Author Archives: oldheaton

Heaton and the Peterloo protest

In October 1819, thousands of north east people including, almost certainly, miners from Heaton Colliery and their families, took part in a remarkable demonstration on Newcastle’s Town Moor. They were protesting about the massacre at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, two months earlier, which became commonly known as Peterloo (in an ironic comparison comparing it with the battle of Waterloo, four years earlier).

This is a short description of how the meeting came to take place, what happened and also a little specifically about the involvement of people from Heaton.

The working people of north east England showed their desire for greater civil rights in no uncertain terms in their reaction to the Peterloo massacre, which had taken place  on 16 August 1819. On that terrible day a large crowd, who had come to listen to Henry Hunt and demand their democratic rights were attacked by yeomanry on horseback. The yeomen, fuelled by alcohol, angrily slashed their way through the large, hopeful crowd to arrest Hunt.  As they did so they trampled on a young girl resulting in her death. The crowd then turned angry surrounding the yeomanry who were supported by the regular troops who cut through the assembly like a knife through butter, resulting in eleven further fatalities.

Peterloores

One witness to the events that day, the radical leader Samuel Bamford, later recalled that, ‘the sun looked down through a sultry and motionless air, over the whole field, were strewed caps, bonnets, hats, shawls, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress; trampled, torn and bloody… All was silent save those low sounds, and the occasional snorting and pawing of steeds.’

Nationwide protests

A wave of protests spread throughout England. One of, if not, the biggest was in Newcastle.

The ‘Tyne Mercury’ reported that an initial meeting was held in Newcastle on 8 October and at this meeting it was decided that ‘the only solution to war, taxation, corruption and ‘misrepresentation of the people in Parliament’ was ‘radical reform of the House of Commons’. In Sunderland on the same day, all the corn in the market was seized and soup kitchens were opened by the Corporation, for what were described as the ‘deserving poor’.

On behalf of the United Committees of Political Protestants in Newcastle and Gateshead. a W Weatherston issued notices for a general meeting to protest against Peterloo. The meeting was set for 11 October at midday on the Parade Ground in Newcastle, where the Haymarket is today.

Partridge

Thousands of people of Newcastle and surrounding districts, which would have included Heaton, came and it was soon clear that that the crowd was so big that it could not be contained in the Parade Ground. Consequently, a decision was made that the crowd should move north to the large open space on the Town Moor. Indeed, the crowd was so huge, that it has been noted that, ‘the procession took one hour and a quarter to cross Barras Bridge’ then the name of an actual bridge over Pandon Burn.

TownMorrresizednypl.digitalcollections.a3bTownMoorb2ac0-e024-012f-5e2c-58d385a7bbd0.001_resized

Contemporary engraving of the Town Moor protest on 11 October 1819

The text below the above engraving describes the appearance and sound of the crowd:

‘The leaders carried white rods surmounted with crape. Each division was distinguished by a splendid banner of flag and some of them were preceded by a person carrying a Roman fasces (ie a ceremonial bundle of rods sometimes containing an axe. Ed). Several bands of Music played popular tunes and imparted order and interest to the procession, which was an hour and a quarter passing Barras Bridge.’

The penultimate sentence reads:

‘The shouts of the multitude were so tremendous that a Partridge, flying over their heads, dropt down dead with the shock.’

Banners

The flags and banners proudly proclaimed the protesters beliefs and why they were there in such huge numbers. They demanded universal suffrage, just as the Manchester protestors had done and they mourned the dead.

‘An hour of glorious liberty is worth a whole Eternity of Bondage’

‘Do unto all men as ye would they do unto you’

‘Annual Parliaments – Universal Suffrage – Election by Ballot’

‘The day of retribution is at hand – England expects every man to do his duty” and on the reverse side, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory.’

Other banners included the following:

“’In memory of those who were murdered at Manchester’

‘We mourn for the massacred at Manchester’

‘We’ll be brothers for a’that’

‘We fight your wars – and look how you treat us’

‘Through hand joined in hand the wicked will not go unpunished’

A black flag with red border bore; ‘Rachel weeping with her children’ and ‘Would not be comforted because they were not’.’

The demonstrators came from from many places outside Newcastle, shown by the fact that a banner from the the Winlaton Reform Society proclaimed, ‘Evil to him that evil thinks’, whilst a banner from North Shields paid homage, ‘to the immortal memory of the Reformers massacred at Manchester on 16th Aug. 1819′.

Heaton

It can be safely assumed that there were protestors from Heaton amongst those at the meeting. Indeed John Charlton has reported that Heaton colliery viewer John Buddle , noted that the Heaton pitmen had made the ‘constant cry’, that they worked, ‘far too hard for their wages’ and indeed ‘cannot resist on them’. Buddle also claimed that, ‘one fellow at Heaton, after having solemnly made this declaration last say (sic i.e. pay) Friday, gave 6s. 10d next day for a White Hat, just like Orator Hunt’ (who had addressed the crowd at St Peter’s Field’).

