Newcastle and Tyneside in general, is rightly famous for the inventions produced here. From the railways to the hydraulic crane and from the first turbine driven ship to the electric light bulb (and many others besides), Tyneside was the home of some of the most important inventions in human history. But the last invention mentioned above would be of little use to use without a switch to help us turn it on. Thankfully that was also invented. And the place where it was invented? Yes, Newcastle again, not far from Heaton, by a man with strong links to Heaton itself.
That man was John Henry Holmes, an engineer, Quaker and inventor. Holmes was born in Newcastle on 6June 1857 and grew up first of all in Gateshead and then in Jesmond. His father was a ‘paint and color manufacturer, glass and oil merchant’ with his own factory. John attended the Friends School in Bootham, York, where he was taught the rudiments of science. Holmes must have absorbed much of what he was taught as, at the age of 16, he won a place at the Durham College of Physical Science, later Armstrong College, now Newcastle University. Two years later, having completed his studies, Holmes was apprenticed to Head, Wrightson and Co of Stockton-on Tees.
It was at Head, Wrightson and Co that Holmes began to handle electrical apparatus. Then in August, 1881, Holmes became an electrical engineer, working for John S Raworth of Manchester. His first work with Raworth was helping to fit out a new ship, City of Rome, built by Barrow Shipbuilders in 1881, with 16 arc lamps and 230 Swan lamps.
In April 1883, John made a bold decision. Having built upon his successful work with City of Rome by continuing to install lamps both onshore and in ships, Holmes decided to establish his own company in Newcastle, along with his father and two elder brothers, Alfred and Theodore. So it was that an electrical engineering business under the name of J H Holmes was established. The company was to last until 1928, fully 45 years, until their work was taken under the wings of A Reyrolle and Co Ltd. Consequently, the work initiated by Holmes went on for over 50 years under his supervision and in some respects continues to this day.
It was the following year that Holmes invented his light switch, the first in the world, at his workshop on Portland Road, Shieldfield, just outside Heaton. This switch enabled electric light to be easily used. In1883, Holmes had installed electric lighting in ‘Wellburn’, the family home in Jesmond, which thus became the first house in Newcastle to be lit by electricity. This work caused Holmes to develop what is now the familiar quick break switch. He patented this invention in Great Britain and the United States in 1884.
This was a huge breakthrough, in helping people to use electric lights. This new technology ensured that what was known as electric arcing was prevented, by causing the internal contacts to move apart quickly enough. This was very important as electric arcing could cause fires or shorten the life span of a switch. You can still see Holmes’ original invention at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.
Holmes didn’t restrict his work to this country. The Suez Canal was opened in November 1869 and by the late 1880s had become an important transport artery for the British Empire, cutting travel time for ships between the Indian subcontinent and Britain. In 1889, Holmes visited Egypt, where he studied the requirements of vessels traveling along the canal at night. Subsequently, Holmes ‘designed and supplied portable lighting apparatus that effectively increased the capacity of the Canal by greatly extending its use in the dark hours’.
Holmes then moved on to finding ways of lighting trains and producing electroplating dynamos. These are described as being, ‘designed for low potential and high current intensity. They are wound for low resistance, frequently several wires being used in parallel, or ribbon, bar or rectangular conductors being employed. They are of the direct current type. They should be shunt wound or they are liable to reverse. They are sometimes provided with resistance in the shunt, which is changed as desired to alter the electro-motive force.’ So there, now you know… However you describe Holmes’ work, he was certainly developing a reputation for pioneering electrical engineering work.
Holmes was indeed a prolific inventor. In 1897, Holmes commenced the sale of ‘Lundell’ motors under patent from the USA. This has been seen as a ‘pioneering step in the electric driving of industry’ and indeed one of the early and most interesting uses of this motor was in electric cabs.
The following year Holmes was at it again! This time he invented something which would help the publishing industries, for it was in 1898 that the Holmes-Clatworthy 2-motor system was patented and this would go on to drive newspaper presses for many of the world’s most important newspapers.
As the twentieth century dawned, so the company continued to develop and Holmes remained involved. It has been said of Holmes that his, ‘personal influence on its engineering side was invaluable because of his almost passionate love of good mechanical ideas’.
Holmes was known as a kindly man, with a reputation for having a quiet, retiring nature. Indeed it has been said of him that his nature prompted Holmes to perform, ‘many kindly acts and caused him to take a particularly keen interest in young people, and his orderly mind compelled him to do his best in all that he undertook and enabled him to play a notable part in the spread of a new way of doing things’.
Holmes and Heaton
So we have learnt that John Henry Holmes invented the light switch very close to Heaton in neighbouring Shieldfield, but what links did he have to Heaton itself?
Holmes had at least two close links with Heaton. The 1901 census shows us that his brother Ellwood was living in High Heaton at ‘Wyncote’ on Jesmond Park East. It describes him as being 35 years of age and an ‘employer’. He is described as an ‘Electrical Engineer and Paint and Colour Manufacturer.‘ He is evidently working in the family business. At this time, Ellwood has a 28 year-old wife called Edith, a son called Charles, aged three, and two sisters, Margaret and Ada, aged 30 and 24 respectively, living with his family. In 1911, Ellwood was still on Jesmond Park East and had added ‘licensed methylator’ to his list of occupations. This is someone licensed to manufacture and sell methylated spirits.
In 1928, when John Henry Holmes was 71 years old, his company, J H Holmes and Co, was incorporated into A Reyrolle and Co in Hebburn as a wholly-owned subsidiary. So it was that six years later, in the last year of his life, Holmes’ work gained a direct Heaton connection. It has been noted that, ‘A Reyrolle and Co established Parolle Electrical Plant Co Ltd as a private company for construction of electrical and other plant with the specific aim of acquiring shares in C A Parsons and Co from the executors of the estate of the late Sir Charles Parsons. Two directors were appointed by Reyrolle and one by Parsons.’ So Holmes’ work became directly connected to Heaton’s most famous company.
John Henry Holmes’ eventful life ended in 1935. He is buried in Old Jesmond Cemetery.
As the saying goes, ‘if you want to see his legacy, look around you’. If you are reading this somewhere indoors, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see an electric light switch. It has been noted that Holmes’ ‘quick break technology remains in use in domestic and industrial light switches modern times.’
‘A Fine and Private Place: Jesmond Old Cemetery‘ / by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge, 2000. 1857951557
‘The Northumbrians: North-East England and Its People: a new history’ / by Dan Jackson; Hurst, 2019. 1787381943
Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group with additional material by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries for the image of John Henry Holmes.
Can you help?
If you know more about John Henry Holmes or anyone mentioned in the 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 email@example.com
Heaton, we know, was home to a number of clever, adventurous and brave young men who learnt to fly in the early days of aviation, mostly as a result of the first world war: William Douglass Horsley, who was to become chief electrical engineer at Parsons, was a founder member of the RAF, after being transferred from its predecessor, the Royal Flying Corps; Gladstone Adams, later to invent the windscreen wiper, was a reconnaissance photographer with the Royal Flying Corps – to him fell the task of photographing the body of Baron von Richthofen ‘The Red Baron’ to prove to the authorities back home that he was really dead; gifted young civil engineer, Henry Clifford Stroud, trying to intercept a German bomber at night in a an era before radar and radio, was killed in a collision with another British plane. And there were more. But noteworthy as their achievements were, only one man, a genuine pioneer, is remembered still for his contribution to aviation. That honour goes to Arthur Edward George, once of Jesmond Park West in Heaton.
Arthur was born in Fordington, Dorset on 17 June 1875. By the time he was five, his family had moved to Newcastle and were living in the west end. His father was a ‘house estate and insurance agent’. By the time of the 1891 census, Arthur, now 15, was serving his time as a mechanical engineering apprentice. Young Arthur was a talented sportsman. Local newspapers give testament to his cycling prowess. He was also a keen swimmer and predicted by some to be a future Olympian.
After qualifying as a mechanical engineer, Arthur went to South Africa, serving in the 2nd Boer War with the Cape Colony Cyclist Corps and also competing in cycling events there. He received the Queens South Africa Medal with three clasps.
In 1902, having returned to Newcastle, Arthur first became connected with Heaton. He and business partner, 30 year old Robert Lee Jobling, ‘a mechanical engineer, motors and cycles’ (according to the census), who lived at 48 Sixth Avenue, founded George and Jobling. Their firm operated from the old Stephenson Locomotive Works in South Street, Newcastle for over 60 years.
They began by building bikes but soon began to concentrate on the motor trade – both repairs and sales. George and Jobling was a dealership for evocative names such as Argyll, Humber, Vauxhall, Wolseley, Darracq and Dodge. The partnership is credited with inventing the forerunner of the trolley-jack and the breakdown truck. Remember, this was at a time when all cars were hand-built, when both steam and electricity seemed viable candidates for powering them and two years before the historic meeting in Manchester between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. The first all-British four-wheel car was built by Herbert Austin, manager of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company in 1900. By 1904, there were about 23,000 cars on Britain’s roads, compared with around 38,300,000 now.
Four years later, the Model T Ford became the world’s first mass-produced (and so affordable) car and, by 1910, car ownership in Britain had quadrupled. Arthur George and Robert Jobling were obviously good at what they did, innovative, prepared to take risks and with an eye for future trends. They soon had outlets as far afield as Glasgow, Leeds, Darlington, Hexham, Alnwick and Bowness on Windermere.
Arthur also raced cars and finished third in the 1908 RAC Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man. He competed on the track at Brooklands in Surrey, winning the All-Ford race with Henry Ford watching from the stands, as well as on Saltburn Sands.
The Model T Ford he drove, with his own bespoke brass bodywork, was known as ‘The Golden Ford’. It survives and belongs to Tuckett’s of Buckinghamshire. It was the subject of Channel 4’s ‘The Salvage Squad’ in 2004. You might even have seen it: in 2017, it was brought back to Newcastle for the re-opening of the Stephenson Works as a music venue called ‘The Boiler Shop’.
Arthur became interested in flying after attending the world’s first international public flying event, la Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne, an eight day show held in Reims, France in August 1909. It was this historic meeting which confirmed the viability of heavier-than-air flight. Half a million people, including the French President, Armand Falliere, and future British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, attended and almost all the prominent aviators of the time took part. Henri Farman, a Franco-British aviator, broke the world record for distance with a flight of 180 kilometres. On the final day, during a competition for the fastest flight, Louis Bleriot’s plane crashed and was destroyed in the resulting fire.
Nevertheless Arthur was inspired and he returned to Newcastle to design and build his own bi-plane at the South Street works. Just six months later, in March 1910, the plane was shown at George and Jobling stand at the London Olympia Aero and Motor Boat Exhibition.
It featured a unique ‘triplicate control column’ to simplify the handling of the aircraft and which many aviation experts consider to be the first ever joy stick. This remarkable piece of equipment can still be seen at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.
On 6 September 1910, Arthur George became the 19th person to obtain his Royal Aero Club Pilot’s Licence in a plane, ‘Bird of Passage’ that he bought from JTC Moore-Brabazon, the very first person to obtain the licence just six months earlier.
Sadly, before the year had ended, Arthur had crashed the George and Jobling plane at Northumberland Golf Club in Gosforth Park and no bank would lend him money to enable the prototype to go into production, believing it to be too risky a venture.
In WWI, Arthur served in the Northumberland Motor Volunteer Corps as a temporary Major. He hadn’t given up flying, however, and in 1925 became a founding member of Newcastle Aero Club and became a member of its executive council. Older Heatonians might recognise another well known local name, that of Doctor Eric Dagger, who practised in Heaton, as did his son.
By 1929, Arthur and his second wife, Monica, were living at ‘The Haven’, 93 Jesmond Park West, High Heaton.
In the second world war, he served first of all as Honorary Chief Wing Commander of 131 Tyneside Squadron Air Defence Cadet Corps and then in the Home Guard.
(Incidentally, Arthur’s son, Lieutenant A E George Jnr of the Australian Army was awarded the Military Cross for special work behind Japanese lines. He attended both the RGS in Newcastle and Durham School as well as playing rugby for Gosforth Nomads.)
In 1951, just three months after he flew an aircraft for the last time on his 75th birthday, Arthur Edward George died while visiting his daughter in Bingley, Yorkshire. His funeral, back in Newcastle, was attended not only by friends and family but also by business partner, Heaton’s Robert Jobling, and by officials and members of Newcastle Aero Club. There was a fly past by two Tiger Moths, which dipped their wings out of respect.
A posthumous award of the Royal Aero Club’s silver medal for ‘services to aviation for over 50 years’ followed.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, with additional material by Chris Jackson, both of Heaton History Group. Copyright: Arthur Andrews and Heaton History Group.
If you know more about Arthur Edward George, Robert Lee Jobling or anyone mentioned in the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Earlier this year it was announced that the TSB at 217 Chillingham Road would close its doors on 29 September 2020.
Within the memory of many locals, Heaton boasted five banks and that’s not counting those on Shields Road other than the two on the Heaton Road corner. Let’s take a walk past them from South to North (and so, conveniently, more or less in chronological order of their opening).
But first, we must go back to 1893 and cross Shields Road to the first bank to include Heaton in its name: the Byker and Heaton branch of the Hodgkin, Barnett, Pease and Spence Bank, which, in 1859, in the immediate aftermath of a banking crisis, had been established in Newcastle by a group of Quakers. The ‘joint-stock’ (ie owned by shareholders) Northumberland and Durham District Bank had collapsed a couple of years earlier so there was an appetite for private banks owned by their partners. Londoner Thomas Hodgkin is worth a special mention: he was also a very respected historian, an important member of the Society of Antiquaries, and a philanthropist. He gifted Hodgkin Park and Benwell Dene to the city.
We know that in 1897, the branch manager at 168 Shields Road was J B Wilson. Hodgkin, Barnett, Pease and Spence became part of Lloyds Bank in 1902.
Two years later, a branch of the Newcastle Savings Bank opened across the road at 171 Shields Road on the south east corner of Heaton Road. This bank had been founded in Newcastle in 1818 and operated successfully for over 150 years until, in 1971, it merged with South Shields Savings Bank to become Northumberland and Durham Trustee Savings Bank. Following an Act of Parliament reforming banks in 1976, it became part of Trustee Savings Bank North East, which later became known as TSB. In December 1995, TSB merged with Lloyds.
As you can see, building is very handsome. We know that a caretaker lived on the top floor and that, in 1910, the manager was G A Thompson. It is still a busy bank.
Eagle-eyed Heatonians will know that there was already a Lloyds Bank at this junction. In 1908, the old 168 Shields Road branch had moved into an attractive new building across the road at number 167. In 1910, the manager was A W Burn. You can still see the bank’s name on the rain water hopper.
