Category Archives: Research

Parsons’ man and Apollo 11

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

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

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

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

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Francis Thomas ‘Tom’ Bacon

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

Pedigree

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

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

Parsons 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Brain drain 

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

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

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

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

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

And the rest is moon landing history!

Space race

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

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

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

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

Honours

Francis ‘Tom’ Bacon received the following honours:-

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

1967 – OBE (Civil Division)

1969 – British Silver Medal from the Royal Aeronautical Society

1972 – Churchill Gold Medal from the Society of Engineers

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

1976 – Received Royal Australian Chemical Institute Medal

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

1980 – Honorary DSc from Newcastle University

1990 – First Honorary Member of the European Fuel Cell Group

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

Francis ‘Tom’ Bacon died on 24 May 1992.

Bacongrave

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

 Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group.

Sources

  1. Royal Society Biographical Memoirs

2. Find a Grave

3. National Newspaper Archive

4. Findmypast

5. Newcastle Journal 11 February 1980

Can you help? 

If you know more about Tom Bacon and especially if you have stories or photographs relating to his time at Parsons, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Coronation through Wills’ employees’ eyes

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

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

Wills Factory Exterior

Wills Factory Exterior

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

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

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His account of the Newcastle celebrations follows:

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

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

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

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Smiths Crisps Coast Road

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

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

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

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

Can you help?

If you know have memories, anecdotes or photographs of the Wills Factory or of the  Coronation relevant to Heaton , we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor of Heaton History Group.

 

 

 

Torn from Home: from Bosnia to Heaton

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

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

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Smajo is the little blond boy being held on the left

 

 

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

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

Signs of change

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

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

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

Concentration camps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape to the UK

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

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

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

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

Refugees in Newcastle

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

 

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Smajo, his brother and father, Gosforth, 1994

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Smajo, his brother and sister, 1994

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Family photo, 1994

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

Chillingham Road schooldays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At home in Heaton

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

Additional Source

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

 

 

Quarter Century of Women Priests in Heaton

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

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

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

St Gabriels women priests Joan & Mary

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Robin Long, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

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

King of Swing: Heaton’s champion golfer

Asked to name the world’s greatest golfers and you’ll probably mention Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and perhaps, if you know your sporting history, Bobby Jones. But did you know that a young Heaton man coached the latter and, before his untimely death, was known as one of the great golfers of his age? In fact, James Douglas Edgar still has a place in the record books, as a century ago this year, he won the Canadian Open, by a record 16 strokes, a margin of victory still unsurpassed for any PGA Tournament.

Google Edgar’s name and you’ll find plenty of information about this remarkable sportsman but what you won’t read is that he was a Heatonian. Now, thanks to the painstaking research of Heaton History Group’s Arthur Andrews, we can put that right.

Town Farm

The story of the Edgar family of Heaton Town Farm has already been published on this website. In 1871 two nephews, John and Thomas, described as agricultural labourers, were living at the farm. One of them, John, would later become the father of James Douglas Edgar, who was born on 30 September 1885.

In 1891, John Edgar (40), a foreman land drainer on Christopher Laycock’s Estate, his wife, Ann (38) and their four children, Margaret (17) a dressmaker’s apprentice, John (15) a cricket club assistant groundsman, James Douglas (6) a scholar and Edward, recently born, were living in an upstairs flat at 45 Seventh Avenue. All four children had been born at Heaton Town Farm, so the family may have moved to Seventh Avenue soon after Edward’s birth.

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The Edgar’s Seventh Avenue upstairs flat

James lived in Seventh Avenue until his mid teens when the family moved to Gosforth.

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1 Heathery Lane Cottages, the Edgars’ Gosforth home, 1901

Pro

From a young age Edgar had caddied and played golf on the Town Moor. By the age of 16, he was working at a golf club and a year later was winning competitions with the United Workmen’s Club. He caught the eye of J S Caird, the professional of the City of Newcastle Golf Club, based on the Town Moor. Caird saw potential in Edgar and took him under his wing, inviting him to be his assistant at the ‘City’ club. Part of the job would have been making and repairing the wooden golf clubs of the time.

