You may be surprised to learn that Heaton Secondary Schools were officially opened by the Right Honourable Grey of Fallodon, Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Surprised because a visit some weeks later by the King and Queen is often mistakenly referred to as the opening. Here’s what actually happened!
The schools. which had provision for 500 boys and 500 girls, were erected at a cost of £140,000 and claimed to be the most up to date and best equipped in the country. The opening ceremony on 18 September 1928 was big news and covered in newspapers from Aberdeen and Belfast to Gloucester and beyond.
The original plan, agreed before World War One, had been to build the school on 25 acres of land adjacent to Ravenswood Road but this project had to be shelved due to the war. Afterwards, a price could not be agreed with the landowner. Compulsory purchase was set in motion but eventually the council decided that this would mean unacceptably long delays so a site of equal size opposite the housing estate being built on the other side of Newton Road was negotiated.
The layout of the school was said to be reminiscent of a Cambridge college with the design of open loggias around a quadrangle.
The classrooms were ‘of the open air type, with sliding partitions along the sunny side, the north side being used for science laboratories, gymnasiums etc.’
There were two schools each with their own hall, dining room, library, labs, a commercial room, staff room and classrooms but the two halls were adjacent and so could be ‘thrown into one to form a great hall 80 feet long by 90 feet wide’. There was a craft room in the boys school and needlework and domestic science rooms in the girls’.
The first head teacher of Heaton Secondary School for Boys as it was first known was Mr F R Barnes, formerly of Barrow in Furness Secondary School for Boys. He started with a staff of 17 graduates and five specialists. Miss W M Cooper, formerly of Benwell Secondary School, had 13 graduates and four specialists working for her in the girls’ school, Heaton High School as it became known.
As for pupils, initially there would be 291 boys and 414 girls, 455 of which would be free scholarship holders. The remaining pupils were fee-paying. At the outset, their parents were charged £8 a year. The programme for the opening event announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late My J N Bell, who was elected in 1922 Member of Parliament for the east division of the city. The prize will be awarded in the boys’ and the girls’ school in alternate years.’
At the ceremony, there were prayers and songs including ‘Land of Hope and Glory‘ and Northumbrian folk song ‘The Water of Tyne’ and lots of speeches, not only Viscount Grey’s but also those of numerous local politicians, including the Lord Mayor, and presentations by the architect, H T Wright, and the contractor, Stanley Miller.
Viscount Grey is better known as the politician, Sir Edward Grey, who was Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest tenure ever. He is particularly remembered for the remark he is said to have made as he contemplated the enormity of the imminent World War One: ‘ The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.’
In his speech in Heaton, Viscount Grey, a Liberal, said ‘The ideal system would be one in which the highest, most advanced and most expensive education was devoted solely to the youthful material of the country who were most capable by their abilities to profit from it. We have not reached that point today. A great deal of the highest and most expensive education in the country is given…. to <those> whose parents are able to pay for it… but… every school like that at Heaton is bringing higher education within the reach of those whose parents cannot pay for it. This is an advance towards a better system’.
And tackling another topic which has resonance today, the former tennis champion and keen fisherman and ornithologist spoke about the variety of entertainment available to young people, reminding the audience that in his day, there ‘was no electric light, no motor cars, no telephones, no wireless and no moving pictures’. But he reminded his young audience that the things which interested people most through life were those in which they took some active personal part. ‘Take part in games, rather than be mere spectators’ he urged. ‘It will give you more pleasure than all the other entertainments that come to you without trouble.’
For any locals lucky enough to have one, the whole ceremony was actually broadcast on the wireless from 3:00pm until 4:30pm. Radio station 5NO had been broadcasting from Newcastle since 1922 and its signals could reach up to about 20 miles. With broadcasting still in its infancy, many newspaper listings came with detailed technical instructions on what to do if the signal was lost: radio was still far from being a mass medium but it was catching on fast and those early local listings make fascinating reading. You can view them here.
