Author Archives: oldheaton

Ghostly and Grisly Tales on the Tyne

Wednesday 26 January 2022 7.30pm

Live talk at Heaton Baptist Church Open for Member and Non Member Booking

Newcastle is rich in history and has endured many turbulent times. Some people died an unexpected and violent death resulting in the murderers being hanged in Gallows Hole or outside the West Gate.  Our January talk takes a look at some local murders in times past and some of the murders which we read about in novels.

Jane Jamieson, the last woman hanged on the Town Moor

Our January speaker Pat Lowery was born and educated in Sunderland. She is a Blue Badge Tourist Guide and one of the leading members of the Newcastle City Guides. She is also a member of the Lit & Phil for which she  organises tours of the building. Pat has a range of special interests  across local history in the north-east ranging from the castles and churches to the coast and countryside. Murder, mystery and ghosts often feature in her talks on these topics.

Booking and Venue

The event will take place on Wednesday 26 January at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.

We will be using the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park.

The nearest bus stop is the Number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops at the Corner House.

The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.

The doors open at 7.00pm.  All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154

Arrangements

There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has very high ceilings and  good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee will be available for £1 per cup.

The church still asks everyone to wear masks as a precaution against Covid so we would ask everyone to respect that. 

We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.

The Real Dad’s Army

Wednesday 8 December 2021 7.30pm Open for member and Non-member booking

Dad’s Army’ does contain a great deal of truth: the muddling amateurishness, chronic shortages of weapons and equipment, Heath Robinson hardware and wide divergence of personal backgrounds all strike a factual chord. But the Home Guard remains affectionately risible because it was never tested.

Those who fought alongside workers’ militias in Spain had witnessed a very different reality. In the event of an actual German invasion, the volunteers of 1940 would have been expected to fight and almost certainly they would. A memorable scene from the TV series features Mannering’s ill-assorted heroes manning a makeshift barricade, doling out their few shotgun cartridges and awaiting German tanks. Obviously, these never came; had they done so the results would have been swift, brutal and anything but comic.

Our December speaker, John Sadler, is a military historian who was educated locally at George Stephenson High School. His special interest is the Anglo-Scottish Border conflicts during the middle ages and you may remember his 2019 talk to Heaton History Group on the history of the border reivers. He is a regular contributor to military and historical journals and has also published a number of books as well as having a regular column in the ‘Journal’. He organises battlefield tours and is very involved in living history through the Time Bandits drama group. 

Booking and Venue 

The event will take place on Wednesday 8 December at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.

We will be using the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park.

The nearest bus stop is the Number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops at the Corner House.

The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.

The doors open at 7.00pm.  All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154

Arrangements

There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has very high ceilings and  good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee will be available for £1 per cup.

The church still asks everyone to wear masks as a precaution against Covid so we would ask everyone to respect that. 

We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.This entry was posted in Research on  by oldheaton.

Harry Hotspur’s Big Night Out: the Battle of Otterburn

Wednesday 23 February 7.30pm at Heaton Baptist Church Open for Member Booking

Our February talk is about the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, the dramatic border reiver battle of Chevy Chase and the part played by one of Northumbria’s most dashing sons, Harry Hotspur as he took on his Scottish rival, the Earl of Douglas in what became the stuff of legend.

Harry Hotspur

Harry Hotspur, Shrewsbury

Our speaker

Michael Thomson is an artist and historian and, since moving to Northumberland almost 10 years ago following 20 years working in the heritage industry, he has been  exploring the history of the North.

Booking and Venue

The event will take place on Wednesday 23 February 2022 at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.

We will be using the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park.

The nearest bus stop is the Number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops at the Corner House.

The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.

The doors open at 7.00pm.  All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154

Arrangements

There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has very high ceilings and  good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee will be available for £1 per cup.

The church still asks everyone to wear masks as a precaution against Covid so we would ask everyone to respect that.

We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.

North East Singers 1911 World Tour

Wednesday 24 November 7.30pm

(Live talk at Heaton Baptist Church – Open for Member and Non Member Booking)

Can you imagine being given the opportunity to tour the world for six months, all expenses paid? You’d have to sing for your supper, so to speak. In fact over your time away, you will have sung at 134 concerts on 3 continents, in 55 towns and cities and travelled about 33,000 miles. Over a hundred years ago, for a mostly northern choir, which included 33 talented singers from the north-east, six of them from Heaton, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. 

The choir in Durban

We have written a little bit about the Heaton members on the tour here but 

Caroline Roberts will use memorabilia, photographs and diaries to illustrate much more of the story from a Geordie perspective. 

Caroline, born and bred in the north-east, has always had an interest in local and family history, encouraged by her parents, long-standing Heaton History Group members, Joyce and Paul Craggs.

After graduating in photography, Caroline worked in Swindon for the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments of England (now Historic England Archive) as a photographer, then picture editor for ten years. She returned north to become a photographer and digitiser of archives at Durham University’s Palace Green Archive. She now lives in rural Co Durham with her husband, Dave. 

Booking and Venue

The event will take place on Wednesday 24 November at Heaton Baptist Church, Heaton Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5HN at 7.30pm.

We will be using the Mundella Terrace entrance. There is on street parking nearby and a car park about five minutes walk away off Jesmond Vale Lane in Heaton Park.

The nearest bus stop is the Number 1 on Second Avenue near the junction with Seventh Avenue. From there it’s a two minute walk to the church. It is about a twelve minute walk from the Coast Road bus stops at the Corner House.

The closest Metro station is Chillingham Road, about twelve minutes walk away.

The doors open at 7.00pm.  All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154

Arrangements

There is ample room for social distancing at Heaton Baptist Church. The building has very high ceilings and  good ventilation. There is even a gallery in which anyone who would prefer to be further apart can sit. Tea and coffee will be available for £1 per cup.

The church still asks everyone to wear masks as a precaution against Covid so we would ask everyone to respect that. 

We look forward to seeing old friends and welcoming new members and visitors.

Elsie Tu: Geordie champion of the poor

She was awarded the prestigious pan-Asian honour, the Ramon Magsaysay Award,  for ‘Outstanding Contribution in Government Service’  in 1976, one of the very few non-Asians to have been honoured in this way; in 1977, she received a CBE in Britain for her work against corruption; she was voted the most popular politician in Hong Kong in 1994 and, in 1997, was presented with Hong Kong’s highest honour, the Grand Bauhinia Medal in the first year it was awarded.

Elsie Tu née Hume

She campaigned tirelessly against corruption wherever she encountered it and worked with and for the under-privileged for more than five decades. Hong Kong’s three most senior politicians were pall bearers at her funeral and yet, in Newcastle, the city of her birth, and even in Heaton and High Heaton, where she lived and went to school within living memory, hardly anyone recognises her name or her face.

Early years

Elsie Hume was the second child of John and Florence Hume. In 1911, John and Florence, both aged 25 and married for just over a year, were living with John’s two brothers and two sisters at 12 Sutton Street, Walkergate (across Shields Road from where Lidl is now). John had been orphaned aged 11 and his older sister, Janet, brought up her siblings. At this time, John described himself as a grocer’s assistant and he and his young wife already had a young baby girl, Ethel. 

Elsie was born in the house just over two years later on 2 June 1913 but said she had no memory of it because very shortly afterwards, ‘Auntie Janet’ and the extended family moved to 29 Chillingham Road. ‘All my earliest memories centre on that gloomy flat, where for about seven years we occupied the front room.’ Janet Hume lived in the flat until it was demolished in 1975.

Elsie Hume (right) with older sister, Ethel

By the time Elsie was born, her father was working as a tram conductor but the following year, he, like so many of his generation, joined the army. Elsie said that, until she was five years old, she knew nothing of him except his name. But John Hume’s experiences during this period, during which he was gassed, had a profound effect upon him and indirectly upon Elsie. He developed an intense dislike of war and a compassion for all humans.  Elsie said that, in turn, her left-leaning world-view was influenced by him. She recalled much later that when her father was encouraging her to make the most of her opportunities at school, it was not for the advantages that would give her in terms of her own career but rather he emphasised the many more ways to serve the poor that would be open to her. She enjoyed discussing and arguing about politics with her father and brother from an early age and said that her father’s ambition for her was to become an MP and fight for workers’ rights.

Schooldays

The family moved many times when Elsie was young and she attended several different schools including North View School in Heaton, Walkergate and Welbeck Road and, less happily, West Jesmond. Here she felt she was looked down on by both teachers and other pupils because she lived in the poor neighbourhood of Shieldfield at the time. In future years, she remembered how she had felt and said this influenced her behaviour towards others.

On the whole though, Elsie loved learning and was offered a place at Benwell Secondary School, where she spent three years, before her family became the first tenants of 8 Holystone Crescent on the newly built High Heaton council estate and she transferred to the recently opened Heaton Secondary Schools.

King and Queen open Heaton Secondary Schools, 1928
The King and Queen at Heaton Secondary Schools just after they opened in 1928

Elsie was able to shine there and was in the first cohort to matriculate, obtaining the best results in the school, along with a special history prize. This was a prize fittingly donated by Heaton social campaigner, Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell.

The programme for the school opening ceremony had announced that ‘Mrs Harrison Bell has very kindly endowed a history prize in memory of her husband, the late Mr 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.’

Elsie also loved sport. She won ‘school colours in gymnastics, sports, lacrosse, rounders and netball’ and wrote in her autobiography about how her father, brother and herself were ‘mad about football’, and how all her life she was a passionate supporter of Newcastle United. 

Trial 

In January 1930, however, a shocking event took place in the family home, which was witnessed by 16 year old Elsie.  Elsie’s brother in law, Leslie Aynsley, who had been living with the Humes since he married her older sister, Ethel, just a couple of months previously, attacked his young wife with a hammer one breakfast time and when John, her father, tried to intervene, he too was struck. It was Elsie who was next on the scene and summoned help. Aynsley said that he didn’t know what had come over him. Ten days later both Ethel and her father were still in hospital with severe head injuries.

 At Aynsley’s trial, much was made in the press of the fact that the trial judge was Mrs Helena Normanton. She was the first women to take advantage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and join an institution of the legal profession and the second woman to be called to the bar. As such, even in the circumstances in which they came face to face, she might have been another inspiration to young Elsie, who gave evidence to the court that Aynsley looked ‘old and grey’.

Ethel Hume refused to testify against her husband and, under Normanton’s guidance, the jury sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment with the proviso that if he became insane during his time in jail, he could be removed to a lunatic asylum. Most of the press coverage, however, centred upon the judge’s appearance and novelty value, something that is alluded to in a recent biography of her.