There are still arguments about just how big the crowd was.  Those of a conservative bent put the size of the procession at somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000. However, the local newspaper, the Tyne Mercury, estimated that the size of the final crowd was 76,000.  It has been noted that this estimate was ‘calculated at four to a square yard was 76,000‘.  John Charlton has observed that, ‘an 1881 scale map shows that tents on race days took up around a quarter of the Race Course within the rail and that if people were packed tightly, the figure of 76 000 is by no means unfeasible...’

This was a remarkable show of support for greater civil rights, but is even more incredible when one considers that according to the 1801 Census, the population of Northumberland was 168,078 and that of County Durham 149,384. It gave Newcastle’s population as 28,000.  The population from the Tweed to the Tees in 1819 was about 400,000.

The meeting itself, which was peaceful, saw denunciations of the entire political system of the time, as well as criticisms of what had happened two months earlier at St Peter’s Field. Indeed it has been noted that ‘radical Thomas Hodgson of Winlaton, speaking at the great Peterloo protest meeting on the Town Moor in 1819 said, ‘I warn you, gentlemen, against all party men of whatever colour’. ‘

Another of the main speakers, Eneas Mackenzie, delivered a rousing speech in which he denounced both the national government in London and those who ran the local government of Tyneside. He declared that, ‘We are groaning under monstrous debt. Taxes are multiplied to a ruining extent. Our finances are delayed, trade and commerce are languishing.  One-fifth of the population are pauperised.’  

As can be imagined, it didn’t take long for the establishment to respond. Barely two months later,  in December 1819, the Northumberland and Durham Volunteer Cavalry was formed, with Charles John Brandling, the region’s leading Pittite acting as Lieutenant Colonel. There were to be no repeats of the huge 1819 meeting for some time.

However, those residents of Heaton and miners from the Heaton Colliery, who made their way to the Town Moor that October day in 1819, would have their demands met, even if they weren’t alive to see all their hopes fulfilled.  Starting with the 1832 Great Reform Act pushed through parliament by Prime Minister Earl Grey, a Newcastle MP whose statue still stands in Newcastle City Centre, working people in Britain did get the vote, bit by bit and struggle by struggle over the next 100 years.

We must never forget the residents and miners of Heaton and all those others who went to the great meeting on the Town Moor in October 1819. We owe them much.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group. Thank you to New York City Public Libraries for the digital copy of the engraving.

Sources

Peter Cadogan, ‘Early Radical Newcastle’

John Charlton, ‘North East History, Vol 29, 2008’

John Charlton, ‘The Wind From Peterloo; 1819 – Newcastle’s Great Reform Demonstration’

Mike Barke in, ‘Northumbria, History and Identity’

Norman McCord,  ‘Some Aspects of North-east England in the 19th Century,’ Northern History  Volume V!! 1972

Norman McCord, ‘NE England The Region’s Development 1760-1960’

A Moffat and G Rosie, ‘Tyneside: a history of Newcastle and Gateshead from earliest times’

Can you help? 

If you know more about the Newcastle protests, especially the involvement of people from 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

Parsons’ man and Apollo 11

 ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ 20 July, 1969

Famous words but in the millions spoken or written to mark the 50th anniversary of men first landing on the moon, few have mentioned the importance of a former employee of CA Parsons in Heaton, Francis Thomas Bacon. Yet after the event Tom Bacon met President Nixon, who put an arm around his shoulders and said ‘Without you Tom, we wouldn’t have gotten to the moon’.

Tom and his wife Barbara also received an invitation to 10 Downing Street to meet the astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins during their world tour. Tom was presented with a signed, framed photograph of Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon, with the words ‘To Mr Francis Bacon with best wishes from the Apollo crew’. 

BaconMoonFirstStep

But it was a mention of Tom receiving an honorary degree from Newcastle University (without any mention of his part in Apollo 11 only 11 years after the event) in a ‘Journal’ article, celebrating the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Newcastle and the building of its castle, that prompted Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews to dig a bit deeper into the life and achievements of  a distinguished engineer with Heaton connections.

BaconFRSPhoto

Francis Thomas ‘Tom’ Bacon

So who was this former Parsons apprentice and worker and what role did he play in one of mankind’s greatest achievements?

Pedigree

Francis Thomas Bacon was born in Billericay, Essex on 21 December 1904, son of Thomas Walter Bacon, a land owner and an electrical engineer and a direct descendant of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the famous philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist and author.

Young Francis (known as Tom) was educated at a preparatory school in Broadstairs before going on to Eton from 1918-1922 and winning the school physics prize before  taking the Mechanical Sciences Tripos at Trinity College, Cambridge .

Parsons 

After graduation in 1925, Bacon was offered an apprenticeship at C A Parsons in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, during which he worked in the drawing office, engineering workshops and also did outside installation work. As a scientific engineer, he did work on improving reflectors for searchlights and lights used in the film industry. From 1935-1939 he was in charge of the production of silvered glass reflectors. He lodged in nearby Jesmond before, on his marriage to Barbara Papillon in 1934, buying Acomb House near Hexham.

The renowned British scientist, inventor and judge Sir William Robert Grove had discovered the principles behind the operation of fuel cells between 1839 and 1842 but these were not pursued until Bacon became intrigued with their potential while working for Parsons.