Although the two Lloyds TSB branches remained open for some years after their 1990s merger,in 2013, it was eventually the TSB building at 171 that was rebranded as Lloyds: the original Lloyds at 167 closed.
The building has recently been renovated and now contains 22 one and two bedroom apartments. Its name, as well as the pipework, a reminder of it its history.
And so to the branch which has been in the news recently. Before being converted into a bank, the premises at 217 Chillingham Road were occupied by a draper’s shop. It was on 29 March 1909 that it became a bank, a sub branch of the already mentioned Byker and Heaton branch of Lloyds on the corner of Heaton and Shields Road. It was to remain a sub branch until 1946 when it became a full branch in its own right.
The bank can just be seen at the end of the block in the above picture. The two nearest shops are D Flatman and Economy Enterprises but the name of the third is not clear. Note the vending machines on the door frames. Can anyone say when it was taken? It looks like a Laszlo Torday photograph.
In 1982, the bank had a ‘through-the-wall cashpoint’ installed. Following the merger of Lloyds and TSB, only a handful of branches displayed the new Lloyds TSB livery. But overnight, on 28 June, the remaining 2,380, including our sub-branch, were rebranded in a ‘military-style operation’. All branches were rebadged internally and externally – this involved nine miles of fascia signs, 18 miles of neon tube and 66,000 new merchandising units. Despite a fire at the warehouse where the new signs were stored, the operation was a success.
But as part of reforms which followed the 2008 banking crisis, on 9 September 2013 Lloyds and TSB once more became two separate banks.
With libraries and archives closed at the time we were researching this article, we haven’t been able to pin down exactly when the bank that used to stand at 112 Heaton Road opened. Using online resources, we know that in 1890, only numbers 2-40 had been built on the east side. It was probably around five years later that the block on which the bank stood opened. Certainly by 1910, 112 Heaton Road was a branch of London City and Midland Bank. In 1916, we know that the manager was Thomas Hartley Pugh.
The final branch to open met a growing need as house building spread north towards and over what we now call the Coast Road. The branch of Barclays which stood on Stephenson Road was built in 1927 at the same time as the High Heaton estate immediately to its north. The date is still clearly visible above the door. Can anybody remember when it closed?
Banks aren’t all about bricks and mortar, paper and coins though so we have also taken a snapshop of the Heaton residents known to have been working in banking at the time of the 1911 census.
Arthur William Burn, already mentioned, was the manager of the Lloyds Bank at 167 Shields Road. Morpeth born and bred, he was aged 41 at the time and lived in Byker. When he died in 1937, he was living in Benton.
And Boltonian, Thomas Hartley Pugh, aged just 22 and manager of the Midland branch on Heaton Road, was lodging at 14 Warton Terrace. By 1916, he had moved to 17 Armstrong Avenue so retained his short walk to work.
Edward Allison, aged 47, from Gateshead, lived at 16 Warwick Street with his wife Edith and young children, Arnold and Phyllis.
Henry Mason, aged 34, and from Longhorsley, lived at 100 Cartington Terrace but we don’t know where they worked. Quite possibly one of them was at Chillingham Road.
And there were many bank clerks, among them William Nattress. At the outbreak of WW1, he still lived where he was brought up, one of at least eight children of Jessie, a Scot, and Durham born Ralph, at 110 Addison Terrace. During the war, he was a corporal in the 5th battalion Northumberland Fusiliers but he was killed in action, aged 22, on 24 May 1915. His name appears on the Menin Gate, St Silas’s, Byker and St Andrews Church of Scotland, Sandyford Road war memorials and the memorial to the Northumberland Fusiliers 5th battalion in St Oswald’s, Walkergate. We remember him here too.
But from September, there will only be the one branch bank at the corner of Heaton and Shields Road and most people in Heaton working in banking are likely to be based in the city centre or in an out of town call centre.
Many of us use online banking and the many cash points around Heaton but how long before they too disappear given that the current pandemic has accelerated the demise of cash? Now could be the time to photograph them before they are lost.
Researched and written by Robin Long with additional material by Chris Jackson, both of Heaton History group. Thanks to Peter Judge, Archivist at Lloyds Bank and Pam at TSB, Chillingham Road.
If, like so many other people, you’ve been enjoying exercising in the green haven that is Jesmond Dene this spring, perhaps you’ve wondered about those in whose footsteps you’re walking: people like William and Margaret (later Lord and Lady) Armstrong, of course, who, in 1835, were given 16 acres of land in the Dene by Margaret’s parents as a wedding present and, who, in turn, later gifted the landscaped park he developed there to us, the people of Newcastle; but also Jane and Isabella, artist daughters of engraver Thomas Bewick, who loved to walk there as elderly ladies (They both lived into their 90s); eminent naturalists John and Albany Hancock, who lived nearby, and the family of Armstrong’s trusted lieutenant, ballistics expert Sir Andrew Noble, lucky enough to live in the Dene itself, first of all in Deep Dene House on the High Heaton side of the Ouseburn, now sadly a semi ruin but most recently known as Fisherman’s Lodge, and latterly in Jesmond Dene House, now a boutique hotel. What all of these people have in common (and also in common with, reportedly, a growing number of us today) is that they took a great interest in the natural world, especially that of their own locality.
It is Andrew and Margery Noble’s son, George, who we have to thank for a fascinating book called ‘Birds of Jesmond Dene’ published in 1931. In it, he lists and comments on ‘merely those birds which I and one or two relatives and intimate friends have observed. My memory, alas! goes back over sixty years so I have taken that period roughly as a time limit.’
Thus the book is a valuable document which gives us a feel of how the bird life of the Dene has changed over a long period, from the late 1860s to 2020, as well as giving us little glimpses into life in the Dene during the period Noble writes about. This article is not a scientific study but, just as Noble did, we have enlisted the help of a small number of fellow Heatonians and local birdwatchers to get a better understanding of the range of birds that have been seen in recent years and allow rough comparisons with the period Noble covered. And we have the added advantage of being able to scour Twitter for those birds thought worthy of special mention by today’s 140 character chroniclers. It’s certainly not an exhaustive or official list though. We have also expanded the area covered to the whole of Heaton, although most of the birds listed have been seen in Heaton’s various parks.
Jesmond Dene is, of course, essentially a wooded valley and so many of the birds seen there could be described as ‘woodland birds’. Apologies to ornithologists as it’s certainly not a scientific classification and many of the birds listed will often be seen in other habitats too but most build their nests, and are often seen, in and around trees. Many of our common garden birds would fit into that category.
Here are the woodland birds of Jesmond Dene as mentioned by Noble in 1930 in approximate order of how common he considered them to be, along with some contemporary observations:
Robin (or ‘Redbreast’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds’ It’s perhaps surprising that he says no more about this perennial favourite, which has such a close relationship with man. Nowadays: Still resident in and beyond the Ouseburn parks. in In 2011 Peter Candler, Managing Director of Jesmond Dene House, Noble’s old home, posted a photograph on Twitter of one in the garden there. Lovely to be able to start with that direct link with the past.
Dunnock (‘Hedge Sparrow’, as Noble calls it) ‘Very common and breeds regularly.’ Nowadays: Still a common, if often overlooked bird, in the Dene and elsewhere in Heaton. Mike Cook says it’s ‘best seen having a free lunch in Pets’ Corner’.
Song Thrush ‘Very common and breeds’ . Noble includes his own painting of one in the book. Nowadays: Although according to the RSPB ‘in serious decline’, we’re lucky to still have them in and around the Dene. In January 2020, James Common tweeted that he’d seen good numbers in Heaton Park.
Chaffinch ‘Very common and breeds.’ Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and other Heaton parks and gardens, but, again, is said to be in decline, possibly because of disease.
House Sparrow ‘Very common. A pair of pure white sparrows, which had evidently just left the nest, once appeared on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House. The family was away at the time, but one of our maids, in some mysterious way, managed to capture them. She amused us afterwards by saying they looked like angels amongst their darker brethren. Poor little things! They paid the penalty of their beauty by dying a martyr’s death.’ Nowadays: While still a common sight in the author’s north Heaton garden, Mike Cook reports that, although a common resident until 2005, they are now only occasionally recorded on the periphery of the Ouseburn parks.
Starling ‘Very common and increasing species. Nests every year. It is curious to think that sixty years ago it was, comparatively speaking rare.’ Nowadays: More common in the streets and gardens of Heaton than in the Ouseburn parks themselves.
Blackbird ‘Common and breeds. I have found many nests of this species placed on the ground on the banks of the burn in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: Very common, of course, in the Dene and in other parks and gardens.
Blue Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: A beautiful bird but such a common sight at feeders and in nest boxes that only artist, Sophie Foster, has mentioned them on Twitter in the context of Jesmond Dene. She found an abandoned nest, which she took home to photograph and study to understand how it was constructed and the materials used.
Great Tit ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: Again very common but neither the majority of our birders nor the Twitter community thought it notable enough to mention specifically.
Wren ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: It’s a secretive bird which tends to lurk in the undergrowth and so perhaps more common in and around the Dene than many people realise.
Rook ‘Common resident. There was a rookery near the Banqueting Hall till quite lately but I fancy this has been deserted. A small one was started some years ago in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House but as it was just above the chicken pen it was discouraged.’ Nowadays: Only recorded very occasionally flying over.
Redwing ‘Arrives in large numbers in the autumn.’ Nowadays: Still seen in winter. In March 2017, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Flock of redwing in a beautifully sunlit Heaton Park this morning.’ Mike Cook suggests checking out yew trees with berries in autumn.
Fieldfare ‘As above.’ Nowadays: Another winter visitor to be seen in and around Heaton occasionally, especially during harsh weather. Marek Bidwell photographed one on a crab apple tree during Beast from the East in March 2018. Mike Cook says they’re most likely to be seen around the edges of Paddy Freeman’s playing fields.
Hooded Crow ‘Regular winter visitant.’ Nowadays: Not recorded by our birders – in the UK, breeding birds are confined to the far north and west, although apparently migratory birds can occasionally be spotted on the east coast of England. Interesting that they were once more common.
Coal Tit: ‘Quite common, though I don’t think we have seen a nest’. Nowadays: Still resident in the Dene and the wider area, although only visiting birder, Sam Porter, thought to mention a sighting on Twitter last October.
Jackdaw ‘Still fairly common’. Nowadays: Resident in the Ouseburn parks and seen regularly around Heaton.
Cuckoo ‘Regularly heard each year. In 1915 they appeared to be very plentiful, being heard and seen almost daily during the season. One was caught in the nets set to protect the gooseberries…’ Nowadays: No reported sightings in and around the Dene but the author heard one this May in Rising Sun Country Park, which isn’t too far away so listen carefully while there’s less traffic noise.
Spotted Flycatcher ‘Regular summer visitant. EC: I was walking along a path by the burn when I saw in an oak tree a shabby old blackbird’s nest… when I went to examine it, a flycatcher flew off and I found a neat new nest had been built inside the blackbird’s, like the lining of an entrée dish.’ 2020: Bred in the Dene up to about 2003 but not recorded since then.
Linnet ‘Common. Much commoner in past years when the Dene was less formally laid out and there were more patches of gorse and bramble.’ Nowadays: No recent reports even though the RSPB says, ‘There are concentrations along the east coast from Kent to Aberdeen’ including in parks and gardens. The linnet is, however, another bird in long term decline.
Greenfinch ‘Common though not quite so much as formerly when it used to breed very plentifully.’ Nowadays: Perhaps the same could be said today. They are seen in Heaton’s parks and gardens but they’re another species which has declined, partly because of disease.
Goldcrest (‘Golden Crested Wren’, as Noble calls it) ‘Seen every winter as recently as January 1928.’ Nowadays: Although tiny and difficult to spot, resident in and around the Dene. James Common posted a photograph on Twitter during snowy weather in March 2018: ‘This Goldcrest spent a good quarter-hour feeding in the lower branches of Holly in Heaton Park this afternoon. One of the species hardest hit by bad weather, it was promising to see it nab a few morsels’.
Willow Warbler (‘Willow Wren’, Noble calls it) ‘Still nests regularly. Miss Adamson: I saw such a pretty sight the other day. I was watering my begonias with a hosepipe… when a little willow wren came and bathed in the spray. It flew onto the apple tree nearby and sang its thanks and then came back and finished its bath.‘ Nowadays: A summer migrant which bred in the Dene until the turn of the century but now just recorded on migration. James Common reported one in Heaton Park on 10 April 2020.
Garden Warbler ‘Not uncommon. We found a nest of this species many years ago.’ Nowadays: No recent records although, as they sound like blackcaps and are difficult to spot, they may go unreported.
Woodpigeon ‘Fairly common’ is all Noble had to say. Nowadays: Most of our contemporary birders didn’t think to mention it at all and nobody has excitedly posted a sighting on Twitter but if they had they may have simply said ‘ubiquitous’. The woodpigeon has increased in numbers by some 87% in the last thirty years or so. In the countryside, it’s said to have benefited from the cultivation of oil seed rape but here in Heaton, it’s one of the birds that has gained most from our increasing provision of food on bird tables.
Bullfinch ‘ Not uncommon. Nested within the last few years and seen in 1917.’ Nowadays: A few resident pairs in the Dene. James Common photographed one in Heaton Park during the harsh early spring of 2018 ‘Bullfinch from Heaton Park this afternoon – appeared grateful for the sunflower seeds placed out by a kind local. Who wouldn’t be in this weather?’ They also love the plum trees in Iris Brickfield, especially in early spring.
Tawny Owl ‘This bird is, I think, more plentiful in the Dene than formerly. From the fact it can be heard all year round, I fancy it may still be considered a breeding species… When I was a boy, this bird always came under the disgusting denomination of vermin and was ruthlessly destroyed. [It] does occasionally take birds but makes up for this by the enormous quantity of rats and mice it destroys.’ Nowadays: More often heard than seen but Gareth Kane reported seeing one by the Ouseburn in November 2012 and Marek Bidwell has had one in his Heaton backyard, although he says they’re more often to be seen or heard in the tall trees at the bottom of Jesmond Vale Lane.
Woodcock ‘There are generally one or two seen every year on autumn migration. Some years ago, I saw one quite unconcernedly feeding on the lawn of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: A rare winter visitor but Anthea James reports seeing one in her North Heaton garden and Gavin Dudley has seen one on Shields Road!
Wood Warbler (‘Wood wren’j ‘Occasionally seen.’ Nowadays: Rarely recorded on migration. Mike Cook saw one in May 2002.
Kestrel ‘Still occasionally seen. Some years ago we had high hopes that it might breed in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook says that they bred in a ruin at Castles Farm until 1996 but now only occasionally sighted. In November 2015, birdwatcher ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted that he’d seen a kestrel with a rat in the Dene, his first sighting of one there ‘for ages’.