The Humes continued to live at 8 Holystone Crescent for at least three years after this traumatic event but then moved to various other addresses in Heaton, including, from 1935-37, 64 Balmoral Terrace; 1938, 20 Cheltenham Terrace and, from 1939, 26 Balmoral Terrace.

University

But Elsie was now ready to spread her wings,

She left school with a treasured testimonial from Miss Cooper, headmistress of Heaton Secondary Schools’ girls’ school, which read:

Elsie Hume was always an exceptionally high-principled and conscientious student and was also a very keen athlete. She was Captain of the First Lacrosse and First Rounders Teams, and School Sports Captain in 1932. Elsie was always most public-spirited and energetic.’

Elsie (top left), Armstrong College netball team

Elsie* wrote later that she was inclined to join the civil service so that she could immediately start to earn money and to repay her family for the sacrifices they had made. Miss Cooper had other ideas and had not only decided she was university material but had persuaded Elsie’s parents too. Elsie went to Durham University’s Armstrong College (later Newcastle University), which she walked to every day from Heaton. She studied English and history and trained to be a teacher not, she later said, because she had a burning ambition to work in education but because she believed it was the only profession open to a girl from a poor background like hers, without the means to pay for further study.

It was at university that Elsie, to the surprise and even disappointment of her family, became a ‘born again Christian’ and then joined the Plymouth Brethren. She became clear about her future: she would teach for a few years to pay back her parents and those who had given her an education, then she would become a missionary and ‘spread my new-found happiness to others’.

Despite having to take a year off her studies when she nearly died following an operation for a gynaecological condition which eventually meant that she couldn’t have children, Elsie graduated in 1937 (and was in 1976 to be awarded an honorary doctorate in Civil Law jointly by the universities of Durham and Newcastle).

She had to look beyond Newcastle for a job teaching English and history and found one in an elementary school in Halifax, taking her away from home for the first time. She returned to Newcastle when war broke out.

Wartime

Back home in Heaton, Elsie found a job teaching in Prudhoe and, when not working, she volunteered in civil defence. Her autobiography contains an emotional account of 25-26 April 1941 when 46 people were killed when high explosive devices and a parachute bomb exploded in the area of Heaton around Guildford Place and Cheltenham Terrace. The house (20 Cheltenham Terrace) where the Humes had lived only a couple of years before was badly damaged by the first bomb and two people who lived there were seriously injured.

Less than two weeks before, it had been announced in the newspapers that Elsie had successfully completed a certificate in home nursing and on this night, her newly acquired skills were used to the full. She helped a man who has been hurt by flying debris ‘His head had been split open on one side and his eyes were filled with pieces of glass’ and was about to walk him home.

Elsie spoke of meeting two brothers, fellow air raid wardens. They warned her and the injured man to return to an underground shelter as they believed more bombs would fall. The lenses had been blown out of the glasses of one of the brothers and they told her that their home had been hit. She later discovered that both of them were killed by a second bomb. They were almost certainly the Shaw brothers, Thomas and William, whose story has already been written about on this website by Ian Clough. Elsie also recalled the panic at a nearby dance hall (the one above the Co-op?) where her sister was caught in a stampede down the stairs, after the lights had gone out and the premises had been filled with soot and dust. 

Elsie said that the impact of that night would never leave her and she spoke scathingly about politicians who approved the bombing of foreign parts and the killing of innocent people when they ‘have never known what it’s like to be on the receiving end’.

Later in the war, Elsie took up a post at Todd’s Nook School and then accompanied Newcastle schoolchildren who had been evacuated to Great Corby in Cumberland, a period of her early life which she remembered with great affection. 

Marriage

During this time, Elsie received a surprise marriage proposal from Bill Elliott, one of the Plymouth Brethren she had known in Halifax. He told her that he intended to go to China as a missionary, something he knew she was interested in. Elsie had grave doubts about his fundamentalist religious beliefs and rejected his offer. Two years later, he repeated it, telling her that he would become more liberal and, this time, Elsie, despite knowing that she was not in love with him, accepted his proposal. The couple were married in 1945, after which they lived and worked in Hull.

She soon realised that she had made a mistake. She found that, simply because she was a woman, she wasn’t allowed to take part in decision making or have an independent life outside work and she was restricted to friendships with those of the same faith and attitudes. 

Nevertheless, in December 1947, the couple set off by boat to Shanghai and then travelled on to Nanchang in Jiangxi province where they were to stay for three years.  Elsie soon became disillusioned with the racist and colonialist attitudes she believed the Christian groups in China exhibited but she enjoyed learning Mandarin and became interested in the country and its people.

However, when war broke out in Korea, the political situation in China became tense and missionaries were advised to leave. Elsie and Bill travelled to Hong Kong with the intention of moving on to Borneo. They found temporary accommodation in a small village near the airport called Kai Tek New Village, where their closest neighbours were refugees from Swatow (Shantou, China) living in a squatter village. She saw the many privations suffered by the people there, with skilled women working twelve hours a day doing embroidery for a pittance and their sick, ill-fed children packing matches or biscuits to enable their families to survive. 

She and Bill set up a home clinic, using Elsie’s smattering of Chinese and the basic first aid she’d learnt as an air raid warden in Heaton. She, Bill and a Chinese colleague, Andrew Tu, also set up a school but Elsie was becoming unhappier still in her marriage and disillusioned with missionary life, which she now described as ‘arrogant racism’. She left the church and, when she returned to Hong Kong after a short break in Britain, her husband did not go back with her. 

Elsie rented rooms in another squatter area while running a school for deprived children. At this time, she lived a extremely frugal lifestyle, taking on private teaching to subsidise the school while living in a small hut on the school site, spending and even eating as little as possible to enable the school to survive. It was during this time that she began to encounter corruption among the British police force and government and noted how British residents were treated much more favourably than the Chinese, particularly poor Chinese, and she began to help them in their dealings with the authorities. 

Politics

In 1963, by which time Elsie and Andrew Tu had opened another three non-profit making schools at a time when there was still no universal free education in Hong Kong, Elsie was approached by the Reform Club, a quasi-political party loosely aligned with the British Liberal party, to stand for election to the Urban Council. It campaigned for a more democratic and just system of colonial government, causes close to her heart. This was a time when only rate-payers, property owners and certain professionals had the right to vote and, even then, they had a vote only for the Urban Council, which had comparatively few powers. The Legislative Council, the law-making body ‘offered no elected seats and was dominated by British officials and rich businessmen’. Elsie was elected to the council, fulfilling at the age of 51 her father’s ambition for her to become a politician. 

Although the position on the council did not come with a salary, Elsie gave up her paid teaching. She continued to work at the school she ran with Andrew Tu by organising her timetable around the demands of the council and accepting only the bare minimum salary she needed to survive. It was only in the 1970s when councillors started to receive an allowance and government-subsidised free education was made available to all, that Elsie began to live more comfortably.

 After her first term representing the Reform Club, Elsie successfully stood as an independent for 32 years. She fought the widespread corruption by pointing it out wherever she encountered it, to the departments concerned, the governor, the British government or the press. She later recalled how she wrote her first letter to a newspaper on the subject of free trade while still at school in Heaton. Her first letter to the ‘Guardian’, during her early days in Hong Kong, was about the long hours worked by Chinese people in Hong Kong. It was referred to by a British MP in the House of Commons, although he named the writer as Mr Elliott, and led to new employment legislation on the island. Elsie’s campaigning is also credited with the eventual establishment in Hong Kong of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1976.

Elsie held regular surgeries where she tried to help people with their battles against injustice and with all kinds of personal problems. Her brave (particularly because there were close connections between the police and organised crime, the triads) and tireless work on behalf of ordinary people made her increasingly popular. She fought against the exploitation of workers, child labour and for universal suffrage, gay rights, better housing and public transport, along with many other improvements in poor people’s lives.

One of the most famous cases associated with Elsie involved opposition in 1965  to price rises on the Star Ferry on which many working people relied. Via the newspapers, she canvassed public opinion, which was overwhelmingly against the increase both because it broke an agreement between the ferry company and the government and because it came at a time when people were facing particular economic hardship. Protests followed, illegal in Hong Kong at the time, which became known as the ‘Elsie Riots’. A number of young people were arrested for violence and it was alleged that they were acting under Elsie’s instructions,  something she vehemently denied. It emerged later in court that the young people had been beaten up by the police and forced to sign statements saying that Elsie had paid them to throw stones. The following year, in the biggest ever turn out ever in the Urban Council elections, Elsie received over 80% of the vote. 

Love

Elsie worked with Andrew Tu from her earliest days in Hong Kong. He had arrived there fresh from university in Inner Mongolia, as a young, penniless migrant. They co-founded and ran schools for poor and refugee children and he ran her political campaigns, advised her and taught her Chinese. He also became a Samaritan and a campaigner on green issues and, like Elsie, became well known and respected in Hong Kong.

In 1963, when in London on business with the Samaritans, Andrew travelled to Newcastle to Elsie’s sister’s house to meet the Hume family. Despite the language barrier, they are said to have taken to him immediately and constantly asked why the couple weren’t married. Elsie always replied that they felt no need to but they finally did tie the knot on 13 June 1985, when Elsie was 72 years old.

In her autobiography, Elsie described how, after their marriage, the couple first visited Andrew’s family and friends in Inner Mongolia and then came to Newcastle to stay with her sister, Dorothy, and her husband. She describes visiting Whitley Bay in the fog, eating fish and chips on the prom, walking on the Roman Wall and going to Blanchland and Cragside.

Legislative Council

In 1988, aged 76, Elsie was elected by the Urban Council as its representative on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or parliament. One of the successful battles she fought was for Chinese to be accepted as an official language of Hong Kong: she took on government departments which failed to provide Chinese translations and argued that court cases conducted in English disadvantaged local, Chinese speakers. She became increasingly accused by the establishment of being pro-Chinese and anti-British.  However, she always claimed not to be connected to any political party and not to be a communist or for or against any country, but to be pro-democracy, pro-justice and anti-corruption: ‘I’m not for China, I’m not for Britain. I’ve always been for the people of Hong Kong and for justice’.  

She wasn’t defeated in an election until 1995, aged 83. Even after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, she continued to hold the government to account. In 2013, aged 99, she criticised the widening income disparity in Hong Kong, referring to ‘rich men who have no conscience’. 

Death 

Elsie Tu died on 8 December 2015, aged 102. All three men who had held Hong Kong’s highest office, that of Chief Executive, Tung Chee-Hwa (1997-2005), Donald Tsang (2005-2012) and Leung Chun-Ying ( 2012-2017) were pall-bearers at her funeral. The current incumbent, Carrie Lam, recalls taking part in actions led by Elsie from her university days. She described her as an exemplary champion of social justice, who commanded respect for her valiant words and deeds.

