The next photo shows tipping activity; and the inset shows ‘scrannin on the tip’ (as it was known) by folks foraging for usable material.  In the background can be seen the slowly submerging parabola of the culvert roof.  Many people will remember the smell of the tip; I can certainly remember the smell of similar activity as they began to widen Lansdowne Gardens at the other end of Jesmond Vale; I believe that was still going on through the ’70s: dreadful!

The Ouseburn tip while the culverting was still underway

All things considered, it was a relatively unsatisfactory project: original cost estimates spiralled out of control; work was halted; suggestions it be abandoned were voiced. The council had been anxious to get cross-roads established as soon as possible: that was achieved in the first six years; and having rapidly built heavily above the Jesmond Vale section, repairs soon became necessary in order to strengthen the walls.  

If you look closely at this aerial photo from 1938 you can see how the extension to Warwick Street was accomplished; it is also apparent why getting an extension from Newington Avenue up to Starbeck Avenue was achieved so quickly as the valley is comparatively narrow at that point. 

The white border on this 1945 photo shows the extent of the area being filled; these two aerial shots indicate the lack of progress during the war years, as it seems it remained untouched; so where was all the rubbish going?

Shelter

Speaking of war: during my youth, many folk told me that the culvert had been an air-raid shelter during the war, as many of them used it – but most of us are completely unaware of the extent of the facilities provided.

Marian Jones describes what must have been the finest public air -raid shelter in existence: a concrete floor was laid across the tunnel sealing off the burn below and thick concrete blast-walls were installed across the entrances. Gangways accessed a space big enough to accommodate up to 3,000 people. As well as lighting, there were benches, bunk-beds, a canteen/shop and a well equipped and manned hospital room.

Susan Bright tells of an office for air raid wardens, a youth club, a religious space, and a staging area for musical performances.  And, in 1943, a library and reading room were added.  Entrances were under the railway bridge and at the foot of Warwick Street, with gangways giving access to the shelter.

 Many people didn’t even wait for the sirens and simply headed down there every night – with blankets, pillows, flasks of tea and cocoa etc – when the bombings were at their worst.  In 1941 this unplanned and intense activity unfortunately led to a crack 100 feet long appearing in the wall of the tunnel and that section had to be cordoned off.  Even so, this was as luxurious an accommodation as was possible during such fearful times; a lot better than those in Anderson Shelters in back gardens or even the Victoria Tunnel.  Better again than the London Underground tunnels, as the culvert shelter was purpose built and exclusive… hence the extraordinary facilities.

Post War

Today’s evidence of the culvert’s existence is decidedly removed from the original construction. When I was a nipper exploring my vast dominion, the entrance to the culvert was mostly unchanged, except for the metal railings preventing access at the Sandyford entrance. You could see the construction but that was all. The exit under Byker Bridge, however looked like this in the early 1960s.

Ouseburn Culvert, 1960s

We little lads can find adventure wherever, along with wet shoes, muddy knees and diphtheria.

Now the picture is very different, most evidence of the entrance and exit has been obliterated, except what you see in my 2021 photos.

The first is the Vale.

Ouseburn Culvert images (Copyright: Keith Fisher)

The south exit is even more inaccessible, which has a lot to do with raves held there around 2017. Ubiquitous graffiti provides further disguise.

Ambitious Plans

With the war over and housebuilding on the tip forbidden, what could be done with the land created by the culverting and levelled by infill? How about a sports stadium? Here’s an ‘Evening Chronicle’ sketch from the 1950s of the plans. 

City Stadium plans from the 1950s

Seating for 86,000 people (Yes, eighty six thousand!) was augmented by a further space for 8,500 standing.  Car parking was to be on three floors below the stands.  Indoor sports, ice rinks (yes, plural), and badminton courts were also planned.  T Dan Smith proposed spending £500,000 to prepare such a stadium for the British Empire Games. (Renamed the British Commonwealth Games by the time 1966, the year he was targeting, came round). ‘The best intentions’ right?  We got a wooden hut and a cinder track, plus the grand name.

Build by Numbers

I passed our – so called – City Stadium on an almost daily basis riding the Number 1 or 2 bus to and from town during the ’60s and early ’70s, and remained mystified by the enormous forest of stone blocks, all numbered in white figures, scattered over the near corner of the unrealised City Stadium.  It turned out they were the Royal Arcade waiting to be resurrected at some future time and place.  I was equally mystified by their disappearance sometime during the ’70s; at least I assume it was then because I was in and out of Newcastle throughout that decade and was gone almost for good by the ’80s: just like the Royal Arcade, the prestigious City Stadium and our Empire!

Now, if you drop by ‘the tip’ you’ll see the unmistakeable signs of gentrification, the most recent phase of the rich history of this patch of Heaton. What went before has almost, but not quite, been forgotten. But should we be making more of our heritage? The Victoria Tunnel has become a tourist attraction. Perhaps I’m biased but I reckon the City Stadium and Ouseburn Culvert has an even more exciting history. Conducted tours anyone?’

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Keith Fisher, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Carlton Reid for information about the washing tubs.’ Photograph of the Victoria Tunnel courtesy of ‘The Evening Chronicle’.

Can You Help?

If you know more this part of Heaton or have memories or photos to share, 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

The author’s personal archives

‘The Ouseburn Culvert and the City Stadium’ by Marian Jones; ‘The Newsletter of the Ouseburn Trust Heritage Group’, Spring 2008.

‘Bridging the Ouseburn’ by Sue Bright; Ancestors Publishing, 2013

Herbert Barnes: long serving Unitarian church minister

Over fifty years ago a Heaton High School pupil sat on the number 11 bus to school when a teenage boy got talking to her. The pair later started going out together. That teenage boy is now a member of Heaton History Group and he has finally got round to researching an interesting member of his one time girlfriend’s family: Reverend Herbert Barnes, who was a well known non-conformist minister in Newcastle and one time Heaton resident.

Reverend Herbert Barnes

Early Life

Herbert Barnes was born into a farming family on 13 August 1885 at Greyabbey, a small settlement on the banks of Strangford Lough in County Down in Ireland (now Northern Ireland). The family were members of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, a Christian church which placed emphasis on individual conscience in matters of Christian faith and which became part of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches on that organisation’s foundation in 1928.

In the 1901 census, Herbert was a 15 year old schoolboy, still living near Greyabbey. On leaving school, he entered into business in the art trade but by 1911, 25 year old Herbert was a theological student and boarding with a family in Belfast, some twenty miles from home. From there, he soon moved to Unitarian College Manchester, which has been ‘preparing students for ministry and lay leadership positions in the Unitarian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches since 1854′. It is still going strong. Herbert was ordained in 1915.

His first ministry was at the Oldham Road Unitarian Church in Manchester. We know from newspaper records that he also preached at other churches in the vicinity.

But just four years later, he transferred to Newcastle to take up a new post at the Unitarian church on New Bridge Street said to be the first non-conformist place of worship in Newcastle with a congregation dating from 1662, which worshipped initially in private homes. The first purpose built meeting house was built c1680 outside the Close Gate, roughly where the Copthorne Hotel is now. In 1726, the church moved to Hanover Square, behind what is now the Central Station before moving to the John Dobson designed New Bridge St church in 1854.

John Dobson’s Church of the Divine Unity, demolished in the 1930s

Heaton Ties

On 25 August 1920, in Cheshire, Herbert married (Lizzie) Beatrice Watterson who hailed from the Isle of Man. She had been a maths teacher firstly at Burnley High School and then in Manchester. 

For at least the first five years of their marriage the couple lived at 12 Cheltenham Terrace in Heaton. They had three children, Henry Greenfield, Herbert Abner and Mary, at least two of whom continued to have connections with Heaton even after the family moved to the west end of the city. Henry Greenfield, who became a general practitioner, used to play rugby for the Medics, whose ground is, of course, on Heaton Road. Herbert Abner became a lawyer and, in 1949, the recipient of the Law Society’s ‘Newcastle upon Tyne Prize’. Mary became a hospital almoner (a pre-NHS forerunner of a hospital social worker). After marriage, she and her family lived for a time at 35 Lesbury Road.

Sadly, Beatrice, Herbert’s wife, died in 1939 aged only 51. Her funeral was attended by many Newcastle dignatories, including Sir Arthur Lambert (Northern Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence) and his wife, councillors and the Reverend E Drukker of the Jesmond Synagogue. The chancel furnishings in the new church were gifted in her memory.

Ministry

The Reverend Barnes seems to have been very popular with his congregation. It is said that the church was so full at the services he led that that extra seats had to be crammed into the aisles.

In 1929, when he announced from the pulpit that he had declined a call to the ministry of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, there was said to have been a round of applause in the church. Barnes said that to be invited to the ministry of the most historic and outstanding pulpit in the church’s general assembly was an honour that comes only once in a man’s lifetime but that he had decided to remain in Newcastle.

One of Herbert Barnes’s challenges during his ministry was the dangerous state of repair of John Dobson’s church. The cost of repairs eventually became prohibitive and after serious subsidence was discovered, it was decided to build a new church in its place.  A public building appeal fund was set up in 1938. The last service in the old church was on Sunday 26 March 1939 and the first in the new one in nearby Ellison Place, on the site of another demolished John Dobson church, St Peter’s, was on Sunday 21 January 1940.

Drawing of St Peter’s Church as it was being demolished by Byron Dawson, once of Heaton

The new church was also known as the Church of the Divine Unity. All of this was overseen by Reverend Herbert Barnes.

Church of the Divine Unity, Ellison Place

Arthur Andrews takes up the story:

‘In the 1970s, I used to work at Newcastle Polytechnic and every day would see the church and wonder what it was like inside. However, it was only when I noticed that not only was it open for Heritage Open Day and there was the link with Herbert Barnes but also I read that it might soon be sold and closed to the public, that I visited.’

The art deco building was designed by the architects Cacket, Burns Dick and McKellar, who had been responsible for many familiar landmarks including the Tyne Bridge towers and Pilgrim Street Police Station.

Interior of Church of the Divine Unity, Ellison Place

The new church could accommodate 500 people and the church hall, where there was a stage,  could hold 250 people and was used for meetings, as a theatre and for badminton. Rev Herbert Barnes’s Ministry celebrated his silver jubilee in the ministry three years after the new church opened.

Golden Book

Rev Barnes is said to have taken a vigorous stand against anti-Semitism. On 8 January 1934, it was reported that, later that week, ‘in appreciation of his personality and public works and services rendered to the Jewish People’ and in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of his ministry, he was to be honoured  by an inscription in The Jewish National Fund’s ‘Golden Book’ and a certificate marking this was to be presented to him.

The public works referred to included serving on both Newcastle Public Libraries Committee and Education Committee. This inscription in the ‘Golden Book’, given on the recommendation of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, was said to be the highest form of tribute the Jews can pay to those whom they wish to honour. Speeches would be made by Rabbi J Kyanski and Reverend Emmanuel Drukker from the Jesmond Synagogue. Members of Mr Barnes’s church were to be individually invited to the presentation. It was reported in Reverend Barnes’ obituary in ‘The Daily Journal’, that Herbert Barnes was ‘one of the few gentiles to have had their names inscribed in the Golden Book’

Statues

Herbert Barnes wrote a weekly piece for the Evening Chronicle from 1929 until 1941. It was called ‘The Weekly Epilogue’ and published under the pen name of ‘Unitas’. It dealt with aspects of daily life in relation to the bible and philosophy.

In April 1941 he started a new weekly piece called ‘A Saturday Postscript’, for the ‘Evening Chronicle’, which he wrote under his real name until the month before his death.

And he also wrote a column for ‘The Journal’ from 1936 until 1954, called ‘Weekend Thought’ under another pen name ‘Ignotus’.

His final column was entitled ‘They Ought to have Statues’, where he made a case for more statues dedicated to women and their unsung role in society. He cited the recently unveiled statue of Thomas Hardy, observing that the doctor who delivered Hardy was sure that he was stillborn and discarded his young body, only for a woman present at the birth to check the discarded child and found him to be breathing. Herbert Barnes thought that this woman deserved a statue in her honour for saving the life of the future, great author. Although, he could perhaps have mentioned female achievements in addition to saving the life of a famous man, he was certainly ahead of his time, given that this is a more widely understood issue 67 years later.

Tributes

Rev Herbert Barnes retired from the ministry on 19 July 1951. He died at his home in Wylam on 29 October 1954

On 1 October 1961, two commemoration services were held at the Church of Divine Unity to honour the memory of Reverend Hebert Barnes. The morning service was attended by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Dr H Russell and members of the City Council, at the end of which the ‘Herbert Barnes Memorial Stone’ was unveiled.

Someone who knew Herbert Barnes well said that, through his preaching and his newspaper articles, he brought his views before almost every thinking person in the north-east. It was also said that perhaps the greatest tribute to his personality was the fact that more than half of the £35,000 needed to build the Church of Divine Unity, was subscribed by people outside of his own congregation.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. The drawing by Byron Dawson has been reproduced with the permission of Newcastle City Library. Thank you to Maurice Large, Church of the Divine Unity leader. Herbert Barnes’s grandchildren: Lesley, Jonathan and Paul, with fond memories.

Additional Sources

British Newspaper Archive 

Ancestry

FindmyPast

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

If you know more Herbert Barnes or have memories or photos to share, 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

For People Not Cows: Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’

Funny, isn’t it, how once something becomes generally accepted it gets, well, accepted? Take Armstrong Park’s ‘cattle run’: according to an interpretation panel in the park, this distinctive feature was sunk for bovine use by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong.

The livestock, goes the story, were herded through this costly railway-style cutting because the route had long been used for leading cows to pasture.

Armstrong Park interpretation panel, 2010

‘When [Lord] Armstrong was given the land’ the panel explains, ‘he had this deeper channel dug so that cattle could follow the old track and be kept apart from visitors and their carriages.’

Using archive materials, period maps, and copious illustrations, local resident Carlton Reid explains why the lottery-funded interpretation panel is, in all likelihood, wrong:

Bullshi…

‘For centuries, cattle had been driven down to pasture by the River Ouseburn from the fields above the valley,’ states the interpretation panel. The moss-covered panel is situated to the side of the upper of two bridges which span the 200-metre-long sunken feature in Armstrong Park. In the 19th Century this lozenge of land which now sports the ‘Shoe Tree’ was known as Bulman’s Wood.

Even though I argue here that the feature wasn’t designed for cows, I refer to it throughout this piece as the ‘cattle run’. Another descriptive convenience is the interchangeable use of Armstrong Park and Bulman’s Wood for roughly the same 29-acre plot of land.

