Members of Heaton History Group’s research team are always on the look-out for stories relating to our area, so when Arthur Andrews read a book called ‘Women on the March’ about early women MPs of the North East, the following paragraph, that a lesser researcher might have let pass, caught his attention:
‘When Grace Colman [Tynemouth MP 1945-50] died on 7 July, 1971, aged 79, she was mourned by many members of the North Labour Party, not to say the women of Tyneside and Northumberland. After cremation at Tynemouth crematorium, it was Peggy Murray who carried out her last request to scatter her ashes on a moor near Wooler.’
Arthur wondered who it was who had scattered her friend’s ashes and, in the hope that she would turn out to be a Heatonian with a story to tell, he set about finding out:
Margaret’s father James Malloch was born in Govan, Lanarkshire and was a marine engine fitter. In the 1901 census he was a ‘boarder’ living with a family in Benwell. By the time of the 1911 census, he was married to Alice from Longbenton, and they were living in Byker with 3 children. The eldest was Margaret (Peggy), who had been born in 1903 in Govan and she had two younger brothers, Thomas and Ronald, both born in Newcastle.
By 1931 the family had moved to Walker with just mother Alice, Margaret (Peggy), Ronald and, presumably another son, James. Father John and brother Thomas are not there.
In 1932 Peggy married Alexander Easson Murray (1907-1965) of 110 Cartington Terrace, Heaton. They had a son, Alan, born in 1937. For many years after that, the Murray family lived at 3 Marleen Avenue, which overlooks Heaton Junction rail yards (though later they moved to the West End before returning to Heaton). Arthur had his story!
Peggy became a Newcastle Councillor, representing the Moorside ward for Labour for almost 30 years, from 1952 to 1982. Tony Flynn, one time Moorside councillor and Leader of Newcastle upon Tyne City Council, described his former colleague:
“I knew Peggy Murray very well as I was a fellow Ward Councillor with her in Moorside from 1980.
When I was Chair of the Moorside Ward in 1979, we managed to get Peggy elected to the Moorside Ward so that she could become Lord Mayor in the City’s 900th anniversary year, after she had lost her seat the previous year.
I then stood for the Council in 1980 and was elected taking the seat from the Tories in the first year when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.
Peggy and I used to share weekly surgeries together, at what was then the old Snow Street School, when we used to chat for an hour in between seeing ‘punters’.
Peggy was unlike many other councillors as she never hid her personal political opinions from others, who seemed to her to be personally ambitious and had forgotten why they were on the council.
She talked extensively about her past in the women’s labour movement and in particular the history of the suffragettes.
She refused to accept councillors’ allowances saying money was not her motivation for being a councillor. She was a doughty fighter for what she believed in and upset many of her fellow Labour councillors who she thought were “In it for themselves”.
Peggy was blunt with electors. She used to bring a marked electoral role to surgeries and after agreeing to help people with their problems, confronted them with the fact that they had not voted at the previous election, when women had fought for their vote. (Or worse that they had not bothered to register to vote.)
She would say, I will help you if you promise to vote in future, preferably for her as she could only help them if she was a councillor. (Peggy continued to hold surgeries the year she was not a councillor, and therefore spoke from hard experience.)
Peggy was an avid reader and believed in self education. Even when she was Lord Mayor she still managed to walk into the Central Library every week to borrow books.
Jeremy Beecham, who was Leader of the Council at the time, would not allow Peggy to dispense with the Lord Mayor’s car during her term of office, as she did not want the trappings of office!
I suppose Peggy for a long time was my ‘mentor’and in turn would nominate me for office at the annual Labour Group meetings even though I was a novice.
When I was elected to the group executive in my first year on the council, older members disapproved of my quick elevation. Peggy would reply that they had been there all their lives and ‘had done nothing’ ‘better to give a younger person an opportunity’ before they ‘sold out’ and ‘lost their values’.
So, Peggy was a character and a ‘one off’ who had a ‘cutting-edge’ and did not mind ‘telling it’ as she saw things.”
It must have been a great privilege for Peggy Murray to be elected as Mayor by the Labour group during the Newcastle’s 900th anniversary celebrations. Her daughter-in-law, Mrs Jean Murray, was the Lady Mayoress.
Councillor Margaret Collins, who nominated Peggy, said that it was ‘a triumphant return’, after Peggy won back her seat in the Moorside ward.
She received an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law from Newcastle University for her ‘outstanding contribution to the wellbeing of Newcastle’ by serving on social services, residential and day care, education, workshops for the adult blind, health services advisory and St Mary Magdalen Trust committees as well as the Moorside Priority Team. She had been in her time Chairman of the Healthcare Committee,Welfare Committee and Libraries Committee. She was a former alderman.
The atlas below was produced by the School of Geography and Environmental Studies of Newcastle Polytechnic as a contribution to the 900th Anniversary of the city’s foundation. It contains many interesting facts, figures, maps and diagrams of the city’s development over the centuries. The atlas was printed as a limited, edition of 1000 copies, the one illustrated being number 495. This book is mentioned because the foreword was written by the Lord Mayor, Councillor, Mrs M S Murray (Peggy).
She writes that this was a daunting task for her, in trying to encapsulate ‘the many changes through the centuries, to what is now Newcastle upon Tyne’. Also noted by her is that industrial recession at the start of the 20th Century was changed to prosperity by the Great War, with women working long hours and even night shift in the factories along Scotswood Road. The women also organized a strike. She then mentions the decline in heavy industry etc and mentions Newcastle people being resilient in hard times. She finished her foreword with:
‘May we leave a pleasant city to our children in which they may live, learn, work and play in peace’.
During her year in office, Peggy:
Played host to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother;
Stitched the first stitch in a tapestry to mark Newcastle’s 900th Anniversary, now in Newcastle Civic Centre;
Welcomed home the round the world yachtsman, David Scott Cowper, with receptions on the Quayside and the Mansion House;
Attended the opening of Odeon 4 in Pilgrim Street with the launch of the film, ‘Rocky II’. A commentator said that she declared that she was not particularly fond of fight films but nevertheless performed her civic duty perfectly, without ‘throwing the towel in’;
Pressed the button on the Scottish and Newcastle bottling line for the first batch of a total of 900,000 half pint bottles of the special edition ‘Newcastle 900 Anniversary Ale’, selling for 30p. The teetotal’ mayor said that she hoped people on Tyneside would enjoy the ale ‘but not too frequently’.
Peggy Murray died in August 1987, in the Freeman Hospital, aged 84. Her home at the time of her death was Stannington Place, Heaton. Her obituary noted that she refused the £1000 gold medallion for her year in office because the council could not afford it, saying: ‘I have the memories of the kindness of the people of Newcastle which no one can replace’.
Find Out More
Our talk ‘800 Years of Newcastle Mayors’ by David Faulkner on Wednesday 23 January 2019 at the Corner House will be about the renowned individuals who have held the office down the centuries. Find out more, including how to book, here.
Can you help?
If you know more about Peggy Murray, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Tony Flynn for his time and for his memories of Peggy Murray.
‘The March of the Women’ by Tony Sleight;
Newcastle City Library;
Online sources including FindMyPast, Ancestry, British Newspaper Archive.