Perhaps the last word on Elsie should come from her obituary writer in the ‘Daily Telegraph’, not a paper known for its empathy with people who threaten the British establishment: ‘In truth, her politics were less coherent, and far less significant, than her burning concern for the poor and her fearlessness in challenging those she accused of exploiting them.’

Elsie Tu

Not only would her father, John, and old headteacher, Miss Cooper, have been proud, but so too would Helena Normanton, the ground-breaking judge before whom Elsie had given evidence as a teenager, and especially that other renowned Heaton campaigner and social reformer, Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell, whose history prize Elsie had been presented with over eighty years before. Like her, Elsie didn’t only study history, she made it.

*We have referred to Elsie by her first name throughout this article to avoid any confusion caused by the three surnames she used at different stages of her life.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you to Tracey Cross, Elsie’s first cousin once removed, for bringing the achievements of Elsie Tu and her connection with Heaton to our attention; to Heidi Schultz, Executive Office Team Leader, Newcastle University for supplying Elsie’s honorary degree citation; to Ruth Sutherland, Northumbria University, for supplying newspaper articles about her.

Sources

‘Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu’ / Elsie Tu; Hong Kong Press, 2003

‘Crusade for Justice’ / Elsie Elliott; Henemann Asia, 1981

Elsie Elliot Tu, Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa’, the University of Hong Kong, 1988

‘Elsie Tu, activist – obituary; social campaigner in Hong Kong regarded as a potential troublemaker by the colonial authorities’ in ‘Daily Telegraph’, 15 December 2015

‘Elsie Tu Doctor in Civil Law honorary degree citation’ / Newcastle University, 1996

‘Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women’ / Judith Bourne; Waterside Press, 2017

‘Shouting at the Mountain: a Hong Kong story of love and commitment’ / Andrew and Elsie Tu, 2004

Wikipedia

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archives

Other online sources

Can You Help?

If you know more about Elsie Tu, particularly her Heaton connections, or have photographs 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Shakespearean’s Final Curtain

As soon as the train from Carlisle pulled into Newcastle Central Station, concerned travelling companions carried one of their number to a horse drawn cab which sped to his temporary accommodation less than a mile and a half away in Heaton.

Actor

The unfortunate man was George ‘Osmond’ Tearle, a very well known actor of the time.  George was born in Plymouth on 8 March 1852, the son of Susan Tearle (née Treneman) and her husband, George, a Royal Marine. But he grew up in Liverpool, to where his father had retired and where, from childhood, young George developed an interest in the theatre and, particularly, Shakespeare.

Tearle’s professional debut was in 1869 at the Adelphi Theatre in his home city.  He soon established himself on the London stage and in March 1878, made an acclaimed debut at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre as Hamlet, a role he is said to have played an incredible 800 times.

In September 1880, now under the name ‘Osmond Tearle’, he  performed in New York for the first time, as Jacques in ‘As You Like It’. He went on to tour America to critical acclaim. 

Osmond Tearle as King John

Tearle’s return to Newcastle in 1885 was billed ‘first appearance in England, after his great American success, of the eminent tragedian’ and he was ‘supported by Miss Minnie Conway from the Union Square Theatre, New York’. ‘Minnie’, whose real name was Marianne Levy, was, by now, Tearle’s second wife. She was from a well-known American theatrical family, whose Shakespearian connections went back at least as far as her grandfather, Englishman, William Augustus Conway (1789-1828), who travelled to the United States in 1823 and appeared as Hamlet and in other tragic roles in New York and other American cities. Back in Britain, there were more rave reviews for Osmond on Tyneside.

Tearle further endeared himself to north easterners with his generosity. For example, he made a donation to a fund for the restoration of Blyth’s theatre after it had been destroyed by fire,  along with an offer of his theatre company’s services to perform at the reopening at which he would forego his share of the receipts. And when touring, he often captained a company cricket team in charity matches including in Hebburn and Whitley Bay.

In 1888, Tearle established his own Shakespearean touring company and, in 1890 and 1891,  he was honoured by being selected to direct the annual festival performances at Stratford-upon-Avon, producing in his first year Julius Caesar and Henry VI part 1 and in the second year King John and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In between these two events, he played Newcastle’s Theatre Royal with productions of Hamlet, Othello, Richard III, King John, Macbeth and Merchant of Venice. In Hamlet, Minnie played Gertrude and Osmond, of course,  Hamlet.

Tearle’s connections with the area were strengthened in August 1896 when Minnie died and was interred in St Paul’s churchyard, Whitley Bay to be with her sister who was already buried there. When he returned to the Tyne Theatre in July 1898 after an absence of two years, it was noted that he had been seriously ill that spring. Audiences flocked back to see him and the reviews were more glowing than ever. He appeared ‘reinvigorated’. Nevertheless, a few months later, it was reported that he had been ordered to rest by his doctors and that he would sail to South Africa to aid his recovery.

Although he had appeared on stage in Carlisle the week before, this was the context in which, on Sunday 1 September 1901, aged 49, Osmond Tearle arrived in Newcastle.

Lodgings

The cab took the sick actor to number 93,  the end property on South View West. The house, like all the others on the street, faced the railway line. It stood at South View West’s junction with Newington Road but, along with all of the properties west of Stratford Road, has since been demolished.

Location of theatrical boarding house at 93 South View West (2021)

Today there are trees where its front door would have been and its back yard would have been in what is now a corner of Hotspur Primary School’s playing fields. The boarding house was just a few hundred metres away via a still well used pedestrian tunnel under the railway, from Byker’s Grand Theatre, where Osmond Tearle’s company had been booked to perform the following week. The Grand had been opened just five years earlier with a Shakespeare festival.

Living at 93 South View West in 1901 were 39 year old Robert Bell, a wood carver, his wife, Bella, and their four children Herbert, Frederick, Robert and Harry. The Bells took in boarders, specifically those from the theatre. We are sure of this because, apart from Osmond, we know the identity of three actors who were there on census night earlier that year: Clifford Mohan, Walter Cranch and Hubert Clarke. And by 1911, the family had moved to the west end, where they lived even closer to the Tyne Theatre. On the night of that year’s census, they were hosting well known opera singers: Graham Marr, ‘America’s foremost operatic baritone’ whose house on Staten Island has been designated a New York City LGBT Historic Site, and Henry Brindle, a successful English performer.

On Call

The newspapers tell us that soon after Tearle’s  arrival at 93 South View West, Dr Russell of Heaton was summoned to attend to him.

Dr Frank Russell, aged 28, ran a medical practice and lived with his wife, Annie, and young children William and Jessie at 41 Heaton Road. Even on foot, it would have taken under ten minutes to reach a patient on South View West. It was reported that Tearle insisted that he would be well enough to go on stage at the Grand that week, as billed, but Dr Russell insisted that he rest.

By Friday, a further doctor’s visit was deemed necessary. This time Dr Oliver (presumably Thomas Oliver of 7 Ellison Place) attended but could do no more. Osmond Tearle died at his lodgings the following morning. In keeping with theatrical tradition, the show went on. The company  performed ‘Richard III’ at the Grand ‘ but it was obvious that the men and women on stage were labouring under the shadow of an irreparable loss, the influence of which also extended to the audience, as was evidenced by its sympathetic demeanour’. It was noted that ‘two members of Mr Tearle’s family are connected with the company and his youngest son, a youth of very tender years, after having spent the holidays with his father, returned to school at Bournemouth so recently as last Wednesday’.

News of Tearle’s death and extensive obituaries were carried not only by all the national and local papers in the UK but in many across the world, including the USA.

Burial

The following Wednesday, after a brief service at the Bells’ home, conducted by the Vicar of St Silas, Rev J H Ison, Tearle’s funeral cortège travelled to Whitley Bay. Along with family and friends and members of the company, Robert and Bella Bell, in whose home he died, travelled in one of the ‘mourning coaches’. At St Paul’s churchyard they were met by representatives of theatres from throughout the north east and further afield, including Weldon Watts of Newcastle’s Grand Theatre, where the company had been playing the previous week, F Sutcliffe of the Tyne Theatre and T D Rowe of the Palace Theatre.

On Osmond’s memorial stone there is an appropriate line from Shakespeare that the actor must have spoken many times: ‘After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well’ (‘Macbeth‘, Act 3 Scene 2).

And on Minnie’s ‘Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ (‘Hamlet’, Act 5 Scene 2).

Brick Shakespeare mural on gable end of 47 South View West

It is fitting too that on the gable end of the final house on South View West in Heaton, a huge, brick mural of William Shakespeare now looks down on the spot, just a few metres away, where George Osmond Tearle breathed his last.

Legacy

Out out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. ‘

Macbeth’, Act 5 Scene 5

But Osmond Tearle’s short life has not been forgotten. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states ‘As a Shakespearean actor, Tearle combined the incisive elocution of the old school and the naturalness of the new. A man of commanding physique and dignified presence, he was well equipped for heroic parts. In later life, he subdued his declamatory vigour and played Othello and King Lear with power and restraint’.

Tearle’s most important legacy was that all three of his sons became actors, the most well-known being Godfrey, 16 year old ‘youth of very tender years’ at the time of his father’s death. He too was predominantly a Shakespearean but he also appeared in some prominent screen roles including that of Professor Jordan in Hitchcock’s ’39 Steps’. Godfrey Tearle was knighted for services to drama in 1951.

And Osmond Tearle now takes his place in our growing Shakespeare Hall of Fame, which also includes:

George Stanley and ‘A Road by Any Other Name’

Colin Veitch and the People’s Theatre

Frank Benson and the Grand Theatre

Acknowledgements 

Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Arthur Andrews for the photographs taken in St Paul’s churchyard.

Sources 

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

Dictionary of British Biography

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

If you know more about anyone mentioned in this article or have photographs 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 chris.jackson@oldheaton

Postscript

Denise Waxman wrote from Brooklyn, New York with the following interesting extra piece of information:


I found your interesting article about Osmond Tearle today and was happily surprised to find a detailed article like this.I was Googling him because his name appears in James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I have been reading and delving into for several years.  I just wanted to know who he was, in an effort to understand why he was an “exemplar” to Leopold Bloom. 


The reference is in the Ithaca episode of Ulysses, line 794 in the Gabler edition. This is a link to the page in a wikibooks version where anyone can annotate the book:https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Annotations_to_James_Joyce%27s_Ulysses/Ithaca/642?veaction=edit&section=1


I don’t know whether this is the sort of detail you would be interested in adding to your post, and you may already be aware of it…I just thought you would be interested, and also wanted to thank you for the article and the site, which is a great exemplar of what the positive side of the internet.