In 1937 he wrote a report, ‘Proposed Electric Storage Battery’, for the directors of Parsons, suggesting that a workable fuel cell might be developed as part of an energy storage system, which released energy from the electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen. The proposal was rejected as not being relevant to the business.

Tom, however, was financially independent and could help finance some of his own experiments. So undeterred, he carried out early experiments at home but discovered that to continue was impractical because of the high pressures and temperatures involved. Soon, without permission, he began carrying out his experiments at the Parsons works. He made arrangements to be warned if the managing director, F G H Bedford was nearby. This worked for a time but on one occasion the MD saw the apparatus but not Tom Bacon, as he was in hiding. Fortunately, no awkward questions were asked.

In 1940 a second report was sent to the directors and Bacon admitted that he had been doing experiments in his employer’s time. This time, the managing director F G H Bedford (who worked at Parsons for 60 years!) gave Bacon an ultimatum, either to stop working on the cell or leave Parsons, so he left. History would show that this was very much Parsons’ loss.

Bacon went on to do experimental work on hydrogen-oxygen cells at King’s College, London and for Merz and McLellan before becoming an experimental officer with H M anti-submarine establishment and then consultant on fuel cells to the National Research Development Council. His ideas were developed further by US firm, Pratt and Whitney.

 Brain drain 

‘The Daily Mirror’ on Wednesday 14 February 1973, ran an article with the headline:-

‘As yet another invention reaches crisis point..WHO CASHES IN ON BRITISH BRAINS?’

The article states that it’s one of the clichés of world industry that the best inventions are British – for the simple reason that they make fortunes for everyone but Britain.

It goes on to mention many British inventions that were not financed in the UK and went on to make millions in other countries. Examples given were the refrigerator, celluloid, aniline dyes, the self-winding watch. In bold, the article continues:

‘Francis Bacon, without whose revolutionary fuel cell the Apollo moon-landings would have been impossible, toiled away in agonies of frustration for thirty years. He even got the sack from one firm (C A Parsons) in 1940 for devoting himself to his invention. The Electrical Research Association gave him a grant and then withdrew it. Then the NRDC helped him as much as their budget allowed. But once again, the Americans came along and their millions finally made Bacon’s Fuel Cell, the “magic battery” work.’ 

And the rest is moon landing history!

Space race

Fuel cells are ideal for space travel applications because, unlike heat engines, they have rising efficiency with decreasing load. The Bacon Cell, as it became known, was the first to be powered by hydrogen-oxygen, which was, therefore, much more powerful than earlier versions. It allowed Saturn V, the rocket which propelled the Apollo 11 crew into space, to take off, and of course, hydrogen and oxygen gases were already on-board for propulsion and life support. The by-product, water, was used for drinking and humidifying the atmosphere of the capsule.

Bacon was a modest man. At the many awards ceremonies he attended, he would say: ‘Well I had nothing to do with it, it was all up to the engineers at Pratt and Witney’.

Yet without his dogged perseverance there would not have been a super-efficient fuel cell in the Apollo command and service modules. Certainly NASA recognised his contribution: at a dinner in London, Tom was presented with a gold-plated miniature of his fuel cell, mounted on a teak stand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tom also received a letter from Dick Foley, of Pratt and Whitney saying, ‘Please accept my personal congratulations for the contribution your fuel cells made to Apollo 11.’

Honours

Francis ‘Tom’ Bacon received the following honours:-

1965 – S G Brown Award and Medal from the Royal Society

1967 – OBE (Civil Division)

1969 – British Silver Medal from the Royal Aeronautical Society

1972 – Churchill Gold Medal from the Society of Engineers

1973 – Became a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)

1976 – Received Royal Australian Chemical Institute Medal

1978 – Vittoria de Nora Diamond Shamrock Award from the Electrochemical Society

1980 – Honorary DSc from Newcastle University

1990 – First Honorary Member of the European Fuel Cell Group

1991 – Received first Grove Medal at the second Grove Fuel Cell Symposium

Francis ‘Tom’ Bacon died on 24 May 1992.

Bacongrave

He is buried in All Saints Churchyard, Little Shelford, along with his wife Barbara and their son Francis, who pre-deceased them. The family lived in Little Shelford from 1946. They also had a daughter, Daphne and Edward. a younger son.

 Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group.

Sources

  1. Royal Society Biographical Memoirs

2. Find a Grave

3. National Newspaper Archive

4. Findmypast

5. Newcastle Journal 11 February 1980

Can you help? 

If you know more about Tom Bacon and especially if you have stories or photographs relating to his time at Parsons, 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

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Coronation through Wills’ employees’ eyes

Heaton History Group member Michael Proctor is currently clearing his mother in law’s house after she had to move into care earlier this year and came across some interesting records from the WD & HO Wills factory. He writes:

Both my mother in law, Jean Jobbins, and her late husband, Ern, worked for WD & HO Wills in Bristol, before moving to Newcastle when they married in 1950 to help set up the Newcastle factory on the Coast Road. They were among a number of key workers who made the move north in order provide the new factory with the essential skills to get off the ground.

Wills Factory Exterior

Wills Factory Exterior

Ern was a store keeper and Jean worked in the lab, doing quality control work on the product. In line with the times, Jean gave up work after they married to set up home in a council house on Newton Place, High Heaton, so never worked at the Newcastle factory, but Ern continued to work there until his retirement.

