An exile remembers: Part 3 – changes

Heaton History Group is often contacted by people who used to live in the neighbourhood and have vivid and usually fond recollections. We love to hear their memories. ‘RS’ still returns to Heaton from time to time. Here is the third instalments of his thoughts.

‘And so I cross the road to the south side of Rothbury Terrace, and continue my westward walk to the parks, now becoming steadily more visible ahead. As I do so, I absent-mindedly reflect on two obvious changes in the demography of this area which, for the sake of convenience, will be referred to as central Heaton. Neither of the changes are regarded here as being necessarily good or bad in themselves, but noticeable and interesting changes they most definitely are.

The first is the clear establishment of so much student accommodation in central Heaton, including my own 1960s home on Simonside Terrace (see part 1). I recall none of this at all half a century ago, although I suppose there must have been some, somewhere in this area, even then; however, there was certainly nothing on the scale that there is now. I suspect that the rising student population has been a steadily growing phenomenon over the last few decades, rather than being the result of any single event or cause.

But I do know something more definite about the other demographic change that cannot be missed around here. In the early 1960s central Heaton was an overwhelmingly white area, and although the statistic in question was most unlikely to have been 100%, equally probably it was not far off that figure. Certainly, in my first few years at Ravenswood, I can recall no ethnic minority pupils whatsoever. Until things began to change.

And – in central Heaton, at least – they began to change here, on Rothbury Terrace. I can’t give an exact date, but let’s say around 1963-4. That was when the first Pakistani-Muslim family moved into this street, and the two (possibly three) children began to attend at Ravenswood. There was a boy in the year above me, and another in the year below. (There may have been a younger sister – my memory fails me on that point.)

The oldest boy was called Anjem. He and I soon became good friends. He and his brother were great lads, and thankfully and happily there were no problems of racial tension at Ravenswood – or, as far as I recall, anywhere else in Heaton – of the sort that were being experienced and reported in other parts of the country at that time.

As the ’60s progressed and were superseded by the ’70s, an interesting phenomenon could increasingly be observed. The Pakistani-Muslim population of central Heaton began steadily to grow; and the residential focus of this expansion was located here, on this stretch of Rothbury Terrace, between Chillingham Road and Heaton Road. Perhaps initially related to Anjem’s family, but then probably with the establishment of further familial linkages, the population of this particular ethnic minority began to grow, very noticeably decade by decade – albeit fairly gradually on a year to year basis – in this very precise area of central Heaton, before then spreading further afield.

But as I approach Heaton Road, on this particular day, there is hardly anyone, of any ethnicity, to be seen; and anyway, there’s no reason to think that the particular demographic change that began to occur here all those years ago would still be in evidence now. After all, people move on and move away: indeed, just like I did.

So, finally reaching the junction of Rothbury Terrace and Heaton Road, I look along to my left. Too far to be seen from here, I nevertheless recall Heaton Presbyterian Church (just past the Co-op) where I was a member of the Lifeboys and – when older – the Boys’ Brigade. I remember too, our regular, traffic-stopping Sunday morning parades when, dressed in our navy blue uniforms, and with drums a-beating and bugles a-blowing, we ensured that quiet Sunday morning lie-ins for the late-slumbering residents of the streets on our route became something of a practical impossibility. It’s difficult to imagine that such events still occur today; indeed, on reflection, it’s a bit of a wonder that they were actually allowed even then. And do those local Lifeboys and Boys’ Brigade units still even exist? Maybe not as – the last time I drove past – there certainly wasn’t much left standing of the Presbyterian church itself. Possibly demolished by a team of sleepy, hungover and rather fed up Geordies, still in their pyjamas.

Then I turn to my right and gaze in the direction of St. Gabriel’s. This, in fact, was our family church, and where I was confirm … but crikey! What’s that? Across the road, on the other side of Rothbury Terrace. Used to be a doctors’ surgery, back in the day. Clearly it’s something else now; an entirely new building is standing there. It’s the ‘Heaton Mosque and Islamic Centre’. A bit of a surprise. An outpost of Islam … here in Heaton.

Of course, if you are a resident of any part of Heaton, but especially of this central area, you probably knew about the existence of this building already; however, you may not have known how or why it came to be located here, of all places, on this corner of Heaton Road and Rothbury Terrace. Perhaps my ramblings have afforded a little insight in that regard. It’s here because when Islam first came to Heaton, all those years ago, it first came to Rothbury Terrace, in the form of Anjem and his family, and all those who came after them. And from that small seed it clearly took root, and flourished.

But across the road, Armstrong Park now beckons. So it’s time to see what changes may lie in wait for me there …’

What do you remember?

We’d love to hear your memories and see photos of anyone who has lived, studied, worked or played in Heaton. Either leave your comments below the heading of this article or email Chris Jackson, Secretary, Heaton History Group.

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