Redstart ‘We used to see the redstart every year and a pair nested in our garden more than once’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley saw one in his High Heaton garden in the 1990s.
Sedge Warbler ‘Some thirty five years ago I remember finding no less than three nests in one afternoon.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.
Chiffchaff ‘Have not heard or seen it for some years but I heard its note constantly in the sixties.’ Nowadays: It appears that chiffchaff is a success story over recent years as the distinctive onomatopoeic call of this summer visitor is regularly heard in all of Heaton’s parks from March onwards. Tom Middleton photographed one in Iris Brickfield in April 2015 and they have been heard by all our correspondents in and around the Dene this spring.
Grasshopper Warbler ‘I remember this bird’s curious note as one of my earliest recollections. It must have bred regularly during the sixties as we heard it year after year.’ Nowadays: Mike Cook recorded one in Jesmond Vale in July 2007.
Whitethroat ‘Used to nest fairly frequently in the Dene but I have not myself seen a nest or bird here for some years.’ Nowadays: The last one recorded by Mike Cook was in June 1996.
Magpie ‘Often seen in the late sixties. I remember a nest in a clump of high trees at a spot not far from the east end of Armstrong Bridge.’ Nowadays: Amazing to think it was still uncommon in Heaton even thirty to forty years ago but a success story over the last few decades and one of the easiest to spot birds in the Dene and throughout Heaton.
Brambling (‘Mountain Finch‘ as Noble referred to it) ‘One roosted regularly all through the winter in a shrub outside the library window of Jesmond Dene House.’ Nowadays: A sporadic winter visitor. Gavin Dudley recalls seeing a flock in Heaton Park in the 1990s.
Nightjar ‘This bird was not uncommon years ago, I remember that my father shot one within yards of the fence on the east side of the Dene.’ Nowadays : A nocturnal summer visitor to Britain not reported in Heaton in recent years. They are normally found on heathlands, moorlands, in open woodland with clearings and in recently felled conifer plantations.
Treecreeper (Simply ‘Creeper’ Noble calls it) ‘Not very common.’ Nowadays: Resident in the Dene and Heaton and Armstrong Parks. Dick Gilhespy posted a photograph on Twitter in March 2017.
Goldfinch ‘Seen in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House a few years ago. Nested two years in succession in a pear tree at Craghall, 1911 and 1912. The nest… was given by me to the Hancock Museum’. Nowadays: Now commonly seen and heard in the parks and gardens of Heaton, they are a bird that has done well in towns and cities during recent years, spotted at just 8% of feeders in 1972 but by 2012 were seen at 87% of them.
Marsh Tit ‘Somewhat rare. Seen in the quarry of Jesmond Dene House in 1916’. Nowadays: A one off sighting for Noble and in recent years neither marsh nor willow tits, which look very similar, have been seen locally by our birders. Despite their name, marsh tits are most often found in broad leaf woodland, and also copses, parks and gardens so, in theory, the Dene would suit them, although they are said to be more common in southern England.
Sparrowhawk ‘I have not seen this bird for some years’. Nowadays: Another 21st century success story! Resident in the Ouseburn parks and often seen around Heaton. In January 2013, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Saw female sparrowhawk hunting long tailed tits in Heaton Park this morning.’ And in October 2017, James Common noted ‘ Sparrowhawk twisting and turning through the chimney pots of central Heaton just now in pursuit of a pigeon. Awesome to see!’
Tree Pipit ‘I have not seen this bird for many years. In 1869, I found a nest with 5 eggs in it above the Flint Mill.’ Nowadays: Not reported by our present day ornithologists but, as the RSPB describes its habitat as newly planted conifers or open heath in western UK, that’s perhaps not surprising. Again, Armstrong’s young plantations may have briefly suited it in the 1860s.
Blackcap ‘This bird was pointed out to me by John Hancock when I was a very small boy. Nest seen by LA and EC for several years.’ Nowadays: Although, blackcap is historically a summer visitor, increasing numbers overwinter in Britain. In January 2015, Marek Bidwell noted: ‘Female #blackcap on my feeders in #heaton #newcastle; last sighting on 12th Jan 2014 almost exactly a year ago’ but also in April 2016, ‘Lophophanes’ tweeted ‘ Male blackcap singing Jesmond Dene, first of the spring.’
Hawfinch ‘Seen by me two or three times and always when the yew berries were ripe.’ Nowadays: Hawfinch are now among Britain’s rarest / most difficult to spot resident birds and haven’t been reported in Jesmond Dene since the 1980s.
Icterine Warbler ‘Shot in the garden of Crag Hall about twenty five years ago by the gardener. This specimen… [was] presented to the Hancock Museum.’ Nowadays: No recent reports but clearly rare back in the day too – and made rarer by the shooting!
But there are also woodland birds seen nowadays that George Noble and friends didn’t mention seeing at all between the 1860s and 1930:
Collared Dove: Even if you don’t know what they look like, you’ll be familiar with their call which sounds like ‘U-NIIII-TED’! Not recorded as breeding in Britain until the 1950s, they are now common throughout Heaton but have declined in the parks, now being more likely to be spotted on roofs and in gardens.
Long-tailed Tit: Numbers have risen nationally since the 1980s and that certainly seems to be the case in Heaton, where acrobatic flocks are a fairly common sight in our parks and increasingly gardens.
Jay: Rare before 2003 but now breeding. All our present day birders and many Twitter users report seeing jays in the Dene and local parks.
Nuthatch: Resident in the Ouseburn parks. Marek Bidwell says they especially like pecking at the old walls on Jesmond Vale Lane.
Great Spotted Woodpecker: Its distinctive drumming is often heard, particularly in Armstrong Park. Geoff Forrester managed to photograph this bird at its nest near Pets’ Corner.
Ring-necked Parakeet: Britain’s only naturalised parrot, despite many having escaped from private collections, only began to breed in the UK in the late 1960s. They spread north from the south east and, having been first recorded in 2014, they have probably been breeding in Heaton Park for the last couple of years.
Waxwings: These beautiful winter visitors tend to be seen in larger numbers in Britain, especially the east side, when harsh winter weather affects their native Scandinavia. Marek Bidwell says they are occasionally seen around the bowling green near Heaton Road. They’re also quite often seen around the Coast Road around the junction with Benfield Road. A large flock settled on telephone wires on Huntcliffe Gardens a few years ago.
Siskin: Gavin Dudley reports them being fairly regularly winter visitors to his High Heaton garden bird feeders in the 1990s. Mike Cook saw one in the Ouseburn parks in January 2019.
Red Kite: Introduced successfully to Gateshead in the early years of the twenty first century, they are occasionally seen over Heaton. Birder, Jack Bucknall, reported seeing one circling over Shields Road in June 2018.
Redpoll: A rare visitor, Mike Cook saw one in March 1997 and visiting birder, Sam Porter, tweeted about seeing one fly over Heaton and Armstrong parks in October 2019.
Harris Hawk: an escapee from captivity of this American species was first spotted in Jesmond Dene in late 2014 and often in 2015. Since then a number of escapees have been spotted, most recently in April this year.
Lesser Whitethroat: A single migrating bird seen by Mike Cook over Paddy Freeman’s lake in May 2002.
Peacock: Marek Bidwell was astonished when walking along Park Head Road a few years ago to hear ‘ the most unusual call high in a tree that made me think of a jungle. I looked up and saw a peacock.’ It turns out it had escaped from Pets’ Corner!
Buzzard: A number of our birdwatchers have reported seeng their first buzzards flying high over Heaton during 2020’s lockdown, whether that is a coincidence or a result of increased prey or birdwatchers enjoying more time staring at the sky from their yards and gardens, it’s difficult to know.
What about birds associated with the Ouseburn itself? Here are the ‘water birds’ Noble mentions, again roughly in order of how common they were.
Moorhen (‘Water Hen‘, as Noble called it) ‘Common and breeds. Although we constantly had two or three nests on stumps or stones in the burn… they seemed hardly ever to get more than one young away… I have no doubt they were taken by pike, of which there were a good many in the water or possibly rats may have been the culprits.’ Nowadays: Still common and easy to spot in and around the Ouseburn and in recent years at Iris Brickfield in North Heaton.
Pied Wagtail ‘Still quite common. Old and young birds seen together every year about the burnside.’ Nowadays: Although included in the ‘water birds’ section, they are perhaps more commonly spotted in Heaton’s streets. Gareth Kane tweeted about one on Stratford Road in snowy weather in March 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’. There’s often one around Chillingham Road and the author saw one in May 2020 on Rothbury Terrace.
Grey Wagtail ‘Fairly common. Still seen about the burnside. Used to breed regularly above the Flint Mill’. Nowadays: Often seen along the Ouseburn. Gareth Kane reported seeing one while out running in March 2013. Marek Bidwell recommends the burn near Pets’ Corner as a good place to spot one. The author saw one on the Ouseburn in May 2020 near the newish metal footbridge by the flyover.
Common Sandpiper ‘A tolerably regular summer visitant. Has bred within the last few years’. Nowadays: Gavin Dudley has seen one under the bridge by the flyover ‘but it was a long time ago’. Let us know if you’ve seen one.
Sand Martin ‘Up to about eight or ten years ago, this bird bred above the sandstone quarry at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Rare but Mike Cook has two records of sightings from 2003 and 2004.
Mallard (‘Wild Duck’ is the name Noble uses) ‘Used to be seen fairly frequently in hard weather, being no doubt attracted by the food for the tame ducks that my father kept’. Nowadays: Mallards are so common on and around the Ouseburn and in Paddy Freeman’s pond, that it’s hardly ever mentioned by local birders. Has definitely done well over the last century or so.
Kingfisher ‘We once saw five of these birds, three young and two old ones. Still occasionally seen… one seen at Crag Hall on 22nd November 1927. Also seen in 1929 and 1930.’ Nowadays: Regularly seen but possibly no longer breeding. In December 2019, Gareth Kane tweeted ‘Nothing like watching a kingfisher fly along the Ouseburn to lift my spirits on a Monday morning!’ and they lifted many a spirit during this year’s lockdown too. Perhaps more surprisingly, in winter 2015/16, one spent several weeks around the pond in Iris Brickfield.
Dipper ‘ I fear that this bird is perhaps not as often seen owing to the pollution of the stream from Gosforth village and the consequent destruction of the larvae upon which it fed… although ‘Miss Adamson informs me that it certainly did breed here. The nest was under the waterfall, and when she was little, her old nurse used to take her there daily to watch the birds flying out and in…’ Nowadays: There have been regular sightings since 2006. In July 2019. Marek Bidwell wrote on Twitter: ‘I spotted a #Dipper at the top of @JesmondDeneOrg this morning – it had retreated into a rocky crevice to escape the torrent of steaming water cascading down the Ouseburn, creating humidity that I would more typically associate with a tropical rain forest rather than #Newcastle.’ Earlier, in 2016, he managed to photograph a nesting pair ‘under the bridge at Cradlewell’. He has not seen them there since and says there may have been a problem with rats or vandalism.
Grey Heron ‘Seen flying so low that it can said to have been seen actually in the Dene’(Ethel Cochrane, Noble’s sister)‘ Nowadays: The occasional, mainly young, heron can still be seen in Jesmond Dene in an around the burn. Gareth Kane photographed one in November 2018. Marek Bidwell has seen one fishing near Castle Farm Road. There are also occasional sightings on Iris Brickfield.
(Red breasted) Merganser ‘Mr Alfred Cochrane tells me that in February 1929, during the very hard weather, he saw a merganser in the burn, most of which was frozen over at the time. The stream has not been frozen over more than twice in the last 40 years, at least solid enough for people to walk on the ice. The other occasion was in January 1895.’ Nowadays: More recently, Gavin Dudley has seen a pair in the Dene.
Water Rail ‘Seen in the burn at Craghall in 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: A rarity just as in Noble’s time but in February 2013, a ranger posted ‘First ever film of a Water Rail in Jesmond Dene! I was really lucky to see this (only 4th ever record in the Dene) and even luckier to catch some nice feeding behaviour on film.’
Snipe ‘In February 1929 Mr Alfred Cochrane saw a snipe near the bridge in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House. Doubtless it was driven to the burnside by the extremely cold weather.’ Nowadays: A single record in August 1995.
Green Sandpiper ‘I have included this bird… although the two occurrences come somewhat outside my time limit. John Hancock in “Birds of Northumberland and Durham” stated a specimen… was killed in Jesmond Dene on the 26th July 1843 and adds … a fine specimen… found dead [at Craghall] in August 1855.’ Nowadays: No recent reports.
Little Grebe ‘Seen in the burn just above the bridge at Crag Hall in late summer of 1910 or 1911’ (Colonel Adamson). Nowadays: Still a very rare visitor but Mike Cook recorded one in December 2008.
But there are also so called ‘water birds’ that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930 but which have been recorded in more recent years:
Mute Swan: Occasionally sighted but this year, for the first time anyone can remember, they built a nest on Paddy Freeman’s pond, perhaps partly because council cuts and lockdown have meant more debris than usual to use for nesting material. They even made an appearance with ranger, Sarah Capes, on ‘Look North’!
Common Gull: Occasionally spotted among flocks of black-headed gulls, Mike Cook’s last record was in January this year.
Reed Bunting: They were a common sight on the reeds of the Iris Brickfield pond, certainly up to a few years ago and one year, a pair were regular visitor to garden bird feeders in the North Heaton bungalows, including the author’s.
Canada Goose: The author photographed and tweeted about seeing one in the Iris Brickfield in March 2015. It was facing down a pair of magpies. They are also occasionally seen in Paddy Freeman’s.
Coot: The author saw a coot on the pond on Iris Brickfield a few years ago. Mike Cook last saw one in the Ouseburn parks in April 2012.
Cormorant: Gareth Kane’s report in January 2020 was the latest of a number of sightings of this coastal bird.
Goosander: Marek Bidwell has seen a female at the top of the Dene near Castles Farm Road. Mike Cook’s most recent record was in January 2020.
Tufted Duck: Also seen from time to time in Paddy Freeman’s, most recently by Mike Cook this March.
Goldeneye: Gavin Dudley has seen them in Paddy Freeman’s pond. Mike Cook has recorded two in November 1991 and December 2011.
Mandarin Duck: Mike Cook reports regular sightings between November 2002 and September 2003 and sporadically until 2013.
Wood Duck: Mike Cook reports that one was a regular in the winter of 1995 and another from April 2002 to 2003.
Teal: a single report from Mike Cook in September 2011.
Curlew: Gareth Kane saw two among the beech trees in Heaton Park in the winter of 2010.
Redshank: Recorded by Mike Cook close to the stepping stones on the Ouseburn in November 2004.