Just over three weeks later, 23,000 pupils from all over Newcastle were invited to Heaton for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the school before the royal couple went on to open the new Tyne Bridge. And it’s this historic event which many people assume to have been the official opening. It was certainly a momentous occasion – and an excuse for more speeches!
‘Their majesties will drive round the school grounds where 23,000 children of the city will be assembled and on entering the school hall, the loyal address from the City of Newcastle will be presented by the Lord Mayor. Numerous public representatives will be presented to their Majesties, who will be asked to receive gifts from scholars.’
There were also displays of physical drills and country dancing by pupils.
Every school pupil present was given a commemorative booklet which included a photograph of the new school at the back but which was mainly about the opening of the new bridge.
‘To the boys and girls for whom these words are written, who have just begun their passage on the bridge of life, and who will go to and fro on the bridges of the Tyne, there is the lofty call to carry forward to future generations the progress which has brought them their own proud inheritance.’
A bouquet was said to have been presented to the Queen by the head girl and a book to the King by the head boy.
This made a lifelong impression on pupil Olive Renwick (nee Topping), who was 12 years old at the time, but at the age of 98 recalled;
We were all gathered in the hall and Miss Cooper, the head teacher, told us that the queen would be presented with a “bookie”. What on earth’s a bookie, I wondered. Only later did I realise she meant a bouquet!’
Again the event was broadcast on the wireless. A full day’s programming began at 10:50am with the ‘Arrival of the royal party at Heaton Secondary Schools’. And the excitement of arrival of the king and queen’s carriage pulled by four white ponies in front of thousands of handkerchief waving school children (along with hair raising footage of workers on the still incomplete Tyne Bridge) was captured on film by Pathe News.
And it shows a girl presenting a book (rather than ‘a bookie’) to the royal party. A last minute change of plan or an extra for the cameras?
After World War 2, the boys’ schools was renamed Heaton Grammar School and the girls’ Heaton High School. The two schools merged in September 1967 to form Heaton Comprehensive School. In 1983, this school merged with Manor Park School on Benton Road to form Heaton Manor. And in 2004, after the building of the new school on the Jesmond Park site, the Benton Park site closed to make way for housing.
The next instalment of ninety years of school history will have to wait for another day.
Can You Help?
If you have memories or photos of any of the above schools or know more about notable teachers or pupils, we’d love to hear from you. Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email email@example.com
Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Brian Hedley for a copy of the official opening programme and the family of Olive Renwick for the souvenir of the royal visit. Thank you also to Muriel La Tour (nee Abernethy) for correcting the subsequent names of the schools.
British Newspaper Archives
Heaton Secondary Schools: official opening Sept 18th 1928 programme
Visit of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary, October 1928 (souvenir booklet)
Miscellaneous online sources
After WWII Heaton Secondary Schools were renamed Heaton High School (for the girls) and Heaton Grammar School (for the boys). I attended HHS from 1946 – 1951. It retained this name until September 5th 1967 when the two schools were renamed under the banner Heaton Comprehensive School (not Heaton Secondary School as quoted in the article).
One pupil I remember from HGS was Alan Lillington who ran for Great Britain in the Olympics in Helsinki and clocked a time of 9.9 sec for the 100 yards, slow by today’s standards, perhaps, but a great time then.
Thank you, Muriel. I’ve corrected the names of the schools.
And thank you too for telling us about Alan Lillington. Another Olympian we know of was former head of Heaton Grammar who represented Great Britain at long jump in the 1948 Olympics. Any more celebrated pupils or teachers, anyone?
Elliott C Stuart and Derek Talbot who played International Badminton.
What a great piece!
I was at Heaton High from 1964 to 69 and am still in touch with a couple of classmates. I have my old school report and a couple of magazines and school photographs. I am still in touch with our old biology teacher Freda Crabtree on Facebook. Am happy to talk to anyone with memories, and to share the photos etc that I have (I will need to dig them out! )
V best, and thanks!
Wasn’t Keith Parker at Heaton Grammar?