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City of Newcastle Golf Club HQ

In 1907 Northumberland Golf Club were looking for a new professional and J S Caird put forward J Douglas Edgar’s name for the post and so, in his 20th year, he took on this important role. By all accounts Edgar settled in well and was the complete professional – a competent player with a good swing and a powerful drive, a good teacher, golf club maker and golf club repairer. It is said that he was well liked but had a taste for drink – and women.

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Northumberland Golf Club

Edgar’s first big win as a professional was the 1914 French Open, which he  won in style with a score of 244 after 72 holes, beating some notable players of the time, including six time (still a record) Open winner,  Harry Vardon.

It was reported in The Journal of 10 August 1914 that Northumberland Golf Club presented Edgar with a gold half hunter watch, suitably inscribed and also a cheque from the members. At another presentation by South Gosforth Golf Club, Edgar was presented with another gold watch and a brooch for his wife in appreciation for his great achievement.

 WWI

But by this time, Britain was at war. At first, Edgar’s involvement was confined to playing in charity tournaments to raise money for soldiers but the following year, aged 30, he enlisted as a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He was based locally, attached to No 1 Ambulance section.

Later in the war, Edgar was released to carry out munitions work at William Dobson Ltd, the Walker shipbuilders. However, on 24 January 1918 in reply to a letter from the Regimental Paymaster, Dobson’s stated that, while J D Edgar was still employed at the firm, he had not been seen for over four weeks. Edgar had submitted a medical certificate stating he was unable to work suffering from adhesions of the tissues to his left hip. The doctor’s note also mentioned that he was developing arthritis of the left wrist. The following month, the RAMC enquired as to whether Edgar had been admitted to the military hospital at Newcastle Barracks but he appears not to have been. Finally, in March 1918, Edgar was discharged, having been deemed unfit to serve due to an arthritic left hip. At this time, he was living in Gosforth Park.

EdgarOldschoolHouse

School House, Sandy Lane, J Douglas Edgar’s home in 1918

On discharge, Edgar stated that he was a professional golfer but that his plan was to become a farmer at Brunton, Northumberland. At first, however, he returned to Northumberland Golf Club but after a dispute with members of the club’s committee following complaints about offensive behaviour, Edgar handed in his notice and he took the huge step of emigrating to America with his family. He sailed alone from Liverpool to St John, New Brunswick on 25 March 1919, arriving on 4 April. A surviving Alien Labor Certificate suggests he headed to New York before ending up in Atlanta.

USA

Edgar secured a job at the new Druids Hill Golf Club in Atlanta, where he settled in well, being popular and amenable with the men and women of the club. This was also a time of unprecedented tournament success. He won the Royal Canadian Golf Championship in  1919 (by 16 strokes, still a PGA tournament record).

Satisfied that he had a future in the USA, he then returned to England for his family.  J D Edgar, his wife and two children, Rhoda (10) and Douglas (9), emigrated to the United States of America on 16 December 1919. They sailed from Southampton on the SS Adriatic and in 1920 were lodging with the Morse family in Atlanta.

Douglas’s success on the golf course continued. He won the Canadian Open again in 1920, beating the great Bobby Jones. He also won the US Southern Open Championship and was runner-up in the American PGA Championship, losing only by one stroke (Jim Barnes had won in 1916 and 1919 but no Englishman has won it since).

Understandably Edgar was also in great demand as a coach. He was credited by the great Bobby Jones as a key reason for his own success. He was also mentor and coach to Tommy Armour, who later won 3 majors and Alexa Stirling, arguably America’s greatest female amateur golfer.

EdgarCoaching

James Douglas Edgar

And Edgar’s influence went far beyond those he was able to coach in person. His book ‘The Gate to Golf’, privately printed by Edgar & Co in St Albans in 1920,  had a big impact on golf instruction right up to the present day. In particular the abbreviated golf swing Edgar had perfected because he was restricted by his arthritic hip, became the norm.

