Monthly Archives: February 2015

The People’s Theatre: Past, Present and Future

The People’s Theatre has been a thriving part of our community in Heaton for over 50 years, but its origins go back a further half century. Formed in Edwardian Newcastle, it owes its existence to an unlikely combination of socialist politics and bohemian cultural values, brought together and personified by Colin Veitch, the man who captained Newcastle United through their first golden age of league and FA Cup success. On Wednesday 24 June, we’ll hear the People’s story and find out about plans to refurbish the building for another 50 years.

Entrance to the Peoples 2013

Chris Goulding is an English teacher at the Royal Grammar School. He is the author of books and journalism on local history and literature, as well as the NE children’s bestseller Tinseltoon. A former professional actor, he has been an active member of the People’s Theatre for over 30 years.

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154.

Jack Common’s Avenues in Wartime

Jack Common was born at 44 Third Avenue on 15 August 1903. In his autobiographical novels, ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ and ‘The Ampersand’, he wrote about growing up in Heaton. Although ostensibly fiction, Jack’s writing is clearly based on his own experience and his vivid memories. It tells us about aspects of life in the avenues, before and during World War One, that often we’d have no other way of knowing. Jack describes his milieu, life as a ‘corner boy,’ and gives us a rare (pupil’s) insight into life at Chillingham Road School. He writes with feeling, humour and from the perspective of the socialist he became. While we have to remember the fictional element and the personal viewpoint, Jack Common’s work is an important source for our Heaton Avenues in Wartime research.

The avenues

Some of the places Jack describes have changed, of course, but to anyone familiar with Heaton, the streets (or avenues) of terraced houses and Tyneside flats are instantly recognisable over a hundred years later:

…’ the south side started with a grocer’s shop on the corner, ran straight 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.’

…’when you could crawl and totter, you always made for the street whenever the door was open. Over the rough cement path, down the step onto the wonderfully smooth pavement, perhaps on again to the cobblestones in the middle of the road.’

So far, we’ve traced only one photograph of the Avenues taken during this period. it shows Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews’ great aunt, Ruth Castle, outside her home at 47 Tenth Avenue and it chimes with Jack Common’s description of his ‘territory’.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue, early 1900s


‘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… Between them lay cement aprons in front of the doors.’

Regular visitors

Some of the most evocative descriptions of the avenues are the lively street scenes; the traders and entertainers who passed through: the rag and bone man with his bugle, barrow and paper windmills, ‘made of rough sticks and coloured wallpaper or an umbrella of the same or a fan or a piece of pineapple rock’ which he’d exchange for the jam jars or rags the children brought him.

‘… such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk chariots, coal-carts and steam wagons… Practically any moment of the day, one or other of these strange craft, ark or pinnacle, was bound to come upon our horizon. The hooves of the faster traffic, doctor’s trap or post office van, shot sparks from our cobbles…’

‘… the slower moving door-to-door tradesmen announced their presence: the milkman with a hand-bell and a high-pitched cry, the firewood seller with a long wail ‘d’ye wa-a-nt any sticks’, the coal-man bluff, solid and low, ‘coal ter wagon, coal ter wagon’, and the hardware merchant, standing on his high cart, with a rapid ringing of plate against plate, produced an insistent tintinabulation which rang across several streets. Very often several of these were around at the same time, plus one or other of varieties of street musician, the tin whistler, the barrel organist or German band….’


‘And that was only the front street…. Though milk and bread were front door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back door…..

'Coo-al' by Mark James

‘Co-al’ by Mark James, Heaton History Group

Down here came the Cullercoats fishwives crying ‘Caller herrin’ in that season and otherwise ‘Fresh fish, hinny, straight from the sea’. They wore their traditional dress of dark blue which so well set off their biscuit tan of arm and face, the salt-white hair and they were like caryatids walking under the great baskets they carried on their heads.’

‘Everbody’s washing hung across the lane so that the appearance of a tradesman’s cart meant a rush to tuck sheets and things round the rope and to raise the diminished bunting high over the horse’s head with a prop.’

Close friends

Common’s descriptions of childhood are equally wonderful and will resonate with many older readers, in particular:

‘… the many games that made their immutable processions across our year. Marbles, tops, hoops and girds, bays, monty-kitty, kick-the-block, up-for-Monday, they came and went in their due seasons.’