There’s a linear east-west feature marked on the large-scale map attached to the Deed of Gift of September 1879 in which Armstrong gave this woodland in perpetuity to the people of Newcastle, but it’s not labelled as a ‘cattle run‘.

Plan from Lord Armstrong’s Deed of Gift, 1879

The feature was constructed not in the 1850s, which the interpretation panel seems to suggest, but in 1880 when the council — then known as Newcastle Corporation — owned the land.

Armstrong may have handed Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle via the council’s stewardship but, ever the canny speculator, he inserted a clause in the deed allowing him to continue draining the parts of Heaton which he wished to later develop for housing.

I also speculate that, with the Victorian equivalent of a nod-and-a-wink, the Corporation incorporated Armstrong’s pre-designed linear feature into their plans for what they named Armstrong Park.

Remarks on a cutting

The cutting today known as the ‘cattle run’ starts on Ouseburn Road, rising and curving to finish unceremoniously in a quagmire forming the southern boundary of the plots administered by the 103-year-old Armstrong Allotments Association. Waterlogged and overgrown, this patch of land is understandably little-visited today. (Wear wellies.)

As the interpretation panel rightly points out, the cutting’s high-quality sandstone blockwork is reminiscent of Victorian railway infrastructure.

Armstrong Park ‘cattle run’

Some of the sandstone blocks and their coping stones have fallen to the ground — or, more likely, were pushed — and they lie scattered on the feature’s floor, an ankle-twisting deterrent to those wishing to walk along the ‘cattle run’.

There are two pillars at the Ouseburn Road entrance of the ‘cattle run’, eight courses high and capped with flat coping stones.

If you brush fallen leaves to one side, you’ll uncover rusted remains of iron railings where, within living memory, a gate once closed off the sunken feature at the roadside pillars, one of which is decoratively triangular.

At the opposite end of the ‘cattle run’ the sandstone blocks fade almost to ground level. This entrance is marked by stumpy, ivy-covered pillars, only one of which is now easily visible. This pillar, only a couple of courses high, is capped with a pyramid-shaped coping stone.

Eastern end of the ‘cattle run’

The quality of the stone work was intended to be seen,’ an archaeologist told me, ‘but not by agricultural labourers and cows.’

Hanna Steyne specialises in 19th Century landscapes. I sent her a great many photographs of the ‘cattle run’ and surroundings, including drone shots, and she also accessed period mapping to get the contemporary lay of the land.

‘I would not expect decorative column features on a structure only to be used for agricultural purposes,’ she pointed out.

On several period Ordnance Survey maps, Armstrong Park’s elongated feature is marked with a finger-shaped 100ft contour line. It’s likely that the masonry of the ‘cattle run’ shored up what was once a natural feature in Bulman’s Wood, a feature that the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884 called a ‘deep gully’.

As shown on the map from Armstrong’s 1879 Deed of Gift, this gully contained a linear feature prior to the following year’s construction of the ‘cattle run’.

Landscape artist

Hydraulics innovator and arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong was, of course, a noted philanthropist. Five years after handing Bulman’s Wood to the people of Newcastle he gifted the larger Jesmond Dene to the city. This provision of an amenity for his fellow citizens was generous but, back in 1878 when he first discussed the gift, would he really have commissioned a channel in a deep gully to keep cows away from people in a park he was soon to give away? It’s far more likely that when he charged his agents with designing the cutting, he and they had something else in mind.

By the time the cutting was built in 1880 the land was owned by the Newcastle Corporation. The council had no need for such a feature so it was likely to have been built on Armstrong’s orders, and with his cash, on the undocumented understanding that he had a commercial use for it.

Kraal rangers

According to a Historic Environment Record, the ‘cattle run’ is a ‘stone-lined animal kraal which took Armstrong’s cattle from grazing land to the east to the lower pasture land to the west, without disturbing visitors to the park. What was the historical source for this citation? ‘Pers. Comm. Jesmond Dene Rangers, 2004,’ says the record. There’s nothing wrong with using such local knowledge — especially when such ‘personal communications’ were gleaned from folks out there in all weathers looking after our parks and who, in the course of their work, probably hear their fair share of handed-down history — but it’s odd that the entry only cites unnamed 21st century rangers rather than providing 19th century sources.

For Lord Armstrong to go to the considerable expense of sinking a bovine passageway, it would, you might think, have to be a feature in regular use and therefore would have been of at least passing interest to the local press. Yet not in any of the long and detailed descriptions of Armstrong Park in contemporary newspapers have I found mentions of a ‘cattle run’, a ‘kraal’ or any other bovine-related use for the feature.

Nor have I found any period maps, not even those of the largest scale, that mark the feature as a ‘cattle run.’ The only maps to do so are modern and crowdsourced such as OpenStreetMap, a volunteer-edited online resource founded, coincidentally, in 2004..

Don’t have a cow, man

Might there have been a time-out-of-mind cattle track through the deep gully of Bulman’s Wood? Maybe. According to an 18th Century field-name map, there were two large fields to the west of what became Heaton Road: North Cow Close and South Cow Close, both of which belonged to Low Heaton Farm. On the other side of Heaton Road there was a P-shaped field called ‘Cow Loan’ belonging to Heaton Town Farm.

Detail from a plan of Heaton believed to be by Isaac Thompson, c 1800.
Redrawn by Frank Graham, 1952. Included in ‘Maps of Newcastle’ by Frank Graham, 1984.

There was also Benton Bridge Farm, which according to the censuses between 1891 and 1911 was a dairy farm. The farmhouse was at the junction of Ouseburn Road and the Newcastle to Benton turnpike, today’s Coast Road. It is now a house called Woodburn, that, in exterior design, is little changed from the 1890s.

Bingo, you might think, cows. However, the existence of these three field names and dairy farms in the vicinity does not necessarily mean that cows would be taken to pasture on fields beside the Ouseburn.

Might cows have been taken down to the Ouseburn not for pasture but to drink? Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle shows Heaton Road, Heaton Hall’s garden that would become Heaton Park’s bowling green, and Ouseburn Road and, close to where the cattle run would be later built, there’s a field boundary.

Detail from Thomas Oliver’s 1844 map of Newcastle, showing Heaton

There’s no path marked at this point, for cows or otherwise, and it’s possible that cows might have been herded along the edge of this field and down to the river.

But as there were several water sources in or near the cow-themed fields was there any real need to lead cattle to a stream? Archaeologist Hanna Steyne thinks not:

‘From the topography identifiable from mapping, it seems highly unlikely that cows would be heading for pasture down by the river — there seems to have been plentiful farm land on which to graze cows.’

The three large fields may have corralled cows in the 18th century but, by the mid-19th century, only one of them — Cow Loan — was still being used for that purpose, and this only fractionally. According to an 1868 document mapping Armstrong-owned land in Heaton, only about an eighth of the fields worked by Heaton Town Farm and East Heaton Farm were devoted to pasture. (Today, these fields are mostly in the area around Ravenswood Primary School and the Northumberland Hussar pub on Sackville Road.)

As has been discussed previously on this website, Heaton Town Farm was an arable and dairy farm, owned through the 18th and most of the 19th Centuries by the aristocratic Ridley family once of Heaton Hall.

Sir Matthew White Ridley, the fourth Baronet, was the farmer of the family. He had a ‘thorough liking for agricultural pursuits, and took a deep interest in all matters relating to the farm’, reported an 1877 obituary ‘As a breeder of cattle, he was known throughout the whole of the North of England.’

Ridley sold Heaton Town Farm’s land and buildings in 1865. All were either then or soon after that owned by Sir William Armstrong. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the farm was leased by the 4th Baron Ridley to George Cairns. In the 1861 census, Cairns (who also features in records as ‘Carins’) was listed as working 145 acres of mixed farmland, employing ‘4 men, a boy and women labourers.’ Cairns lived with a housekeeper, a ploughman, a 19-year-old Irish dairymaid and a 14-year-old ‘cow keeper’. By 1881, it was still a dairy farm but was now just 27 acres.

Clearly, there were cows in this part of Heaton when Armstrong or his agents commissioned the feature which became known as the ‘cattle run’, but by the 1870s there would have been just a small number of them rather than herds so large and potentially disruptive that they required a cow cutting.

In the 19th Century, ‘dairy farming was seen as a fairly abhorrent activity,’ said Steyne, ‘and one which should be hidden from the delicate middle classes.’

Armstrong himself owned several Newcastle farms, at least two of which had cows on them. He kept small herds at Castles Farm (near to today’s David Lloyd fitness club) and at Benton Place (underneath today’s HM Revenues and Customs building off Benton Road). However, it’s unlikely these herds would have ventured as far as Bulman’s Wood, so we’re left with the small number of cows at Heaton Town Farm and Benton Bridge Farm. (By 1916, Benton Bridge Farm housed just three cows, said to be ‘shockingly emaciated’.)

The idea that cattle would be walked through a formal Victorian park is fairly strange,’ suggests Steyne.

The whole point about Victorian parks was that they were controlled “natural” environments — nature made beautiful — but deliberately separated from the reality of the [actual] natural environment.’

Even if the much-reduced number of cows in the locality during the 1870s and 1880s still used a ‘traditional’ route through the steep-sided gully in Bulman’s Wood, why would Armstrong care to preserve this? Cows are not eels, and the Ouseburn is not the Sargasso Sea. For a practical man like Armstrong, and probably for countless others before him, the sensible herding route would have been down the long-existing Jesmond Vale Lane.

Pedestrian pleasures

If the ‘cattle run’ wasn’t for cattle, what was it for? An 1880 newspaper report about the opening of Armstrong Park explains that it was for pedestrian use. The ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ was clear: it was a ‘sunken footpath’.

The ‘new park is rapidly progressing towards completion’, began the report.

‘The ivy-covered mill on the eminence immediately above [the bank] has for many years been a conspicuous object of interest from the vale beneath’, explained the period writer, meaning the old windmill in Armstrong Park.

‘Beyond this ground, the boundaries of the park terminate at a hedge growing on the border of a fine grass field [where] it is intended … to erect villa residences, and in order to render these accessible from the Ouseburn road, a sunken footpath, which will be finished from plans suggested by Sir William, is at present being made.

(That’s it: the ‘cattle run’ was a sunken footpath for villa owners; quest over. True, but let’s carry on anyway, there’s plenty more to parse.)

The 1880 writer continued:

‘This path runs immediately through and underneath the park, but is in no way connected with the public pleasure ground.’

According to this contemporary description, a ‘wooden bridge forms a portion of the carriage drive over the path, which is also crossed in the middle path by a neat rustic bridge.’

Today, these two bridges are the large upper one over the ‘cattle run’ at the carriage road and the smaller one down the path from the Shoe Tree. Both bridges now have metal railings, and both are made from stone not wood. The bridges have been rebuilt some time after 1880, but let’s continue with the contemporary description.

Bridge over the ‘cattle run’, Armstrong Park

‘An elegant waterfall will be seen from both structures,’ wrote the correspondent.

Water surprise

Wait, what, a waterfall? Where? It ran parallel to the ‘cattle run’. To confirm its existence I pulled back some of the overgrown foliage to unveil the vertical rock face over which the cascade once ran.

Site of former waterfall, Armstrong Park

Just like the well-known waterfall in Jesmond Dene — the subject of countless paintings and photographs — the hitherto unknown one in Armstrong Park was built rather than being wholly natural.

Given similar landscape shaping in Jesmond Dene, it’s possible that the cascade was Armstrong’s idea, or perhaps that of his friend, the naturalist John Hancock, co-founder with his brother Albany of the museum which until recently bore their name. Some of the Dene’s naturalistic features, such as its ornamental rockeries, were either designed in whole by Hancock or in association with Armstrong.

The 1880 newspaper report has a vivid description:

‘The water, which is obtained from the fields beyond, will flow through a 15-inch pipe, placed for a distance beneath the sunken footpath, and then securing an outlet between the carriage drive and the rustic bridge, will dash merrily onwards over an ingenious arrangement of rocks, falls and ferns, until it at length mingles the purity of its stream with that of the singing burn beneath.’

(The original rocks remain, and there’s still a pipe in situ, although it’s a modern one, concreted into place.)

The waterfall pre-dated Newcastle Corporation’s ownership of Bulman Wood. According to a report in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ of October 1878, the waterfall — described as a ‘small cascade’ — was fed by a spring that ‘runs evenly the whole year through’.

Armstrong Park has several perennial springs. Heavy rain landing on year-round saturated ground is now channeled by numerous drains but, before these were constructed, Bulman’s Wood would have been almost permanently boggy, and, during high rainfall events, there would have been a rapid runoff of stormwater down the deep gully.

Water on the brain

Bulman’s Wood, according to the ‘Chronicle’ report, was owned by a Mr. Potter. (Actually, it was owned by Armstrong, who had inherited the land in 1851.) The Mr. Potter in question was Colonel Addison Potter, who lived with his large family and many servants at Heaton Hall, once the seat of the White-Ridley family but bought in 1840 by Colonel Potter’s father, the coal owner and industrialist Addison Langhorn Potter, Armstrong’s uncle.

Armstrong bought land in Jesmond and Heaton as it became available, adding to the land he inherited from his father’s close friend Armorer Donkin, a rich Tyneside solicitor.

Armstrong Senior and Donkin were town councillors, and thick as thieves. In the 1820s and 1830s, the Armstrong family would spend holidays at Donkin’s country retreat in Rothbury. Young William developed a taste for open water fishing in the Coquet River during these holidays and loved the area’s hills, weirs, and waterfalls, a landscape he would later go on to recreate in Jesmond Dene before doing similar at Cragside.

Armstrong Junior had a lifelong fascination with water’s potential for motive power. From a young age, he was afflicted with ‘water on the brain’, joked his family.

After leaving school, Armstrong was articled with Donkin, a bachelor who treated the bright youngster as his adoptive son, heir to his fortune and his land in Heaton. Armstrong worked for some time as a solicitor in Donkin’s firm but his real vocation was as an inventor and engineer with an abiding interest in the growing science of hydraulics.

Donkin lived in Jesmond Park, a grand house in Sandyford with gardens and woodlands sloping down to the Ouseburn. Jesmond Park was famous among Tyneside’s elite for ‘Donkin’s ordinary’, a weekly Saturday luncheon where the great and good — and the rich and influential — would meet to exchange ideas as well as contacts and contracts.

Armstrong, eager to ditch his legal work and forge a living as an engineer, was a habitual attendee at these dinners, no doubt enthused after talking with visiting Victorian luminaries including Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For the young Armstrong, it would have been a short stroll down the slope from Jesmond Park to the deep gully that later became the ‘cattle run’.