Ever innovative, Edgar had invented a device that he called the ‘Gate’, consisting of two pieces of shaped wood, placed on the ground, one piece being a modified tee. The idea was to get the golfer’s swing ‘Movement’ to address the golf ball without hitting either side of the ‘Gate’. As the golfer’s swing and accuracy through the ‘Gate’ improved, the two pieces could be moved closer to each other so that the golfer’s swing was finely tuned and perfected.

EdgarGate (1)

Edgar’s ‘Gate’ invention

Unfortunately, despite Edgar’s success, his wife and children did not settle in the USA. After less than a year they returned to Newcastle while he stayed in America.

Early Death

Sadly, within a few weeks of winning his second Canadian championship and before he could have another shot at the PGA he had so narrowly missed out on the previous year, the golfing world was shocked to hear that James Douglas Edgar was dead at the height of his golfing career, aged only 36.

He was found near the steps of his boarding house late one night by his room mate, golf caddie and assistant, Thomas Mark Wilson (also from Newcastle). Edgar had blood gushing from a severed femoral artery in his leg, (probably by a knife wound). He died on 9 August 1921 before reaching hospital. It was reported that Wilson had said that Edgar had tried to tell him something before dying but he could not make out the words.

At first it seemed that the golfer had been involved in a car accident but there was no impact bruising on his body. It was surmised that he had been involved with a woman, possibly married, and some person or persons sought revenge. Nobody was ever charged with the murder.

J Douglas Edgar is buried in Westview Cemetery, Atlanta. His epitaph was quite an accolade from his peers in the world of professional golf.

EdgarGravestone

J Douglas Edgar’s grave, Atlanta

Had he not died in his prime and overseas, J Douglas Edgar would surely have been widely remembered as yet another Newcastle, indeed Heaton, sporting great.

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group. Thank you too to Jordan Cook, City of Newcastle assistant golf professional, for being so helpful on Arthur’s visit to City of Newcastle Club and arranging a meeting with David Moffat, winner of International and County Honours, as well as being five times Northumberland Champion. Also to the office staff of Northumberland Golf Club.

Sources

  • The Northumberland Golf Club Story’ / George Harbottle, 1978
  • The ‘City’ Centenary 1891-1991’ – 100 years of Golf at the City of Newcastle Golf Club’ / John Sleight,1991.
  • To Win and Die in Dixie: the birth of the modern golf swing and the mysterious death of its creator’ / Steve Eubanks, 2010
  • British Newspaper Archive
  • FindMyPast
  • Ancestry
  • https://archive.org/details/gatetogolf00edgagoog/page/n7

 

 

Windows Shopping: 111 years of Tyneside music

We’re all familiar with JG Windows’ music store in the fabulous Edwardian Central Arcade.

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J G Windows, 2019

Heaton History Group’s Michael Proctor first knew it from searching for records on teenage trips to Newcastle and later from drooling over impossibly expensive hi-fi systems. Others may remember it as the place to buy tickets for almost any conceivable concert or event, from Shakespeare at the Theatre Royal to rock music at the City Hall and even the circus on the Town Moor, but when it first opened its doors it was to sell musical instruments and sheet music. The shop was opened by James Gale Windows, a long term resident of Heaton, so Michael decided to delve a little deeper.

Beginnings

James Gale Windows was born in October 1870 in Headington, Oxfordshire. He was the fourth son of Joseph Windows, a police sergeant and his wife, Fanny. The 1881 census shows the family still living in Cowley, with two more children, a fifth son and a daughter, with Joseph having been promoted to inspector. James’ eldest brother, Alfie, had left home by this time, but William, 18, was a tailor’s apprentice and Herbert, 14, a carpenter’s apprentice.

In his late teens, James moved to Newcastle, where he started work as a music seller’s assistant. The 1891 census shows him boarding with Annie Turnbull in Elswick.