‘The marble millionaire gambled untold wealth at the Big Ring, increasing the stakes as the evening wore on until there was a fortune out there on the cement; whole constellations of fat Millies and coloured glass alleys with twinkling spirals down their centres and clear sea-green or whipwater-white pop-alleys winked in the shaky gaslight, nothing less than these high counters allowed in the big game, stonies and chalkies definitely barred. Then in came the bullocker shot from the ringside. The constellation shook and was scrambled; single stars fled or rolled towards the chalk ring. All that went over belonged to the lad that made the shot. Sometimes none did. Right, next player. The winners dropped their captured beauties with a happy plonk into the poke they nearly all carried; losers might fish for a last treasure, a broken pen knife or a watch-compass, to barter for another stake.’

And bonfire night:

‘At the bottom end, on Ninth back lane a mattress in the bonfire had just caught alight, the dervishes around it jumped and yelled from fiery-smudged faces; Eighth were entrenched within their narrow gardens, hurling Chinese crackers and jumping-jacks at all who passed by; Seventh were engaged in a slanging match because the great pyramid of their fire, crowned with a guy sitting in an armchair, had toppled over and was burning against somebody’s back door…. You could even see the near-toddlers solemnly lighting each other’s sparklers from the hot end of the last one to burn out, and there were little girls running wild as they tried to throw London Lights into the air.’

He also describes life in what he refers to as the ‘corner-gangs’. That the camaraderie and solidarity of his gang ‘Sons of the Battle-axe’ meant a lot to Jack can be deduced from his writing and the politics he espoused but also in the fact that, all through his life, he held onto treasured mementos of his Heaton childhood.

The Jack Common Archive is now in the Robinson Library at Newcastle University. Amongst the novel manuscripts, correspondence with publishers and friends, family photographs and cuttings of reviews are the rules, oaths and codes relating to the Sons of the Battle-axe. Examples are displayed here with the permission of the Common family and the university.

Jack Common's 'corner-gang' codes

Jack Common’s ‘corner-gang’ codes

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Sons of the Battle-axe oath of allegiance

Many of Jack Common’s boyhood friends, such as the Ord brothers, appear in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, with their names unchanged, even if, writing thirty or forty years later, Common appears to have fictionalised some of their back stories.

School

The Chillingham Road School Jack Common attended still stands proudly today, of course. Jack didn’t look back on his schooldays with much affection, believing that working class children like him were being ‘trained for boredom’ as he put it. He conveys his negative feelings in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’:

‘There was a school bell which tolled for some five minutes in the mornings, a peculiarly flat despondent sound, not urgent, not very loud, though it carried over all the Avenues, and it always seemed as if it meant to go on forever.’

although he did have some fond memories:

‘… a class of some fifty children, more than half of them girls, I was disgusted to note. It was a very pleasant classroom though. The morning sun shone in through the wide windows over blue glass vases and painted pottery jugs holding flowers on to the yellow desks.’

But Jack’s daughter, Sally, wrote in a letter to Heaton History Group:

‘I have just looked at their website, and it comes across as such an amazing, vibrant establishment. It makes me want to be a child again and go there! So different from the place my father described that trained children in boredom – in preparation for the boring jobs they would have later’

and Jack would surely have been amazed that today’s pupils learn about and are rightly proud of their somewhat reluctant predecessor.

Winner

For all his later cynicism, Jack (or John as he was known there) Common had some notable successes while at school. He won prizes for at least two of his essays – one a citywide competition on the war-inspired theme of ‘Thrift‘. The essay itself doesn’t survive but he was proud enough of the letter inviting him to collect his prize of Government War Bonds and the newspaper coverage to keep them. They survive in the Jack Common Archive and copies will be displayed at the Chillingham pub from mid-February to mid-April 2015.

The same goes for two compositions about Jesmond Dene for which he also won prizes. Jack later referred to the florid writing style he had adopted in his teenage years and you can judge for yourself from the extracts to be displayed at the Chilli or by visiting the Jack Common Archive.

Jack Common is known for his working class Newcastle upbringing, his strong socialist beliefs and his friendship with George Orwell rather than his love of nature but a lot of his writing and especially the personal diaries in the archive show how much he cared about and knew about the natural world. He may not have acknowledged the influence of his Heaton boyhood or his education at Chillingham Road School but it’s a deep love which began in childhood and which the school log books show was shared by his head teacher, even if neither teacher nor pupil recognised it at the time.