Great Crested Grebe: Gavin Dudley reports seeing one in recent years.
Common Tern: A single sighting over Paddy Freeman’s lake by Mike Cook in July 2007.
Farmland (and cliff)
Noble lists a number of birds as being common on the fields on the east side of the Dene ie inHigh Heaton. From the Coast Road to Castles Farm Road, even in 1930, the only buildings shown on a map are a couple of farm houses and High Heaton Cottages on what we now call The Spinney.
Mistle (‘Missel’) Thrush ‘This bird bred year after year in the grounds of Jesmond Dene House in a tree close to the road and in full view of passers-by’. Nowadays: Still commonly found in the Dene and around Heaton, it is more a bird of open spaces than its cousin, the song thrush. In May 2020, Gareth Kane photographed a parent and young in a nest in a tree on the banks of the Ouseburn.
Swallow ‘Common and breeds’. Nowadays: The most recent records from Paddy Freeman’s are September 2015 and around that time they also used to sometimes be seen flying low over Iris Brickfield field and pond.
House Martin ‘Used to breed every year at Crag Hall.’ Nowadays: Good numbers nest in some of Heaton’s terraces and at Heaton Community Centre. They can occasionally be seen hunting insects over the trees in the parks.
Swift ‘Occasionally seen. I fancy these have become much more common over the Dene since St George’s Tower was built.’ Nowadays: Although the numbers are much smaller than even a few years ago, small numbers of swifts still return to Heaton skies and roof spaces every May.
Skylark ‘This bird was very common in all the fields on the east side of the Dene. I found a nest with three eggs on 3 May 1870. These eggs are still in my collection… the ground where they used to breed so plentifully is now covered with villas and tennis courts’ (Presumably Jesmond Park East and West and Melbury Road. Ed). Nowadays: You’d have to go to the Town Moor or Rising Sun to hear skylarks today.
Partridge ‘My father had the shooting of the fields on the east of the Dene and occasionally he got quite a good bag’. 2020: Again, you might spot them at Rising Sun or the Town Moor.
Corncrake ‘I have not heard its note for some time but it was common and bred regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I remember being told that six nests were found in one field alone when it was being mown’. Nowadays: Sadly now confined to Western Scotland and Ireland, except perhaps on migration.
Lapwing (‘Green Plover’) ‘Used to breed regularly in the fields east of the Dene. I had some eggs in my collection taken in April 1877 and marked with the words ‘taken within 10 minutes walk of Jesmond Dene House’. Nowadays: The nearest lapwing to Heaton the author has seen is by the pond behind the Wills Building, visible through a fence just before the Newcastle United training ground.
Yellowhammer ‘I found a nest on the east side of the Dene containing two eggs, many years ago but it was a very common bird in the sixties.’ Nowadays: Not reported by any of our birders in the Dene or Heaton.
Pheasant ‘Occasionally seen in former years, no doubt having strayed down from Gosforth Park, where they used to be reared in large quantities. One seen early in 1930.‘ Nowadays: Anthea James reports seeing one once in her North Heaton garden. Mike Cook has recorded two, in April 1994 and June 2015.
Quail ‘My father shot one in the sixties, the skin of which I had for a long time in my possession. This bird was killed within a few yards of the Dene fence.’ Nowadays: No reports.
Black-headed Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull. Noble lists these three birds together and comments ‘I do not know how far these birds may be considered as birds of the Dene. They are seen in great quantities every winter flying close over the Dene and I think they occasionally alight in the field opposite the old Flint Mill. When the Dene was in the country, they often pitched in the surrounding fields’. Nowadays: Gulls are a common sight all year round throughout Heaton. Large flocks of black-headed gulls can be seen on Paddy Freeman’s playing fields and Iris Brickfield in winter; herring gulls can be seen year round in both parks and around Heaton roof tops; lesser black-backed is now a summer visitor and becoming more common.
However, there are also ‘farmland’ (and ‘cliff’) birds that George Noble and friends didn’t see at all between the 1860s and 1930:
Feral Pigeon: Descended from the rock dove, a farmland bird, which have been bred in captivity for many years and been very successful in their return to the wild, creating a new habitat in city streets as well as parks and gardens. The white ones are descendants of the occupants of a dovecote that used to be in Pets’ Corner. Did George Noble really not see any up until 1930 or did he not think they really counted?
Stock Dove: Distinguished from feral pigeons in flight by their lack of a white rump and from wood pigeons by their lack of a white patch on the side of their neck and white band on their wings. Their songs differ too. Resident throughout the Ouseburn parks.
Carrion Crow Only fairly recently separated as a species from the closely related Hooded Crow, which Noble did see, but, unlike its cousin, now ubiquitous all year round.
Greylag Goose: Mike Cook recorded one in January 2000.
Peregrine Falcon: Local naturalist, James Common, has reported several sightings from his home in Heaton’s terraces, including via this tweet in December 2018: ‘Peregrine silhouetted overhead at first light, Herring Gulls going beserk. My second record this Winter on my street in Heaton…’
Sir George Noble and friends recorded 74 different species in the almost 60 years between the 1860s and 1930, 58 of which were reported by our local birders in the 30 or so years between 1990 and 2020. Of those species not recorded in more recent times, 11 were considered by Noble to be common at some point during his recording period.
In addition, our birders recorded some 35 species that Noble and friends didn’t see, around 10 of which we could classify as very or relatively common and 25 rare.
So somewhat surprisingly, the final score is Noble 76 Nowadays 93. We have a number of advantages, not least of high speed communications to report sightings and social media on which those sightings can be permanently recorded. We also stretched the geographical area covered a little more than Noble did. But on the other hand, Noble and his friends and relatives had the advantage of actually living in the Dene itself.
We can argue all day about the numbers but what is clear is that Jesmond Dene and the other parks of Heaton are a precious historic and environmental resource, which we should both enjoy and do our very best to conserve for future generations.
Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group with huge and much appreciated input from our local birders, Marek Bidwell, Michael Burnie, Mike Cook, Gavin Dudley, Geoff Forrester, Anthea James and Gareth Kane, along with additional assistance from David Noble-Rollin and Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club and the many Twitter users mentioned in the text.
Can You Help?
Please fee free to add your sightings and other observations to the Comments section by clicking on the link below the title of this article.
Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews was looking through some papers belonging to his father’s first cousin, Alison Jeffcoat, recently when he came across a page from ‘The British Dental Journal’ dated 20 February 1988, containing an obituary for a Professor Arthur Darling. Noticing that the professor had been born in Newcastle, he decided to do some research to see if there was, by any chance, a Heaton connection.
Happily for us, it turned out that, in 1912, Arthur Darling’s father, John Straughan Darling, who worked in insurance, had married Henrietta Jeffcoat, a clerk at a boot manufacturer and a great aunt of our Arthur, the researcher. The Jeffcoat family were living at 8 Bolingbroke Street at the time.
Indeed, for a time, the Darling family had lived at 36 Third Avenue, next door to the Jeffcoats at number 34.
Not only was Arthur Ivan Darling a distant relative of ‘our’ Arthur, he was also a direct descendant of George Darling, the brother of Grace, the Northumberland heroine who, in 1838, helped rescue passengers and crew from the shipwrecked, paddle steamer ‘Forfarshire’ off the Farne Islands.
Cutting his teeth
John and Henrietta Darling went on to have four children: Joyce, Edna Grace, Arthur Ivan (in 1916) and Kathleen.
The family relocated to the coast, while Arthur was still a young boy, so he was educated firstly at Monkseaton and then Whitley Bay Grammar School. He went on to Kings College University of Durham to study dentistry. On qualifying, he became a lecturer at the Newcastle Dental School on Northumberland Road where he was greatly influenced by the Dean of Newcastle, Professor Sir Robert Bradlaw, who encouraged him to obtain a medical qualification, as well as to carry out research into caries (tooth and bone decay) for his Masters. Arthur achieved all of this by the age of 29.
At the time, Bristol University was looking for young people ‘of vigour and vision’ to enhance its department of dentistry. Arthur fitted the bill and so became Bristol’s first Professor of Dental Surgery in 1947 at the age of 30.
WWII had depleted all of the dental schools of staff, students and resources. At Newcastle Dental School, Professor Bradlaw had put the emphasis on discipline and research as a basis for progressive teaching by doing both himself. Arthur set about doing much the same at Bristol.
At first, it’s said that his blunt north country approach did not go down well at all. There was opposition from some of the part-time honorary dental surgeons and senior members of the medical faculty, who looked upon Arthur as a ‘young upstart’.
Arthur admired Jack Armstrong and his Northumbrian pipe playing and he emphasised his northern roots by singing Geordie songs at dental school concerts and anyway he was ‘too young to be a professor’! But he was a fighter, carrying on his, sometimes lonely, battles for full-time staff, resources and the power to use them as he saw fit.
Gradually the dental school’s reputation grew, as more full-time staff were appointed and student numbers increased. Research papers were published. Arthur’s own work on enamel structures was highly-rated. The Medical Research Council set up its first dental unit at Bristol, with Arthur as Honorary Director.
Soon Arthur’s whole-hearted enthusiasm for teaching dentistry and advancing the dental school broke down the earlier hostility from the older members of the university and hospital staff. Through his own research, he achieved first a national and then an international reputation in the dental world.
He successfully attracted funds to the university too, including a large sum from the Wellcome Foundation for a new research wing at the dental school. He was rewarded with the position firstly of dean of the medical faculty and eventually that of pro-vice chancellor, where he continued to display his skills as an academic politician.
Nationally, Arthur became an important figure on the General Dental Council, at the Royal College of Surgeons, the Department of Health and on many other bodies.
His services to education and dentistry did not go unnoticed and he was rewarded with a CBE and many honorary degrees.
Arthur and his wife, Kathleen Pollard, had four children.
He is described as having had a great sense of fun and he enjoyed fishing, music, foreign travel and working with wood, becoming a competent maker of chairs and stools, enhanced by delicately carved designs.
Arthur Ivor Darling died on 22 November 1987.
Postscript: Yet another Arthur and another Andrews
A scrappy fragment of a newspaper photograph in a diary belonging to Arthur Darling’s uncle Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat (of whom we have written previously) led our Arthur (Andrews) in another direction.
He knew, from the 1911 census, that Leslie’s father, also called Arthur (keep up!), had been a foreman at a chemical company. The words he could make out on the above photograph led to the discovery that Arthur Jeffcoat worked for 45 years at Wilkinson and Simpson Ltd who had premises at 36 and 38 Newgate Street and also at Low Friar Street in Newcastle. Numerous advertisements can be found in the British Newspaper Archive for many and varied concoctions. One that caught our Arthur’s eye was for ‘Natural Health Salt’ , their own version of Andrews Liversalts. (Ed: Not more Andrews as well!)
Can you help?
If you know more about Arthur Darling, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
British Dental Journal – 20 February 1987
British Newspaper Archive
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. Copyright Arthur Andrews and Heaton History Group except images for which permission to reproduce must be sought from individual copyright holders.
Jack Common’s famous semi-autobiographical novel ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ gives us some great insights into life in early 20th century Heaton in the years between the dawn of the 20th century and World War One. In the novel, Common writes as the narrator and as an imaginary character named ‘Kiddar’. It is, however, generally considered that Kiddar is Common himself and the novel is really about his childhood in pre-first world war Heaton. So what can we learn? Heaton History Group’s Peter Sagar has been rereading the novel.There are a number of different categories into which we can place this learning from reading ‘Kiddar’s Luck’.
The north-east born playwright, Alan Plater, once described the way Jack Common described his birth in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ as part of a ‘bobby-dazzling opening chapter’ in which Common bemoans his genes missing out on much more genteel places of birth, such as lush Sussex, many a solid Yorkshire village, affluent Mayfair and Surrey soft spots to instead be born into the relative poverty of a railwayman’s family near the East Coast mainline in Heaton.
On page 5 of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Common relates how he ‘came upon the frost-rimmed roofs of a working-class suburb in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in the upstairs flat in a street parallel with the railway line, on which a halted engine whistled to be let through the junction…’ This gives us a clear image of the Avenues around South Heaton at the start of the 20th century.
As the avenues haven’t changed that much in the intervening 100 years or so, it is possible to imagine those frost-rimmed roofs, although with the continuing and dangerous progress of global heating, the winter of 2019/20 has been remarkably short of frosts.
Common, of course, was also describing a Heaton without cars. On page 19, Common states that he, ‘belonged to that street by the same right that I had to belong to one particular family on it….often the lamplighter was on his rounds before all the small fry were safely back in their boxes’. How often do you see children playing on the streets of Heaton today?
Common described trips to nearby Jesmond Dene. On page 26, he says that, ‘we’d walk the hot, red paths of Jesmond Dene, brick-red gravel dust throwing that heat up into my inclined face and the tiresome rich green of full summer seeming to shout at one to look, look up, look around.’ Jesmond Dene is still a beautiful community resource for people in Heaton – sometimes we see that some things haven’t changed much in the last 120 years!
The streets might not have been packed with cars, but Heaton’s streets were still busy. Common, on page 17, notes that the ‘street was usually lively enough. These were the days of private enterprise: a mad economic maelstrom drew down every thoroughfare debris of competitive endeavour, such a procession of horse-drawn vans, man-pushed barrows, milk-chariots, coal carts and steam wagons as could have been achieved only by a separate deadly seriousness on the part of each participant blinding him to the comic glory he was collectively included in. Practically any moment of the day, one or another of these strange craft, ark or pinnace, would come upon our horizon’. It certainly seems that the streets of Heaton in the early 20th century were a very interesting place!
Not only did local tradesmen fill the streets of Edwardian Heaton but, on page 18, Common tells us that, ‘behind our houses, as was general in that district, ran the back lane. It was narrower of course, with the same granite cobbles, smaller sidewalks and monotonous brick walls pierced evenly along the whole length with two back-doors, two square openings into the coal-houses, with two back doors and so on. Though milk and bread were front-door deliveries, greengrocery and fish and coal came to the back-door. Sometimes for days on end children would spend all their time in the back lane, in and out of each other’s yards, sitting on the steps or swinging on the lamp posts’. A different world to today! How often do you see children in and out of each other’s yards? What would you do if you did see children going in somebody else’s yards?
With car ownership either tiny or non-existent, there was at least a variety of public transport to help people get around. For people living in Heaton this included one form of transport which has recently been revived in a number of cities across Britain, including Manchester, Sheffield and Edinburgh. On page 25, Common tells of how after a trip to Newcastle City Centre, ‘we came home happily in the shaky old trams which sparked over the wind-clutched Byker Bridge’.