In 1896 James returned home to Cowley to marry Maud Frances Hind, with the couple returning to Newcastle to set up home in Heaton. Maud, born in 1873, was the youngest daughter of Jonathon, a monumental mason, and his wife, Thirza. It seems likely that the families were close and James and Maud knew each other as children, as Jonathon’s death in 1910 shows his address as 17 Princes Street, the former home of Joseph and Fanny Windows.

Heaton

James and Maud’s early family life seems to have involved a lot of movement between houses, but always in Heaton. In 1899, they were living at 57 King John Street; in 1902, they’d moved to 124 Warton Terrace; in 1905 it was 21 Stratford Grove; 1908 saw them at 69 Cardigan Terrace and 1914 has the family living at 8 Norwood Avenue, where they stayed until at least 1927.

The couple’s first son, Maurice James, was born in July 1897 and their second son, Hedley Arnold, was born nine years later on 13 February 1906.

But it was in 1908 when the family’s fortunes really changed and the family name became synonymous with music on Tyneside. That was the date when James opened his own store in the highly prestigious, newly opened Central Arcade.

Exchange

The building itself had had a troubled history. The Central Exchange was intended to be the flagship of the Grainger town development. An unusual triangular shaped building it had facades on Grainger Street, Grey Street and Market Street and was intended to be the visual and commercial centrepiece of Newcastle’s Neo-Classical streets. It was built by Richard Grainger and designed as a Corn Exchange, but by the time it was completed in 1838, there was no need for an exchange. Instead, it opened as a subscription newsroom, where the wealthy gentlemen of the day could come to read newspapers gathered from around the world. Coffee rooms occupied space in the corner drums and the building became a focal point for Newcastle’s social elite.

017196:Central Exchange News Room Newcastle upon Tyne Unknown c.

Central Exchange newsroom

The fact that the building was not proving to be a great commercial success became apparent in March 1846 when a hand written share prospectus from Richard Grainger proposed to raise additional funds by selling 1,700 shares at £50 each. The prospectus notes that the news room had 1,300 subscribers paying 1 guinea each and produced an annual rent of £674 per annum. It then goes on to propose that a small increase in subscriptions of ½ guinea (50%) would allow the rent to increase to £1356. Grainger then set out the rent from shops, offices and coffee rooms as £1,340. However the premises were not fully occupied. As the additional rent he estimated would come from having the building fully occupied was £2,416, that suggests only about a third were occupied.

In the event, the share scheme was also a failure. Two years later, on 7 April 1848, the Durham County Advertiser reported that shareholders called a meeting with Grainger to hear the findings of a committee appointed to investigate the scheme. The committee recommended the immediate reimbursement of the shareholders. In the event, only 536 shares had actually been sold, with Grainger holding the remainder.

The first incarnation of the Central Exchange ended on Sunday 11 August 1867 when the building was ravaged by fire. When it reopened in 1870 the bulk of the building was occupied by the Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts and included an art gallery, concert hall and theatre.

055870:Central Exchange News Room Newcastle upon Tyne Unknown c.

Art gallery, Central Exchange, 1880

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Central Exchange sign, 2019

This appears to have been more successful, but was again brought abruptly to an end by another major fire in 1901. This time, the building was completely redesigned to form an elegant shopping arcade with a barrel vaulted glazed roof, decorated using the full arsenal of Edwardian techniques with lustrous faience tiling, double arched entrances and a mosaic floor.

Arcade

Towards the end of the 19th century, public concerns were raised about the safety, hygiene and moral integrity of the city. One response was to build shopping arcades exclusively to display luxury and novelty goods to the city’s elite customers. The peak of arcade building was around 1890, so the new Central Arcade, which opened to the public in 1906, was unusual in being Edwardian rather than Victorian.

046892:Central Arcade Newcastle upon Tyne unknown December 1906

Central Arcade, 1906

This early photograph shows the arcade lavishly decorated for Christmas with an advert for a cafe on the balcony and even the latest technological advance, a public telephone.