There’s a linear feature in the gully shown on the 1864 Ordnance Survey map. The 200-metre-long feature is drawn like a road, with parallel lines. But it’s too narrow to be a road and isn’t dotted, so it’s not a footpath, either. Nor is it a field boundary. The nearest equivalent, on this particular map, would be a mill race.

While there’s a mill race in Jesmond Vale, opposite the gully and one of several mill races in the Ouseburn valley, there’s no known water mill in Bulman’s Wood.

The linear feature on the map was too straight to be natural and, if you were looking down from the lower bridge, it curved to the right as it neared Ouseburn Road. This “J”-shaped tail — which can still be seen on the ground today — curved in the opposite direction to the later ‘cattle run’.

There are footpaths marked on the 1864 map that follow and cross over the linear feature and its J-shaped tail. Many later maps plot both the tail and the ‘cattle run’.

The feature shown on the 1864 map is narrow, about the width of the mill race opposite. It’s probably an open-to-the-elements storm drain, yet large enough to be plotted on a map.

Detail from 1864 Ist edition OS map

‘[The] little stream which runs through [Bulman Wood’s] dell is sunk deep in a stone-lined channel,’ reported ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ in 1884, adding that it had been built because it had been ‘difficult to prevent the rivulet when flooded from breaking the banks away.’

The ‘Chronicle’ didn’t give a date for the stone-lined channel’s construction but as it’s marked on the 1864 map, it must have been built sometime before 1858 when the OS map had been surveyed.

Could the channel on Donkin’s land have been used by Armstrong — or constructed, even — for experiments in hydraulics? Maybe. Armstrong certainly cited the Ouseburn as a stream that could power machinery.

‘The transient produce of useless floods’ Armstrong told an 1845 meeting at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society ‘could become available as a permanent source of mechanical power.’

He wanted to harness the ‘vast quantities of water which pour down brooks and watercourses … in time of rain.’

A newspaper report of the meeting said Armstrong ‘proceeded to point out the advantages which would result from the principles of impounding surplus water and causing it to act as a column, by referring to … the Ouseburn.’

‘Suppose,’ posited Armstrong to the august audience, ‘that instead of having a succession of six mill races and six falls, as was the case on the Ouseburn, the first mill race were continued along the banks of the stream gradually getting higher and higher above the natural channel of the brook, to within a short distance of the Tyne where a single fall of upwards of 100 feet might be obtained.’

There’s no documentary evidence to connect Armstrong’s 1845 desire for a high mill race to the probable storm drain down the gully in Bulman’s Wood, but he would have been well aware of the water feature’s existence.

The run-off from the storm drain was later employed for the scenic waterfall introduced above.

‘The stream of water,’ continued the 1880 newspaper report, ‘has been diverted along a channel of masonry almost at its highest point after entering the grounds, and it is brought along its artificial bed until opposite the larger of the two rustic bridges, where it is thrown over a rocky ledge in a high fall.’

While undoubtedly scenic, the waterfall also had a practical purpose. The storm drain which created it was said to also drain the upper field, which today is the waterlogged patch of ground between the end of the ‘cattle run’ and the multi-coloured plots belonging to the Armstrong Allotments Association.

Armstrong Allotments, 2020

‘Ingenious drainage [in Armstrong Park] has in several instances converted marshy, sodden land into pleasant places,’ reported the ‘Chronicle’

If this ‘ingenious drainage’ dates back to the 1840s or 1850s that’s only a decade or two after the introduction of the transformative Deanston method of agricultural field drainage. The work of James Smith of Deanston in Perthshire used drain tiles and narrow pipes beneath fields. Smith created the technique in 1823, but its use only became widespread after a journal published details in 1831.

‘Smith o’ Deanston’s the man!’ exclaimed a character in ‘Hillingdon Hall’, a now-forgotten but popular-in-the-1840s novel by Robert Smith Surtees of Hamsterley Hall, Rowlands Gill. ‘Who ever ‘heard o’ drainin’ afore Smith o’Deanston inwented it?’ continued John Jorrocks, an upwardly-mobile, country-sports-loving businessman who, wrote Surtees, couldn’t pronounce the ‘v’ sound.

The new method of drainage led to a revolution in British farming, financially boosted in 1846 by the Public Money Drainage Act. This largesse enacted by parliament extended generous farm improvement loans to landowners. (Many parliamentarians owned large estates at this time.) Previously soggy and unproductive land became highly profitable arable fields which, for 15 or so years, made the rich even richer.

The ‘now common accompaniment of a country gentleman,’ pointed out Surtees in ‘Hawbuck Grange’ (1847) was a ‘draining-pipe.’

After going ‘boldly at the Government loan’ another Surtees character was said to have transformed a ‘sour, rush-grown, poachy, snipe-shooting looking place’ into land ‘sound enough to carry a horse.’

Deanston’s method of introducing smaller-bore, more frequently placed drains was an improvement on former methods, wrote the landed Surtees, who described ‘gulf-like drains as would have carried off a river … but there was no making head against wet land with stone drains, the bit you cured only showing the wetness of the rest.’

The stone-lined watercourse in Bulman’s Wood was more likely to have been a storm channel than one that could drain a field, but contemporary descriptions are divided on the subject.

Even though, according to the 1864 map, it looked like one, the watercourse wasn’t a mill race, Duncan Hutt, a local watermill expert told me. ‘There is no clear evidence for any feature nearby being a conduit for water to feed a mill.’

He added: ‘The [cattle run] is far too steep to be a watercourse for a mill, [it’s] more likely something to help provide some surface drainage in times of heavy downpours in the past.’

Archaeologist Steyne agreed:

‘The identification of a drainage watercourse and a decorative waterfall to the north of the line of the cattle run, would correlate with the information in the mapping indicating earlier drainage from the land to the east, and then a later stone-built feature running alongside.’

An 1894/95 OS map shows the ‘cattle run’ to be a full-on watercourse, printed blue. This was probably a mistake by the map makers. (Mistakes were common — on the same map, Hadrian’s Wall is marked not as the Roman Wall but as the Romam Wall.)

‘It is very possible that the earlier drainage feature became less visible and was confused in the mapping with the later cattle run,’ suggested Steyne.

‘Land was not completely resurveyed for each new map, only changes added. The fact that both were perhaps unused, or fell into disrepair shortly after construction might explain [the anomaly on the 1894/95 OS map],’ she said.

‘Land for housing’

During the first 75 years of the 19th Century, the British landed aristocracy were the wealthiest class in the world’s richest country. For the last 25 of those years this wealth had at least partly come from the huge profits enabled by government-sponsored field drainage. But the good times for many of these landed elites did not last. A dramatic fall in grain prices following the opening up of the American prairies to cultivation led to a steep decline in British agriculture. This agrarian depression started in the 1870s and continued until the mid-1890s resulting in British fields that had previously been money-spinners losing much of their value.

Between 1809 and 1879, 88 percent of British millionaires had been landowners; from 1880 to 1914 this figure dropped to 33 percent.

‘Land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure,’ complained Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s 1895 ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

For the elites, it became prudent to sell land rather than farm it.

Urban farmland, in particular, could generate huge one-hit profits, with expanding cities such as Newcastle in desperate need of space for housing.

Heaton landowners Colonel Addison Potter, Sir Matthew White Ridley, and Lord Armstrong and others could — and did — make handsome profits by selling off their fields for building plots. These three in particular were voracious sellers of land, especially Armstrong who employed agents that developed housing estates on his behalf.

Armstrong, of course, also gave away land to the people of Newcastle, but the gift of his extensive Jesmond Dene ‘garden’ wasn’t perhaps as purely philanthropic as it is usually portrayed — creating an attractive country park from a steeply sided valley that might have proved too deep to fill and flatten was a savvy move for a housing developer.

‘The more he bestows, the richer [Lord Armstrong] becomes’ , a magazine calculated in 1889.

Creating the amenity of Jesmond Dene as a sweetener to help sell the plots on his extensive housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton made perfect business sense. Likewise, Armstrong Bridge wasn’t commissioned by its namesake to ease the burdens of packhorses climbing Benton Bank — a backstory usually attributed to the kindness of Lady Armstrong — but as a high-level road approach for the prestigious properties Armstrong planned to develop on both sides of the Ouseburn valley.

On the plus side, his shrewd philanthropy prevented any infilling of Jesmond Dene. Many of Newcastle’s other denes disappeared under landfill — a third-of-a-mile segment of the Ouseburn valley near Warwick Street was culverted in the early 1900s and crammed with rubble and other rubbish. However, the land created on top of the Ouseburn Tip — which is now the ‘City Stadium’ — proved too unstable for housing.

Similarly, today’s plots owned by the Armstrong Allotments Association only exist because the land they were carved from proved unsuitable for building use.

Armstrong originally planned to develop this land to create Heaton Park Estate, an exclusive neighbourhood of mansions overlooking the Dene.

In 1878, Armstrong instructed his architect Frank W Rich to ‘lay out villa residences upon the land to the eastward of the park,’ Rich had ‘already marked off into building plots the whole of the land which lives above Bulman’s Wood,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Courant’. but, as has already been discussed on this site, these villas would not be built.

Problem: ‘the ground here forms a natural basin, and a spring rises just above it, and runs evenly the whole year through,’ revealed the ‘Courant’, adding that the land was ‘soft and swampy.’

Solution: ‘The water … is now carried away to form a small cascade,’ reported the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’

This cascade was the waterfall parallel to the ‘cattle run’. The waterfall, and the rivulet that formed it, were carried through one of the two arches beneath the lower of the two Armstrong Park bridges. The second arch spans the ‘cattle run’.

Bridge in Armstrong Park over the ‘cattle run’ and former waterfall

Except, remember, it’s not a ‘cattle run’, it was a sunken footpath, reported the period newspaper mentioned earlier. A sunken footpath from Ouseburn Road to Armstrong’s putative posh villas; a sunken footpath for use by the villa owners, or perhaps to be used as a hidden-from-view passageway for servants or tradespeople.

‘The quality and style of the stone work would support [the] suggestion [that this was a] pedestrian route to link the road to proposed housing,’ concluded Steyne.

The sunken footpath was built by Newcastle Corporation in 1880, working to plans drawn up by Armstrong or, more likely, his agents. Although decorative and with its own sylvan cascade, the expensive railway-style cutting didn’t help sell the plots — the thirteen posh villas never got built.

By 1884, Rich had modified the plan, dividing the development into 41 plots. However, after fresh surveys revealed the land to be unsuitable for housing, this plan, too, fell by the wayside.

The sunken footpath was itself sunk, with no longer any reason to exist.

Armstrong died in 1900. His will stipulated that part of what would have been the Heaton Park Estate should become allotments. Other parts of the would-be development lay fallow until the 1920s when almost 100 houses were erected on the land that had been deemed unsuitable forty years previously.

Heaton Park Estate never made the jump from Rich’s drawing board, but a similar development to the north of Armstrong Bridge proved more successful. In 1894, Rich (probably acting for Armstrong) was advertising ‘Villa SITES for Sale on Jesmond Park Estate.’ Significantly, the adverts stressed that on these plots the ‘drainage [was] perfect,’ which suggests that the drainage for the plots on Heaton Park Estate had not been perfect.

Jesmond Park Estate was a commercial success, and some of the large houses that stand back from the roads Jesmond Park East and Jesmond Park West are among the most expensive properties in Newcastle.

White elephant

The ‘cattle run’ was built in advance of the prestigious housing it was designed to service, perhaps constructed early to act as a sales tool to attract rich house hunters. It had been built on land owned by the city council by railway engineers who were working to plans commissioned by Lord Armstrong via his jobbing architect Frank W. Rich.

It’s possible that work on the cattle run was done by Rich’s assistant, H.G. Badenoch.

‘When Lord Armstrong presented the beautiful Jesmond Dene to Newcastle, the erection of the lodges, making of footpaths, and building of bridges was … in Mr. Rich’s hands, and I superintended most of the work,’ remembered Badenoch later in life.

Badenoch also reported that he had conducted ‘all the surveying, levelling, and setting out of streets’ for Lord Armstrong’s housing developments in Jesmond and Heaton.

The unsung Badenoch might have also been responsible for converting what had been a pre-1860s storm drain in Bulman’s Wood into Armstrong Park’s scenic waterfall.

There has never been a ‘cattle run’ in Heaton. The linear feature now known by that name was built as a sunken footpath next to a tumbling cascade. The cascade may have tumbled for some years, but it failed to drain the sodden field above it, and as the sunken footpath ended in a quagmire and not, as was planned, at the foot of thirteen posh villas, it too was a flop.

Knowledge of the ‘cattle run’’s true purpose was lost soon after its use became moot. Ordnance Survey maps didn’t label what was — and remains — a distinctive ground feature. A large-scale OS map of 1907 managed to pinpoint small items such as urinals but didn’t state the use of the feature that ninety or so years later became known, wrongly, as the ‘cattle run.’ A 1942 OS map got the closest, labelling the feature a ‘subway.’

Other Armstrong-commissioned subways exist, including the fully-covered one from his Banqueting House to St. Mary’s chapel, and another in Jesmond Dene to Blackberry crags.

Sorry, Newcastle City Council, but the lottery-funded interpretation board you installed in 2010 is incorrect — the ‘cattle run’ was built for people, not cows. But let’s look on the bright side: while Armstrong Park loses a bovine superhighway, it gains a long-lost waterfall.

Notes and Sources can be found here.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Carlton Reid. Photographs by Carlton Reid. With thanks to Marek Bidwell, Sarah Capes, Ann Denton, Keith Fisher, Henrietta Heald, Duncan Hutt, Chris Jackson, Alan Morgan, John Penn, Yvonne Shannon, Hanna Steyne, Les Turnbull, and Will Watson-Armstrong.

Carlton Reid was ‘Press Gazette’ Transport Journalist of the Year, 2018. He writes for ‘The Guardian’, ‘Forbes.com’ and ‘Mail Online‘.

He’s also a historian – his recent books include ‘Roads Were Not Built for Cars‘ and ‘Bike Boom’ both published by Island Press, Washington, D.C. The ‘cattle run’ isn’t the first infrastructure he has shown to be wrongly labelled: in 2017 he discovered the existence of hundreds of miles of 1930s-era Dutch-style cycleways paid for by Britain’s Ministry of Transport but which fell out of use so quickly that they became buried under grass or were misidentified as service roads.

Rothbury Terrace: the Magpies’ nest

Rothbury Terrace is one of the oldest streets in Heaton, although on the First Ordnance Survey Map, surveyed in 1858, it boasted only a couple of buildings and no name. The groups of buildings either side are the farmhouses of two of Heaton’s farms.

First edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1858, showing what was to become Rothbury Terrace

Even by 1886, there were only 8 heads of household listed and the houses were not named or numbered. The residents were John Glover of Rothbury House; Thomas Hudson, a schoolmaster; Ralph Henry Probert, a grocer; Edward Fulton, a draper; Jordan Evens, a brewer’s traveller; William G Wodson, a brick manufacturer; John L Miller, a builder and contractor and Jacob Hume, whose occupation was not given.

Just four years later, half of these remained: Jacob Hume, now a carpet buyer, was at number 5; Ralph Probert, the grocer, at no 7; Thomas Hudson, still a schoolmaster, at no 9; William Wodson, the brick manufacturer was much further down at number 65.

Neighbours

But they now had many neighbours and it is on this newly developed residential street of the early 1890s that this article focuses.

The occupations of the 1891 ‘heads of households’ give us a flavour of the diverse social make up of the street as well as of the Tyneside economy at that time. Residents included Mrs Isabella Bunton, a fishmonger who had a shop on Shields Road;  Christopher Harborn, an iron merchant, whose business was on Dispensary Lane; John Nichol Rowell, a master mariner, and Andrew Tilston Dudgeon, a naval architect with offices on The Side.

There was also, at number 25, Benjamin Moody, a primitive methodist minister. A former miner from County Durham who performed his ministry throughout the north east, we learn from a contemporary obituary that he was a ‘man of well-built physique, had a good voice and [was] musical’  and ‘behind his somewhat brusque exterior was a kindly heart.’  From his own diary, we know that during his short time living on Rothbury Terrace, Moody suffered ill health.  On 1 January 1892, he wrote:

‘I am glad I am still alive and considerably improved in my physical frame; though seemingly not fully free from the effects of influenza I had in Heaton a year and nine months ago’. The Reverend Moody died just six month’s later.

Artistic Dynasty

George Blackie Sticks at number 67 was a painter. George was born in Newcastle in 1843 into a distinguished family of artists. His father, James, was one of the top designers at William Wailes’ stained glass studio. George also served an apprenticeship there, studying under William Bell Scott at the Government School of Design in Newcastle. But on qualification, perhaps inspired by Scott, he turned to painting, establishing his own studio. 

Sticks was a landscape painter and, as well as finding inspiration close to home, for example on the Northumberland and Durham coast, he travelled extensively on sketching tours of Scotland and the Lake District. His work was exhibited by the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy. Locally it can still be seen in the Laing, Shipley, Hatton and South Shields art galleries, as well as in Newcastle’s Mansion House.

The Cliffs at Marsden Bay by George Blackie Sticks (South Shields Museum and Art Gallery)

In 1862, Sticks married Christine née Thorn and they had three children. Christina died in 1879. At the time of the 1891 census, George was living on Rothbury Terrace with his elder son, Christian, also an artist. George Blackie Sticks is reported to have died c 1900, though we haven’t yet located official records. Perhaps you can help.

Also living on the newly developed Rothbury Terrace next door to naval architect Andrew Tilston Dudgeon and artist George Blackie Sticks respectively were two men whose occupations did not define them but whose love of sport and business acumen led to the foundation of one of Newcastle’s greatest institutions.

Uncle Joe

Joseph Bell was born and bred in Newcastle. In 1891, aged 29, he lived, with his wife, Mary Alice, and three young children, along with a servant and a fourteen year old grocer’s assistant, at 43 Rothbury Terrace above the corner shop he ran. 

We know that he had been there for at least a couple of years before that and probably since the houses were first built as, in 1889, he applied for a licence to sell alcohol, an application which was approved despite a petition signed by 119 people and reported concerns about Lord Armstrong”s views on the matter.

The family was still in Heaton in 1901 but, by this time, Joseph was no longer a grocer but a self-employed builder and they lived at 2 Cheltenham Terrace. Apparently Bell retired from business early but served on the Newcastle Board of Guardians. He was described as a courteous and kindly man and politically a Liberal. 

Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell was, above all, a lover of football and, in 1890, one of the original shareholders and directors of East End FC.

Historic Summit

It is especially noteworthy in terms of the history of Heaton, and Rothbury Terrace in particular, that it was at Joseph Bell’s upstairs flat that, in May 1892, a meeting was held between the directors of East End and those of the recently folded West End.

43 Rothbury Terrace, where the meeting was held at which
the decision for East End FC to relocate to St James Park was taken.

It was at this meeting that a decision was made for East End to move to St James’ Park. The North East Railway Company had just increased the rent on its Chillingham Road ground to £50 a year, a sum the directors believed the club couldn’t afford. The prospect of a more central location, along with the opportunity to attract some of West End’s fan base, was an attractive one.

Detail of 2nd ed OS Map, surveyed in 1895, showing the proximity of Rothbury Terrace (top) to East End’s former ground

The East End directors at that historic meeting all had strong Heaton connections and would have been been reluctant to move their beloved club away from their own neighbourhood but they had the vision to see that it was the way to secure its future. Most continued to be instrumental in the success of Newcastle United, as it soon became, right through its Edwardian hey-day. The East End representatives were: Joseph Bell, the host; Alex Turnbull, his neighbour; T Carmichael; John Cameron and James Neylon.

Bell became treasurer of Newcastle United in 1893. He was then vice chairman from about 1904-8 before becoming  chairman of the club in 1908. During these very successful years, he was very close to the players, who called him ‘Uncle Joe’.

Bell died while still chairman of Newcastle United on 22 March 1909, aged only 47. Newcastle United directors, staff and players, local councillors, football men he’d known since East End days, Freemasons, friends and neighbours attended his funeral. The great Billy Hogg, who also lived in Heaton, represented Sunderland’s players. Joseph Bell is buried in All Saints cemetery.

First NUFC Chairman

Alexander (Alex) Turnbull was born in Scotland c 1858 but by 1881 had married Mary Ann Maun, a Geordie, and was working as a commercial clerk in the coal trade. In 1891, the couple lived at 69 Rothbury Terrace with their seven children, next door to George Blackie Sticks and up the road from Joseph Bell. In 1891, they were still there, now with nine children. Early on, he was was co-owner of the Byker and Heaton Coal Co until the partnership was dissolved. He was a property developer until, in 1901, his brick company at Byker Hill was declared bankrupt.

Turnbull served two spells as East End and Newcastle United chairman, during those formative years from 1891 until 1893 and and so, naturally, was at the May 1892 meeting at Joseph Bell’s at which the move to St James Park was approved. He also presided over the public meeting on 9 December of that that year at which another historic decision to change the club’s name to Newcastle United was made.

Alex Turnbull is on the extreme right of this photograph of East End, wearing a bowler hat. It was taken in front of the stand at the club’s Heaton Junction ground, just off Chillingham Road.

Turnbull served a second spell as chairman from May to August 1895 and was a director for 11 years in total, from 1890 to 1901.

Unlike Bell, Turnbull was an active Conservative. In fact, at one point he stood for the city council only to withdraw before the election took place. In 1895, he stood as a candidate for Newcastle School Board as ‘an advocate of sound education, close economy and generous recognition of the rights of private schools’.

Colin Veitch, in his autobiography, describes how he was approached at home just after Christmas 1898, when he was just seventeen years old. He was asked if he would like a game with Newcastle United and was told that two directors were available to meet him if he went immediately to the Conservative HQ at the corner of Wilfred Street and Shields Road ‘within a hundred yards of my home’. (It’s a little further than that!) The directors hadn’t had far to travel either. They were Joseph Bell and Alex Turnbull, both of Rothbury Terrace. Veitch played a number of friendlies for the club before signing permanently and becoming the captain and inspiration of its finest ever team.

The rest is history – and Rothbury Terrace’s place in the story of the city and in the birth and success of its football club secure!

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. With special thanks to John Allen, who always generously shared the results of his Heaton related football discoveries with HHG.

Sources

‘All with Smiling Faces: how Newcastle became United’ / Paul Brown; Goal-Post, 2014

‘The Artists of Northumbria’ / Marshall Hall; Marshall Hall Associates; 2nd ed, 1882

‘Newcastle United: the ultimate who’s who’ 1881-2014 / Paul Joannou; N Publishing, 2014

‘Newcastle United’s Colin Veitch: the man who was superman’ / Keith Colvin Smith, AFV Modeller Publications, 2020

‘Pioneers of the North: the birth of Newcastle United FC’ / Paul Joannou and Alan Candlish; D B Publishing, 2009

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

myprimitivemethodists.org.uk

National Library of Scotland

Major Bager’s Last Post

During the years immediately following World War One, the world very quickly became a smaller place. Developments were taking place almost on a daily basis in aviation. An international air mail service was becoming established and newsreels, introduced before the war, became a must-see bi-weekly feature of cinema-going.  As a result of all of these, the events of 14 December 1920 and the name of a Heaton pilot were spoken about, not only across Britain, but around the world. 

Growing Up

Robert Wilkinson was born on 27 June 1886 in Byker, the second son of Margaret Chambers, a single mother. Margaret went on to marry Lawrence Bager, a merchant seaman, and, by 1891, the family were living in Wallsend. Lawrence and Margaret had had a baby son together, while the older boys, Foster and Lawrence, were both recorded on the census under the surname ‘Wilkinson’ and as the stepsons of Lawrence, the head of household.

By 1901, the family were in Byker. Fourteen year old Robert was employed as a merchant’s clerk, as was his older brother, now listed as Fredrick. Both boys now had the surname ’Bager’ and were listed as sons of Lawrence, just like their younger siblings. Lawrence died in 1910 leaving Margaret at home, now 109 Tosson Terrace, Heaton, with her three grown up sons. 

The older boys’ names had changed again by the time of the 1911 census to Robert William Moore-Wilkinson and Foster Moore-Wilkinson. Robert, now 25, was an engineer’s fitter at a firm of marine engineers. Apparently, prior to WW1, he made trips to Germany for Sopwith, a new company designing and building military aircraft and the ‘Bat Boat’, an early flying boat, which could operate on sea or land, one of which was bought by the German Navy Air Service.

War Hero

It’s no surprise, to find that, on the outbreak of war, Robert quickly joined the Royal Navy or that he was recruited to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service, the pioneering forerunner of the RAF. It is from Robert’s war records that we learn a little of what he looked like: 5 ft 91/2 inches tall, blue eyes and a complexion described as fresh. The photograph below is from the Royal Aero Club records.

Robert Bager’s Royal Aero Club Aviator Certificate

Robert was a member of No 7A Squadron (which, in 1917, became 14 Squadron) at first working as an aerial gun-layer. The squadron flew Handley Page Type 0 biplane bombers. In a report in the ‘Daily Mirror’ on 3 November 1917, headlined ‘Cavalry of the Clouds: honours for heroes who have been bombing foe docks’, Leading Mechanic R W Bager is listed as a recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal. We know too that he was wounded in engagements over Zeebrugge but was soon able to resume his duties.  After the war, Robert joined the Handley Page Co, whose aircrafts he was so familiar with. 

Airmail

Handley Page, founded in 1909, was Britain’s first publicly traded aircraft manufacturing company. During the war it built heavy bombers at its factory in Cricklewood. Having been narrowly beaten in June 1919 to the kudos of making the world’s first transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown in a Vickers Vimy, on which there was a cargo of 196 letters and one letter packet with them, four months later Handley Page’s plane the ‘Atlantic’ won the consolation prize of carrying the first airmail from Canada to the USA.

The company had already launched  a goods and passenger service between London and Paris and Brussels. The first Brussels service was advertised as three times weekly and the Paris service daily (except Sunday). A single ticket cost £15.15s and a ‘double journey’ £31.10 (No saving there then!) ‘Luncheon Baskets ‘ could be ordered in advance and passengers would be conveyed between the aerodrome and  the respective cities by ‘landaulette cars’.

Handley Page advertisements

Just a month later on 11 November 1919, the first public overseas airmail service began, flying between London and Paris. This historic flight, captained by Lt Henry ‘Jerry’ Shaw, chief pilot of Aircraft Transport and Travel, flew the first commercial flight across the Channel, a de Havilland DH.9 biplane. The flight from Hendon to Paris-Le-Bourget took 2 hours and 30 minutes and cost £21 per passenger, the equivalent of more than £1,000 today. Pilots sat in unheated open cockpits before the age of reliable radio, often following landmarks such as railway lines to ensure they were on track. 

The following year, Handley Page inaugurated its own air mail services to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. The Paris flight left daily at noon. The price was still £10 10s but there was now  a discounted return fare available for £18 18s.

One of its pilots was Major Robert Bager of Tosson Terrace, Heaton.

Fateful Day

In mid-December 1920, England was experiencing severe weather. The headlines in the ‘Halifax Evening Chronicle’ on Tuesday 14th were typical: ‘Bolshevik weather: cold winds direct from Russia.’ ‘Iceland Warmer Than England’. The article went on to say that the Hebrides was the warmest part of Britain, while ten inches of snow was lying in Plymouth. The overnight temperature was ‘1 degree above zero’ FAHRENHEIT (-17 degrees Centigrade) in Peterborough. There were stories of happy polar bears in London Zoo and hardy swimmers in the Serpentine. 

And below under the heading ‘Aeroplane Thrills’ was the story of the previous day’s Handley Page Transport flight from Paris. The pilot described his three hour flight across the Channel in a blizzard ‘Mine was the only machine to arrive in London today’ pilot Lt R H Macintosh is reported to have told the ‘Daily Mail.’ ‘The conditions were terrible, particularly on the English coast and the machine was covered with ice… when nearing London, I completely lost my bearings and flew about aimlessly until I succeeded in getting in touch with the aerodrome by wireless, which put me right and guided me home.’ 

As people read this in Yorkshire, other local papers from Portsmouth to Dundee were beginning to carry news of the crash of that day’s outward flight at Golders Green, very close to the Cricklewood aerodrome. In early editions there were just a couple of lines but, by late afternoon, news came through of fatalities.

By the following day, Handley Page Transport had issued a statement saying that an accident occurred to one of its 0/400 aeroplanes (G-EAMA HP-25) shortly after it left their aerodrome at 12.30pm for Paris. 

It named the four victims: ‘Mr Salinger of London, an employee of a bristle merchant, passenger; Mr Van der Elst, of Paris,  passenger; Mr Bager, pilot; Mr Williams, mechanic.’ Four other passengers survived: Mr Pierre Curioni of Lima, Peru and Mr E Rosenthal, a London shipbroker, were slightly injured;  Mr Alexander Bona, an agent for Cinzano of Turin and Mr Eric Studd of Harley St, London, who was on his way to India via Paris,  were unhurt. Mr Studd was said to have left for India by train later that afternoon.