Best to your whole group from Brooklyn, New York…

Mystery of a Knight on a Bike

He’s conducted painstaking research into many topics of local interest but, in a quiet moment during lockdown, Heaton History Group’s Ian Clough decided to get to grips at last with a mystery that had literally been staring him in the face, a trophy on his own sideboard:

It is probably something that magpie, Uncle Jimmy Irwin, paid a few coppers for at a jumble sale long before charity shops appeared. It’s a bit battered and lost its wooden mount. I don’t even know how I ended up with it but I have always liked the penny farthing bicycles. If I took it to the Antiques Roadshow they would probably say it was worth a few coppers – “but if you could prove provenance …“‘

The scroll on the richly decorated trophy gave Ian his first clue: ‘Science and Art School Amateur Cycling Club’; a shield at the bottom is inscribed ‘Ellis Challenge Shield’ and, on two further shields at the top the name, ‘Robert Bolam’, alongside the dates, 1889 and 1890 respectively.”

To put the dates in context, local cycling hero, George Waller, who twice won the World Six Day Championship on a penny farthing, was nearing retirement and living in Heaton. In 1885, the Rover safety bicycle had been invented and three years later John Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tyre. Penny farthings were still ridden but their days were numbered. Incidentally in April 1889, a new cycle track was opened in the Bull Park on the Town Moor, where Exhibition Park is now. George Waller did a test run on it and pronounced it to be ‘one of the finest in the kingdom’. More than 140 years later, Newcastle no longer has a cycling track. The Olympic and Paralympic medallists all come from elsewhere. But we digress!

Schools

Ian first set about finding out more about the school. It was founded in 1877 by Dr John Hunter Rutherford, a Scottish  Congregationalist preacher, who qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 41. As well as running a medical practice, Rutherford campaigned for better sanitation, But he is best known as a pioneering educationalist. He founded Bath Lane School in 1870 and the School of Science and Art in 1877. A number of branch schools soon followed, in Gateshead, Shieldfield, Byker – and two on Heaton Road.

The first branch to open in Heaton was on 24 May 1880 in the Leighton Primitive Methodist Church Sunday School buildings, which, as has already been described here, stood on the site of the modern shops at the bottom of Heaton Road, just before you reach Shields Road.

In 1885, a further branch was opened at Ashfield Villa, Heaton Road to meet the local demand not just for elementary but also higher education. Ashfield Villa stood directly opposite the Leighton Primitive Methodist School, where Heaton Buffs Club is now.

Dr Rutherford died suddenly at the age of 64 on 21 March 1890. Amongst the extensive press coverage, the following appeared:

‘The announcement of the death of Dr. Rutherford has caused wide-spread regret…Yesterday the Bath Lane Schools, the Camden Street School, the Heaton Road School and the Science and Art School, Heaton were closed as a tribute of respect to the deceased gentleman.’

Benefactor

So we know something about the schools. But the Ellis Challenge Shield? A clue came in the British Newspaper Archive. On Saturday 13 September 1890, ‘The Newcastle Courant’ carried a report of the Newcastle Science and Art School sports day, which took place on the Constabulary Ground in Jesmond (now the home ground of Newcastle Cricket Club, the Royal Grammar School Newcastle and Northumberland County Cricket Club).

The article named one of the judges as Mr A M Ellis. Andrew Murray Ellis, another Scot, was headmaster of the Newcastle Science and Art School. On his retirement in 1905, it was stated that he had served the school for 28 years, which meant he must have been on the staff since the school’s foundation. The cycling shield surely bears his name.

Races

The article went on to list the first three in every race at the sports day. There, under the hoop race, the egg and spoon race and the dribbling race ‘open to members of the football club’ was:

‘Ellis Challenge Shield. Bicycle Race, one mile (open to members of the Science and Art School ACC).  Carries Championship of the club.  Holder,  R Bolam. Robert Bolam, 1;  Robt. Redpath, 2 ; Alf. Bell, 3.  Won by 12 lengths.’

But how could this Robert Bolam be identified? It’s quite a common name.  Luckily, there was a further clue to the identity of the winner:

‘Challenge Cup (presented by Councillor Cooke). Holder, Robert Bolam. Bicycle Race (mile).- [Result] Robert Bolam, 1; George T Easten, 2; Joe Bolam, 3. J Bolam and Easten made the running until the last lap, when Robert Bolam went to the front and won easily by ten yards. Easten finished second six yards in front of J Bolam.’

A further search revealed an announcement for the previous year’s sports day, due to take place on 31 August 1889. Again the Ellis Challenge Shield is specifically mentioned.  And on 17 June 1890, in the ‘Newcastle Daily Chronicle’, there was a description of the trophy and more information about the club:

‘One of the most unqualified successes among local cycling clubs has been the Science and Art School ACC, which, now in its third year, may claim to be one of the largest in the city.’

‘The Ellis Challenge Shield, a beautiful silver trophy, is competed for each year, in a one mile race, carrying with it the championship of the club – the present holder of the title being Mr R A Bolam.’ 

So now Ian knew Robert’s middle initial and that he perhaps had a brother called Joseph. He could look for census records.

Winner

Robert Alfred Bolam was born on 11 November 1871. In the 1881 census he is shown as a 9 year old scholar, the oldest son of John Bolam, a dispensing chemist, of 46 Northumberland Street and his wife, Isabella. He had three sisters and a brother. Yes, Joseph.

Seven years later on 31 July 1888, ‘The Evening Chronicle’ gave extensive coverage of the ‘Local Science and Art examinations’ and there, under the practical organic chemistry results advanced stage for Ashfield Villa, Heaton, is the name Robert A Bolam, ‘First Class and Queen’s Prize.’ Our champion cyclist had studied in Heaton and was 17 years old at the time of his first victory in the Ellis Challenge Shield.

A few weeks before his second victory, ‘The Evening Chronicle’  of 31 July 1890 gives the results of ‘Science and Art Examinations’ and among the entries:

’Framwellgate Moor Science Class examination. Hygiene – Advanced Stage, 1st Class and Queen’s Prize – Robert A Bolam.’ Still on track!

 And, so not to leave him out entirely, at ‘School of Arts and Science, Corporation St, Newcastle – Practical Organic Chemistry, 2nd Class – J H Bolam’ his younger brother.

By the time of the next census in 1891, Robert, now 19, was described as a ‘student in medicine’. He studied at Newcastle College of Medicine and Kings College London. In 1896, he won the Gold Medal at Newcastle College of Medicine, awarded to the best student in his year. By 1901, he was a ‘physician surgeon’, married with a baby and living on Saville Place. 

A young Robert Bolam

Witness

The next mention of Dr Robert A Bolam which is relevant to Heaton came on 5 July 1910 in the extensive coverage of the trial of John Alexander Dickman, then of Jesmond but previously of Heaton ( eg, in 1901 at 11 Rothbury Terrace), accused of the murder of John Innes Nisbet of 180 Heaton Road on a train between Newcastle and Alnmouth on 18 March that year. An expert witness was Dr Robert A Bolam, MRCP, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the College of Medicine at Newcastle. He had been asked to examine three items of Dickman’s clothing:  ‘a pair of Suede gloves, a pair of trousers and what was known as a Burberry overcoat.’ 

Bolam told the court that he had tested the garments ‘as regards solubility, chemically, microscopically and with a micro spectroscope’. He said that there were recent blood stains on the gloves and trousers and that attempts had been made to clean an unidentified stain on the coat with paraffin. Dickman was eventually hanged for murder. The case was controversial at the time and it continues to be the subject of books, articles and television programmes even today. (Unfortunately, a number of them refer to Robert Boland rather than Bolam.)

In 1911, now 39 years old, Robert Bolam lived in Queens Square and was married with 3 children and 3 servants, coincidentally one called ‘Margaret Isabella Rutherford’ . He described himself as a ‘consulting physician’. In fact, by this time Robert was already the first honorary physician in charge of the skin department at the RVI. Robert, our cycling champion, was in the fast lane.

War Service

During the WW1, Bolam served as major and acting lieutenant-colonel in the First Northern General Hospital. He was mentioned for distinguished service and awarded the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel and the OBE (Military). He was commanding officer of the Wingrove Hospital, which specialised in venereal diseases and, a speech by him in 1916 to the BMA is credited with doing more to secure the passage of the Venereal Diseases Act of 1917 ‘than any other pronouncement’. The act prevented the treatment of the disease or the advertising of remedies by unqualified persons. After the war, when the Ministry of Health merged the clinic with the skin department at the RVI, Bolam was put in charge of both, a position he held until his retirement in 1931.

At Durham University, he was lecturer in dermatology, professor of medical jurisprudence, president of the University College of Medicine, a member of the senate and in 1936-7, vice chancellor.

National Figure

But Robert Bolam wasn’t just a major figure locally or regionally, he served as chair of council of the British Medical Association from 1920 to 1927 (‘which involved night journeys between Newcastle and London two or three times each week’). He oversaw the erection of the BMA’s headquarters in Tavistock Square, London and it was to him who fell the honour of welcoming King George V and Queen Mary in 1925, a year in which he was also awarded the association’s coveted gold medal.

He was a member of the General Medical Council from 1928 until his death, and elected President of the British Association of Dermatologists 1933-34. Robert Alfred Bolam was Knighted in 1926.

Distinguished

Sir Robert Bolam died in Newcastle on 28 April 1939 but not before, in February of that year, he had overseen the move of the King’s College Medical School to its new building opposite the RVI and received King George VI and the Queen on its official opening. Sir Robert was survived by his wife, Sarah, son, Robert, and daughters, Dorothy and Grace.

Sir Robert Alfred Bolam by Allan Douglass Mainds (Newcastle University)

On his death, the above oil painting, which is currently in store at Newcastle University, was commissioned by friends and colleagues.

Bolam’s obituary writer for the British Association of Dermatologists stated that the distinguished medical practitioner was also an authority on the Roman Wall, a first class rifle shot who regularly competed at Bisley and once shot for England, and had  ‘a large collection of prizes as a cyclist and swimmer’, which is where we came in.

When we first encountered Robert Bolam he was already in a lofty position atop his penny farthing and so it continued throughout his distinguished life. He certainly did ‘get on his bike’.

Postscript

But that’s not quite the end of the story. During the course of his research, Ian found the Bolam family tree on Ancestry. He contacted the owner, Wendy Cox, who turned out to be the granddaughter of Sir Robert Bolam and a proud, exiled Geordie. She told Ian that she hadn’t known her grandfather as he had died when she was just weeks old. Neither had she heard of the Ellis Challenge Shield or her grandfather’s cycling achievements. But when Ian told her that, much as he’d enjoyed owning it, the shield rightfully belonged with her and the Bolam family, Wendy was delighted. She says it’s already sitting on her mantlepiece next to a photograph of her grandfather and plans are afoot to display it in a frame with a fabric background. The pedalling future knight is home.