Among the treasures I found were a number of bound copies of the Wills’ staff magazine. Sadly they all dated to the early 1920s, while Ern would still have been a schoolboy and Jean wasn’t born, so it’s anyone’s guess how they came by these treasures. As the Newcastle factory opened in 1950, the magazines obviously don’t mention it. What they do though is paint a vivid picture of life for Wills’ employees. There are reports on a whole range of sports and social activities, works outings, children’s parties and births marriages and deaths as well as diverse range of articles penned by Wills’s staff including accounts of foreign holidays and articles on the development of banks in Glasgow and the history of No 53 Holborn Viaduct (in three parts). The articles complement what we have been told about life at Wills’ Factory on the Coast Road by former employees, Olga Jackson and Laura Young.

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

What I also found though was a special edition of the magazine produced to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. Interestingly, the report of the coronation is written primarily through the stories of employees of WD & HO Wills who took part in them.

WillsCoronation1

Willsneedlework

The report of preparations for the day and the actual event is told by D Tuckwell and NK Hawkes from Bristol and A Anderson from Newcastle, all members of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, whose role on the day was to line the route of the procession. They can be clearly seen in the pictures of the procession. Not surprisingly, with a name like A Armstrong, I’ve been unable to identify the individual, but their accounts of the weeks leading up to the event and the coronation itself make interesting reading. The story is told primarily by NK Hawkes.

On our arrival at Chatham Barracks on Sunday 24th May, it was made obvious that there was no time to be lost in preparing for “C” Day. Our training during the next seven days consisted of “square bashing” and “Operation Coronet”, which entailed such things as standing perfectly still for what seemed days and presenting arms to an old Ford car with a crown on top and, on one occasion, to a corporation dustcart. In spite of many comments, we found all of this to be to good purpose.

We moved to Clapham Deep Shelter on Sunday 31st May, and at dawn on Monday about 5,000 naval ratings were disturbing the peace of Clapham preparing for a full scale rehearsal. Leave for ratings in the afternoon found us in London inspecting the Coronation route, in particular the places where we would be standing the following morning. Already potential spectators were four deep along the route, making themselves as comfortable as possible in the inclement weather. The genius of some was amazing to see. Lean-to shelters, made of paper, waterproofs and so on, gave little protection from the weather, but everywhere one felt the mounting excitement as the hours ticked slowly by. And so to bed!

The dawn of “C” Day found us “ship-shape and Bristol fashion”, ready to em-bus at 6.30. From Clapham we moved in convoy to the Victoria Embankment. On taking up our positions for route lining duties we were cheered by a mass of thousands of schoolchildren waiting eagerly to see their Queen.

Now the hours of work at Chatham paid off. The correct salutes and acknowledgements were made in their proper order to the Lord Mayor of London and his Lady, to all fifty cars of the foreign representatives, to our Prime Minister and those of the Dominions, to the Princes and Princesses of the Blood Royal, and the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, looking radiant and happy, and finally, to the person all those children had waited so long to see, our Queen, with her escort of Household Cavalry.

After the Queen passed on her way to the Abbey, we reformed and marched to new positions in Whitehall. Then the rain began – and did it rain! With a 20 mile an hour wind behind it the rain swept down Whitehall damping everything but the spirits of the waiting thousands. We, and they, stood in silence listening to the impressive ceremony being relayed from the Abbey. Raincoats were soaked through, hats were ruined, but no-one moved to seek shelter, which for some was no more than yards away. In this setting we ate our dinner, an operation which was executed with something of the clockwork precision that had been apparent throughout the proceedings.

The Abbey ceremony over, the marching columns of British and Colonial troops began to move. Swinging down Whitehall accompanied by massed bands, the colours of the many different uniforms blending together, they made, en masse, an unforgettable sight, one that made all the hours of preparation and standing in the rain more than worth while. How the crowds cheered. We took officers’ sword movements as our words of command as it was impossible to hear shouted orders above the noise.  The columns seemed endless, but all good things must come to an end, and the passing of the Golden Coach, bearing a radiant Queen and her proud consort, made a fitting finale to what, to us all, will be a day always in our memory.

WillsCoronationLondon1

WillsCoronationLondon2_edited-1

The cheering died away, and as the last horse and rider disappeared from view we reformed for our march back along the Victoria Embankment. What a different picture we presented now, in rain-soaked uniforms white with Blanco from our caps that had become mere shadows of their former selves, and with spotless white fronts now blue with dye! But for all that we were a proud and happy party because we had shared in what must surely be the greatest day in our generation, the day of the crowning of Elizabeth II.

The commemorative magazine then goes on to report on the Queen’s visits to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Spithead review and reports on how the coronation was celebrated in Glasgow, Swindon, Bristol, Southern Rhodesia and Newcastle, where Wills had factories.

The report from Newcastle was written by a Mr DF McGuire, who I’ve identified as Donald F McGuire of 22 Glastonbury Avenue, Jesmond. Interestingly, my wife remembers Don McGuire, who was a senior member of the Personnel Department at Wills’ as he gave her several summer jobs at the factory. He is perhaps better remembered as the founder of the Friends of Jesmond Dene and is commemorated in a plaque by the visitor centre.