The company pointed out that it was the first accident that had occurred in connection with its air services, which, it said, had been running since September 1919, during which time they had carried 4,000 passengers over a total distance of over 320,000 miles. The details of the passengers gives us some idea of the sort of people making international flights a century ago.

Some of the survivors were soon interviewed: Alexandre Bona, the Cinzano rep, who described himself as an ‘Italian balloon pilot’ is reported as saying:

‘It is only through our coolness that my friend, Curioni, and I survived.’ He said they broke windows and were able to jump out. ‘They’re easy to break these mica windows’. He said that those who died were seated in the front section of the plane.

Plan of Handley Page Transport plane

There were eye witness accounts too: ‘Nursemaids, postmen, milkmen and policemen [were among the first to] rush to the scene’ . ’Many of them said that the ‘machine’ appeared to be in difficulty immediately after take off, swerved but hit a tree and then an outhouse in the garden of no 6 Basing Hill ‘the eight-roomed residence of Miss E Robinson’. The fire service responded to a telephone call from Miss Robinson, who said she was in her front room when she heard the noise, but by the time they arrived, there was only ‘the skeleton of the plane’ left. As time went on, the accounts became ever more graphic. One witness said he saw one person jump clear and make an attempt to help others. Others said they could hear the harrowing shouts of those inside.

By the end of the day, it had emerged that the pilot was from Newcastle. The local press had printed his address and interviewed his mother, said to be ‘overcome by the news’ but who proudly told journalists of her son’s many achievements and his award for gallantry.

And within a few days, cinema-goers in Heaton and elsewhere were able to see the scene of the crash for themselves in a British Pathe newsreel which survives.  You can clearly see the snow falling.

Interest in the accident was unsurprising. Flying was in its infancy and fascinated the public. Landmark achievements seemed to occur almost daily but setbacks too were big news – and there were plenty of them: The previous year, Winston Churchill, the UK’s first Secretary of State for Air, having resumed flying lessons which had been interrupted by the war, had suffered severe bruising after crashing his plane, severely injuring his instructor; in the USA, airmail pilots had gone on strike after being forced to fly even in zero visibility, a policy which resulted in 15 crashes in a fortnight with two fatalities; a year ago almost to the day, Sir John Alcock of Manchester, the first person to pilot a flight across the Atlantic, had died after crashing in fog near Rouen on route to an air show; and just a few months before, actor and stuntman, Ormer Locklear and his flying partner were killed while filming a night time spin for a feature film ‘The Skywayman’ before a large crowd in Los Angeles.

But the accident on 14 December was the first ever fatal, commercial air crash on British soil and is widely considered only the third in the world. The first, in July 1919, was the crash of the Wingfoot Air Express, an airship, into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building in Chicago, killing one crew member, two passengers and ten bank employees. The second, and the first involving a heavier than air plane, occurred near Verona in Italy, in August 1919. Tullo Morgagni, the founder of many still important cycle races, including the Giro d’Italia, was among the 14-17 (reports vary) victims.

Inquest

The inquest heard that Major Bager was a very experienced pilot and that the machine had always functioned well. It had been examined before take-off by two ground engineers and, according to a Major Brockley, who said he had helped start the engine before the flight, it was ‘quite satisfactory’. The verdict was that the four victims died from the consequences of burns due to the crashing of an aeroplane to the ground after it had struck a tree and that there was not sufficient evidence as to how it crashed to the ground.

There appears to have been no allusion to the weather, the previous day’s dramatic flight, the design of the aircraft, communications with the ground or the commercial pressure to fly.

Funeral

Major Bager’s funeral was held on 20 December. The cortege left his family home in Tosson Terrace, accompanied by the chief mourners, his mother, brothers and sister, fiancé Ethel Gibbett of Cricklewood and representatives of Handley-Page and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, as well as many old friends and ‘sympathetic spectators.’ Reverend R Trotter, Vicar of St Gabriel’s, conducted the funeral at Heaton Cemetery where Major Robert William Bager rests still.

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Sources

Airline Timetable Images www.timetableimages.com from the collection of Björn Larsson

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

Three Photographers: their development in Heaton

Over the years, Heaton has been the home of many photographers, a number of whom we’ve already written about here: portrait photographer Edward Brewis, whose familiar half-timbered house on Heaton Park Road was built to house his studio and darkrooms; Gladstone Adams, official photographer to Newcastle United, as well as the inventor of the windscreen wiper, and once of Lesbury Road; Thomas Maitland Laws, one of a dynasty of photographers, who photographed the Prince and Princess of Wales’ visit to Newcastle in 1884 and was later a resident of Addycombe Terrace; Hungarian Laszlo Torday who lived in High Heaton and who has left us with thousands of photographs of Newcastle, and especially Heaton, in the 1960s and ‘70s.

We can now add three more names to the list, brothers-in-law who were the subject of a recent book ‘Photographers Three: three brothers-in-law, one love for Northumberland’ but who were also, to one degree or other, drawn to Heaton.

Front cover of S F Owen’s book about the three photographer brothers-in-law

Harry

The oldest and first of the three to take up photography was Harry Ord Thompson. He was born on 16 February 1871 in Gateshead, the eldest son of Elizabeth and George Thompson, a barrister’s clerk. To help make ends meet, Elizabeth went into business first selling knitting wool and later photographs at the premises of Durham photographer, Frederick William Morgan, where, at the age of 14, her son, Harry, began an apprenticeship. On qualification, Harry went to work for Tynemouth photographer, Matthew Auty. It was while working for Auty that he was sent to the premises of a photographic materials’ supplier, where he met Beatrice Isabel Dudley Collier, who was to become his wife. 

The couple married in 1899. In 1901, they had a baby daughter and Harry was described as an ‘under-manager for a photographic view company’.  By 1902, the Thompson family were living at 74 Bolingbroke Street and, soon after, Harry had started his own business as a studio portrait photographer and photographer of artistic views, which could be turned into picture postcards. By 1908, he was described as a ‘technical, outdoor and publishing photographer’. He had now moved to a larger house in Portland Terrace, which had room for his business premises, and which was to remain his business base and the Thompson family home for the rest of his working life. 

Harry Ord Thompson with his wife, Beatrice (neé Collier), daughter, Mabelle, and
his mother, Elizabeth, at the family home in Portland Terrace c 1906

By 1912, however, Harry had changed the emphasis of his business again. The trade directories now described him as a ‘commercial and industrial photographer.’

Harry had also been a long-time member of the Volunteer Force, a fore-runner of the Territorial Army so, on 12 September 1914, aged 43, he enlisted in the Army Service Corps, with which he served in France. He was posted to a section that processed aerial photographs of the front and made them into maps.  

In 1918, Harry returned home to his business in commercial photography, taking pictures for company brochures, journals and magazines. Customers included Heaton’s C A Parsons and Grubb Parsons. But he also continued to take photographs of Newcastle streets and buildings, including war memorials and churches, many of which were produced as postcards.

St Barnabas, Goldspink Lane photographed by Harry Ord Thompson c 1909.
It was demolished in 1974.
The culverting of the Ouseburn photographed by Harry O Thompson c1907

Another sideline was developing and printing amateur snaps for Boots the Chemists. He was a member of the Institute of British Photographers and exhibited several times.  

Harry was also a keen local historian and an active member of Newcastle’s Society of Antiquaries. He had a particular interest in Hadrian’s Wall. The negatives of the many photographs he took of excavations were donated to Newcastle University after his death. Somehow, he still found time to sing in church choirs, be vice-chairman of the Newcastle branch of the British Legion and restore grandfather clocks.

For his busy retirement, Harry and Beatrice returned to Heaton, to 15 Stratford Grove, where Harry died on 18 December 1950 aged 79.

Walter

Walter Percy Collier was the younger brother of Harry Ord Thompson’s wife, Beatrice. He was born on 20 July 1875 in Elswick, the son of draper, Walter Dudley Collier and his wife, Isabella. When Walter was just 16 years old and an apprentice draper, his father died and his mother left England to become a lady’s companion to a wealthy American, leaving the family in his sister, Beatrice’s care. By 1901, with Beatrice now married to Harry Thompson, Walter was working as a hosier’s assistant in Manchester, where he was living with his younger sister, Flora. Alfred, the youngest member of the family had been with them until, in 1900, he emigrated to New York. Soon afterwards, now in Bootle on Merseyside, Flora married John Samuel Hart with whom Walter went into business as a tailor and draper.

Soon afterwards, however, no doubt influenced by the success of brother-in-law Harry, the two men exchanged tailoring for photography. In 1905, Walter married Bootle girl, Catherine Florence Poynor and, by 1908, it was arranged that the two families (Walter and Catherine by now had two children) should move to Newcastle to join Harry in his business. 

The Collier family circumstances around the time of the move were tragic.  First of all, Catherine’s father became very ill so Walter left her and their two children on Merseyside to take up residence in Newcastle alone, firstly in Sandyford and then at 106 Chillingham Road. Not only did Catherine’s father die but her mother developed a condition which required constant nursing so Catherine was still on Merseyside when she gave birth to the couple’s third child at the home of her brother and his wife on 15 September 1910. Just a few weeks later she, the baby and the older children travelled to Heaton to join Walter but on 20 December, Catherine died of heart failure in the RVI. She is buried in Heaton Cemetery. 

Walter Collier with children, Edith and Muriel, and brother-in-law,
John Hart with his son, also called John, in Jesmond Dene.

Walter continued to work. On the day of the 1911 census, 2 April, he was at a hotel in Whalton, Northumberland while his sister-in-law, Flora Hart, was at 106 Chillingham Road, Walter’s four room downstairs flat, looking after her and John’s two children and Walter’s three. This situation could only be temporary and it was not long before the Collier children were taken back to Lancashire to be looked after by his wife’s relatives. Walter later conceded that he may have put work before his family.

Soon afterwards, with the professional and financial support of Harry, Walter left Heaton and Harry’s business to become an independent photographer, based in Bellingham, Northumberland. He set up as a general dealer but took photographs of rural Northumberland for sale in his and other village shops and post offices in the county. He may well also have done tailoring and drapery work, especially over the winter, when their were few tourists to buy cards or use his shop. Certainly when he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in 1917, he gave his occupation as ‘draper’s assistant (temporary)’.

After war service as an aerial photographer, Walter returned to Bellingham, where his daughter, Edith, also a talented photographer, joined him in the business several years later. Walter died on 7 September 1937 in the RVI, as his wife had done 27 years before. He is buried in Bellingham. His professional legacy is a superb collection of photographic plates which show rural Northumberland between the wars. You can visit a mock-up of Walter’s Bellingham shop and see his photographic archive at the Heritage Centre, Bellingham.

Rochester, north of Otterburn by Walter Collier c1925

Sadly, postcards of his prints do not bear his name so, like many of those of Harry Ord Thompson and their other brother in law, John Hart, can be hard to identify. But Walter’s beautifully handwritten titles do often offer a clue.

John

John Hart, the youngest of the three photographers, was born in South Otterington, Yorkshire on 19 July 1881, the son of coachman, Samuel Hart and his wife, Annie. John joined the army in 1900 and, in 1902, was posted as a gunner to the Royal Garrison Artillery at Seaforth Barracks in Lancashire. One of his duties was to man the coastal artillery battery at Bootle, which stood at the end of the street where Flora May Collier, Walter’s sister was living at the time (possibly with Walter). John and Flora soon met.

Incidentally, there’s a connection between Heaton and Bootle in that Flora was living in Shakespeare Street in a group of terraces named after poets. (And a little over a mile away in South Bootle, there is now a group of newer roads named after Shakespeare characters – Macbeth, Othello, Beatrice, Benedict and many more.) At the same time, Harry, her soon to be brother-in-law, was living in Bolingbroke Street in Heaton’s ‘Shakespeare Streets’ and he would retire to Stratford Grove, another one.)

John and Flora married later that year and, in 1903, helped by a gift from Harry Thompson, John returned to civilian life. The following year he joined Walter Collier in business, firstly in drapery and tailoring and then in photography. Within a couple of years, the brothers-in-law had gone their separate ways, with Walter, as we have seen, concentrating on scenic photography and John, it seems, on studio and portrait work.

By 1908, however, as we have seen, both brothers-in-law and their families moved north to Newcastle to work first of all with Harry and then in their own businesses. At this time, John and Flora were living at 95 Rothbury Terrace.

A photograph of John Hart at Carter Bar taken by Walter Collier c 1910
Walter Collier, photographed by John Hart in Rochester, Northumberland c 1910

Their stay in Heaton was short, however. By 1913, the Hart family had moved to Norfolk, where John continued to work as a photographer. That changed when war broke out. John enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery and served until he was medically discharged in 1917.

He did not find it easy to readjust to civilian life and did not return to photography or stay in Norfolk for long. He relocated to Kent but Flora and their two younger children did not follow him. They returned to Merseyside from where they sailed to the USA, where eventually Flora was reunited with her mother in Florida.

John remarried and had a series of jobs in building and driving. He died aged 69 on 21 November 1950, one of many people who survived the war but whose life was profoundly changed by it.

So, three brother-in-law photographers who were all living and working in our neighbourhood at one point. They all left behind a valuable archive of photographs. One of them in particular, Harry Ord Thompson, spent most of his adult life in or near Heaton and made a huge contribution to Newcastle and Northumberland life in photography and many other fields.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group with additional material from Chris Jackson, also Heaton History Group. With thanks to fellow HHG member, Brian Hedley, who drew Arthur’s attention to an article in ‘The Journal’ which mentioned that Walter Collier had lived on Chillingham Road; the staff of Bellingham Heritage Centre who showed Arthur Collier’s photographic archive and the W C Collier exhibition; S F Owen for permission to use his books for reference and illustrations.

Can You Help?

If you know more about any of the photographers featured in this article or have memories or photos to share, 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

‘Photographers Three: three brothers-in-law, one love for Northumberland’ / S F Owen; The Heritage Centre, Bellingham, 2017

‘Postcards from Bellingham’ / S F Owen; The Heritage Centre, Bellingham, 2012

Ancestry, Find My Past and other online sources

A Peacock’s Tale

It’s a two minute walk from 44 Third Avenue to 19 Cheltenham Terrace, 150 metres if that. Like most buildings in this part of Heaton, the two properties date from the late nineteenth century. And it’s easy to imagine what they, one a Tyneside flat, the other a terraced house, would have looked like in, let’s say, 1904, when the families occupying both included a young boy.