There have been many plans from the likes of NEXUS in recent years looking into the feasibility of bringing back trams to the streets of Tyneside. There was one particularly bold plan hatched back in 2003, by the name of Project Orpheus, which would have seen an ambitious integrated transport system for the north-east, including a new tram line from Walbottle to the East End of Newcastle. These plans look great on paper, but we are still waiting for politicians with enough vision and political will for this kind of project to be made real. This is a pity as, given the ever worsening climate crisis, it would seem sensible to consider bringing trams back as a way of augmenting the Metro system, but I am not sure that I would be keen to travel on a shaky tram over a wind-clutched bridge! Thankfully we have higher standards of health and safety today…
The Edwardian era is often seen as a time of great social serenity before the terrible shock of the first world war, but a deeper study of history reveals the era as one of considerable social conflict as the trade union movement began to really flex its collective muscles in response to harsh working conditions and low wages. Common’s father was a railwayman and so it is no wonder that he recollects a railway strike on page 51. Rather than write about the effects on his family, Common describes what the effect of the strike was on the atmosphere in Heaton. He notes that it was, ‘true, of course, had I noted it, there was a curious stillness over the Avenues. Normally, at any hour of the twenty-four, if you looked along our street, you were bound to see at least one railwayman in work-clothes, his bait-tin under his arm going to or from the junction. They were always about, hurrying along clean-faced towards the sharp dawn paling the signal lamps over the lines, drifting wearily back on an afternoon sun; in groups jolly and joking in the Chillingham Hotel or outside the social club, in pairs coming out of the light of the blue arc lamps at the end of the shift and ready for their bed. Now that traffic was stopped. So was lot of other kinds. The electric trains were silent in the cutting, the sudden blue rainbow they made ceased to flicker on the houses above; there were no puffs of steam or harsh mechanical panting behind the junction wall, no shunting noises like the slow collapse of huge iron playing cards against the buffers.’ It must have made a real difference to the life of Heaton for a young boy to notice it in the way that Common describes. Of course the railway was arguably more important then, at a time when people didn’t own cars.
Listening to some of the ‘debates’ around the issue of Brexit, it would appear that immigration from Europe began with our accession to what was then the EEC in 1973. Common’s ‘Kiddar’s Luck’ reminds us of what nonsense that is when, on page 21, he mentions ‘…the German pork butcher from Heaton Road…’ (See a previous article to see who he might be referring to). It would be interesting to know more about how he fared as xenophobia and jingoism swept the country?
Certainly racism was unfortunately part of the life of some young people growing up in Heaton at the same time as Common. On page 56, Common talks about the trials that a man from China had to go through due to appalling behaviour from some young people in Heaton. In the middle of a piece about the gang warfare in Heaton at the time. Common relates how Fong Lee, ‘had plenty reason to be annoyed. Oriental patience might withstand the loud chanting of ”Ching, Ching, Chinaman, choppy, choppy, chop” by a choir of twerps around his door, but when that door was frequently flung open, its bell jangling, to enable one of that choir to fling in a couple of damp horse-turds that might land among the parcels of finished washing, then the love of cleanliness, natural to a laundryman, must have been offended beyond the immediate consolation of Chinese philosophy’
I would like to think that even in the darker days we are going through at the present, this type of racist behaviour would not be expected in the Heaton of 2020. As for Chinese philosophy, Confucius did of course preach the importance of patience, when he said, ‘ it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop’, although another of Confucius’ famous sayings might be more relevant here: ‘Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance’.
It is actually quite surprising that Heaton had a Chinese inhabitant at this time, given the small number of Chinese-born people living in north-east England at the time. Dave Renton (see sources below)has noted that, ‘as late as 1945, the numbers of Chinese-born people living in the region were maybe as few as three dozen. There were several Chinese laundries in the region, including three in Newcastle, as well as one in each of Whitley Bay, Gateshead, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.’ It is often noted that right up to the present day, the most racist areas in England tend to coincide with those which have the least immigration into them as racism is largely born out of ignorance and a lack of contact with people perceived as ‘different’. Perhaps this was why poor Fong Lee had to endure such appalling behaviour towards him.
To put all this in context, while the north-east was prone to racism at the beginning of the 20th century, just as anywhere else in the country was, it has traditionally been seen as less racist than many other regions. A few decades after the time about which Common was writing in ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists stated that the north-east with its high unemployment in the 1930’s should become a ‘storm centre’ for his new fascist movement. It didn’t. Indeed it has been noted that Tyneside’s notions of working-class solidarity were an anathema to the bullying tendencies of the racists. Common’s own antipathy towards racist attitudes is hardly surprising given his upbringing. Dave Renton notes that, ‘Common’s mother lit candles for a Jewish family on the Sabbath’ and that Common recorded his mother saying, ‘when I hear how the poor Indians live I’m sorry for them, cos I know what it is.’
We have seen that in some respects little has changed in Heaton since the Edwardian era and this is brought home to us on page 30-1, when Common describes his journey from home to school: ‘The school was only a few streets away, within the Avenues. There were ten of these, of which ours was Third, all built in one plan though not by any civic authority. The First and Third ran parallel to the railway lines, sharing a common back lane; these short ones and back lanes, were set at right angles to the rest, but extended only from Third to Seventh; Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth were parallel too; and the long Second ran at right-angles to the railway from it as far as Tenth, though where it was not keeping the short avenues company, it was all corner-ends owing to the interruption of the lanes and front streets that ran into it. To make room for the school buildings, half of the north side of Ninth and the south side of Tenth was missing. Our route that fine morning then was across Third into Fifth, down Seventh as far as the back lane to Chillingham Road (that being the fourth side of the square); along the lane past end of Eighth and into Ninth. Well, there we were.’
Other things about school life have changed. Common describes the different entrances for different aged pupils at Chillingham Road School during his time there. On page 31, Common talks of the ‘sign over the door which said “Infants”… [and]… the Tenth Avenue entrance which said “Boys“..’ I don’t think we would have gendered school entrances in Heaton today!
Chillingham Road Primary School is one of a number of primary schools in the Heaton area with a well-deserved good reputation today, but while the building may have changed little since the early 20th century, it does appear that it the teaching methods today are a little more enlightened.
On pages 31-2, Common describes how, ‘we were given brushes and little porcelain dishes containing water-colour, or else coloured straws which we were supposed to plait – babyish stuff, but not too bad. Then there’d be a lesson. A cracked yellow scroll was unrolled and hung on the blackboard. It showed three-letter words and very fat black letters they were, spaced out and then put together. Teacher took a long pointer, touched each letter in turn and said, “Kuh, Aah,Tuh spells Cat”. The class intoned cheerlessly, “Kuh, Aah, Tuh, spells Cat”‘. From what Common says about this lesson, it appears that this method was not only rather uninspiring, but also on occasions unsuccessful. Common relates that once the class had mastered the spelling of the word ‘cat’, ‘then the teacher got clever.”Ruh, Ahh, Tuh “; she stopped. “What does Ruh, Aah, Tuh spell, Freddy?” Freddy got to his feet and threw a hapless glance down at the girl next to him. “Please, teacher, Ah divn’t knaa”‘. Poor Freddy. Haven’t we all been there at some time of our life, either at a school or in adult life?
A few pages later on Common tells us of how you had to work through a social hierarchy in Heaton, even as a child. On page 36, he relates how, ‘out of school, I was beginning to graduate to a corner-lad. I was my baby sister now who was the pride and anxious delight of the girls.……According to the incidence of boy-population, about half the corners had their own gangs. I drifted for a time between two of these, Third Avenue, which had its customary headquarters round Daddy Hilton’s grocery at the bottom and Sixth Avenue who congregated at the barber’s window right opposite our house. Second could never call a corner its own; Fifth was too short of boys; Fourth had a gang, but they were weak and swamped with their own girls; Seventh were a numerous and lot of thugs; and the rest were too far away to be my concern yet awhile’. Which brings us neatly to the issue of gang warfare in Edwardian Heaton….
Heaton in the years immediately prior to the First World War, could be a dangerous place for a young lad like Jack Common to be growing up in. On page 54, Common wrote about the start of a period of gang warfare: ‘Then a bigger matter blew up one evening. I was on Daddy Hilton’s corner, hanging about hoping to get into a game of Kick-the-Block, when sounds of battle drifted down from the Fourth Avenue entrance. Sticks and stones were flying; war-cries chanted. From nowhere the words “Chapman Street gang” got uttered on the anonymous air. Chapman Street, now, ran from Chillingham Road, but on the other side of the railway bridge, down to Parsons’ Works. The lads from its corners and those on the streets next to it had a long-standing feud with our lot in the Avenues. At long intervals it would boil over into a regular battle. Then they invaded us, or we invaded them; the signal that such an attempt was on being the appearance of large bodies in battle array on the bridge.’ As we shall see this was not an isolated incident…
Indeed Common tells us how the rivals were usually dealt with effectively. Not on this occasion however: On page 54-5, Common states that, ‘often enough the invaders were met and turned back on the bridge itself; this time however, we were caught napping. The invaders seemed to be already overwhelming the weak Fourth Avenue forces. They would soon be in command of the bend going in to Third back lane, which was a strategic point of high value to us since it allowed us a choice of charging over in mid-battle to an attack on the rear of any force which advanced beyond that entry without first capturing it. Too late to get up there, though. We’d be lucky to halt the Chapman mob at Fifth’. It was looking bad for Jack and his mates…
It was time to get better prepared for the coming attack, On page 55, Common relates that, ‘our corner and Sixth rushed off to get hold of weapons. The five Robson brothers could be trusted to hold their own Fifth for a bit. Meanwhile Wilf and I, being young, but not absurdly so, must race off to arouse Seventh and Eighth, if we could.’ Heaton was clearly made up of a myriad of allied groups!
Seventh Avenue were easy to get involved. Common relates that, ‘by luck, we found the surly Seventh in just the right mood. They were all assembled on one corner and talking together gloomily. They’d just had the police after them over a matter of a large parcel of cigarettes knocked off that very afternoon from their own corner shop at the bottom of their street. And none of them had done it! They didn’t know who had. So the air about Seventh was knit up with rankling injustice, heavy with frustrated vengeance and melancholy, because of the mirage of smokes they might have had if they hadn’t been so uselessly honest. Now Wilf and I were rather in the position of a couple of Cherokees appearing unarmed before the war-painted Choctaw tribe. We had to rattle off our message before we were scragged – we did all of that twice over. It was just the news to suit present moods round these parts: Seventh started up as one man – yes, they’d be in any trouble that was going.‘ So far, so good. Would Jack and Wilf fare so well as recruiting sergeants at the Eighth Avenue?
The simple answer to that is, no. Jack and Wilf ended up having a somewhat difficult encounter with members of the opposite gender. Jack Common takes up the story thus: ‘Wilf and I ran on to Eighth. ….A little way down the street their girls were skipping with a big rope, two turning, the rest running in, pair after pair, while all chanted, “Never mind the weather girls,; in and out the fire girls” We asked the girls who were waiting, where the lads were. They at once rushed on us, grabbed our caps and chucked them into the gardens.” Hadaway to your own street,” they yelled.’
Things looked bleak for Jack and Wilf, but deliverance was at hand, with some useful news. Common states that, ‘;….In one doorway sat wee Alfie Bell, his leg in plaster and a pile of comics by him. He told us. “They’re all down at the Chink’s —- that’s where they are. What d’ye want them for?”He wanted to keep us talking, but we only yelled the news over our shoulders as we pelted on, “Big fight on in Third —Chapman Street out.”‘ As we have already noted these were days when casual racism was more prevalent in Heaton than today.
The mayhem continued through the avenues. On page 55-6, Common relates how, on their mission for support, ‘at the bottom we almost collided with the Eighth Avenue lot who were scattering away before the charge of an infuriated Chinaman brandishing a knife — at least that’s how they would have described it. Really, old Fong Lee was never infuriated. There, he was shuffling back towards the laundry now, his blue shirt tail flapping on his thin behind. He turned at the door to shake a skinny fist, grinned at a couple of passing railwaymen and popped inside.’
Inevitably all this childhood ‘fun’ had to come to an end once local adults had got wind of what was happening. We are told on pages 56-7 that. ‘the battles came to an end usually when a sufficient number of adults round about had realised the unusual scale of the tumult and began to gather for its suppression… That is how this one finished. Chapman Street army could get no further now that the forces engaged were more nearly equal and were beginning to retreat. They would have to, in any case, because Third Avenue parents were now at their doors and a lot of our lads were being ordered to lay down their arms. It was recognised as not fair to keep on engaging an enemy who had half the fight knocked out of him by having to listen to his mother’s shouts….’ Perhaps the Heaton warriors weren’t quite as hard as they liked to think they were!
To finish on a more peaceful note, we can also learn about ways in which Common was familiar with paths into ‘town’ at a time when there were few if any cars or buses – and of course the alternative of a shaky tram across a wind-clutched bridge! The narrator tells us on page 11 how he, ‘lay in a go-cart and travelled along the paths of Heaton Park…’
Meanwhile, on page130, Common tells us about a path, ‘that was probably the oldest path to town. Other nights I took the newest, through the clean air of the parks and crossing the Ouseburn by Armstrong Bridge, that is over the tops of cherry-trees and a cackling of geese at a farmhouse below. Or to avoid people altogether, I dipped down into the darkness of the Vale, over a bridge so small and low it bent to the muttering intimacy of little waters’. So we end with a beautiful description of the Ouseburn valley, which although describing a scene over 100 years old, reminds us of what a lovely part of the city of Newcastle it is.
There is clearly much we can learn about Heaton in the years immediately after the turn of the 20th century from an examination of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’. We can learn that, while some of the physical environment of Heaton has changed since the 1900s, much of it it seemingly remains the same. We have seen that there were immigrants living in Heaton and we have seen how inappropriately they were sometimes treated by some of the younger people in the area. We have also discovered some more about school life at Chillingham Road and of the tribalism between young lads from different avenues when they were out of school, at at time when the street was also the local playground.
All in all it is hard to disagree with Keith Armstrong, when he says of ‘Kiddar’s Luck’, that Common’s earlier writing was, ‘followed by imaginatively twisted tales of childhood and teenage in Kiddar’s Luck (1951) and The Ampersand (1954), which surely rank among the very best descriptions of growing up working-class ever committed to paper.’ It also begs one more question: who is writing about Heaton today with such compassion, understanding and real insights?
Geordies / B Lancaster and R Colls; Edinburgh University Press, 1992
Kiddar’s Luck / J Common; Turnstile Press, 1951
Colour Blind? Race and Migration in Northeast England since 1945 / D Renton; University of Sunderland Press, 2007
How did a Newcastle greenhouse come to be mentioned in the same breath as the Summer Palace in St Petersburg? And how was Heaton, as so often, at the centre of the story? To find out, we need to wind back to the early eighteenth century and news of a development in faraway Devon that caused huge excitement here in the north-east.