Robert’s granddaughter, Wendy, with the trophy

Acknowledgements Researched and written by Ian Clough, Heaton History Group with additional material by Chris Jackson. Thank you to Wendy Cox for photographs of herself and her grandfather. And to Uncle Jimmy Irwin for his crucial rôle in this story.

Ian’s uncle, Jimmy Irwin, who first rescued the trophy.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

Obituaries of Sir Robert Bolam in the British Journal of Dermatology, British Medical Journal, Nature, The Times

Can You Help?

If you know more about Sir Robert Alfred Bolam or have photographs 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton Below the Surface: William ‘Strata’ Smith and Charles Hatchett

One of the most treasured possessions in the library of Newcastle’s Mining Institute is the ‘Geological Atlas of England and Wales’ by William Smith, ‘the father of English geology’. Imagine how excited we were to receive an email recently from from Roy McIntyre, an amateur enthusiast of William Smith and exiled Geordie, revealing that, in 1794, this famous scientist had actually visited Heaton.

William Smith by Thomas Anthony Dean, after Hugues Fourau
stippled line engraving, published 1837. National Portrait Gallery.

Childhood

William Smith was born in Oxfordshire on 23 March 1769. He was the son of John Smith, the village blacksmith and his wife, Ann. William’s father died when he was just eight years old and so William and his siblings were brought up by their uncle, a farmer. Young William, largely self-educated, showed an aptitude for mathematics from an early age and at the age of 18 he found work with a surveyor in Gloucestershire, soon becoming proficient in his field.

Early Career

We know that, in 1791, Smith carried out a survey of the Sutton Court estate in Somerset, the seat of the Strachey family and then owned by John Strachey, a renowned geologist. Strachey had previously surveyed the family estate and nearby coalfields, measuring the layers of rock he could see below ground and recording them pictorially.

William Smith built on Strachey’s work and went on to work for the Somersetshire Coal Canal Company. He had observed that the rock layers in the pits were arranged in a predictable pattern, always being found in the same relative position. He had also noticed that each stratum could be identified by the fossils it contained and so he was working towards a theory he called ‘The principle (or law) of faunal succession’.  But he needed to go further afield to really test his hypothesis.

North to Heaton 

In his email to Heaton History Group, Roy wrote that ‘Smith’s trip up north in 1794 is what showed him the need for a geological map of the country, and gave him ideas on how that could be accomplished’. He added that ‘some of the things that he observed while travelling on the coach can be seen on the maps he went on to make’. The notebooks he used on the journey have not survived, but what he wrote down from memory in June 1839, two months before he died, does. Smith’s memory was excellent and his biographer, John Phillips (a prominent geologist in his own right, whose interest in the subject had been nurtured by Smith, his uncle), said that his account of the tour was ‘ nearly in the same words he had often used before in narrating it’. Here is what he wrote:

“… We arrived at Newcastle on Saturday afternoon, time enough to get to Heaton Colliery, but unfortunately too late for me to go down the pit; but a very intelligent overlooker kindly drew me with his stick on the dust a plan of the mode of working the coal, which to me was perfectly intelligible.

The railways to the staiths on Tyneside were then mostly wood, or wood plated with iron; and such was the state of machinery, that at Heaton Colliery the deepwater was raised by a steam-engine into a pool on the surface, and at other times in the twenty-four hours from the pool, by much larger pumps, to the top of two high water-wheels, which raised the coal.

We did not expect to see the things so managed in the north; and I was surprised to see the fires they kept, and other contrivances for promoting ventilation, as in the Somersetshire collieries there is no want of pure air.  I had observed that my friend Palmer’s string of questions sometimes produced a shyness in obtaining answers, and therefore I used to proceed upon the principle of give and take; and in thus offering my exchange of knowledge of the mode of working coal in Somersetshire, 1000 yards down the steep slope of 1 in 4, and perfectly dry and in good air, 100 to 250 perpendicular yards beneath the bottom of the pumps, I believe the honest manager of Heaton Colliery thought I was telling him a travelling story.

The mode of dividing their shafts and mother-gates by brattices of wood-work seemed inconvenient and unphilosophical, and we rather dissatisfied, hastened back through Ripon and Harrogate…’

A copy of Andrew Armstrong’s one inch 1769 map of Northumberland, used by Smith on the trip, annotated in pencil, and with colour wash added by him to show the strata , survives.

Detail of Andrew Armstrong’s 1769 map of Northumberland showing Heaton. Copyright: Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Later Life

Smith continued to travel, taking rock samples and mapping the strata in various locations. He amassed a large collection of fossils and published his findings.

In 1799, he produced the first large scale geological map of the area around Bath and, in 1801, a rough sketch of what would become the first geological map of most of Great Britain. His completed version published in 1815 was the first geological map to depict such a wide area in detail.

Detail from Smith’s 1815 map. Heaton Colliery is marked by a cross above the 2nd ‘e’ in ‘Newcastle’.

He used different colours applied by hand to indicate the various rock types and conventional symbols to show geographical features such as canals, tunnels, tramways and roads, collieries, lead, copper and tin mines, as well as salt and alum works. He went  on to produce a number of books and papers about strata and their fossils. 

Unfortunately around the same time, Smith began to have serious financial problems. He had first met Sir Joseph Banks in 1801 and, the botanist, realising the importance of Smith’s research, became an important and generous patron, without whom at some points Smith would not have had the means to carry on his work. Indeed, he dedicated his 1815 map to Banks.

Smith sold his fossil collection to the British Museum for £700 but was nevertheless, in 1819, sent to a debtors’ prison. On his release, he worked as an itinerant surveyor until Sir John Johnstone, appointed him as land steward on his estate in Scarborough. Smith designed the Rotunda in the town, a geological museum devoted to the Yorkshire coast.

In 1831, the Geological Society finally recognised Smith’s achievements by making him the first recipient of the Wollaston Medal, its highest award. It was at the presentation that the society’s then president, Adam Sedgwick, first used the term ‘the father of English geology’. In 1838, Smith was one of the commissioners appointed to select the building stone for the Palace of Westminster.

William ‘Strata’ Smith died in Northampton on 28 August 1839, aged 70, and is buried there.

Legacy

Smith’s many publications, his fossil collection, and especially his maps, are his most important legacy, of course. His maps are now appreciated for their beauty as well as their function and his genius. But there is also, for example, an annual Geological Society lecture in his honour and a crater on Mars named after him. The Rotunda in Scarborough has been refurbished and is a worthy memorial to its designer.

Heaton Main

Heaton Main Colliery had only been opened two years at the time of Smith’s visit. Its viewer (chief engineer and manager) was George Johnson of Byker, the leading colliery engineer on Tyneside at the time. It was one of the largest and most technically advanced coal mines in the world. It is not surprising that a man of Smith’s calibre should pay a visit. 

Hatchett job

Indeed he was not the only distinguished scientist to pick the brains of people associated with the colliery. Another distinguished visitor was chemist and mineralogist, Charles Hatchett (1765 -1847).

Charles Hatchett. Lithograph by W Drummond, 1836, after T Phillips. Welcome Collection.

Unlike William Smith, Charles was the son of well-to-do parents. His father, John, was a London coach builder ‘of the greatest celebrity’ and later a magistrate. Charles attended private school but is said to have taught himself mineralogy and analytical chemistry.

He had an opportunity to travel abroad with his wife, Elizabeth, when his father asked him to deliver a coach to Catherine the Great in St Petersburg. On this trip, with an introduction from William Smith’s later benefactor, Sir Joseph Banks, he visited a number of well known European scientists. In 1796, he began another extensive tour, this time through England and Scotland, where he visited geological sites, mines and factories. On Thursday 26 June 1796, he came to Heaton.

Charles Hatchett, ‘breakfasted with Mr Johnson at Byker and afterwards went with him and his son to Heaton Colliery’. 

Hatchett commented that ‘the ropes are worked by a steam engine…the cylinder of which is 70 inches in diameter…the same raises the water out of the mines, 300 gallons each stroke’ and noted that ‘the coal is raised in basket corves, which contain 24 pecks.The coal is conveyed to the waterside by what they here call wagons, made of wood with small iron wheels, which have a rabbit which fits the wooden railroads.’

The following year Hatchett was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, largely as a result of his work analysing lead. Like Smith, albeit for very different reasons, he sold his collection comprising 7,000 mineral samples to the British Museum.

In 1801, Hatchett discovered the element, niobium (which he named ‘columbium’), widely used today in the superconducting magnets of MRI scanners, as well as in welding, nuclear industries, electronics, numismatics and jewellery. He was awarded the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1798 and in 1822 was presented with a gold medal by the society.

‘Men of Science Living in 1807-8’ by George Zobel and William Walker. Both Smith and Hatchett feature along with other distinguished figures, such as Brunel, Davy, Herschel, Jenner and Telford.

Soon after this, Hatchett largely gave up his scientific pursuits. He had inherited his father’s business and began to pursue other interests: book collecting, manuscripts, musical instruments and painting. Hatchett died at his home in Chelsea in 1847. The Charles Hatchett award is presented annually by the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining for the best research on niobium and its alloys. The medal is cast in pure niobium.

Historical Perspective

Threatened with extinction as a consequence of global warming by fossil fuels, the world now views ‘King Cole’ in a different light. But these visits remind us that the Northumberland and Durham Coalfield was for several centuries the world leader in mining technology and Heaton one of the most technically advanced collieries in that coalfield.

Mining technology played a significant role in the creation of the society which we enjoy today. The genie had been let out of the bottle but that doesn’t detract from the achievements of our forebears or the importance of a visit to Heaton to pioneers like William Smith and Charles Hatchett.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Les Turnbull, Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Huge thanks to Roy McIntyre without whom we would not have known about William Smith’s Heaton connection. Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery and Welcome Institute for permission to use the images of Smith and Hatchett.

Sources

A Celebration of our Mining Heritage’ by Les Turnbull; Chapman Research, 2015.

Geological Atlas of England and Wales’ by William Smith, 1815

Geological Map: a delineation of the strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland…’ by William Smith, 1815

‘The Hatchett Diary: a tour through the counties of England and Scotland visiting their mines and manufacturies‘ by Charles Hatchett; edited by Arthur Raistrick; Barton, 1967

Memoirs of William Smith’ by John Phillips; John Murray, 1844

Resources of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers library

Wikipedia

Can You Help?

If you know more about William Smith or Charles Hatchett and, particularly, their visits to Heaton, 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Doctor Henstock of Heaton High

A recent article about Heaton’s Olympians, which included a profile of the former head of Heaton Grammar, Harry Askew, elicited a number of responses from former pupils, so it seems only fair that we should look into the life of an equally legendary head of Heaton High School for Girls, Doctor Henstock.