His account of the Newcastle celebrations follows:

In this brief account an attempt has been made to show how the Geordies demonstrated their loyalty to and affection for the Queen.

For a week and more before Coronation day, street and house decorations were being put up, transforming normally dull streets and houses with their unaccustomed colours. Great commendation must go to the Transport Authorities for their specially decorated buses, resplendent in gold and emblazoned with coats of arms, which caused great joy in the juvenile population.

The weather, alas, seemed determined to put an end to such frivolity, and Coronation Monday brought grey skies, cold winds and rain which increased in intensity during the day itself so that all outdoor parties and functions had to be hastily moved under cover. There is no evidence, however, that this in any way spoiled the enjoyment of those taking part. The large bonfire on the Town moor was coaxed into life before a large crowd, and the official firework display was not wasted.

WillsNewcastleCoronation

WillsNewcastleCoronation2

Smiths Crisps Coast Road

The Building that is now Crossling’s on the Coast Road, decked out for the coronation

On Saturday 6 June, the main event, the Lord Mayor’s show, was held in summery weather and was witnessed by a crowd estimated at half a million people. The Show took the form of a historical pageant illustrating the various aspects of English life in the four centuries separating the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. Some of the more outstanding exhibits were: – the Elswick Battery Field Gun of South African War fame, accompanied by veterans from that war – the enthusiastic rendering of Tyneside’s own anthem, the Blaydon Races, sung by appropriately costumed race-goers in the most ancient of vehicles – the soldiers of Marlborough and Wellington and the Dragoons, the well designed tableaux entered by local industrial concerns, and the mechanical exhibits of the Public Utility Services.

One must not, of course, fail to mention the Service contingents whose bearing and turnout, conspicuous in the marching Wrens, were up to the high standard now taken for granted. The whole procession was one that will long be remembered not only by the Young Elizabethans who witnessed it, but by some Older Georgians and Elderly Edwardians as well.

The Wills’ magazines provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the company’s staff. The earlier magazines will shortly have a new home with the Bristol and Bath Family History Society, where they will be a valuable resource to local history researchers, but the Coronation edition will be staying with me as a fascinating record of the event.

Can you help?

If you know have memories, anecdotes or photographs of the Wills Factory or of the  Coronation relevant 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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor of Heaton History Group.

 

 

 

The Border Reivers

On 23 October 2019, our talk at the Corner House will be about the Border Reivers.

For three hundred years Northern England and Southern Scotland witnessed the longest and most savage intercnine war in history. This was largely fought by the ‘riding’ names from the upland dales of Northumberland and Liddesdale. These were not Robin Hood characters but well organised and murderous cross-border criminal mafias who preyed on the more exposed lowlands while at the same time pursuing feuds and vendettas of relentless fury which endured for generations.

 

BorderReivers2

This was a world where murder, theft, kidnapping and ransom were everyday activities, where loyalty to family was all that counted, these uplands became a blighted ‘threap’ a war-zone where the arts of civilisation, faith and culture could not endure. Set in authority to mind this shop of horrors were the border wardens, our versions of US Marshals but not a white hat in sight. Often the wardens were more a part of the problem than any sign of a solution.

At regular intervals the standard fare of low level conflict and raiding burst into a tornado of violence when England and Scotland were at war, a far from infrequent occurrence. Two kings of Scotland were killed by the borderers, two more captured for ransom.

Our speaker

Although he worked for nearly thirty years in law and related fields, John Sadler’s main passion has always been for military history. Living in the heart of the historic Anglo Scottish Borderland stimulated a particular  interest in ‘The Steel Bonnets’ – the sixteenth century border reivers.

He has a particular interest in historical re-enactment and interpretation for schools, community and local history groups. His approach to history is to make the experience of telling or teaching as meaningful and interactive for the audience as possible, with displays of clothing, arms, armour and firearms, demonstrations of swordplay, musket drill and the odd dash of drama. He sees delivery as much a performance as a lecture.

John is a member of Equity and a Fellow of The Royal Historical Society.

Book now

Our talk will take place on Wednesday 23 October 2019 at The Corner House, Heaton NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154.

Newcastle Hospitals: nine centuries of care

Our September talk will look at the development of hospitals in Newcastle from the 12th to 21st centuries, including the highly regarded and ground-breaking Freeman Hospital in High Heaton. The talk concludes with some observations on the past that should shape the future.

Hospitalsmtv_edited-1

St Mary the Virgin Hospital, 12th century

Our speaker

Reg Hall studied medicine at University College London and University College Hospital in London before spending a year at a mission hospital in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After completing surgical training, he was appointed as a consultant urologist in Newcastle. He went on to work with international cancer clinical trials organisations and established and directed the Northern Cancer Network. After retirement, he co-founded Cancer Connections, a cancer support charity in South Tyneside where he still volunteers.

HospitalInfirmary1753_1_edited-1

Newcastle Infirmary, 1753

Book now

Our talk will take place on Wednesday 25 September 2019 at The Corner House, Heaton NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). All welcome. FREE for Heaton History Group members. £2 for non-members. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org / 07443 594154.