It was in 1712 that a young ironmonger called Thomas Newcomen, combining the ideas of fellow Devonian, Thomas Savory, and the French physicist, Denis Papin, first demonstrated his ‘atmospheric engine’, created to pump water from Cornish tin mines in which flooding had long been a major problem. News of the invention spread quickly, with mine owners around the country immediately recognising the potential for their own industry. The first commercial model of the steam engine was built by Newcomen and his business partner, John Calley, at Conygree Coalworks in Dudley in the West Midlands.
Ridleys of Heaton
Among those who set about acquiring the so-called ‘fire machine’ for themselves were the Ridley family, who had interests in mines at such places as Byker and Jesmond as well as owning an estate in Heaton, although here they did not own the rights to mine and profit from the coal that lay underground.
Nicholas Ridley senior (Be warned: the same few names, principally Richard, Matthew and Nicholas constantly recur in the Ridley family tree), who in 1692 had bought part of Heaton Manor including the manor house itself from the then owner, Robert Mitford, had died just a few years earlier. His eldest surviving son, Richard inherited and, in 1713, rebuilt Heaton Hall and, with his younger brother, another Nicholas, continued to manage the family’s many interests, including the extensive coalfields beyond Heaton.
But getting hold of the new engine wasn’t easy for the brothers. Demand was high and Newcomen and Calley were busy fulfilling existing orders. (Sound familiar?) Despite being prepared to pay an annual licence of £400, the building and operation of the engine was to be overseen by Calley’s sixteen year old son, Samuel, something the Ridleys weren’t at all happy about, as Marten Triewald later explained.
‘This Calley though he was, one might almost say, reared in the fire-machine was, however, rather young and did not, with all his practice, possess the very least of theory’.
But a meeting in London led to a significant upgrade.
Mårten Triewald had been born in Stockholm in 1691, the son of a farrier and anchorsmith. By this time he was a merchant, engineer and amateur physicist and, in 1717, was in London on business and to study. There he met Nicholas Ridley, ‘who had known me from early childhood, and moreover was aware with what diligence and zest I had been studying natural science and mechanics in London’. According to Triewald, the Ridleys were ‘perturbed because of the youthfulness of his engineer‘ but also feared that his competitors and other mine owners in the neighbourhood ‘would get an opportunity to corrupt this youth, so that he would not serve him faithfully’.
The result was a job for Triewald, which was beneficial to both parties. Ridley promised ‘to promote me to the knowledge of how to construct fire-machines, and I, for my part, promised to serve him loyally against a fair reward.’
According to Triewald, just a few days later, he arrived in Newcastle where ‘construction of the first fire-machine in this district was in full swing.’ He said that for over a year he didn’t allow anybody else to gain commercial advantage by learning anything at all about how the machine worked while he acquired a better understanding than even the inventors themselves.
Soon Ridley wanted an engine larger than the biggest Newcomen and Calley had built – and larger than the developers themselves believed to be possible. Triewald, however, with his greater understanding of the physics behind the technology, was able to work out improvements which would allow a scaling up to the required size. Ridley persuaded the inventors to allow Triewald to form a partnership with the younger Calley so that production could go ahead. A copy of this agreement is held by Northumberland Archives.
Although Triewald wrote of being recruited by Nicholas Ridley, who, being the second son, had not inherited the Heaton estate on his father’s death (We haven’t yet been able to ascertain where he lived at this time. Later his Northumberland residence was near Blyth), he also referred to being employed by ‘Messrs Ridley’ suggesting Richard Ridley of Heaton Hall was also involved. And we know that the very first ‘fire-engine’ in Northumberland, so the one Triewald first oversaw, was at the Ridley’s Byker Colliery, just north of Shields Road. (At that time what became Tynemouth Road was the boundary between the Byker and Heaton royalties.) A few years later, in 1724, Sir John Clerk noted three such engines on his visit to Byker.
Within a few years, Triewald had built more for the Ridleys (We aren’t sure of their whereabouts) and at least another three were built locally by Ridley’s great rival, William Cotesworth, on what are now the Ouseburn Road allotments immediately west of Heaton Park, land owned by the Ridleys but for which Cotesworth held the mineral rights. There was another just a short distance away on the Jesmond side of the Ouseburn. Heaton History Group’s Les Turnbull has written that Heaton, Byker and Jesmond had ‘the greatest concentration of steam power in the world at this time’.
In 1726, Triewald returned to Sweden, where his understanding of the new technology ensured he was in great demand. He is still well known in his home country as the builder, in 1728, of the first steam engine in Sweden at Dannemora iron mines in Uppsala. Soon after that he set up a diving company and wrote about the use of diving bells and other equipment under water. He also took up and wrote about bee keeping.
But perhaps Triewald’s greatest contribution to Swedish scientific and cultural life was the part he played in the founding of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1739. He had been a great admirer of the British Royal Society and a member since 1731 (his letter to Sir John Sloane canvassing to be admitted is in the British Museum) and was determined to set up something similar in his home country. He persuaded the great Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, and others to support him in his endeavour with the result that the society opened its doors in 1739 and is now known worldwide as the body which awards the Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry.
But what of this entry in Wikipedia?
‘Early hot water systems were used in Russia for central heating of the Summer Palace (1710–1714) of Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg. Slightly later, in 1716, came the first use of water in Sweden to distribute heating in buildings. Marten Triewald, a Swedish engineer, used this method for a greenhouse at Newcastle upon Tyne.’
Naturally, knowing that Triewald worked for the Ridleys,whose family seat was Heaton Hall, we wondered if Heaton could have been the location of one of the first buildings in the modern world to be heated by hot water pipes. Were the Ridleys growing, not only the oats, wheat, barley and turnips that we know was cultivated in the eighteenth century on the farms of their Heaton estate, but also pineapples or other exotic fruit and vegetables in a heated greenhouse?
But Google ‘Triewald’ and ‘greenhouse’ or similar, and while there are plenty of results, they all use almost identical wording to the Wikipedia entry and there are no references to primary sources.
A search of the British Newspaper Archive yielded no results either. Surely something as significant would have been reported in the local or even national papers at the time. A trawl of the Ridley collection in Northumberland Archives proved equally fruitless. There are lots of entries in the index for glasshouses but they all appear to refer to glass making establishments in the Ouseburn in which the Ridleys had a financial interest.
An email to Blagdon Hall went unanswered. Correspondence with the Newcomen Society led to an English translation of a work by Triewald which refers to his time in England working for the Ridleys but no mention there of a greenhouse.
An authoritative history of the greenhouse dates the first use of hot water to heat greenhouses much later. It refers to steam heat being invented by a Mr Wakefield of Liverpool in 1788 and accredits hot water heating to Frenchman, M Bonnemain in 1777 (Apparently he used it to keep his hens’ eggs warm). There is a reference to St Petersburg : ‘Prince Potemkin’s greenhouse near St Petersburg was said to have been heated by a mixture of flues in walls and pillars and “earth leaden pipes… incessantly filled with boiling water”’. The quote is from ‘The Encyclopedia of Gardening’, 1822 but the greenhouse was apparently built around 1780. Potemkin lived from 1739-1791, well after Triewald worked for the Ridleys and the dates given in Wikipedia.
So was the whole story a modern mistake or even a hoax?
A glimmer of hope came in the definitive (and luckily well-indexed!) English tome on the history of building services engineering ( No stone rests safe from disturbance by Heaton History Group researchers). The authors, Neville S Billington and Brian M Roberts refer to Bonnemain and his eggs in 1777 and go on to say ‘Despite Triewald’s experiment, it was not until 1816 that hot water heating was introduced into Great Britain, by the Marquis of Chabannes, who had, four years earlier, used it to heat a house in St Petersburg’. If hot water pipes really were used by the Ridleys in or around 1716, the technology was still considered innovative a hundred years later.
But the key passage in their book is ‘The first successful use of hot water as a medium for conveying heat is recorded by Tomlinson to be Sir Martin (sic) Triewald’s application to a greenhouse in 1716’. So who was Tomlinson, when was he writing and what source material was he using?
Charles Tomlinson (1808-1897) was an eminent scientist and academic, a Fellow of the Royal Society and one of the founders of the Physical Society of London (later merged into the Institute of Physics). But his ‘Rudimentary Treatise on Warming and Ventilation’ was published in 1850, so well after Triewald‘s time and he does not give a source for the assertion about Triewald, quoted by Billington and Roberts.
But there is one more important indication that the story has some basis in reality: the house in which Triewald lived, ‘Triewald’s malmgard’, still stands on the outskirts of Stockholm and is open to the public. A plaque on the wall includes the legend: ‘steam heated greenhouses and central heating were other inventions’. But it doesn’t mention Newcastle.
There, unlike a heated greenhouse, the trail goes cold at least for now. We cannot, as yet, prove one way or another whether Triewald heated a Newcastle, let alone a Heaton, greenhouse with hot water or whether the Ridleys grew pineapples. But what we can say is that Marten Triewald, one of the greatest engineers that Sweden ever produced found himself working for the Ridleys of Heaton Hall in the early 18th century and helped ensure our area possessed the ‘greatest concentration of steam power in the world at this time’. Even if no more information comes to light, that’s pretty amazing.
Can you help?
If you know more about Marten Triewald, especially his time working for the Ridleys or his work on heating or greenhouses, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
British Newspaper Archive
‘Building Services Engineering: a review of its development‘ Neville S Billington and Brian M Roberts; Pergamon, 1982
‘A Celebration of our Mining Heritage: a souvenir publication to commemorate the bicentenary of the disaster at Heaton main Colliery in 1815′ Les Turnbull; Chapman Research, 2015
‘Coals from Newcastle; an introduction to the Northumberland and Durham coalfield’ Les Turnbull; Chapman Research, 2009
‘Glass houses: a history of greenhouses, orangeries and conservatories’ Mary Woods and Arete Warren; Aurum, 1988
‘Rudimentary Treatise on Warming and Ventilation: being a concise exposition of the general principles of the art of warming and ventilating domestic and public buildings, mines, lighthouses, ships etc’ Charles Tomlinson, 1850
‘Short Description of the Fire- and Air-Machine at the Dannemora Mines‘ Marten Triewald, 1734; Newcomen Society, 1928
Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Copyright Chris Jackson and Heaton History Group except images for which permission to reproduce must be sought from individual copyright holders.
Bryan ‘Chas’ Chandler is one of the most famous of all Heaton’s sons being notable for not one but three famous musical achievements. He was bass player in one of the groups making up the famous ‘British Invasion’ of the USA in the mid-1960s; he discovered and managed two more of the most famous acts of the 1960s and 70s and he left his mark on his home city with an important venue, which has seen concerts by some of the most famous acts in music, since it opened a quarter of a century ago. Yet life for Chandler began in a humble home in Heaton and he was to return there on numerous occasions.
Chas Chandler was born in Heaton not long before the outbreak of WW2, on 18 December 1938, and grew up at 35 Second Avenue. Chas attended Heaton Grammar School, before he began work as a turner at the Swan Hunter shipyard and Parsons’ engineering works. However, it was music that really interested young Chas – and it was in the music business that he would make his career.
In 1962, Chandler, who had learnt to play the guitar and then bass, whilst working as a turner at Swan Hunter, joined the ‘Alan Price Trio’, a band named after the man who would become keyboard player in ‘The Animals‘.
‘The Animals’ went on to play a major part in the British Invasion of the USA in 1964, after ‘The Beatles’ had opened the door for groups from this country. Indeed ‘The Animals’ were only the second British group to have a USA number one, with their electrified version of the traditional American folk song, ‘House of the Rising Sun’. ‘The Animals’‘ bold interpretation of the song didn’t only earn them number one spot, it is also generally considered to have had a huge influence on Bob Dylan, who had recorded an acoustic version of the song on his 1962 debut album, encouraging him to go electric and effectively invent what was to become folk-rock.
However, despite their success with ‘House of the Rising Sun’, the seeds of the demise of ‘The Animals’ were sown immediately. As it was a traditional song, with no known composer, Alan Price, the keyboard player, persuaded their record company to label the recording ‘Trad arr: Alan Price’, claiming that his keyboard solo was, if you excuse the pun, instrumental in the success of the song. This meant that Price got all the royalties on what was a worldwide hit. This caused enormous bitterness with the other four members of the group and it was also claimed that Hilton Valentine’s guitar arpeggio throughout the recording was at least as distinctive as Price’s keyboard playing.
Whatever the arguments, Price left the band and, despite further hits, most notably ‘We’ve Got to Get Out of this Place’, which became the theme song for many a disgruntled American GI in Vietnam, by 1966 ‘The Animals’ were on their last legs. Chandler himself described his feelings in an interview for the BBC series ‘Dancing in the Streets’, when he said that, ‘ it just wasn’t as much fun any more.’
By the summer of 1966, ‘The Animals‘ were no more and Chandler was in New York, looking to build a new career as a manager within the rock music business. He was also dating the model Linda Keith at the time. One evening Chandler went to listen to the folk artist, Tim Rose, and was particularly struck by one song he sang: ‘Hey Joe’. Chandler made a mental note to remember that song so that, once he had found a suitable artist, they could record it. It was then that fate stepped in as Linda Keith persuaded Chandler to go and see a young guitarist at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village. That guitarist was Jimi Hendrix and one of the songs he played that night was ‘Hey Joe’. The rest as they say is history…
Chandler persuaded Hendrix to come back to Britain with him in September 1966, so that he could be launched on his stellar career. Chandler reported years later that one of the few questions Hendrix had asked was whether there were Marshall amps in Britain. Chandler assured him that there were and soon Chandler and Hendrix were on a flight from New York to London. Once in London a band was formed around Hendrix’s prodigious talents, with Noel Redding joining on bass guitar and Mitch Mitchell joining on drums, to form the ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’.
It was soon after this time that Hendrix made his connection with Heaton. Chandler brought Hendrix to Newcastle in January 1967. However it was not for an official performance, but for a late-night drinking session at Chas Chandler’s house in Heaton. It is reported that Hendrix lived there with Chandler for a short time. It has often been rumoured that Hendrix even took to the streets, busking on Chillingham Road, while another story has Hendrix busking outside the Raby Arms on Shields Road. Sadly neither photographs or recorded evidence of the music he played have ever been found.
Hendrix definitely did play in Newcastle, at both the Club a’Gogo in what was then Handyside Arcade on Percy Street and at the City Hall. Indeed his performance at the Club a’Gogo is marked in a rather unusual way on Front Street in Tynemouth. A commemorative plaque records that ‘Jimi Hendrix ate fish and chips from this shop on a bench overlooking the sea after performing at the Club a-Gogo Nightclub, Percy Street, Newcastle, Friday 10th March’ 1967′. The plaque is on Marshall’s chip shop – the same name as the amps Hendrix wanted assurances about back in New York – and also Hendrix’s middle name.
