Monthly Archives: June 2014

Heaton’s parks remembered

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

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

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

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

Opening

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

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

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

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

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

Changes

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

Heaton Park Lake

Heaton Park Lake

Old temple - Heaton Park

Old temple

Bowling green, Heaton Park

Bowling green, Heaton Park

Heaton Park in literature

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

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

and

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

Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you remember?

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

Private Edward Lawson VC - photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

To Edward Lawson – for valour

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

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

Private Edward Lawson VC - photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

Private Edward Lawson VC – photograph from the Gordon Highlanders Museum

Soldier

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

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

Private Lawson of the Gordon Highlanders

Private Lawson of the Gordon Highlanders

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

Modest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back home

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

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

Northern Cyclists 1910

.Edward Lawson at Bamborough Castle

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Edward Lawson

Edward Lawson

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

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

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

Update

Read here about a memorial to Edward and the other two Newcastle men to have been awarded the Victoria Cross.