Edith Constance Henstock was born on 3 March 1906 in Derby, the third child of four and the only daughter of Walter, a railway cerk and his wife, Rachel.

Edith was a bright girl. She won her first scholarship aged nine and attended Parkfields Cedars Secondary School, Derby, where she was an outstanding pupil, always coming first in her year. She was awarded a scholarship to Nottingham University and left with a first class honours degree in mathematics. She then went on to Cambridge to study for postgraduate qualifications. 

Her first teaching post was at Darlington Girls’ School. After this, she became senior mathematics teacher at Henrietta Barnet Girls’ School in Hampstead Garden Village, London. While working there, she studied part time for a University of London MSc in the History, Principles and Methods of Science, which she completed in 1933. By 1938 she was head of mathematics at the school and had been awarded a University of London PhD in Mathematics, no mean accomplishment while simultaneously holding down such a responsible job. The 1939 Register shows Edith living at 79 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, a ‘private ladies’ club’, along with 12 other residents.

To Heaton

Edith’s next move was to Newcastle. She took up the post of the headmistress of Heaton Secondary School for Girls in autumn 1944, just as 400 evacuees returned to the school from Kendal where they had been sent for their safety early in the war. The school name changed to Heaton High School for Girls a few months later.

A royal visit to Heaton High School shortly after its opening in 1928

In December 1944, Dr Henstock was a member of a council committee investigating the large number of children being killed and injured on Newcastle’s roads (414 between 1941 and 1944. The committee found that most were caused by children running in front of vehicles without looking.)

In 1950, she was living at the Gordon Hotel on Clayton Road, Jesmond, now the Newcastle YWCA. But  by the following year, she had moved to a large, double fronted, terraced house in High West Jesmond, where she lived for the rest of her life. The Electoral Register shows that Ada Lilian Hall, a maths and PE teacher at Heaton High, lived with her there until Miss Hall’s death in 1972.

Travels

Dr Henstock’s scholarship days were not over though. In November 1959, it was reported that she had returned from a four week educational tour of the USA, after having won the coveted, Walter Hines Page travelling scholarship. She had flown to New York  with Icelandic airline, Loftleidir and travelled back to Southampton on the Queen Mary. (Walter Page Hines was USA ambassador to Great Britain during WWI, as well as a journalist and publisher. His educational travelling scholarship still exists.) 

She continued to enjoy travelling the world long into her retirement, later saying that that she owed all of her adventures to the ‘old girls of Heaton’, who had ‘left their front doors open to her, no matter where their homes were’.

Comprehensive

When Newcastle eventually adopted a comprehensive and co-educational system in 1966, the headmaster of Heaton Grammar School for boys, Harry Askew, was appointed as the first head  of the newly formed Heaton Comprehensive School and Dr Henstock, now aged 61, was appointed deputy. 

A newspaper interview in 1982, long after Dr Henstock’s retirement, perhaps gives some insight into her character. The interview was conducted by  Avril Deane of the ‘Journal‘, an ex-pupil of Dr Henstock in Heaton. The journalist speculated that ‘a little bit of the heart was torn out of the woman when the school turned comprehensive in the mid 1960s’ and she elicited from her former head that she had yearned to be a headmistress from the age of seven. Ms Deane recalled that Dr Henstock had been ‘feared and cussed and kept our velour hats on for’ by the girls and was a stickler for tidiness of mind and body.

The interviewee is reported as admitting ‘slightly apologetically that she was quite good at everything’ and, having three brothers, she was ‘not going to ever let them get one up on her’. She believed there was no such word as ‘can’t’ and set out to inspire her girls to think like her.

She was proud that she had never hit a child in over 40 years of teaching and that no pupil of hers had ever failed ‘O’ Level maths. 

During the interview, with ‘clarity and honesty’, she confesses that she would have liked to marry. However, in the 1930s, as a female teacher if you married, you lost your job.

‘I do regret though not having the love and affection of any one man now that I am in my 70’s but I think it would have been impossible to devote the same attention to a husband, as I could to the girls. Each partner has to be prepared to work for the good of the other.’

In addition to travel, she continued to enjoy swimming, dancing, playing bridge and golf as well as keeping up with the progress of hundreds of Old Heatonians.

Pupils remember

There are many references to Dr Henstock on a Heaton High School Alumni website. Here are just a few:

‘Was always terrified of Dr. Henstock, even when having to partner her in tennis and badminton games.    She came to visit me in Calgary in the 70s and I was still in awe of her.’

‘Doc H (awe inspiring and scary)’ 

‘I entertained Dr. Henstock twice in my home and my kids called her Auntie Constance and my husband thought she was lovely!!’

‘School days weren’t my happiest days, at least not at HHS, but I’ve enjoyed my life since leaving so it didn’t do any lasting damage except, to this day, I can’t let anyone link their arm through mine ‘like a common factory girl’ or eat in the street!!   Dear Dr. E. Constance Henstock!!’

Death and Obituary

Dr Henstock died in hospital, aged 84, on 24 December 1990.

A short obituary was published in the ‘Journal’ with a small portrait photograph alongside it. It seems this would have disappointed Dr Henstock as Avril Deane had reported eight years earlier that she said she would like the full length photograph of her dressed in her headmistress’s gown shown above right to accompany her obituary. We have looked high and low for a better copy to set wrongs to right but haven’t so far been able to find one. Please get in touch if you can oblige.

Can You Help?

If you remember Dr Henstock or especially, have photos 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 chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

FindMyPast

Heaton High School Alumni website

Heaton Olympians

It’s late June 2021 and Team GB for the 2020 Summer Olympics has just been announced. Such are the strange times we’re living through. But amidst ongoing uncertainty about the next games, let’s celebrate Heaton’s distinguished past Olympians.

No 1 Harry Askew

Harry represented Great Britain in the long jump at the 1948 London Summer Olympics. 

Born in Barrow-in-Furness on 31 December 1917, he excelled in sports at school, particularly as a sprinter, only moving to long jump while at Cambridge University. Pre-war, he won the 1937 Oxbridge Sports long jump and 2 years later the UAU title and was second in the AAA Championships. The war interrupted Harry’s career. He spent six years in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals, achieving the rank of captain.  After the war, he moved to Jersey to teach.

The Olympic champion and world record holder in the long jump was famously the great Jesse Owens, who had won 4 gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Because of World War 2, it was to be 12 years before the next games and so the American didn’t get to defend his title. Harry was one of 21 competitors to take part in the qualifying round on 31 July 1948 and comfortably made the final in 6th place with a jump of 7.14. He was 9th in the final with a jump of 6.935m. The medal winners were all from the USA, the winner, Willie Steele, achieving 7.825.

Harry Askew

Harry’s son, Roger, told us that Harry stayed in Hammersmith during the games and travelled to White City, where the athletics took place, by bus, even on the day he was competing.

Askew went on to teach and coach in Essex. He improved his personal best to 7.29m in 1949 and in 1950 won the AAA title, the British championship, aged 32. In 1958, the Askew family moved north in order that Harry could take up a position as head of Heaton Grammar School, which is what makes his name so familiar to many older Heatonians. Despite being a vociferous opponent of comprehensive education, he was appointed head of Heaton School, Heaton’s  new coeducational comprehensive in 1967.

Askew achieved more national and even international fame than for his Olympic achievements in 1976 when his controversial response to the newly enacted Equal Opportunities Act was to announce  that, henceforward, girls would be subject to corporal punishment on the same basis as boys ie liable to receive it. Parents and pupils organised a protest and alerted the media. There was damage to the school, assaults, expulsions, court cases.

The dust settled, however, and Harry Askew eventually retired in 1979 after 21 years in post. On his retirement he told the ‘Journal’.Do you know, I still have my jumping shoes, my England vest and tracksuit? I couldn’t bear to part with them, although today I can hardly get my feet off the ground unless it’s to put them up in front of the television set!’ 

Harry Askew and his wife moved south on his retirement to be closer to family. He was looking forward to having more time for his passion for jazz music – he was a talented pianist – and for gardening.  He died on 31 October 1986, aged 68.

No 2 Alan Lillington

Alan represented Great Britain in the 100m at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.

Born in South Shields on 4 September 1932, Alan grew up in Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar. His mother and father were steward and stewardess of Heaton Liberal Club at 25 Heaton Road, the building with the stone lion above the bay window. He continued to live there until he married local girl, Eileen Murray, in 1955. After their marriage, the couple lived with Eileen’s family at 14 Cloverdale Gardens, High Heaton. 

Alan was an all round sportsman and is reported to have played for Newcastle United as a junior as well as rugby for Northern. The first mention we have found of him in the local press, however, was in August 1949 when the ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported that the 16 year old Elswick Harrier, already the champion at 100 yards, had been set to miss competing for the Northumberland and Durham 220 yards title at Cowgate because of plans for a holiday in Portsmouth. He and a friend had seats booked on the night bus departing at 7.15 until his father stepped in with a more costly rail ticket, which left three hours later, allowing him to race earlier in the evening. In the article, Lillington was described as a ‘young sprint star’. The following July he won the All England Schools’ Silver Jubilee Intercounty AA championships in a time of 10 seconds dead and was in the victorious 440 yards relay team too. And in August he won the junior 100 yards at White City, London.

By 1952, Olympic year, Lillington, now a medical student at Durham University, was second only to Trinidad-born Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, the joint 100m world record holder, in the senior AAA Championship and so was deservedly selected for Helsinki, aged 19, as the ‘baby’ of the team.

Helsinki had originally been chosen to replace Tokyo in 1940 after Japan announced two years before that it would be unable to host the games because of the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War. In the event, of course, the 1940 games were cancelled because of World War 2. London, which had been selected for the also cancelled 1944 event, was awarded the first games after the war with Helsinki getting its turn four years later.

None of the medallists from 1948 were competing in the 100m this time round and so McDonald Bailey, who finished 6th in London was favourite along with American, Art Bragg, and Jamaica’s Herb McKenley.

Young Alan Lillington was drawn in the first heat on 20 July, from which he qualified in second place behind Australia’s John Treloar, but in the quarter finals, he finished in 6th and last place to Lindy Remigino of the USA and so failed to qualify for the semi final or final. It was nevertheless a magnificent feat for a teenager.

The final on 21 July was one of the closest races imaginable with all six runners separated by only 0.12 seconds, hand-timed. A photograph showed Lindy Remigino to have finished first, Herb McKenley second with GB’s McDonald Bailey in bronze medal position.

Much later, Alan said the games brought back fond memories but that he was sorry that Great Britain recorded its lowest medal total with ‘its only gold medal winner a horse!’ (In fact, three horses and their riders in the team show jumping).