After revisiting his birthplace many decades later, one of the boys wrote:

‘ The terrace seemed little changed except that the entrance to it had been barred for motor traffic. It consisted of about thirty close-built houses on each side of a road [He failed to notice that the houses immediately opposite number 19 were replacements for those destroyed during the Second World War] , the original surface of which was made of granite sets. Number 19 stood well and firm, looking fresher than I remembered it… in our period of residence, most outside and inside paintwork was a dull yellow or brown because light colours would soon tarnish in the dust and smoke of Newcastle, a sooty industrial town.

Each house in the terrace had a miniature garden about four feet wide in front of it, showing signs of care and cultivation. In our time, they were mainly scratch places for cats and dogs, as the soot and even coal dust in the atmosphere precluded successful gardening. Those householders who managed to grow some privet or tatty chrysanthemums were counted as skilled horticulturalists, making use of the horse manure gathered in the street. There were three front steps to each dwelling leading to a small tiled level surface before the front door. These and the gardens raised the tone of the terrace, as in many streets in Newcastle there was only one front step from the pavement to inside the house’. NB p2

19 Cheltenham Terrace in November 2020, no sign of the ‘small tiled level surface’ or 3 steps.

While the other recalled:

‘That part I knew first, the south side, started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran past some eighty front doors arranged in twos, one for the upstairs flat, one for the down and each pair separated from the next by the downstairs garden.These gardens were just narrow fenders of soil laid around the buttress of the bay window but they were magnificently defended from depredation by low brick walls, coped with granite slabs each sprouting a complicated fence of spiked railings. The Edwardian builder imitated magnificence even in the cheapest house. Between them lay cement aprons in front of the doors.’ KL p16

44 Third Avenue in November 2020, the spiked railings long gone.

If you were walking between Chillingham Road and Heaton Road down Third Avenue and Cheltenham Terrace back in 1904, you might well have encountered two year old Jack Common on the street. For, as many readers will know, 44 Third Avenue was his home and he wrote:

‘ …when you could call and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step not the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps again to the cobblestones into the middle of the road. As soon as you got into that dangerous area, however, some girl would come to lift you up and totter with you back to safety. They were your street guardians, the little girls.’ KLp15-16

Much has been written about Jack Common, including on this website. He went on to become an acclaimed writer. Local children even learn about him at primary school.

But further on you might well have caught sight of a slightly older boy. Basil Peacock of 19 Cheltenham Terrace, would have been six years old:

‘There were few children’s playgrounds, and only well-to-do people had gardens so we played in the streets and back lanes. There was little traffic except for the occasional tradesmen’s carts so it was comparatively safe’. NB p57

Contradicting those words somewhat, both Common and Peacock described the wide variety of visitors to their street. Peacock remembered the the striped-aproned butchers’ boys, white-clad grocers’ boys, the bell-ringing muffin man, the milkman on his horse-drawn float, bonneted nurses and midwives in starched cuffs, policemen in high-collared tunics and tall helmets, organ grinders, a hurdy-gurdy man with a bear on a chain and, of course, Cullercoats fish wives but it was a Heaton postman who really captured his imagination:

‘The postman came three times a day and wore a smart, blue tunic and trousers with a red stripe down the legs and what I thought an enviable head-dress, a kepi similar to that of an old-fashioned French soldier, with a peak back and front which turned the rain from his house and neck. I once thought of becoming a postman so I could wear such a uniform. The Cheltenham Terrace postman carried a large sack over his shoulders in which were parcels as well as letters; and one of my first girlfriends, aged six, informed me confidentially that he also had babies in it which he delivered to those who wanted them.’ NB p32

Additionally, Jack Common recalled the rag and bone man, coal carts, doctor’s trap, firewood seller, tin whistler and a German band.

Both also described in some detail the games they played on the streets. Here, Basil Peacock’s memories of marbles:

‘Most marbles were then made of pot (fired clay). – the glass ones were too expensive, and much prized if obtained. In addition to a pocketful of small ones, every lad had a “plonker”, which was a large one used to pitch at the others. A cheap plonker could be had by breaking up a lemonade bottle and obtaining the glass stopper… In addition to the normal game in which small marbles are placed inside a chalked circle and knocked out with plonkers, we played one which took place in street gutters… the drain gratings were hazards, as ill-judged shooting led to marbles being lost forever down them.’ NB p61-62

And Jack Common’s:

‘The marble millionaires gambled untold wealth at Big Ring, increasing the stakes as the evening wore on until there was a fortune out there on the cement, whole constellations of fat milks and coloured glass-alleys with twinkling spirals down their centres and clear sea-green or water-white pop-alleys winked in the shaky gaslight, nothing less than these high counters allowed in the big games, stonier and chalkies definitely barred’. KL p37

School

Both boys attended Chillingham Road School. Jack Common, in his autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, was famously negative about some of his school experiences.

 Basil Peacock wrote that from the age of three as ‘some schools administered by local authorities were prepared to take toddlers into the baby class providing they were properly weaned and toilet trained.’

‘Coming from a “respectable” family, and being rather a timid and retiring child, I found it difficult at first to associate with more robust and turbulent pupils coming from less orderly homes, who spoke in extreme Geordie dialect, so I dwelt on the words of my school teacher, which I could understand, and gained her approbation as a “bright pupil”’. NB p76

Chillingham Road School

He didn’t say much more.

Both authors, however, said they were keen readers at an early age:

Jack Common recalled:

One day, however, I made a discovery. I could read myself! I was four years old now, I suppose, thin, rather weakly, too feminine in appearance for the taste of the local matrons but undeniably bright; and while sprawling on the floor with a comic open at the pictures of Weary Willie and Tired Tim, or Dreamy Daniel, or Casey Court, or the Mulberry Flatites, I found that the captions under suddenly began to read themselves out to me. Marvellous!’ KL p 27

while Basil Peacock wrote:

‘Early in life, I became a voracious reader, especially of adventure stories, once I had advanced beyond the ‘Tiny Tots’ sort of publications. Children’s comics were proscribed in our household, though I read them in secret if I obtained copies; with the result that I was introduced to better literature, such as stories and serials written by first-rate authors in the famous “Boys Own Paper” when younger than most of its readers.’ NB p19

Parallel lives just 150 metres and four years apart.

Divergence

There were differences between the two boys’ upbringing, however. The Peacocks considered themselves middle class. Basil’s mother came from a family of sailors. Her father and brother were master keelmen. Basil’s father was privately educated at elementary school and although he had to leave school early because his family weren’t well off enough for him to continue, eventually he was able to set himself up in business because of his wife’s dowry.

The Peacock Family c 1899. Basil is third from the left, next to his mother.

In explaining how the family was considered prosperous, Basil Peacock described the area in which he grew up as follows:

‘The working men were factory hands, pitmen, shipyard workers and artisans. White-collar workers were comparatively few and tradesmen, office workers and particularly, council employers were considered well-to-do… On Saturdays the gutters were strewn with helpless drunks … the pitmen, delving and sweating miles underground, were a race apart; they took their beer in quarts, needing the liquid to replace the copious perspiration they lost during working hours.’ TM p6

We can see from the 1901 census that the Peacock’s neighbours on Cheltenham Terrace included two booksellers, a sailor, a commercial traveller, a draper, a manager in an iron foundry, an overseer at the Admiralty, a clerk to an oil merchant, an agent for Cook’s Tours, two butchers and a self employed builder. Diverse occupations but definitely no pitmen!

Jack Common, on the other hand, always stressed his working class credentials. The neighbours of his parents in that same census included: a self employed grocer (like James Peacock, Basil’s father, on Cheltenham Terrace), a butcher, a self employed dairyman, several commercial clerks, a foreman potter, a master mariner, a sailor, a ships’ surveyor, a marine engineer, an electrical engineer, a telegraph clerk, a pupil teacher, a meat and egg importer, an iron turner and bricklayers, as well as several who, like John Common, Jack’s father, an engine driver, were employed on the railways, mostly as clerks. 

The occupations are just as diverse as those on the next street. It perhaps suited both men, later in life, to give a particular impression.

Another difference between the two is that, while Jack Common lived in Heaton throughout his childhood and adolescence, Basil Peacock’s family relocated to the west end when he was seven years old. This may be an explanation for some of the things he wrote about Cheltenham Terrace and its environs not quite ringing true: when he left, he was simply too young to understand the economic and social nuances of Heaton and its people and he hadn’t built a memory bank to compare with that of Jack Common.

Military

A third crucial difference is that, at the start of World War One, Common was not yet 12 years old while Basil Peacock was already 16. So, while Common wrote of the excitement of North Heaton School being commandeered as temporary barracks and of school being reduced to half days, Peacock joined first the Junior Training League and then Durham University OTC before signing up, ‘aged seventeen and a half’ and eventually serving as a commissioned officer with the Northumberland Fusiliers. This experience undoubtedly shaped his whole life.

An army instructor suggested that Peacock study medicine when the war was over and that, after qualifying, he apply for a regular commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Peacock tried to follow his advice but, because he didn’t yet have the Latin qualification that was required at that time, he was accepted instead for dentistry. He studied at Durham University Dental School, which was based in Newcastle. 

On qualification, Peacock moved south to find work but remained a member of the Territorial Army. In WW2 he served in the far east, where he was imprisoned by the Japanese military and forced to work on the construction of the Burma Railway, a project on which about 16,000 allied prisoners and up to ten times that number of Asians died. Peacock returned to dentistry after the war and in the 1950s, he was seconded by the NHS to North Borneo.

Writer

After retirement, Basil Peacock’s life once more converged with that of Jack Common. From the 1960s he became a successful writer, broadcaster and public speaker. And it was as an octogenarian that he visited Newcastle to deliver a lecture on ‘Soldiers and Soldiering in Ancient Times’ to a ‘Society of Senior Male Citizens’ at Heaton Presbyterian Church, where he had attended Sunday school over 70 years earlier.

Heaton Presbyterian Church, taken from the corner of Cheltenham Terrace.

After the talk, he and his brother crossed over the road, apparently on impulse, and knocked on the door of their old childhood home at 19 Cheltenham Terrace. The visit led to his ‘A Newcastle Boyhood 1898-1914’ – there is no indication in the book that he was aware of Common’s earlier work. So we are lucky enough to have published accounts of, not one, but two writers who spent their early years in Edwardian Heaton.

Basil Peacock died in 1990, aged 92. You can still find his books in libraries and in secondhand bookshops.

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Can You Help?

If you know more about Basil Peacock or have memories or photos to share, 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

‘Kiddar’s Luck and the Ampersand’ by Jack Common; Frank Graham; rev ed, 1975

A Newcastle Boyhood 1898-1914′ by Basil Peacock; Newcastle upon Tyne Libraries and London Borough of Sutton Libraries and Arts Services, 1986

‘Tinker’s Mufti: an autobiography’ by Basil Peacock; Seeley Service, 1974

Robbie Burns in Heaton: a Scottish mystery

Who remembers a statue of Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in Heaton Park between the mid 1970s and mid ‘80s? It seems that, even among those of us who lived in Heaton back then that not many people do, which is something of a mystery. We are hoping that this story of the statue and how it came to be in Heaton will jog some memories and maybe even unearth a photograph or two.

On Tour

Robert Burns was born in Alloway near Ayr and later lived less than 30 miles from the border in Dumfries, so it’s perhaps surprising that he only visited England, or indeed left his native Scotland, three times, all in the same month, May 1787, while on a tour to collect orders for a collection of his poems. On two occasions, he ventured only a very short distance over the border to Coldstream and Berwick but on the third occasion he came to Newcastle via Wooler, Alnwick, Warkworth and Morpeth.

 To Newcastle

The date of the poet’s visit to Newcastle was Tuesday 29 May but unfortunately, although Burns kept a diary, it doesn’t give us any clue to the route he took through the town, where he stayed or what his impressions were. He recorded only that his party met ’a very agreeable and sensible fellow, a Mr Chatto, who shows us a great many civilities and who dines and sups with us.’

A letter, written during his brief stay, to his friend, Robert Ainslie, who had originally been with the group but had returned home, suggests he wasn’t particularly happy while he was here. Burns wrote, ‘Here am I, a woeful wight on the banks of Tyne. Old Mr Thomas Hood has been persuaded to join our Partie, and Mr Kerr & he do very well, but alas!  I dare not talk nonsense lest I lose all the little dignity I have among the sober sons of wisdom and discretion, and I have had not one hearty mouthful of laughter since that merry-melancholy moment we parted.’

The following day, Burns and companions were on their way again. After breakfasting at Hexham, they continued west.

Although Robert Burns only made a fleeting visit to Newcastle, his younger brother, William, did live and work here. He completed his apprenticeship at Messrs Walker and Robson, saddlers. He then briefly worked in London before his untimely death in 1790.

While William was trying to find work in Newcastle, Robert wrote to him: ‘I need not caution you against guilty amours – they are bad and ruinous everywhere, but in England they are the very devil’.

Commemorations

Robert Burns died in 1796 at the young age of 37, only nine years after his visit to Newcastle. By this time his work was extremely popular in Scotland and the tradition of Burns Night, in effect a second national day, began within a few years of his death. The first ‘Burns supper’ is said to have been held in Scotland in 1802 but it has been claimed that the first Burns club in the world was founded in Sunderland shortly afterwards. A Newcastle club was in existence by 1816. 

Migration of Scots into north-east England grew during the nineteenth century and with it a strong attachment to the national poet of their homeland. Many events were held in January 1859 to commemorate the centenary of Burns’ birth, including a supper for 70 in Low Walker and a festival dinner for 400 in the Newcastle Town Hall. There were further events in 1896, the centenary of Burns’ death.

Walker

It was in this context that Walker Burns Club, which comprised mainly workers in the local shipyards, decided to donate to the people of their district a ‘monumental drinking fountain’. At the unveiling of the ‘Burns Memorial Fountain’ on 13 July 1901 the secretary of the club, John McKay, said that for four or five years (ie from around the time of the centenary of Burns’ death) the members had wanted to do something for the people who had supported them and so had saved the profits of the club’s programme of concerts and lectures. As he formally handed over the  memorial to the chairman of Walker Urban District Council, he said the club members ‘were trying to do what they could to leave the world a better place than they found it and to more fully appreciate the beautiful and humane sentiments contained in nearly all Burns’ poems .’  He made no mention of Burns’ visit to Newcastle.