War

Jack was ten years old at the start of the first world war. He refers to it only briefly in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, writing through a child’s eyes:

‘One Saturday morning a rumour came round that the schools were to be commandeered as temporary barracks; a second report said that the soldiers were already in. Some of us tore round to have a look. Chillingham Road School stood bare and empty, a maw gaping for Monday. We back-pedalled round a corner so as to put it out of sight again, wishing we hadn’t come. But somebody passing on a bike said that North Heaton was taken. We moved off into the territory presided over by that semi-cissy academy, hunching together in case we got raided on the way.

It was true. North Heaton School echoed to the bawls of a couple of sergeants drilling their awkward squads in the boys’ yard….’

But the descriptions of the attitudes of the adults around him are enlightening as well as entertaining. Jack Common is typically unafraid to go against the grain or to offend. He refuses to romanticise and so adds to our understanding of a particular place and an important time:

‘But I had a feeling deep down that war wouldn’t apply to my father. I couldn’t see him waving a flag and leaping over a parapet, as the wild bugles blew, straight into the enemies’ fire; I could see him sitting firmly as ever in his own chair, pointing out that the war was a lot of fat-headedness started by old grannies and bosses-on-the-make and carried on by young fools who believed what they said in the newspapers.’

‘After the customary visit to the boozer, argument waged hot and strong. Uncle George, Boer War veteran, would join up at once – only there was no one to run his greengrocery business if he did. True-blue Uncle Will was hot against the Germans; he would throw in a couple of sons against them right away – the sons, though, did not endorse this generous patriotism. Red Uncle Robin, bachelor, vegetarian and crank, saw the conflict as a power-struggle between rival groups of bosses to be boycotted by all intelligent working men. Sad Uncle Andrew thought it was one of those madnesses good men have to go into because they couldn’t stand being with the crooks and sharpers who’d stayed out. Burly, gentle Uncle Bill knew no rights or wrongs in it, he had the countryman’s view, that it was a super-thunderstorm or tremendously bad weather – ‘Thor’s ne help for it, we’ll hae t’last it oot’. ‘

His presentation of dissident voices is another reason, if we need one, to read, reread, remember and appreciate Heaton’s Jack Common.

Postscript

‘Kiddars Luck’ is currently out of print but can be obtained in a Kindle version and from second-hand bookshops, online and in libraries.

More about Jack Common

This article was written by Chris Jackson, as part of Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We would like to hear your views on anything relating to the article. You can leave them on the website by clicking on the link immediately below the title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

A related exhibition will be in the lounge bar of the Chillingham pub from 16 February to mid April 2015. It contains digital copies of documents from the Jack Common Archive at Newcastle University and Tyne & Wear Archives as well as illustrations by local artists.

The Heaton Main Colliery Disaster 1815

This year is the 200th anniversary of Newcastle’s worst ever peacetime catastrophe, often known locally as ‘The Spinney disaster’. In the first of a series of events to take place in and around Heaton over the coming year, Les Turnbull will give the fascinating historical background, tell us what happened at Heaton Main Colliery on 3rd May 1815 and in the months that followed – and he might surprise you when he explains WHERE the events unfolded.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

Les, who is a member of Heaton History Group and an acknowledged expert on the history of mining, especially in the North East, was born near the Middle Pit in 1941, educated at Tosson Terrace Primary, Chillingham Road Secondary and Heaton Grammar and now lives near the ‘C’ Pit.

The talk will take place on 29 April 2015 at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm as we are expecting a full house). It’s essential to book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. This event has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of our ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ project.

Celebration of our Mining Heritage

Les Turnbull’s book has been written to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the major disaster at Heaton Main Colliery in which 75 men and boys died. However, it covers much more than the terrible events of 1815. As the title indicates, it celebrates the importance of mining in the North East, Newcastle and Heaton, in particular, to the industrial revolution, mining safety, the development of railways and indeed to world history. It also looks at the lives of the colliers, engineers, mine owners and their families that contributed to Heaton’s mining heritage and the development of Heaton as a centre of population.

Celebration of our Mining History cover

The fully illustrated 92 page book contains many rarely seen maps and plans of Heaton. It was published by Chapman Research (ISBN 978-0-9561248-2-1) with the support of over 70 subscribers and is available, priced £15 (plus postage where required), from:

Heaton History Group – in person at our regular events

The Literary and Philosophical Society (Lit & Phil)

Newcastle City Library

Newsbox, 297 Chillingham Road, Heaton

The Back Page

North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers (Mining Institute)

The book’s publication is the first of over a year of commemorative events, supported by the Arts Council and Newcastle City Council, to take place under the banner of the Shafts of Light Festival. Check out the programme so far – and arrange events of your own which can be added to it.