After the Olympics, Lillington continued to perform at a high level. He represented England in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.

He remembered celebrating his 21st birthday at an event in Stockholm where he was carried around the room on the stroke of midnight by his mentor, Harold Abrahams (1924 Olympic Champion, whose story was told in ‘Chariots of Fire’) and Chris Chataway (5,000m finalist in Helsinki, pacer for Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile and, later, minister in the Heath government). 

But soon, Alan Lillington’s mentions in the press were mainly in connection with his work as a doctor and for charity. He worked at Newcastle’s RVI and General before becoming a consultant paediatrician in Sunderland. He was also a director of St Benedict’s Hospice in Sunderland, as well as a committed Freemason, and he helped set up Sunderland Sports Council.

Alan Lillington (centre)

Lillington was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear and, in 1995, Sheriff. He was awarded the MBE for services to the community in Wearside in 2006.

Alan and Eileen’s son, Peter, played club rugby for Harlequins and toured New Zealand with Scotland in 1981.

No 3 Maurice Benn 

Maurice represented Great Britain in the 1500m at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Born in Wallsend on 9 November 1946, Maurice was a member of Heaton Harriers. The first mention of him we have found in the press so far was on 7 January 1966 when the  ‘Evening Chronicle’ reported:

‘Heaton’s boys proved their worth by finishing second team on Boxing Day and with Dick Balding, Joe Hawes and Maurice Benn in their senior line up, the ‘East Enders’ if they can find a couple of useful youths, must be among the medals again on Saturday.’

A month later, the future Olympian was referred to as having the best time for a youth over a Team Valley cross-country course and was expected to take his place in Heaton Harriers’ senior team in the race for the Royal Corps of Signals (coincidentally Harry Askew’s old regiment) Trophy over the same course.

But it wasn’t until 3 June 1968 that Maurice came to national attention during the inter-county finals at London’s White City. The Birmingham Post summed up the media’s surprise:

‘Perhaps the biggest shock of all was the entry of 21 year old Maurice Benn into the ranks of Britain’s sub-four-minute milers. An “unknown” from the north east, Benn had a previous best of 04:04.8 and he beat the established international, John Whetton of Nottinghamshire into third place.’ 

Benn’s time was 03:59.9. He was the first north-east athlete to achieve this feat. It transpired that he had recently teamed up with north-east based national coach, Peter Harper, after being coached for the previous two years by letter by the AAA’s travelling coach, who was based in Glasgow. No Zoom back then!

And so on 5 August 1968, Maurice Benn of Heaton Harriers, received a letter signed by Prince Philip inviting him to compete in the games. With the times he had achieved that summer, Benn’s selection was certainly merited but Maurice himself later said that he had really gone to Mexico for the experience. The Birmingham Post called his selection ‘controversial’.

Maurice struggled in the altitude of Mexico City. As he later recalled ‘I shouldn’t have gone to Mexico. I had a history of anaemia and didn’t acclimatise well… I trained with Ron Hill and I was panting like an old bloke’.

The reigning champion was New Zealander, Peter Snell, who had won in Tokyo four years earlier  with a time of 3:38.1, but he wasn’t competing in Mexico. Here, the favourite was the USA’s Jim Ryun, the world record holder. Maurice was drawn in the first heat on 18 October along with Ryun and, although the Heaton Harrier achieved a time of 3:56.43, a personal best, it was well behind the qualifiers. Ryun went onto win his semifinal ahead of Kenyan, Kip Keino, but in the final Keino, who was paced by his compatriot, Ben Jipcho, won gold in an Olympic record time. John Whetton, beaten by Maurice at sea level, just a few months earlier, was a creditable 5th.

Maurice Benn

After the games, Benn went to study in the USA where, representing the University of Nevada, he won the USA National Collegiate cross-country championship. The university won the team prize as well and they were welcomed home in style with banners, a motor-cavalcade and television interview. It was said to be the first national victory by any Nevada team at any time in any sport – and led by a former Heaton Harrier. But anaemia continued to dog him in the states – Nevada is at altitude too.

By 1970, Benn was back in Britain but had moved away from the north-east. He continued running for Cambridge Harriers. The following year he ‘surprisingly won the Southern Counties 10,000m’ in cold and blustery conditions with a ‘staggering time of 28:53:08, which is top international standard’ but by the time of the 1972 games his training had become spasmodic, his form had dipped and he was out of contention for Olympic selection.

Maurice went on to work as a finance worker for British Rail in London, where he represented Woodford Green athletics club for many years. He has a permanent place in the pantheon of Heaton sport.

No 4 Derek Talbot

Derek Talbot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Heaton’s Derek Talbot (right)

Born in Newcastle in 1947, Derek grew up on Etherstone Avenue in High Heaton and attended Heaton Grammar, where he first played badminton.  He went on to study metallurgy at Newcastle University, where, after doing well with the British Universities’ badminton team, he was spotted by the England selectors. He then moved to London for five years to establish himself in the sport.

Talbot’s first major title was Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold with Margaret Boxall in Edinburgh in 1970 and in April 1972, he again won mixed gold with Gillian Gilks and bronze with fellow Heatonian, Elliot Stuart, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden.

Badminton had been chosen as a demonstration sport for the 1972 Olympics so medals did not count in official tables. The intention was to promote to a global audience a sport which was, and is, very big in some parts of the world but unknown, at least as a spectator sport, in others. Some years later, Talbot summed up the different levels of fame top players enjoyed in different countries:

‘In many parts of the far east, we were recognised in the streets and invited to meet presidents in their palaces. But I could always come back to Newcastle and be inconspicuous, which I prefer. So I got the best of both worlds’. 

The demonstration sports rules allowed for doubles partners of mixed nationality and the medals awarded were slightly smaller replicas of the official ones. The entire tournament took place on a single day, 4 September.

Derek competed in the men’s doubles, partnered again by fellow Heaton Grammar old boy, Elliot Stuart. They beat a German / Canadian pairing in the1st round before losing to the eventual winners, Indonesians Ade Chandra and Christian Hadanata, in the semi-finals. Thus they were bronze medallists.

In the mixed doubles, he again partnered fellow Britain, Gillian Gilks, one of the most decorated British badminton players of all time. The pair beat Japanese, West German and Danish opponents to win gold.

The Munich Olympics are remembered, of course, for the events of 5-6 September. Eight members of a Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, took nine members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, killing two of them. Five terrorists and a German police officer were also killed during a rescue attempt.

Speaking some years later, Talbot said that he witnessed the  start of the incident first hand:

‘I went out on the town celebrating and came back at 4.00am to what seemed like fireworks just 20 yards away. I walked right past and thought how inconsiderate it was of people to let off fireworks that time of night when many others had important events the next day. It was only later that I realised that I had almost stumbled across the terrorist attack.’

He went on to represent his country 83 times and won a total of four Commonwealth golds, one silver and two bronzes; three European golds, three silvers and two bronzes medals. He also won three All England Open golds and three silvers; a gold with Elliott Stuart in the Indian Open; a silver in the World Championships and a bronze in the World Cup. 

Derek retired from international badminton in 1981 and became a successful businessman, running a sports shop and having his own brand of badminton racquets, alongside coaching, commentating and property development. He continued to serve his sport as a selector and an administrator.

He didn’t always speak well of Heaton, however. Having bought a £95,000 house in Jesmond Park East in 1986, he reportedly sold it a matter of months later, allegedly because ‘couldn’t make a right turn at the end of the street.’

‘It was impossible. If I wanted to drive to Newcastle I had to take a two mile detour to get on my way. I also found the neighbourhood lacking in facilities like shops, open space, a library, cinema and swimming pool’.

Perhaps Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame, who is said to have bought the house, found a quicker route west and also realised that High Heaton Library, Biddlestone Road baths and the shops of Heaton and Chillingham Road were just a twelve minute walk away and the open spaces of Jesmond Dene barely six.

After a spell in Jesmond, Talbot, who had had a longstanding interest in alternative medicine, moved to Ibiza in the early 1990s where he practised homeopathy. He later returned to Tyneside. In 2013, he received an MBE for services to badminton.

No 5 Elliot Stuart

Elliot represented Great Britain at badminton at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Like Derek Talbot, Elliot attended Heaton Grammar. He lived with his parents on Kingsley Place and, after leaving school, also like Talbot, he studied metallurgy at Newcastle University because, he said,’dad worked in Vickers and Armstrong shipyards on the Tyne, and he thought it would be interesting – he was wrong.’

Stuart joined Barclays as a computer operator, later becoming a programmer, systems analyst and project manager. He said that he moved to London because he was on the verge of playing international badminton and ‘because it was easier to fly from Heathrow (regional airports barely existed then) to the many badminton tournaments throughout Europe and the world.’ In 1969, after he had been at Barclays for just a year, the company gave him ‘six months a year paid leave, without contractual obligations, except to spread the name of Barclays, whenever appropriate at events across the globe’.

In April 1972, Stuart won bronze with fellow Heatonian, Derek Talbot, at the European Badminton Championships in Sweden before representing Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Munich  some four and a half months later. Although, the bronze medal the pair won doesn’t count officially, it was nevertheless a great honour to be chosen to represent their sport in the biggest event on earth.

The Heatonian went on to win gold at the 1973 Indian Open with Derek Talbot, 1974 Commonwealth gold, again with Talbot, and bronze with Susan Whetnall. In 1975, he won the All England mixed doubles title with Nora Gardner. But he says that his biggest badminton success was marrying Swedish World Singles Champion, Eva Twedberg!

In 1996, aged 50, Elliot took early retirement so that he could help top level badminton transition from an amateur to a professional sport. He continued to coach and mentor and became Performance Director for English Badminton. After retirement. he went to live in Portugal. 

No 6 Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan represented Great Britain in the triple jump at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Born in London on 10 May 1966, Jonathan was the son of Jill Edwards and her husband, Andy a clergyman. He was brought up to have a strong Christian faith which included preserving Sundays as a special day. The family didn’t watch television, work or study on the Sabbath. Jonathan remembers watching his mother prepare the vegetables for Sunday lunch on Saturday evenings.

Jonathan went to school in Devon, before coming north to study Physics at Durham University. While a student, he began to be coached by Gateshead-based, Carl Johnson, and, after graduation, decided to remain in the north east so that they could continue to work together.

It was the faith that Jonathan had inherited from his parents that brought him to Heaton.  He began to worship at Heaton Baptist Church and took advantage of a book held at the back of the church listing local people with property available for rent.