It was left to Hugh Crawford Smith, Liberal Unionist MP for Tyneside, who unveiled the fountain, to make passing reference to this visit:

‘[Burns] was once very near to Walker. In 1787, he came to Newcastle, slept there a night and then went home by way of Hexham and Carlisle. Burns never really got to Walker – laughter – but he might have done so if he could have foretold that more than a century later a drinking fountain would be erected to his honour’… the memorial would stand for all time as a practical manifestation of what the Burns club had done for Walker (Applause)’. 

The event merited only four and a half lines in the ‘Evening Chronicle’:

‘A Burns memorial fountain, the gift of the Walker Burns Club was unveiled in Walker Park on Saturday by Mr H Crawford Smith MP, who together with Father Berry, chairman of the council, and other speakers, made some interesting remarks about the ploughman poet.’

However, luckily for us there was much more detail in Joseph Cowen’s more radical ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ and other local papers in Northumberland, Durham and Scotland.

From them, we know that the memorial comprised an ornamental, iron drinking fountain topped by a bronze ‘statuette’ of the ‘National Bard’ which stood on a capital on top the fountain, which itself was mounted on a raised platform accessed by four steps and surrounded by flower beds. It must have been an impressive sight. Father Berry, leader of the council, was the first person to point out that the poet had his back to his homeland. This became a recurring theme over the years.

The drinking fountain was cast in Glasgow by Walter Macfarlane’s Saracen Foundry, the most important manufacturer of ornamental ironwork in Scotland. Among its surviving works in Britain are the Alexander Graham Memorial Drinking Fountain in Stromness and the Barton Arcade in Manchester. Overseas works included gates in India and Argentina, fountains in Tasmania, Malaysia and Cyprus and verandas in South Africa and Singapore (at the Raffles Hotel). The Walker Burns Club chose their fountain from a pattern book. It was designed in a way that a statue of choice could be added.

The statue, which depicted Burns with right arm outstretched in the act of reciting his song ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, was sculpted by David Watson Stephenson of Edinburgh whose many well-known works include a bronze statue of William Wallace on the National Wallace Monument in Stirling and the figures of Mary Queen of Scots, Halbert Glendinning and James VI on the Sir Walter Scott Monument in Edinburgh. The Scots of Walker chose the very best craftsmen to make their memorial. 

A shield attached to the capital between the fountain and the statue bore the inscription ‘Presented to the District Council by the Burns Cub, Walker on Tyne 1901’. 

The capital also bore the final lines from Burns’ well-known song A Man’s a Man for A ‘That’ :

‘It’s Coming Yet for A’ That

That Man To Man, the Warld O’er

Shall Brithers be for A’ That.’

The full song asserts that a man’s value lies not in his wealth, position or social class but in his mind and character. Of course, these sentiments still resonate today and the song is still performed in Scotland on major occasions, memorably at the opening of the Scottish Parliament and the funeral  of Donald Dewar, the inaugural minister for Scotland. The Walker Burns Club’s choice of inscription has stood the test of time.

Fresh Water

So, it is very clear from accounts of the unveiling that the drinking fountain was considered at least as important a part of the gift as the statue. 

Installation of free public drinking fountains, the first of which appeared in Liverpool in 1854, was often linked to the Temperance Movement, who wanted to give people a safe and easily available alternative to alcohol, although the irony of this in relation to Robert Burns was not lost at the unveiling. Expressing an expectation that the memorial would ‘stand for all time [dispensing] pure water’, Crawford Smith joked that Burns would probably have liked something stronger in it.

The Walker fountain had tin cups suspended on chains at the base to allow passers by to drink the water but even in 1901 the public health dangers of many people sharing unwashed vessels was recognised and safer designs were being introduced elsewhere. (But there were still similar cups at Armstrong Park’s ‘King John’s Well’, the postcard below also dating from 1901).

King John’s Well, Armstrong Park c 1901 with drinking cups

Interestingly, although they seemed to have had their day, there has been a revival of public drinking fountains in recent years in response to concerns about the use of plastic bottles, increasing summer temperatures and as an alternative to unhealthy sugary drinks. A 2019 campaign for the installation and restoration of drinking fountains in Newcastle seems to have stalled due to the current pandemic but the reasoning behind it is still strong.

Restoration

The first mention we have found of repairs to the monument was in 1956 when the council noted that the fountain was ‘now disused’. The plan was to point the masonry part of the base, remove the steps and clean and paint the statue. It would not be turned around to face Scotland! 

Today painting a bronze statue sounds like an unusual piece of restoration work. Nevertheless, we know that the work was done and afterwards it was returned to Walker Park, where it stood until the mid 1970s at which time ‘vandals’ and ‘the passage of time’ had reportedly left it without a head and arms. In 1975, the North East Federation of Burns Societies, rather than the city council, commissioned another restoration by a Hatfield firm of welders where a Mr Bill Fraser, himself a Scot, led the work to pin the arms and head back onto the statue and recreate fingers missing from the the right hand with glass fibre.

This time, at least in the reports we have read, there was no mention at all of the fountain.

Heaton

The next newspaper report we have found dates from 24 February 1984. It was reported in ‘The Journal’ that the statue of Robert Burns  had been ‘stolen from its home of five years in Heaton Park , and smashed to pieces by vandals’

Mr Max McGregor, president of the Ouseburn Burns Society, is reported as saying ‘The statue was donated to the city by a Burns society and was to have been used for our celebrations on Burns Night this January. This year’s visit had to be cancelled because of this affair’.

Mr Roger Neville, spokesman for Newcastle City Council, said: ‘The statue was stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces. It is now in our Jesmond Dene depot’.

So still no mention of the fountain and no photograph but, based on this report, we can apparently date the statue’s sojourn in Heaton Park from 1979 to 1984. There is at least one inaccuracy in the account though. As we know, the donation was to the Urban District of Walker, not the neighbouring City of Newcastle. And, as we’ll soon see, doubt has been cast on the date.

Forgotten

All went quiet for a decade when, in response to an enquiry from Newcastle United historian, Paul Joannou, ‘The Journal’ ran two articles which showed that collective memory can be very short. On 15 March, it asked ‘Was there ever a statue of Robert Burns on Tyneside?’ 

Joannou was enquiring as he was aware of a series of football matches in the 1920s, staged for the purpose of raising money for a statue to Burns in Newcastle. He said that large crowds watched legends such as Hughie Gallagher and Alex James and that players who took part were presented with a medal, one of which was on display in the Newcastle United museum. He had put an appeal in the club programme but nobody had come forward to say they knew of the statue.

At this stage ‘The Journal’ knew nothing about the statue either, with journalist Tony Jones writing ‘I reckon the nearest one to Newcastle is 90 miles away in Dumfries.’ However, the following day, it revealed to its readers that the statue had been found in storage ‘at a council depot’ (presumably Jesmond Dene where it had lain in pieces since 1984).

The Journal’ had ‘learnt ‘that the statue had been removed from Walker in 1979’, which fits in with the 1984 account in the same paper (so perhaps its own archive is where it learnt it from). Again, there was no mention of the fountain nor the 1975 restoration, only the temporary removal for repair in 1956. A photograph, showing the statue on a graffiti covered cylindrical column carrying a plaque, was labelled ‘Heaton Park, 1983’ but it is very difficult to see the surroundings.

Journal 16 March 1994 and the only photograph we have found so far of Burns in Heaton Park (far right), sadly almost impossible to see in this digitised copy.

The paper had by now been contacted by a reader who remembered walking past the memorial in Walker Park every day on his way to school in the 1950s but still no such memories had come to light of its much more recent time in Heaton Park. We are hoping that 26 years on, we will have more luck.

Football Fundraisers

The Journal’ was naturally bemused as to why fundraising football matches would be played to raise money for a statue particularly if there had been one all along. They wondered if the statue had originally stood somewhere else and only came to Walker after the 1920s.

We now know that the statue fund was for one in Newcastle, as opposed to Walker, and that the fundraising through popular and high profile football matches was extremely successful.

However, a spanner was thrown in the works by the Burns Federation, which at its annual conference in September 1926, passed a resolution to say that there should be no more statues and instead affiliated clubs should be encouraged to honour the poet’s memory by donating to local hospitals. An opinion piece in the ‘Dundee Telegraph’ didn’t mince words:

‘Few of the Burns statues are good, many are bad and a considerable number are very bad.’ Too generally they make the subject look like a moon-stricken idiot’.

We don’t know what the writer thought of the Walker statue but you can make up your own mind about its quality.

Walker Park’s replica statue on a new plinth and Alexander Nasmyth’s 1787 portrait on which the likeness was based

A number of contemporary portraits of Burns exist.

The honorary president of Newcastle Burns Club at this time was  Sir Thomas Oliver who, though born in Ayrshire just like Robert Burns, was now a world famous professor of medicine at Durham University. He specialised in industrial diseases such as lead poisoning and had also been instrumental in raising the Tyneside Scottish Battalions during WW1. Former shipyard worker and trades unionist, Alexander Wilkie, once of Cardigan Terrace and Third Avenue and by this time of 36 Lesbury Road in Heaton, who had been Scotland’s first Labour MP,  was an honorary vice president.

These were not men to mess with! In May 1927, in apparent defiance of the federation, the club reported that over £2,500 had already been raised and ‘with another £100 they could go ahead with the scheme and procure the site.’

Details thereafter are sketchy but the statue was never erected and we know that the Newcastle Burns Club donated considerable funds to local hospitals.

New Plaque

So by the second decade of the 21st century, all we had was one broken statue lying in pieces in Jesmond Dene council depot. The next document we have dates from around 2011 and confuses things further.

An entry in Tyne and Wear’s Historic Environment Record is headed ‘Robert Burns Memorial Fountain’ but states: 

In 1901 a statue commemorating Rabbie Burns was erected in Walker Park by the local Burns Club supported by the numerous ship builders who moved to Walker from Clydesdale.The plaque reads ‘THIS STATUE WAS ERECTED IN WALKER PARK BY THE WALKER ON TYNE BURNS CLUB ON 13TH JULY 1901 TO MARK THE VISIT TO NEWCASTLE BY ROBERT BURNS ON THE 29TH MAY 1797. REMOVED TO THIS SITE BY THE CITY OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE ON THE 27TH SEPTEMBER 1975’. It is a bronze cast and is in very poor condition. It is presently stored at Jesmond Dene Nursery. The Walker Park lottery bid [2010] has plans to recast the statue and put it back into the park.’

So the fountain is mentioned in the heading but nowhere in the text and there is no mention of either of the original plaques but we find that a new plaque had been created at some point – it might well be the one in the 1983 photograph – and the date it gives for its removal to a new site is four years earlier that the dates we have seen so far. But does ‘this site’ even refer to Heaton Park or did it stand somewhere else after Walker but before Heaton? Confused? You bet! And that’s why we need you to wrack your brains and sift through your old photos.

Here, for the first time, we read the claim that the statue was erected to commemorate Burns’ visit to Newcastle and this might be a suitable point to question whether Burns really was a worthy recipient of such a memorial.

Slavery

It is 36 years since the Burns statue was ‘stolen by youngsters and as they were rolling it away, it toppled down the hill and broke into pieces’  but that sentence surely brought to mind recent scenes in Bristol and elsewhere. Thanks, in part, to the Black Lives Matter movement, we are much more aware of the flaws of historical figures once revered – by some.

Burns was honoured by the people of Walker and people like Heaton’s Alexander Wilkie because he was a poet who spoke for ordinary workers and their families.  It may come as surprise then that the year before his visit to Newcastle, Burns had accepted a position as overseer at a friend’s sugar plantation in Jamaica, a plantation which was, of course, worked by slave labour.

In 1786, Burns faced financial ruin as his father’s death combined with the poor soil on the farm he worked with his brother had reduced both of them to near starvation.  To compound matters, his love life was even more troubled than usual. It has been noted that Burns, ‘had been nearly married to his first love Jean (to the horror of her parents and the Church) but they had agreed to separate (without knowing that Jean was pregnant with twins); then Robert had fallen in love with another, ‘Highland Mary’ who died suddenly while waiting for him to come to her. Jean’s vindictive father sought court proceedings to arrest him so, like a fox with the hounds snapping at his heels, Robert needed to escape.’

He accepted Patrick Douglas’s offer of a post on a small team of overseers on his plantation. There are some who argue that this wasn’t such a bad decision as Burns was only to be a ‘bookkeeper’.   But others have claimed that Burns would, ‘have a daily interface with the truth of slavery – from assisting in purchases, through recording punishments and deaths’. Burns himself described his role as ‘a poor Negro driver’, not a good look for a poet who revered as a champion of freedom and who came to Newcastle, shortly before 3,000 of its residents made their way to the Guildhall to sign a petition against the slave trade. 

Fortunately both for Burns and his legions of fans down the centuries, in a last act of defiance before taking this huge step, he decided to publish his ‘Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’. They were instantly acclaimed and so Burns was able to turn back from his journey west into the dark world of slavery administration and instead turn east to a brighter future in Edinburgh and fame and marriage to Jean. The next year he was able to do his literary tour and come south to Newcastle. 

There is of course a great irony in the fact that Burns almost ended up playing a part in the  deeply destructive and dehumanising slave trade and it is one that arguably cuts right to the heart of Scottish society today.  Many of Burns’ poems spoke out strongly about freedom and against forms of human slavery. His national poem Scots Wha Hae’, has its title taken from words attributed to Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Bruce’s army won the national freedom of the Scots against a larger English army.  But this is the rub; as has been pointed out on a recent BBC Scotland series, many Scots who are today advocating national freedom again, through a second independence referendum forget the major role Scotland played in the transatlantic slave trade. It was this trade that Burns himself nearly played a role in.

Burns’ only poem which is directly relevant to the issue of slavery is The Slave’s Lament’ from 1792. This is clearly an abolitionist poem.   It does beg the question then of just how was it that Burns so nearly became part of the trade he later seemed to abhor. There has been much speculation but we will never know.

But we do know that a young Abraham Lincoln came to the settlement of New Salem and craving books found  a ready made library in the home of a Scottish neighbour Jack or Jock Kelso who, unsurprisingly given his name, was a Scotsman. It is said that Lincoln was heavily influenced by the poetry of Burns that Kelso had in his collection and this would help him on the road to becoming the US president who freed the slaves.

Another American who was to read Burns’ poems and be heavily influenced by themes of liberty and the brotherhood of men found among them, was escaped slave, Frederick Douglass.  When Douglass visited Britain, he made a point of visiting Burns’ birthplace in Alloway. Like Burns, he visited Newcastle, and he became a freed slave due to the fund set up by two sisters-in-law from Jesmond.  Douglass went on to become known as the ‘Father of the American Civil Rights Movement’ and a close adviser to President Lincoln. Perhaps we should leave the last words on the matter to Douglass. Speaking of Burns, he said ‘we may condemn his faults, but only as we condemn our own’ and he argued that Burns was ‘far more faultless than many who have come down to us on the pages of history as saints’, words which might serve as a warning to anyone planning to erect a statue to any historical figure in future.