In addition, a programme of talks, community research and the development of a heritage trail called ‘Heaton Beneath Our Feet’ is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you are not already on our mailing list and are interested in finding out more, please contact chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Back Close to Craigmore

Craigmore is a large red brick house on the east side of Heaton Road, number 252. It’s in the same block as Heaton Methodist Church. The current owners, Kelly and Ian Atkinson, have documents going back to the original purchase of the building plot from William Watson Armstrong, Lord Armstrong’s heir. From these deeds, mortgage applications and letters, together with trade directories, census returns and other archival material, we’ve been able to compile a short, albeit incomplete, history of the house and some of the people who’ve called it ‘home‘.

Craigmore today

Craigmore , Heaton Road today

Field on the farm

The house stands on what was, until the 1880s, Heaton Town Farm. We can even see, from estate plans held by Northumberland Archives, to what use the land which lies below the house was once put. In 1865, when William (later, Lord) Armstrong auctioned some of his estate, it was a field with the unassuming name of ‘Back Close’, used for pasture. An even older map in Newcastle City Library, the original of which can be dated to between 1756 and 1763 (the library has a copy made by John Bell in 1800), also shows Back Close. Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for the transcription below. It looks as though animals grazed on this patch of Heaton for far longer than, to date, people have lived there.

Fields of Heaton in the 18C

Fields of Heaton in the 18C.

Speculative build

But in 1901, the land was sold to a local man, Frederick Burn White. Frederick had been born in Blyth in 1871 but by this time was living with his widowed mother, Jane, at 28 Rothbury Terrace. His father, a joiner, had died while Frederick was a boy. In the 1891 census, Jane describes herself as a ‘builder’ and so presumably was managing the family business. If you walk down the back lane, you can still see the substantial outhouse in which they must have stored materials at that time. Eventually Frederick seems to have taken charge of the firm. He later married and moved to 309 Chillingham Road, and eventually died, aged 92, in Morpeth.

There were strict conditions attached to the sale of the land and the quality of the houses to be built on Heaton Road, including on Back Close: roofs were to be of ‘Bangor or Westmorland slate or roofing tiles from Ruabon or Staffordshire of uniform tint’; every home was to be ‘self-contained, that is should never be let or occupied in separate parts but… by one family only’.

Crystal balls?

In 1902, Frederick sold the newly built house to the well-to-do Robert Keith Imeary. The Imeary family had many business interests. Robert’s father was best known for his chemical works in Heworth, which manufactured ‘alkali, soda ash, crystals and bleaching powder’. At one point, it employed 77 men and 13 boys. He also manufactured lamps, owned ships and farmed 35 acres. Robert himself was born in Co Durham and lived as a young boy in Westoe with his parents, maternal grandmother (also described as a ship owner), an aunt, sister, brothers and a servant. By 1881, now 20 years old, he was living in Hexham with Sarah, an aunt on his father’s side, helping her to farm over 100 acres. When she died in 1889, it’s possible that Robert inherited a substantial sum, as Sarah died a spinster and with no children. By 1901 Robert himself was married and living in Jesmond with his wife, Margaret, her mother, their baby son, also called Robert Keith and two servants. Robert at this time described himself as a ‘gentleman (medical student)’ and was soon to buy Craigmore. The Imeary family’s stay was short, however. By 1909, the family had moved to Lancashire.

Three balls

The next occupier was the family of Frederick Charles Davison, who rented the property. Davison was the eldest son of an auctioneer and had followed in his father’s footsteps. In 1891, 23 year old Frederick was an auctioneer’s cashier, living with his parents and seven brothers and sisters in Jesmond. But a year later he married Jane Ann Slater, daughter of a pawnbroker, and, by 1901, Frederick described himself as both a pawnbroker and an employer. By 1911, he called himself ‘Master Pawnbroker’ and was living at Craigmore with his wife, and three young sons. The family business, called Slater and Davison, had several shops, including in Bamborough Street in Byker. Frederick died in Jesmond in 1939, with his address given as 18-20 and 22 Bamborough Street Byker. He had evidently done well though, leaving over £9000 in his will.