His biographer writes of Edward’s  first impressions of Heaton when a prospective landlord took him to view the King John Street property that became his first Heaton home:

‘Edwards confesses that as the car drove into Heaton his heart missed a beat. As rain drilled against the windows, all he could see was street after street of dreary-looking terraced houses. For a young man spoiled by the wild, rural beauty of the north Devon coast and the quaintness of Durham, this urban landscape was a culture shock. Still, Edwards needed a roof over his head and the accommodation was clean and affordable. He was to discover that his first impressions did not necessarily provide a fair reflection of the area. He found a friendliness and warmth in Heaton and, with his wife Alison, later established their first marital home in the street that had provided him with such an unflattering view of the suburb on the day he came flat-hunting’. They went on to live at several other Heaton addresses including on Heaton Park View.

Edwards recalls his early days, newly unemployed and alone, in Heaton: ‘I cried my eyes out’.

‘I’d never experienced life, real life, like this. After I’d moved into the flat in Heaton, my first attempt at cooking involved making an omelette and putting it on a lettuce leaf. Grotesque.’

Soon, however, Edwards got a job as a maternity cover scientific officer in the cytogenetics laboratory at the RVI. After work, he would go to Gateshead to train and then catch a Metro back into town. From there, he’d catch the Number 1 bus back to Heaton or walk if one didn’t arrive. We’ve all been there!

But soon Heaton and particularly Heaton Baptist Church became the focus of a national media storm. Improving performances meant that Edwards was selected for the 1988 British Olympic trials. The first two in the trials were guaranteed selection for the games and there would be a third wild-card place. Unfortunately for Edwards, the triple jump event was scheduled for a Sunday and so the young, unknown Edwards declared that he could not compete. The media had already besieged the RVI and on the day of the event itself, television crews turned up at the church on Heaton Road hoping to film Edwards going in to worship. However, Edwards’ gamble paid off: he was selected for Seoul anyway. It was never expected that he would achieve a high place but he would gain valuable experience. In fact he finished 23rd in qualifying with a best jump of 15.88.  Bulgaria’s Khristo Markov won the final with a new Olympic record of 17.61.

By the time of the Barcelona games, 4 years later, Jonathan Edwards had married Alison Briggs, a physiotherapist at the RVI, at Heaton Baptist Church. Expectations, including his own, were high. His father was in the stadium to watch him qualify and his mother and Alison would be there for the final. Except, for Jonathan, there was to be no final. He fouled his first jump and messed up his next two as well. His position of 35th was worse than Seoul. His best distance of 15.76 almost two metres shorter than that of the eventual winner, USA’s Mike Conley, who achieved a new Olympic record of 17.73. Edwards was distraught.

By the time of the next summer games in Atlanta in 1996, Edwards was a full-time athlete, having been able to give up work at the RVI thanks to a grant from the Great North Run Trust. He had also changed his coach and adopted the jumping style of the Barcelona gold medallist, Mike Conley. And there were new names in the Edwards’ family, Alison having given birth to two sons, Sam and Nathan, in 1993 and 1995 respectively.  Most importantly from an athletics point of view, he was now world record holder.

In the European Cup Final in Lille on 25 June 1995, he had jumped a huge but slightly wind-assisted 18.43. A legitimate world record of 17.98 in Salamanca followed, and then on 7 August  two more massive world record breaking jumps of 18.16 and 18.29 metres during the World Championships in Gothenburg while his wife Alison was back in Heaton, trying to take her mind off things by gardening. When the media converged on our area again, a home made banner outside the Edwards’ flat read ‘Simply the Best’. That Edwards was now a sporting superstar was confirmed when he won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He went into the 1996 Olympics as hot favourite.

The triple jump event in Atlanta took place on 26 July. In qualifying, Edwards struggled, as he had previously, while reigning champion Mike Conley and former world champion, Kenny Harrison, both on home soil, along with Cuban Queseda, Bermudan Wellman, and Bulgarian Georgiev, all reached the automatic qualifying distance on their first jump. Edwards eventually qualified for the final in sixth place. 

In the final, Harrison set a new Olympic record with his first jump and bettered it with his fourth. Edwards struggled with two red flags before managing a legal jump which put him in third place and entitled him to a further three attempts. His fourth effort was the longest jump ever not to win gold but the Briton had to settle for silver. (This was Heaton’s first official Olympic medal!)

Four year’s later in Sydney, the now Gosforth-based Edwards was determined to better that. Harrison wasn’t competing and so when qualifying began on 23 September 2000,  the British athlete was favourite again. This time he achieved the required distance with his second jump, although his British team mates, Onochie ‘Larry’ Achike and Phillips Idowu, were in first and second place, both with personal bests, and Edwards in fourth going into the final two days later.

In the final, Achike led after the first round and Russia’s Denis Kapustin after the second but in the third round Edwards jumped 17.71m and took gold (Heaton’s first!) He was awarded a CBE.

Jonathan Edwards

Following his Olympic success, Edwards won gold at the 2001 World Championships. At one point he was the reigning champion in the Olympics, World, Commonwealth and European Championships. At the time of writing, he still holds the World Record with his jump of 18.29m on 7 August 1995 in Gothenburg and his wind-assisted 18.43m on 25 June the same year, while not counting in the record books, also remains unsurpassed. He is also Heaton’s most successful Olympian.

No 7 Freya Ross née Murray

Freya represented Great Britain in the marathon at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Born on 20 September 1983, Freya grew up in Temple, Midlothian and was a successful runner as a schoolgirl, winning the Scottish Schools 3,000m title in 1999 and 2000 and Scottish Cross-Country Champion in 2001.

Her progress continued into senior athletics and she won the Scottish 10,000m in 2009 and the 5,000 national title in 2010. She represented Scotland in both the 5,000m and 10,000m the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, finishing 7th and 5th respectively. 

In 2006, after studying structural engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Freya moved to the north east, initially to Sunderland where she ran for Chester le Street. She joined international engineering consultancy Cundall and able to work part time for them, while pursuing her athletics career. She describes how she often ran to and from their Regents Centre office from her home in Tosson Terrace. She has also described how she used to like running at Rising Sun Country Park and along the wagonways. The flexibility of her employer also meant she could train for part of the year in California. 

Freya didn’t originally originally make the London Olympics squad. She had been pipped to the final marathon place by Claire Hallissey who had beaten her in that April’s London Marathon and she was picked only when injury forced the withdrawal of Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder and one of the favourites. On 29 July, only a week before the event, Freya was at home in Heaton doing table plans for her wedding when she got the call to pack her bags. Nevertheless, the following day, she went into work as she ‘had a few bits to finish off’. It wasn’t until the Thursday that she flew down to London.

Freya Ross née Murray

The London Olympics women’s marathon on 5 August 2012 began and finished on the Mall and took in iconic sights such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately for both athletes and spectators, the race began in heavy rain and so Paula Radcliffe’s world record was never in jeopardy. It was nevertheless a dramatic contest. The eventual winner, Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, fell at around halfway, trying to negotiate a water station but fought back to power past the bronze medallist, Russian Tatyana Arkhipova and silver medallist, Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo. Freya was the best placed Briton in 44th place from 118 starters in a personal best of 2 hours 28 minutes 12 seconds.

Following the Olympics, Freya got married as planned, became a full time athlete for a while and moved back to Scotland. She continued to compete, winning the Scottish National Championships 5,000m in 2016. She now has two young children, works as an events coordinator, has written a recipe book ‘Food on the Run’ and coaches at her local running club. 

She has a permanent place in Heaton’s history as our first female Olympian.

No 8 Brazil, Spain and Gabon Football Teams, 2012 Summer Olympics in London 

The previous athletes all were either born in, lived in, worked in or represented Heaton. But we must also reserve a place for the footballers who trained here before and during the 2012 games.

It was announced a good year before the event that the Brazil and Spain football squads had been allocated training facilities at the Newcastle University sports complex at Cochrane Park. The facilities underwent a half a million pound revamp in preparation for their illustrious visitors, the most famous of whom was to be Neymar, who at that time still played for Santos in his home country but was the hottest property in South American football. There was disappointment as a high fence appeared around the sports ground but excitement as it was discovered that good views of the pitches could be obtained from the first floor café of the High Heaton Sainsbury store across the road. The Geordie public had a chance to watch him properly in the quarter final v Honduras where he scored a penalty and registered an assist in Brazil’s thrilling 3-2 win v Honduras.

On 17 July 2012, Gabon became the first team to train on the university facilities but it was their warm-up match five days later that has gone down in local folklore. Former Newcastle United star Nobby Solano’s agent was drafted in to help the African underdogs find opponents to play in a friendly. He’d tried the Magpie’s Under 21s to no avail so he got in touch with the Heaton Stannington manager requesting a game the very next day. It was July. Some of the squad were on holiday, none were in training but it felt like too good an opportunity to miss, especially as Gabon boasted another of the most promising players in the world, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, then of St Étienne in France but soon to sign for Dortmund and later Arsenal. A team of part-timers was scrambled together, word was put out on social media and the game was on.

But not before the Stan assistant manager had made two mercy dashes to the African team’s base at the Gateshead Hilton, firstly to reunite Aubameyang with the boots he’d left behind and then to pop back for the sort of match balls they’d be playing with in the tournament. Aubameyang was marked by captain Joe Wear who had run the Great North 10K that morning ‘so I was a bit tired’. He scored two first half goals in Gabon’s 4-0 win before being substituted at half time.

Pierre-Emerick Aubeyang at Grounsell Park. Photo: Simon Hobson/Newcastle Chronicle/NCJ Media

The Africans turned down the Stan’s offer of a pie and a pint after the game but hung around to chat and pose for photographs. Their signed shirt still hangs in the clubhouse. Four days later they stepped out against Switzerland at St James Park with Aubameyang scoring their only goal of the tournament in a 1-1 draw. Their next opponents Mexico beat them 2-0 and went on to win the tournament, beating Neymar’s Brazil in the final. 

Can you help?

So they’re the Heaton Olympians we have discovered so far. They all deserve a commemorative postbox! Please let us know if you know more about the Heaton connections of any of them. And we hope you can help us discover more Olympians or connections between Heaton and the Olympic Games more generally. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Updated on 15 July 2021 with details of a recently rediscovered Heaton Olympian, Alan Lillington. Thank you to Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Updated on 20 July 2021 to include Heaton Park View as a Heaton address for Jonathan Edwards. Thank you, David Faulkner.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

‘The Eastenders: Heaton Harriers 1890-1990’ by William Allen; Heaton Harriers, 1990

‘A Time to Jump: the authorised biography of Jonathan Edwards’ by Malcolm Folley; Harper Collins, 2000

Other online sources

Acknowledgements 

Researched and written by Chris Jackson with additional material supplied by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Roger Askew for personal information and photos of his father and to Freya Ross and Jonathan Edwards for confirming their Heaton addresses.