Torn from Home: from Bosnia to Heaton

On 4 May 1980 a major news story broke. For all its importance, it probably didn’t have a huge resonance in Heaton, but it would nevertheless go on to have an impact on the life of that part of Newcastle.  It was on that day that President Tito of Yugoslavia died.  Tito and his authoritarian rule had helped to keep the former Yugoslavia together after the nightmares of WW2, yet in little over ten years after Tito’s death, Yugoslavia would be torn apart by ethnic conflict and Smajo Beso and his family would be torn from home only to find a safe place of refuge in Heaton. This is the story of Smajo and his family….and other Bosnians who fled the deadly war and horrific concentration camps of Bosnia and came to the sanctuary of Tyneside will have similar tales to tell.

Smajo Beso was born on 29 March 1985 in a little town in Bosnia called Stolac.  Although born in Stolac, which is a town of 18,000 people, he actually grew up in a small village called Barane. Smajo’s early childhood was pretty idyllic, living under a beautiful mountain, surrounded by nature. In the village there were only 44 homes and as a young boy this gave Smajo a great sense of freedom and adventure.

Smajo 5

Smajo is the little blond boy being held on the left

 

 

Smajo makes it clear now that while the conflict in Bosnia is often explained by using the argument that there were ancient hatreds, which just exploded like a deadly human volcano and there was an inevitability about it all, he doesn’t doesn’t agree.  He says that this is an outsiders’ explanation and simply not true. On the contrary, Bosnia was a country where people of different religions co-existed very peacefully. Jews, for example, were made to feel welcome in Bosnia when they were not welcome in other parts of Europe.

Smajo was brought up not to differentiate in anyway between people of different religions. Although from a Muslim family, he remembers going to a neighbouring Catholic family’s home at Christmas, while they bought Smajo’s family presents at Eid.  Smajo was raised to know that people celebrate different holidays at different times, but they were not different as people. In Bosnia the outward appearance of religion was not obvious, particularly from a child’s perspective; there were a lot of mixed marriages and people were not treated differently.

Signs of change

When asked how he noticed as a young boy that things were going wrong, Smajo replied that it was ‘not overnight’. However, he does remember one incident vividly.  Smajo was six years old and was living in a new home his family had just built. Smajo was playing outside but when he ran back in, he saw his mother crying, while watching television.

Looking back it was 1991 and Smajo thinks it was probably something bad happening around the area of Croatia and northern Bosnia. Smajo also remembers that,  ‘our Croatian friends disappeared overnight’.  They were worried about the Second World War and that some Croatians, working in tandem with the Nazis, had been involved in massacres of Serbs.  In the end only a few elderly Croatians stayed and then eventually only Smajo’s family was left in the village surrounded by the Serb army.

Smajo’s grandad and his brothers had helped to save Serb villages in the Second World War. Consequently, local people went into the street to say Smajo’s family should be protected. They were friends and still coming round – but now in uniforms. They were still friendly and Smajo’s dad knew the commander and he was able to reassure Smajo’s family that even though they were Muslim they would be alright.  However, local friendly soldiers started being replaced by others from further away, from Monetengro and Serbia and some locals changed. One person, who had been friendly, came round sharpening knives, saying that he was going to kill Smajo’s family.  He had been friendly just a week earlier.

Concentration camps

However. it was notable that other Serbs still came at night to bring food to Smajo and his family at great risk to their own lives, even when it came to really bad times.  There was still one local hospital open but when Smajo had to be taken there because he was ill, soldiers at roadblocks wouldn’t let Smajo and his father back in to the village.  The soldiers told them to go a nearby concentration camp.  Fortunately one soldier recognised the family and got into the car with them, so they were able to go to another house. The son of another friend got into his uniform and also got into the car.  Smajo and his family got back to safety. Smajo’s dad’s cousin not so lucky. He was taken to a camp and died a few days later after coming back. It was said to be a heart attack. Whatever the truth, it was surely brought on by torture.

Inevitably, there was a lot of propaganda, with rumours of massacres. By now Smajo and his family were completely cut off. Smajo’s dad  felt compelled to patrol with an old gun. His own father had fought with the Partisans against the Nazis in WW2 , but now Smajo’s dad was up against what was still then the Yugoslav army, then the fourth biggest in Europe. At one point a truck of Serbs came to torture and kill Smajo and his family, but were stopped by a Serbian friend.

Smajo’s family escaped from the isolated village of Barane and made it to Stolac, where there were other Muslims and there would be safety in numbers. Smajo’s dad joined with the Croatian army to fight against the Serbs but after a year all the Muslim men in Stolac were sent to a concentration camp – by the Croatians. Still a small child, Smajo escaped through a place of happy childhood memories from just a few years earlier. How different it all was now.  His first taste of war was playing behind his house and hearing shells. Smajo has noted that even when young you know when danger is around you. He understood then the panic he had seen earlier in the adults around him and what they had been talking about.