It was into this luxury shopping arcade that James Windows opened the doors of his new business in 1908, just two years after the arcade opened. Originally, he appears to have had only the middle one of the three shopping units that the shop now occupies. Even so, this seems like a massive leap for a music seller’s assistant to open his first shop in such an environment. It’s not clear where he got the funding to do this as there doesn’t appear to have been wealth on either his or his wife’s side of the family that he may have inherited.  By 1911, it is obvious that the shop was doing well as the census shows the family had acquired that most essential of Edwardian middle class assets, a servant, Maggie Calder. The census identifies James as a seller of music and musical instruments and an employer. In 1909, James joined the Novocastrian lodge of the Freemasons, further establishing his position within the middle class elite of Newcastle.

War

With the coming of the First World War, James and Maud’s elder son, Maurice, signed up and fought as a private with the Cyclist Battalion. A vital part of the army that subsequently became the Signal Corps, cyclist battalions passed messages to and from the front line. His medal card also shows him having fought with the Northumberland Fusiliers. JG Windows’ own website records that both sons also fought in the Second World War, but no details have emerged. Obviously by the time of the war, the business had branched out into selling gramophones (and presumably records), as the Newcastle Daily Journal of 29 September 1915 records the donation of a gramophone from JG Windows for the use of the troops. It continued to expand to include radios in the 1930s and even provided for music and singing lessons. (The Newcastle Journal on 1 November 1940 records the success of a child prodigy, Maurice Aitcheson aged 14, passing the LRAM Performer exam at the Sigmund Oppenheimer Pianoforte School at JG Windows.)

After the war, Maurice Windows joined his father in the family business, as did Hedley when he was old enough and, later, Hedley and his wife Marjorie’s son, James Bowen Windows, who joined the business in 1961.

Legacy

James Gale Windows died on the 21 June 1933 aged 63. His address is given as 43 Oaklands, Gosforth, having finally moved on from Heaton. He left £7,997 16s 4d (around £380,000 in today’s money) to his widow, Maud, and to Percival Frederick Barras, Accountant. It’s not clear who Mr Barras was, but as he clearly had a call on James’ estate, it’s possible that he may have provided some of the financial backing to set up the business.

WindowsJGW memorial Gosforth parish church

James Gale and Maud Frances Windows’ memorial at Gosforth Parish Church

The business continued to thrive, led by Maurice, Hedley and James Bowen, expanding ultimately to three shop units in Central Arcade over three floors. At one point, they also had stores in Darlington, York and the Metro Centre, although Darlington and York are now closed.

Maurice died on 12 February 1962 and Hedley on 13 February 1996. In 2006 the company was purchased from the Windows family by three current and former employees and long-time associates. Although the Windows family are no longer involved in the day to day running of the company, J G Windows Ltd has stuck to the principles which have kept the company central to musical life in the North East for more than a hundred years.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about James Gale Windows or the Windows family and especially if you can help us find photographs of any of the people mentioned in this article,  we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor of Heaton History Group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Percy Forster: a short life well-remembered

John Percival Forster was born on 12 April 1888, the son of  Londoner, John Forster, who had moved to Newcastle as a young boy and later married Elizabeth Best, a Geordie girl. John Percival (known as Percy) their first child, was born in the west end but soon the family moved to Heaton. In 1901, they were living at 62 Heaton Road and, by 1911, at  37 Heaton Grove, opposite the railway line.

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Forster family home on Heaton Grove

By this time both Percy and his younger brother, Stanley, were working as assistant mercers (ie they were dealers in silk, velvet and other fine fabrics) in their father’s firm on Grainger Street.

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John Percival Forster

The family were churchgoers and worshipped at St Gabriel’s on Heaton Road. Percy had attended Rutherford College and had learned to play the organ.  He became the organist at St Paul’s Church in Whitley Bay and assistant organist at St Andrew’s Church in Newgate Street.