Thanks to Keith Fisher for the following links to Alumni sites for the 2 schools:
I’m a bit confused here – although it may be because I didn’t do the ‘eighties here in the UK – as I was under the impression that Manor Park School was on Benton Road… not Benfield Road. Did something change while I wasn’t looking? Or was it just a typo?
On a different note entirely: the girl’s school would empty at 12 and 4 o’clock, while the boy’s didn’t escape until ten minutes later; just in case we might fraternise (I think that’s the word for it.). Considering we boys were never allowed to use the Newton Road entrance anyway, it was a good fifteen minutes later when we got around the block; consequently, propriety was maintained: this was the ’60s after all. Of course, with Jesmond Dene and Armstrong Park on our doorstep, a sneaky Embassy in the bushes while the boys caught up was par for the course, or so I’m told – of course.
Even after the schools amalgamated it was only new arrivals that were put into mixed classes; we existing students remained segregated. By then my musical career was well under-way, so school attendance was sporadic I’m afraid, and pastures-new were not so hermetically cloistered.
Sorry! We were mixing up our Bens.
And thank you for those extra details that you don’t find in the books or newspapers. Didn’t know it was the tradesman’s entrance for you boys!
You are right, Keith, re the entrances. One girl I was in my class at Heaton High lived almost directly opposite the entrance to the boys school on Jesmond Park West but regardless of weather had to walk all the way down that street and up Newton Road to go to school!
Hi Muriel. The alternative was to walk along Southlands, which was a long street that got longer and longer every time you walked it. I always felt that if the bell-times were staggered then at least let us use both entrances. Our busses were on Newton Road (the number 19 springs to mind, as I would occasionally use it) but by the time we walked Southlands, we may as well have gone down Jesmond Park West to the Corner House and saved two extra stops. Oh, the joys of Victorian bureaucracy: I thought it would never end.
Apropos of Heaton busses (there’s a topic to explore): the number 1 bus figured so prominently in my life that it has been written indelibly into the annals of history, as I would use that service in both directions to so many different destinations. I was overjoyed to discover that not only does it still ply the same route, but it has been extended and now travels up to the Four Lane Ends. I parked up there recently and took the bus all the way to its destination (for the first time ever) and back again (sitting upstairs of course) trying to remember what was where when it was but was now something alien. I’m getting too old: I need to stretch my horizons – at least beyond the Four Lane Ends and Slatyford!
Keith, too old???? A mere child! Wait until you are 83 like me and THAT is old!!!!😂
Yes, you’re right! The number one is definitely a topic we need to explore.
The number One now travels to Cobalt Business Park from the Four Lane Ends; when it is ever going to stop?
By email :
my aunt tells me that we were in the Air Raid Shelter in Goswick Avenue when came down and landed on the caretaker’s cottage at the school and killed the caretaker’s wife. Although living in Oxford I seemed to spend quite a lot of time with my maternal grandparents, not quite sure why.
I’ve got more information on the school as my mother was transferred from Rutherford when it opened; she was 15 and was in the gym display for the King and Queen. My aunt, still living in a care home in Jesmond, went to the school in September 1939 and was immediately evacuated to Kendal. She has some pictures of those days.
There were 5 Mitchells of my mother’s generation at the schools and 4 of my cousins in the 70s. We have a brick or two I think.
Your history society looks wonderfully active.
My mother also went to Heaton high school and was evacuated in 1939 . We have no photos or anything but her memories of those days unfortunately.
My mother, Gladys Ridsdale( maiden name) too, was evacuated to Kendal. In 1939 she was sent straight to Kendal at the age of 14. She was with her friend Margery. They attended Heaton secondary school.
We have no photos of her then but I know she’d love any information anyone has of that time. She is now a frail 95 year old, in a care home, in lockdown, but still chats to the carers about her wartime experiences.
MyMother Mary Margaret Aline Pearson and her best friend Vera Jeakins attended school in Heaton in 1930s. Does anyone recognise their names?