Hendrix was soon to leave both the nightclubs and chip shops of Tyneside behind him to become one of the biggest stars in an already crowded 1960s musical galaxy. Once Hendrix had wowed the crowds at the Monterey Music Festival near San Francisco in the summer of 1967, he was on his way and headlined the huge festivals at Woodstock in 1969 and the Isle of Wight in August 1970. Sadly the last of these festivals was to be the last major performance by Hendrix; he died on 18 September 1970 after an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets in his London home.
Chas Chandler was to hear the news of this tragedy back in his native Newcastle. Getting off a train from London, Chandler was surprised to find his dad waiting for him at the Central Station. As he later recalled, he asked his father why he was there, noting that he had caught the train back to Newcastle from London on many occasions, without his father being there to meet him. Chandler’s father soon let Chas know the sad reason why he was there.
Chandler continued his management career and soon struck gold again, with a group of four young men from the West Midlands: ‘Ambrose Slade’. Looking for a way to publicise the band, Chandler notoriously decided to get them to get their long hair cut very short and dressed in the boots and braces of the new skinhead cult. It wasn’t a great success. The band’s guitarist Dave Hill later recalled that the skinheads they attracted were less than impressed: expecting to hear their favourite reggae music, they were confronted by a band with a violinist performing a cover version of Paul McCartney’s ballad ‘Martha My Dear’, from ‘The Beatles’’ ‘White Album’.
Soon common sense prevailed: the band regrew their hair, dropped the Ambrose part of their name and, following a minor hit with ‘Get Down and Get With It’, were on the way to massive success, ending the 1970s with six UK number ones, the joint highest number, alongside Swedish superstars ‘Abba’, of any group in that decade.
Just as Hendrix came to Newcastle, so did ‘Slade’. It has been reported that, in 2013, reflecting on his own 50 years in the music business, the band’s frontman, Noddy Holder, said: ‘My manager and producer, Chas Chandler, was from Newcastle and I had a lot of good times in the North East when I went up there…..I can’t remember much about it but I know I had a great time!’
Chandler’s final musical achievement was to leave his native city of Newcastle with a lasting legacy. With his friend and fellow Tyneside-based musician Nigel Stanger, in 1995 he helped to establish the Newcastle Arena (currently the Utilita Arena). Although plans are afoot to replace it with a state of the art venue on Gateshead Quays, the Newcastle Arena has allowed the Tyneside public to see major stars from David Bowie to Bob Dylan and from Neil Young to BB King over the last 25 years. To paraphrase the words of the famous old song from the same blues genre Chandler had started out with back in the late 1950’s, Chandler had ‘brought it all back home’.
Sadly Chas himself was not to see many of these acts come to Tyneside. He passed away from a heart attack in his native Newcastle in July 1996, aged just 57. One of the mourners at his funeral was Al Hendrix, father of Chas’s protege.
A year later Dylan began his set at the Arena Chandler had established with his first rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in many years in what has been seen as a tribute to Chandler in his home city.
A commemorative plaque adorns the wall of 35 Second Avenue, Heaton which Chandler called home for the first 26 years of his life.
Mike Norton, originally from Hartlepool, lived at Chas’ old flat at 35 Second Avenue from 1992 to 1995. His landlord, John Morton, told Mike a few stories of the days when Chandler owned the property.
John Morton bought the property in the early 1980s with a sitting tenant downstairs, a Mrs Chandler. When Chas used to call and see his mum, she wouldn’t let him smoke in the flat and so he used to enjoy a cigarette on the steps outside. The flat upstairs used to be used by ‘The Animals’ back in the early 1960s.
One of the funnier stories related to when a friend of Mike visited. Knowing the Hendrix connection, he said that he couldn’t leave without using the toilet Jimi had used and so, even though he didn’t really need to, he nipped off to the smallest room before leaving. Mike didn’t have the heart to tell him that a new extension had been built in the 1980s which included the present toilet…
If you know more about Chas Chandler or Jimi Hendrix’s time in Heaton or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing email@example.com
A few years ago, we published a short article about William Brogg Leighton and his legacy in Heaton and beyond. Recently Heaton History Group’s Michael Proctor has been looking in more detail at his life and achievements, which went far beyond his involvement with the chapel that bore his name:
William Brogg Leighton was born on 27 July 1810 to Thomas and Isabelle Leighton. He was to play a significant role in the civic and religious life of Newcastle throughout his life, not least in Heaton, where the Leighton Memorial Primitive Methodist Chapel on Heaton Road, was named in honour of his extensive contribution to the Primitive Methodist movement.
The Primitive Methodist movement was characterised by the relatively plain design of their chapels and their worship, compared to the Wesleyan Methodist Church from which they had split in 1811. Its social base was among the poorer members of society, who appreciated both its content (damnation, salvation, sinners and saints) and its style (direct, spontaneous, and passionate). It was democratic and locally controlled and offered an alternative to the more middle-class Wesleyan Methodists and the establishment-controlled Church of England which were not at all democratic in governance. In Newcastle, John Branfoot was the first Primitive Methodist missionary to preach. On 1 August 1821, he preached at Sandhill, followed later in the year by William Clowes, one of the movement’s founders, who preached in the home of John Wood in Quality Row. That may be significant in the young William Leighton’s involvement in the movement. As the earliest census is 1841, we don’t know where Leighton lived at this time, but his mother, Isabelle, is shown in the 1841 census as a shopkeeper in Quality Row.
A commemorative booklet, marking the 50th anniversary of the Leighton Primitive Methodist Chapel in 1927 describes how the Primitive Methodist movement developed in Newcastle. In the east end, the Ballast Hills Society was established as early as 1822, although it had no home, with public services held in hired rooms on a Sunday evening. It was in August 1829 that a 19 year old William Leighton and some colleagues, after canvassing the neighbourhood, commenced a Sunday School in a single room in Quality Row. There were 74 scholars and 9 teachers when it opened, quickly rising to 250, requiring the addition of a second room. As there was no education and very young children were working 12 hour shifts in the flax mill and potteries of the Ouseburn area, it’s perhaps not surprising that it was so popular.
The church also grew and by 1841 a chapel was built on Byker Bank. The young William continued to be involved in both Sunday Schools and a Mutual Improvement Association, which provided an opportunity for younger men to come together and acted as an incubator for future Sunday School teachers and lay preachers. William appears to have been active in recruiting young men, many of whom became major players in the church as it developed.
Of course the church, whilst undoubtedly a major part of Leighton’s life from an early age, never provided him with an income. On 23 January 1833, William married the 20 year old Mary Singleton. (There is some dispute about this as Norman Moore and Geoff Dickinson in their earlier article on WB Leighton have him marrying Mary Hedley. However, she was 10 years older than him and every census has his wife as being 4-5 years younger than him.)
The 1841 census has William and Mary living at Garth Heads and William working as a printer. This was to be his main employment throughout his working life, although by no means his only one. At the age of 30, he was already employing a domestic servant.
The printing business was obviously a success, as the 1851 census shows the Leightons living at no 7 Grainger Street, in the block between Neville Street and Westgate Road, directly opposite the Central Station. At the time, the newly built Grainger town would have been one of the most prestigious addresses in Newcastle, so business was obviously good, indeed the family continued to live in Grainger Street, moving two doors along to no 11 around the end of the 1850s, where they stayed for most of William’s working life. It seems likely that the building included both the print shop on the ground floor and the family’s accommodation above. The census describes him as a letterpress printer employing three apprentices and a provisions merchant. Unusually, subsequent censuses also show Mary as being a provisions merchant. The couple by now had three daughters, with the eldest, Elizabeth aged 13, shown as home schooled. William’s mother, Isabelle, was also living with them, having presumably retired from her shopkeeping role.
By 1861 the Leighton’s middle daughter, Isabelle was described as working as an assistant in the butter and eggs trade, which may well have been part of the family provisions business.
By now well established in his printing business, William began to diversify. A newspaper advert in 1858 for the Tyneside Benefit Building Society shows him as the principal trustee. The advert was for a first subscription meeting of the society, to be held at the Gray’s Adelphi Temperance Hotel in Clayton Street. At the time, building societies were relatively new. The earliest had been established in Birmingham in the late 1700s, with members paying a monthly subscription to finance the building of houses for members. The early societies were wound up once all of the members had built a house, although this changed in the 1840s when Permanent Building Societies developed. The concept would have appealed greatly to the Primitive Methodist ethos and the location of the first meeting in a temperance hotel rather than a tavern, which is where the early societies tended to meet, suggests that connection.
This is the only reference to this particular society that I’ve found, but a search of the British Newspaper Archive turns up hundreds of references to William Leighton’s involvement with the Northern Counties Permanent Building Society, where he became a trustee and continued in that role throughout most of his life. The Northern Counties was one of the earliest established and largest building societies in Newcastle and continued to exist until 1965, when it merged with the Rock Building Society to form Northern Rock. Sadly, we all know how that story ended.
He was also an active member of the Newcastle Temperance Society and papers record his contributions to various meetings. Although it’s not recorded in the papers, his wife Mary was also known to be active in the Temperance Movement. Sadly Mary died in 1866 at the tragically young age of 51.
By the time of the 1871 census, William was still living and working at 11 Grainger Street, with his youngest daughter, Mary Jane, and her husband Alexander Morton, a railway clerk, and their son William as well as a nurse and a housemaid. Alexander would also go on to play a leading role in the life of the Primitive Methodist movement.
1871 was also the year that William went on to become a member of the Newcastle School Board. The Education Act of 1870 had made provisions for compulsory free education for all children aged 5-12. Local Authorities were charged with establishing School Boards to oversee the provision and, in Newcastle, the elections took place on 25 January. The Newcastle Daily Journal of the previous day has half a page of statements from prospective candidates, effectively setting out their manifestos. Many of the candidates were selected by the churches and put forward. Interestingly William Leighton put himself forward as an independent. His statement reads:
‘Mr W.B.Leighton desires to thank his friends and the electors generally for the liberal support they have promised him, and to inform them that he still continues his canvass as a Liberal and independent candidate, favourable to the reading of the Bible, with only that explanation that will make it intelligible to the young, but opposed to all sectarian teaching, and also favourable to compulsion where seen to be necessary.‘
Interestingly, there is another statement from Leighton on the same page, which reads:
CAUTION TO THE ELECTORS
‘I wish to caution you against being misled by the statements of certain unprincipled persons, who, to secure their own, or the friends election, are trying to persuade you, either that I have retired from the contest, or that I have no need of your support. Do not be deceived; but show your abhorrence of such trickery, and also your independence by plumping for me as soon after noon as possible on Wednesday first.‘
Whatever skulduggery took place, William was duly elected, continuing his lifelong interest in education. The papers report that after the elections, he took some 60 of his supporters to a private dinner at the Temperance Hall, once again demonstrating that he was a man of some means in the town.
He was also a man of some influence within the Primitive Methodist Church in Newcastle. The Newcastle Daily Journal of 5‘ March 1868 records the laying of the foundation stone for a new chapel and school in St Anthony’s, with William Brogg Leighton laying the foundation stone. He was presented with a commemorative silver trowel, plumb and mallet and a time capsule was laid in the stone containing copies of the local papers, a plan of the circuit, the names of the trustees, the number of local preachers and Sunday school teachers in the district and the name of the foundation stone layer.
This was to be the first foundation stone that he laid, but by no means the last. On 5‘ May 1869 he laid the foundation stone for a new chapel in Scotswood Road and on 27 August 1874 he laid the stone for a new chapel in Choppington Northumberland. He must have amassed quite a collection of silver trowels! So it’s not at all surprising that when thoughts turned to the need for a chapel in the Heaton area, William would play a major role. The commemorative leaflet for the 50th anniversary of the Leighton Memorial Chapel states: ‘In the early seventies Heaton presented all the appearances of a rural neighbourhood. Soon the scene was to suffer a transformation at the hands of architect and builder. Country lanes have given place to avenues of streets and the green fields are now suburbs.’
By 1871, the need for a new church was recognised and a meeting was called to consider a site. The preference was for a site on Shields Road and WB Leighton along with Peter Kidman and Thomas Corby were sent to inspect it. The price was prohibitive and in Leighton’s view the site was too small to accommodate a church and schoolrooms, so a site on Heaton Road was selected instead. The site chosen was the first plot on the west side of Heaton Road, very close to the junction with Shields Road and came with a 75 year lease from the local authority.
The Board of Trustees was appointed in 1876, both to raise funds and to oversee the building work. As an experienced valuer and inspector of materials, William Leighton played a major role in the building, as did Thomas Parker, a fellow trustee who was the architect. The church cost £5,174 to build, of which William Leighton contributed £1000. At the opening, £3630 was still owed. By 1892, the debt still stood at £1600. The commemorative booklet from the 50th anniversary describes how in the early years it was a ‘heroic struggle to stave off disaster’ and in particular how it was a great tribute to the women of the church in organising bazaars and fund raising events that the debt was finally paid off.
The church opened on Tuesday 23 October 1877. The Newcastle Courant describes it as follows:
The site, which is on Heaton Road, near to its junction with Shields Road, has a frontage of about 76 feet and extends back 131 feet. On the front portion of the site is erected the chapel, which measures 64 feet by 41 feet affording accommodation for 600 people; and in the rear are four class-rooms and two schools rooms, each measuring 50 feet by 33 feet and accommodating about 600 scholars. The style of architecture is classic, freely treated.
The plans show an elegant and understated building, very much in the Primitive Methodist style. This would have been, when it was built, one of the first buildings on Heaton Road, but other developments followed rapidly. And by 1879, Wards Directory shows William, still accompanied by his daughter and son in law and their growing family living in Rose Villa, Heaton. So far, it’s not been possible to locate this building precisely, but it was certainly on the block of Heaton Road between Shields Road and Tynemouth Road. The Wesleyan Bainbridge Memorial Church was later built on the corner of Heaton Road and Tynemouth Road and maps from the turn of the 20th Century show six large semi detached villas next to it. Nothing now remains of these houses, but they must have been large as Tyne and Wear Archives have planning applications for no 29 and 31 to build stables and coach houses at the rear. It seems likely that Rose Villa was no 31, with James Coltman, a fellow trustee, living next door at no 29.
On the above early 20th century picture postcard, we believe that Rose Villa is immediately to the left of the Bainbridge Memorial Chapel. At the time William lived there, there were no buildings between Rose Villa and Heaton Station.
It was here that William Brogg Leighton died on 25April 1884. Interestingly, despite his obvious wealth and position in society, the probate records show that he had assets totalling £172/19/11 and that administration of his will was granted to John Wallace of 1 Second Street, Wallsend, a creditor.