Smajo’s father and other men were arrested in July 1993 and put in a concentration camp by the name of Dretelj, which was to become known as the Camp of Death. Smajo’s father lost 27kg in his first few weeks there. He had been fighting the common enemy for the ideal of a multicultural Bosnia. Around the same time, Smajo and his friend had been outside playing in the town of Stolac, when they saw many trucks coming down the road. One of Smajo’s friends saw an uncle of his in the trucks. The men were being taken to be interrogated. Smajo’s dad went back to the front line to wait for inevitable capture while Smajo and the rest of the family remained at his uncle’s house in Stolac for over a month. The uncle was taken a few days later and they saw it happening. He had not been on the front line due to having an injury. One man who came to take him was his daughter’s boyfriend. He didn’t care who he took from Stolac. On 4 August, Smajo’s family were expelled from their old home and taken to a metal factory (Smajo’s uncle had been expelled from his home a month earlier and taken to the same metal factory to be searched and interrogated.) Smajo’s mother was forced to sign something to give away her earrings for ‘safe-keeping’.

Smajo 8

Document on which Smajo’s mum had to sign away her earrings ‘for safe keeping’

From there Smajo and his family were loaded onto trucks and driven until they were near Bosnian-controlled territory and then forced to march to safety. It was very hot and at one point Smajo stepped over a dead body. The elderly died on the side of the street and they were all shelled and shot at.

Escape to the UK

From August 1993 until July 1994 the family stayed in Mostar with Smajo’s mum’s sister. His dad was writing to the family through the Red Cross so they knew that at least he was alive. They had found out just before they left Stolac and then heard nothing for months. The camp he was in was eventually discovered by the Red Cross but by then Smajo’s dad had been there for four months, with nothing to eat but watery stew served in a tiny pot. The boiling hot stew was often so hot he passed it on without having any as it burnt his insides, so on many days he simply didn’t eat anything. In four months he lost 27 kg.  The Red Cross took out the 500 men in the worst condition to an island off Croatia where they were fed and treated. From there, Smajo’s father came to the UK, arriving on 19 January 1994. He was told he could go anywhere except Asia, Africa – or back to Bosnia.

Smajo’s father had to take a ferry, then a bus to Zagreb, walking on enemy territory, when he could have been killed any time. Indeed at one point he had to move away from Muslim haters on the ferry. He was then taken to a meeting point in Zagreb and then flew to the UK on a charter flight for refugees. Eventually, he reached Newcastle.

While all this was going on what happened to the town of Stolac?  Stolac had for long been known as the ‘Bosnia Museum in the open’. It had the best conserved historic core of any town in Bosnia, with wonderful archives and museums. The Croatian troops who went there in August 1993 torched every sign of Muslim existence – with even the local mosque foundations dug up and archives burnt.

This was the dreadful situation Smajo and his family were fleeing from when they were torn from home to land in the Heaton area of Newcastle.  Smajo himself had just turned nine and on hearing that he was coming to the UK  he found it on a map. He says now that,  ‘it looked small!’ He was however excited to get out. A peace agreement with Croatians had been signed, but no agreement had been concluded with the Serbs and the nightmare of the genocide at Srebrenica was still to come a year later. However Smajo was also sad at leaving grandparents, family and friends behind.  It was particularly difficult for his mother; she was leaving her parents behind to see her husband in Newcastle. Thankfully they did survive.  But around the same time the dangers of staying were sadly brought home only too clearly, when Smajo’s aunt (his mother’s sister), was killed by Croatian bombs well away from the front line. It was a senseless killing.

Refugees in Newcastle

In June the Red Cross picked up Smajo and his immediate family  so that they could join Smajo’s father. On route, they were regularly stopped by Croatians at road blocks before reaching a refugee camp in northern Croatia. They were then driven to Zagreb, before flying to London and a short stay in a refugee centre there – all part of the agreement signed by John Major’s government – before finally flying north to Newcastle. Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins was among those who helped them get to Newcastle.

 

Smajo 1

Smajo, his brother and father, Gosforth, 1994

Smajo 2

Smajo, his brother and sister, 1994

Smajo 3

Family photo, 1994

At first Smajo’s family lived in a refugee centre in Gosforth before moving to a house in Heaton, just off Heaton Park Road.  Coming from a war zone Smajo found Heaton very peaceful – there was no sound of shooting. At night however he found himself having nightmares about Bosnia as he began to process what had happened. One particular recurring dream was of waiting in line for food. On one occasion when doing this for real back in Bosnia, Smajo and his family had been shelled, but until now, he had blocked this from his memory.

Chillingham Road schooldays

Soon it was time for Smajo’s first day at Chilingham Road Primary School. He remembers that he was taken there with a Croatian interpreter.  However, the school had not been told that he was from a war zone. What with the bad memories and no English language, Smajo was very quiet in his early days at Chillingham Road.  Consequently, the school requested a meeting with his parents to discover why he wasn’t talking and subsequently things improved.

At this point the deputy head of Chillingham Road Primary School at the time, Claire Webster Saaramets takes up the story.  Claire remembers going to the school gates that first morning and that she had no real knowledge of what Smajo and other children from Bosnia had gone through. She had seen the news from Bosnia on the television, but that was all. Chillingham Road Primary School was already a mixed community and very integrated. However Smajo was so quiet, not saying very much at all and this lack of English language left teachers unaware of the trauma he had gone through.

