In the mid to late nineteenth century, as Newcastle prospered and grew, the township of Heaton spread eastwards and northwards so some of the earliest streets to take shape were the ‘Shakespeare Streets’ in south west Heaton: among them the particularly desirable terrace of Stratford Grove, with its long front gardens leading onto a narrow walkway, with the only access for horses, carts, carriages and those new fangled bicycles round the back. An additional attraction was the grove’s westerly aspect across the Ouseburn and beautiful Jesmond Vale.
It’s not surprising then that among the first occupants were some high status professionals, Thomas Oliver Mawson, a chemist; A Bolton, a physician; A Stephens, a tea importer and J H Shillito, a civil engineer. Stratford Grove was a very ‘respectable’ street indeed.
Slow boat to Heaton
As he spent his first evening by the fireside of number 11, Joseph Rose must have felt happy with his lot and very proud, particularly when he considered how far he’d come. For Joseph had been born around a quarter of a century earlier in what he knew as ‘Kurland’, a province of what we now know as Latvia but which was then part of Russia.
We don’t know exactly when Joseph set out on what would have been an arduous sea journey. Did he come as a young adult or earlier with his parents? And what motivated him or the family? Were they simply economic migrants, tempted by seamens’ stories of the lifestyle to be had in an unknown industrial city in the distant north of England? There were long established trade routes between Newcastle and the Baltic ports so people in Kurland could have heard about the city’s recent expansion and known that ships, which took coal east, would readily take passengers home with them.
But perhaps too, they were refugees because his name suggests that Joseph was of Jewish background. And Jews had a difficult time in Russia in the mid to late nineteenth century. There were severe restrictions on where they could live and how they could earn a living. As the populations grew in the small towns and villages in which they were allowed to live (‘shtetls’), they became overcrowded and living standards declined. Many left, fearing the situation would worsen, which it did from 1881 when Russian Jews were terrorised and massacred in what was known as the ‘First Pogrom’.
In the main, early Jewish migrants stuck together. This meant they had the support of neighbours who spoke their languages (Jews from Kurland mostly spoke German rather than Russian, Yiddish or Hebrew) and shared their customs. They also wanted easy access to a synagogue. In nineteenth century Newcastle, this meant living in the centre or to the west of Newcastle, close to the synagogues which had been established firstly in Temple Street and then Charlotte Square and, in 1879, in Albion Street near the new Leazes Park. Jews also usually married each other.
But Joseph was different. By 1881, aged 24, he had married a Newcastle girl, 20 year old, Margaret Kirk. Their marriage certificate cites both of their religions as ‘Church of England’. And the young couple’s first home was in Gateshead. Nowadays, Gateshead is known for its large Jewish community but back then that was not the case. Jews had lived in Newcastle for at least 50 years (and anecdotally over a century) but the first known Jewish inhabitant of Gateshead was in 1879, just two years before we know Joseph and Margaret to have been living there. The couple may have felt outsiders in both the Jewish and the indigenous, mainly Christian, community.
And yet, Joseph was a slipper maker, a business area dominated in Newcastle by Jews. Many occupations were closed to them in Kurland and so traditionally Jews were self-employed as tailors, button makers, roofers or, like young Joseph, a shoe or slipper maker. And when they arrived in Newcastle, these were the obvious trades at which to try their luck.
By 1883, we know that the newly-weds had moved to Newcastle. They lived in Rosedale Terrace and Joseph had a workshop in Richmond Place. By 1887, he had done well enough to move his growing family, wife Margaret, five year old Frederick, three year old Henry, and one year old Lilian with another baby Joseph junior on the way, to a brand new property on Stratford Grove, a sizeable house with a garden and a view.
Fighting for Britain
And he must have made good slippers because Joseph’s firm had staying power. By 1900, it had moved to premises in Union Road, Byker and by 1911, it was in Albion Buildings, St James Street off Strawberry Place. His two eldest sons, Fredrick and Henry, had followed him into the family business. Third born, Joseph junior, however, had moved away from this traditional Jewish occupation. He was a ‘bioscope operator’ at Carnegie Hall in Workington (Bioscopes were early films, usually incorporated into music hall shows).
By this time, with the children grown up and both Henry and Joseph married and living away from home, the couple had moved around the corner to a smaller property at 65 Warwick Street.
A few years later, we know that son Henry served Britain in World War 1. He was still a slipper manufacturer, married since 1909 to Elizabeth McLellan, and had already experienced tragedy when his four year old daughter, Margaret Ellen, had died of pneumonia. Happily, after serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers in Italy, Henry survived the war and was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He returned to his wife, Elizabeth and son, Duncan McLellan, and resumed the running of the slipper business. The firm was still operating in 1928.
But what of the Roses’ neighbours in the newly built houses on Stratford Grove? Were they all born and bred in Newcastle? Not at all. Two doors down at number 13 lived Charles Gustav Felix Thurm, a ‘moss litter importer’, who had been born in Glauchan, Saxony around 1852. He was naturalised as a British citizen in April 1895, his application approved by the then Secretary of State at the Home Office, Herbert Henry Asquith. Sadly Felix, as he was known, died less than a year later.
And at number 25 lived Jens Thomsen Bondersen and his wife, Martha, both Danes, with their young daughter, Ellen, and a Danish servant, Alice Tranagaard. Jens was a ‘telegraph mechanician’.
Next door to the Roses the other way lived Oscar Constantine Kale Koch, a detective, who had recently been a bandsman on HMS Britannia and who later rose to the position of Police Superintendent. Oscar had been born in London in 1858 to Charles, a musician, and his wife, Augusta, both born in Germany.
By 1901, the Thurms’ old house was occupied by Gerald Barry, an Irishman, and his family. Gerald worked for HM Customs. A number of Scots lived on the grove at this time too.
Ten years later, we find a John Jacob Berentsen, an Ordnance Engineer from Bergen in Norway, living at number seven and working at Armstrong’s works in Elswick., where we know he had been since at least 1892 as his success in first aid classes was reported in the local press. His wife, Jane, was a local girl.
So, one short row of 26 houses demonstrates that the present day cosmopolitan character of Heaton is nothing new. Despite having to endure some difficult times, migrants to Britain have been integrating and contributing to local life for more than 130 years. They are a big part of what makes Heaton.
Can you help?
If you know more about Joseph Rose and his family or any of the former residents of Stratford Grove or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like 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 email@example.com
‘The Jewish Communities of North East England’ / by Lewis Olsover; Ashley Mark, 1980
‘They Docked at Newcastle and Wound Up in Gateshead’ / by Millie Donbrow; Portcullis Press (Gateshead Libraries and Arts Service), 1988
and a wide range of other sources, including Ancestry UK and British Newspaper Archives.
Researched and written by Chris Jackson for Heaton History Group’s Historic England funded ‘Shakespeare Streets’ project in which we are working with Hotspur and Chillingham Road Primary Schools to explore both Heaton’s theatrical heritage and the people of the streets named in William Shakespeare’s honour.