Wherries and lighters

In 1912, Robert Imeary finally sold the house to Constantine Charleton Brown. Constantine was born in 1865, the sixth and youngest child of wherry owner, Allen Brown and his wife. Allen Brown had started his working life in Howard Street, near Byker Bar, as a waterman (someone who transfers passengers or cargo across and along city rivers and estuaries – an occupation going back to medieval times). He moved to Richmond Street by his early 20s and married Isabella Stead. In the 1869-70 trade directory, Allen is described as a lighterman; a lighter being a cargo-carrying river craft. Later, perhaps a sign that the business was thriving, the growing family moved to Ridley Villas, on what is now New Bridge Street, where his neighbours were mainly manufacturers, engineers, clergymen and managers.

In 1889, Constantine married Annie Hill Gray, daughter of another steam boat owner, Edgar Gray, and they moved to Clarence Street. By 1901 they were living at 61 Heaton Park Road with their five children, Nora, Constance, Charleton, Stanley and Lesley plus a servant. By this time, Constantine described himself a steam wherry owner. The business was still called Allen Brown.

Ad for Allen Brown wherry owners

This advert appeared in the trade directories for many years

The company was still going strong well into the 1930s. Constantine died in 1933 and three years later, his daughter Constance sold the house. (Look out for our talk by Mike Greatbatch ‘Wherrymen and Chain-horse Lads‘ on our 2015-16 programme. It’s scheduled for January 2016.)

Dark ages

The new owner was Mary Hall of York, who two years later married Arthur Mason. They didn’t live at the property but rented it to a Mrs Constance E Crawford, who lived there for almost 15 years. The owners and occupiers for the next 50 years or so remain something of a mystery. We know their names: after Mrs Crawford, in 1953, came Dorothy Corbett nee Ritson; then in the 1960s, it changed hands three times, first of all to John Irving Hurst, ‘licensed victualler, formerly of the Queens Head , Cullercoats’ and his wife, Edith, and then to Mary Winifred Johnson of Pooley Bridge in Cumbria, then finally to Thomas and June Conway, formerly of Longbenton, who stayed for 20 years before selling to Alan and Elizabeth Hynd. Hopefully, we’ll add some of their stories as time goes by.

Sole trader

The current owners are Ian and Kelly Atkinson and, if we mention Ian’s middle name, generations of Geordies will know it. It’s ‘Amos’, a name which has been handed down through generations of Atkinsons, with Kelly and Ian’s son, Evan, continuing the tradition. Kelly told us that the Atkinson’s family tree goes back to Tudor times: ‘All were cobblers or tanners’, including Ian’s father, Glyn.

The first Amos Atkinson we have found in the local trade directories was born in Morpeth in 1768 and, by 1804, he was already a boot and shoemaker. His first son (1833-1902), pictured below, naturally also called Amos, gradually expanded the family business. He was running a boot and shoe manufacturers on Percy Street by 1859.

Amos Atkinson (18XX-1901)

Amos Atkinson (1832-1902)

It’s interesting to look at Amos’s immediate neighbours at that time. There were rope and hemp manufacturers, a gilder, a basket manufacturer, a saddler, a cartwright, a chimney sweeper (sic), a hay dealer and a farmer, as well as at least four other boot makers, none of whose Newcastle city centre businesses, we can be fairly sure, lasted into the late twentieth century. By 1861, Amos employed 7 men, 1 woman and a boy. Ten years later, 11 men and two boys and, by 1881, 13 men and 3 boys. He operated from a number of Newcastle addresses before opening the shop which many people will remember on Northumberland Street.

Amos Atkinson's, Northumberland Street in the 1970s

Amos Atkinson’s, Northumberland Street in the 1970s

Incidentally the ornate plaster work isn’t as old as many people imagine. It was added in 1953 to commemorate the queen’s coronation. Eventually, the company had five branches, with the Newcastle branch a familiar sight in one of Northumberland Street’s best loved buildings until the early 1990s. The Morpeth shop was the last to close, following the floods which devastated the town in 2008.

Amos Atkinson's c1900

Amos Atkinson’s, Northumberland Street c1900

The above photograph was taken around 1900 at just about the time William Watson Armstrong was selling a small parcel of his Heaton estate to Frederick Burn Wright, but the local farm hands, dairy maids and shepherd boys, who previously strolled through the field formerly known as Back Close, may, if they were lucky enough to have been shod at all, have been wearing Amos Atkinson boots decades before that.

Can you help?

If you know any more about the house or its owners and occupiers down the years, please get in touch. You can leave a comment by clicking on the link underneath the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Your house history

Also, don’t hesitate to get in touch if, like Kelly and Ian, you’d like to find out more about the history of YOUR Heaton house.