To quote the words of Rev H B Kendall, who knew William well ‘Every organised form of local Christian philanthropy had Mr Leighton’s countenance and co-operation, so that his life was of manifold activity. He was not eloquent by nature, or a skilful debater, but just a constant cheerful worker on behalf of deserving causes’. The 50th anniversary commemorative booklet goes on to say ‘He gave out great love and devotion, without ostentation, but with a passion that the church on which he had set his heart should be a glorious success’.
The church that was to be his memorial stood until 1965, when a rapprochement between the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist traditions led to a merger with the Bainbridge Memorial Church a short distance down the road. It took some five years to sell the site, not because of lack of interest, but due to the council’s refusal to allow planning permission for retail and office developments. However, when the site was finally sold in 1970, for £9000, that is exactly what was built!
Can you help?
If you know more about William Brogg Leighton or anything mentioned in this article or have photographs 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.
British Newspaper Archive
Newcastle City Library: Newcastle trade directories:
Tyne & Wear Archives: building plans
Leighton Primitive Methodist Church Jubilee Souvenir 1927
The streets of Heaton and High Heaton are familiar to most visitors to this website but have you ever wondered what was here before they were built in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Eminent local historian, Mike Greatbatch, has been looking at surviving records to help us find out what Heaton was like 210-225 years ago:
The township of Heaton, like all the townships in Northumberland, owes its existence to the Settlement Act of 1662 which stipulated that the northern counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland, `by reason of their largeness of the Parishes within the same’, should henceforth be subdivided into townships for the better administration of the `the Poor, Needy, Impotent and Lame’ (13 and 14 Charles II c12 Settlement).
Whilst the township boundaries may have mirrored those of some major landowners in 1662, it should not be confused with these private estates. Townships were administrative districts created by parliament to levy the poor rate and disburse the available funds to relieve the poor. Consequently the township boundary of 1662 continued to define Heaton as a district for the next two hundred years, well beyond its incorporation into the Town and County of Newcastle in 1835. Only when the population of Heaton and Byker townships began to grow rapidly towards the latter half of the nineteenth century did the old boundaries become indistinct, with ward boundaries based on the changing size and distribution of Newcastle’s municipal electorate becoming the norm.
The Poor Rate
Heaton township was created to better administer the poor rate. This was a tax based on an assessment of the yearly value of property, defined by the annual rental paid by the occupier. Heaton township lay within the parish of All Saints, and surviving records show that the poor rate was supervised by the magistrates and administered by the parish vestry, whose members appointed and employed the overseers of the poor from amongst the ratepayers of the parish, and administered all collections of the rate and its disbursement.
The rate assessments were agreed at regular meetings to cover specific periods and purposes, being recorded in Rate Books along with a list of properties, their occupiers, and their rentals. The rate itself varied from time to time depending on changing levels of demand for poor relief and other associated expenditure, such as overseers expenses.
The number of surviving rate books for Heaton is very limited: the catalogue at Tyne and Wear Archives lists just three volumes between 1860 and 1890. However, within the records of the neighbouring township of Byker there is a detailed assessment that includes Heaton. Recorded in March 1795, this was specifically `a taxation for the purpose of procuring (jointly with the Township of Heaton) a Volunteer, to serve in His Majesty’s Navy during the present War’. A rate of two pence per pound was calculated to raise £20 10s 3d from Byker and £18 11s 8d from Heaton in the following month of April. At the end of the assessment, there are the signatures of the Overseers of the Poor for both townships, which for Heaton was Thomas Holmes, a farmer.
Rate assessment for the township of Heaton, October 1810. TWAS 183/1/102. Reproduced with permission of Tyne & Wear Archives
A similar detailed record also survives within the rate books for the parochial chapelry of Newcastle All Saints. Undertaken in October 1810 for the purpose of raising `the sum of four hundred pounds and upwards’, being the sum required to `reimburse the Church Wardens for the money expended by them for the Bills, Clerks Salary, Bread, Flour, Visitation Charges etc and to enable them to keep the Church thoroughly clean and in repair and other incidental expenses’. A rate of four pence per pound was levied, calculated to raise a total of £503 from the whole parish, of which £93 09s 3d would be raised in Byker and £66 12s 8d raised in Heaton. At the end of the assessment, the signature of Samuel Viner, a magistrate (`his Majesty’s Justices’) and Peter Marsden (a public notary acting on behalf of the church) are recorded, confirming their consent to the agreed rate, together with the date they attached their signatures to this declaration, 23 October 1810.
Taken together, these two detailed records illustrate the nature and changing value of property in Heaton during these years, together with the names of those whose income permitted them to occupy these premises as tenants of the two principle landowners at that time, Matthew Ridley and Sir Matthew White Ridley. The latter lived at Heaton Hall on land owned by the former and ,in 1795, the rental value of the house and grounds was £60, rising to £180 in 1810. Whilst this is the only house identified in the rate assessments, the farmhouses were included in the overall value of the farm rentals, and likewise the cottages occupied by the labourers. The working poor did not own property and thus they are absent from both assessments.
Coal and Iron
The population of Heaton recorded in the first detailed census carried out on 10 March 1801 was just 183 persons. By contrast, the population of neighbouring Byker was 3,254 persons. Byker was far more industrialised than Heaton by 1801 and this is reflected in the rate assessments undertaken in 1795 and 1810. Industrial property was present in Heaton in both years but its share of the total value of property was significantly less than in neighbouring Byker.
Heaton Colliery was the most valuable property in Heaton. In March 1795 it was valued at £1000 annual rental, increasing to £1,750 per annum by October 1810. This one industrial concern accounted for at least 45% of the total value of the property in Heaton recorded in both years.
Other industry in Heaton accounted for a mere 5% of the total value in both 1795 and 1810, despite the significant increase in value of Malin Sorsbie’s iron-works at Busy Cottage, from a rental of £30 per annum in March 1795 to £100 rental in October 1810. In neighbouring Byker the contrast couldn’t be greater. Here industry other than coal mining and associated transport accounted for 15% of the total in 1795 and 41% of the total value in 1810.
The iron-works at Busy Cottage (where Jesmond Dene’s visitor centre and Pets’ Corner are now) had long been a significant industrial settlement in Heaton. When it was advertised for sale in 1764, following the bankruptcy of its then owner, George Laidler the younger, this settlement adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn consisted of a dwelling house, three houses for servants and workmen, a stable with two parcels of ground adjoining, an over-shot forge and bellows wheel, a furnace for making iron, and facilities for making German steel. There was also a tilt hammer for making files and other items from thin iron plate, and a grinding mill with up to seven grindstones, a machine for cutting dyes, and a slitting mill for cutting and shaping bars of iron, all powered by over-shot waterwheels or water powered engines.
There were also extensive smiths shops that could employ up to fourteen workmen using three hearths, plus a foundry for casting iron and a steel furnace capable of producing about four tons of steel every nine days. When the premises were advertised again, two years later, there were an additional thirteen smithies, several warehouses, and a `Compting-house’ (counting-house) or office.
From January 1781, Busy Cottage was owned by the owners of the Skinner-Burn Foundry, Thomas Menham and Robert Hodgson, and when they became bankrupt in January 1785, Busy Cottage once again was advertised for sale, being `well adapted to carrying on the nail, hinge, ….file cutting, or any other branch in the smith and cutlery way’. The complex also included a water-powered corn mill at this time.
Although advertised for sale again in the summer of 1790, Thomas Menham is still recorded as living at Busy Cottage in January 1793, so Malin Sorsbie had not long been in possession of the property when he was recorded as occupier in the March 1795 rate assessment.
The Sorsbie family had long been prominent amongst the business and municipal community of Newcastle; a Robert Sorsbie served as mayor in the 1750s and Jonathan Sorsbie later served as Clerk of the Council Chamber. In the 1760s the family business interests included grindstone quarries on Gateshead Fell and a foundry at a site on the south side of the Tyne called the Old Trunk Quay, in addition to their corn merchant business with offices at Sandhill. Malin Sorsbie owned a house and garden in fashionable Shieldfield from at least January 1789 onwards.
Mills: Water & Wind
If Heaton Colliery and Busy Cottage were the highest value industrial property in Heaton, this does not diminish the importance of the other three industrial enterprises active in these years. All three followed the upward trend in value between 1795 and 1810 and were an important feature of the township beyond this period.
The precise location of Robert Yellowley’s flint mill is uncertain, but should not be confused with the similar establishment on the west side of the Ouseburn in Jesmond. The Yellowley family were merchants, and by the 1790s Robert Yellowley was wealthy enough to afford the rent on a house at St Ann’s Row on the New Road, west of Cut Bank. When the Ouseburn Pottery of Backhouse and Hillcoat ran into financial difficulty in 1790, Robert Yellowley acquired the business and is recorded as proprietor from June 1794 onwards. Flint by this time was an essential ingredient in the manufacture of better quality earthenware as it turns white when burnt, and thus provided a bleaching agent when used in firing the ware.
Heaton windmill was in the occupation of William Dodds throughout these years and, like the watermill occupied by Patrick Freeman in October 1810, it was an important adjunct to the eight farms that occupied the greater part of the land in the township. Identifying the precise location of Freeman’s watermill is not easy. In a schedule of land prepared by the surveyor John Bell to accompany a plan of West and East Heaton in December 1800, there are three mills – High, Middle, Low – identified in fields adjacent to the east bank of the Ouseburn. However, in 1810, Freeman’s is the only mill specifically identified as water powered, so it may be that the other two were dormant and unoccupied. In the 1795 rate book, this property appears to be occupied by Richard Young but again little indication is provided as to its location.
Heaton’s Farms, 1795 and 1810
In the October 1810 rate assessment there are eight farms, which together had a combined value of £1,738 or 45% of the total rental value of the township. The families who occupied those farms were the same as in March 1795 with the exception of William Lawson who had died in January 1804. In 1810, Lawson’s farm was occupied by John Watson.
The most valuable farms were High Heaton Farm (the Holmes family), Lawson’s farm, the Newton family farm in Low Heaton, and Thomas Carins’/ Cairns’ (the spelling varies throughout this period) farm. Some indication of their social and economic standing is provided by the fact that Thomas Holmes was the township’s Overseer of the Poor in 1795, and Cairns the treasurer of the local Association (for Prosecuting Felons). This Association combined with similar associations of property owners in neighbouring Gosforth and Jesmond to offer cash rewards to anyone providing information that helped secure a conviction for theft, damage or trespass, and/or the return of stolen property. They also published appeals to their fellow property owners and hunt enthusiasts to avoid damage to crops and `not to ride amongst corn or grass seeds’.
Membership of the Heaton and Jesmond Association for the Prosecution of Felons etc included 6 Heaton farmers and 1 mill owner. Newcastle Advertiser 7 Feb 1807, p1. Reproduced with permission of Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre.
All these farms were extensive undertakings, and given the sparse population of Heaton at this time, all were vulnerable to theft. When Lawson’s farm was broken into in 1790, thieves stole hens, geese, and poultry, and made off on a mare that returned to the farm the same night. In the summer of 1795, twenty-three chickens, six hens and two cockerels were stolen from a single hen-house in Heaton; a reward of two guineas was offered by William Pattison of Heaton, with a further reward of three guineas paid by the Gosforth Association on conviction. When Joseph Newton’s garden was broken into in July 1808 and a quantity of fruit stolen, causing injury to the trees, a reward of twenty guineas was offered by the Heaton and Jesmond Association, Newton being one of its members.
If apprehended, those convicted could face severe punishment. In October 1798, Joseph Nicholson, William M’Clarie, Jane Cunningham, and Mary Eddy were all sentenced to six months hard labour for having stolen rope from Heaton Colliery. Given the need to store ropes, screws, bolts and other iron materials, the colliery was a regular target for thieves. As incidents of infringements of property rights increased, so the punitive nature of these associations became more pronounced.
In March 1795, the total value of property assessed for the poor rate in Heaton Township was £2,136. By October 1810 the total value of the same property was £3,878; being an increase of 81.5%. Despite the on-going war with Revolutionary France and its allies throughout this period, the local Heaton economy experienced something of a boom period.
The interdiction by French naval ships or privateers of merchant ships importing grain and other foodstuffs to the Tyne resulted in a food shortage, especially of wheat and rye. In 1799, the resultant scarcity of flour led some local newspapers to recommend rice and potatoes as good substitutes by way of relieving the distress prevalent amongst the town’s poorer inhabitants.
This scarcity also resulted in an increase in the price of grain and locally milled flour. Despite the accumulation of imported grain in temporary wooden stores, soon commonly referred to as Egypt, just west of Saint Ann’s Church in the summer of 1796, the price of wheat, rye, barley, and oats all increased from 1798 onwards. This of course was good news for farmers, millers, and landowners in townships like Heaton where transport costs to the local Newcastle market were negligible.
One might think that as their income and property values increased, the respectable residents of Heaton might relax their attitude to their neighbours in the manufacturing districts of Sandgate and Byker. Sadly, the opposite appears to have occurred. As the wartime economy and interruptions to overseas trade increased the numbers of those without work or on low income, so the property owners of Heaton became increasingly conscious of the vulnerability of their privacy and possessions. Unemployment, food shortages, and widespread human distress made the sparsely populated lanes and fields of Heaton all the more attractive to those desperate for redress and with little to lose.
In June 1805, a blacksmith named Erington was stopped near Heaton Wood by a man dressed in a blue jacket and robbed of a £20 bank note. Such incidents of so-called foot-pads became a recurring feature of Newcastle newspaper reports as the number of homeless seafarers and unemployed workers increased. The response of the local associations of property owners was characteristically harsh, resulting in the following all encompassing resolution by the Gosforth (& Heaton) Association in November 1805 `to prosecute with the utmost rigour, all vagrants, or other disorderly strollers, and those who give them harbor or encouragement’. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, even going for a stroll, in Heaton, had become a dangerous pastime.
Sources & Acknowledgements
Written for Heaton History Group by Mike Greatbatch. Text copyright Mike Greatbatch and Heaton History Group. Image permissions from Tyne and Wear Archives for use on this website only.
The surviving rate assessments for these years are part of the collections at Tyne & Wear Archives, specifically 183/1/577 Byker 1794-1802, and 183/1/102 Newcastle All Saints June-November 1810.
Contemporary trade directories and Newcastle newspapers, specifically the Courant, the Advertiser, and the Tyne Mercury provided details of properties and owners, together with reports on the human impact of wartime food shortages and the response of property owners through the various Associations. Many of the newspaper sources were accessed on-line via the British Library’s invaluable British Newspaper Archive.
The author is grateful to staff at both Tyne & Wear Archives and Newcastle City Library Local Studies & Family History Centre for their help in accessing sources and for permission to reproduce the two images.