Replica

Nevertheless in 2016, Burns’ statue was returned to Walker Park. A  Heritage Lottery Fund grant was obtained for a revamp of the park as a whole and as part of that, a replica of the Burns statue was installed exactly where the original had stood – but this time facing Burns’ birthplace. At the same time, repairs were made to the original and it was placed in a new cafe in the park. There are now just three full length statues of Robert Burns in England, one in London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens – and two in Walker Park!

Talking in 2016, park ranger, Katharine Knox, noted that, ‘The statue was a prominent feature of the park and a lot of local people have memories of it’.

Newcastle City Council cabinet member for culture and communities, Kim McGuinness, added: ‘It’s really pleasing to see this statue, a prominent historical feature in the park, restored to its former glory and taking pride of place.’

It’s unfortunate that it was only the ‘statuette’ that was ‘restored to its former glory’. Somewhere along the line, the magnificent fountain, the quote from Burns and the plaque which explained who gave the statue to whom all became separated and, as far as we know, lost and there is nothing on the monument to tell passers by who the replica Walker Park statue depicts. There is brief information on information panels around the park which direct those interested into the cafe where the heavily restored original stand proudly along with detailed and well-presented information about Burns and the words of ‘A Man’s a man for A ‘That’, as well as a summary of the statue’s story.

Burns in the YMCA Walker Park Cafe, a community hub

At present, however, you can’t see the exhibition because, due to coronavirus, the cafe is offering a takeaway service only, alongside other community activities. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that both Burns and Walker Burns Club would be satisfied at the current resting place of the the original statue, in a community hub, and they would understand why the display of a statue had to take second place to the incredible work YMCA staff and volunteers are doing to helping local people hit hard by the current pandemic.

Can You Help?

So, as you can see, there is much in the story of the Burns’ memorial which gives food for thought and much that has been forgotten or misremembered over the years. We would especially like to find out more about the statue’s stay in Heaton, which was well within living memory. Why Heaton? When was it here? Where did it stand? What became of the original fountain? Which way did Robbie face? Did you know who he was?

 If you can help in any way, please get in touch. 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

STOP PRESS

Before the ink was dry on our article, we had received the photographs below which, if you look carefully, show the statue in Heaton Park, on the far side of the pavilion before it was restored. It’s clear that the statue is mounted on a pedestal but there is no fountain. A big thanks to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton Park. Do they stir any memories? Do you have a photo?

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you also to Kevin Mochrie of Heaton History Group for sharing his library factsheet, to the staff and volunteers of YMCA Walker Park Cafe and Centre, who kindly gave us access to the cafe to photograph the Burns’ statue and to Ann Denton of Heaton History Group and Friends of Heaton and Armstrong Parks for supplying the photographs of the pavilion.

Sources

Burns: a biography of Robert Burns’ / James Mackay; Alloway Publlshing, 2004

Burns in the USA’, BBC Scotland

Myers’ Literary Guide: The North East’ / Alan Myers; 2nd Edition, 1997

‘Robert Burns: his connections to Newcastle and the North East’ / Kevin Mochrie. Newcastle City Library Factsheet, revised, January 2020.

Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame’, BBC Scotland (TV programme)

burnswalkerstatue.wordpress.com

https://memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/robert-burns-memorial-drinking-fountain/

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/burns-night-statue-newcastle-walker-15729980  11:54, 25 JAN 2019 

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/statue-great-rabbie-burns-returns-11778972

https://www.twsitelines.info/smr/13508

Shields Daily Gazette 15 July 1901

Evening Chronicle 15 July 1901 p2

Newcastle Daily Chronicle 15 July 1901 p 5

Journal and North Star 7 May 1927 p8 

Journal 13 June 1956 p 5

Evening Chronicle 27 September 1963 p12

Journal 24 February 1984 p 5

Journal 15 March 1994 p

Journal 16 March 1994 p 17 

The Captain’s Medal

Heaton was, as many readers will know, the home for many years of East End, the team that became Newcastle United. But in the 1880s and ‘90s East End was just one of many teams that played in Heaton. Recently we were shown a photograph that led us to research the early history of one of them.

Copyright: Stephen Maddison

This silver memento was found some decades ago among the possessions of a deceased relative of Stephen Maddison, who told us that the person whose name was engraved on it ‘W Donaldson, Captain, Heaton Rovers 1893-4’ was not, as far as he knew, a member of his family. It lay forgotten for many a number of decades until it came into Stephen’s possession and he asked Heaton History Group whether we could tell him anything about Heaton Rovers or W Donaldson.

Foundation

Luckily, contemporary newspaper reports have helped us build up a picture of the club’s early years. Although there is a single reference to a team called Heaton Rovers playing a match in March 1885, the club appears to have been founded in 1887, the year before the Football League was founded. The first of what would become regular references in the press to their matches was, in fact, to a game against Heaton Malcolm (presumably with a connection to the street of that name) on 19 March 1887 that was never played. It had been postponed in order to allow players to watch the Northumberland Cup Final between West End and Shankhouse, which was being played in Heaton on the same day. 

The club’s secretary, G W Greener, who at that time was living in Heaton’s Morley Street, confirmed this conjecture in an 1890 dispute about other clubs not fulfilling their fixtures. It is clear from appeals in the press for opponents that, at this time, Rovers was a club for boys aged 12 to 14 years. The following year, the secretary appealed for players between the ages of 14 and 15. 

Contentious

There were lots of disputes reported during the club’s early years, on and off the pitch and with the press. G W Greener regularly took opponents to task for the state of their pitch, for fielding unregistered, over-age or otherwise illegal players and wrote to the press to correct mistakes in their reporting. Games were also abandoned because of on field arguments. Remember this was at a time when the rules of the game were in their infancy. Even at the top level, referees and penalty kicks were not introduced until 1891. Even the duration of a match wasn’t fixed at 90 minutes until 1897, the same time as teams were formally required to comprise 11 players.

But the boot was on the other foot following Rovers’ one and only mention in the national press:

Under a headline ‘Extraordinary Goal Scoring’ the famous newspaper ‘The Sporting Life’ reported ‘On Saturday when the Heaton Rovers and Union Harriers (Byker) met, the former won by 22 goals to 2. Shortly after half time, Rovers scored 6 goals in 10 minutes.’ (7 April 1888).

Even in the current free scoring Premier League, we haven’t seen anything quite like that (but we are publishing before the Newcastle United attack takes on the leaky Manchester United defence).

However a couple of weeks later, ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ issued a rebuttal: ’Union Harriers beg to contradict the score…. as the match was never played.’ (26 April 1888).

Fake news?

Travels

It’s interesting to track how far Rovers were prepared to travel for a fixture. Advertising vacant dates in the 1888-9 season for what was now an under 16 team, G W Greener (who was now living in Byker) cited a radius of ‘about eight miles’ (‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’ 12 June 1888). Early season matches against Swalwell and Scotswood Harriers were within the specified distance  but, early the following year, a Rovers’ fixture v Gainsborough appeared alongside fixtures such as Everton v Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa v West Brom, both of which will grace the Premier League this season. (‘York Herald’ 26 January 1889).

It’s not completely clear where Rovers played home games during the early years. They boasted of having a home ground as early as 1888 but we don’t yet know where it was. Certainly by spring 1890, they were playing at least some of their matches on East End’s ground, which was roughly where Chillingham Road Metro Station is now. They also sometimes seem to have played at Millers Lane in Walkergate.

Success

The 1890-91 season was a good one for the club. In February, their record was: Played 23 Won 16 Drawn 4 Lost 2 For 75 goals Against 19. They boasted that no Northumberland side had beaten them, ‘only Felling and Washington’. In March, it was announced Rovers would  play Weetslade in ‘the final of the medals competition’. The match was played at the East End ground on the same day as senior teams played the final of the Northumberland FA Cup Final. There was an admission charge of 6d to watch both games. We are indebted to ‘The Morpeth Herald’ (18 April 1891) for a full match report of the final of ‘this new competition for players aged 18 and under’ – and the first Rovers’ team sheet we have seen: ‘Donaldson’ was one of the half backs. Heaton Rovers won the game 2-0, their first trophy that we know of. Presumably W Donaldson will have won a medal but evidently not the one Stephen has. Jubilant new secretary, Frank Purdy, expressed a hope that the team would stay together and announced that the club’s fourth anniversary would be celebrated with a grand dinner.

Soon after, we hear that Leighton Football Club had amalgamated with Heaton Rovers and it had been decided to form a reserve team. The club was going from strength to strength. There was great excitement in Blyth the following Christmas when it was arranged that a ‘Blyth young lady’ would kick off Blyth Star’s match v Rovers: ’This innovation will be such a novelty in the annals of football that the whole of the inhabitants should be in the field at 10.00m as play commences at 10.30 and give the twinklers a bumper gate’ (‘Blyth Weekly News’ 24 December 1892).

Medal

At the end of the 1892-3 season, a meeting was held to launch a new competition ‘open to players who have taken part in this season’s English, Northumberland or Durham Senior Cup ties’ and  ‘promoted by Wallsend NE Rangers’. It took place on 11 April 1893 at the Cafe, Wallsend with ‘Mr G W Greener of Heaton Rovers’ in the chair. The draw took place for the first round and, hopefully coincidentally, Heaton Rovers, received a bye. Intriguingly ’11 silver medals’ were explicitly mentioned as being offered in the competition. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find out any more details. Did the competition take place? How far did Rovers progress? Did they even win it? And is it the medal that W Donaldson received for captaining the team to glory now in Stephen’s possession? It’s tempting to think so.

However, there is some contradictory evidence. The following season, that in which the engraving states that W Donaldson was captain, was reported to be a much less successful campaign than those that had preceded it. At the club’s ‘8th AGM‘ on 16 June 1894, presided over by F W Purdy and held at Henderson’s Cocoa Rooms on Shields Road, it was reported that the first team had fallen back considerably, having played 19 matches of which only 3 had been won. The second team had won 12 out of 17. But the club had successfully obtained a place in the Tyneside League and they had a small balance in hand of 14s 5d. Interestingly, the club president was listed as C T Maling and  A Ripley was now said to be the captain. Presumably, he had replaced Donaldson at the end of the previous season. There was no mention of any trophies. Perhaps W Donaldson’s medal was in recognition of his one season as captain.

On the other hand, it could have been the case that the previously mentioned cup competition had taken place between the Wallsend meeting on 11 April 1893 and the previous year’s AGM, which presumably took place in June 1893 and so would have been celebrated then, making the contrast with the following unsuccessful year even more stark. We don’t yet know but feel that the answer is out there somewhere in football archives. If you can help, please get in touch.

Demise

Even if it was going through a comparatively lean time, the club still had plenty of life left in it. The last mention that we have found so far was on 6 December 1909 when they were heavily beaten 8-2 by Wallsend Victoria but that may be more to do with the lack of digitised local papers between then and the outbreak of WW1 than on it being the final straw for the club.

Major Players

But Heaton Rovers is only part of the story. What do we know about W Donaldson and some of the other key characters in its history?

C T Maling The club president referred to at the 1894 AGM was Christopher Thompson Maling of the famous pottery family. At this time he was almost 70 years old. The family’s Ford B factory at St Lawrence, Walker was the largest pottery in Britain when it was built in 1879 and Maling’s 1891 census return serves as an indicator of his wealth. A widower, he was living on Ellison Place in Newcastle with three grown up children, aged between 22 and 26 plus a ladies’ maid, a footman, two housemaids, a cook, a laundress, a kitchen maid, a professional nurse and a waiting maid. Hopefully, he had enough money left over after paying his staff to fork out for the odd football! 

F W ‘Frank’ Purdy We think the club secretary who succeeded G W Greener could have William Francis Purdy, an engine driver’s son, who in 1891 was an 18 year old clerk to a shipbroker. The family were living at 16 Chillingham Road, very close to Rovers’ ground. He spent his early married life in Byker but later returned to Heaton, living at 44 Sackville Road and 17 Swindon Terrace. He died in 1929, aged c 57.

G W Greener George William Greener, son of Frederick Cawthorn Greener, an iron forgeman, was born in Northumberland but in 1881, aged nine, was living with his parents and four siblings in Middlesbrough. When Heaton Rovers was founded in 1887 with him as secretary, the family were living in Heaton. He would have been only around 14 or 15 years old, the same age as the players he was trying to attract to play both in and against the team. The family soon moved to Byker but George didn’t stay in the area as an adult. He married Lillie in 1898 and by 1901 the couple were living in Gateshead and in 1911 in Hartlepool with three children. George described his occupation as a ‘forge clerk’. He died in 1928, aged 56.

What is striking about both the secretaries during Rovers’ early years is how young they were. G W Greener, in particular, was rarely out of the newspapers, taking every opportunity to promote the football club and also founding a cricket team. He also took on positions beyond the club itself. The youth of early football organisers has been noted elsewhere and is perhaps not surprising considering how few of their parents’ or teachers’ generation would have any experience of playing or supporting a team.

A Ripley Andrew Ripley was the captain who succeeded W Donaldson. Another engine driver’s son, born in St Anthony’s in 1874, Andrew would have been around 20 years old when he took over the captaincy. After getting married, he briefly lived in Cullercoats but by 1911 had returned to Walker with his wife and five children. He died in 1947, aged 74.

And so to the name on the medal, W Donaldson. Unfortunately, there are a number of possibilities for the identity of the Heaton Rovers captain living to the east of Newcastle, some of about the expected age, perhaps the most likely being:

William Richardson Donaldson, son of Thomas, a stonemason, and Annie, who was born in Amble in July 1873 but by 1891, aged 18, was living with his parents and six siblings in Harbottle St, Byker and working as a blacksmith. He married Isabella in 1899. Wallsend Freemasons’ records in 1908 list his profession then as a ‘contractor’. In 1911, the couple were still  living in Wallsend with their three children. Official records sometimes included William’s middle name and on other occasions, it was omitted. But maybe someone will be able to confirm this or tell us otherwise? It would be good to know more about an early figure in Heaton’s football history.

Acknowledgments

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Stephen Maddison for sending us the photograph of the medal and explaining how he came by it. Thank you too to Stephen for permission to publish the photograph.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archives

Can You Help?

If you know more about W Donaldson, Heaton Rovers or anyone mentioned in this article or have memories or photos to share, 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