Primrose League

The Forster family were politically active and belonged to the Primrose League (apparently named after the favourite flower of Benjamin Disraeli). Founded in 1883, its aim was to promote Conservative principles. By 1910 there were over 2 million members, organised into 2645 local groups or ‘habitations’. Percy and his brother, Stanley, were secretaries of their local habitation. They attended political and social events, such as whist drives and dances, held in places such as the Assembly Rooms in Heaton. Their sister, May, also took part in these events, as well as being a member of a theatre group associated with the local habitation. The Primrose League closed only  in December 2004, after 121 years, with the £70,000 in its coffers transferring to the Conservative party.

World War 1

At the outbreak of war, Percy joined the Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Scottish) on a temporary commission. He was given a reference by Mr Gaunt, his headmaster at Rutherford College, who vouched for Percy, saying he had ‘attained a good standard of education’. The Reverend Robert Trotter, vicar of St Gabriel’s, in another reference, said that Percy had been of ‘good moral character’ in the 12 years that he had known him.

Military Wedding

It was reported in the ‘Nottingham Evening Post’ on Saturday 7 August 1915, that Miss Sybil Margaret Round had married Captain John Percival Forster at All Saints Church, Nottingham that afternoon in the presence of a large congregation. The officiating clergymen were the bride’s father, Rev W Round, vicar of St Peter’s in Radford, assisted by Rev C R Round and Rev H Lowell Clarke, vicar of All Saints. On leaving  the church the bride and groom walked through an archway of swords, formed by officers of the 3rd Line Unit of the Robin Hood’s, of which the Rev W Round was acting chaplain.

There were two bridesmaids, one of whom was May Forster, Percy’s sister. The best man was Heaton’s Captain Henry Sibbit, soon to be promoted to Major Henry Sibbit. Percy’s new brother in law was William Haldane Round, soon to become a captain in the 7th (Robin Hood’s) Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters.

Battle of the Somme

Less than a year later on 1 July 1916, the first day of at the Battle of the Somme, Percy Forster was killed in battle, aged only 28. His death was confirmed by two comrades:

Private R Roxburgh, 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers, said ‘On 1 July near La Boiselle close to the German second line of trenches I saw Captain Forster killed. I was wounded a yard from him and lay for five hours beside him. I was his signaller.’

Corporal W Willis stated that he was killed just beyond the German second line between La Boiselle and Fricourt. ‘I saw him dead but I do not know how he was killed.’ Second Lieutenant Purdey also saw him dead.

Percy’s father was only informed unofficially, so he wrote to the War Office to say that he had not been officially told of his son’s death and so did not want to believe he had been killed. A gold ring, a writing case, a leather case containing photos and two badges and a leather case containing photographs were returned to Sybil, Percy’s wife. However, his father had difficulty obtaining the death certificate needed to obtain probate and wind up Percy’s financial affairs. There were also several letters to the War Office requesting that his war pension be approved so that Sybil, could manage financially.

Fateful day

On the very same day that Percy lost his life, 1 July 1916, his new brother in law, Captain William Haldane Round also died on the Somme. as did Percy’s best man, Major Henry Sibbit of 21 Rothbury Terrace, formerly of Chillingham Road School and a fellow parishioner of St Gabriel’s, who had been Percy’s close friend in Heaton.

Percy’s brother, however, Stanley McKenzie Forster served in the navy and survived the war.

Remembered

 Percy is commemorated on six separate war memorials

ForsteerStGabrielWWIMemorial

St Gabriel’s Church, alongside his best man Henry Sibbit and Henry’s brother, Bert.

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St Andrew’s, Newcastle

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St Paul’s Church, Whitley Bay

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Also St Paul’s, Whitley Bay

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Whitley Bay war memorial

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Whitley Bay (detail)

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Percy Forster and Henry Sibbit of Heaton remembered together at Thiepval

Not forgotten.

Can you help?

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

Acknowledgements

Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group. Thank you also to Ian Clough, Heaton History Group, who has researched WW1 Heaton’s church war memorials.