After the horrors of Bosnia, living in Heaton and attending Chillingham Road Primary School was a very positive experience for Smajo and others. They were able to feel a sense that they could just come and be who they were.  Music was important and was one thing that could be shared. After Smajo’s parents went back in to school there was lot of additional help.

There was often a song at the end of class and Claire taught the children how to sing it in Bosnian.  So it was that a year 5 class in Heaton learnt to sing in Bosnian, their class song with the title of ‘Goodbye my Friends’, a poignant song about leaving friends behind at the end of the school day. Smajo remembers this as, ‘just the most incredible and biggest act of kindness ever.’  He goes on to comment that, ‘this was something so simple but something so incredibly huge for me. It was a piece of home. I remember that first day walking home from school with a smile on my face. That’s no exaggeration. It was incredible how welcomed I felt, how human and real I felt. What Claire did I will never forget for the rest of my life and we can all learn so much for that one act.’

Smajo also remembers drawing two soldiers with a flag of peace and as his English improved was able to produce an autobiography with a picture.

Schools in Heaton did a lot to help the Bosnian community and others fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia. Chiilingham Road Primary School held a mini project around peace, helping pupils to feel safe. Meanwhile nearby Ravenswood Primary School initiated a campaign to try and stop the deportation of a pupil and their family back to Croatia. The project at Chillingham Road was about making sure it was safe place, while the school was also used a community centre for several years with the Bosnian flag in on the wall of the dining hall. Members of the Bosnian community met every Friday and they also received great help from the caretakers at the school.

Smajo faced a number of initial problems at school at Chillingham Road Primary.   Most obviously there was the language barrier.  Consequently, at Chillingham Road it took quite a long time for him to make friends. He would stand forlornly looking and watching on the playground.  In his early days at Chillingham Road, Smajo would wait outside every morning, until it was time to come in. Fortunately it was a good Year 5 group and the teachers encouraged the playing of games, which Smajo could join in with. Ultimately it was the international language of football which helped, as playing football was the way he got friendly with people; Smajo had also played football in Bosnia.

At home in Heaton

As Smajo settled into his new life in Heaton, he found both good and bad things about it. On the down side, nearly all his family and friends were still in Bosnia and Smajo found himself feeling homesick. He and his family had a home, but it didn’t feel like a home at first. Happily, all that has changed and Heaton and Newcastle are very much home now.

Smajo  says that people in Heaton and the north east of England share a lot of similarities with Bosnians – they are friendly, with a lot of time for people, just like people in Bosnia. The Bosnian community helped each other, but there were so many other people who helped them. Consequently, they have integrated well, with many Bosnians becoming doctors or working in other professions. Smajo is proud to be Bosnian, but also proud that Newcastle is his home. Heaton is very much their home and most Bosnians in Newcastle live in Heaton and High Heaton.

Smajo sometimes thinks of what might have happened if he and his family hadn’t come to Heaton.   He states that they had no option but to flee. They escaped because of the agreement signed by the British government and that was what brought them here. They never knew how long they would stay here but are now glad that they did.

In terms of what people in Heaton and Newcastle can do to help those torn from home at time of war or other crisis, Smajo simply says to give them a warm welcome. It is a great credit to the people of Heaton and Newcastle that Smajo thinks that they should do whatever was done in the 1990s for the Bosnian community. Smajo notes that people here did that extra bit for them, acts of kindness from people in Heaton, such as having the class song translated into Bosnian.

And what is Smajo doing now?  He is busy completing his Phd in Architecture and teaching at Newcastle University.  He also spends a lot of time telling others of the experiences of himself and others in Bosnia in those dark days in the 1990s and helping people to understand what happened and how we must always be aware of the signs of impending genocide. The struggle against hatred and prejudice goes on.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group. Interviews with Smajo Beso and Claire Webster-Saaramets, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,  21 March 2019 with further comments from Smajo, April 2019.

Additional Source

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josip_Broz_Tito

 

 

Quarter Century of Women Priests in Heaton

On 12 March 1994, the first 32 women were ordained as Church of England priests in Bristol Cathedral. And just a few weeks later on 8 May 1994 , at Newcastle Cathedral, the first group of women from the Newcastle diocese were ordained.

Among them was Rev Joan Dotchin, a curate at St Gabriel’s Church, Heaton. Joan went on to be the vicar of the Church of St Mary The Virgin, Willington, followed by Willington Team Rector, honorary canon of Newcastle Cathedral and then vicar of St James and St Basil in Fenham.

A week later a further group of women were ordained including Rev Mary Chapman who had been a deacon at St Gabriel’s for several years. Formerly a teacher at Heaton Manor, Mary was chaplain to Wills Cigarette Factory and the John Lewis store.

St Gabriels women priests Joan & Mary

Joan (left) and Mary,  among the first Church of England women priests

In subsequent years several more women from St Gabriel’s became priests, Rev Sheila Auld, Rev Kath Batte and Rev Jenny Lancaster.

St Gabriel’s had been at the forefront of the discussions about the ordination of women for several years before this. The vicar at the time, Rev Michael Unwin was a member of General Synod (the Church of England’s parliament) and spoke of the essential and appreciated role that Joan and Mary had played in the parish before being ordained.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Robin Long, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you know more about this story or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org